Brilliant Books To Bring To The Beach This Summer

Stephanie O'Byrne
"Beach reads" are often considered a genre unto themselves: light, breezy fare that match the light breezes of the seaside. This narrow classification writes "beach reads" off as being unsophisticated when, in actuality, the best beach reads are anything but. We ask summer books to perform an Herculean task: Keep us entertained amid a million distractions — the beating sun, kids kicking up sand near your towel, Baywatch-esque lifeguards. They have to keep us turning the page.
Consequently, beach reads are more gripping, more powerful, and more fun than the average book. That's what we've gathered here: The books that will keep you so enthralled you'll accidentally miss the sunset view. In our round-up, you'll find psychological thrillers set in the age of Instagram, YA fantasies that take place in fictional African kingdoms, and books so funny your friends will ask to borrow them after you're done.
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Here are the books you should read this summer, whether at the beach or in a chaise lounge (as you pretend to be at the beach).
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If you loved Crazy Rich Asians, read:

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (2018)

Over the course of a summer, the Zhen's high-rise luxury Shanghai apartment becomes the setting for emotional reckonings. Years ago, before they were wealthy, Lina Zhen and Wei Zhen were just village kids whose parents arranged their marriage in order to settle a mysterious debt. After decades in America, Lina and Wei return to a vastly different China than the one of their agrarian youth, centered around Communist ideals. Lina is surprised by how quickly she picks up the Shanghai housewife lifestyle. When Wei's estranged brother, Qiang, announces he's returning for a visit, it sends the couple into a tailspin. Lina's newly hired maid, Sunny, uses the unfolding drama as a mirror for her own problems.
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If you're amused by the tech world, read:

Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen (2018)

Sophia Young finds herself in the right place at the right time. It's the start of the tech boom, and becomes the right-hand woman of Scott Kraft, the CEO of a burgeoning tech company called Treehouse (Scott is an possible stand-in for Steve Jobs). She's surrounded by some of the most brilliant minds working in the country, but is also exposed to the dark side of working in a high-powered "boys club."
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If you want to read the book before the TV adaptation, read:

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (2006)

Following a release from a psychiatric hospital, reporter Camille Preaker is assigned a harrowing task: She is to investigate a series of murders of preteen girls in her Missouri hometown. Living back in her childhood home with her mother and 13-year-old half-sister, Camille finds her own past rubbing uncomfortably close with the present. Amy Adams will star in the HBO adaptation of Gillian Flynn's debut novel. Flynn wrote Gone Girl, so you can expect Sharp Objects's pull to equally magnetic.
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If you're nostalgic for the glamor of Old Hollywood, read:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)

After years as a recluse, aging movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell her life story. Instead of choosing a celebrated, famous journalist to write an instant hit biography, Evelyn picks magazine reporter Monique Grant out of relative obscurity. Monique, who is going through a divorce and a career slump, sits in Evelyn's apartment and listens to her story unfold. Evelyn's life is punctuated by her seven husbands. If you're fascinated by celebrity culture, this book is for you.
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If you're a TV addict, read:

Stealing the Show by Joy Press (2018)

In this thrilling book, Joy Press weaves the most influential TV shows created by women into a cohesive narrative arc. You'll learn how Murphy Brown and Roseanne paved the way for revolutionary shows like Transparent and Orange is the New Black — and how these shows actually influenced the culture around them. Press also conjures up figures, and the writing room environments, behind the creation of these shows. Through her sharp descriptions, the showrunners become characters as interesting as the protagonists they created for seasons.
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If you’re on an endless quest for the next Harry Potter, read:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

Here's a little bit of life advice: Stop what you're doing and buy Tomi Adeyemi's electric debut, the first in a trilogy. Zelie is the daughter of a fisherman living in an Africa stripped of its magic — literally. Years earlier, the King of Orïsha ordered a massacre on all of Orïsha's maji, people who could wield an element. Zelie's late mother had been a maji, and if Zelie were free to practice, she could be one, too. After she crosses paths with a rogue crown princess, Zelie becomes the only person capable of returning magic to Orïsha.
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If you have an incurable case of wanderlust, read:

Tangerine by Christine Mangan (2018)

