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The Best Beach Books

10 Timeless Summer Reads, Plus 5 New Titles

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 31, 2020

Tales that Take Us Away

Whether you're basking in the sun with the sound of the waves in your ears, swinging gently in a backyard hammock, or just lounging in your favorite armchair, summer is the time for adventurous, stirring reads that transport us to exotic times and places. The perfect beach book, whether literary or pulpy, offers three key components: narrative momentum, an evocative setting, and a touch of shock value. We've curated a list of ten timeless summer reads, plus five fresh, new titles.

Romance, Thrills, and Sagas that Never Get Old

We are equal opportunity readers! Our ideal summer read can't be categorized. Whether historic drama, international adventure, or captivating courtship, all we ask for is an unputtdownable book that we can get lost in. That's not too much, right? Here are ten such winners spanning the last century. (BTW, many of these have been made into movies, so you can watch after you read!)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The mother of all procedural mysteries, this brilliant detective novel has lost none of its appeal over the last eighty-plus years. If you haven't yet read Christie's seminal work, prepare to have your mind blown.

The Natural by Bernard Malamud
For all the pining baseball fans, this is the first—and some would say the best—novel ever written about the sport. Infused with hardscrabble poetry and Arthurian legend, the transcendent tale offers the glory of victory, as well as the darkness of defeat.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Many hold that the true crime genre was born with this account of the savage 1959 murder of a Kansas family of four. Capote's painstaking reconstruction of the crime and resulting investigation yields profound insights into the nature of American violence.

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
An extraordinary tapestry, this novel captures the spirit of America in the early 1900s. Weaving together the stories of disparate characters, the book offers a still-relevant snapshot of America's attitudes toward race, class, and virtue.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Two brilliantly imaginative fantasy authors collaborate and this is what we get! The prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, declare that the world will end soon (next Saturday to be precise). So now the armies of Good and Evil are amassing for the rocky ride ahead.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Once they were best friends, "summer sisters." Now, years later, Caitlin begs Vix to come and be the maid of honor at her wedding. And Vix knows that she will go—if only to try and understand what happened during that last shattering summer.

The Color of Water by James McBride
Launching the career of the National Book Award-winner, this beautiful memoir charts not only his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, but also his remarkable mother's difficult path and extraordinary determination.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The vast sweep of this historical saga spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters that bring breathtaking life to the troubled colonial history of the East.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Louisa Clark's life was exceedingly ordinary until she took a job working for wheelchair-bound Will Traynor. Will is acerbic and moody, but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and something unexpected blooms between them.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel
Summering at the family beach house on Martha's Vineyard, moneyed New England couple Fern and Edgar are happily preparing for a family birthday celebration when they receive the unimaginable news: There is no more money.

2020 Page-Turners

Of course, sometimes what's important for the new summer read is, well, its newness. What are the books that everyone is talking about? If you're looking for something fresh and fun, here are five current titles that have been making the rounds in and out of our proverbial beach bags.

Beach Read by Emily Henry
She's a romance writer. He's a serious literary author. They are both struggling with writer's block in neighboring beach houses. One hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts. They'll each write the other's book.

The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett
In this tale of family, identity, and race, identical twin sisters Stella and Desiree are born in a small Southern community in the 1960s. After running away from home together at 16, they choose different paths and find themselves estranged by the circumstances of their new lives.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
This modern love story from the bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians pays homage to E. M. Forster's classic A Room With a View. It's a glittering, glamorous tale of a young woman who finds herself torn between two men.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar
A bombing on a train in India leaves 104 people dead and binds the fates of three people. This searing debut tells a story about innocence and guilt, betrayal and love, and falsehoods masquerading as truths.

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
In this heart-fluttering romance infused with wit and insight, protagonist Olivia moves to LA to start her own law firm. Starting a relationship with an attractive local politician is not part of the plan. But sometimes plans have to change.

Hopefully one or two of these books fit your summer mood. We had fun revisiting some of our favorite reads—both new and old.

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Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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