What is a "beach read," anyway? Some frivolous jaunt to pack on a trip to the actual beach where there's day drinking? Something steamy to read next to a crackling bonfire? A bloodbath of a thriller? Definitions be damned, we're calling all of those things, and then some, great books to pick up in the summer months, whether you're next to a body or water or not. From the thousands upon thousands of books that are released every year, we combed through catalogs to find 33 buzzy, compelling titles that we can't wait to pick up loosely between Memorial and Labor Day.
Written by: Mary Miller (The Last Days of California) Release date: May 21 Mary Miller's native Mississippi serves as the backdrop for the story of Louis McDonald, Jr., a retiree whose longtime wife left him, leaving him in a state of monotonous malaise. When he makes an impulsive decision to get a dog, though, his life begins unfolding in unexpected ways -- for better and for worse, which Miller relates with unflinching, insightful prose.
Written by: Anna Pitoniak (The Futures) Release date: May 21 Necessary People is a tantalizing exploration of female friendship and ambition. Focusing on the relationship between two young women, Stella and Violet, and the way in which Violet feels inferior to her close friend, the novel sees their dynamic start to change when Violet comes into her own in her newsroom career. That is, until Stella gets hired to appear in front of the camera -- an ample playing field for Pitoniak's dark look at competition and destruction between girls.
Written by: Adam Erlich Sachs (Inherited Disorders) Release date: May 21 If you always wanted to read a novel about an eclipse and 17th-century scientists, you should pick up a copy of The Organs of Sense, which casts a teenage version of German polymath Gottfried Leibniz as the protagonist in a story about the search for a blind astronomer. Sachs mixes absurdist premises with real scientific insight to spin a mystery that questions the fundamental nature of the universe.
Written by: Malin Persson Giolito (Quicksand) Release date: June 4 The Swedish lawyer-author who won several awards for 2016's Quicksand returns with another legal thriller, this time about an effort to reexamine the horrific murder of a 15-year-old girl. While there were flaws in the investigation that landed a prominent scientist in jail, the lawyer leading the new case finds herself facing public scorn and questioning how much she can trust her client.
Written by: Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic) Release date: June 4 In her latest novel, Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert is taking readers on another journey of self-discovery: that of a young girl thrust into 1940s Manhattan showgirl and stage culture. As an elderly Vivian Morris reflects on her youth when she went to live with her aunt who owned a struggling NYC theater, she reminisces on the flamboyant characters who became her family and the scandals that unfolded behind the curtain. Gilbert delivers all that old Broadway glitz and glamour.
Written by: Dominic Smith (The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, The Beautiful Mysterious, etc.) Release date: June 4 Part film history, part exploration of ambition and regret, The Electric Hotel tells the story of Claude Ballard, a silent film director whose magnum opus ruined him financially and professionally. Ballard's now living at a shabby hotel, where he recounts his life story to a film historian looking for a window to the past.
Written by: Kristen Arnett Release date: June 4 In queer writer and notable online person Kristen Arnett’s debut novel, she finds humor in one of the most simultaneously disorienting and sobering life experiences: grief. The book finds a young woman discovering that her father killed himself in their family taxidermy shop, forcing her to wrestle with both the odd and depressing ways her kin comes to term with his death -- including her mother’s potential spiraling out of control, turning their taxidermy into sexually explicit art.
Written by: Ryan Jacobs Release date: June 4 Investigative journalist Ryan Jacobs has done his fair share of reporting on crime and stranger-than-fiction topics, and his next work is a deep dive into the salacious culture surrounding… truffles. The Truffle Underground is a smart, revealing exposé into how that expensive piece of fungus made it to your plate, and the extreme lengths scammers go to farm and steal them. True crime nerds, this is the unsuspecting story you've been waiting for.
Written by: Ocean Vuong (Night Sky With Exit Wounds, Burnings, etc.) Release date: June 4 Ocean Vuong is first and foremost a poet, but his debut novel has had critics buzzing for months as a devastatingly beautiful story of an immigrant family from Vietnam. Structured as a letter from a 20-something son written to his illiterate mother, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a book of revelations rooted in forgotten histories told with compassion. You'd be crazy to skip this tearjerker.
Written by: Elvia Wilk Release date: June 4 This debut novel from arts, architecture, and technology writer Elvia Wilk is filled with the things she knows best: arts, architecture, and technology. Call it sci-fi if you want: Oval tackles a futuristic, but eerily familiar kind of corporate gentrification in Berlin under the guise of sustainability that sends our central artists-turned-cogs to live in a rent-free home on a manmade mountain.
