When it comes to sticking your toes in the sand and your nose in some prose, not every book measures up. A Beach Read is a book that brings certain things to the table: it should be fast-paced, twisty, and surprising, and above all it should be the sort of book that’s capable of distracting you from the sun, the sand, and the sea for a little while. If you find yourself constantly looking up from the page to watch dogs catching Frisbees, you might be reading the wrong book.
We got you. Here are eight books so absorbing you might need extra sunblock, because you are going to lose track of time when you’re reading them.
The Cast, by Danielle Steel
Steel is an expert at casually constructing stories that suck you into their gossipy, oh-no-they-didn’t drama. In The Cast, Kait Whittier is a magazine columnist who has put two marriages behind her and is in no rush to try her hand at a third, preferring instead to enjoy the company of her children and the challenge of her work. When she meets a television producer by chance, she pitches him an idea for a TV series based on her own grandmother’s remarkable life—and the producer loves it. Suddenly Kait finds herself plunged into a Hollywood production, meeting the cast and crew that will bring her grandmother’s story to the screen. Kait quickly bonds with them, from the icy director to the quietly suffering lead actress, and they become her second family—just in time to help Kait through one of the greatest personal challenges of her life.
The Perfect Couple, by Elin Hilderbrand
Here’s a beachy hook for your summer reading: a perfect wedding in glamorous Nantucket hits some rocks when the Maid of Honor is found dead in the ocean the morning of the big day. Hilderbrand is at the top of her game as she introduces the bride, Celeste Otis, who has a bag packed and is ready to bolt from her own wedding when social media influencer Merritt Monaco is found dead, despite the fact that her would-be husband, Benji, seems wonderful. Mixed up in everything is novelist Greer Garrison, who’s hit a bit of a midlife crisis as her publisher is asking for a complete rewrite of her latest novel. Hilderbrand is a master at combining the beachy fun of a location like Nantucket with some serious thriller and mystery chops—this is a beach read you won’t be able to put down, we promise.
All We Ever Wanted, by Emily Giffin
This emotionally complex story centers on a social media controversy that spirals out of control. Nina is a former middle-class girl who married rich, confident Kirk and moved to Nashville. Their son, Finch, is headed for Princeton, and life seems perfect, even as Nina begins to question her husband’s character and her own choices. Tom is a single dad raising spirited Lyla, who gets a scholarship to the exclusive Windsor Academy. When a photo of Lyla at a party, unconscious and vulnerable, hits the internet, the whole town is thrown into an uproar—especially since it seems like Finch is the one who took the photo. Giffin has a gift for making other people’s problems very real and very compelling. While all your stress drains away on the beach, nothing beats reading about other people’s stress—so bring the popcorn and your sunglasses and start turning those pages.
Calypso, by David Sedaris
Sometimes the beach requires bite-sized fiction you can pick up and put down without breaking the thread. If you’re sharing a beach house this summer, this one is ideal for you: Sedaris collects a whopping twenty-one essays in this volume, all centered on the beach house he purchased a few years ago and that has served as a central gathering place for his family ever since. With his usual self-deprecation and sharp wit, Sedaris chronicles the arguments, discussions, and adventures he gets into both with and without his family, and continues to fearlessly explore his mother’s death and his sister’s suicide as well as issues including whether Jesus was attractive or not. Laugh-out-loud funny in places and incredibly moving in others, Sedaris continues to prove he’s one of our greatest living essayists with this fantastic collection.
Shelter in Place, by Nora Roberts
Beachy reading doesn’t have to be breezy and light. Roberts spins a tense story about the survivors of a mass shooting event at the DownEast Mall. College student Reed Quartermaine managed to save a child during the chaos, and meets first responder Essie McVee, who inspires him to follow that instinct and become a police officer. High school student Simone Knox is the first to call 911 and becomes famous, and uses that fame to launch a career as an artist, honoring the victims she couldn’t save by sculpting them. Three years after the attack, Reed notices that people who were there that fateful day are being murdered—and then he’s attacked himself, by the sister of one of the shooters, or someone everyone believes to be the shooter. The truth slowly unspools as Reed risks everything to investigate, falling for Simone in the process in this fast, pulse-pounding story with a lot of heart.
The High Tide Club, by Mary Kay Andrews
If you’ve ever let your mind wander while sitting on the beach, wondering what might happen if adventure suddenly dropped into your vacay, this is the book for you. Andrews starts off her newest with an intriguing mystery, then pulls off a twist that makes it even more interesting. Brooke Trappnell is a struggling attorney and single mother, so she’s elated, if mystified, when local millionaire Josephine Warrick invites her to her island compound just off the coast of the small Georgia town they call home. Josephine, 99, is dying, and she wants her estate to go to three old friends she has been estranged from for years. Two of the self-named High Tide Club have passed away, but Brooke is charged with tracking down the last survivor and the descendants of the others and arranging for them to come to Josephine so she can make amends and change her will. Brooke knows Josephine isn’t telling her everything—and there’s an old unsolved murder in the mix—but before anything can be figured out Josephine dies without changing her will. Brooke and the High Tide Club are left scrambling to save the estate, follow her wishes, and solve the mysteries surrounding her.
Love and Ruin, by Paula McLain
The past is often more romantic than the present, so if your current beach experience isn’t particularly cinematic, here’s a book that’ll bring the drama you’re missing. McLain returns to Hemingway’s life with a thrilling focus on his third wife, the independent, brilliant Martha Gellhorn. Already famous in her own right for her journalistic work during the 1930s, Gellhorn meets the older Hemingway and their romance sizzles—for a time. McLain masterfully brings these historical figures to life, depicting the neediness and instability Hemingway brought to the table, traits that slowly ruin their love and marriage. Gellhorn makes her break from Hemingway in dramatic fashion, stowing away on a hospital ship bound for Normandy on D-Day, becoming the first journalist of either gender to report back from the massive invasion of Fortress Europe. The story’s twists and turns wouldn’t be believed if it wasn’t based on real people—real people unlike any you may have known.
By Invitation Only, by Dorothea Benton Frank
In this charming new Lowcountry story, Fred, a South Carolina farmer, and Shelby, daughter of a wealthy Chicago couple, are getting married. Fred’s mother, Diane, has lived on a small island off the coast her whole life and is planning the engagement party in her typically low-key way. When she invites Shelby’s parents, Susan and Alejandro, to attend, what follows is a collision of two worlds and two very different styles, as Susan and Diane get along like oil and water. Back in Chicago, Susan throws a second party, kicking off a struggle of wills as Susan keeps trying to make the wedding bigger and more elaborate and the kids keep trying to scale it back. A family tragedy only accelerates the pace—and anyone who has lived the stress of planning a wedding will find Frank’s delightful treatment of the two families to be extremely entertaining.