Summer Book Recommendations

I am leaving today for a long weekend at The Biltmore in North Carolina, and I of course am packing my Kindle with the hopes that I will have ample time to sit outdoors and read.  I am always looking for recommendations on what to read next and who better to dole out some then my own literary agent Kathryn Beaumont Murphy from Kneerim & Williams? A voracious reader, whenever she says “read this!”- I comply.  I have a few good ones to offer up myself (Me Before You, The Light Between Oceans, The Language of Flowers, Where’d You Go Bernadette and The Prince of Tides (if you’ve never read it).  So without further ado, a wise woman’s book offerings:

Nothing makes me happier than offering books suggestions to other rabid readers. While reading recommendations are of course entirely subjective, as a literary agent I not only read nonstop because I love books (duh) , but also because I kind of have to be aware of what is selling and what is popular. So here are a few books that have got me thinking this summer. I’ve chosen a mixture of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir — all are books I want others to read for the purpose of being able to discuss them. To get you through the rest of your summer, here are my curated suggestions, eight in all (you can do two books a week, right?)  Please weigh in, for me and others: what are you reading? What’s in the pile on your nightstand, on reserve at your library or in your Kindle queue?


1. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. This novel won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and if you think a suspense novel whose protagonist is a North Korean soldier is not for you, you would be like me until I finally picked it up and didn’t put it down until I finished it three days later. This book is astounding in its reporting, surprising in its narration, and infused with a sort of magical realism (which normally I do not go for). I cannot recommend this enough — all I want to do is talk about this book.

2. The Good House by Ann Leary. Set in a fictional town on Boston’s north shore, this novel follows realtor Hildy Goode’s high highs and low lows, as she sells antique homes in her sleepy town, with its history of both witches and lobstermen, to the hedge fund transplantees who flock to its idyllic setting. Though her grown daughters forced her to rehab two years earlier, Hildy is supposedly happy living her “sober” life, which includes just one or two glasses of wine per night — no more blackouts. This novel full of both affairs and true love, a layered sense of place, and a narrator whose relationship to alcohol is captivatingly complex.

3. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. Can a widowed veteran find love with a Pakistani store clerk 10 years his junior in a sleepy English village? And does this premise sound too twee to bear? Please trust me that it’s not: this novel has not just an immensely warm love story at its core, but it is far from unpredictable and streaked with humor and witty insight (including the authors depiction of the village’s boorish American visitors!) I recommend this novel to everyone — it is not only a wonderful read for its premise, but the writing is lovely. You’ll think about this book for weeks after you finish.

4. The Robert B. Parker “Spenser” mysteries. You may remember the 80s TV series starring the late Robert Ulrich. You don’t? Good, then you can form your own image of Spenser (spelled with an “s”, after the English poet, of course), the ex-boxer, private eye who can not only cook and knock back single-malts but has an inner compass so principled that you cannot help but fall a little in love with him yourself. I discovered these mysteries in my teens, well before I had ever even visited Boston, but Parker infuses his novels with such precise details of Boston that I felt as if I sort of already knew the city when I moved here a decade ago. (Locke Ober restaurant? Ah yes, that’s where Spenser had steak lunches with this police contacts. Linnaean Street in Cambridge? That is where his girlfriend Susan Silverman lived…) I was devastated when Parker died a few years ago – no more Spenser. These are intelligent mysteries — well written, laced with references to Shakespeare and Auden, and firmly set in Boston, which is now my home too. (As an aside, are you watching the new Showtime series “Ray Donovan”? He kind of reminds me of Spenser. And thus I think Liv Schreiber should star in a remake of a Spenser series or movie!)


5. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. You know what? Just read it. I was prepared to dislike Sandberg and everything she had to say about professional women and motherhood and my most hated phrase, “juggling”. But I came away from the book refreshed and inspired and devoted to the profession I love and the family I love. Whether you have children or not, or work or don’t or are a woman or a man, Sandberg is brave enough to write truthfully about what are, actually, the issues women in the workplace face (for example, women by and large do not negotiate salaries. I will never do that again!). For a long time — too long — I attributed the angst I felt about being a working mother to the duality of “working vs. not working”. When, in fact, the angst I feel is not that I feel guilty over not spending time with my children, but rather that I actually do love to work and it’s just difficult. And it’s OK to admit that it is difficult. Sandberg emboldened me to clarify this, and inspired me to make changes that fit my personal situation. I’m serious — just read it.

6. ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. I’ve never considered myself a reader of “business books”, but one of my clients, a business writer, recommended this book as a wonderful model of what a business book should be — and she was right. Each chapter just takes a page, and is thus easily digestible by a busy reader. And it inspires everyone to think of themselves as a business owner or entrepreneur, whether or not you work for yourself or within a large organization. I rethought my relationships with my clients, my colleagues, and my superiors and, just as Sandberg’s book reset my personal relationship with my profession, this book reset and reinvigorated the way I approach my job as a professional interacting with clients and striving to create the best product possible.


7. My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor. Sotomayor is, as you probably know, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. This book is not about her jurisprudence but, rather, the journey she made from a poor, diabetic child in the Bronx to Princeton and then Yale Law and then to judge. The book reads like a novel, full of challenges and well developed characters. It’s amazing how one teacher can make a difference in the life of such a child and what doors education can open.

8. Looking for Palestine by Najla Said. Najla Said grew up in the Upper West Side home of one of the century’s most respected intellectuals, her late father, the Columbia Professor and Middle Eastern scholar and theorist Edward Said. Najla’s childhood was full of professors, summer camps, and tony private schools, but without really knowing it, this straddling of two cultures — her preppy New York life and her Palestinean and Lebanese roots — took their toll on her emotionally and physically. September 11, 2001 caused her to rethink her dual identities and to, finally, choose one. This is a brave and funny book and gives its readers and understanding of the modern Middle-Eastern American — like Najla, someone we probably all know but in all likelihood probably don’t truly understand.


  1. What a fantastic post! Thank you for the recommendations! I’ve read The Good House (loved it!) and am looking forward to reading the rest of the list.

  2. Great recommendations – I haven’t read a single one of those and look forward to. Erin, I have started “A Light Between Oceans” a few months ago but put it down. I anticipated the sadness and wasn’t at a place to embrace a book like that, but I will pick it back up soon.

    This summer, I’m reading light, summer reads (a huge move with a 3 year old, a lot of traveling and jet lag makes me crave quick, easy, enjoyable reads). Currently, my kindle is bookmarked to A Hundred Summers, which I’m really enjoying. I just finished The Chaperone, also enjoyable and moving, Eve in Hollywood (a sequel to Rules of Civility), which was good but didn’t live up to the Rules of Civility for me. (I’m having a bit of a 1930s infatuation, you may be able to tell).

    Enjoy the Biltmore – it’s fabulous!

  3. Love this post! I’ve been wondering about Lean In after seeing the “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” campaign I saw on instragram, but was wondering how it was – thanks for the review! It will definitely be an addition to my “to read” list!

  4. perfect timing! I was about to hit you up on twitter again to find out what you’re reading since “A Place at the Table” was such a great recommendation. I can vouch for Major Pettigrew – I read it a few summers ago and it’s a sweet story. enjoy your long weekend!

  5. Erin I love to get book recommendations from friends!!
    There are several here that I must read! The first may be The Good House….
    2013 Designer Series

  6. That’s awesome you are going to The Biltmore! Asheville is one of our favorite places to go. I recommend eating at The Admiral.. omg so good. And the brunch at Biltmore is really good, too. There is also free wine tasting at The Biltmore, that’s always a must when we go :)

  7. Love this list! Erin, glad to hear that you loved The Language of Flowers – that’s up next in my queue. Another amazing book I’ve read this summer is Tell the Wolves I’m Home. I haven’t read a book that moved me so much in a very long time. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has felt the same way. Happy reading & happy summer!

  8. GONE GIRL is also a must! I also read GOLD by Chris Cleave (author of Little Bee) and highly recommend that one as well! Happy summer reading all :)

  9. If you’re heading to the N.C. mountains, you should pick up Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton DiSclafani. It’s about a privileged girl in the 1920’s who is harboring a horrible family secret. She is sent from her home in Florida to an equestrienne camp outside Asheville as punishment for her part in the secret. It’s a beautifully written and surprisingly sexy book. A delicious and delightful read indeed. Enjoy your trip!

  10. Thanks for this list! If anyone is also scouring the comments for additional suggestions (like me) ill add The Kitchen House, Sisterland, and Silver Star. Soared through them all!

  11. I have become a voracious reader as of late. Getting back to my childhood days of curling up in a chair with a Nancy Drew book (giving away my age here), and never looking up until I was finished. A couple of suggestions … “The Interestings”, “The Fault In Our Stars”, “Help, Thanks, Wow”. Reading “A Place At The Table” and loving it.

