clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A collage of book covers featured in this piece: Home Before Dark, Shark Heart, Looking Glass Sound, Happy Place, Seven Days in June, Butts: A Backstory, and Raw Dog. Graphic: Pete Volk/Polygon | Image sources: Dutton, Berkley Books, Tor Nightfire, Grand Central Publishing, Simon & Schuster, Forge Books

Filed under:

The 10 best summer books for your 2023 beach trips

Kick back, relax, and enjoy these great books

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

The first day of summer might not be until June 21, but warmer weather and longer days mean you can spend more time outside in the sun enjoying a good book.

What you consider to be a “beach read” or what you bring to the pool is totally up to you. It could be a gripping thriller, a swoon-worthy romance, or anything in between. The most important thing about a good summer read is that it should be a book you don’t want to put down (even if you really need to put on another layer of sunscreen).

So grab your sun hat, your pool floaties, and your SPF, and take a look at the Polygon-flavored summer books below.

Cover art for Emily Henry’s Happy Place. The cover is pink, with a group of people jumping into the ocean with the sun on the horizon. Two people are in the foreground on floats. Image: Berkley Books

Happy Place by Emily Henry

If Riley Sager is the king of summer thrillers, then it’s fair to say that Emily Henry, with titles like Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation already under her belt, is the uncontested queen of summer romance novels. Equal parts sweet and spicy, her latest novel, Happy Place, is a second-chance romance with a plethora of classic tropes — fake dating, there’s only one bed, etc. — that will have you squealing in delight and sighing dreamily in equal measure.

Alternating between past and present timelines, Happy Place explores a tightly knit group of friends who have spent each summer together at a cottage in Maine. Things are a bit different this time around, though. The cottage is tragically up for sale, and Harriet and Wyn, while outwardly still a perfect couple, have yet to tell their friends that they broke up five months ago. In order to have one last perfect week with their friends, Harriet and Wyn strike a deal: They’ll put aside their differences and share one of the cottage’s guest bedrooms. To make matters infinitely more complicated, romantic feelings are rekindled as their time together comes to a close.

Cover image for Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark, which shows a house with the lights on obscured by fog. Image: Dutton

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Twenty-five years ago, in the middle of the night, Maggie Holt’s family fled the rambling Victorian estate where they lived. What drove them away after the three short weeks they spent there? Is there any credibility to her father’s controversial memoir, House of Horrors? Why can’t Maggie seem to remember the events of that fateful evening? Now a restorer of old homes herself, Maggie has returned and is determined to find some answers in the wake of her father’s death.

Maggie’s homecoming is unfortunately (and somewhat unsurprisingly) a far from welcome one. The locals are less than thrilled to see her, reporters are lurking around every corner, and something much more sinister seems to be stalking the dust-coated halls of her childhood home.

Riley Sager has truly cornered the market on summertime thrillers that are perfect for reading at the beach, by the pool, or sitting at home with the air conditioning turned all the way up. They’re fun, fast-paced, and full of twists that you won’t see coming. Home Before Dark, at its core an homage to classic gothic novels, is not to be missed.

Cover image for Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall, which features vines and plants in the shape of a human face. Image: Picador USA

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Set during a brutally hot summer in the marshes of rural Northumberland, England, Ghost Wall tells the story of 17-year-old Silvie and the rapidly deteriorating relationship she has with her family. Her domineering father’s fascination with Iron Age Britons has brought them to a university-funded encampment run by an archaeologist who is a little too invested in the region’s dark history. As Silvie spends more time with the archaeologist’s students, and as her father becomes increasingly violent, she begins to catch glimpses of a future for herself that she didn’t know was possible.

Though it’s only 152 pages, don’t let the size of this book fool you. It’s a heavy read, and Sarah Moss expertly ratchets up the disquiet and encroaching sense of dread with each page as the past blends seamlessly with the present.

Cover image for Claudia Cravens’ Lucky Red, which shows a woman standing in the desert with a colorful sky painted with purple, red, yellow and orange lines. Image: Dial Press

Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens

Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens is, hands down, one of my favorite books hitting shelves this summer. It’s an action-packed story of desire, and a delightfully queer subversion of the Western genre that puts a charismatic and sharp-tongued harlot front and center. If you watched Westworld and Maeve was your favorite character, then this book is for you.

Best described as True Grit by way of Sarah Waters, Lucky Red is set in the heart of the American West during the late 1800s and tells the story of Bridget, a young woman who finds herself penniless and alone after her father’s untimely death. Not one to wallow in self-pity, Bridget makes her way to Dodge City, where she is recruited to work at a brothel called the Buffalo Queen. The pay is good, the clientele (though utterly boring) treat her well, and she enjoys the company of the other women who work there. But Bridget’s life is, once again, turned on its head when the notorious female gunslinger, Spartan Lee, comes to town.

You’ll feel grit in your teeth and smell gunsmoke in the air by the end of this book (although that might just be sand from the beach and someone setting off fireworks in the distance).

