Zibby Owens is the author of "Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature" and host of the award-winning daily author interview podcast "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books". Owner of Zibby's Bookshop and founder of Zibby Media, she is a regular contributor to "Good Morning America." Follow her on Instagram @zibbyowens.
July brings an abundance of summer novels and memoirs. Some common themes? Motherhood, reconciling family issues, coming-of-age and coming into one's own, and learning to cope with uncertainty. From Syria and Copacabana Beach to Silicon Valley and Seattle, these books will have you flipping pages like crazy and re-evaluating your own life and the true meaning of home.
"Life on Other Planets: A Memoir of Finding My Place in the Universe" by Aomawa Shields, Ph.D.
This is both literal and figurative; a memoir about the cosmos and about ourselves. Aomawa Shields, like many kids, fantasized about becoming an astronaut. But she soon realized that she actually wanted to be one. However, when in her astrophysics Ph.D. program (smart, much?!) she grew discouraged -- one white male professor in particular felt this Black woman just didn't belong. And she dropped out, becoming an actor (what can't she do?!). But like a true calling, the stars didn't leave her alone and 10 years later she went back to the program. Now she's an astrobiologist and an astronomer who we all can't help but cheer for in this stunning reflection on everything universal, even the truth.
"The Possibilities" by Yael Goldstein-Love
What lengths won't a mother go to?! "The Possibilities" shows us that sometimes you need to enter different multiverses altogether to protect the ones you love. Hannah is a new mother, gripped with what could be postpartum anxiety -- or something more. She can't stop visualizing all the other ways her and her baby Jack's life could've gone. When Jack disappears from his crib, Hannah dives into the parallel worlds she keeps seeing to save him. An original take on motherhood, "The Possibilities" taps into those primal feelings every nurturer feels -- and fears.
"Sammy Espinoza's Last Review" by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Young adult fantasy author Tehlor Key Mejia turns away from their soon-to-be Disney production of a middle grade series and delves into the life of Sammy Espinoza. Sammy, a columnist struggling to hold onto her job, is trying hard to get her ex-girlfriend back. Could a reunion with a one-night wonder, Max Ryan, actually save her career? And is it worth going back to her hometown where her fractured family relationships await to save her current situation and find Max? This immersive tale will have everyone flipping pages.
"The Summer of Songbirds" by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Anyone in the sleepaway camp mood? Now that our kids' trunks are in their cabins, it's the perfect time to dive into this beautiful, heartwarming narrative by New York Times bestselling author and southern sensation Kristy Woodson Harvey. Four women with a variety of personal issues and secrets linked by their connection to Camp Holly Springs band together to rescue their camp -- and themselves -- in this ode to female friendship and the places that shape us into who we are.
"The Sea Elephants" by Shastri Akella
Queer resistance meets the theater and Indian history in this powerful debut novel by Shastri Akella. A young man joins a traveling theater troupe performing Hindu myths in 1990s India after the sudden deaths of his twin sisters. As he falls in love with Marc, his father threatens to send him to a "conversion center," a real thing which author Akella digs into in his extensive interviews with those who experienced them.
"Strip Tees: A Memoir of Millennial Los Angeles" by Kate Flannery
I couldn't put this one down. Kate Flannery is searching for a place of belonging in Los Angeles when she meets a crew of gorgeous young women who suggest she join the team at American Apparel. What she gets is indoctrination into a cult-like corporate culture led by an erratic, unconventional CEO. As Flannery navigates a company that she describes as thriving on sexual exploitation of young women, she has to decide if she can stomach the ethos of her newfound family or tap into what made her her. Written like an edge-of-your-seat cinematic narrative, "Strip Tees" will make you think and feel.
"Wednesdays at One" by Sandra A. Miller
In this psychological suspense novel -- the July title of publisher Zibby Books (!) -- memoirist Sandra A. Miller introduces us to Gregory, a Cambridge-based psychologist who just isn't that happy with his nice-from-the-outside looking life as a married man with two kids. When an unscheduled patient, Mira, appears in his office one day, it leads to a re-examination of himself and his past. Immersive and captivating, this debut novel will make anyone question the role everyone plays in their lives.
"Cutting Teeth" by Chandler Baker
Chandler Baker, Texas native and author of the New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick "Whisper Network," tackles motherhood and more in her latest page-turner. A young teacher at Little Academy preschool dies, leaving 10 4-year-olds to report on what happened. Their moms have to uncover what went down in this blood-curdling novel that pokes fun at the pressures of modern motherhood and shows what parents will really do to protect their young.
"Queen of Exiles" by Vanessa Riley
Historical novelist Vanessa Riley (who also has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering) highlights the life of a notable Black woman, Haiti's Queen Marie-Louise Coidavid, in this revistation of the past. Marie-Louise escapes a coup in Haiti and sets up her own royal court in Italy during the Regency era, where she becomes a popular member of royal European society in a life -- and book! -- full of intrigue, scandal and romance.
"Ripe" by Sarah Rose Etter
Sarah Rose Etter worked at a Silicon Valley startup during the pandemic and was struck by the vast wealth disparity in the area. Her now-late father encouraged her to write about it. What resulted is "Ripe," which follows a young woman named Cassie into her own horrific job at a startup. Long hours, horrible bosses and questionable projects make Cassie question what she's actually doing as she observes the extreme wealth next to poverty in an area she'd formerly idolized. A fresh voice, Etter, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel for "The Book of X," will undoubtedly cement her place in the literary scene with this one.