The last person Alice Shipley expects to turn up on her doorstep in Tangiers, Morocco, is her former college roommate, the unstable and alluring Lucy Mason. A year earlier, in 1955, Alice had impulsively married a friend of her aristocratic British family and moved to an unfamiliar country. While Lucy brings a hint of a familiar, that's not necessarily a good thing, considering the awful reality of their shared past. Alice tries to resist the pull of Lucy's magnetic friendship. A modern gothic set in a beautiful location, Tangerine is a clear descendent of the Mediterranean-soaked The Talented Mr. Ripley.
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If, let's face it, you’re obsessed with Meghan Markle, read:

Meghan: A Hollywood Princess by Andrew Morton (2018)

As Andrew Morton reveals in Meghan, a young Meghan Markle kept a copy of Andrew Morton's biography of Princess Diana on her bookshelf. After all, who didn't? Morton wrote the definitive book on Princess Di. For his Markle biography, the royal biographer scoured the Pasadena area for accounts from Markle's friends, family, and former bosses. Given where we know she ends up, each progression in Markle's path suddenly becomes fascinating. If you want to embark on a themed book marathon, there are far more royal-themed books where Meghan: A Hollywood Princess came from.
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If humor is your defense mechanism, read:

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (2018)

While reading this brilliant debut short story collection, it will come as no surprise that Nafissa Thompson-Spires trained to be a comedian before becoming a writer. The stories tackle pertinent social issues facing Black Americans, like police brutality and microaggressions, but each is infused with her utterly unique wit. Most of Thompson-Spires' 11 tales take place in California and focus on middle-class and upper-middle class Black Americans.
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If you’re secretly a goddess, read:

Circe by Madeline Miller (2018)

Circe is unlike any of the nymphs in her father, the sun god’s, kingdom. She has the voice of a human, and, oh yeah – she’s a witch. Forever a misfit, Circe’s real life begins after she’s banished from her home for practicing witchcraft. Cast away on an abandoned island, Circe has the independence needed to perfect her craft. Eventually, she’ll come in contact with Odysseus, the man who made her story legendary. In Miller’s versions of events, though, Circe’s life is far bigger and more significant than an encounter with one wanderer.
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If you have a favorite Real Housewives franchise, read:

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (2018)

Brett Courtney is the tattooed, down-to-earth, 27-year-old founder of a boutique spinning studio with a charitable mission. She's also a contestant on the popular reality TV show Goal Diggers, which follows a group of millennial women entrepreneurs — and is by far the fan favorite. In that case, why does she end up dead by page one of Knoll’s riveting novel? The Favorite Sister is a thriller with about a thousand twists, but it’s also a whip-smart meditation on the discomfiting, exhilarating intersection of ambition and womanhood.
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If your friends are your family, read:

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel (2018)

Meet Henry, the virtuoso violist for whom everything comes naturally – looks, money, genius-level talent. Daniel, the serious cellist who will always have a chip on his shoulder for getting started too late and dawdling. Brit, the orphan who longs for connection but will settle for her violin. And Jana, the violinist who pulled the other three together in a string quartet at just the right moment in their lives. Aja Gabel’s absolutely sublime debut follows these four figures through their lives, which are constantly orbiting one another’s. Gabel, a trained cellist, infuses the book with descriptions of music that any Mozart in the Jungle fan will admire.
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If you love This Is Us, read:

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam (2018)

Soon after giving birth to her first son, Rebecca Stone, a poet and the wife of a British ambassador, hires Priscilla Johnson, her nurse from the hospital, as a nanny. During their afternoons together, Rebecca and Priscilla form a friendship – or at least they do in Rebecca's mind. Everything changes when Priscilla dies in childbirth, and Rebecca and her husband adopt Priscilla's infant son as their own. But this is the '80s in D.C., and Rebecca, however well-intentioned, doesn't know about raising a Black son. That Kind of Mother is an exploration of race, class, and power — as well as a fascinating look at the evolution of one woman's mind over decades, and her persistent shortsightedness regarding the topic of race. Alam is uniquely well-suited to write this story of adoption. The son of Bangladeshi immigrants, and his white husband are the fathers of two adopted Black sons.
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If you’re just looking to be understood, read:

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018)

Stella Lane is brilliant, beautiful, and an extremely successful econometrician. But Stella’s Asperger’s Syndrome, and the accompanying discomfort with touch and small talk, makes sex and dating difficult for her. Stella decides to “learn” to date by hiring Michael Phan, a male escort. Their arrangement begins as a cut-and-dry business proposition, but doesn’t stay that way. Helen Hoang, who has Asperger's Syndrome herself, infuses Stella's first-person narration with the reality of being a neurodiverse individual.
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If you think a lot about the end of the word, read:

