All the best summer reads from bestsellers to classics to summer book club books. You won’t want to miss these enduring summer favorites.
Every year, I write up a summer reading list full of new bestsellers and books becoming movies.
However, as soon as Fall rolls around, the summer reading list has lost its potency. The 2019 summer reading list just doesn’t fit the bill in 2021.
That’s why I decided it was time for a timeless list of books for summer reading – the best summer reads of all time.
Although I plan to update my list of best reads for summer regularly, the books listed here will serve you well anytime you are looking for those quintessential summer reads.
Whether you love beach reads, dreamy historical fiction, or thought-provoking nonfiction books, you’re sure to fall in love with these best summer reads.
The Best Summer Reads
For years, Kya Clark has survived alone in the marshes of the North Carolina coast. Dubbed “The Marsh Girl” by the locals, she raises herself in nature after her family abandons her. Now, as she comes of age, she begins to yearn for something more than her loneliness – maybe even a connection with the locals. An exquisitely written tale, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the best summer reads of all time.
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Among the best reads for summer, Daisy Jones & The Six is the perfect blend of historical fiction and beach read for your summer vacation. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s addictingly fun read about the rise and fall of a fictional 70s band couldn’t be left off this list. With sex, drugs, and plenty of drama, you’ll feel like you are watching a biopic on VH1 – but an extremely well-written one.
Mary Beth Keane
NYPD cops Francis and Brian happen to move next door to each other in the suburbs. Though their children Kate and Peter become the best of friends, Francis and his wife have learned to keep their distance from Brian’s wife due to her precarious mental health. When tragedy strikes between the two families, Brian’s family moves away in shame. But when Kate and Peter fall in love, the two families must learn to confront the tragedy that ties them together. A story of love and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes serves up the perfect blend of family drama and character study to win a place among the best summer reads.
During a Little League baseball game, Owen Meany hits a foul ball that kills his best friend’s mother. Believing himself to be God’s instrument, Owen seeks to fulfill his own prophecy. Narrated by Owen’s best friend John Wheelwright, A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of the best books about friendship and a beloved modern classic.
Code Name Verity immerses you in a world of intrigue with the story of a British spy, Agent “Verity.” Captured when her plane crashes in occupied France, Verity is interrogated by the Gestapo in an attempt to learn of her mission. As she confesses under torture, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what secrets she is willing to exchange for her life. How far is she willing to go for her mission? A brilliant and emotional read that makes a great choice for your summer reading list.
The Best Beach Reads
Any list of great summer reads would be remise without some great beach reads, and Elin Hilderbrand is the beach read queen. At her brother’s bachelor party, Mallory meets Jake McCloud. Thus begins a love affair that lasts for decades, but only for one weekend a year. When Mallory is dying, she leaves instructions for her son to call Jake, who is now the husband of the leading presidential candidate.
Nicholas Sparks’ books all follow the same formula, making them the best weekend reads because if you love one, you’ll love them all … and vice versa. Kate appears in a small beachfront town in North Carolina, obviously with her guard up. But as she befriends her neighbor Jo and begins to fall for a local widower Alex, she must choose to risk letting others in and tell them of her dark past.
Crotchety old A. J. Fikry is struggling in life. He is now a widow. His bookstore is failing. To top it off, his rare edition of Edgar Allan Poe has been stolen. On the verge of becoming a complete recluse, a plot twist occurs that will gives Fikry a second chance at life. A heartwarming tale perfect for any summer book club.
Kevin Kwan’s debut novel delves into the lives of the crazy rich Asians – those families so rich and pedigreed they practically rule the continent. When Nicholas Young, Singapore’s most eligible bachelor, brings Rachel Chu, his American-born Chinese girlfriend, to the hottest wedding of the season, everyone is in an uproar. With plenty of interesting themes to explore, Crazy Rich Asians is a perfect summer read.
Great Summer Reading Books
Growing up in a Southern black community obsessed with skin color, the Vignes sisters run away at age sixteen. Though identical twins, their lives end in completely different paths. One returns to live in their hometown while the other secretly passes as white. A fascinating story from beginning to end, Bennett explores more than race, as she contemplates how the past affects future generations when their daughters’ lives intersect. Nuanced and complicated, this thought-provoking book is just what you want out of literary fiction and every bit deserving of its spot among the books for summer reading.
In Mexico, bookstore owner Lydia is charmed to meet Javier, a man who shares her taste in books, only to find he is the local drug lord. When the wrath of the cartel falls upon her family, Lydia and her son Luca must flee all the way to American soil in this mesmerizing story. One of the most controversial books of 2020, American Dirt sparked an important discussion about who can tell what stories.
Sela is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. She’s possibly found the perfect match; but how do you turn someone else’s life upside down by revealing that you are her previously unknown half-sister, the product of her father’s affair? As Sela begins to connect with Caroline, she must decide which she wants more – a sister or a kidney. With realism and nuance, Strawser’s family drama of complicated relationships is a perfect choice for the best summer reads of 2021.
Elissa R. Sloan
Elissa R. Sloan’s debut novel hints at the dark side of superstardom. Overnight, Cassidy Holmes and her band The Gloss become a pop phenomenon. But with success comes overbearing media attention, band drama, and utter loneliness that eventually results in Cassidy’s suicide. Jumping back and forth between past and present, The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes is being hailed as a heartbreaking novel perfect for summer.
If you are wanting uplifting but funny summer reads, you’ve found the perfect choice in socially awkward Eleanor Oliphant. She has the habit of saying exactly what she thinks and much prefers to spend her weekends at home talking on the phone to her mother. When Eleanor and her slovenly coworker Raymond help an elderly gentleman after a fall, the three become friends, and Eleanor learns that opening up isn’t always a bad thing.
Historical Fiction Books to Read in the Summer
M. L. Stedman
After years serving in World War I, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a small island far off the Australian coast. Tom’s young and vivacious wife enjoys their life on the island until she is beaten down by years of miscarriages and stillbirths. When a baby is discovered washed ashore on a boat carrying a dead man, Tom and Isabel decide to keep her, setting up one of the most heart-wrenching conflicts you’ll ever read.
Marilynne Robinson’s novel takes the reader into the mind of Reverend John Ames, a pastor of a small congregation in Gilead, Iowa. Written in the form of his journal, Ames wants to create a record for his 7-year-old son about his family history – his own experiences and those of his father and grandfather. If you want great summer reads that sweep you in, try the entire Gilead series.
When Japanese bombs start falling in Nanking in 1937, Hu Lian and her university classmates must walk 1,000 miles to safety in China’s interior. The group is given a secret task, to guard The Library of Legends, an ancient collection of myths. Along the way, Lian realizes that one of the tales from the Library of Legends seems to be awakening the spirits of the story.
Set in a Portuguese community in Massachusetts, young Hallie Costa forms a lifelong bond with Gus Silva after the murder of his mother. The story follows them through the ups and downs of their lives – going in directions I certainly wasn’t expecting. Examining the balance between the good and evil that lives within each of us, Patry Francis shows that life is complicated and doesn’t always end how we expect. The ending will leave you feeling hope for the future and make you reconsider the true meaning of soul mates.
One summer day in 1934, 13-year-old Briony Tallis misunderstands a flirtation between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner, with devastating consequences. Now, as World War 2 rages, an older Briony starts to realize the reality of what happened and the full repercussions that she has caused. Can Briony find atonement or is it too late? No matter what you do, make sure to read until the very end.
Sue Monk Kidd
At age 14, Lily Owens runs away from her father and moves with her nanny to Tiburon, South Carolina. There they are both taken in by the Calendar Sisters, a charming but eccentric trio of beekeepers. As the white Lily comes of age, she learns about womanhood and the Black Madonna from these four Black women she has come to consider her family. A heartwarming story set amid the racial tensions of the 1960s, The Secret Life of Bees is a delightful story perfect for summer reading.
Thrilling Books for Vacation
A recently returned Vietnam War POW, Ernt Allbright decides to move his family to the Alaskan frontier. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers and just what Ernt needs. But when the harsh Alaskan winter approaches and Ernt’s mental state begins to deteriorate, his wife and daughter must fight to survive. A captivating, stay-up-all-night novel that is a favorite among summer reads.
Can you have a summer reading list without Liane Moriarty? A tale of secrets and lies among perfectly respectable parents, powerful Maddie, gorgeous Celeste, and timid Jane. The three women’s lives cross ending in an (accidental?) death. Discussing serious topics like domestic abuse, Big Little Lies perfectly balances humor and suspense to keep you coming back for more.
In a Maine resort town, Avery Greer and Sadie Loman strike up an unlikely friendship. Avery is a local orphan while Sadie belongs to one of the wealthy families who vacation on the coast. Inseparable for years, Avery is rocked when Sadie commits suicide. Now with the one-year anniversary of Sadie’s death, Avery realizes Sadie was most likely murdered. Megan Miranda weaves a tangled web, giving you plenty of suspects and red herrings to keep you guessing. The plot twists and revelations give the book a gripping pace, and you’ll love every minute of it.
