Summer Reading List

Alumnae Recommendations for Your Summer Reading

We asked Mount Holyoke alumnae on Twitter to recommend great summer books they thought sister alumnae would enjoy this summer. See a selection of recommendations below and join the conversation with the hashtag #MHCreads on Twitter and Facebook. Think a must-read has been left out? Let us know what you would recommend in the comments section below!


How to Be a Woman
Recommended by Beth Hankes ’08 @bhvhankes:

Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons why female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.

“Moran is hysterically funny, and through stories about her own life, presents a rallying call for modern women to reclaim femininity.”
—Beth Hankes ’08

Sense and Sensibility
Recommended by Lydia Beller-McKenna ’17 @LydiaChlams:

Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility is a wonderfully entertaining tale of flirtation and folly that revolves around two starkly different sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Startling secrets, unexpected twists, and heartless betrayals interrupt the marriage games that follow. Filled with satiric wit and subtle characterizations, Sense and Sensibility teaches that true love requires a balance of reason and emotion.

Overnight Float
Recommended by Rachel Kerestes ’99 @rkerestes

The groves of academe provide a bucolic but menacing backdrop for this witty murder mystery of manners, set at Sanderson, a Vermont women’s college. Rosemary Stubbs, the new chaplain and a former computer firm CFO, has made an abrupt career shift following her husband’s tragic drowning. In Rosemary Stubbs, Mullings has created a savvy and appealing entry to the ranks of cleric-sleuths. FYI: Clare Munnings is the pseudonym for Jill Ker Conway, former president of Smith College, and Elizabeth T. Kennan ’60, former president of Mount Holyoke College.


Read something purely for enjoyment. The Hunger Games, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, anything by Anne Rivers Siddons. Read for the pure pleasure of it. A new alumna has worked hard enough!
—Virginia M. Lincoln ’82



House of Leave
Recommended by Carly Pulver ’06 @threethree:

House of Leaves is a multilayered intersection of wild ideas from Mark Danielewski. It is also the story of a seemingly normal house gone wild. The novel intertwines the narratives of two haunted individuals: Zampano, a blind man whose strange manuscript is found in his apartment when he dies, and Johnny Truant, the tome’s discoverer and narrator of House of Leaves. It’s an incredible blend of mystery, madness, and terror that makes the reader uncomfortable in an entirely new and fascinating way.

“House of Leaves is always on my summer reading list.”
—Carly Pulver ’06

To the Letter
Recommended by Anna Bennett ’04 @annapbennett:

Few things are as exciting—and potentially life-changing—as discovering an old letter. And while etiquette books still extol the practice, letter writing seems to be disappearing amid a flurry of e-mails, texting, and tweeting. In To the Letter, Garfield traces the fascinating history of letter writing from the love letter and the business letter to the chain letter and the letter of recommendation.

“It’s fun and sweet, genuine and lovely.”
—Anna Bennett ’04

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P
Recommended by Sindhu Reddy ’12:

Writer Nate Piven’s star is rising. After several lean and striving years, he has his pick of magazine assignments and of women: Juliet, a hotshot business reporter; Elisa, his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, now friend; and Hannah, “almost universally regarded as nice and smart, or smart and nice,” who holds her own in conversation with his friends. When one relationship grows more serious, Nate is forced to consider what it is he really wants.

“Really speaks to post-graduate life, especially about this new kind of dating and relationship building (friends and lovers). Also so fresh to see a woman writing a man’s perspective! Who said women were only paltry writers?”
—Sindhu Reddy ’12

The Latecomers Fan Club
Recommended by Kristen Selleck ’02, Lisa Utzinger Shen ’02, and Glynis O’Leary ’04:

What is it about guys with guitars in their hands that makes them so irresistible, even when they are obviously self-centered jerks? If Abby and Maggie could answer that question, maybe they could finally get over Nathaniel. There’s just something about him when he picks up his guitar and gets behind the microphone, something that makes sensible women act like teeny-boppers instead of rational, self-respecting adults. Written by MHC alumna Diane Vanaskie Mulligan’s ’01, The Latecomers Fan Club won a 2014 Indie Reader Discovery Award.

“A great summer beach read for those of us who believe in second chances.”
—Lisa Utzinger Shen ’02

Skeletons on the Zarah
Recommended by Susan Martin ’91:

Widely hailed as a masterpiece of historical adventure, this enthralling narrative recounts the experiences of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold into slavery, and subjected to a hellish two-month journey through the bone-dry heart of the Sahara. The ordeal of these men—who found themselves tested by barbarism, murder, starvation, death, dehydration, and hostile tribes that roamed the desert on camelback—is made indelibly vivid in this gripping account of courage, brotherhood, and survival.

Recommended by Lena Soo Hee ’05:

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where, despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

“Has everything one could want in a brilliant novel . . . features a smart, strong female lead who’s not afraid to delve into the messiness of race politics. Also, it’s funny.”
—Lena Soo Hee ’05


I am quite enjoying The Divorce Papers by our Susan Rieger ’68 because it is an education in divorce law as well as witty and intelligent in its format and style.
—Barbara Akúà McAlister ’11



The Yellow Raft
Recommended by Ce Whitehead ’80:

Starting in the present and moving backward in time, this is the thrice-told tale of three women—15-year-old part-black Rayona, her American Indian mother, and the fierce and mysterious Ida. Filled with astonishing humor and poignancy, this is a story that reveals the weave of family relationships and the strength of new beginnings.

