You’re Ready To Win Summer Reading Bingo
The books that will help you fill in your card
It’s finally here. This summer’s Bingo Card:
How To Play
Get a copy of your card here.
Fill it in with books you read between now and Labor Day.
We’ll run on the honor system, but I’m asking everyone to use each book for a single category (i.e. if you read a banned book by a new-to-you author, you can only use it for one square).
Submit your final card here by Friday, September 9 (Don’t worry. I’ll remind you.) for the chance to win prizes.
If you get Bingo, you’ll get one entry to the raffle. If you fill out your entire card, you’ll get two!
You can see a list of the prizes here.
To kick us off, I went through the archives and dug up some books that will help you complete your card. As a reminder, you can see every book I’ve featured at my Bookshop.org shop.
You Want to Start With The Banned Book Square
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, is a YA novel that is both brilliant and devastating. Anderson writes about Melinda, a high school freshman who has shut down and nearly stopped speaking after surviving a rape over the summer. It’s written as a diary, giving the reader insight into Melinda’s fragile state of mind and attempts to rebuild.
Read my full rec here.
The Hate U Give follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who straddles two worlds — the poor neighborhood she lives in and the high-end suburban prep school she attends. Starr’s life is flipped upside down after witnessing the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend by the police.
Thomas writes with empathy as Starr navigates testifying in the grand jury hearing and worries about how it will change her life. While The Hate U Give is YA, its characters are far more nuanced and complex than those often found in adult books.
You’re Looking for an Audiobook
The Final Revival opens with the editor of the “oral history,” S. Sunny Shelton, disclosing that her father, Opal & Nev’s drummer, was killed at one of their shows. Sunny seeks to understand the forces that led to her dad’s death and how Opal & Nev’s two albums became so important to her. It features well-drawn characters with distinct voices — and a twist that caused me to gasp out loud.
The audiobook, with a full cast recording is a particular treat. It brings the oral history structure alive.
Here's the full rec.
This is another full cast recording with an all-star cast, including “Frozen” star Santino Fontana. In the novel, Matt Dorff and Suzanne Dunn, who write under the name L.R. Dorn, reimagine Theodore Dreiser’s classic An American Tragedy as a true crime documentary. The book follows Cleo Ray, a social media influencer, as she’s put on trial for murdering her girlfriend.
The mock podcast format lets readers — or listeners — hear from Cleo, her lawyer, the prosecuting district attorney, the victim’s family and more. The 360-degree view of the case made me feel like I was a member of the fictional jury, weighing all the evidence to determine Cleo’s guilt or innocence.
You can read my Q&A with Matt Dorff and Suzanne Dunn here.
You Love a Book With Multiple Narrators
This book follows the staff of Snoop, a trendy London startup, after they check in at a luxurious ski chalet in the French Alps. The trip begins like any other corporate retreat, complete with PowerPoint presentations and office gossip until the startup’s employees are killed off, one by one, as the title suggests.
Told from alternating perspectives, One by One is riddled with clues, giving amateur sleuths a fair shot at solving the crime themselves.
The Switch follows Leena Cotton, a young London professional grieving her sister's death, and her grandmother Eileen. After botching a major presentation at work, Leena is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical. Simultaneously, Eileen is looking for a second chance at love but doesn’t have many options in her small Yorkshire village. So, as the title implies, the pair decide to “switch” for two months: Eileen will live with Leena’s roommates in the city and Leena will take on her grandmother’s many roles in her tiny, idyllic town.
Like all Beth O’Leary novels, the core message of The Switch is that bad things happen, but with friends and family, it’s possible to move past them. (That makes them sound trite. They’re not.)
Catch my full review.
You Want to Fill the Book Set Before 1975 Box
Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht takes a lot of beloved spy novel tropes and flips them on their head. The title character, Vera Kelly, is penniless and attempting to break into the underground gay scene in 1960s New York when the CIA recruits her. She's quickly sent to Buenos Aires on a mission to wiretap a politician and infiltrate a group of student activists. After the Argentinian government collapses, Vera is stranded with no help from the CIA.
Knecht deftly describes spy hijinks while offering sharp criticism of U.S. policy towards Latin America in the 1960s. It's an intellectual spy novel that made me think hard as I frantically flipped pages.
Beasts of a Little Land, Juhea Kim’s debut, opens with an impoverished, starving Korean hunter saving a Japanese military officer from a tiger attack on a snowy mountain in 1917. From that moment on, their lives are linked, and Kim chronicles the two men and their descendants as they attempt to survive Japan’s occupation of Korea and the war that followed.
Book Set Outside the U.S.
In the book’s opening chapters, Anna, a mixed-race Londoner grieving her mother’s death and her separation from her husband, finds a journal kept by the father, Francis Aggrey, she never knew. After reading about Francis’ work with London radicals in the 1970s, Anna learns two shocking facts. First, her father is still alive and, second, for 30 years, he was the president, some would say dictator, of a small nation in West Africa. Anna sets out to meet Francis, the man her mother loved and the man history books decry as a “crocodile,” responsible for five student activists' deaths.
On its surface, Sankofa is a family drama about a father and daughter attempting to build a relationship later in life, but it’s also a brilliant exploration of corruption, colorism, power and the legacy of colonialism.
See my original rec here.
Kim Jong-Il was a cinephile, the only person in the totalitarian country allowed to view Western films (he particularly loved James Bond). Before becoming North Korea’s leader, Kim ran the country’s propaganda film studio and was consistently dismayed by the low quality of movies. His remedy was to kidnap Choi Eun-Hee, South Korea’s most famous actress, and her ex-husband, Shin Sang-Ok, a star director. For years, the pair was held captive in North Korea, forced to make movies exalting “The Fearless Leader,” as they plotted — and ultimately executed — their escape. In between chronicling this outrageous tale, Paul Fischer documents the history of North Korea between 1950 and Kim’s death.
More on this wild tale here.
I’ll be back on Monday. Let me know if there’s any boxes you’re looking for a recommendation for.
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
If you’re reading this on Substack or were forwarded this email, and you’d like to subscribe, click the button below.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.