This past summer, Ann Patchett and her crew at Parnassus Books in Nashville considered the difficulty of defining a “beach book.” It’s no surprise that they couldn’t reach a consensus. “Beach reads” are different things to different readers. Despite this genre-bending question, here I offer 12 books that I consider worthy of your beach time. And don’t think you have to head to the ocean to take advantage of them. These titles will take you on an escape whether you end up lounging by the sea, sitting in your backyard, or just hiding out in your bedroom for an afternoon.
The Quick, by Lauren Owen (Buy it here.)
Nothing beats the summer heat like an atmospheric novel set in shadowy Victorian London. The less you know about this brand-new debut novel, the better. It’s for readers who love books by . . . well, I shouldn’t say. And it’s for fans of the series . . . I can’t reveal that either. Just read it and keep its secrets to yourself.
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer (Buy it here.)
Gather your graham crackers and marshmallows; this nostalgic novel about summer camp will have you reliving childhood memories. As you follow these friends from adolescence to adulthood, you’ll empathize with a few of the lessons they learn about responsibility and relationships.
Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King (Buy it here.)
In book after book, Stephen King gives us perfect beach reads, taking us far from the world we call home. This latest—his first in the detective genre—centers around an unsolved hit-and-run and the battle between a retired cop and an evil killer.
Me before You, Jojo Moyes (Buy it here.)
Wear your swimsuit and pack some tissues, because you might be a wet mess before it’s all over. This is a tear-jerker, though not sappy for sap’s sake. As the two main characters let go of their preconceptions and plans, they may inspire you to, too. Follow it up with One Plus One, coming July 1.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker (Buy it here.)
Who says beach reads have to be light and fluffy with a happy ending? Dig into something darker with this nonfiction title about the still-unsolved murder of five female escorts on Long Island. It’s for fans of CSI and Law and Order, or anyone craving the human story behind a real-life mystery.
All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner (Buy it here.)
This novel takes readers on an enlightening trip into the territory of drug addiction, and in a place where it’s still surprising yet increasingly common: middle-class suburbia and motherhood.
A Grown-up Kind of Pretty, by Joshilyn Jackson (Buy it here.)
Joshilyn Jackson is known for her sassy southern storytelling, and this tale of three generations of women divided (yet bound) by a backyard secret combines humor and heartfelt emotion. (If you’ll be near Huntsville, AL, this September 25, there’s another reason to read this book, since Jackson is speaking at the library’s annual Vive le Livre; get event details here.)
We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart (Buy it here.)
This recent release has the YA world talking, but try not to listen. The novel’s secrets, lies, and dark truths make for a thrilling read if you don’t know much beforehand. One summer, something goes horribly wrong during a family’s annual sojourn on Cape Cod; this narrative is a teen’s attempt to figure it out.
Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time,
by Rachel Bertsche (Buy it here.)
Just saying the name “Gwyneth” conjures up the complicated emotions we regular people feel toward celebrities: fascination and admiration mixed with envy and resentment. Trying to capture the star qualities of her fave celebs, Bertsche’s experiment turns into a quest for perfection and contentment.
The Hundred-Year House, by Rebecca Makkai (Buy it here.)
You’ll have to wait until July 10 for this gothic novel, which opens with a ghost story and then takes off with family drama, mad characters, and a murder mystery.
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of America, by Gilbert King (Buy it here.)
A 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner, this paperback recounts events that seem fictional but are all too true. When Thurgood Marshall rode into Florida to represent four black men accused of raping a white woman, he had to fight the “Florida Terror,” which meant taking on the orange industry, law enforcement, and the KKK.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh (Buy it here.)
If you miss picture books, this essay collection is for you. Peppered with the author’s quirky drawings, it proves that cartoons can deal with serious subjects and make you laugh at the same time.