Summer is the perfect time to take a vacation on the beach. And no summer vacation would be complete without the perfect summer books.
Let’s face it, summer has its ups and downs.
Generally, when I think about summer, I just think HOT HOT HOT. Yet, the weather can be fickle – mixing in hot days and cooler days, sunny days with cloudy days. And if we’re lucky, some rainy days get thrown into the mix.
Just like the weather changes, so will your mood. Some days you want summer books that make you laugh. Sometimes you just want to lay by the pool with the perfect beach read. And occasionally, you want nonfiction books to read this summer that will make you think.
No matter what your mood this summer, here’s my perfect list of summer books to add to your reading list.
Summer Book Club Favorites
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 one of the best summer reads of all time.
The 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 give Fikry a second chance at life. If your book club is looking for books for the summer, feel free to offer this one up.
Elizabeth Zott has always defied stereotyping, especially as the only woman chemist at the Hastings Research Institute in the 1960s. After falling in love with another chemist who sees her for who she is, life throws her a curveball. Now as a single mom, she unexpectedly finds herself the host of a tv cooking show. When the women who watch her begin to question the status quo in their own lives, making Elizabeth a target of those who find the change unwelcome. In one of the best summer books, Garmus presents an engrossing progressive historical fiction read with heartfelt depth and a searing look at sex discrimination in the past (and today).
I love being swept away in good summer books, and Kate Morton always delivers. Just so you know, this book is not the same story as the Sandra Bullock romantic movie. Kate Morton’s story is set in 1933. During a big summer party, a baby boy from a wealthy family disappears from the country estate. Now, seventy years later, a police detective starts to uncover the truth of what happened at the lake house. If you are in the mood for longer books to read for summer, this well-written novel is worth your time.
A book narrated by Death might be off-putting at first, but quickly you’ll fall in love with this Young Adult WWII historical fiction. In 1939, Liesel Meminger is sent to live with foster parents in Munich. There she befriends the charming neighborhood boy Rudy and settles into a life of book thievery. Coming of age during the rise of the Nazis, Liesel and Rudy must face the complications of growing up in a dictatorship they hate.
How well do you know your mother? In 1949, four Chinese women, all recent immigrants to San Francisco, gather together weekly to play Mahjong, chat about their pasts, and hope for the future for their daughters. This tale of mothers trying to pass on their wisdom to their American-born daughters who don’t truly understand them will make you want to learn more about your own mother.
Shelby Van Pelt
After her husband died, Tova Sullivan began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. Thirty years ago, Tova’s son Erik disappeared on a boat in the Puget Sound, and cleaning the aquarium helps her cope. When she befriends Marcellus, the aquarium’s giant octopus, Marcellus discovers what happened to Erik and must find a way to show Tova the truth before it’s too late.
Summer Beach Reads
Just in time for summer comes one of the top summer reads of 2021. On the remote Frick Island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, Piper Parrish had a perfect life – until her husband died. But Piper kept carrying on, acting as if he was still alive, and the townsfolk decided to play along with the grieving widow. When an ambitious podcaster arrives in town, he feels like he has the story of a lifetime, until he starts to fall in love with Piper. With quirky characters, a cute love story, and thoughtful plot twists, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is a poignant story about grief and the things we’ll do for those we love.
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 book.
Let me start by saying I know that Nicholas Sparks’ books all follow the same formula. This just means that 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.
When Kate develops leukemia as a child, her parents decide to have another child – one specifically with a perfect bone marrow match for Kate. All Anna’s life, she has undergone countless procedures to help her older sister. Now Anna is ready to live her own life unconstrained by Kate’s illness. As Anna makes a life-or-death decision, you’ll feel so torn between Anna’s needs, Kate’s needs, and the love and desperation of their mother.
Best Summer Books to Fall in Love
When she was sixteen, Emmie Blue released a balloon in England which Lucas discovers across the channel in France, leading to a lifelong friendship. When Lucas gets engaged to be married, Emmie begins to realize that you can’t leave your life up to fate. A heartwarming love story about friendship and loyalty, Dear Emmie Blue was one of my favorite summer books of 2020. You’ll love the complicated relationship between Emmie and Lucas and Emmie’s journey of self-discovery during the novel.
