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The 2019 Iowa Public Radio Summer Reading List



Whether you’re looking for scientific exploration, captivating memoir, or an opportunity to get lost in a novel, summer is the perfect time to pick up a new book release.

Below are reading recommendations from some of Iowa’s leading independent booksellers. Jan Weismiller and Tim Budd of Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City and Kathy McGruder from Page Turner’s books in Indianola.


Jan's List



Normal People by Sally Rooney  

This engrossing and  heartbreaking novel explores the relationship of two young Irish lovers,  Connell and Marianne. Sally Rooney unflinchingly explores class dynamics and young love with wit and nuance.


The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo  

This debut novel by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, Claire Lombardo, follows the lives of David and Marilynn Sorenson through their courtship and marriage in the early seventies through 2016.  The couple stay fully in love as they raise four radically different daughters and deal with the interconnected lives - and problems - of their evolving family.  A warm, funny, timely novel you won’t be able to put down


Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li     

Yiyun Li's gutting novel imagines a conversation between a mother and child months after the child's suicide. As Yiyun Li applies her own language to suicide, she is able to address it without cheap sentiment or condemnation. "There is absolutely nothing like this novel."


In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow    

Set in an African-American  rural North Carolina community between 1941 and 1987, In West Mills is the big-hearted story of the unlikely friendship between the steadfast Otis Lee and the flamboyant Azalea “Knot” Centre.


Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash     

Set in New York City in 1979 and 1980, Dakota Winters follows  twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter. Winter is back from the Peace Corps and on the mend from a nasty bout of malaria in his childhood home with his family. Anton's father, the famous late-night host Buddy Winter, is home all the time, too as he recovers from a breakdown. Anton is elected to help Buddy revive his career as the two get to know The Dakota’s most famous resident.   

 Tim's List

The Altruists by Andrew Ridker  

Arthur Alter, a middling Midwestern college professor, invites his two adult children, who haven't spoken to him since their mother's death from cancer two years ago, home for a family reunion. "Tender, intelligent, and hysterically funny -- you'll fall in love with these endearing characters."


Leading Men by Christopher Castellani

This novel jumps between the present day life of an aging, reclusive film star, Anja Bloom, and the summer in 1953 when, as a young woman, she met Tennessee Williams and his lover, Frank Merlo, in Portofino, Italy.  "Basing his story on letters, journals and imagination, Mr. Castellani spins a beautifully moving and lyrical tale about the nature of celebrity and relationships."


Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones by Micah Dean Hicks

Swine Hill, a small dying town where the only industry is the pork-processing plant, is haunted by ghosts -- some benign, some malevolent.  Janie, the heroine, struggles to escape with her family and find a better life. "A supernatural and totally original take on the issues at the heart of our nation.  Amazing!"


Foe by Iain Reid.  

Junior and his wife, Henrietta, live an ordinary existence on their isolated farm until a man arrives to notify Junior that he's been selected to be a part of an experimental mission to a space station.  He'll be gone for two years but not to worry -- the company will be providing a replacement while he's gone. "Reid's novels are akin to reading an episode of The Twilight Zone -- unsettling, haunting and, once you've reached the twist of an ending, deserving of a second read."

Kathy's List

Blood Standard by Laird Barron

Isaiah Coleridge always wanted to be a homberg and trenchcoat PI, instead he became a mob enforcer. Then one day he discovers his soul and ends up taking a mandatory medical vacation to a small farm in upstate New York and becomes involved in the disappearance of a young woman.  This is a unique combination of lyrical, violent, meditative non-stop action. New book is in black mountain.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

1936 Kentucky.  Cussy Mary Carter works for the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering books to the needy in the backcountry of Kentucky.  Born with a genetic condition that gives her blue skin, Cussy is viewed with suspicion by most of her customers. Nothing will stop her from delivering the joy of books to those living in the back hollers.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Stella Lane works with numbers. That's how she prefers it. But Stella, who has Asperger's, is pretty sure she's missing something so she hires escort Michael Phan to teach her how to have a relationship.  Things don't turn out exactly how Stella expected.

The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan

Mrs. Braithwaite has always been the queen of her small village. Until the divorce. Now, with the war on, she sets out for London to find her daughter who has stopped corresponding. The Blitz is no match for the loud, opinionated Mrs. Braithwaite. In her search for her missing daughter, Mrs. Braithwaite might just find herself.

Death in Kew Gardens by Jennifer Ashley

Third in the Below Stair Mysteries.  Kat Holloway is the cook in a victorian townhouse, weilding power and a cookbook below stairs.  She also has a disconcerting habit of becoming involved in murders. With the help of her mysterious friend, Daniel McAdam, Kat rights wrongs both upstairs and down.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

By the author of The Alice Network.  Following WWII, Ian Graham, a former reporter, hunts down Nazi criminals.  On the trail of a coldblooded killer known as the Huntress, he joins forces with Nina Markova, a Russian pilot from the famed Night Witches squadron who is also out for blood.  Their paths cross with a young photographer from Boston who is mourning the loss of her father. Twisty plot, great characters.

