Something in the Water
Quite literally the ideal beach read, Something in the Water is a psychological thriller with bite—particularly because it asks the reader to consider their own moral fortitude when faced with danger. Erin and Mark are honeymooning on Bora Bora when they make a terrible discovery, and their decision to cover it up only leads to more trouble.
All We Ever Wanted
Emily Giffin’s latest plays out among Nashville’s elite, where Nina Browning usually manages to forget her middle-class past, and where single dad Tom Volpe works nonstop to support his daughter, Layla, Windsor Academy’s newest scholarship student. Scandal rocks the tight-lipped community when a compromising photo goes viral after a drunken high school party, casting everything and everyone under a harsh light.
Silicon Valley CEO Shelley Stone is so busy having it all that she nearly powers through meeting her younger doppelgänger. But this isn’t just a likeness we’re talking about—this woman is Shelley. Or Shelley’s hallucination? Or the clone she needs to survive her chaotic life? A hilarious and original take on lean-in culture, The Glitch is the weekend read we all need.
Sigrid Nunez won a much-deserved National Book Award for this one, and canines the world over celebrated. In all seriousness, The Friend is as much about grief and art-making as human-canine bonds: mourning the sudden loss of her best friend, the narrator copes by throwing herself into caring for the departed’s giant, depressed Great Dane.
Leila Slimani’s follow-up to her international hit, The Perfect Nanny, is every bit as riveting, and circles around another enigmatic woman. Adèle, a successful journalist living in Paris with her husband and young son, is addicted to sex, and her double life is about to hit the fan. Nuanced and unsparing, Slimani’s novel poses big questions about sexuality and modern womanhood.
Born a Crime
During the first years of Trevor Noah’s life in apartheid South Africa, his mother hid him away from the government. Born to a white father and Black mother, Noah’s existence was literally a crime. His memoir traces a remarkable coming of age: the ostracization, the adventures with his rebellious and unwavering mother, and a laugh-out-loud recollection of prom night, to name a few.
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky
Jana Casale’s quietly fierce novel follows a woman named Leda as she travels through the big and small moments of her life: buying a Noam Chomsky book she’ll never read (a purchase inspired by a cute boy), caring for her newborn daughter, bringing stories about orcas to her writing group. At turns funny and piercing, Leda’s is a story of a life well-lived, and a reminder that such a life is within our reach.
If at least five people haven’t recommended Naomi Novik’s Uprooted to you yet, we can only assume you live under a rock. In Novik’s second standalone novel, she spins a clever retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin” with three dauntless young women at the helm. It’s got all the richness and magic that Novik fans have come to expect, and then some.
The High Season
Judy Blundell’s domestic drama follows not only the summer vacationers escaping their woes for a charming Long Island village, but also the locals who give up their homes to make ends meet. Ruthie and teenage daughter Jem are one such household, and when their boarder—the glamorous Adeline Clay—starts taking over Ruthie’s life, Ruthie finally hits her limit.
Before We Were Yours
Before We Were Yours is a heartrending novel based on the true crimes of Georgia Tann, who for nearly 30 years used her adoption agency to sell kidnapped children to wealthy families. In one timeline, we meet 12-year-old Rill Foss and her younger siblings, ripped from their home on a stormy night; in the second, federal prosecutor Amy Stafford begins to ask questions about her family’s secret history.
Providence meets at the intersection of romance, mystery, and the supernatural. Best friends Jon and Chloe are inseparable—until Jon is kidnapped, only to reappear four years later with strange new powers. Meanwhile, Detective Charles “Eggs” DeBenedictus is investigating the mysterious deaths of healthy townies who are dying left and right. Caroline Kepens is the author of You, which became a hit Netflix show, so she clearly knows how to weave a killer story.
How to Love a Jamaican
In her debut story collection, Alexia Arthurs centers the experiences of Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. A teenage boy moves to New York to live with his mother after eight years apart, while an internationally adored pop star hides out in her mother’s Jamaican home, hoping for restoration. Arthurs’s voice is captivating—you’ll find yourself lingering to read “just one more” story.
Night of Miracles
Readers can return to the world of Arthur Truluv in Elizabeth Berg’s spinoff novel, set in the charming town of Mason, Missouri. Inspired by her friend Arthur, Lucille starts teaching baking lessons, which are so popular that she hires an assistant named Iris, a new woman in town harboring secret regrets. Meanwhile, the community rallies around a Mason family in dire need of support. Berg’s ensemble cast will steal your heart.
The Female Persuasion
Meg Wolitzer’s novel about ambition, power, and political awakening struck all the right chords when it published in 2018. If you were waiting for the paperback, now’s your chance to dig in to Greer Kadetsky’s coming-of-age story as she’s pulled beneath the wing of a feminist icon and begins to question the future she always had planned for herself.
Lauren Groff is a master storyteller, and her short story collection based in the Sunshine State both menaces and soothes, lulling readers into a sense of calm before jolting them out of it. Florida is home to lonely and conflicted characters, struggling with their humanity while reaching for connection—and avoiding the natural dangers that lie in wait.
With characters so vivid you’ll forget they’re fictional, Aja Gabel’s debut novel is steeped in the highly pressurized world of classical music. The Van Ness Quartet—Jana, Henry, Brit, and Daniel—navigate their complicated relationships across the extreme ups and downs of adulthood, all the while staying ruthlessly committed (for better and for worse) to their music.
Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng’s bestseller has grown an enthused fanbase, sure to be stoked by the Hulu adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Set in a quiet Cleveland suburb that’s shaken up by two new residents—mysterious single mother Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl—Little Fires Everywhere unpacks race and privilege, motherhood and family loyalty, in exquisite, page-turning prose.
The Great Believers
Optioned for TV by Amy Poehler, Rebecca Makkai’s critically acclaimed novel not only chronicles the devastating AIDS epidemic in the U.S. but moves into the future to explore its long-reaching emotional impact. In 1980s Chicago after his friend Nico’s funeral, Yale Tishman befriends Nico’s sister, Fiona; and in present-day Paris, Fiona searches for her daughter while reckoning with the grief of her past.
You Me Everything
Single mother Jess decides to take her 10-year-old son, William, to spend the summer at a restored castle in the French countryside. Sounds idyllic, right? The only catch: the hotel is owned by Adam, Jess’s ex-boyfriend and William’s father. Jess wants Adam to finally get to know his son, but Adam doesn’t seem interested in upending his life. Equal parts heartwarming and heart-wrenching, it’s a poignant story about love lost and found.
In this atmospheric novel based on his own past, Paulo Coelho—author of the international bestseller The Alchemist—weaves a philosophical story about the hippie generation of the ’60s and ’70s, who heeded the call for an unconventional path to self-discovery. The protagonist is an aspiring writer named Paulo, who joins a woman he just met on a life-changing journey across Central Asia.
The Occasional Virgin
Thirtysomething friends Yvonne and Huda both grew up in Lebanon—Huda in a Muslim household, Yvonne in a Christian one. As they vacation together on the Italian Riviera, they grapple with their histories: the choices they’ve made, and the ones that made them. Three months later in London, the women cross paths with a man that sets both of their lives in unexpected directions.
Tara Isabella Burton
Hailed as one of the best books of 2018, Tara Isabella Burton’s debut thriller is a must-read for fans of Gillian Flynn and Donna Tartt. The story spirals around modern socialite Lavinia and a mysterious woman, Louise, who befriends Lavinia in a magnetic relationship that quickly turns toxic. A propulsive story about identity and obsession in the social media age, don’t be surprised if you can’t put this one away.
Red, White, Blue
A literary espionage that will keep you hooked, Red, White, and Blue follows a young woman who’s discovering just how little she knew about her father. Anna was Noel’s only child, and Noel was Anna’s only parent, so she was devastated when he died in a ski accident on the eve of her wedding. Afterward, Anna’s approached by a stranger who reveals that Noel was a CIA operative—calling into question Anna’s entire past.
The Plus One
In an irresistible combination of sci-fi and romance, Sarah Archer’s debut novel doubles as the perfect wedding-season companion. Kelly is a genius robotic engineer with a nonexistent love life, so with her younger sister’s wedding on the books, Kelly builds her own boyfriend—and then starts to fall for him, despite everything (namely her dignity and career) that’s at stake.
Whiskey When We're Dry
In 1885, 17-year-old Jessilyn is living on her family’s homestead alone—her parents have died, and her brother, Noah, is an outlaw with a bounty on his head. To survive this gritty and dangerous world, sharpshooter Jessilyn disguises herself as a boy and sets off to find Noah before the militia does. John Larson upends the western genre with a fierce and unforgettable heroine.
The Air You Breathe
Frances de Pontes Peebles
This historical novel set in 1930s Brazil and the Golden Age of Los Angeles traces the lifelong friendship between Dores and Graça, who meet as children when Dores works in the kitchen of a wealthy sugar baron, Graça’s father. The story of their friendship—always devoted, often volatile—has earned comparisons to Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. In other words, a must-read.
R. O. Kwon
R. O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries is a campus novel like no other. You’ve got your love story, between new students Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall. You’ve got your spiritual uncertainty: Phoebe is mourning her mother’s death; Will has just left bible college. But then Phoebe gets lulled into a cult with violent plans, and Will is at a loss for answers. A powerful exploration of fundamentalism and grief, it’s a haunting novel that will light up your summer.
At Read It Forward, we love a new batch of paperback releases. It gives us an excuse to celebrate the previous year’s best and most talked-about books—the ones we loved, the ones still waiting patiently on our ever-growing TBR stacks, and the ones that somehow managed to slip by us in the cacophony of exciting new titles. We’ve rounded up the must-read paperbacks of the summer, perfect for getting a little sand in the pages.
Featured Image: @lucky_ch/Twenty20