Summer Books (Photo by Link Hoang on Unsplash)
Photo by Link Hoang on Unsplash

11 Must-Read Summer Books for Adults in 2020

For many of us, it’s not yet clear where we’ll be spending summer vacation this year. At the beach? By a campfire? On a road trip? Or—gulp—still in our own backyards? But wherever your family vacation plans take you, your trip will be more entertaining with one of these must-read summer books in hand.

1. Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

The main character in Dreamland is a young heiress named Peggy, who discovers unexpected secrets during a summer on Coney Island. Set in the early 1900s, the novel combines a vivid historical setting, a forbidden love story, and a murder mystery into a single page-turner of a tale.

2. The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L’Engle

The beloved author of A Wrinkle in Time passed away in 2007, but this collection of early stories discovered by her granddaughter offers one last volume for readers to enjoy. Arranged in chronological order, the stories reveal the development of L’Engle’s voice as well as many of the themes that would show up in her later works.

3. Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

Weaving Hawaiian mythology and magical realism into a story of sibling rivalry, this debut novel starts with a child falling off a cruise ship into the ocean. When a shark returns seven-year-old Nainoa to his mother instead of devouring him, the miracle seems to confer special powers upon the child—but those powers may tear his family apart.

4. It’s Not All Downhill from Here by Terry McMillan

This warm-hearted novel follows Loretha, a woman in her late 60s who’s trying to prove that aging isn’t all bad—even in the face of loss. Humorous and inspiring, It’s Not All Downhill from Here is a celebration of female friendship.

5. The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

In this twisty-turny thriller, a man vanishes while he and his girlfriend, an emergency room doctor, are on vacation in Vietnam. The doctor must figure out the mystery behind his disappearance and whether she herself might be in danger as well.

6. What We Carry: A Memoir by Maya Shanbhag Lang

In this moving memoir, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s calls into question everything the author thought she knew about her mother. As she struggles to care for both her mother and her own young child, Lang must come to terms with who her mother really is—and cast a closer look at herself as well.

7. The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson

Sink your teeth into this story of dysfunctional siblings who reluctantly come together after the death of their grandmother, only to discover that she’s been hiding a long-lost diamond. Their search for the truth behind the diamond’s presence reveals things they’d never known about their family or each other.

8. Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bill Buford

Ever dreamed of chucking it all and moving to France to become a chef? Bill Buford explains what it’s like in this tale of his five years in Lyon, studying at L’Institut Bocuse and working at a Michelin-starred restaurant. From butchering a pig to baking baguettes, Buford masters French cuisine and digs into how it influences the country’s history and culture. Fair warning: This book will leave you hungry.

9. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In Mexican Gothic, a 1950s debutante travels to a remote mansion to visit a cousin in distress and discovers that its wealthy inhabitants are hiding some very dark secrets. If your ideal summer book sends shivers down your spine, don’t miss this new novel, which comes out on June 30.

10. Had I Known: Collected Essays by Barbara Ehrenreich

These incisive and often wryly funny essays cover topics ranging from the author’s diagnosis of breast cancer to class inequality in the United States. Though the essays span a nearly 40-year career, readers may be surprised to discover how relevant some of Ehrenreich’s earliest op-eds still are.

11. Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

This ambitious, lyrical novel, first published in India in 2018, takes readers on a journey across the Asian subcontinent in four interlinked novellas, with characters ranging from scientists and elderly lovers to non-human beings like a turtle and the ghost of an ocean.

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Sarah Schlichter
Sarah Schlichter is a longtime travel writer and editor who formerly served as deputy executive editor at SmarterTravel.com and senior editor at IndependentTraveler.com. Her practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, Real Simple, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. When Sarah isn't traveling (or planning a trip), you'll probably find her reading, hiking, or walking her rescue dog Sylvie. Learn more about Sarah at her website.