  12. I’m always happy to get book recommendations. A few of my absolute favorites are: The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adrianna Trigiani, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and This Time Together by Carol Burnett (one of her memoirs). I listened to them all on audiobook and loved them, but I’m sure the print versions are just as good!

  13. Try “Crazy Rich Asians”, by Kevin Kwan….it is a true page turner, very funny, and a bit of a vacation in Singapore.

  14. Thanks for the recommendations! I loved Me Before You – such a touching story. I also recently enjoyed Rules of Civility and The Interestings.

  15. A couple of years ago I read a wonderful book called “Devotion” by Dani Shapiro. It’s a memoir Dani wrote about struggling to bring together her devout religious upbringing with her adult beliefs and searching for spirituality and how to explain it to her son. I guess it’s a bit of a similar topic to “Eat Pray Love” as far as topic but it’s not quite as pretentious as I found EPL to be. It was really a beautiful read.

  16. The four of these I read I loved, and assume we must have similar tastes and I ought to read the rest! The Orphan Master’s Son, Lean In, and My Beloved World are some of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in the past year. The others are:

    Where’d You Go Bernadette
    The Round House
    The Book Thief

  17. I’m an Asheville local (and also worked for Biltmore for 7 years!). Make sure you go to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge (expect the line to be out the door on the weekends. The honey salted caramel is my favorite but my husband always gets a beer float). 5 Walnut is great for a glass of wine but I love Bouchon on Lexington the best for mussels and authentic French country food (the owner is from France). If you want further recs, let me know. Also, I’m a librarian and my favorite book I recently read is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Have a great weekend!

  18. Great suggestions! I’m reading The Light Between Oceans right now. I just finished the Cuckoo’s Calling (JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith) and really enjoyed it for a light summer read!

  19. i actually finished mr pettigrew’s last stand a few weeks ago — i purchased it from a library book sale ages ago (along with a TON of other books) and they have all just sat unread, while i devour other titles that i borrow from the library (yes, i actually use the library)

    i liked it a lot.

    I am slowly trying to work through my own personal library now, before getting more books from the library — going through Wind in the willows again, and hoping to actually read jane eyre — those bronte sisters’ books are so dark and depressing though….much prefer austen!

  20. Currently reading Beautiful Ruins and enjoying it immensely. Next up: the Book Thief, the Fault in Our Stars, and Graveyard Book. I loved Language of Flowers and will definitely add a few of these to my list. Thanks!

  21. I’m currently reading The Art Forger – about the Gardner Museum heist. It’s great read!

  22. Love Asheville. I dream of the biscuits and jam at the Tupelo Honey Cafe! It’s a must!
    I absolutely loved The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I subsequently devoured her other books which I also loved including The Ten Year Nap, The Wife and The Position. All great reads.

  23. Thanks so much for the book recs! I’m a huge book nerd too – it’s so fun to hear about your favorite books since we usually hear about your design faves.

    Anyway one of my favorite books lately is not a new book but I stumbled on it at the library: Are You My Guru? By Wendy Shanker. Anyone who loves Jenny Lawson I think will like Wendy. Not quite as funny but still a funny biography but with serious undertones. It’s very “real”. Loved it.

  24. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes…incredible book…only read if you want to have a good cry. MGM bought the movie rights earlier this year and are in the process of casting. Highly recommend this book!

  25. I loved “Where’d You Go Bernadette”! I basically inhaled it in one day. I’m looking forward to seeing who they cast as the title character in the movie.

  26. Erin,

    Thank you for book recommendations. Perfect post, being that i am excited for the wknd and to do nothing but read. I appreciate your recommendations on business and women. I was recently promoted to Project Manager in a field that is male dominated and is in the Oil/Gas industry in Houston. So having to be strong but not loose my feminity is something that kept me from acheiving goals in this field. But for the first time (i am a 40) i feel that i can still have both – not easy but doable.

    Always enjoy your post.

    Many Blessings,
    Houston, Texas

  27. Thank you for the recommendations! Lean in is waiting for me to finish my other book and get started (btw, I can’t read two books at the same time as many people do… great skill I wish I had :)
    Also, Sonia Sotomayor’s book is on my wish list!
    Hope you have a great weekend!

  28. Hi there, just wanted to say, lots of people come as well as bring modern tools and revolutionary knowledge and also style to this little islandat a times I liked this post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

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