Written by: Jean Kwok (Girl in Translation) Release date: June 4 Like many contemporary mysteries, Searching for Sylvie Lee begins with a missing woman. But Kwok isn't interested in playing out the conventions of the genre, instead opting for a narrative structure that focuses on the missing woman and the sister who searches for her, both of whom must face questions of identity and justice in a complicated, hybridized world that offers no easy answers.
Written by: Jill Ciment (Heroic Measures, The Tattoo Artist, etc.) Release date: June 11 Ciment's latest is a courtroom drama unlike any other, turning its attention to an affair between jury members on a high-profile case in which a rich, white teenage girl is accused of murdering her little brother. As the proceedings plays out, things heat up between Hannah and Graham, two of the jurors sequestered to stay at a lodge for the remainder of the trial, until it's revealed their views oppose one another. Even as the verdict is decided, the case and affair prove to be lessons in morality that haunt Hannah far more than she could've suspected.
Written by: Lauren Acampora (The Wonder Garden) Release date: June 11 It's the summer of complicated female relationships! The Paper Wasp falls into this trend as a psychologically knotty story of two women, one career-driven and working in LA at an arts institution founded by a cult filmmaker, the other aimlessly stuck in Michigan and having premonitions she storyboards as creative output.
Written by: Barbara Bourland (I'll Eat When I'm Dead) Release date: June 18 An artist's body of work is destroyed in a fire mere months before she's supposed to exhibit them in this whip-smart satire. To make up for lost time, she heads to an artists retreat in upstate New York, renting out the residence of an artist infamous for drowning herself -- though after meeting the dead artist's boyfriend, it seems that the story isn't as cut-and-dry as the headlines seemed.
Written by: Taffy Brodesser-Akner (The Leftovers: Paula Deen and the Martyrdom Industrial Complex) Release date: June 18 New York Times feature-writing journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner debuts her first work of fiction this summer. Those fond of Akner's work will find the same forceful writing in this novel about the struggles of divorce after 15 years of marriage, app hookups for the newly single, and mandatory introspection.
Written by: Ellen LaCorte Release date: June 18 The Perfect Fraud makes for the perfect vehicle of pop culture's current obsession with scammers. This mystifying thriller follows the relationship between a young woman named Claire, whose mother is a psychic while she pretends to be, and a woman she meets by chance with a helplessly ill daughter. It's a page turner with the right dose of lies and mystery.
Written by: Catherine Chung (Forgotten Country) Release date: June 18 Themes of one's legacy, breakthroughs, and identity is woven throughout Catherine Chung's latest novel about a mathematician facing down her generation's most difficult, unsolved theorum, digging into intentionally buried research during WWII to blaze her own path and become a name mentioned in history books.
Written by: Marcy Dermansky (The Red Car, Bad Marie, etc.) Release date: July 2 A mother and daughter end up boinking the same college writing professor in this sardonic skewering of self-aggrandizing MFA programs, investment banking, and "nice" wealthy suburbs that tend to have seedy secrets bubbling right underneath their shiny veneers.
Written by: Helen Phillips (The Beautiful Bureaucrat, Some Possible Solutions, etc.) Release date: July 7 Essentially a home invasion thriller, The Need swirls around a young mother faced with an intruder she doesn't know, but seems to know her family all too well. You'll breeze through this existential treatise on motherhood, the nature of reality, and what happens when you're totally, utterly sleep deprived.
Written by: Amanda Lee Koe (Ministry of Moral Panic) Release date: July 9 This scintillating debut places three iconic women of 20th century filmmaking -- Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl -- in the same social circle, having met by chance at a party in 1928. From there, Koe's historical fiction traces the ebbs and flows of each woman's life and career, reflecting on the place of ego, power, and womanhood.
Written by: Ruchika Tomar Release date: July 9 A story of longing, female friendship (there it is again! the theme!), and self-realization, A Prayer for Travelers is set on the Nevada-California border as two old friends reconnect -- until something terrible tears them apart.
Written by: Selva Almada Release date: July 9 Told over the course of a single day, this quick, Spanish-transated novel has an evangelical preacher and his teenage daughter stuck in the countryside of Argentina when their car breaks down, finding help and companionship in an aging mechanic and a boy named Tapioca.