Bree Cabbat wakes up one more to find a witch looking in through her window. She shakes it off as a nightmare, but then she experiences every mother’s worst nightmare: her baby boy is abducted. Instead of a ransom note, she finds a message telling her to follow the instructions to get him back, forcing her to decide how far she will go for her child. Mother May I starts off strong, with great twists and shocking moments, and then settles into an investigation story compelling enough to carry you through the story. A fun little thriller perfect for a quick summer read.
On a remote island, the perfect wedding turns deadly in this thrilling mystery. The high-profile wedding between a television star and a magazine publisher is supposed to be the perfect event. Set off the coast of Ireland, all the stops have been pulled out. Yet once the guests arrive, past conflicts come into play and someone turns up dead. Was it the bride? The best man? The wedding planner? Foley keeps you guessing until the end, giving each suspect a firm motive to want to commit murder.
Fantastical Books for Summer Reading
Sarah J. Maas
In her super popular series, Sarah J Maas introduces you to Feyre, a teenage girl turned huntress doing all she can to provide for her poor yet ungrateful family. After she kills a faerie disguised as a wolf, Feyre is taken to an enchanted land run by her captor, a powerful man who can turn into a beast. Maas starts the story as a typical Beauty and the Beast retelling but transforms it into her own original work.
Astronaut Mark Watney wakes up to find himself marooned on the planet Mars, left for dead by the crew of the Ares 3 mission. Now, he must use all his ingenuity to overcome insurmountable odds for the chance to return home to Earth. I love how Weir uses real science and technology in this captivating book. I have to say it’s one of the best science fiction books out there, and one of the most thrilling books I’ve read in recent years – which is saying a lot considering how much I read.
While technically an adult series, Red Rising is one of the best science fiction books to get teens who love the Hunger Games into sci fi. Living in a highly segregated society on Mars, Darrow belongs to the Red caste, the lowest of the low. Darrow is happy with his lot in life knowing that the Reds’ hard labor is getting Mars ready for future generations. Until Darrow realizes it’s all a sham. The elite Gold caste is simply using the Reds as slave labor. Can Darrow overthrow the Golds and restore freedom for the Reds?
Octavia E. Butler
In 1976, Dana, a young African-American writer, finds herself inexplicably sent back through time to a pre-Civil War plantation in Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy, she finds herself back in Los Angeles. Over and over, Dana finds herself returning to the plantation, which she realizes is where her ancestors lived. As her stays in the past become longer, Dana becomes entangled in the plantation and is forced to make harder and harder choices to survive. Octavia Butler’s genre-bending novel is a must-read among the best summer reads.
The best summer reads don’t have to be just hot new releases. Sometimes it’s fun to pick up an older favorite that you can score in the $1 bin at any thrift store. When a new cloning method brings dinosaurs back from extinction, a billionaire establishes a park for wealthy visitors to come see them. As opening day approaches, a select group is invited to tour the park, until something goes wrong. With exciting action from start to finish, Jurassic Park is great summer read with lots of similarities but plenty of differences from the film adaptation.
Young Adult Best Summer Reads
Zélie Adebola watched as a ruthless king ordered the death of her mother and all the other maji to rid the world of magic. With one last chance, Zélie must use the help of a rogue princess to restore magic before the crown prince manages to eradicate magic for good. Beautifully blending Nigerian mythology, symbols from the Yoruba religion, and young adult fantasy, Tomi Adeyemi shines in her debut novel.
The son of a snake-handling preacher currently imprisoned for child pornography, Dill does not exactly fit in at school. Luckily he has his best friends Lydia, a vintage fashion blogger, and Travis, a gentle-hearted giant obsessed with fantasy books. Teaching about friendship, love, and the struggles of growing up, The Serpent King is a touching novel that will give you all the feels.
The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies in this story set in the male-dominated oppressive Garner county. Every year, all 16-year-old girls are shipped off to spend their “grace year” in seclusion so that their magic will be burned out of them. Before they go, brides are selected by eligible bachelors. Tierney James knows she will never be chosen as a wife, nor does she want to be, and dreams of someday changing this dystopian society. Yet in her grace year, Tierney begins to wonder: Do women even have magic? With plenty of action that moves the plot along quickly, you are likely to devour this book in one sitting.
In her stunning first novel, Sara Nović tells the story of Ana Jurić, a ten-year-old girl whose life is upended by the start of the Yugoslavian civil war. The glimpses of modern war from a child’s perspective were fascinating. Yet, Nović doesn’t just cover the tragedies of Ana’s childhood. She jumps ahead 10 years as Ana returns to Yugoslavia to confront the ghosts of her childhood. With beautiful observations and a riveting storyline, you’ll want to add this to your list of books to read this summer.
As niece to the King, Katsa should be living a privileged life. However, in her kingdom, she is one of the rare people to be graced with a special ability – in her case, the killing grace. Trained up as the king’s assassin, Katsa is fierce and independent. When she falls in love with the beautiful Prince Po, Katsa learns a secret that could destroy the seven kingdoms. Graceling is a fun fantasy romance for older teens or adults who love YA fantasy to add to their summer reading list.
Nonfiction Book Club Reads
One of the most powerful memoirs of recent years, Jeannette Walls recounts the story of her tumultuous childhood. She opens the book with the account of how at 3 years old, she ends up hospitalized with severe burns after pouring scalding water on herself when cooking hot dogs for lunch. You meet her charming father Rex, equal measures brilliant and paranoid; her mother Rose, selfish and depressed; and her three siblings, trying their best just to survive.
Daniel James Brown
In a sport dominated by elite East Coast schools, a group of young men, sons of dockworkers, loggers, and farmers, at the University of Washington rowed to the Olympic Gold Medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Led by an enigmatic coach and aided by a visionary boat builder, the nine working-class boys came together with determination and commitment to become world champions.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend a celebrity memoir in the best summer reads because they usually have such a limited shelf life, but Trevor Noah’s life story is the exception to the rule. Telling of his formative years in South Africa during the last days of apartheid, Noah shows you a fascinating slice of history. With his ability to change accents and mimic his mother, Trevor Noah’s audio narration of the book wins him the award for the best audiobook of the decade.
As a therapist, Lori Gottlieb spent all day helping others with their problems. Yet, when her longtime boyfriend unexpectedly broke up with her, she found herself on the receiving end of therapy. Gottlieb’s memoir is top-notch with exceptional pacing, slyly weaving in explanations of therapy within the fascinating story of Gottlieb’s therapy sessions. You’ll quickly become attached to finding out what happens to her patients – a narcissistic tv producer, a dying newlywed, and a depressed senior citizen. A great summer book that highlights the importance of discussing mental health.
In I’d Rather be Reading, book blogger Anne Bogel contemplates the delights and dilemmas of the reading life. You’ll be reminded of the first time you fell in love with a book and of all the joy reading has brought into your life since. Her perfect descriptions of bookish dilemmas make this a must-read on any bookworm’s summer reading list.
Classic Books to Read this Summer
If you loved the BBC miniseries for North and South, you should also pick up a copy of the novel. One of my favorite romances, North and South revolves around Margaret Hale, the preacher’s daughter uprooted from her country home to live in the smog of industrializing London. There she meets John Thornton, the harsh owner of a textile mill. Throw in labor riots, social justice concerns, and a dash of Victorian romance and you have a perfect long classic book to read this summer.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American novel serves as the quintessential work of the Jazz Age. As the narrator enters the world of Long Island’s fabulously wealthy, we meet the mysterious Jay Gatsby and the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. The quintessential example of books from 1920 to 1929, this short but memorable book is one of the best classic reads that everyone should read in their lifetime.
Zora Neale Hurston
Although mostly overlooked during her life, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God has had a well-deserved resurgence in popularity in the last few decades. Hurston’s modern classic recounts the life of Janie Crawford through her three marriages and journey of self-discovery. Throughout the novel, Hurston makes you consider marriage, gender roles, and what makes a liberated woman.
If you love resourceful heroines, Nevil Shute’s classic novel is the perfect summer book. While living in Malaya during WWII, Englishwoman Jean Paget is captured by the Japanese and forced on a seven-month death march with other women. Through her fierce determination and the help of a captured Australian soldier, Jean and her group of women survives the war. When she learns the soldier is still alive, she immigrates to Australia with him and determines to bring prosperity to his desolate hometown.
A classic coming-of-age story that has enchanted readers for decades, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn chronicles young teen Francie Nolan as she grows up in the slums of Brooklyn. Covering poverty and the American dream, Betty Smith’s masterpiece points out the struggles of the poor families of the early 20th century. Yet, the enduring message of this classic book is one of hope for the future.
What kind of books do you think are the best summer reads?