There are a lot of things to look forward to during the summer months — self-proclaimed rosé tastings, splurges on delicious vacations, and playing a game of invisibility on summer Fridays (I was there for half a day, I swear!) — but the season brings no greater joy than the promise of setting up shop in the sun and diving into a good book. This vacation season, there is no shortage of options to choose from. From the best of the spring to the highly anticipated releases of the summer, here are the books you shouldn’t leave home without when you head to your hammock by the pool or towel at the beach or wherever you plan to make your relaxing escape this season.
Florida by Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff is back with a collection of stories that explore relationships in all of their variety and nuance — between people, with the natural world, and, most importantly, as they relate both subtly and specifically to the state Groff has adopted as her home. On each page, Groff lifts up a corner of the curtain and gives readers a peek inside the realities and dreams of people who don’t usually make the front page headlines in a state that so often does. One word of caution to any literary scaredy cats vacationing in the state in question: snakes and gators demand their due on these pages, as they do in Florida. Proceed with caution.
We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed
With glowing blurbs from George Saunders and Mary Karr, I couldn’t wait to dive into this debut, although the central event of the story—the Tour de France—is not something that has previously sparked my interest. Consider that indifference over. From page one, Joe Mungo Reed will make you a cycling convert with his ability to convey the often quiet beauty, struggle, and competition of the sport. While the stages of the Tour keep the wheels of the plot spinning, it is the portrait of two ambitious people trying to work through the shades of grey in the choices they make in the pursuit of their dreams and the unfolding of their marriage that will keep you turning the pages.
Vox by Christina Dalcher
The past year and a half has been critical in the struggle for women’s rights. The March on Washington and the #metoo movement have shown the power women can harness when they come together, while the breakout Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has illustrated the stakes of failure. Christina Dalcher joins this conversation in Vox, unceremoniously dumping readers into a future U.S. where women have lost even the right to speak. It is bad enough for former neurolinguist Dr. Jean McClellan that all female citizens have been reduced to only 100 words a day after which an evil Fitbit-like watch begins to shock them, but when she watches her young daughter slowly lose the desire to use even those few allotted words, she decides it’s time to get off the sidelines and do something. The result is a cautionary tale that is both haunting and thoroughly riveting.
The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll
Every summer reading list requires at least one classic beach read. This summer’s pick is hands down The Favorite Sister, the latest from bestselling author Jessica Knoll. From the outset, readers know that a cast member of a Housewives-like reality show starring millennial women in avid pursuit of their business dreams is dead. How she got that way is a journey that takes readers through the complicated dynamics of female relationships, cut-throat ambition, and what happens when feminist ideals collide with an obsession with the spotlight.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
A Place for Us is a double debut — both the inaugural book from Sarah Jessica Parker’s new publishing imprint and the first novel from author Fatima Farheen Mirza. With this beautiful result, it certainly won’t be the last from either. Mirza tells the story of the members of one Muslim-American family who must each navigate their own personal and cultural identities while also dealing with the effects their choices have on the family as a whole. As Parker notes in her introduction, Mirza writes with “a delicacy as though every sentence is spun from glass” and creates characters that will “break your heart and piece it back together again.”
The President Is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton
Surrounded 24/7 by secret service and the constant knowledge of emergency protocols, presidents are certainly no stranger to playing out the worst-case scenarios. But only Bill Clinton, in collaboration with master thriller writer James Patterson, has turned those “what ifs” into a fictional tale of a POTUS in the wind. Come for the nail-biting ride of a typically entertaining Patterson page-turner, and stay for the intriguing guessing game of Clinton’s contributions (may we hope revelations?) about the stakes of serving in the highest office in the land.
