37 Best Beach Reads to Toss in Your Bag This Summer

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three books laying on towel at the beach, surrounded by a beach chair, flip flops, inflatable ball, and drinks: best beach reads 2021
Photo: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

It's beach reads season! You already have your swimsuit and beach towel ready, but no beach bag is really complete without a juicy summer novel. But what constitutes the best beach reads often depends on your own personal preferences. Some people might gravitate toward light, summery books that are set at the beach or books about taking a vacation. But your vacation books can be whatever genre you want them to be, whether that's literary fiction, memoirs, essays, historical fiction, or thrillers. Whatever kind of book you choose, make sure it's something that helps you get away from the everyday.

So who coined the term "beach read?" Some people who know the ins and outs of the book trade believe the concept of summer beach reads emerged in the late 1930s with the advent of paperback novels (perfect for tossing in your bag and bringing along on your summer vacation). But the actual term "beach reads" didn't come into wide use until the 1990s.

Our list of best beach reads of 2022 includes 37 stellar (and steamy) summer books, chosen by the experts—staff and owners of indie bookstores (especially those at great summer getaway destinations). They're definitely smart reads that will keep you glued to your lounge chair. Just make sure you don't forget the sunscreen!

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The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hildebrand

Book Cover featuring a woman sitting on a beach chair in the sand

This juicy summer read centers on a Gilded Age hotel a little down-at-the-heels—and the scandalous dramas among the staff and guests. "No beach read list would be complete without Elin Hildebrand, 'Queen of the Beach Reads," says Molly Coogan, owner of Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven, Mass. "I think the Cape and Islands always have a certain allure, so these books are a great escape, whether they're read on Vineyard beaches or lakeside in the Midwest."

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Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore

Book cover with an image of the shore

"Vacationland is a perfect summer read set in a rambling house on a peninsula off the coast of Maine," says Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn. "Three strangers interweave into a complicated family as rambling as the house and set off a series of interactions that threaten to tear the family apart. Full of life, and the common dysfunctional complications of marriages, grandchildren, memories set in stone from summers spent in the past—it all collides in one summer when secrets are let out of the box and seep into everyone so-called 'perfect' lives."

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Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Book cover with an image of a teen girl holding a vinyl record on her lap

If you're looking for a little nostalgia, Mary Jane may just be the perfect beach read. "A true coming-of-age story taking place in a beautiful beach town in the northeast in the 1970s," says Marianne Reiner, bookseller at La Playa Books in San Diego, Calif. "All the ingredients for a great story are there: mother-daughter relationship, two celebrities, sexual awakening, drugs, group therapy and music. Think Almost Famous-meets-Daisy Jones and the Six-meets-Jane Austen if she had sang in a church choir!"

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This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Book cover for This Time Tomorrow, with rainbow-colored writing

"Emma Straub's new time-travel novel just swims you right away into everyday New York at 40 and then 16 years," Philbrick says. "Poignant, loving, humorous, and such a beautiful painting of New York City in those teenage years, Emma has brought you a really fun and extraordinary novel."

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Between Tides by Angel Khoury

Shadow image of a woman on a beach background as a book cover

"This one edges on magical realism, but is based on a true story about the keeper of a life-saving service station with a family on both the Outer Banks and Cape Cod," says Gee Gee Rosell, owner of Buxton Village Books in Buxton, N.C. "The descriptions of the North Carolina coast are so delicious you can taste the salt in the air as you read."

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A Star is Bored by Byron Lane

A Star Is Bored Book Cover, with foil balloon letters for the title

Looking for something frothy and light for your beach read? Check out this novel that chronicles the relationship between an iconic movie star and her personal assistant may be just what you ordered. "The 'professional' relationship is full of inappropriate nicknames, far-fetched requests yet shows all the different ways we can show up for each other," says Holland Saltsman, owner of The Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, Mo.

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Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Red book cover with a rainbow-colored illustration of a woman

This highly anticipated novel tells the story of the Acevedo siblings—Olga, a high-end wedding planner, and her brother Prieto, a Brooklyn congressman. "It has everything—a strong female lead, romance, secrets, organized crime, revolutionaries, cultural identity, abandonment issues, self preservation…and it's been optioned as a series by Hulu," says Krista of E. Shaver Booksellers, in Savannah, Ga.