"The Better Half" by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans
Mindy Kaling loves this book! This third novel by whip-smart, humorous and endearing Black and Jewish writing team Alli Frank and Asha Youmans, former school co-workers in Seattle, introduces us to Nina Morgan Clarke. A 43-year-old bright, talented, and highly driven woman, she's about to start her new position as the first Black female head of the Royal-Hawkins School in Pasadena, California. With her ex newly relocated across the country and her daughter in boarding school, it's finally her time. To celebrate her new job, Nina and her best friend Marisol head off on a girls' trip where Nina meets Leo and starts an unexpected summer romance -- and an even more unexpected, late-in-life pregnancy. Leo, who doesn't even live close to Nina, is dying to be a dad. Now what?! You won't want to stop reading to find out.
"My Husband" by Maud Ventura
"My Husband," written by 29-year-old debut novelist Maud Ventura, head of the podcast division at one of France's major radio stations, and translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, looks at marriage in a new way. Set in a Parisian suburb, "My Husband" introduces us to a stunning, chic, 40-year-old woman whose entire life revolves around her husband, with whom she's madly in love. She hides her work computer -- she's a translator for a publishing house and a teacher -- so she can greet her husband while posing alluringly reading "The Lover." She beats herself up for not buying the perfect flowers. She does everything she can to make her husband's life and home as perfect as a 1950's American sitcom, including mothering her two children. But, could her beloved husband be cheating on her? Told over the course of one week, we watch as she over analyzes every single thing her husband does and convinces herself -- and, perhaps us -- that she will be wronged.
"Pete and Alice in Maine" by Caitlin Shetterly
Set in the spring of 2020, "Pete and Alice in Maine" follows a couple trying to keep it all together. Alice, newly betrayed in her marriage, leaves for Maine to recover. But the locals aren't exactly welcoming and keep her even more confined than she expected. Dealing with mothering two children during lockdown, she feels at her most lost. Along with her husband, Alice has to decide what it really means to keep their family safe. Thought-provoking and raw, this pandemic reflection is about so much more than lockdown -- it's about our roles in society and how to come into our own as mothers and women.
"Owner of a Lonely Heart: A Memoir" by Beth Nguyen
Beth Nguyen takes us through her family and cultural history as a child immigrant from Vietnam. Powerfully, she tells us early on that she has never felt like a refugee so much as when she became a mother. Diving into her own relationship with her mother who "stayed behind" after the fall of Saigon, and who she only saw years later for a total of 24 hours, Nguyen examines what it means to be a mother, a daughter and even an American in this beautiful memoir.
"Hope" by Andrew Ridker
Set in a Jewish community in 2013 Brookline, a wealthy suburb of Boston, "Hope" follows the Greenspans, a privileged family who seems to have everything going for them. Scott, the father, has a successful cardiology practice. His wife Deb resettles refugees in her spare time. Their daughter works at a publishing house, and their son is on his way to being a doctor like his dad. But when Scott is caught falsifying blood samples at work, the family explodes. Over the course of one year, we get to watch as each family member goes off on radically different paths than expected in this witty, incisive dark comedy.
"Hello Stranger" by Katherine Center
New York Times bestselling -- and highly prolific -- author Katherine Center is back this summer with another voice-driven, funny, heartfelt and romantic escapist novel. When Sadie ends up in the hospital after crossing the street on her way to celebrate her place in a portraiture competition, she soon realizes she has a condition called face blindness. And she's in love with two different men. Still mourning the early loss of her mother, Sadie has to cope with her unlikable stepmother and absentee dad as she comes to grips with what ails her, ultimately finding what makes her happy.
"I Meant It Once: Stories" by Kate Doyle
A brilliant collection of coming-of-age short stories about young women, "I Meant It Once" completely captures the stage of life of the in-between, when everything is possible and everything in the past is relentlessly re-examined.
"Tropicália" by Harold Rogers
Before a New Year's Eve party on Brazil's Copacabana Beach, a complicated, "cursed" family comes together when the matriarch returns from America to mourn her father. Her son Daniel is in a particularly bad place. He's reeling from the loss of his beloved grandfather and his (pregnant) girlfriend has just broken up with him. Set against the chaos of Rio with political unrest, the threat of violence and extreme poverty, this family has to endure "a fire, a knife, and a death" on the beach. A nuanced look into family life and national culture, "Tropicália" is original and highly immersive.
"No Ordinary Assignment" by Jane Ferguson
Award winning Irish-British journalist and special "PBS NewsHour" correspondent Jane Ferguson shares her journey to journalism from her childhood to today's battlefields to answer the question she gets most: "Why do you do what you do?" Growing up in strife-filled Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, the rage and discord permeated her family life and yet was unaddressed; her uncle's gunshot wound was disguised as a cow-kick. When offered a chance to study Arabic in Yemen, Jane jumped at the opportunity. Now she has reported from every war front, including Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Kabul, and Ukraine. This unlikely story is enthralling, inspiring and ultimately hopeful.