There There by Tommy Orange
This beautifully written debut launches a new Native American voice onto the literary scene, one who has the powerful ability to bring characters to life and reclaim the stories that we tell about our history as a nation. Centering his novel around the Big Oakland Powwow, Tommy Orange explores the stories of 12 different characters and the events that lead them to collide at this place and this time. “Native people suffer from poor representation as it is, but having little representation in literature, as well as no (literary) version of our (urban Native) experience, was what made me want to write into that space, that void,” Orange told The New Yorker. The result is a must-read.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
The period after WWII was a disjointed time for many. The war was officially over, but secret acts and strategic moves were still being made. The threat to civilians had ended, but life had not yet returned to normal as the citizens of London tried to put the pieces back together and figure out what came next. From the author of The English Patient, Warlight brings to life the precarious nature of life in the wake of war in this story told through the eyes of a teenage boy who can’t quite get get ahold of the reality lurking behind what he’s being told about his own life. His parents have left with just the wisp of an explanation, putting him in the hands of a cast of characters who slowly reveal they are more than what they seem. A lyrical, contemplative coming-of-age tale in a world with much to be discovered.
Circe by Madeline Miller
We all know her as the notorious siren who seduced Odysseus. But surely there was more to Circe than just a powerful, home-wrecking temptress that Homer portrayed her to be. Following in the tradition of Wicked and Wide Sargasso Sea, Madeline Miller reclaims the tale of the “bad woman,” giving Circe a voice to tell her own story about the life she’s lived and the choices she’s made. The result is a highly entertaining narrative that will have you reconsidering everything you know about the ancient Greeks’ favorite sorceress.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
Beach-bumming may drag you away from the latest true-crime series on Netflix, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your addiction cold turkey. This summer, Michelle McNamara’s posthumous book detailing her obsessive hunt for the identity of the Golden State Killer is one that you will not be able to put down. Riveting in it’s own right, it’s increasingly relevant given that Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested and charged with the crimes only a few months after the release of the book. Well done, McNamara, well done.
The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl
Is it a waste of a day to read about the importance of wasting away your days? These are the meta musings you’ll be treated to this summer as you leisurely consume Hempl’s latest book. Weaving together strands of her own life story with those of famous layabouts like Montaigne, the inventor of the personal essay, Hampl takes readers on a journey through space and time, as well as through the joys and discoveries of the mind at rest, a state rapidly disappearing from our ever-connected world.
The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
At the heart of this moving novel is the mystery of why a high-school girl suddenly turned away from her tight-knit group of friends. Years later, after she has committed suicide, her former crew, the self-proclaimed Gunners, reunite to try to piece together the puzzle of why she left them in the first place and come to terms with the emotional damage her rejection caused. While Kauffman doesn’t tie everything up with a neat bow, that’s hardly the point. What really matters is what’s below the surface — a tale of friends who are driven together by circumstance and location but who become a family by choice.
Still Lives by Maria Hummel
A delicious Los Angeles noir that combines the glitz and glamor of fine art with the grit and grime of crime and sexual objectification, Still Lives is a thought-provoking novel packaged in one hell of a mystery. Maggie Richter is the young editor at a struggling museum who takes matters into her own hands when the artist behind their latest exhibition — which happens to be about famous murdered women and which happens to be by an artist who is dating Richter’s ex-boyfriend — mysteriously goes missing just in time for the show’s premiere. Let the journey into the L.A. underworld commence.
Calypso by David Sedaris
If there’s one thing you can count on in life, it’s Sedaris to leave you giggling on the beach in both humor and horror. His latest collection of stories is a bit more serious than his previous, with many tales dealing with the pitfalls of aging and the scourge of addiction as it has so ruthlessly affected his own family. But even when the Sedaris clan is at its worst, the humorist reveals their antics with his characteristic wit in a way that manages to both soften and sharpen the dark truths behind the stories he tells.
The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
The final lines of the poem “Syria” that opens The Map of Salt and Stars read, “O beloved, you are with me to the end, until the sea divides, until our broken memory makes us whole.” In her rich and often heartbreaking debut, Syrian American writer Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar tries to make whole the broken memory of a nation caused by the deadly conflict in Syria. Weaving together the lives of a 12-year-old, American-born Syrian girl whose family must flee the country shortly after returning to it and the tale her late father once told her about a 13th-century girl who dressed as a boy to apprentice with a mapmaker and save herself from poverty, Joukhadar’s vibrant prose brings to life the very real and devastating struggle that many refugees continue to face today.