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What to read this summer: CT Public staffers share their favorite books

We recently asked members of the Connecticut Public staff to share their top picks for summer reads. The list below is filled with stories for every reader — everything from historical nonfiction to fantasy, horror and graphic novels.

We hope you find something to dig into while relaxing this summer!


“Small Mercies” by Dennis Lehane

The murder of a young Black man is the fuel for this story, set against the toxic strife of Boston’s 1970s busing crisis. The writer who gave us “Mystic River” is not known for sugar-coating, and, true to form, Lehane delivers both barrels of social ugliness. I consumed the audiobook version, performed by Robin Miles, who really nails the accent and mindset of bigoted Irish-Americans in the Southie neighborhood of Boston. This is even more astonishing when you realize Miles is a woman of color.

-Colin McEnroe, Host


“Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver

Add me to the list of people knocked out by this transposition of “David Copperfield” to the recent American South. Her narrator (real name Damon Fields) has more jagged edges than his Dickens counterpart. Kingsolver keeps the bones and themes of the original work, but doesn’t stick to it slavishly. This is mostly good news, although those who were fond of the Micawbers will find their comic charm absent from their new counterparts, the McCobbs. Poverty, pills, football and a hellish foster care system drive the story.

-Colin McEnroe, Host

Blackstone Publishing

“I Hear the Sirens in the Street” by Adrian McKinty

McKinty has a new Det. Sean Duffy novel coming out in August, so I grabbed this older one off the nightstand. Duffy is a Catholic cop in the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the Troubles of the 1980s. (There’s sort of a theme running through my choices, I’m noticing.) Duffy’s narrative voice is irresistible. He’s a wisecracking polymath and autodidact, spitting out a “Jeopardy!” board of complex musical, literary and historical references as he pushes his way through a gruesome murder case.

-Colin McEnroe, Host 

Penguin Classics

“As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams” by Lady Sarashina

This book was written roughly 1,000 years ago by a young Japanese girl known only as “Lady Sarashina.” She worked in and out of Japan’s imperial court and was obsessed with romantic fiction. There’s something really comforting about the life of someone who lived so long ago, and on the other side of the world, but experienced the same wants and needs as all of us today — and used fiction as a way to escape. I love that sense of universality among humans, it gives me the warm and fuzzies.

-Catherine Shen, Host

Penguin Classics

“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac

When it comes to summer, I always think about road trips and local adventures. So I tend to crave some of Kerouac’s “On the Road,” a 1957 novel based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across the United States. This is a frequent revisit that will always have a special nostalgic place in my heart because I also road tripped my way from the West Coast to the East Coast — and tend to be traveling whenever I read this. It also always gives me cravings for hamburgers, fries and milkshakes.

-Catherine Shen, Host

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/William Morrow Paperbacks

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

There’s nothing like having your life tipped upside down by 13 dwarves and a wizard who just decided to pop in for a quick chat then whisk you off to the adventure of your life. That was Bilbo Baggins’ worst nightmare, but he made the best of it, and I’m always delighted to be back in Tolkien’s fantasy world with a cup of tea in hand — curled up safely in my armchair.

-Catherine Shen, Host

Image Comics

“It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth” by Zoe Thorogood

The tragic, funny and disturbing story of a young, female artist and comic creator dealing with her mental health, career and relationships during the pandemic.

The story and the art are raw.

-Matt Dwyer, Host/Producer/Reporter

Andrews McMeel Publishing

“Everything is OK” by Debbie Tung

The funny and touching story of a young, female cartoonist dealing with her mental health, career and relationships.

The story and the drawings are gentle, but honest.

-Matt Dwyer, Host/Producer/Reporter

Life Drawn/Simon & Schuster

“Tiki: A Very Ruff Year” by David Azencot and Fred Leclerc

This story of a French family buying a dog during the pandemic goes in some unexpected directions.

Fair warning: You may not get the ending you want.