Cover image of Catriona Ward’s Looking Glass Sound. The image is from inside a cave, with a skull-shaped exit out into the ocean, where we see an empty boat and a person floating. Image: Tor Nightfire

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward

If you’re anything like me, the middle of summer is your favorite time to read books that send a chill down your spine. There’s truly no better time to tell scary stories than when you’re up late, sitting around a bonfire on the beach with your friends or camping in the middle of the woods.

Set along the toothy coast of Maine in a quiet, picturesque coastal town, Catriona Ward’s latest psychological thriller, Looking Glass Sound, begins with the unpublished memoir of a young man by the name of Wilder Harlow. As Wilder attempts to recount the summer months he spent exploring Whistler Bay with his friends and telling stories about a serial killer known only as the Dagger Man, fact and fiction begin to blur together. Readers will question every word as Ward expertly weaves together an enigmatic story of friendship, young love, obsession, and horror.

Cover art for Tia Williams’ Seven Days in June, which shows a Black couple embracing on the cover, with red, dark blue, and light blue color blocks around them. Image: Grand Central Publishing

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

There’s truly no better way to spend a hot, hazy summer day than sitting by the pool reading a copy of Tia Williams’ steamy, contemporary romance novel, Seven Days in June.

Over the course of just seven days, Seven Days in June tells the story of Shane, an award-winning literary author who enjoys keeping to himself, and Eva, a single mother and bestselling erotica writer. Their chemistry is undeniably electric — this book truly sizzles from start to finish — but what their friends and loved ones don’t know is that Shane and Eva share a past. Twenty years ago they spent a sultry week together, and the pair haven’t been able to move on from the time they spent together since. In fact, Eva and Shane are so hung up on each other that they’ve been secretly writing about each other in their books.

When a chance encounter reunites them and exposes their connection to New York’s literary scene, Eva and Shane will be forced to face past mistakes and what, if anything, the future holds for them.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia cover Image: Del Rey

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a strange and sumptuous book that follows in the footsteps of the gothic tales that preceded it while still managing to turn the genre on its head in the most mind-boggling and mushroom-filled way.

Drawing from scandalous stories full of madness, sex, and murder, as well as the dark side of Mexico’s history, Mexican Gothic begins when Noemí Taboada’s father receives an unsettling letter from her cousin. Despite Noemí’s reservations — she much prefers parties to detective work — she heads to High Place, the distant estate that her cousin and her cousin’s mysterious English family have been calling home. What she discovers waiting for her there is equal parts menacing and alluring, and it will take all of Noemí’s willpower to make it back home in one piece.

Cover art for Emily Habeck’s Shark Heart: A Love Story. It is a light green cover, with a shark made out of flowers. Image: Simon & Schuster

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emily Habeck

If Shark Week has taught us anything, it’s that shark sightings are only natural during the summer. Sharks are an important part of the marine ecosystem and, while they might look menacing, are generally harmless to humans. So what would happen if, without any clear medical explanation, a person were to begin turning into a shark? This is the question that Emily Habek poses in her stunning and exceedingly strange debut novel, Shark Heart.

The first year of marriage is said to be the hardest, and newlywed couple Lewis and Wren face their greatest challenge yet when it is revealed that Lewis is going through the early stages of a rare carcharodon carcharias mutation. Lewis, in a transformation that is strangely reminiscent of Animorphs, is slowly turning into a great white shark. Wren is, understandably, devastated by the news, and begins to wonder if there is any way for her and Lewis to still be together when he is no longer human.

In many ways, Shark Heart feels like this summer’s answer to 2022’s runaway hit Our Wives Under the Sea. It’s as romantic as it is disquieting. Emily Habek clearly enjoys describing Lewis’ bones turning to cartilage in vivid detail and tugging at her reader’s heartstrings in equal measure.

Cover art for Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs by Jamie Loftus, a red cover with text written in the style of mustard. Image: Forge Books

Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs by Jamie Loftus

Love ’em or hate ’em, for many people, hot dogs are a staple of summer. They can be found at pool parties, baseball games, picnics, backyard barbeques, and at the beach. And now, thanks to Jamie Loftus, the history of hot dogs — ranging from Kayem to red snappers — is essential summer reading.

Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs is a positively delightful cross-country investigation into the cultural significance of hot dogs. Through a mix of her signature humor, reporting, and taste-testing, Loftus creates a truly unique travelog that digs into the strange (and sometimes violent) history that hot dogs are steeped in.

Cover image for Heather Radke’s Butts: A Backstory. It features a peach against a yellow background. Image: Simon & Schuster

Butts: A Backstory by Heather Radke

Summer is the time of year when people are wearing their shortest shorts and their smallest bathing suits, so what better way to celebrate everyone’s best assets than with a book about the relationship we have with our rear ends?

Through a combination of her tongue-in-cheek wit and thorough investigative reporting, Heather Radke explores our obsession with and the cultural importance of one particular body part. Butts takes readers from 19th-century London to the gym scene of the 1980s to the present day, all the while critically tackling larger subjects such as race, desire, and bodily autonomy as they have changed over the years.

Whether you think the subject matter is sexy or you’re just fascinated with their complicated history, Butts: A Backstory is a perfect book to pick up this summer for any nonfiction fan.