22 of The Best Beach Reads

 Do you like beach reads?

I do!

Reading for pleasure, we bring our books with us when we vacation, especially to the beaches. We may read more as we slow down from year-round obligations in the summer. Putting that together, the marketing mavens began calling these books “beach reads” during the summer of 1990.

However, the origination of these books may go back to the second half of the 19th century when novels were considered indulgent, and women read them on the sly. 

In The Invention of “The Beach Read” in the New Yorker, the author Henry James cast summer reading as a sensual feminine performance. “There are few prettier sights than a charmingly dressed woman, gracefully established in some shady spot, with a piece of needlework or embroidery, or a book,” he wrote.

Thankfully, the characteristics of beach reads continue to expand to be more inclusive of books like memoirs or classic literature, and not just for women as if they, as a gender, can only handle light reading. We include fiction and nonfiction on our reading list.

What Is A  Beach Read?

An easy definition of a beach read is a book a reader takes on vacation or to a sun-soaked beach.  Publishers leverage the label for marketing purposes in the late spring to sell books not just to booklovers but to those who may read only one book a year, igniting its success by sales to the masses.

The term “beach read” may offend authors who don’t want their readers to view their work as easy light reading any more than some serious readers who read classics wish to be seen with a “beach read.” There is even an anti-beach read movement at some libraries, just ask your local librarian.

High school summer reading lists often have suggestions like Jane Eyre; if read on the beach, is it a beach read? I don’t see why not. It has all the attributes of a beach read, and it’s a classic, and a woman writes it. James Patterson books regularly show up on beach read lists.

Beach reads may be a diversity of books beyond fiction that you are more open to reading during the summer, seduced by the open air and lapping waves with screaming kids in the background. The book may be indulgent, entertaining reading, compulsive reading, hard to put down and provide escapism. By beach reading, I don’t mean that reading at a beach is mandatory, and it may include under a shady tree, a hammock, or at the pool. 

While many beach reads may originate as romance novels, we would also add mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, historical fiction, young adult, classics, dystopian, series, and memoirs. We believe reading is important, and enjoy all kinds of books to read. Newly issued books published in May are the new beach reads. Our list has new books, recent beach reads, and those that are classic.

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22 Best Compelling Beach Reads

“The Paris Apartment” by Lucy Foley 

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Lucy Foley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest List. The Paris Apartment is a fast read thriller set in Paris about a woman who travels from London to visit her brother, who she can’t find. This mystery has twists and turns to satisfy readers who like page-turners.

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“All My Rage” by Sabaa Tahir

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Bestselling New York Times author Sabaa Tahir of All My Rage has the ingredients for a hard-to-put-down novel that explores diverse cultures, a love story, and tragedy. The emotional story follows the lives of three main characters and their journeys.

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“Memphis: A Novel”  by Tara M. Stringfellow

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This engrossing debut novel takes place in the summer of 1995 in Memphis, moving between different timeframes.  It traces three generations of a Southern Black family and one daughter’s discovery that she has the power to change her family’s legacy. This emotional novel has trauma, tragedy, poverty, domestic abuse, and heartbreak against the backdrop of significant events, including the civil rights movement.

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 The Candy House” by Jennifer Egan

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The Candy House is a follow-up to author Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. I loved the Goon Squad, an inventive novel, and its characters many of whom appear in The Candy House. You can read The Candy House on its own without reading its predecessor, but I am thinking I may just re-read the Goon Squad again.

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“The Royal We” by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

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The title of this book grabbed me like a soapy royalty tale, and so it is. If you are a follower of William and Kate, you won’t be disappointed. Oxford, ritzy society, relationships, tabloids, and lots of fun in this novel.

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Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

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Have you heard of the Outlander series? Written by author Diana Gabaldon,  Outlander is a series of historical fantasy novels that began in 1991 with her first volume and is must watch on Starz. The books are historical fiction, relationships, sex, warfare, and so much more. They are large books that are compulsive reads and can take up many summers to read.

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Tudor series by Phillipa Gregory

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The author Philippa Gregory put a spell on me with her riveting writing when I began reading her Tudor series on historical fiction. She thoroughly researches the periods of each of the royal women like Anne Boleyn (The Other Boleyn Girl) during their respective time periods, romance, tragedy, their passions, and power struggles. Warning: once you pick one of these books, you are not putting it down.

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 “Beach Read” by Emily Henry

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With its unabashed title, there is no question that Emily Henry’s contemporary romance novel is a beach read published in 2020. It is about a successful romance novel author, January Adams, who is struggling after the death of her father and the discovery that he was having an affair. Writer’s block reunites January with Augustus Everett, her former rival in college and now an acclaimed literary fiction author.

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“Like Water For Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel

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An oldie but goodie charming book by Laura Esquivel is about family life at the turn of the 20th century Mexico. It became a best-seller in the US, Mexico, and globally with a wonderful blend of romance, recipes, tragedy, and bittersweet. I loved the book and the 1992 film by the same name.

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“In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez

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Some may be surprised that I would have this book on a Beach Read list, but I actually read this during the summer at a pool and found it very compulsive. This novel is historical fiction about the Mirabal sisters during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960, dealing with the tragic consequences of politics. 

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“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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This fictional account of aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon, Evelyn Hugo reads like a memoir that is a tell-all about her glamorous and scandalous life.  Hugo shares her dramatic story with an unknown magazine writer, Monique Grant who is surprised she was chosen to tell this story.

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“Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

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This classic work of detective fiction by Christie and her Belgian detective character Hercule Poirot sweeps you up in any season guessing as to who killed American tycoon, Ratchett. The famous train, Orient Express, a murder, and multiple suspects written almost 100 years ago makes this a classic beach read.

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“The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith

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Highsmith’s 1955 psychological thriller, is about Tom Ripley who is handsome, suave, and a newcomer to Manhattan, hiding his tragic past. Ripley makes friends with moneyed Dickie Greenleaf, but it soon turns into an obsessive relationship. Edge of your seat reading, Highsmith used Tom Ripley for a few more novels. Both this book and film are terrific.

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“Lonesome Dove” By Larry McMurtry

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This 900+ page book written in 1999 by McMurtry is quite the Pultizer-Prize winning page-turner. It is a classic that combines wonderful characters in a love story and adventure, that provides a glimpse at America’s frontier. When you find such a sprawling compulsive read such as Lonesome Dove that you can’t stop reading, it is a literary gift in your hands. Love of cowboys is not needed. 

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“Shantaram” By Gregory David Roberts

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Roberts’ epic first novel written in 2003 is set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin (Lindsay), an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia, seeking a place where he can disappear. Lin parallels the author’s life as a former heroin addict and convicted bank robber who escaped prison and went to India.

Combining fact and fiction, the debut novel has romance, crime, wars, and redemption. Despite its hefty 900+ pages, this is usually the first book I recommend to anyone who asks me for any type of book, including beach reads.

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“The Art of Racing In The Rain” by Garth Stein

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This charming book is about a dog named Enzo who narrates and his master, Denny Swift, a budding race car driver that captivates your heart. Enzo shares positivity with a human soul that makes you laugh or sometimes cry.

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“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter

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A booklover friend recommended Beautiful Ruins to me, already a New York Times bestseller that had a typical “beach reads” cover that nearly turned me off. From page one, I was hooked by this story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 and resurfaces fifty years later in Hollywood. I am a sucker for books that cover the back lots of Hollywood. This is historical fiction, literary writing, and a roller coaster of a novel.

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“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

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The novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is among New York Times best-selling books and was unquestionably the best beach read of 2012. The classic thriller revolves around a troubled marriage, narrated alternatively by the husband and wife. As his wife goes missing, the husband becomes the suspect in her disappearance. This chilling novel raced to its end, almost too quickly. Try Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins next.

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“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou

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Prize-winning journalist Carreyrou first broke to story of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar startup of founder and the young darling CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Through deep investigative reporting, the author pursued current and former employees and victims of the company to write a novel-like story about the collapse of the company.

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 “Educated” by Tara Westover

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 Westover was raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho by non-conforming parents who distrusted the government, public health, or education. As a result of their distrust, the author didn’t step foot in a classroom until she was 17.

 Educated is a heart-breaking account of her struggle for self-invention amidst the challenge of family loyalty and of the grief that comes when those ties are broken. Westover’s coming-of-age story reflects on her education and seeing the flaws of her upbringing and the will to change it. I remember carrying this book around and stealing moments at a time to read just a few pages as fulfillment.

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“Seabiscuit: An American Legend” by Laura Hillenbrand

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Published in the summer of 2003, Hillenbrand made Seabiscuit come alive once again in her telling of the 1938 phenomenon. Despite the horse’s small size and unremarkable early record, the crooked-legged Seabiscuit is about the power of the underdog tale that reads like a swiftly paced novel and the three people who championed him.

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Eat, Pray, Love: One Women’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia” by Elisabeth Gilbert

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Gilbert’s pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life binds you to her fast-paced account of her midlife crisis. She had it all and it wasn’t enough.

Instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, and a break-up. It is easy for one to identify with her lack of fulfillment and her way back to happiness. 

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 Final Thoughts

 We enjoyed putting this list of books together as it contains many of our favorites. The more genres you like, the happier the reader you will be. Remember to take a book along to the beach, the pool, or on vacation. 

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