Even though it's been touch and go, it seems that summer will officially arrive any minute now. Time to prepare by putting away your peacoat, stocking up on delicious popsicles, tons of SPF, and planning all the page-turners you'll be reading by a body of water for the next three months.
When it comes to what qualifies as the ultimate beach book, people have a lot of differing opinions. Is it dark and thrilling and you want to just tumble into it, or does it take the form of something romantic and frothy, the literary equivalent of a frappuccino?
The Marie Claire editors couldn’t come to a consensus on which type of book reigned supreme for summer, so we’re running down everyone’s picks for the tomes to read toes-in-sand. We guarantee you'll find something you like—no book reports required.
If you have even a remote interest in classic rock or period dramas, you will fall for Daisy Jones and the Six. Written as an oral history—a set up I wasn't sure I would like but ended up loving—of a (fictional) former greatest band in the world (very Fleetwood Mac-esque), the book is, on the surface, about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It's really about soulmates, addiction, and artistry, plus trust, self-worth, the choice between career and family, and so much else. Jenkins Reid's writing is funny and engrossing, and because you're presented with every character's point of view, you end up rooting for—and seeing yourself in—all of them. It's the kind of book you get so caught up in that you look up and suddenly an hour, and 100 pages, have passed. —Danielle McNally, Director of Features and Special Projects
"Karin Slaughter can do no wrong, and her new book had me captivated from the moment I cracked open the cover. I’m already super into Slaughter’s dark brand (exemplified by her 2017 book The Good Daughter), but her exploration of the twisted mother-daughter relationship here gave me goosebumps. The characters are dark and complex, but also painfully relatable, so much so that you find yourself siding with both of them as the story progresses. It’s truly escapist entertainment at its finest." —Hana Hong, Beauty and Health Assistant
"This is actually the first Elizabeth Gilbert book I've ever read (I missed the train on Eat Pray Love), and I was hooked! Set in the 1940 New York City theater scene, the book follows Vivian, a young woman figuring out what she's good at, who she wants to be, and what she wants from the men in her life. It's a lush, champagne-soaked page-turner, but more than that, it's an ode to promiscuous girls whose lives aren't ruined just because they had sex with someone. It's refreshing in that way." —Cady Drell, Senior Culture and News Editor
"This book will take you back to freshman year of college—a time when many are struggling to define themselves, waffling between where they’re from and who they are now. But unlike a typical college coming of age romance, in R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, main characters Will and Phoebe’s love story contains secrets, religion, death, failure, terrorism, and a cult helmed by a charismatic leader who once spent time in a North Korean gulag. Intrigued? You should be. And at just 224 pages, it’s a slight novel to carry with you to the beach. I read the book while in Hawaii this winter and was so enthralled, I took it into the waves with me to keep reading." —Kayla Webley Adler, Senior Features Editor
"Written as a letter to his illiterate Vietnamese immigrant mother, Little Dog recounts memories from the family's early years in Hartford, CT—when he failed as her translator at the butcher’s counter, got bullied on the schoolbus, scraped her Vicks-slicked back with a coin after a day working at the nail salon—to his adulthood. It’s an attempt to reveal himself to her, whether or not it reaches her. Language is almost another character in this unflinching book about identity, love in its myriad forms, struggle, and sacrifice. The award-winning poet’s debut novel is so much more than a beach read, poignant and powerful." —Riza Cruz, Executive Editor
"There are some memories that are better left buried in the dark corners of our mind, but when Lindsay Bach, the main character in Andrea Bartz’s The Lost Night, finds an old video that changes everything she thought she knew about her best friend’s death 10 years earlier, she becomes obsessed with finding the whole truth—even as searching for it forces her to confront her own demons and violent history. This suspenseful, expertly-crafted debut novel perfectly captures that freewheeling, partying time post-college, and as Bach investigates her former friend group, it raises the question of how well one can ever know another person, even a BFF. If you’re looking for a book that will grab you and not let go until you find out what happened, you’ve found it. I stayed up until 4 a.m. one night to get to the satisfying and twisty end." —K.W.A.
"Remember when you first met the people who would go onto become your best friends? You could have never known then just how much you all would go through together. That’s how it feels when Lainey, Ji Sun, Alice, and Margaret, the four women at the center of Elizabeth Ames’ The Other's Gold, meet in college. They are randomly assigned to the same dorm, unaware that these are the women who will be with them as they confront the many challenges the ensuing years bring. The novel follows the foursome for decades, from college to adulthood to parenthood, as they make mistakes and struggle to forgive, their friendship forever evolving and loyalties shifting with every new hurdle life throws. It’s a powerful story of the bonds we form and how, in weathering ups and downs and messiness, friends can become family. Ames’ characters are so richly developed, I felt like these women were my friends and was devastated that my time in their world eventually came to a (rewarding) end." —K.W.A.
"I’m weirdly drawn to murder house stories—who isn’t?—and this one takes the cake. Vanessa Savage’s novel about family dysfunction is the quintessential psychological thriller, the story of a husband who moves his family into his childhood home...that also happens to be the site of a family massacre (casual). Based off that alone I was expecting the plot to be a typical whodunnit, but it’s so much more: The story tackles elements of mental health and domestic abuse in a provocative way, while adding just the right dose of horror." —H.H.
“Knoll’s sophomore effort is even better than her debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, which was optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production company (casual). Yes, it’s a sharp commentary on pop culture, friendship, and performative feminism, but it’s also just a wild whodunnit with twists you won’t see coming and a good helping of snark. Warning: Don’t get so absorbed in the captivating plot and love-to-hate characters that you forget to reapply sunscreen.” —D.M.
“Because I was really invested in the great Shape of Water Fish Sex Debate of 2018, I was thrilled to see that Broder, the relatable genius behind the @sosadtoday Twitter account, wrote a fish-sex novel. What I didn’t expect was that it would be so much more than that. The Pisces has some sexy merman-on-lady risky business, don’t get me wrong, but it’s ultimately an exploration of mental health, what it means to get help, and the understanding that need and desire are often mutually exclusive. It’s complex and I found myself rooting not for main character Lucy to be saved by the romance at the center of the novel, but for her to save herself. I couldn’t put it down, and once I did I couldn’t stop thinking about it.” —C.D.
“I fell in love with Eve Babitz when I read Sex and Rage earlier this year, so I decided this reissue of her 1993 short stories would be the perfect companion for a weekend away. Black Swans is a collection of nine stories that trace the ups and downs of California life in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (think: drugs, sex, friendships, the Chateau Marmont). You’ll laugh, you'll cry, and probably cry some more (much like I did on a too-crowded-for-comfort Connecticut beach). The best part? You can take a dip in the water or chug a glass of rosé in between each story.” —Ruby Buddemeyer, Editorial Fellow
“I fell in love with Eliza Kennedy when I picked up her first novel, I Take You. Her follow-up, Do This For Me, is so alive and so boisterous that the characters just about bounce off the page. It dives head-first into huge questions about marriage and fidelity, and while it doesn’t quite succeed in answering them in a cogent way, maybe that’s the point. I wish I’d read this on a beach. Reading it feels like riding a wave.” —Jenny Hollander, Deputy Editor
"This might be cause for psych eval, but I love the contrast of reading about gruesome crimes on a sunny beach. And Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In the Dark is no ordinary murder mystery. It follows the journalist as she exhaustively searches for the identity of the Golden State Killer, who committed some 50 rapes and at least 10 murders in California in the 1970s and 80s, providing fascinating look inside the minds of those who obsessively track murderers. The book was published two years following McNamara’s death, after two investigators she worked with closely finished it so her years of impressive work would not go to waste. As this book makes clear, the decades-long hunt for one of the nation’s most notorious killers would never have been cracked without McNamara. Read it now before it hits HBO as a documentary series." —K.W.A.
“This novel about a newbie matchmaker who has to learn the ropes of dating *very* quickly is funny, sexy, and absurdly entertaining. Main character Sasha’s got a dark secret about her family, which she casually exploits to get a gig at a top matchmaking firm in New York. But where her job used to be the only thing she didn’t have figured out, a series of eccentric clients and tempting potential dates explode her personal life up before her eyes. The writing moves at an awesome clip; while reading it on the subway, I became so enthralled that I ended up missing my stop, so Hannah Orenstein owes me $2.75 in train fare.” —C.D.
"I’m so obsessed with Rupi Kaur’s second poetry collection that I've already given it to five different friends as a gift. Rupi touches on themes of self-care, sexual assault, and heartbreak, composed in five different sections titled, respectively, ‘Wilting,’ ‘Falling,’ ‘Rooting,’ ‘Rising,’ and ‘Blooming.’ It’s basically like having someone next to you 24/7 saying, 'It’s going to be O.K.' And who doesn’t need that in 2018? You may have heard of Rupi from her massive following on Instagram, but don’t call her an Instagram poet." —Rachel Epstein, Assistant Editor
“This frothy romcom of a novel has LGBTQ characters at its center, but it’s not trying to be a book about gay people—it’s just some mainstream chick lit about two people (who happen to be the same gender) falling in love. And I am here for it. If you’re trying to get over an ex, read this instead of compulsively checking your phone.” —D.M.
“This collection of short stories, which came out in April 2018, is high-minded and literary but also incredibly, painfully relatable. Sittenfeld has such an empathy for every character she creates that even a borderline-emotionless bachelor becomes someone you can see yourself in at every turn. The stories here are hilarious, dark, romantic, regretful, and wrenchingly nostalgic—sometimes at the exact same time. Also, pretty sure they convinced me that I never want kids.” —C.D.
“The twist! This book is paced so perfectly that you can't help but feel there’s something big coming up, yet nothing can prepare you for a twist like this. I read the first half slowly, savoring it, and then was so thrown by the turn it takes that I finished the rest of it in an evening. Quite aside from the brilliant narrative technique, this is a captivating book. I loved it.” —J.H.
“If you don’t read a murder-mystery thriller was it even summer? Lies She Told takes Girl on the Train’s “did I do it?” bewilderment to the next level by making the murkiness meta: The main character is an author writing a book about a woman murdering her husband’s lover—and then things in her own marriage turn ugly. Sure, the tangled story lines can be tricky to keep straight, but when better to read something that requires your full attention than when you have nothing to do at all except sit in the sun?" —D.M.
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