It’s not summer without searing hot car seats, miniature golf, and a page-turning novel you can’t seem to put down even though it’s your turn at miniature golf. The summer months are the perfect time to dig into a lighthearted book of comic essays, a gripping thriller, or an unforgettable journey into the darkest periods of history. Isn’t it just your luck that we’ve rounded up a few of each, for your reading pleasure?
The Racketeer, by John Grisham
Grisham is the grand master of the legal thriller, and he’s in top form here. The Racketeer (also known as former attorney Malcolm Bannister) may be in prison, but he’s the only one who seems to have any clue as to how an active federal judge and his young secretary managed to turn up dead in an isolated lakeside cabin. And he’s all too happy to share the information he has—but it comes at a steep price. A diabolically clever thriller you’ll burn through in a long weekend, especially if you’re a lover of twists and turns.
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
A brilliant, unforgettable, and true account of the planning and execution of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (a monumental achievement for its time—and for now), this utterly absorbing book focuses on the struggles and triumphs of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect tasked with overseeing the unfathomably large project of designing and building the immense Fair, as the world watched and waited to see if he would succeed. Larson brilliantly injects an element of darkness into the narrative by interspersing it with a chilling account of the nefarious activities of one H. H. Holmes, a sociopathic serial killer who committed a number of heinous crimes around the advent of the Chicago World’s Fair. This is one beach book that will find you sitting on the sand reading with a flashlight long after everyone else has shaken out their towels and gone home.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling
It could be argued that it is a beach book’s job to make you laugh until you hiccup—and if you subscribe to that belief, then look no further than Kaling’s bitingly funny (and yet also disarmingly sweet and thoughtful) collection of essays. With wit and insight, Kaling tackles such issues as growing up, deciding to pursue an acting career, and ultimately making it in the notoriously difficult world of show business. I dare you to read this book and not wish Mindy Kaling were one of your best friends. Her smart, wry, well-honed observational humor is as refreshing as a tall, frosty mojito. And…now I need a cold drink. Darn you, summer!
Cockroaches, by Jo Nesbø
The second book in the arresting Harry Hole series, Nesbo’s Cockroaches finds the intrepid investigator looking into a murder in a Bangkok brothel of a Norwegian ambassador to Thailand. A fascinating peek into the seedy underbelly of a beautiful and exotic vacation destination, the novel interweaves Harry’s struggles to resolve his messy personal life with his efforts to solve a case that grows ever more complex and dangerous the closer he comes to the truth. If you haven’t yet checked out Jo Nesbø’s thrilling detective series, which is up to 10 books, you’re in for a wicked treat.
Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan
Standup comedian Jim Gaffigan has always had a way with words—and this new book about his experiences as a father of five children is filled with memorable (and hard won) one-liners and scathing observational humor. A fun, light read that will make you feel like you’re on vacation simply because you don’t have five children (unless of course you do, in which case you should definitely pick up a copy and commiserate), Dad is Fat is a breezy, funny summer read that will have you snort-laughing at least once per chapter. (I can’t be the only one here who snort-laughs.)
Ladies’ Night, by Mary Kay Andrews
When Grace Stanton catches her husband cheating, naturally she retaliates by driving his fancy sports car into a swimming pool. Unfortunately, this teensy little incident knocks her from a life high on the hog and at the top of a rapidly ascending career, down to sharing a house with her widowed mother above a dive bar. Fortunately, her court-mandated “divorce recovery” therapy sessions introduce her to a cotillion of like-minded friends, who begin organizing their own “therapy” sessions together at the bar…and that’s when the fun really begins in this salty, clever poolside read.
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Summer isn’t just about barbecues and beach balls and tan lines. For those quiet, introspective, rainy summer days when even the fact that it’s July isn’t enough cheer you up, it’s nice to have a searing memoir in your back pocket. The Glass Castle is a mesmerizing, wrenching account of Walls’ childhood, during which she and three siblings were raised (if that term even applies here) by an alcoholic father and an unstable mother, parents who were by turns brilliant, disinterested, and completely self-destructive. Walls and her siblings eventually mustered the strength and resources to leave, and her courage and ability to build a normal, successful life for herself in the wake of such early chaos is as inspiring as her story is unforgettable.
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
If you miss the summer reading you used to be assigned in school—in part because it helped you choose what to read, but also because the material was often enriching and enlightening—then Wolf Hall, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, is going on your Fake Grownup Assigned Summer Reading List. The fascinating story of life in Tudor England under the erratic, alternately passionate and vicious rule of the indomitable King Henry VIII, Mantel’s account focuses on the crafty maneuverings of his ambitious statesman and adviser, Thomas Cromwell. A seamless blend of history and fiction, you’ll be both educated and entertained—what could be better?
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt
An inspiring and memorable debut novel about a young girl’s coming of age, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the moving story of 14-year-old June Elbus, who loses her uncle, Finn Weiss—who also happens to be her godfather and best friend. June feels adrift in the world until she makes the acquaintance of Toby, a friend of Finn’s, and their fragile relationship teaches her about loss, love, and growing up.
Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight
Don’t pick up this riveting mystery unless you’re ready to stay up all night reading! When busy single mom Kate Baron gets a call from her daughter’s exclusive Brooklyn private school letting her know that her daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating, she’s shocked and disappointed. But when she arrives at the school, the news is even worse: Amelia is dead after having apparently jumped off the roof of a building. Unable to believe that her bright, ambitious daughter would commit suicide (especially after receiving an anonymous text that simply reads, “She didn’t jump”), Kate dedicates herself to sifting through Amelia’s social media and cellphone history, finding herself caught up in an increasingly alarming and convoluted race to find out what really happened.
What books are in your beach bag (or briefcase) this summer?