There’s a common misconception that beach reads always involve sun, sand, and string-bikini-thin plots. Readers who start summer with a straw tote full of new books know the truth. Whether you’re cracking one open at a private beach resort or a lounge chair at your local pool, the best beach reads are ones that feel like stepping into an absorbing alternate reality for a few hundred pages. It can be a lighthearted distraction from daily life or a nail-biting thriller: Whatever the specifics, if you don’t want to go back in the water until you’ve reached the last page, you have a quality beach read on your hands.
The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng
The Great Reclamation defies easy genre categorization, with elements of historical fiction, magical realism, and a sweeping, captivating love story at its heart. It’s set in Singapore at a time of major geopolitical shifts: British colonialism is nearing its end, but Japanese occupation and the Second World War are looming nearer. In a small fishing village caught in the middle of it all, a young boy discovers an unprecedented power that can win over a girl he loves and serve his community under siege.
This book is filled with adventures that resemble The Princess Bride in a setting that reminds us of Outlander. Be sure to pack this aching love story and powerful coming-of-age that reckons with the legacy of British colonialism, the World War II Japanese occupation, and the pursuit of modernity in your tote bag this summer.
Happy Place by Emily Henry
Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t. They broke up five months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends. Which is how they find themselves sharing a bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blissful week, they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.
Trust BookTok on this one! This story asks whether a once-happily married and secretly-separated couple can fake their relationship for a final summer trip with friends—and later, if they can rekindle the spark that brought them together in the first place.
Lucky Girl by Irene Muchemi-Ndiritu
Soila is a lucky girl by anyone’s estimation. Raised by her stern, conservative mother and a chorus of aunts, she has lived a protected life in Nairobi. Soila is headstrong and outspoken, and she chafes against her mother’s strict rules. After a harrowing assault by a trusted family friend, she flees to New York for college, vowing never to return home. But New York in the 1990s is not what Soila imagined it would be. Instead of finding a golden land of opportunity, Soila is shocked by the entitlement of her wealthy American classmates and the poverty she sees in the streets.
Throughout the story, Solia finds what it means to create a new life entirely on her own terms. Readers will find a poignant, memorable voice they’ll feel lucky to have met.
Hula by Jasmin ‘Iolani Hakes
Jasmin Iolani Hakes’ stunning debut novel is both a sweeping introduction to Hawaii’s history and culture and a multi-generational epic. Set in Hilo, Hawai’i, a sweeping saga of tradition, culture, family, history, and connection that unfolds through the lives of three generations of women—a tale of mothers and daughters, dance, and destiny. As Hula charts successive generations of the fictional Naupaka family with a spotlight on its mothers and daughters and their ties to the hula tradition, it deftly explores the detrimental impacts colonialism has had on Hawaiians’—past and present, fictional and real.
Told in part in the collective voice of a community fighting for its survival, Hula is a spellbinding debut that offers a rare glimpse into a forgotten kingdom that still exists in the heart of its people.
The Guest by Emma Cline
The guest in the title of Emma Cline’s highly anticipated new novel is Alex, a 22-year-old drifter wandering East Long Island at the end of a long, hazy summer. Alex is used to using people to her advantage—manipulation and petty theft are two of her biggest talents—until her latest benefactor casts her out just before Labor Day. Alex chooses to act like her invitation to stay out East still stands and leaves an unsettling trail of damage in her wake, all rendered in Cline’s insightful and deeply moving prose.
Taut, propulsive, and impossible to look away from, Emma Cline’s The Guest is a spellbinding literary achievement for you to enjoy on your next vacation.
The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren
Fizzy hasn’t ever really been in love. Lust? Definitely. But that swoon-worthy, can’t-stop-thinking-about-him, all-encompassing feeling? Nope. Nothing. What happens when the optimism she’s spent her career encouraging in readers starts to feel like a lie? Connor Prince, documentary filmmaker and single father, loves his work in large part because it allows him to live near his daughter. But when his profit-minded boss orders him to create a reality TV show, putting his job on the line, Connor is out of his element.
Desperate to find his romantic lead, a chance run-in with an exasperated Fizzy offers Connor the perfect solution. What if he could show the queen of romance herself falling head-over-heels for all the world to see? Under the pen name Christina Lauren, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings have written some of the most compelling and flat-out enjoyable love stories of the past few years.
Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum
Lauren Parker and Jen Weinstein expect nothing but an idyllic summer when they vacation with their husbands in Salcombe, Fire Island. The kind of holiday where they are the center of the wealthy universe spanning the beach, the tennis court, and their vacation homes. But when a dead body appears near their carefully-controlled paradise’s boardwalk, long-held secrets and simmering tensions come to the surface with it—threatening the order Lauren and Jen have desperately clutched with their perfectly manicured hands.
This White Lotus-esque story is stylish, subversive, and darkly comedic, exploring what’s lurking under the surface of picture-perfect lives in a place where everyone has something to hide.
Social Engagement by Avery Carpenter Forrey
It seems like Callie Holt’s marriage was destroyed seven hours after she and her husband exchanged vows—but scrolling through social media, she gathers evidence from a year’s worth of nuptial events suggesting the beginning of the end was earlier than she initially imagined. Could it have started when Callie moved in with her best friend, Virginia Murphy, in the swanky Upper East Side pied-à-terre for which Virginia’s parents foot the bill? Or when Virginia’s irritatingly attractive cousin Ollie returned from pursuing his photography career abroad, throwing a wrench in Callie’s relationship with her dim finance bro boyfriend, Whit?
If your summer 2023 calendar is booked with weddings, bridal showers, and bachelorette parties, you’ll appreciate this novel that cleverly explores the darker side of the wedding industrial complex and all the ways it manifests online.
A Perfect Vintage by Chelsea Fagan
Lea Mortimer has everything under control. As a highly sought-after consultant specializing in transforming dilapidated French country estates into boutique hotels, she relishes her freedom as a single, child-free woman. And her life is full, occupied as much by her impeccable historic renovations as by the aristocratic—and often exhausting—French families she works for. After the heated divorce of her closest friend and cousin, Stephanie Bryce, Lea finds herself taking Stephanie and her college-aged daughter to the Loire Valley in France for the summer. But when Lea unexpectedly falls for the much-younger son of her boss, she quickly learns the beauty and danger of losing control.
If you’re in the market for a captivating and steamy summertime story, this is the one for you.
Same Time Next Summer by Annabel Monaghan
Sam’s life is on track. She has the perfect doctor fiancé, Jack (his strict routines are a good thing, really), a great job in Manhattan (unless they fire her), and is about to tour a wedding venue near her family’s Long Island beach house. Everything should go to plan, yet the minute she arrives, Sam senses something is off. Wyatt is here. Her Wyatt. But there’s no reason for a thirty-year-old engaged woman to feel panicked around the guy who broke her heart when she was seventeen. Right?
It’s the ultimate summer romance about second chances and the power of first love. So make sure to pack this in your beach bag for a summer escape.
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