13 feel-good books to brighten your summer

No disrespect meant to the downers of the literary world, but sometimes you just want a book that makes you smile. Here’s a collection of the best feel-good reads of the year so far. They’ll make you laugh, and they might make you cry — but only tears of happiness.

Book Lovers

By Emily Henry, Berkley, 384 pages, $16.99

Nora is a workaholic literary agent with a reputation as a shark. Charlie is the brooding book editor who works just as much as she does. After a combative first meeting, the two New Yorkers bump into each other in a small North Carolina town years later, when they’d both rather be anywhere else. Despite their sizzling chemistry, Nora and Charlie do their best to resist the happily ever after that readers will root for from Page 1. Henry’s signature witty banter sets Book Lovers apart in the current crop of rom-coms.

Chef’s Kiss

By TJ Alexander, Atria/Emily Bestler Books, paperback, 320 pages, $13.60

Pick up Alexander’s debut novel for the autumnal galette or cookie-crumb-crust cheesecake. Stay for the romance that develops between pastry chef Simone and her nonbinary colleague Ray. Chef’s Kiss, which takes place in a Bon Appétit-style test kitchen, is like a dish of comfort food you’ll want to devour.

Flying Solo

By Linda Holmes, Ballantine Books, 320 pages, $25.20

Holmes’s debut novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, was required summer reading when it published in 2019. Now she’s back with Flying Solo, about a single woman on the cusp of her 40th birthday who returns to Maine to clean out her great aunt’s home. While there, she finds a mysterious wood duck that leads her on — well, a wild-goose chase, which detours to an old love. The novel is a refreshing reminder that there’s no one-size-fits-all mold for a relationship and that fulfillment can be achieved many ways.

From Hollywood with Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy

By Scott Meslow, Dey Street Books, 432 pages, $18.99

We can’t all live in a rom-com, but we can at least appreciate the masters of the genre. Meslow offers a worthy homage to them in this deep-dive that spans 30 years of hits, from When Harry Met Sally to Crazy Rich Asians. The book is sprinkled with fun trivia, photos, and interviews with directors and stars.

The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty

By Sy Montgomery, Atria Books, 96 pages, $17.99

If you’re a bird-lover — or otherwise revel in nature — you’ll appreciate Montgomery’s latest, which clocks in at just under 100 pages. In The Hawk’s Way, she recalls getting to know a 4-year-old raptor named Jazz, which led her on a journey to understand the animals. It’s an informative read that will make you want to go outside and look up into the sky.

Let’s Not Do That Again

By Grant Ginder, Henry Holt and Co., 352 pages, $23.99

If you long for the days of Veep, look for the same dysfunctional family dynamics and political misadventures in Ginder’s latest novel. It’s about Senate hopeful Nancy Harrison, whose adult children are problematically adrift — especially Greta, who’s making headlines for her involvement in a Parisian riot. That’s not good for the ol’ campaign, so Nancy and her son head to France to bring Greta home. Ginder — whose previous novels include The People We Hate at the Wedding — delivers a delicious satire that’s excellent escapism.

The Maid

By Nita Prose, Ballantine Books, 304 pages, $16.90

Here’s a cozy mystery to take along on vacation: It’s about Molly, a socially challenged housekeeper at a fancy hotel who finds a wealthy guest dead in the penthouse. Once the police decide she’s suspect No. 1 — an easy case to make, based on her slightly odd mannerisms — her organized life is thrown into chaos. Fortunately, an unexpected and quirky cast of friends turns up to help prove her innocence. The Maid is a lighthearted mystery that shines as Molly evolves and learns to connect. It’s being adapted into a movie starring Florence Pugh.

One Italian Summer

By Rebecca Serle, Atria Books, 272 pages, $8.64 at press time

Katy is unmoored when her mom, Carol, dies — so she heads to Italy on the vacation they had been planning to take together. Once there, she encounters a 30-year-old incarnation of her mother, and the two embark on a magical romp that helps Katy understand who Carol was as a young woman, before her identity became “mom.” Serle’s novel is a touching mother-daughter story that speaks to the transcendence of parental love. Try the audio version, which is narrated by actor Lauren Graham.

Remarkably Bright Creatures

By Shelby Van Pelt, Ecco, 368 pages, $18.69

If a misanthropic octopus sounds like fun, you’ll appreciate Van Pelt’s debut novel. It’s about Tova, a widow who works the night shift at a Washington state aquarium, which keeps her busy after her son’s disappearance three decades ago. The giant octopus, named Marcellus, just might hold the keys to unearthing what happened to Tova’s son. Remarkably Bright Creatures is a charming novel with a stunning setting and the perfect amount of wit and wisdom.

This Time Tomorrow

By Emma Straub, Riverhead Books, 320 pages, $18.47

Straub puts her own spin on 13 Going on 30 in this stirring time-travel novel. It centers on Alice, who’s stuck in many aspects of life as she watches her beloved father slowly die. She wakes up on the eve of her 40th birthday and discovers she’s 16 again — and that her dad is young and vibrant. This time around, she asks him questions, soaks in his stories, and gets a second chance to fix old mistakes. Like all of Straub’s books, This Time Tomorrow shines with humor and warmth.

Unlikely Animals

By Annie Hartnett, Ballantine Books, 368 pages, $22.99

In Hartnett’s new novel, protagonist Emma returns home to New Hampshire to care for her dad, who has a degenerative brain disease. He’s hallucinating animals and also reports seeing the ghost of Ernest, a naturalist who has been dead for many years. There’s a lot happening in Unlikely Animals, including Emma and her dad’s efforts to find an old friend struggling with addiction. It’s a quirky, poignant novel about family, community, and love for our animal friends.

The Wise Women

By Gina Sorell, Harper, 352 pages, $22.99

Wendy was a longtime successful advice columnist — though you wouldn’t know it from her two daughters’ disorganized lives. They’re riddled with problems, some of which might be her fault, so she flees her Florida retirement village and shows up in New York to save the day. As the women aim to solve their dilemmas, it becomes apparent that Wendy has plenty of her own. The Wise Women is cheerful and full of heart. ◀

All book prices and page counts sourced from amazon.com. Listed books are hardcover unless otherwise indicated.

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