Starless by Jacqueline Carey

Khai has been raised his whole life to protect his soul's twin, the princess Zariya.  But when he is 13, Khai learns that the priests raising him kept something a secret. Khai is really a girl.  Thrust into the dangerous politics of the royal court, Khai struggles to understand himself and the evil that threatens the entire world.  Nonstop action, intrigue, a little romance with maybe a little Lovecraft thrown in, Starless is a world where the stars no longer shine in the sky but the gods walk the earth and it is up to Khai and Zariya to put things right.


 Jan's List

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About edited by Michele Filgate  


Fifteen writers discuss the things they found most difficult to tell their mothers.  


Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

This lush, foodie memoir is Reichl’s report of her years editing Gourmet Magazine. Reichl  started out with Alice Waters in California and moved to New York to be a Restaurant Critic for the New York Times before she took over Gourment Magazine and ran it for its last 10 years. "She is the best kind of storyteller!"


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo   

This  highly anticipated book ( it comes out on July 9th) contains  in-depth profiles of three very different women - surrounding issues  of  sexual desire and  emotional pain, and resilience.  There is nothing quite like it. It is riveting  


Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll  

This volume continues the rich Appalachian studies tradition of pushing back against one-sided caricatures of Appalachian people. The essays, poems, and photo-essays in this book demonstrate the diversity of Appalachian perspectives on the serious problems facing our nation.  


"This is a must-read for everyone who read (or refused to read) J. D. Vance's deeply flawed, best-selling memoir , Hillbilly Elegy."

Tim's List

In Miniature:  How Small Things Illuminate the World by Simon Garfield  

This look at our fascination with miniatures, from train sets to doll houses to architectural models, draws us into a world of obsession, control and creativity.  "Totally riveting....Garfield's observations combine history, wit and some wry head-scratching as he examines what leads us to craft tiny things."


The Debatable Land:  The Lost World between Scotland & England by Graham Robb  

When Robb and his wife move from Oxford to a small house in the northwest corner of England on the Scottish border, he begins to investigate the history of his new home, from present day back to Roman times.  "An engaging tale of historical investigation juxtaposed with modern observation about a neutral corner of land that has existed for centuries before England and Scotland were even nations."


100 Speeches that Changed the World  by Colin Salter.  

Ranging from Socrates to Oprah Winfrey, from Abraham Lincoln to Lou Gehrig, these speeches are printed along with photos and the historical context surrounding them.  "A great reference book framing the words and speeches that seem so familiar to us into the immediacy of the times that incited them."


5 Ingredients:  Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver  

Chef Oliver's twentieth cookbook gives us a primer for delicious, easy-to-make dishes to encourage us to get back to cooking from scratch.  "I'm not a great cook by any measurable means, but even I can handle five ingredients. Great food for any cook, novice to expert."

Kathy's List

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

Poet Ross Gay decided to write one essay a day about something that delighted him. In beautiful language, Gay meditates on hummingbirds, transporting tomato plants on airplanes, gestures, courthouse statues and a man lying on a sidewalk. The smallest things can be a delight.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Explore therapy with Lori Gottlieb, a therapist who came to the field through Hollywood.  At once the story of her own therapy, a description of the sessions of several of her patients and an exploration of what therapy is and does, this is a funny, thoughtful, personal book.  You will cry, laugh, and sit down and contemplate your life.

Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer

Driftless at the age of 19, Lara Prior-Palmer discovers the Mongol Derby, which is touted as the world's longest, toughest horse race.  On a whim, she signs up and shows up for the start of the race with her Winnie-the-Pooh journal full of poetry and a bottle of pills (although she can't recall which pill is for what malady) only to discover that the other constestants have been preparing for a year or more for the race.  Only momentarily disturbed, Lara tackles the race with with all the enthusiasm that only someone who would bring a copy of Shakespeare's the Tempest to the world's toughest horse race can display.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O'Meara

Did you know that the creator of the Creature from the movie "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" was a woman? Most people don't. Mallory O'Meara, a young producer from Hollywood, was likewise surprised. Because Creature was her favorite movie, O'Meara began researching Patrick's life.  At once the revelation of Patrick's story and a glimpse into what Hollywood is like today for women. The ferociously intelligent O'Meara pulls no punches in this witty, revealing, touching and very funny book."You MUST read the footnotes. I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a book more."

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Dennis Reese was the mid-day host for Iowa Public Radio
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa