6 Top West Coast Authors to Watch: Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Reading brought solace to many during the pandemic, offering both comfort and distraction during the long days of shelter-in-place isolation. Book sales increased and psychologists have recommended reading for mental health in the coronavirus era. Now, as we enter those dog days of summer, it’s a perfect time to spread a towel on the beach and open that crisp first page of a new novel, nestle into a hammock by the lake with a much-anticipated memoir, or dive into a hot-off-the-press thriller during a cross-country plane ride to (finally) visit family.

Here we point you to some talented writers and their latest literary offerings with a range of books to consider for your summer reading list. These authors — some publishing their debut work, others well-known on bestseller lists — are writers whose books offer the reader the things we crave in times of hardship, whether it be a sense of adventure, insight into social and cultural groups, personal inspiration, humor, suspense or that summer staple: romance. Most were unable to embark on traditional book tours due to Covid-19 restrictions and have stayed engaged with their readership through virtual events. In many cases, these writers have also turned their time and energy toward supporting nonprofits and those most in need.

Senator Mazie K. Hirono: Heart of Fire: An Immigrant Daughter’s Story

Senator Hirono

Mazie Hirono, the first Asian-American woman and the only immigrant serving in the U.S. Senate, published her memoir in April. Heart of Fire: An Immigrant Daughter’s Story, is the story of how a girl born in rural Japan went on to become a U.S. Democratic leader.

Raised on her family’s rice farm in Japan, Hirono was 7 years old when her mother left her abusive alcoholic husband and sailed with her two elder children to the United States, crossing the Pacific in steerage in search of a better life.

When asked by Daily Show host Trevor Noah about who inspired her to be the trailblazer she is, Hirono responded, “My mother is my main inspiration. She was courageous and changed my life by bringing me to this country. I have her to look to for so much of what I do.  That is why this book is dedicated to my mother”

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Your Turn: How to Be an Adult

Julie Lythcott Haims

For those who hung on every word of New York Times bestselling author Julie Lythcott-Haims How to Raise an Adult, she is back with Your Turn: How to Be an Adult,  a frank guide to being a grown-up.

In Your Turn, Lythcott-Haims offers compassion, personal experience, and practical strategies for living a more authentic adulthood, as well as inspiration through interviews featuring voices from the rich diversity of the human population who have successfully launched their adult lives.

“Like many people I found myself struggling during the pandemic, yet simultaneously I was under a tight deadline to complete this book which included advice on how humans withstand and learn from struggle,” says the San Francisco Bay Area author. “Being on deadline to finish the book therefore became an opportunity to live the advice I was preaching, and to grow stronger by heeding my own advice.”

For example, last Spring Lythcott-Haims heeded her own advice about how vital it is to connect with humans and offered virtual office hours to strangers who “like me were a little lost and bewildered in the lockdown.”

Her motto became “The pandemic tells us what we CAN’T do; let’s focus on what we CAN do” — a reframe, and a further example of putting advice from the book into action.

Lythcott-Haims is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean, and she holds a BA from Stanford, a JD from Harvard, and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts.

She works with several nonprofits, including Foundation for a College Education, YIMBY Action and the Black Women’s Health Imperative

Kristin Hannah: The Four Winds

Kristin Hannah
Photo courtesy of Kevin Lynch

Lawyer-turned-writer Kristin Hannah, garnered a devoted following for her two previous bestsellers, Firefly Lane and The Nightingale. Hannah has now published The Four Winds, a rich, sweeping novel that brings to life The Great Depression and the people who lived through it — the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battles between the haves and the have-nots.

The Four Winds was described by The New York Times as “eerily prescient in 2021… Its message is galvanizing and hopeful: we are a nation of scrappy survivors.”

Hannah’s impetus for writing the book? “I found myself fascinated by The Greatest Generation for a long time, the hardship they had endured. I wanted to understand the world they had come from.”

In 2009, Firefly Lane became a runaway bestseller, and in 2015, The Nightingale was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library Journal, Paste, The Wall Street Journal and The Week. Today Hannah lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

Valerie Kaur: See No Stranger

Valarie Kaur
Photo courtesy of Amber Castro

Valarie Kaur’s book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, was released in 2020 and expands on Kaur’s popular TED Talk about reclaiming love as the antidote to nationalism, polarization and hate.

Kaur was born in Clovis, a small town near Fresno in California’s Central Valley where her family settled as Indian Punjabi farmers a century ago. She was raised as a Sikh whose faith inspires a commitment to social justice and became an activist when family friend Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered in a hate crime in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

As a college student, she crossed America to chronicle hate crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans and the journey led to the award-winning film Divided We Fall (2008).

Kaur is a renowned civil rights leader and celebrated voice who is, according to the Center for American progress, “at the forefront of progressive change.”

Kaur leads the Revolutionary Love Project and over the last 20 years, as a lawyer, innovator, and award-winning filmmaker, she has created policy change on multiple fronts — hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, solitary confinement, Internet freedom, and more.

She founded Groundswell Movement, Faithful Internet, and the Yale Visual Law Project to inspire and equip new generations of advocates.

Gabriela Garcia: Of Women and Salt

Gabriela Garcia
Photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt takes readers from 19th-century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico.

The author’s debut novel is described as a portrait of betrayals — personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others — that have shaped the lives of extraordinary women. “Gabriela Garcia captures the lives of Cuban women in a world to which they refuse to surrender and she does so with precision and generosity and beauty,” says Roxanne Gay, bestselling author of Hunger and Bad Feminist.

Of Women and Salt was selected as the Most Anticipated Book by Bustle, Buzzfeed, E! News, Entertainment Weekly, Good Morning America, Goodreads, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Times, O Magazine, Lit Hub, Refinery 29, Vogue India, Reader’s Digest, Pop Sugar, Time Magazine and elsewhere, and the Indie Next Great Read for April.

The daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, Garcia was raised in Miami and lives in the Bay Area.

Sanjena Sathian: The Gold Diggers

Sanjena Sathian
Photo courtesy of Tony Tulathimutte

The Washington Post’s Ron Charles described Sanjena Sathian’s debut novel Gold Diggers as “a work of 24-karat genius.”

This magical realist coming-of-age story skewers the model minority myth to tell a hilarious and moving story about immigrant identity, community, and the underside of ambition.

A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, protagonist Neil Narayan is funny and smart but struggles to bear the weight of expectations of his family and their Asian American enclave.

Sathian, a former journalist, researched and conducted interviews, including with her own family members, to understand the nuances of her community’s collective experience.

“The characters in my novel are dealing with the idea that there is one definition of success when you’re an immigrant; you have to hustle and do well in school and get into Harvard and and get a high paying job and that’s it.  I think my own experience as an author has disproved that there is only one way to be an American,” says Sathian.

Comedian, actress and producer Mindy Kaling will adapt Gold Diggers for television.

A Paul and Daisy Soros fellow and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Sathian has worked as a reporter in Mumbai and San Francisco, with nonfiction bylines for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Food & Wine, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, and more.

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Kirsten Jones Neff
Kirsten Jones Neff is a journalist who writes about all things North Bay, with special attention to the environment and the region’s farmers, winemakers and food artisans. She also works and teaches in school gardens. Kirsten’s poetry collection, When The House Is Quiet, was nominated for the Northern California Book Award, and three of her poems received a Pushcart nomination. She lives in Novato with her husband and three children and tries to spend as much time as possible on our local mountains, beaches and waterways. For more on her work visit KirstenJonesNeff.com.