Backlist Beach Reads: 55 Books for Summer

We here at Parnassus are firm believers that a beach read is, well, any book you choose to read at the beach! Lighthearted fiction, summer romances, twisting mysteries, enthralling true crime, and otherworldly sci-fi books all belong at the beach, in our humble opinion. If you’ve ever wondered what booksellers have in their beach bags, wonder no more! Our booksellers gathered over fifty paperback recs (with a hardcover or two for good measure) for the whole family’s summer vacation needs!

Recommended by Sarah

A World Between By Emily Hashimoto Cover ImageA World Between

Picture Normal People, but with two queer women of color on a roller coaster of a relationship from the moment they meet in college. You’ll be thinking about Eleanor and Leena for a long time to come.

Recommended by Sarah

The Beekeeper of Aleppo: A Novel By Christy Lefteri Cover ImageThe Beekeeper of Aleppo: A Novel

If you loved The Kite Runner and have been looking for a comparable read, look no further than The Beekeeper of Aleppo. This one is for those of you who don’t mind a heavier, but gorgeously written, summer read.

Recommended by Cat

Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel By Kawai Strong Washburn Cover ImageSharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel

Family sagas with an element of magical realism seem to be having a moment and one of my favorites in that sub-genre is Sharks in the Time of Saviors. It follows a Hawaiian family as they attempt to find a place of belonging both within their native islands and on the U.S. mainland, but of course there is a family curse that complicates things.

Recommended by Katie

Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi Cover ImageHomegoing

By Yaa Gyasi

This book is an absolute masterpiece. It follows two half sisters in Ghana, one who marries an English gentleman, the other sold into slavery, with each chapter being told from the next generation’s perspective. This book has continued to sit with me years after I read it.

Recommended by Kathy

Free Food for Millionaires By Min Jin Lee Cover ImageFree Food for Millionaires

Casey, child of Korean immigrants, wants to break free of the old ways and live a 21st century, New York life with her Princeton degree, but her spending leads to disastrous consequences. This is a multi-layered, almost Dickensian novel with numerous characters and plot-lines. Such fun to dig into!

Recommended by Heath

Tales of the City: A Novel By Armistead Maupin Cover ImageTales of the City: A Novel

Not only is this classic and groundbreaking LGBTQ literature, it’s also a really fun romp through 1970s San Francisco.

Recommended by Jake

Eileen: A Novel By Ottessa Moshfegh Cover ImageEileen: A Novel

Pretty much perfect as far as anti-beach reading goes, Eileen is cold, dark, and harrowing. Set in the week before Christmas, Ottessa Moshfegh’s breakout is a gripping character study and features a stunning climax you won’t soon forget.

Recommended by Aly

Nothing to See Here: A Read with Jenna Pick By Kevin Wilson Cover ImageNothing to See Here: A Read with Jenna Pick

Lillian doesn’t know where she’s going or what she’s doing. Now is the perfect time for her old school friend to swoop in an offer her a job. With two kids who spontaneously catch on fire, where could things possibly go wrong?

Recommended by Aly

Mary Jane: A Novel By Jessica Anya Blau Cover ImageMary Jane: A Novel

This coming of age story has real Daisy Jones and the Six vibes, as fourteen-year-old Mary Jane spends her summer down the street babysitting and becoming immersed in a family’s rock and roll lifestyle.

Recommended by Lindsay

The Queen Of The Night By Alexander Chee Cover ImageThe Queen Of The Night

Why go to the beach when you could go to the opera? Alexander Chee’s novel of Lilliet Berne, the star soprano of nineteenth century Paris, is one of my all-time favorites.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Our Woman in Moscow: A Novel By Beatriz Williams Cover ImageOur Woman in Moscow: A Novel

This is a complex spy story of two sisters caught in the web of Cold War espionage. Full of family drama and high stakes decisions.

Recommended by Lindsay

The Paying Guests By Sarah Waters Cover ImageThe Paying Guests

The Paying Guests is not a mystery inasmuch as it’s a slow-burn sapphic romance in which a murder occurs. No one does historical fiction like Sarah Waters, and her take on 1920s London is absolute perfection.

Recommended by Cat

City of Girls: A Novel By Elizabeth Gilbert Cover ImageCity of Girls: A Novel

I will always and forever recommend City of Girls as a perfect summer read. It’s got opulence, theatre, found family, and an overwhelming amount of heart. Set in 1940s New York City, our heroine Vivian has found herself a college dropout and sent to spend the summer with her eccentric Aunt Peg at a rundown off-off-Broadway theatre. Hijinks and hard-won life lessons ensue.

