2018 Diverse books of summer

We have hand-picked some of the most anticipated books of the year, and melded them into a diverse summer reading list that will satisfy your every desire. From heart-wrenching memoir to espionage, to the dance stage of the Joseon Dynasty, these stories will consume you and leave you wanting more.

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Number One Chinese Restaurant is a wise multi-generational debut novel about the complicated lives and loves of the people working in The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland. Multi-voiced, poignant, and darkly funny, it looks beyond red tablecloths and silkscreen murals to share an unforgettable story about youth and aging, parents and children, and all the ways that family complicates life while also keeping us grounded.

Old In Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Painter

After retiring from Princeton University, celebrated historian Dr. Nell Irvin Painter surprised her family, friends and colleagues by returning to school – in her 60s – to earn a BFA and MFA in painting. This memoir is her ongoing exploration of questions such as: “How are women and artists seen and judged by their age, looks and race?” and “Who defines what ‘an artist’ is?”

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Inspired by the author’s own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of seven-year-old Chula and Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different coming-of-age stories. Contreras gracefully sheds light on the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence, and brings hope in the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperate situations.

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

In search of the American dream, Scarlett Chen, a pregnant Chinese immigrant woman makes her way to California and into a secret maternity home in Los Angeles – a place of bitter medicinal stews and imperious housemates. But when a new sonogram of the baby reveals the unexpected, she attempts to flee. Little does she know, she’s carrying a stow-away in the van she’s stolen, and the father of her baby is on her trail.

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

In this tense and psychologically charged novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can transform into a bitter struggle for survival. When Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead, an act of betrayal launches life into a downward spiral, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

When the communist-backed army invades her home, 16-year-old Haemi Lee, her widowed mother and ailing brother are forced to flee to a refugee camp. As Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, she makes a decision that sets off a dramatic saga – one that has profound consequences for generations to come. This story joins a portrait of war and refugee life with a timeless romance, for a very real and engrossing portrayal.

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay

In this revealing anthology, bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gas-lit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. 

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

Jana, Brit, Daniel and Henry would never have been friends if they hadn’t needed each other. They would never have become family without their love for the music and for each other. Together, they are the Van Ness Quartet. And together, they experience devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty.

Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour

For as long as writer Porochista Khakpour can remember, she has been sick without a diagnosis. Through drug addiction, major hospitalizations, daily anguish, pain and mounting hospital bills, she finally discovers she has late-stage Lyme disease. Readers meander through Khakpour’s arduous, emotional journey through the chronic illness that perpetually left her a victim of anxiety. With candor and grace, she examines her subsequent struggles with mental illness, her addiction and her ever-deteriorating physical health.


What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan

The Zhen family has moved back to China after chasing the American dream with no success. As Lina settles into her new life of leisure, she discovers her coveted ivory bracelet is gone, and a wave of unrest settles throughout the household. While Wei wishes he had engaged in nobler work, Lina spends her days regretting their arranged marriage. The return of Wei’s brother Qiang, whom Lina has suppressed feelings for, will cause each member of the family to confront secrets of their past.

The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin

A novice French diplomat arrives for an audience with the Emperor, and is enraptured by the dynasty’s magnificent culture. When he sees Yi Jin perform the delicate traditional Dance of the Spring Oriole, he confesses his love to the Emperor, gaining permission for Yi Jin to accompany him back to France. In her newly free, independent life, Yi Jin begins translating and publishing Joseon literature and settles into her new culture. But great sorrow awaits her, and it’s amplified by homesickness and longing. Rich with historic detail and filled with luminous characters, Kyung-Sook Shin brings a lost era lovingly to life.

Alison Luther

Alison Luther is a freelance editor and writer based in Fredericksburg, TX, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her background is in digital consumer content and marketing strategies, but today she focuses on small business marketing, ghostwriting, and writing about all things books on She Reads. In addition to raising longhorn, chickens, and children, she loves to cook and is a voracious reader.

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