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June 2023

BookPage’s 2023 summer reading guide

The editors of BookPage share their top selections for the hottest reading season.

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A Love Catastrophe is a delightfully heartfelt rom-com with much ado about cats (and some ado about dogs). 

Newly hired NHL data analyst Miles Thorn has his hands full. His mother is in the hospital, and her cat, Prince Francis, is acting up. Enter the indomitable Kitty Hart, aka the Kitty Whisperer, the optimistic owner of a cat care and training service with a robust social media following. Although Kitty is irked by dog lover Miles’ scornful attitude toward cats, she still finds him quite fetching. And although Miles is a bit bewildered by Kitty’s boundless devotion to and adoration of the felines she works with, he still wishes he hadn’t been so rude when he first met her. As Miles and Kitty attempt to overcome a bad first impression and curb Prince Francis’ destructive behavior, will Kitty’s charms work on Miles as well as the cat?

Author Helena Hunting amusingly sets up the initial division between the sunny Kitty and the overwhelmed and grumpy Miles. He’s not quite in the territory of misanthropes like Fredrik Backman’s Ove; rather, Miles is understandably (and often charmingly) cranky due to his circumstances. Kitty’s sunny and loving disposition, even when she is strict with naughty cats, makes her immediately likable, while Miles’ attempts to be less aggravated by his mother and Prince Francis are endearing.

While there are plentiful cute moments between Miles and Kitty, especially in their disagreements about their preferred species, both are also working through complex family relationships and painful past experiences. Hunting perfectly balances levity and heartwarming sincerity to create a purr-fectly sweet, uplifting and playful romance.

A Love Catastrophe is a purr-fectly sweet romance between a sunny catsitter and a grumpy data analyst.
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Author Uzma Jalaluddin returns with another classic love story retelling set in Toronto’s Muslim community. While her last romance took inspiration from ’90s rom-com classic You’ve Got Mail, Much Ado About Nada offers a contemporary twist on Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Nada Syed feels blocked, both professionally and personally. She had high hopes for her app Ask Apa, which would have offered users culturally sensitive advice. But after being betrayed by a business partner, she finds herself working an engineering job that stifles her creativity and desire to do good. With her 30th birthday on the horizon, she’s questioning all the decisions that have led to her being single, living with her parents and failing to become the successful tech CEO she’s always dreamed of being.

Haleema, Nada’s best friend, thinks attending Deen&Dunya, a Muslim conference full of fandom and fun, will help Nada get out of her rut. Haleema’s fiancé, Zayn, and his brother, Baz, are joining them, but unbeknownst to Haleema, Nada and Baz have a long and tumultuous history. Despite being thrown together for the duration of the conference, both Nada and Baz want to keep their complicated feelings for each other a secret. 

Jalaluddin has a real talent for crafting protagonists, and Nada is just as complex and enjoyable as the heroines of Ayesha at Last and Hana Khan Carries On. Nada faces all the unfair societal and familial pressures that can weigh on women as they enter their 30s, and her feeling of a giant clock ticking away her remaining time to accomplish goals will hit home for a lot of readers. Jalaluddin adds depth and specificity to this experience by showing how these pressures manifest in Nada’s Muslim community and family. 

Nada and Baz’s cheeky romance is the perfect balance to Much Ado About Nada’s social commentary. Their interactions sizzle with sexual tension as they dance around each other, and their adorable mutual attraction is charmingly obvious to everyone but them. Baz and Nada’s eventual union is a sure thing from the moment they reunite, but it’s still a delight to see them get there in their own time. 

One of the best things about Jalaluddin’s work is the sheer amount of joy she brings to her characters, her writing and her happily ever afters. She clearly delights in reinventing known classics, using beloved heroines as a foundation to create modern women who don’t want or need to sacrifice their ambitions for other parts of their lives. With Much Ado About Nada, Jalaluddin has written yet another winner—and this time it’s one with a particularly heartwarming, tender and feminist resolution.

Uzma Jalaluddin’s Much Ado About Nada is a heartwarming, tender and utterly winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Review by

Aisha Harris, co-host of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” and a writer for Slate and The New York Times, is the pop culture maven millennials have been waiting for. That’s why her debut book, Wannabe: Reckonings With the Pop Culture That Shapes Me, will be flying off the shelves faster than Taylor Swift presale tickets. Part pop culture analysis, part social commentary, and completely and intrinsically personal, Wannabe tackles topics both internal and external. At the forefront are societal issues such as positive representation versus harmful stereotypes in media. Harris’ identity as a Black woman also shapes the narrative as she deftly explores the intersection of pop culture and politics, noting how our political climate changes the way we tell stories.

This book will appeal to readers wishing to go beyond the consumption of media for entertainment’s sake by helping them engage in a socially conscious dialogue. But despite its intellectual value, Wannabe isn’t written for academics. Harris’ audience is anyone who wishes to broaden their understanding of pop culture’s significance to society, and the accessibility of her writing helps to achieve that goal. The humor incorporated throughout the book is truly a delight, and each chapter is chock full of so many witty asides that Harris, were she a television writer, could be the new Amy Sherman-Palladino.

But the book truly shines when it offers us a peek inside Harris’ psyche, providing examples of specific artists, actors and authors who have impacted her life. From unlikely childhood heroines such as tomboy Kristy from The Baby-Sitters Club and loyal punk Ashley Spinelli from the cartoon “Recess,” to the incredible impact of the MTV and VH1 R&B era (looking at you, Toni Braxton), Harris explores how her younger self gravitated toward subversive female icons who redefined the meanings of femininity and strength. As the years passed, other content challenged Harris’ views of womanhood and sexuality, from the sensual Nola Darling in She’s Gotta Have It to the four iconic women who defined a sex-positive generation in “Sex and the City.” Harris also analyzes present-day pop culture, from flawed female leads in TV shows like “Fleabag,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Insecure” to pop stars like Rihanna and Megan Thee Stallion who are unapologetically sensual, commanding and fun. When Harris applies her refined, journalistic scrutiny to subjective nostalgia, the behind-the-scenes magic of Wannabe becomes truly clear.

So in conclusion—taps mic—Imma let y’all finish, but this book is the best pop culture guide of all time!

When Aisha Harris applies her journalistic scrutiny to the subversive pop culture icons who shaped her millennial upbringing and worldview, the magic of Wannabe comes alive.

Over the course of his career, Dominic Smith has demonstrated that his favorite playground as a writer is the past. With his sixth novel, Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t break from his successful formula but instead perfects what he did so well with his award-winning 2016 book, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, delivering a charming and captivating multigenerational family drama that beautifully blends the past with the present. 

Smith whisks readers away to Valetto, Italy: a fictional, crumbling town that floats like an island in the clouds among the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside. Although the setting sounds like something out of a fairy tale, Valetto has been in steady decline, with earthquakes and other natural disasters having driven away most of its inhabitants. 

Hugh Fisher spent most of his childhood summers in Valetto, but when he returns decades later (now a historian and a grieving widower) to visit his aunts and celebrate his grandmother’s 100th birthday, the town has but 10 permanent residents—plus one unexpected new addition. The stone cottage that Hugh’s late mother bequeathed him has been claimed by an inscrutable woman named Elisa Tomassi, who insists that Hugh’s grandfather promised her family the cottage as a show of gratitude for sheltering him while he fought in World War II. As Hugh attempts to validate Elisa’s claims, his forays into the past uncover a terrible secret involving both his and Elisa’s mothers. It’s a bombshell that, once detonated, reverberates across generations and will have consequences that are felt far beyond the walls of Valetto.

With Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts. The writing is both accessible and evocative, the pace leisurely yet suspenseful, the characters and plot are intriguing, and the themes of grief, generational trauma and resilience are well considered. Smith has the authorial confidence to resist the urge to overcomplicate his novel, delivering a straightforward narrative with a nostalgic tone and classic style that cleverly match the subject material and setting. The result is a richly rewarding book that is imbued with a sense of timelessness. It’s an outright pleasure to read, an excellent choice for both armchair travelers looking to vicariously experience Italy’s dolce vita, and for lovers of impeccably crafted literary fiction.

With Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts.
Review by

Starting with its title, My Murder, Katie Williams sets up her second novel after Tell the Machine Goodnight with a handful of classic crime fiction questions: Whose murder? And who knows what? But readers will discover a subversive twist within.

Lou, the young mother and wife who narrates the novel, is back from the dead. As part of a government project, she and other victims of a serial killer have been resurrected with cloning technology and placed back into their homes, marriages and jobs. Yet things don’t quite fit for Lou: She can’t remember the days surrounding her murder, can’t connect with her child in the same way and feels distant from her husband. Lou’s confusion and curiosity guide the reader’s experience; she’s figuring things out just as we are, and the revelations of certain details, intentionally paced by Williams, are fresh and surprising. As Lou investigates unexplained moments from her previous life, it’s apparent that she won’t find peace until she makes some sense of them.

My Murder engages with a violent subject without gore, and probes how technology infuses our days and engages our attention, often without our awareness. The plot is certainly rich and appealing, but Williams’ layered considerations are even more compelling and yet never heavy-handed. What happened to Lou? Is she who she was? What makes humans who they are, and how does technology impact these definitions? With a singular voice and a winning narrative that will stay with you for days, My Murder speaks to the construction of the self and the filters we apply. It’s about what it means to survive, to be reborn and, ultimately, to live.

With a singular voice and a winning narrative that will stay with you for days, My Murder speaks to the construction of the self.


Ice might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of coveted “luxury” goods. In fact, many Americans take ice for granted as a now-ubiquitous product that is dispensed out of their refrigerators and can be purchased in bags from nearly every grocery store, convenience store and gas station.

But as Amy Brady (co-editor of The World as We Knew It) explains in her new book, Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks—a Cool History of a Hot Commodity, ice has indeed been a very “hot commodity” throughout history. Flash forward to today on our rapidly warming planet, and ice is in even higher demand. This paradox was not lost on Brady. As she writes, “The irony lay in the fact that I was driven to seek out and consume ice because of a phenomenon that’s eliminating ice on the planet.”

Amy Brady, author of ‘Ice,’ recounts the lost history of the doctor who invented the ice machine.

Brady found ice to be an untapped subject and did enormous amounts of research to fill in the gaps in its history. Divided into four parts that each focuses on an aspect of ice—obsession, food and drink, ice sports, and the future—Ice outlines how frozen water “profoundly has shaped the nation’s history and culture.” Commentary from food writers, scientists, physicians and historians are interspersed with historic resources such as newspaper articles, diaries and journals, creating unique connections between the past and present.

Historical facts and statistics help contextualize the important role ice has played in events like Prohibition, when breweries pivoted to other business ventures that would make use of their existing ice cellars. (Yuengling opened a dairy, Anheuser-Busch made infant formula and Pabst sold cheese.) Another especially interesting chapter covers ice’s use as a medical treatment for injuries, chronic ailments and even cancer. Throughout the book, Brady uses timelines to help illustrate the trajectory of ice’s journey from an amenity to an everyday item, emphasizing how quickly it became mainstream. Taken all together, Ice makes an important case for securing the future of those freezing cold cubes in a warming world.

Amy Brady uses commentary from food writers, scientists and physicians to illuminate how something as commonplace as ice came to shape America’s history and culture.

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