Recommended by Katie

In the Unlikely Event: A Novel By Judy Blume Cover ImageIn the Unlikely Event: A Novel

As a proud Jersey Girl and a Judy Blume devotee I loved this adult historical fiction book by Blume. Set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and bringing together three generations of family and friends, this novel tells the true story of one summer when three planes crash landed in this small suburban town and the ripple effect it had over the community.

Recommended by Heath

The Remains of the Day (Vintage International) By Kazuo Ishiguro Cover ImageThe Remains of the Day (Vintage International)

An English butler looks back on his 30 years of service at Darlington Hall for a distinguished British lord. As he reflects upon the grandeur of those times, there is a nagging notion that things may not have been as ideal as he once thought them to be. This is like Downton Abbey but better.

Recommended by Chelsea

The Diamond Eye: A Novel By Kate Quinn Cover ImageThe Diamond Eye: A Novel

Kate Quinn brings a fascinating level of detail to her research and characters, and The Diamond Eye is the perfect example of this. This riveting book held my attention from beginning to end.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Code Name Hélène: A Novel By Ariel Lawhon Cover ImageCode Name Hélène: A Novel

If you missed this novel when it came out in March 2020 like I did, put this on your summer reading list. This is the story of real-life socialite spy Nancy Wake during WWII. A fascinating read.

Recommended by Jake

And Then There Were None By Agatha Christie Cover ImageAnd Then There Were None

The best whodunnit ever written and the one by which all others should be judged, And Then There Were None is near-impossible to put down. Following ten strangers trapped on an island, mysterious circumstances quickly lead to one death after another. Can the mystery be solved before the title proves true? Agatha Christie has rightfully claimed her title as the queen of mystery, and this is among her very best work.

Recommended by Sarah

Mouth to Mouth: A Novel By Antoine Wilson Cover ImageMouth to Mouth: A Novel

Put together a psychological mystery, an unreliable narrator, and Great Gatsby-esque vibes, and you get this former First Editions Club pick. I couldn’t put it down!

Recommended by Lindsay

The Appeal: A Novel By Janice Hallett Cover ImageThe Appeal: A Novel

If you’re nosey like me, chances are you’ll want to read this murder mystery told entirely through emails and texts–The Appeal is an engrossing read, with all the pettiness and drama of desperate rich people.

Recommended by Rae Ann

A Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series #1) By Sherry Thomas Cover ImageA Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series #1)

When Charlotte Holmes is cast to the fringes of society, she assumes the name Sherlock Holmes to solve mysteries. She must stop a criminal mastermind and clear her family’s name in the first book in the Lady Sherlock Series.

Recommended by Chelsea

Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel By S. A. Cosby Cover ImageBlacktop Wasteland: A Novel

Have you read any S. A. Cosby yet? He’s my favorite mystery writer these days, and this fast-paced heist novel is the perfect intro into his gritty Southern mysteries.

Recommended by Jenness

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle By Stuart Turton Cover ImageThe 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

A locked-room whodunit at an English country estate, several suspects, one victim – and 7 1/2 deaths. A twisty, turny fantastical set-up (our protagonist inhabits a different character daily in order to solve the murder), this makes for a great summer read. You can tax your brain trying to figure out the who, how, and why of it all, or just sit back and let the fresh, clever, bizarre mystery take you away.

Recommended by Hannah K.

Book Lovers By Emily Henry Cover ImageBook Lovers

Although Henry has a book literally titled Beach Read, I picked this one for a reason: Book Lovers is, without a doubt, Emily Henry’s best book yet. Combining the very best elements from her previous two bestsellers, it’s a delight from cover to cover. An ode to romance novels, it’s aware of the tropes, stares them in the face, and still manages to bring something new and brilliant to the genre.

Recommended by Hannah K.

The Unhoneymooners By Christina Lauren Cover ImageThe Unhoneymooners

When sworn enemies Olive & Ethan are gifted an all-expenses-paid honeymoon to Hawaii, they’re resolved to avoid each other as much as possible. But keeping up the dating charade is proving difficult, and the pair soon realize they’re not as different as they’d thought… Whether you’re actually traveling to the tropics or not, reading this book feels like laying out on the beach with a daquiri.

Recommended by Chelsea

Spoiler Alert: A Novel By Olivia Dade Cover ImageSpoiler Alert: A Novel

If you, like me, spent your formative years reading fan fiction, this romance is for you. I really appreciated the character arcs and their conversations around hard topics. This is the first of a series centered around the same fandom!