-Matt Dwyer, Host/Producer/Reporter

W. W. Norton & Company

“Embracing Defeat” by John W. Dower

I haven’t seen "Oppenheimer," but this book is about the aftermath of World War II from the Japanese perspective. It's a really engrossing read.

-Eddy Martinez, Reporter


“The Snakehead” by Patrick Radden Keefe

About a Chinese woman who ended up controlling a highly lucrative human smuggling business in New York during the 1990s.

-Eddy Martinez, Reporter


“Byways” by Roger A. Deakins 

Roger Deakins is well-known as one of the most influential cinematographers of all time.

This book contains a massive collection of his 35mm still photographs and personal stories during his time spent on various films — as well as Deakins' personal life through the lens.

-David Wurtzel, Visuals Journalist

Ballantine Books

“The Bandit Queens” by Parini Shroff 

I picked this book up on a whim and it surprised me how much I liked it.

It does describe some upsetting events, but it's also a lot of fun and a very sweet friendship story.

-Kate Seltzer, Reporter, The Accountability Project


“The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder” by David Grann

From the title, you get the gist. Ship sets sail. Ship crashes. People get nasty with each other. But what makes the whole nonfiction tale so engrossing is how it’s laid out — both by Grann — and by the first-person accounts of the people who lived through the disaster.

-Patrick Skahill, Digital Editor

Word Horde

“The Fisherman” by John Langan

I have a thing for terrible tales involving water. But at least this story isn’t real. Drawing upon “nameless horror” tropes from early-20th century pulp novels, this tale begins with a man who discovers a love of fishing. It gets a lot weirder and stranger from there.

-Patrick Skahill, Digital Editor

Penguin Publishing

“Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty

I am always like five to 10 years behind media publication, so I just read "Big Little Lies" a couple months ago and it's SO GOOD. (Way better than the HBO Max show; I couldn't even get through the first episode of that.)

It's the story of a bunch of wealthy parents in a beach town that's kind of the Australian equivalent of Boca Raton or Monterey. In the aftermath of a deadly altercation at a school fundraising event, the book unravels the mystery through flashbacks told through the eyes of three parents at the school. A really fun blend of high-stakes murder-mystery drama and mundane (but still very spicy) domestic drama.

-Kay Perkins, Reporter


“American Mermaid” by Julia Langbein

Mermaids, movies, eco-warriors ... what else could you want in a summer read? Julia Langbein's novel is a about a writer who goes to Hollywood to adapt a novel she wrote about a mermaid, and all sorts of strange stuff happens as the story is taken out of her control.

And, as an added bonus, part of it takes place in New Haven, Connecticut!

-Lily Tyson, Senior Producer

W. W. Norton & Company

“Mermaids in Paradise” by Lydia Millet

If you want to stick with the mermaid theme, Lydia Millet's 2015 novel follows a couple on their honeymoon at a resort where mermaids are discovered. Both novels will make you a bit more worried about humanity and a lot more enchanted by mermaids.

-Lily Tyson, Senior Producer

Penguin Press

“Disorientation” by Elaine Hsieh Chou

“Disorientation” grapples with big ideas about how Asian Americans are treated in universities and beyond, without losing sight of the smaller moments that drive the story forward.

Disorientation is often described as a satire of academia, which is accurate, but beyond its funny, yet horrifying, social commentaries are characters navigating the messiness of understanding racial identity and making their way through a world that has too often flattened them into ideas.

That's a mistake that this novel never makes (at least as far as I’ve read).

-Kevin Chang Barnum, Producer, Disrupted

One World

“Bestiary” by K-Ming Chang

This novel, which K-Ming Chang wrote while in college, crackles with unpredictability. Its characters move through a magical realist world full of the beauty of desire and the griminess that undergirds everyday life. Growing up in an intersection of marginalized identities, this book's narrator offers a poetic voice so stunning I often need to pause at the end of paragraphs.

But the book isn't for readers who are easily grossed out.

-Kevin Chang Barnum, Producer, Disrupted

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