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The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

Book cover with wheat sheaves and a bottle cap set against a blue backgroudn

"Another perfect read recipe: family farm, inheritance, sister bond, betrayals, a young woman with a dream of becoming a beer brewery owner and how all these unforgettable characters will make you laugh, cry, call your loved ones and eagerly await for J. Ryan Stradal's next book," Reiner says.

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Taking Root: Girls Write Now Anthology

Green book cover with a growing plant
Books Are Magic

This collection of essays will hit all your moods, with funny and heartfelt contributions from participants in Girls Write Now. The program pairs professional writers and editors with promising young authors who are underrepresented in publishing for mentorship and guidance.

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Smile Beach Murder by Alicia Bessette

Book Cover with a House and Lighthouse illustration

This new murder mystery series features heroine Callie Padget, a reporter-turned-bookshop clerk who works to solve a mysterious death that mirrors her own mother's tragic end. "Set in a fictional Outer Banks town, it's a laid-back, island vibe, cozy mystery. And it has Blackbeard!" Rosell says.

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Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Lesson in Chemistry cover with image of a woman with glasses

"I just fell in love and awe of Elizabeth Zott, the central character of this honest, funny, and so-true debut novel," Philbrick says. "Not only do you pick up some tips in chemistry but also about love, friendship, childrearing, and a dog. You watch a woman barrel through life in the 1960s trying to make her way in a fully male-dominated career: chemistry. Well deserving of the literary praise, Lessons in Chemistry will make you laugh, make you think and thankful that we are no longer women living in the 1960s."

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Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark

Book cover with pine trees and a sunset
Watchung Booksellers

If you're looking for a quietly beautiful novel, this tale of two best friends with some long buried secrets is worth a look. "Beautifully and thoughtfully written, this is the story of a lifelong friendship set in a very special coastal Maine community," says Margot Sage-EL, owner of Watchung Booksellers, in Montclair, N.J.

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Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

Set on Martha's Vineyard, Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin is about three adult goddaughters of a trailblazing stock trader. They escape to her estate for the season, knowing that by Labor Day, she'll choose just one of them to inherit the property—and all three have secrets that could ruin their chances. Lush and brimming with drama, this is the first book in a series by the cohost of The View. "Sunny Hostin's novel was our biggest seller last summer, and it's just come out in paperback—the perfect book to tuck in your beach bag," says Coogan.

14 of 37

The Mutual Friend by Carter Bays

Book cover with an illustrated skyline

"This book is a glorious look into what it meant to be a human in 2015 and the specific idiosyncrasies of being a human online and on a phone in 2015," says Melissa of E. Shaver Booksellers in Savannah, Ga. "When you think there's no way all the plot points will tie together, they do. A comedy of manners that has Buddhist monks, AI, model trains, and political intrigue...what more do you need?"

15 of 37

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Book cover with a person set against open lands and a sunset sky

If you love sweeping epics, this Western novel covers five generations of an Indigenous Chicano family. "Set in the late 1800s into the 1930s, we meet characters facing racism, family, love, and one with a special talent of reading tea leaves to see what the future will bring," Philbrick says. "So well written and full of life—it will certainly light up your life of reading."

16 of 37

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Yellow book cover with an illustration of a man and woman back to back, and flowers in the foreground

Hannah Brooks has been hired to protect movie star Jack Stapleton—by pretending to be his girlfriend. "Think Whitney Houston's Bodyguard but with fake dating and gender roles reversed, plus the ending we all deserve," says Stephanie Skees, director of events and curated collection at The Novel Neighbor, in Webster Groves, Mo. "Simply put, this is the most delightfully perfect book!"

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The Shore by Katie Runde

Image of a boardwalk with ferris wheel on a book cover

Set on the Jersey Shore, this beach read follows mother and her two daughters as they navigate family drama. "Runde brings us a big-hearted family drama with heartbreak, young love, hardship—and yet it's uplifting," Sage-EL says.

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Loving Edie: How a Dog Afraid of Everything Taught Me to Be Brave by Meredith May

Book cover with an adorable golden retriever puppy

"When Meredith and her wife Jenn adopt Edie, a beautiful golden retriever pup, they have no idea how much this new love in their lives will test them and teach them so much about themselves and about what love really means," Reiner says. "A gorgeous memoir that will leave no one untouched."

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Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Colorful book cover with illustration of a woman cooking

If you're looking for a little mystery—and a lot of spice—in your beach read, this story of a chef who's under suspicion of poisoning her ex (a nasty food critic.) "This is a totally new culinary cozy that is satisfying, delicious, funny—a transporting mystery," Sage-EL says.

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The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

Book Cover with a beach background

"For those who like reading about the beach at the beach, try this delightful novel from the 1930s, recently reissued, about a middle-class family planning, and pulling off, their annual two-week trip to the English seaside," says Tom Nissley of Phinney Books in Seattle.

21 of 37

My Killer Vacation by Tessa Bailey

Illustration of a couple embracing on a pink and green book cover

"Tessa Bailey is the queen of romance and she delivered us the summer vacation mystery and romance mash-up of our dreams," Skees says. "Set against the backdrop of Cape Cod, a bounty hunter and elementary school teacher must team up to solve a murder. Guaranteed to be the spiciest murder mystery you read all year!"

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A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera

Book cover of a woman in a blue ballgown with the Eiffel Tower in the background

If a period romance is your summer reading pleasure, this steamy novel may be just the thing, with a Caribbean rum heiress teaming up with an earl for a marriage of convenience that becomes so much more. "Bottom line—Adriana Herrera has written a romance masterpiece filled with the most lovable of characters and the steam we all deserve," Skees says.

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One of the Girls by Lucy Clarke

One of the Girls Novel with shatter effect in the title

"How could you not like a thriller about a hen party that goes awry, set on an island in Greece?" Philbrick says. "Secrets explode when these women gather at a villa set on a precipitous cliff, about as steep as all the lies that are revealed."

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Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

You can almost smell the Coppertone coming off the pages of Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It's set in 1983 on the day of a legendary summer party that may have life-changing consequences for the four famous hosts.

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Dream Girl by Laura Lippman

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

In Laura Lippman's Dream Girl, a celebrated novelist is confined to a hospital bed after a freak accident. He becomes increasingly undone after he begins receiving mysterious phone calls from a woman who claims to be the main character in his blockbuster novel.

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While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

Political powerhouse Stacey Abrams has already written several romantic suspense novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery. Now she debuts a classic legal thriller, While Justice Sleeps, about a Supreme Court justice who falls into a coma and the young clerk who gets swept up in his scandal.

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The Turnout by Megan Abbott

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

A small, charming ballet studio, run by two sisters and one of their husbands, transforms into a site of terror in Megan Abbott's The Turnout. This is a deliciously creepy thriller about competition and family ties.

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The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

In The Maidens, Alex Michaelides' highly anticipated follow-up to The Silent Patient, a therapist becomes obsessed with a secret society of female students at Cambridge University—and the classics professor she's certain is a killer.

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Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

In Island Queen, Vanessa Riley weaves an adventuresome tale based on the true life story of Dorothy Thomas, who was born into slavery on the island of Montserrat in the 1700s and became one of the richest landowners in the colonial West Indies.

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The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

With a breathtaking plot rooted in real events, Kristin Harmel's The Forest of Vanishing Stars tells the story of a woman raised in the wilderness of Eastern Europe who then uses her rugged survival skills to help a group of Jewish refugees escape the Nazis.

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The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

In the early 1900s, J.P. Morgan employed a personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, who became a power player in New York society. In The Personal Librarian, a novelization of her life, co-authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray create a fascinating story about how Belle, the daughter of Harvard's first Black graduate, passed for white.

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The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

Just as real life can so often be, Danielle Henderson's The Ugly Cry is both hysterical and heart-wrenching. The TV writer touchingly recounts how she was raised by a tough-as-nails grandmother in a mostly white neighborhood in Upstate New York.

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So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

Investment banker Jess Kim loses her job and returns home to Tennessee in Suzanne Park's So We Meet Again. Jess' overbearing mother sets her up with a guy who takes her by surprise—and not just because he's no longer the dorky kid she remembers.

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The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

In Colleen Oakley's The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, a quirky island community bands together to help a young widow through her grief by carrying on as if her husband were still alive. But everything changes when an ambitious journalist comes to town—and falls for more than her story.

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That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

In That Summer by Jennifer Weiner, two women's lives collide when their emails keep getting misdirected because their addresses are one punctuation mark apart. But they soon discover that their chance meeting might not be coincidental at all.

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Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

A woman sees an ad for free therapy at a Catholic church, takes a receptionist job there, and becomes consumed with the circumstances of her predecessor's death. Emily Austin's Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is both hilarious and poignant.

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The Guncle by Steven Rowley

2021 Summer book reads
Courtesy of Publisher

The Guncle shares the humorous (and very touching) story of fun-loving Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP), who takes care of his niece and nephew after a family tragedy.

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