Recommended by Katie

The Boyfriend Project By Farrah Rochon Cover ImageThe Boyfriend Project

When I am on vacation I want to sink my teeth into a series and The Boyfriend Project kicks off a fabulous series that centers around three women who find themselves dating the same jerk. Instead of competing they become friends and help each other find their true happily ever afters.

Recommended by Katie

Delilah Green Doesn't Care By Ashley Herring Blake Cover ImageDelilah Green Doesn’t Care

Delilah Green is my fictional book girlfriend. This steamy sapphic romance is chef’s kiss. So good. So fun. So hot. And because it’s also the first in a series, you can spend some time with this group of friends as they figure out how to be good friends, good family, and good lovers.

Recommended by Hannah K.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches By Sangu Mandanna Cover ImageThe Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

Purely delightful magic in book form. The epitome of cozy, witchy vibes. If you loved The House in the Cerulean Sea, this needs to be next up on your TBR! I practically guarantee you’ll wish you could practice magic after reading this charming novel.

Recommended by Katie

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) By Becky Chambers Cover ImageThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1)

Life is hard. Gimme some cozy aliens on a space adventure. Becky Chambers is the shiniest star in the sky right now and I think everyone should read her.

Recommended by Katie

A Day of Fallen Night (The Roots of Chaos) By Samantha Shannon Cover ImageA Day of Fallen Night (The Roots of Chaos)

Here me out…the beach is the PERFECT place to take an 800 page book. Shannon’s books often times feel daunting because of their size so you don’t want to start them. But being stuck on vacation with a singular book that lasts you the whole week can help. It doesn’t hurt that this book is literal perfection.

Recommended by Chelsea

She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor Duology #1) By Shelley Parker-Chan Cover ImageShe Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor Duology #1)

This powerful, sweeping debut tracks female monk Zhu Chongba as she refuses to succumb to nothingness in 1345 Mongol-ruled China. The sequel comes out later this summer!

Recommended by Rae Ann

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (10th Anniversary Edition): A Novel By Robin Sloan, Paul Yamazaki (Foreword by) Cover ImageMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (10th Anniversary Edition): A Novel

By Robin SloanPaul Yamazaki (Foreword by)

An out-of-work web designer takes a job at a bookstore – a bookstore with a limited selection of books and a few customers who rarely buy anything. With the help of some friends, the mystery of the store begins to unfold in this fun fast-paced read.

Recommended by Rachel

This Is How You Lose the Time War By Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone Cover ImageThis Is How You Lose the Time War

Two rivals write letters back and forth across the multiverse, slowly moving from friendly competition, to passionate love and life-altering danger. The love letters in these pages are some of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read. A perfect, awe-inspiring, concise (& sapphic!) summer read.

Recommended by Chelsea

I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa

This reads as Frank Sheeran’s confessional and provides an answer to the age-old question of what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

Recommended by Lindsay

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art By Mary Gabriel Cover ImageNinth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

Real ones know that the best way to spend a vacation is with a 944-page book on midcentury female painters.

Recommended by Heather

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World By Noah Strycker Cover ImageBirding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World

The ultimate travel experience – 365 days and 6,042 species of birds, along with some unique travel challenges, and hundreds of new friends helping along the way.

Recommended by Heath

Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood By Mark Harris Cover ImagePictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

A fascinating look at how the five 1968 best picture nominees changed the face of movies forever. If you have ever wondered how old Hollywood evolved into new Hollywood, you’ll like this book.

Recommended by Andy

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life By William Finnegan Cover ImageBarbarian Days: A Surfing Life

My favorite summer read is Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. It won the Pulitzer Prize. A book about surfing won the Pulitzer, enough said.

Recommended by Andy

Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler By Lynne Olson Cover ImageMadame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

A thrilling account of the woman who led the largest resistance group in France during WWII that sent information on troop movements and logistics to contacts in Britain, and they were one of the first to report on the development of the V-2 rocket. Twice she was captured by the Gestapo and escaped. Olson’s telling reads like a spy novel but is an incredible account of this brave women and her army of patriots.

Recommended by Rachel

What My Mother and I Don't Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence By Michele Filgate (Editor) Cover ImageWhat My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence

By Michele Filgate (Editor)

A collection of essays exploring fifteen authors and their relationships with their mothers. A diverse collection with something relatable for everyone as well as new perspectives to learn from. While reading, I was transported to a back porch in the summer, listening to these authors tell their family stories, laughing and crying together, and just basking in the complexities of a mother’s love.

Recommended by Chelsea

Firekeeper's Daughter By Angeline Boulley Cover ImageFirekeeper’s Daughter

This intricate story traces drugs found on Daunis’s reservation. Add in romance, hockey, and the exploration of cultural identity, and you have a layered, compulsive read.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All By Laura Ruby Cover ImageThirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Two girls in a Chicago orphanage narrate this tale of WWII-era Chicago. This National Book Award finalist is a gripping story of a girl searching for a better future for herself and the ghost who watches over her.

Recommended by Katie

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute By Talia Hibbert Cover ImageHighly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

Talia Hibbert doesn’t miss. Be it adult or YA romance, her style is charming and witty, and whenever I see a new one from her I can’t help but jump for joy. This friends to enemies to smoochy face partners almost makes me want to travel back to high school and fall in like with a cute someone. Almost.

Recommended by Katie

Last Night at the Telegraph Club By Malinda Lo Cover ImageLast Night at the Telegraph Club

A queer historical romance that isn’t all doom and gloom. Yes, please! This is a beautiful YA book set in a 1950s San Francisco and tells the story of two young girls fighting for a love against tremendous odds.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Lore By Alexandra Bracken Cover ImageLore

This action-packed story puts a modern twist on Greek mythology as ancient bloodlines hunt the Olympian gods across New York in hopes of stealing their power and immortality.

Recommended by Rae Ann

The Agathas (An Agathas Mystery #1) By Kathleen Glasgow, Liz Lawson Cover ImageThe Agathas (An Agathas Mystery #1)

Alice Ogilvie and Iris Adams are classmates but not friends. When Alice’s ex-best friend is found dead, she teams up with her tutor to find the killer using the guidance of the works of Agatha Christie.

Recommended by Aly

Emergency Contact By Mary H. K. Choi Cover ImageEmergency Contact

Choi gives us the story of Penny and Sam, who manage to accidentally become the only person the other can depend on in this achingly beautiful and funny romance.

Recommended by Jenny

Carry On (Simon Snow Trilogy #1) By Rainbow Rowell Cover ImageCarry On (Simon Snow Trilogy #1)

A fictional character’s fanfiction brought to life, Carry On takes place in a magical boarding school where Simon Snow is constantly getting into scrapes. When things go from goofy to serious, Simon finds himself getting help in the most unlikely of places. Queer, adventurous, and magical, Carry On had me laughing out loud and crying a little bit too.

Recommended by Katie

Murder Is Bad Manners (A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery) By Robin Stevens Cover ImageMurder Is Bad Manners (A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery)

Move over Nancy Drew, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are on the case and ready to solve a murder. It’s the 1930s and Hazel and Daisy find themselves bored at their boarding school. In an effort to shake things up they form a secret detective agency, but the trouble is they don’t have anything to investigate, until one day their science teacher is found dead and they are absolutely sure it’s foul play.

Recommended by Aly

Best Friends, Bikinis, and Other Summer Catastrophes By Kristi Wientge Cover ImageBest Friends, Bikinis, and Other Summer Catastrophes

When you’re twelve years old, summer is supposed to be all about fun, but everything starts falling apart for Alex when her best friend, Will, gets a crush. How dare he! AND on the most popular girl in school?!

Recommended by Katie

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1) By B. B. Alston Cover ImageAmari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1)

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black, Amari and the Night Brothers is an exciting middle grade novel for anyone who is looking for a high-stakes and thrilling adventure to read this summer. Desperate to find the reason her brother has gone missing, Amari finds a suitcase in his closet from the Bureau of Supernatural Beings and she just knows it has something to do with him going missing. She is determined to get to the bottom if it all!

Recommended by Rae Ann

The Elephant in the Room By Holly Goldberg Sloan Cover ImageThe Elephant in the Room

A special class project, a lottery winner who rescues an elephant, and a new friend give Sila a summer adventure like she never expected.

Recommended by Rae Ann

How to Save a Queendom By Jessica Lawson Cover ImageHow to Save a Queendom

This fantasy adventure takes readers on an epic journey with an orphan, a pet chicken, and a tiny wizard.

Recommended by Rae Ann

The Westing Game By Ellen Raskin Cover ImageThe Westing Game

Sixteen people are invited to the reading of Mr. Westing’s will. They could all become millionaires if they win the complicated and dangerous Westing Game.

Recommended by Rachel

The Unwanteds By Lisa McMann Cover ImageThe Unwanteds

In a futuristic world where creativity is punished, Alex and his friends are saved from a fiery death by a stone cheetah with wings. They are taken to a magic school and taught to embrace their inner artist while surrounded by all sorts of whimsical characters.