Liane Moriarty always epitomizes summer book lists for me, so you can’t go wrong adding her to your summer reading list. Alice Love wakes up after collapsing in spin class to discover that she is not a newly married 29-year-old pregnant with her first child. In actuality, she’s a 39-year-old mom of three children going through a brutal divorce. With no memory of the last decade, Alice must try to figure out where it all went wrong. Summer books are at their best when they are equally entertaining and thought-provoking, and What Alice Forgot provides plenty of both.
Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary teacher in Galveston, Texas. When her friend and mentor dies, the school needs a new principal. When her former crush is chosen, Samantha is nervous and excited. Until she finds out he is now a stiff humorless man determined to change everything in the name of safety. Although the characters were rather one-dimensional and predictable, I still adored this darling love story. As long as you aren’t expecting award-winning literature, it’s the perfect summer read to curl up with on your next vacation.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the BBC miniseries or the Keira Knightley movie, you still need to read the book. Jane Austen’s witty novel is a fun reminder of the importance of marrying for love and not lust or security. Follow along as Elizabeth Bennett goes from loathing to loving Mr. Darcy in this classic British tale.
Summer Books that will Make You Laugh
Five years ago, Geeta’s no-good husband simply walked away and she never heard from him again. However, in her small Indian village, the rumor persists that Geeta killed him. Geeta doesn’t mind since no one wants to mess with a black widow. Until women start asking Geeta for advice on how to off their own husbands and they won’t take no for an answer.
Need some funny summer books to add to your summer reading list? Sometimes you just need a clever satire, and I promise you’ll laugh at the ridiculous Bernadette, a Seattle-area mom who takes antisocial to a whole new level. As soon as Bernadette referred to the annoying school moms as “gnats,” I knew I would love this book. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the ending. Yet, the buildup was so much fun that I still like recommending it to others.
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Despite its long title, this wonderful novel has earned its place among the best summer books. On the German-occupied island of Guernsey, the residents form a book club as an excuse for breaking curfew. Written as a series of letters after the war between the book club and writer Juliet Ashton, the story gives you a look at what life was like on the occupied island. This fun novel is sure to leave you smiling at the colorful cast of characters and makes the perfect book for your summer reading list.
Beach reads don’t have to be just the latest summer bestsellers. Sometimes you’re just in the mood to reach for a classic. If you want to save space in your suitcase, nothing beats a play for a short classic. And if you want a play to make you laugh, not much beats Oscar Wilde. I’m always a fan of witty humor, and Oscar Wilde’s clever play on words starts with the title and carries on throughout the entire play. You could simply watch the movie, but why not curl up with the book from your summer reading list instead?
Young Adult Books for Summer
You will have to settle for a vague description of this book because I don’t dare risk spoiling it for you. It has all the classic characteristics of thriller beach reads: a wealthy extended family, a private island, a tragic accident, and secrets and lies. As the protagonist Cadence slowly starts regaining her memory and all the details of what happened start becoming clear, half the fun is in trying to figure out what is going on. I enjoyed trying to piece the mystery of this book together. All I can say is that at some point, you’ll want to grab the tissues because this is one of those books that will make you cry. But that is all the spoiler you will get from me.
Sarah J. Maas
After spending a year of hard labor for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is taken before the Crown Prince. He wants Celaena to be his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. If she wins, she’ll be granted her freedom after four years of service. As Celaena trains with the gruff Captain of the Guard and catches the eye of the Crown Prince, she must use all her strength to fight off her competitors and all her wits to discover who is murdering contestants.
The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians in Emiko Jean’s delightfully fun young adult beach read about a Japanese-American teenager who learns her birth father is the Crown Prince of Japan. Suddenly, Izumi is swept away into a life of royalty and struggles to fit in as a princess. Can she bridge the gap between being too Japanese for America and too American for Japan while still getting her happily ever after?
Is it cheating to add a middle-grade reader into my young adult summer books? Ally Condie’s Summerlost is one of those terrific summer reads you can read along with your preteens. This coming-of-age story of the healing power of friendship follows Cedar, a 12-year-old girl whose father and younger brother both recently died in a tragic accident. When Cedar meets the unusual Leo, they strike up a friendship that will carry her through the summer. Throw in a fun mystery at the local theatre festival, and you have all the ingredients of fun summer reads. A sweet story perfect for your summer reading list.