Written by: Courtney Maum (Touch, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You) Release date: July 16 The acclaimed author's latest novel is largely inspired by free-spirited heiress Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen, using their dynamic as the groundwork for a story about an art collector and her daughter who relocate to a Mexican resort amid the outbreak of WWII. There, at the artistic refuge Costalegre, daughter Lara struggles to connect with her mother and outlandish creatives, until she meets an older man she believes may be the love of her life. An arty, lavish novel, Costalegre examines one of the relationships that is often the most surreal to dissect: the one between mother and daughter.
Written by: Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad, Zone One, etc.) Release date: July 16 The No. 1 New York Times best-selling author looks at another disturbing, overlooked moment in the history: The Nickel Boys is based on a real former Florida reform school. In the book, a young black man makes a single mistake and is thrown into a juvenile detection center, the Nickel Academy, which proves to be more of a torture chamber than anything else. A harrowing look at wrongful incarceration and remaining faithful to one's character, he must fight to survive and hold onto his ideals behind bars.
Written by: David Szalay (All That Man Is, London and the South-East, etc.) Release date: July 16 Man Booker shortlisted author David Szalay takes inspiration from a map of worldwide flight paths and turns them into short stories for his latest collection, Turbulence, told in 12 vignettes of different travelers unknowingly passing each other. A short book about the anonymity and stressors of travel, and the serendipity of living.
Written by: J. Ryan Stradal (Kitchens of the Great Midwest) Release date: July 23 Midwesterners will undoubtedly see themselves in this novel about a quintessential Minnesota family, each bringing something to the table: one woman makes rhubarb pies famous in the Twin Cities, her sister transforms her husband's old-school soda factory into a once-popular brewery in decline, and a woman in the next generation has a recipe for an IPA meant to save her family's beer business.
Written by: Jia Tolentino Release date: August 6 The New Yorker writer and one of the best cultural critics today is finally making her full-length book debut, a work of nine original essays about the state of the world today, from the effects of the internet to millennial work/life balance. All in Tolentino’s sharp, personal style and humor, her words are sure to stick with you and shape your worldview well beyond 2019.
Written by: Téa Obreht (The Tiger's Wife) Release date: August 13 Téa Obreht done wrote a Western. Eight years after her remarkably received The Tiger's Wife, Inland hits us with a saga from the Arizona Territory in 1893 dealing in the harsh realities of the young American West and mysticism, bouncing between the intertwined fates of a frontierswoman stuck at home and an outlaw who can see ghosts.
Written by: Olga Tokarczuk Release date: August 13 A Polish-language finalist for this year's Man Booker International Prize and translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a delightfully tense whodunnit with a fairy tale bent. Set in a rural Polish village, our protagonist is an astrology-obsessed poetry translator and home caretaker who keeps happening upon murdered fellow residents under strange circumstances, certain she knows who the culprit is -- but people around her think she's crazy. Smothered in dark humor, DYPOTBOTD is a wry meditation on the perception of sanity and failures of criminal justice systems.
Written by: Yōko Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor, Hotel Iris, etc.) Release date: August 13 Originally published in Japanese in 1994, The Memory Police has been translated into English for the first time. Eerily surreal, Ogawa's novel takes Orwellian tropes of a surveillance state and makes them markedly her own: Centered around a writer trying to keep her editor from going missing, this dark novel traces disappearances orchestrated by the Memory Police, tasked with keeping the public unaware of any changes to their reality.
Written by: Rachel Cusk (Outline, Kudos, Transit, etc.) Release date: August 20 The author of the wildly popular Outline Trilogy, an intoxicating examination of modern European life that leaves the reader in the dark about the narrator's true character, comes out with a non-fiction essay collection this August. Expect Cusk to tackle everything from parents to D.H. Lawrence with her customary intelligence and entrancing style.
Written by: Nell Zink (Mislaid, Nicotine, The Wall Creeper, etc.) Release date: August 27 One of fiction's most beloved weirdos, Nell Zink returns with an intergenerational novel in New York City, hinged on upheaval during, what else, 9/11. About a not-so-great punk band in the '90s, environmental activism, and personal loss, Doxology wields its expansive yet intimate story with the sharp, deft prose that Zink has become known for.
Written by: Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale, The Blind Assassin, etc.) Release date: September 10 Praised be! Fans will finally know what fate awaits Offred from that cliffhanger ending of The Handmaid’s Tale, now that a long-awaited sequel from Atwood arrives this September. The book picks up 15 years after the events of the original novel, and while it's unclear whether sequel follows Offred specifically, it examines the lives of three women in Gilead and offers further insight into what life is like in the dystopian society. The upcoming novel may be a separate entity from the Emmy-winning Hulu series, but chances are fans of the show will be interested in this new material, too.