50 Best Summer Reads of All Time

Looking for beach reads to suit your every mood and take you to other worlds? These amazing books are totally packed with pleasure and are an escape in and of themselves.

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The Weekenders

Take a little escape for the weekend with Mary Kay Andrew's sultry romantic mystery all about the tawdry and zany goings-on in Belle Isle, North Carolina. Get ready for a page-turner about the weekenders who drop in and the regulars who belong there. The story starts as the heroine's husband fails to arrive on the ferry, sparking her to get pulled in to a murderous and twisty fast-paced tale that centres on the perils of divorce.

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The Rumor

There once was a girl from Nantucket...you how the rest goes! Elin Hilderbrand's breezy novels about life on the island make you feel like you've just bounced ashore. This one follows two friends, Madeline and Grace, who get caught up in a swirl of gossip about love affairs. This intriguing beach read delves into the secrets you keep and the ones you shouldn't hide.

3 / 50
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Shrill

Fall in love with Lindy West's smart, insightful, and totally hilarious take on living life in a scrutinized body. She writes with soul and wit in this memoir about comedy, love, writing, and the way the world responds to her as a woman who doesn't conform to expectations. West's eloquent prose will truly shift your thinking.

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Summer Sisters

Ever have a best friend so close she feels like a sister? That's the bond at the centre of Judy Blume's entrancing novel set on Martha's Vineyard in the kind of summer houses most of us only dream about. Caitlin chooses Vix to be her bestie, but their complex friendship has to weather changes across the years while they each remain haunted by a shattering summer event from long ago.

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First Comes Love

Dive into Emily Griffin's family drama about two sisters and their alternately prickly and loving bond—especially in the aftermath of tragedy. Josie's single, but longing for a child, while Meredith seems to have the perfect family life. The plot twists will keep you turning pages filled with astute observations, wit, and all those relatable emotions that exist between sisters.

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The Great Gatsby

This literary tour-de-force moves at a fast clip. Saunter from high society parties to the dark valley of the ashes in this novel about wealth accumulation and the people hurt in its aftermath. Gatsby pursues Daisy, a woman whose laugh sounds like money, but he may be perpetually out of her league—even without the entanglement of tragedy that links them both. They don't call it an American masterpiece for nothing.

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The Road

In the mood for some can't-put-it-down Zombie literature? Delve into Cormac McCarthy's brooding, heartbreaking take on life during an apocalypse. Monsters abound, but it's also a meditation on love and survival and the relationship between a man and his son.

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The Year of Magical Thinking

Virtuoso essayist Joan Didion turns her eye toward her husband's sudden death in this memoir on grief, love, and longing. You'll find yourself deep in the throes of a kind of reckoning and its hard-won mercies. Didion helps the reader make sense of loss through an intimate look at her own.

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There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé

Take a deep dive into poetry with Morgan Parker who's been called the voice of a generation. Her poems brim with passion and intensity as her works capture the ineffable experience of black millennial womanhood in contemporary America.

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The Good Fight

Turn to best-selling novelist Danielle Steel for a sure-to-be page-turning beach read. Her latest is here with a story about a woman caught in the upheaval of America's political past. Count on the world's most popular author to keep you riveted to Meredith's story. She's a heroine who comes of age in the midst of her father's conservative values and those of her liberal grandfather while blazing her own trail as an activist during the Civil Rights Era.

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Yes, Please

Get ready for wit and wisdom from extremely talented television and movie star, Amy Poehler, as she writes about life as a funny woman in her hilarious and inspiring bestseller. It's certain to make you laugh and think as you roll through this collection of real-life stories punched up with one-liners and chock-full of great advice.

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The Catcher in the Rye

Settle into Holden Caufield's classically cynical vibe. The old-time slang still resonates with contemporary human pathos and the universal condition of seeing the world through young and melancholy eyes. Find beauty amid all the phonies in this classic and page-turning ode to life as a teenager.

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The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood originally published her chilling tale of totalitarian Gilead in 1985, but the classic feminist novel retains contemporary relevance. Delve into the gripping world of captive Offred (named because she is "of" the man who commands her, Fred.) This novel delves into a world where women are valued only as childbearing vessels or sex toys—and you won't be able to put it down.

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Nobody Cries at Bingo

Dawn Dumont's charming and moving memoir tells stories about life on the "Rez" (the Okanese First Nation reservation.) The author is a Plains Cree comedian and actress whose descriptions and humour pull you into to the world of her family from the very first lines about her parent's 6,945th break-up and where they go in the aftermath.

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The House on Mango Street

Get ready for captivating prose in Sandra Cisnero's classic about life for a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago. Esperanza's childhood unfolds in a series of vignettes that grapple with identity and heritage. Beautiful and evocative language keeps you spellbound along the journey that's often lyrical as it expresses its heroine's challenges and discoveries.

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

When nostalgia beckons, return to Narnia. C.S. Lewis knew how to capture a heart and keep it engaged until the very last page. Adults still love this classic children's novel about a magical wardrobe and the enchanting world just beyond a throng of fur coats. Fauns, a white witch, talking wildlife, and a majestic lion await to inspire your soul all over again.

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Bachelor Nation

Author Amy Kaufman promises you an insider's look at "America's Favourite Guilty Pleasure," and this soapy expose offers smart analysis and reliable dish. It focuses on the behind-the-scenes details of ABC's beloved and bemoaned reality franchise, The Bachelor, a show that promises true love—or does it? Devour this breezy read that offers the real deal on a highly-watchable show.

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Big Little Lies

Follow a group of moms who seem to have it all in Liane Moriarty's dramatic novel. This page-turner takes you into the underbelly of the so-called "good life." The story ultimately focuses on the power of female friendships, as strong women band together to help each other out.

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Jane Eyre

Get ready for Gothic and romantic goings-on set in a giant manse that has intrigue, scandal, and a little bit of lust in every nook and cranny. No heroine can really come of age and figure things out without a madwoman in the attic, a roguish boyfriend, a mean, estranged aunt, and a nice guy missionary who offers reliable, but boring love. What should Jane do? Read on as she sketches more pictures, figures it out, survives and lays her heart bare for you, dear reader!

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Fat Girl on a Plane

When you're in the mood for YA delight, take a ride with Cookie, the aspiring fashion designer who dreams of styling people of all sizes. But on her way from Phoenix to an interview in NYC, she's declared "too fat to fly." Cookie has to figure out how to navigate love and career while living in a body that seems to be under attack by fashion industry standards and just about everyone else. This touching and funny novels alternates between Cookie's perspectives as both "fat" and "skinny" as she figures out how to accept herself in a world set on tearing women down with impossible expectations. Kelly DeVos' stellar debut is a relatable and moving story about following your dreams and learning to love yourself along the way.

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Candy Girl

Get ready for Diablo Cody's fearless brand of story-telling in this addicting memoir about life as an unlikely stripper. Before Cody became the Academy-Awarding screenwriter of Juno, she was an aspiring novelist and ad copy pencil pusher who took a walk on the wild side. She chronicled her adventures in this funny and surprisingly relatable story about body image and exposure that's sure to keep you turning pages and applauding.

22 / 50
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Knitlandia

Calling all crafters! Clara Parkes witty essays take the reader on a journey around the world. Yarn shops become locales for inspiring, heartwarming life lessons learned through creative living. Unwind and draw inspiration from the often funny and always riveting stories about a knitter's life and travels.

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Gone Girl

Prepare yourself for the chilling intimacy of a disintegrating marriage in this "she said, he said" spine-tingler. Gillian Flynn's suspenseful bestseller will keep you on the edge of your chaise lounge as you twist and turn reading this mystery about a wife who goes missing. Her cheating husband seems to take the fall in a glorious and unrivaled set-up. Femme fatales unite!

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Blackout

This memoir about drinking is honest, gripping, and all too relatable. It starts with an anonymous one night stand and takes you through the hassles and heartbreak of living with alcoholism and finally finding the strength to face it and heal. Sarah Hepola's voice captures you from the beginning and keeps you rooting for her bravery and admiring the ways she pulls poignancy out of struggle.

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The Stand

Anything in Stephen King's enormous catalog will entrance you, but when you open up The Stand you won't be able to put it down. What happens when a mysterious illness kills almost everyone on earth? Who is left behind, why, and how are they going to forge ahead in the face of loss and devastation?

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Lolita

The love story at the centre of this masterpiece is more about the English language itself than it is the tween who captures the heart of an unreliable narrator. The aging mansplainer Humbert Humbert acquires custody of his stepdaughter Dolores Haze and embarks with her on a road trip across postwar America.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran

This illuminating memoir sparkles with the light and power of reading. Iranian teacher Azar Nafisi chronicles her experience meeting weekly with seven young women and discussing Western books that are forbidden in their country.

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The Chronology of Water

On the surface, this seems like the memoir of a competitive swimmer. But for award-winning author Lidia Yuknavitch swimming becomes a metaphor with which to examine tragedy, sexuality, ambition, love, and the writing life. You'll find yourself spellbound by Yuknavitch's voice and its transformative and unflinching honesty.

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A Separate Peace

This heartbreaking and mesmerizing classic follows the friendship of two prep school teens. Gene, the quiet, smart one, finds himself enamoured with the popular and ever-charming golden boy, Phineas. Gene's gets enraptured with his inspiring friend, but also entangled by a jealousy that leads to a tragic accident.

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The Vacationers

Take a jaunt to the idyllic island of Mallorca with a couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. With family and friends in tow, the relaxing locale becomes the setting for rising dramas and rupturing secrets. You'll get swept up in this family vacation you can't forget and don't want to put down.

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Eleanor and Park

Young love was never so beautiful—or totally stressful! Rainbow Rowell captures the ache and magic of young love with a fever-rich passion that puts you right there. Set in 1986, Eleanor is a misfit with battles at home who finds herself drawn to comic-booking loving Park. School bus rides become the setting for an epic love story that will keep you turning pages and rooting for misfits.

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Run for Something

Escape with a beach read that gives you the tools to tackle real life. Effortlessly readable and totally inspiring, this guide offers easy-to-follow action steps for changing your world. Amanda Litman's "real talk" guide offers tangible ways to become the change you want to see in the world. Holding public office (or even becoming president!) isn't some out-of-reach goal. You can do it with this fun guidebook that's part civics lesson, part pep talk, and wholly encouraging.

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Less

This Pulitzer Prize-winning literary tour-de-force takes you on a world tour with Arthur Less. The hapless hero, an author about to turn 50, is recently jilted by his long-time boyfriend when he embarks on a series of travel destinations in search of adventure and avoidance. Andrew Sean Greer writes with wit and beauty in a tale that will move you as you chuckle along the way.

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A Life's Work

Motherhood, its tedium, and its ecstasies are captured provocatively in this memoir on what is it to be a mother. Novelist Rachel Cusk writes with page-turning poetry on experiences during pregnancy and early motherhood. She makes the subject fascinating and intense because she's so unabashedly honest.

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Dear Committee Members

Julie Schumacher makes bureaucracy side-splittingly hilarious in this novel composed solely of letters. Professor Jason Fitger unwittingly reveals his love affairs, passions, regrets, and obsessions in a series of recommendation letters, complaints, email entreaties, and written demands to a red tape void. He's alarmingly funny and woefully stationed. Quiet desperation becomes a means for hilarious highs and lows in this amazing novel that you won't be able to put down.

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A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness offers Harry Potter for grown-ups in her spellbinding novel about a scholar and witch descendant who finds an alchemical manuscript in the stacks of a library. This discovery unleashes a world of magic and fantastical creatures, including a dashing vampire.

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Fun Home

You'll adore the young heroine in this graphic novel about growing up when your Dad is a mortician and you live in the funeral home where he works. Alison Bechdel's beloved memoir offers scandal, tragedy, and non-stop wit and charm as she navigates her own sexual identity and comes to terms with the one her Dad hid from her.