Have you ever made a snap decision that changed your life? In typical Young Adult fiction manner, Allyson, your average American teenager, meets a handsome Dutch boy Willem De Ruiter while visiting England. In the spur of the moment, she is whisked away to Paris to spend one perfect day with him. If that was the whole of the book, I wouldn’t be recommending this story on your summer reading list. However, Allyson’s journey after her perfect day is what made this one of my best summer books. If you are a hopeless romantic and love young adult fiction, add this to your pile of books to read this summer.
Summer Reads Sure to Thrill
Just as strait-laced Ava Wong’s perfect life begins to crumble, her former roommate from mainland China appears with a scheme to make them both rich. Winnie has an audacious scheme to import near replica fakes of expensive luxury goods from China, but she just needs someone with an American passport to pull it off. Yet when the scheme goes south, Winnie disappears, leaving Ava to face the consequences.
A private jet flying from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City crashes into the ocean. The sole survivors are a young boy who is now the sole heir of his parents’ extensive fortune and Scott Burroughs, a down-and-out painter who just happened to catch a ride. I love summer books that keep you engaged, and the mystery of why the plane crashed unfolds masterfully and keeps you wanting more. But the beauty of this book is that it is more thought-provoking than the typical beach read. It’s a commentary on the consequences of our 24-hour news cycle and the desperate need to know everything right away. One of my favorite books to read this summer.
Over the years, I’ve read most of John Grisham’s books, so you could save I am a bit of a fan. I think his books are perfect summer books for a vacation. Since they aren’t a series, you don’t feel like you need to read them in any particular order. They are exciting enough to capture your attention without quite reaching the can’t-put-down stage. I particularly love his early books, and for the best summer reads, I recommend The Firm, a tale of a young lawyer caught up in a shady law firm. If you haven’t read John Grisham before, this is a great place to start.
As a child, Olivia disappeared one night while sleepwalking, only to be found safe days later. After years of enduring fame, Olivia moved away and changed her name. With the 20th Anniversary of her miracle rescue coming up, she starts sleepwalking again, only to wake up to the dead body of someone she used to know. An edge-of-your-seat thriller, I couldn’t get enough of this mystery. With well-rounded characters and surprises that just keep coming, it’s one of the best thriller books of 2020.
Rachel Krall, the host of a popular true-crime podcast, gets more than she expected when she reports on a rape trial in a small town. A mysterious woman named Hannah is stalking Rachel, leaving her notes begging her to investigate the death of Hannah’s sister twenty-five years ago. Could that cold case be connected to the current trial? Captivating from start to finish, Goldin has penned a great book to read this summer. The coverage of the rape trial gives the feel of a good legal thriller, keeping you wondering how the jury will decide. Add in the cold case, and you’ll be guessing how the two cases connect.
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.
Nonfiction Books to Read This Summer
Normally I wouldn’t recommend a celebrity memoir in the top summer books 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.
Imagine a Silicon Valley startup that raised insane amounts of money all based on a gigantic fraud. It sounds like a fictional thriller, but it is the actual true story of the company Theranos. Investigative journalist John Carreyrou’s expose of Elizabeth Holmes’s company is an eye-opening read and one of the best narrative nonfiction books of recent years.
Poetry on a summer books list! I never would have expected it either. I’m not really into poetry, which tells you this must be good if I’m recommending it with my books to read this summer. Growing up as an African-American in both South Carolina and New York during the 1960-70s, Jacqueline Woodson never truly felt at home in either place. Caught between the highly urban New York and the Southern views of South Carolina, she learned to find a place in the world balancing the best of each. Told in enchanting verse, the story of her childhood is poignant and moving.
I don’t even like dogs, and I loved this book. The antics of Marley, the world’s worst dog, are simply hilarious. Even more, the love that springs up between Marley and his owner despite Marley’s many flaws is so touching. A great reminder for you to be grateful for the love of four-legged friends in your life. When Marley eventually dies of old age, you’ll be in tears at the wonderful life of “the world’s worst dog.”
What Summer Books Do You Recommend?
What do you think? Do you agree with my list of summer books? What’s your reading mood during the summer? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Summer Reading Lists: