Recommended Summer Reading from Cincinnati Book Geeks and Literary Experts

Remember in high school when you spent your summers procrastinating, avoiding the soul-sucking drudgery of required summer reading lists in favor of swimming pools and TV? One of the good things about growing up is that the magic of reading returns. As an adult, spending time absorbed in a new book becomes a delicious luxury — a slice of self-care in a busy world.

As such, we have asked a handful of local literary geeks — librarians, novelists, advocates and CityBeat staffers — for their top three “required summer reading” recommendations for adults. The book options range from dystopian adventures and sexy sci-fi to music biographies and true-crime thrillers. There are fluffy reads for poolside lounging and longer, more challenging options for people who want to dig deep. Whether you’re reading alone or with a book club, here are 26 options to pique your interest.

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Here are 26 book recommendations from local literary authorities, book nerds and CityBeat staffers
Here are 26 book recommendations from local literary authorities, book nerds and CityBeat staffers
"This structurally brilliant memoir isn’t Ward’s most recent, well-known or award-winning book, but I’d argue it’s her best. Telling the stories around the deaths of five young men close to her, including her brother, Ward poignantly and personally considers race, class and masculinity in America." — Hillary Copsey, founder of Make America Read
"This structurally brilliant memoir isn’t Ward’s most recent, well-known or award-winning book, but I’d argue it’s her best. Telling the stories around the deaths of five young men close to her, including her brother, Ward poignantly and personally considers race, class and masculinity in America." — Hillary Copsey, founder of Make America Read
"To the young Brooklynite music producers Seth and Carter, who are both white, the black music of the early recording era is supremely authentic. In this ambitious novel, the two set out to collect the most obscure 78-RPM Blues records, which they mine for samples to repackage in their own electronic music. When Carter discovers Seth’s recording of a man in a park singing a haunting Blues number that sounds like it drifted in from the past, he doctors it and posts it online, passing it off as a long-lost record by a fictitious singer named Charlie Shaw. The hoax seems harmless, until Seth learns the fake recording — and the singer they invented — are both, somehow, real. The story takes a supernatural turn." — Steve Kemple, manager of the Price Hill Branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
"To the young Brooklynite music producers Seth and Carter, who are both white, the black music of the early recording era is supremely authentic. In this ambitious novel, the two set out to collect the most obscure 78-RPM Blues records, which they mine for samples to repackage in their own electronic music. When Carter discovers Seth’s recording of a man in a park singing a haunting Blues number that sounds like it drifted in from the past, he doctors it and posts it online, passing it off as a long-lost record by a fictitious singer named Charlie Shaw. The hoax seems harmless, until Seth learns the fake recording — and the singer they invented — are both, somehow, real. The story takes a supernatural turn." — Steve Kemple, manager of the Price Hill Branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
"If you’ve yet to take your summer vacay at the beach or need something to read while hanging in your hammock, Leah Stewart’s latest novel is perfect. Plus, she’s a Cincinnati local, which is cool. It’s a page-turner that marries depth with action and cliffhangers. Stewart ties in societal commentary without feeling heavy handed. Outlaw, a popular actor, struggles with his sense of identity, fame and how others perceive him. He’s kidnapped while vacationing on a secluded island to get away, while in L.A., his ex-girlfriend — they both still have feelings for one another — deals with her own diminished fame. Stewart has created an easy, thought-provoking read to escape in." – Mackenzie Manley, CityBeat copy editor
"If you’ve yet to take your summer vacay at the beach or need something to read while hanging in your hammock, Leah Stewart’s latest novel is perfect. Plus, she’s a Cincinnati local, which is cool. It’s a page-turner that marries depth with action and cliffhangers. Stewart ties in societal commentary without feeling heavy handed. Outlaw, a popular actor, struggles with his sense of identity, fame and how others perceive him. He’s kidnapped while vacationing on a secluded island to get away, while in L.A., his ex-girlfriend — they both still have feelings for one another — deals with her own diminished fame. Stewart has created an easy, thought-provoking read to escape in." – Mackenzie Manley, CityBeat copy editor
"I’m always looking for books that are in what I consider the sweet spot, books that have the strengths of both literary and genre fiction — skillful sentences, psychologically complicated characters and compelling plots. This book is a riveting tale of a dystopian future in which the world has been changed by the spread of some truly horrific ticks, and a sensitive, fascinating portrait of the people who have to live there." — Leah Stewart, author and University of Cincinnati professor
"I’m always looking for books that are in what I consider the sweet spot, books that have the strengths of both literary and genre fiction — skillful sentences, psychologically complicated characters and compelling plots. This book is a riveting tale of a dystopian future in which the world has been changed by the spread of some truly horrific ticks, and a sensitive, fascinating portrait of the people who have to live there." — Leah Stewart, author and University of Cincinnati professor
"If you are devouring 'The Handmaid’s Tale' on Hulu like I am, you need this book. This is the first book in the MaddAddam Trilogy, which takes us into a post-apocalyptic future. Our main character, 'Snowman,' recalls the time before the plague that killed most of humanity to try to understand how he got to his present state. He takes us on a ride that includes: uncontrolled genetic engineering, 'miracle' pharmaceuticals, all-seeing corporations and many dark-web-related things. Atwood is a master at creating universes that play at the edges of reality. She makes us think this could be our reality, and she does so in a way that is subtle and terrifying. Read this if you are wondering if things could be worse." — Ella Mulford, popular library department manager, Cincinnati main library
"If you are devouring 'The Handmaid’s Tale' on Hulu like I am, you need this book. This is the first book in the MaddAddam Trilogy, which takes us into a post-apocalyptic future. Our main character, 'Snowman,' recalls the time before the plague that killed most of humanity to try to understand how he got to his present state. He takes us on a ride that includes: uncontrolled genetic engineering, 'miracle' pharmaceuticals, all-seeing corporations and many dark-web-related things. Atwood is a master at creating universes that play at the edges of reality. She makes us think this could be our reality, and she does so in a way that is subtle and terrifying. Read this if you are wondering if things could be worse." — Ella Mulford, popular library department manager, Cincinnati main library
"A recent pick of my book group, this is an inventive, deeply researched account of how the music, politics, drug explorations and countercultural rebellion of the late 1960s/early 1970s combined to make Boston a 'secret' (compared to, say, New York or San Francisco) influencer on a changing America during that period. Walsh centers his story on how a cantankerous Van Morrison, while living in Boston, came to write and begin performing his landmark, mystical Folk-Jazz masterpiece, the 'Astral Weeks' album. But there are all sorts of unusual and compelling twists and turns in his narrative about the interconnected nature of all things Bostonian — Timothy Leary, the movie 'Zabriskie Point,' a strange cult leader named Mel Lyman, and much more." — Steven Rosen, CityBeat Arts & Culture editor
"A recent pick of my book group, this is an inventive, deeply researched account of how the music, politics, drug explorations and countercultural rebellion of the late 1960s/early 1970s combined to make Boston a 'secret' (compared to, say, New York or San Francisco) influencer on a changing America during that period. Walsh centers his story on how a cantankerous Van Morrison, while living in Boston, came to write and begin performing his landmark, mystical Folk-Jazz masterpiece, the 'Astral Weeks' album. But there are all sorts of unusual and compelling twists and turns in his narrative about the interconnected nature of all things Bostonian — Timothy Leary, the movie 'Zabriskie Point,' a strange cult leader named Mel Lyman, and much more." — Steven Rosen, CityBeat Arts & Culture editor
"This book was my favorite of 2018 — you can’t put it down. This book will hold your attention from page one. Beautifully written, 'An American Marriage' will give you the entire range of emotions, but its real brilliance is in the storytelling. When characters Celestial and Roy are in the wrong place at the wrong time, Roy gets arrested and goes to prison for a crime he did not commit. Jones makes every character explode off the page as you feel with them and for them. This book tackles hard topics like the prison industrial complex, racism and classism, and Jones expertly maneuvers the plot and characters like a chess master keeping the reader wanting more. Filled with heartbreak, regret, love and hope, this is a book you won’t want to end." — Ella Mulford, popular library department manager, Cincinnati main library
"This book was my favorite of 2018 — you can’t put it down. This book will hold your attention from page one. Beautifully written, 'An American Marriage' will give you the entire range of emotions, but its real brilliance is in the storytelling. When characters Celestial and Roy are in the wrong place at the wrong time, Roy gets arrested and goes to prison for a crime he did not commit. Jones makes every character explode off the page as you feel with them and for them. This book tackles hard topics like the prison industrial complex, racism and classism, and Jones expertly maneuvers the plot and characters like a chess master keeping the reader wanting more. Filled with heartbreak, regret, love and hope, this is a book you won’t want to end." — Ella Mulford, popular library department manager, Cincinnati main library
"This incredibly well-researched historical narrative follows the vibrant and tragic true lives of America’s 'Radium Girls,' female factory workers in the 1920s who were poisoned by the radium paint they worked with to apply luminous numbers to clocks and dials. The Undark paint was a huge fad in home décor and military applications, and these women spent all day lip-pointing brushes dipped in the lethal substance — at the instruction of their employers — ingesting and digesting deadly amounts of glowing poison. When the women started falling ill from radiation sickness — stories detail bone fractures, jaw necrosis, rotting and putrid teeth, shattered hips and femurs — questions about health, safety and the workplace were raised that forever changed our labor laws." — Maija Zummo, CityBeat editor
"This incredibly well-researched historical narrative follows the vibrant and tragic true lives of America’s 'Radium Girls,' female factory workers in the 1920s who were poisoned by the radium paint they worked with to apply luminous numbers to clocks and dials. The Undark paint was a huge fad in home décor and military applications, and these women spent all day lip-pointing brushes dipped in the lethal substance — at the instruction of their employers — ingesting and digesting deadly amounts of glowing poison. When the women started falling ill from radiation sickness — stories detail bone fractures, jaw necrosis, rotting and putrid teeth, shattered hips and femurs — questions about health, safety and the workplace were raised that forever changed our labor laws." — Maija Zummo, CityBeat editor
"Read it because summer is a time for adventure. Two young girls hold the secret to returning magic to the land of Orïsha, but they are ruthlessly hunted by the son of the King, who has decided magic must never return. The real magic is Adeyemi’s writing: fun characters, a wild imagination and beautiful world-building that blends in West African mythology." — Adam Vorobok, fiction reference library, Cincinnati main library
"Read it because summer is a time for adventure. Two young girls hold the secret to returning magic to the land of Orïsha, but they are ruthlessly hunted by the son of the King, who has decided magic must never return. The real magic is Adeyemi’s writing: fun characters, a wild imagination and beautiful world-building that blends in West African mythology." — Adam Vorobok, fiction reference library, Cincinnati main library