The Book of M by Shepherd Peng (2018)

In Shepherd Peng's brilliant debut, the world doesn't end with a bang or with a whimper. It ends with a plague of forgetting. For reasons that remain inexplicable, people around the globe lost their shadows – and with them, their memories. The few shadowed survivors hold out in a rapidly changing world. As the shadowless become untethered from reality, they can "misremember" the world, and their wild fantasies can replace reality. Ory Zhang and his wife, Max, have lived in an abandoned hotel for five years. Then, crisis hits: Max loses her shadow and runs away. Ory follows. Their paths lead to New Orleans, the city that might hold the solution to their problems. The Book of M is right up there with Station Eleven: achingly beautiful literary novels about a changed world.
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If you can't stop scrolling Instagram, read:

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton (2018)

Instagram feeds are manufactured, tastefully filtered windows into another person's life. Living in a shabby apartment in Brooklyn and working an underwhelming job, 29-year-old Louise Wilson finds that window rather alluring. In fact, she'd very much like to step inside. When she meets 23-year-old socialite Lavinia Williams at a New Year's party, Louise has a chance to live a life of excess and tremendous fun. But the clock is ticking on Lavinia's attention span, and on Louise's ability to financially sustain this lifestyle.
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If you're more interested in Hemingway's women than in Hemingway, read:

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain (2018)

In The Paris Wife, Paula McLain examined Ernest Hemingway's first tumultuous marriage to Hadley Richardson. But in terms of sheer cinematic scope, nothing can compare to the love affair between Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, the 28-year-old celebrated war journalist who would become his third wife. The focus of McLain's novel is the fiercely independent and strikingly bold Gellhorn, who heads into Spain to report on the Civil War when she's 28 years old. Throughout her marriage to Hemingway, Gellhorn negotiates her own dreams with her husband's growing fame — and increasing selfishness and competitiveness.
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If you wish you could see the world through the eyes of a synesthete, read:

The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris (2018)

Thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart sees the world differently than most of us. Jasper, who has synesthesia, sees color when he hears sound. Everything in Jasper's world has a unique shade (I've spent a good amount of time thinking of what mine would be). After his neighbor, Bee Larkham, dies, Jasper sees a new color: the color of murder. Believing he knows something no one else does, Jasper takes it upon himself to solve Bee's murder. Harris' book is being hailed for its original premise and unpredictability.
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If you're (metaphorically) haunted by an ex, read:

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (2018)

Lucy Albright arrives to the campus of her small California college bright-eyed and excited for the next four years. She's happy to be away from her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship. Maybe it would've been better had Lucy not met Stephen DeMarco, her handsome, charismatic classmate who quickly seduces her — but then there'd be no story. Lucy loves the way Stephen makes her feel, so she overlooks the truth of their unhealthy attachment.
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If you spend too much time on the New York subway, read:

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall (2018)

Susie Orman Schnall's warm, intelligent historical novel alternates between two New York women struggling with the usual Herculean task of balancing ambition with societal expectations and confines. In 1949, Charlotte decides to participate in the Miss Subways pageant, which were a staple of the New York subway system between 1941 and 1976. Winners of the contest had their photos and a biography plastered on subway cars that traveled around the city. Years later, in 2017, advertising executive Olivia tries to save her career by pitching a series about the Miss Subways.
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If you crave a family epic, read:

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (2018)

Members of a family may experience the same event, but each will have a different interpretation of what really happened. In this stunning, generous novel, Mirza looks at the crucial events in an Indian-American Muslim family from many perspectives. After years away, Amar, the youngest sibling and only son, returns for the occasion of his older sister, Hadia's, wedding. Each sibling reacted differently to their strict father, Rafiq's, insistence on maintaining cultural tradition and staying close to the family unit. You'll find out why Amar, ultimately, chose to run, and what he lost by doing so. A Place for Us is the first book in Sarah Jessica Parker's imprint, SJP for Hogarth.
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If you want to see magic made from the ordinary, read:

Florida by Lauren Groff (2018)

Think of the stories in Lauren Groff's collection Florida as gems. You'll want to revisit them over and over, and see how you'll react to them under different circumstances, different slants of light. But on a more basic level: Each story is exquisite. Groff's tales are all set in Florida, a landscape that harbors snakes, panthers, and threats of a more existential nature. Characters find themselves much closer to danger than they'd thought.
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