Between lazy days, vacation time, and weekends at the beach, there’s no better season than summer to kick back with a stack of good books. And, as luck would have it, the stories hitting shelves right now are intelligent and compulsively page-turning.
Don’t be put off by the fact that so many are considered literary fiction, as these novels are every bit as entertaining and addictive—if a bit more thought-provoking—as summer’s typical soapy beach reads.
As admitted bookworms ourselves, we’ve compiled a handy list of 12 buzzy books to add to your summer reading list, stat. Let us know in the comments section below if you’ve already read any of the novels, and which you’re planning to dive into this summer!
1. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Critics are calling this novel this year’s “Gone Girl” thanks to its twisty plotlines and dueling narrators, plus it’s super of-the-moment with parts of the story told via Facebook posts, text messages, and email newsletters.
The gist: 15-year-old Amelia has seemingly jumped off the roof of her ritzy Brooklyn private school, but her single lawyer mom receives an anonymous text message: “She didn’t jump…” Hooked yet?
2. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Bulawayo’s debut novel is, essentially, one of displacement and arrival, and it’s getting rave reviews from both critics and readers.
The gist: The first half of the book is about 10-year-old Darling’s life in just-liberated Zimbabwe, where she faces war, violence, poverty, bullying, and political unrest, among other catastrophes. In the second half, Darling—now high-school age—moves to America to live with her aunt, and has to reinvent her self as an American teenager, navigating the internet, a part-time job, and Americans as a whole. Expect razor-sharp language (and some satire, too.)
3. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Veteran author Wolitzer wrote a perfect summer novel. Not because it’s light and fluffy, but because the sweeping story starts out at sleep-away camp.
The gist: Five talented and privledged teenagers (who dub themselves “the interestings”) meet at an artsy summer camp in the summer of 1974, and the novel traces their lives—careers, jealousy, competition, love, betrayals—through the present. Expect lots of pitch-perfect references to various decades told via a compellingly non-linear structure.
4. Constance by Patrick McGrath
“Daddy issues” get a whole new meaning in McGrath’s moody eigth novel.
The gist: Constance Schuyler—beautiful and impossibly cool—lives alone in Manhattan in the early 1960s. One night at a literary party, she meets Sidney Klein, a poetry professor twenty years her senior. Constance ends up marrying Sidney, but not without trepidation. After she moves into his apartment, she’s tortured by memories of the bitterly unhappy childhood she spent with her father in a broken-down house in upstate New York. Needless to say, psychological drama ensues.
5. Traps by Mackenzie Bezos
The “traps” in Bezos’ new novel are largely those of the emotional variety.
The gist: Reclusive movie star Jessica starts out on a four-day road trip to Las Vegas to confront her con of a father who’s been selling her out to the paparazzi, and on the way, meets three very differerny women: a dog shelter owner, an ex-military bodyguard and a teenager with newborn twins. Eventually, their stories intertwine in highly interesting ways.
6. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Social satire is the name of the game in this seriously witty debut novel.
The gist: The story follows three super-rich and pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season. Expect details on It-girls, socialite magazines, and an insider look at the Asian jet-set.
7. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
The best-selling author of “Prep” and “American wife” is back with a new novel about—surprise!—sisters that’s out June 25.
The gist: Identical twins Kate and Violet were born with innate psychic abilities, and we learn that Vi chooses to embrace her visions and Kate tries hard to hide them.
As adults, they both find themselves back in their hometown where Vi has pursued a career as a psychic, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs. The twist: A minor earthquake hits and another major one is on the way. Psychic visions obviously play a big role in what follows.
8. The Dinner by Herman Koch
The entire plot of this novel takes place over the course of one dinner.
The gist: One night in Amsterdam, two couples meet at a chic restaurant for dinner, where they proceed to make mundane small talk. However, we learn that both couples have 15-year-old sons who committed a horrific act that started a police investigation, and eventually all social niceties give way as civility and friendship disintegrates.
9. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? That’s the question behind this new novel that has critics raving.
The gist: On a snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife, before dying immediately. On the same night, she’s born again and lives. Confused? Atkinson manages to imagines several possible lives for the same character, who is born and dies repeatedly in a variety of ways.
10. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
After her last novel—the post-9/11 masterpiece “The Emperors Children”—Messud’s fans have waiting to see what she comes up with next, and the result is this gorgeously-written story.
The gist: 37-year-old Nora Eldridge is a lonely elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts who gave up her dream of being a successful artist. When an alluring, glamorous family moves to town, Nora finds herself getting sucked into their world and falling in love with them. Notable themes include art, fulfillment, and desire.
11. Maya’s Notebook by Isabelle Allende
The gist: After being abandoned by her parents, Maya grew up in a rambling house in California with her immigrant grandmother Nini, and her astronomer grandfather Popo. After Popo dies, Maya goes nuts and—along with a group of friends known as “the vampires”— she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime, which eventually leads her to Las Vegas and its dangerous underworld. Nini steps in and ships Maya off to a remote island, where she starts to record her story in her notebook, and make sense of her family and her life.
12. A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershow
The gist: Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley meet in their final year at Harvard in 1962. One is rich and privileged,but lazy; the other comes from a humble background but possesses drive and ambition. These two form a close friendship, but their paths eventually diverge—one rising on Wall Street, the other becoming global humanitarian—and their friendship ends abruptly. Spanning from the Cuban Missile Crisis to today’s stock market collapse, Hershow’s novel follows two very different men and the complicated women in their lives.