Best Summer Reads for 2020

Updated: July 3, 2020

With a pandemic going on, it is SO tough to quench wanderlust, so I thought I'd help you out with a reading list.

This isn't  your typical lighthearted summer reading list. We're traveling to different eras to really help you quell your adventurous spirit (since it's so hard to experience different cultures right now in the thick of this pandemic). 

And, since these are tough times, we're focusing on tough situations - like growing up in the south during the Civil Rights Era, enduring the Sweating Sickness that plagued England during the late 1400s and through the mid-1500s, living through a bombing that precipitated America's entrance into World War I. 

This list is full of deep, emotionally rich books, but we're in deep in 2020, and it gives me comfort to read about situations that are worse still, and it gives me hope and strength to see grace, love, and humanity portrayed in these books.

I also think you'll find a sense of adventure in each of these... and maybe lose yourself in someone else's story for a while.

Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel's writing took a bit for me to get into.  In fact, I almost gave up before I adapted to her writing style.  The first in a trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII, Mantel paints this story with words. 

She traces history from Henry VIII's first marriage to Catherine of Aragon through to Anne becoming queen all with Thomas Cromwell at the heart of this story.

While the book is written in third person, Mantel also writes from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell adapting her writing style to match Cromwell's thoughts.  Cromwell has flashbacks to his childhood with an abusive father and to his youth abroad, and the prose changes distinctly and abruptly during these flashbacks becoming quite disjointed.

But, Mantel has a way of writing poetry in prose, and her description of peacock feathers that served as angel wings on Thomas' youngest daughter, Grace, around page 170 or so... well, I could not put this book down after reading that passage. 

During this time period, Europe and England were plagued by frequent outbreaks of the deadly Sweating Sickness, a mysterious disease that first appeared in the late 1400s and disappeared again around 1550. Sweating Sickness is frequently mentioned throughout Wolf Hall and its deadly fingers touch Cromwell's life on more than one occasion.

Mantel also does a beautiful job of sculpting the nuances of politics and religion during this time - when Catholicism was still predominant in England, right at the birth of the Protestant Reformation.  Indeed, these were dangerous times.  Life under a dictator in the form of a king, lack of religious freedom, and occasional epidemics due to a deadly disease.

Wolf Hall is rich, deep, nuanced, and hauntingly beautiful.  I've read it twice, and the second reading was like the first, a new journey into history as I picked up more and more of the culture I'd missed during the first reading.

What's more, all three of the books in this trilogy are now available.  I've read Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (the second in the trilogy).

The Mirror and the Light (the third in this trilogy) was just released in March 2020. 

Needless to say, I'm waiting for it to release in paperback (I love holding a book in my hands as I read it, and paperback is so much better than hardback).

If you enjoy Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and The Mirror & the Light will also serve you well.

Dead Wake

Erik Larson follows passengers aboard the Lusitania on its final fateful voyage across the Atlantic.  Dead Wake is incredibly prescient to what's going on in our world right now.

This book tells of the warnings precipitating the sinking of the Lusitania, the same warnings echoed before borders started closing to contain the outbreak of COVID.  Dead Wake is the story of the people who didn't heed the warnings and what happened when "What if" became a reality. 

Their stories are captivating - both the stories of the ones who lived and the ones who perished, and that's the mastery of Erik Larson - bringing history to life, telling the story from the individual's point of view, exhaustively researching his subject matter and then weaving an alluring tale that etches history into my mind in a way I cannot forget.

If only they made us read books like this (both Dead Wake and Wolf Hall) for our history classes.

If you enjoy Dead Wake, Erik Larson has many other historical fiction books - Devil in the White City tracks the feud between Edison and Tesla (the FAR superior inventor) and also the actions of a serial killer in Chicago circa the World Fair of 1893.  Warning - the serial killer portion of this book is VERY dark.  Tesla v. Edison ALWAYS interesting.

In the Garden of Beasts, also by Erik Larson, is on my "must read" list for 2020, and it tells the story of Germany on the precipice of the abyss into a Nazi regime.

To Kill a Mockingbird

I've read Harper Lee's novel probably 30 or 40 times, and unlike the story that plays out weekly in America of black people being killed for crimes they didn't commit, To Kill a Mockingbird never gets old.  I find comfort in this novel, and if you have any from your school years that resonate with you - A Separate Peace, Stepping on the Cracks, or Their Eyes Were Watching God, now is a great time to revisit. 

My Southern Journey

Erik Larson and Hilary Mantel are intense writers, and To Kill a Mockingbird has plenty of heart rending moments.  So to bring some levity back into your days, My Southern Journey:  The Stories from the Heart of the South by Rick Bragg is a collection of short stories that will have you in stitches. 

Why am I including it here? 

I've found few writers take me on an adventure quite like Rick Bragg - visiting a quieter era, a leisurely travel to a slower time, a reminder that life is lovely even in everyday routines and adventure is where we find it - as close as a river mud bank or a patch of grass under a pine.

woman reading a book under a tree outside with natural light cascading around

I hope you enjoy at least one of these books this summer, and I'd love to hear which one(s) you choose, so please leave a comment below or DM me on IG.

To wellness and better days.

P.S. If you need more reads for 2020, check these out.

The Help

Tears and stitches.  I LOVED The Help.  I know this is an older book (like you know, 2010 or so), but if you didn't check it out when it was hot before, pick it up now, it's a great lighthearted summer read about a weighty subject.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Full disclaimer - I haven't read this book yet (I KNOOWWWWW,  SOOOO late to the game!).  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has been on my "to read list" for almost a decade ever since I heard a brief piece about it on The Diane Rehm Show.  I'm really hoping to cross this one off my list in 2020.

Lady Long Rider

This is another one that's on my "to read list" for this year.  Lady Long Rider is the story of one woman riding across America on horseback.

Anne Frank:  Diary of a Young Woman

If it's been a while since you've read Anne Frank's diary, I encourage you to pick it up this summer - I am continually astounded by the wisdom of a 14-year old girl every time I open this diary.

About the Author

Brandy Searcy of Return to Eden Cosmetics

Brandy Searcy is an outdoor girl who loves hiking, gardening, bird-watching, and body boarding.  Her innate curiosity means she's constantly researching something, and she's likely sharing what she's learned here on the blog. 

Nearly obsessive about her skincare, she started developing products to pack with her on day hikes and soon realized her backpacking friends were searching for a portable skincare routine as well, and that's how Rain Organica started.

Brandy's LinkedIn Bio

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