“A Yellow Raft is still one of my favorite reads from the 20th century.”
—Ce Whitehead ’80

I Am Malala
Recommended by Liah Love Caravalho ’03:

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, she was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school. Few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in Northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York.

“Malala is an incredibly brave and intelligent young woman. Readers will be inspired by her.”
—Liah Love Caravalho ’03

Purpose Economy
Recommended by Linley Beckbridge ’01:

A series of shifts are happening in our economy: Millennials are trading in conventional career paths to launch tech start–ups, start small businesses that are rooted in local communities, or freelance their expertise. We are sharing everything, from bikes and cars to extra rooms in our homes. We now create, buy, and sell handcrafted products in our local communities with ease. It’s a blueprint for a new economic era that is transforming companies, markets, and our careers to better serve people and the world.

Written in My Own Heart's Blood
Recommended by Molly Dietrich Morris ’99:

In her now classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon tells the story of Claire Randall, an English ex-combat nurse who walks through a stone circle in the Scottish Highlands in 1946 and disappears . . . into 1743. The story unfolds from there in seven bestselling novels, and CNN has called the series “a grand adventure written on a canvas that probes the heart, weighs the soul and measures the human spirit across [centuries].” Now the story continues in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.

“So well written and researched/detail-filled that they are totally captivating! If I were stuck on a deserted island, this would be the series I would bring with me.”
—Molly Dietrich Morris ’88

Like this article? Read about fellow alumnae in the arts:


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12 responses to “Summer Reading List”

  1. Zanna McKay '13 says:

    I’m in the middle of reading “Unnatural Selection” by Mara Hvistendahl about the history of worldwide population control, sex-selective abortion and the consequences of a world full of men–it is NOT what you think, probably, unless you have already read this book. It’s nonfiction, very deeply researched but flows so nicely. It was a Pulitzer finalist in 2011, and named best book of the year by Slate and others. Full disclosure: I am her intern, but I have nothing to gain by sharing a book she published years ago. Reading it was like taking a good class at Mt Holyoke. Mind-blowing is an over-used word but is really appropriate here.

  2. I recommend a novel “Concrete Fever” written by my son, Nathaniel Kressen. This book has sold out at several bookstores across the country, including the famous Strand in NYC! On his website, he writes: “On the night he decides to jump off his Upper West Side rooftop, a prep school teen encounters a lost girl dancing on the ledge. They split cigarettes, spill secrets, and hatch an unexpected plan: to play out a romantic relationship over the course of one night, and discover whether magic can truly exist. As the game propels them through scattered haunts of the city, the line that separates fantasy from reality blurs, leading each to reconsider what is real, what is illusion, and whether the dawn will bring with it a new beginning or a violent end”. Check out his other writings too!
    Yeah! proud Mama here.

  3. Susan Becraft says:

    I recommend The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bojalian. Do not be fooled by the title. It’s the story of the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks in 1915. Mount Holyoke plays a prominent role in the book. Because the author graduated from Amherst, I assumed he had just chosen a nearby college for his female protagonist, but after contacting him on Twitter, I discovered that the reason was far more interesting. There were two active Mount Holyoke Seminaries in Armenia. He also told me that on the third floor of the library, there is a sculpture of the Armenian alphabet. Who knew?

  4. Meredith Louria says:

    I am currently reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson and can’t put it down.

  5. Susan Swart Rice '70 says:

    Bravo! I’ll try to read them all, although it may take me longer than just the summer…thanks, for this wonderful list, recommended by a trusted source, The Uncommon Women.

  6. Anne Washbourne Garrett '56 says:

    Wonderful idea. Love it. Will start right away. Can hardly wait. Thanks!

  7. Caroline 1980 says:

    This is not light reading, but I loved “A Place of Greater Safety” by Hilary Mantel. As she did with Thomas Cromwell in her more recent wonderful books, she takes us inside the heads of the revolutionaries of late 18th century France, a widely varied bunch. It goes slowly but is totally gripping.

  8. Sarah Meredith says:

    Love all the recommendations! Excited to start my summer reading 🙂
    Is there a Mount Holyoke Alumni book club/group on goodreads?

  9. Melissa Vance says:

    Lots of good books to read. May I also recommend The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Any one who rowed crew, enjoys history and/or sports, or just wants to read something different, I highly recommend this.

  10. Am delighted to have a reading list of choices for the summer. Will mention some of the books to my own reading group which meets next Monday, and then not again until September. Thanks for initiating this!

  11. Simonne Roy says:

    Thank you for this article about summer reading. It is wonderful to get such advice from sources I trust!

  12. Beth Chernichowski says:

    Another book to recommend, just published: The Button Field, by Gail Husch. A novel based on the true story of the disappearance in 1897 Bertha Lane Mellish, a Mount Holyoke sophomore. The mystery remains unsolved today. It’s a well-researched historical novel, full of MHC details.

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