The Female Persuasion
Meg Wolitzer’s latest is a modern social novel that delves into the charged relationship between Greer Kadetsky, an undergrad, and Faith Frank, a Gloria Steinem-esque feminist speaker, as Greer comes into her own burgeoning involvement in women’s empowerment circles. Following Greer, her boyfriend Cary, and the tumultuous ensuing years in Greer’s corporate feminist realm, The Female Persuasion is a powerful complement to summer’s hush.
Swimming Between Worlds
Elaine Neil Orr
Set during the tension of the Civil Rights Movement, Swimming Between Worlds is a distinctly Southern coming-of-age novel. Tracing the paths of Gaines Townson, a young African American man, Tacker Hart, a North Carolina football hero turned disgrace, and Kate Monroe, a young woman seeking to find the truth in disturbing letters left to her, Orr’s novel brings us squarely into a fraught societal moment as these three dynamic characters reconcile their pasts with their prospective futures.
A Lady's Guide to Selling Out
Braiding influences of Mad Men with The Devil Wears Prada, Sally Franson’s electric debut follows Casey Prendergast, a former idealistic English major and current ad exec, as she crisscrosses the country to partner literary writers with upmarket brands. Watching her icons compromise throughout her journey, Casey’s forced to confront the humanistic cost of success and what she’s learned from her own romantic entanglement with one of her authors.
From the Twitter personality and author of So Sad Today comes an irreverent yet divinely serious novel that brings us into 38-year-old Lucy’s life, fresh from a breakup as she heads to Los Angeles to house- and dog-sit for her sister. Chronicling Lucy’s disastrous Tinder dates, illuminative group therapy sessions, and her nightly meetings with a young, charming swimmer, Broder delves into questions of love—whether Lucy has it, wants it, or even needs it.
Do This for Me
Raney Moore is a lawyer with everything going for her, from her partnership at a leading NYC firm to her happy family and oblivious sense of contentment. But when accusations of her husband’s infidelity arise, Raney’s life turns upside down, suffused with rage, regret, and the resettlement of her kids in a rundown Brooklyn townhouse. Showing there’s more to the world than the expected hum of daily life, Do This For Me is an uproarious, poignant read.
Looking behind the staid orchestral façade, The Ensemble reveals the thrum and drama of the Van Ness Quartet: Jana and Brit, the first and second violinists, Daniel, the cellist, and Henry, the viola player. From their initial rocky start to the seismic swing of heart-stopping failure and frothy success, the group remains intertwined through their careers and the intensity of their shared art. Riveting and cutthroat, The Ensemble is a novelistic look at lives made and shattered in concert.
A hilarious debut pitch-perfect for the sandy months, The Glitch introduces us to Shelley Stone, a TED-talking Silicon Valley CEO and mom who has it all under control—or so it seems, until someone claiming to be a younger Shelley appears, bringing a massive glitch into Shelley’s overworked existence. Her overwrought brain can’t help but wonder: is she finally buckling under pressure? Told with a voice by turns brainy and riotous, Elisabeth Cohen has given us one of the most memorable characters in new fiction.
The High Season
A resident of Long Island’s North Fork, Ruthie surrenders her Long Island Sound-adjacent house each summer in order to keep her family’s life financially afloat. But when wealthy widow Adeline Clay moves into Ruthie’s house, she takes more than her share, ingratiating herself into Ruthie’s circles and even with Ruthie’s ex-husband. Facing mutiny at home and in the office, Ruthie must fully cast herself into this summery drama to claim what’s hers.
The Kiss Quotient
For 30-year-old Stella Lane, math’s always been the universe’s unifying factor—after all, her work is rooted in algorithmically predicting customer purchases. The job might’ve earned her more money than she can possibly spend, but the tradeoff is that she’s got less love-life experience than most. Until she hires Michael Phan, a Vietnamese-Swedish escort assigned to help Stella conquer her dating apprehension. As they grow closer, their no-nonsense partnership starts making sense, underscoring for Stella that love might be the most reliable logic of all.
The blisteringly humid Sunshine State is a fitting backdrop for Groff’s signature, artful fiction. Spanning centuries, characters, and narratives, Florida shows us the worlds of exhausted mothers, starving sisters abandoned on an island, and a graduate student’s inexorable slide into homelessness. Through these voices—witty and wise, recurring and fearful—Groff gives us a perfect collection for a summer read, or truly any season at all.
The Book of Essie
Meghan MacLean Weir
Truly a novel for our high-pitched, obsessive reality TV times, The Book of Essie is a captivating novelistic narrative of family, fame, and religion, unfurling the story of the 17-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their world—and juggernaut reality show—apart.
When Katie Met Cassidy
When Katie, a Kentucky transplant with a traditionalist streak, meets New Yorker Cassidy, a self-assured woman effortlessly sporting a men’s suit, we’re rewarded with an incisive, rom-com-infused look at gender norms and the value of knowing who we are within the greater world—from the boardroom to the bedroom, and everywhere in between.
All We Ever Wanted
All We Ever Wanted ushers readers into glittering Nashville society through the storylines of Nina Browning, a middle-class woman elevated into a life with a wealthy tech entrepreneur and a brainy son, and Tom Volpe, a struggling father working to raise his daughter Lyla into a better life. After an errant photo snapped at a party threatens to wrest the town apart, Giffin’s characters must confront their true selves and find the courage to live with genuine intention.
Lady Be Good
Atmospheric and captivating, Amber Brock’s Lady Be Good is a sweeping epic wrapped up in the humming debauchery of nightclubs stretching from New York to Miami, and all the way to steamy Cuba. With the story of Kitty Tessler, the clever daughter of a self-made man who’s succeeded wildly in the hospitality world, and her struggles with matters of friendship, love, and loyalty, Brock’s crafted an idyllic complement for summer relaxation.
The Last Cruise
All aboard for drama on the high seas! The Last Cruise embroils us in the antics and strife of the guests board the Queen Isabella, a 1950s-era ocean liner taking one final voyage in the thoroughly modern 2000s. From a journalist to an overtired sous-chef, to the below-deck crew and a prominent violinist, there’s no shortage of surprise, either port or starboard.
The Occasional Virgin
Bold and fearlessly written, The Occasional Virgin brings the past roaring back to two 30-something women, Huda and Yvonne, as they seek restoration on the Riviera. Tarrying between the weight of heritage and religious tradition—Christian for Yvonne and Muslim for Huda—and the pull of their contemporary professional identities, the women must delve deep into their search for ultimate fulfillment.
The Late Bloomers' Club
Winsome and charming, The Late Bloomers’ Club features Nora, the proprietor of the Miss Guthrie Diner, as she pours coffee and slings donuts to her customers. But when Nora’s life is shaken by the news that she and Kit, her wild younger sister, stand to inherit the home of cherished local “cake lady” Peggy Johnson, Nora—along with the whole town—must make some tough choices about loyalty, cashing out, and what it means to do the right thing.
Mary B: A Novel
Katherine J. Chen
Recasting what you think you know about a Jane Austen classic, Mary B retells the iconic Pride and Prejudice tale from Mary Bennet’s not-so-prim perspective. Underscoring that sometimes it’s the quietest wallflowers who have the most to say, Katherine Chen’s fiercely independent Mary relishes her abundant inner life even as her wittier, prettier sisters chase their own destinies—and her imaginative humor will enliven summer’s most languid readers.
The Shortest Way Home
Emphasizing the mix of risk and glory in making a massive change, The Shortest Way Home shows what happens when Hannah, a nearly-graduated grad student, jettisons the trappings of a seemingly perfect life to rescue a flailing winery. Settling into a postcard-perfect cottage, making new friends, and mingling with William, the winery owners’ striking son, Hannah’s forced to confront her own expectations in order to craft the life she really wants. Humorous and heartfelt, it’s the ideal escapist read for a sweltering afternoon.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Strung between the influences of a lush, gated community, the harsher reality outside those walls, and the looming terror of Pablo Escobar’s brutal reign, Fruit of the Drunken Tree brings us into the lives of Chula, a privileged and inquisitive girl, and Petrona, a hopeful yet desperate young woman hired as Chula’s family’s live-in maid. Woven through with mesmerizing prose and alternating perspectives, this debut will keep you captivated.
A plainspoken and wholly original novel, Horse braids together the lives of Teagan, a girl abandoned by her father and left adrift on her family’s farm, and Ian (short for Obsidian), a willful and stubborn horse also deserted by Teagan’s father. Threading themes of love and loss, enduring connectivity, and the reluctant creep of forgiveness into a stunning narrative quilt, Horse enchants as only the best summer reads do.
The Shakespeare Requirement
The Shakespeare Requirement tells the tale of Jason Fitger, the new head of Payne University’s English department. But before he can relish his promotion, Jason’s already fending off contenders. From the budget-controlling dean who’s sleeping with Jason’s ex-wife to the Economics Department, which always seems to have Jason’s wing in its crosshairs, nothing seems safe. Ribald and wild, this spirited satire is the perfect close-out to summer’s lit-happy end.
Whether you’re beach-bound, setting sail, or just cooling off on the porch with an iced tea, we’ve got the perfect reads for your summer stack. From effervescent and wry novels to nuanced stories of upheaval and social justice, we’re throwing it back to the best beach reads of 2018 that we can’t forget. These books will keep your literary life easy and breezy, even when the weather isn’t.
Featured Image: Matt McCarty