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The Kiss Quotient

This delightfully moving novel is about dating when you have Asperger's syndrome. The heroine Stella loves math and algorithms, but romance and the like baffles her. So she hires a male escort to show her the ropes of all things kissing and more. But their relationship seems destined to move beyond the transactional. Get ready for heady romance that warms your heart.

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Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng's bestseller reads like a love story to the low-key suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio and its natives. Elena loves the placid sense of success the neighbourhood provides, but when a mysterious single mom moves nearby, Elena and her family become drawn to their differences and their mysteries. Then conflict erupts for the whole community.

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A is for Alibi

You might as well start at the beginning of the alphabet with the best-selling Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Sue Grafton masters the form with her beloved series about a hard-boiled detective whose sharp skills light the dark and grittier locales of sunny California. Get ready for wit, twists, and a multitude of surprises as the pages turn.

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The God of Small Things

Come for the literary intrigue, stay for the absolutely dazzling writing. You can't help but be pulled into the story of fraternal twins making sense of political upheaval and societal restrictions. This richly captivating novel is set in Ayemenem, India and spans alternating timelines and flashbacks. Arundhati Roy's brilliant debut novel will make you laugh, weep and long for more.

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Rubyfruit Jungle

This coming-of-age classic broke ground when it was first published in 1973. Read it to experience heroine Molly Bolt's romantic adventures as she figures out what it means to live and love as a lesbian. The book celebrates being bold, proud (with literary flair to match) and embracing who you are at your core.

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Eligible

If you don't want to re-read Jane Austen's eternally lovable Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time, check out Curtis Sittenfeld's contemporary retelling. You still get the Bennet sisters and Mr. Darcy, but in this round, everyone's in modern American Manhattan and Cincinnati, working cool, high-powered jobs and appearing on reality TV. Eligible holds up. Austen fans will love it.

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Meaty

Hilarious and astute, Samantha Irby's essay collection is all about the perils of modern life. Prepare for massive LOLs with doses of poignant honesty from this effortlessly brazen and comedic writer. You'll feel like you're listening to a friend give you the scoop on the most intimate parts of her life (dating, eating, dieting) and it's all stuff you need to hear.

45 / 50
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Go Tell it on the Mountain

This short, enthralling novel will take you on a literary journey tethered to reality. It's a gorgeously written masterpiece focused on the family saga of a teenager growing up in 1930s Harlem. Semi-autobiographical and still relevant, James Baldwin's first novel proves he was one of the greatest American writers and far ahead of his time.

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The Reapers are the Angels

Time for some YA Dystopia with a strong female protagonist and zombies! Open up Alden Bell's gorgeous and moving novel about growing up in the apocalypse. Fifteen-year-old Temple has never known a world that wasn't brutal. Follow her on a journey to find redemption and beauty in the midst of bizarre and deadly destruction. This lyrical and elegiac story will captivate you. Zombies can offer poetry too.

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Stars Above

When you're in the mood for fairy tales, dive into the Lunar Chronicles. You'll love binge-reading this bestselling short story collection. Get ready for a redux of fairy tales that infuses the classics with science fiction action for a great genre remix filled with romance, heartbreak, and suspense.

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Game of Thrones

Dive into Westeros and the epic struggles between the Starks and the Lannisters. George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series is legitimately addicting. The plots are filled with political backstabs, passionate uprisings, and armies of fantasy creatures. Choose a side and get taken for a dragon ride in this hard-to-put-down series.

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It

The safest place to experience scares is with your toes nestled into the warm sand. Stephen King's horror masterpiece takes you on a journey into a long-cursed town and the diabolical clown who lingers in the sewers and emerges unexpectedly. Get ready for fearsome fun and classic chills from the master of suspense.

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All Summer Long

This quintessential beach read offers dazzling descriptions of life near the shore for long-married Olivia and Nick. The couple leaves Manhattan for life on Sullivans Island. Their new house needs epic and expensive remodelling and Nick doesn't know they're in financial straits. Olivia misses the bustle of the city, but can't help being drawn into the island magic in this lulling novel about love and marriage during an eventful summer near the beach.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest