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The 10 best books for your summer beach reading

A man lies on the sand at the beach, reading a book.
Reopening means the return of beach-read season.
(DaniloAndjus / Getty Images)

As restrictions lift and airports fill up, the restless among us are ready to cast off old habits along with our pandemic sweatpants. Others might still be wary of the outside world, but whether you stay put or take off this summer, don’t forget to bring along your books.

Reopening means the return of beach-read season, a time for titles that aren’t necessarily pure fun and froth (or necessarily read on a beach) but do have the transportive ability to separate body from mind, wherever your body happens to be. For every summer occasion, there’s a summer read; here are 10 of the best.

Surf’s Up

The cover of the book "Malibu Rising" by Taylor Jenkins Reid
(Ballantine)

Malibu Rising
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ballantine: 384 pages, $28

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Jenkins Reid understands group dynamics. Her 2019 breakthrough novel, “Daisy Jones and the Six,” was about a rock band; her follow-up concerns a family of famous siblings. On the day of Nina Riva’s big annual party in 1983, they follow their usual routines; by that night, their family home will be ablaze. In between, readers absorb the Riva secrets along with the ample sun, sand and saltwater. Although all the characters are vividly defined, model Nina is the book’s heart — a woman whose status never eclipses her loyalties.

Family Reunion

The cover of the book "Girl One," by Sara Flannery Murphy
(MCD/FSG)

Girl One
By Sara Flannery Murphy
MCD/FSG: 368 pages, $27

Murphy’s debut has a grab-you-by-the-neck premise: Josephine “Josie” Morrow is searching for her mother, who is her only parent — because Josie and the other “girls” were supposedly conceived without male intervention. Raised on the “Homestead,” they know only that the details of their birth died with their creator, an enigmatic doctor. Once Josie starts her quest, dystopian gender politics turn into supernatural hijinks. These girls have powers. How will they use them?

Hot in the City

The cover of the book "Seven Days in June," by Tia Williams
(Grand Central Publishing)

Seven Days in June
By Tia Williams
Grand Central: 336 pages, $27

The lingering scars of a teen affair can blow your grownup life wide open when you least expect it, as Williams demonstrates in this summer’s best romance. Eva has built a lucrative niche as an erotica author but, with her 15th book due, she’s hit a wall. A single mom, she needs fresh inspiration. At a panel in (where else?) Brooklyn, she has a public reunion with literary darling Shane, her high-school heartthrob. The rest is … complicated. But very well rendered and plenty satisfying.

A book-publishing horror story; a small-town psychosexual thriller; a Filipino American culinary caper; and a racially charged French murder mystery.

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Out on the Range

The cover of the book "The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu," by Tom Lin
(Little, Brown)

The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu
By Tom Lin
Little, Brown: 228 pages, $28

As the nontraditional Western gained a readership — think “All of These Hills Are Gold” or “News of the World” — it was inevitable that we’d eventually meet someone like Ming Tsu, a rogue assassin driven to revenge by racial injustice. Once married to Ada, a white woman, Ming Tsu was beaten and sentenced to 10 years of hard desert labor after Ada’s bigoted father brought charges of miscegenation. As the book opens, Ming Tsu has just completed his first kill; amid this rollicking gallery of Western archetypes, it won’t be his last.

Writer’s Retreat

The cover of the book "Dream Girl," by Laura Lippman
(William Morrow)

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Dream Girl
By Laura Lippman
William Morrow: 320 pages, $29. June 22

Author Gerry Anderson moves to Baltimore to be near his mother; his mother dies. Gerry attempts a memoir; he falls down the stairs. Confined to bed and high on pain meds, he receives a menacing phone call from someone claiming to be the protagonist of his last hit novel, “Dream Girl.” Is it one of his three ex-wives? An ex-girlfriend? Gerry thinks he’s hallucinating until he wakes up next to a dead woman. Many readers will think of Stephen King’s “Misery,” and although the comparison isn’t fair to either book, both certainly evoke the anxiety of writers forced to submit to the whims of their No. 1 fans.

Enjoy Your Flight

The cover of the book "Falling," by T.J. Newman
(Avid Reader Press)

Falling
By T. J. Newman
Avid Reader: 304 pages, $28. July 6

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Even if the trope of a good-guy white male hero pilot grates, stay the course of this relentlessly plotted thriller: The African American flight crew of Coast Airlines Flight 416 are the real heroes of this story. Bound for JFK out of LAX, pilot Bill Hoffman has no idea he’s about to be given a choice: Either crash the plane or his family will be murdered. The author, a former bookseller and flight attendant, seems to think of everything — every trick, every error, every advantage — in a plot that executes more barrel rolls than a stunt plane on the Fourth of July.

Bestselling novelist Maggie Shipstead had depicted elite worlds, but for “Great Circle,” a globe-spanning epic, she had to become a solo adventurer.

On the Cape

The cover of the book "The Paper Palace," by Miranda Cowley Heller
(Riverhead Books)

The Paper Palace
By Miranda Cowley Heller
Riverhead: 400 pages, $27. July 6

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Elle is 50, happily married with three children. It’s July, and she’s settling in at her family’s Cape Cod home, nicknamed “the Paper Palace” because of the industrial-grade cardboard her grandfather used in its construction. But it’s no typical summer; she’s finally had an affair with her old friend Jonas after waiting decades in the wake of a long-ago tragedy. Will Elle upend her life now that everything has changed? The gorgeous scenery of Back Woods (a stand-in for Wellfleet, Mass.) provides an atmospheric backdrop to Elle’s ruminations and revelatory flashbacks.

Mountain Trek

The cover of the book "We Were Never Here," by Andrea Bartz
(Ballantine)

We Were Never Here
By Andrea Bartz
Ballantine: 320 pages, $27. Aug. 3

Friends since college, Kristen and Emily, now 30, are on an annual hiking trip in Chile. When Emily finds Kristen standing over the body of the “cute guy” she’d brought back to their room, she has to reckon with the fact that this is the second time Kristen has killed a man in “self-defense.” Bartz takes the idea of a “frenemy” to new heights in her third thriller, yet another expert vivisection of female modes of communication and competition. How will this nightmare end? Definitely not with a giggly, mimosa-soaked brunch.

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Into the Woods

The cover of the book "Damnation Spring," by Ash Davidson
(Scribner)

Damnation Spring
By Ash Davidson
Scribner: 448 pages, $28, Aug. 3

If you’re jonesing for a big family saga, Ash Davidson’s debut will do the trick. For generations, the Gundersens have been stewards of Damnation Grove on the California coast. But the latest descendant, Rich Gundersen, works for Sanderson Timber, which wants the Grove and its ancient redwoods. As his wife, Colleen, a midwife, suffers miscarriages and witnesses more, the couple suspects Sanderson’s herbicides. What they learn will put their marriage at risk, divide their community and pit them against a corporate behemoth. Told through the voices of Rich, Colleen and their son Chub, “Damnation Spring” tackles major issues with authentic rage and grief.

What crime novelist Laura Lippman is reading and watching in quarantine

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Paris Getaway

The cover of the book "The Perfume Thief," by Timothy Schaffert
(Doubleday Books)

The Perfume Thief
By Timothy Schaffert
Doubleday: 268 pages, $27. Aug. 3

Did someone say “queer espionage”? Clementine, a reformed, 72-year-old con artist whose signature haberdashery suits her glamorous Paris environs, is one of the best protagonists of the summer. Clem once traveled the world in search of special scents; now, in 1941, she needs to outwit Francophile Nazi Oskar Voss in order to save a vital “recipe book” of perfumes. Other authors have had clever takes on World War II spy novels, but none has created a voice like Clem’s, at once a true artist and a woman spinning a tale to save her life.


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