24 Books to Bring on Vacation, Recommended by Our Favorite Authors
We asked our favorite authors what they're reading this summer. Here are the books they recommend picking up.
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Our favorite authors dish on their summer reading picks
Emily Henry, David Baldacci, Rebecca Makkai … oh, my! When it comes to the best books, there’s a slew of contemporary writers on the market who just get us. And while there’s no shortage of book recommendations out there, when we connect with an author, we want to get our hands on whatever they’re reading. With that in mind, we reached out to our favorite authors to find out which page-turners are on their nightstands and which tomes they’ll gladly tote to the beach this summer.
Whether you aspire to read all the Elin Hilderbrand books in order, plan to take a crack at books like The Summer I Turned Pretty or are simply content to check out the latest travel books and beach reads, grab your beach chair, slather on some sunscreen and settle in for a summer-filled reading fest.
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The Only Survivors by Megan Miranda
Recommended by: Emily Henry, author of Happy Place
This gripping mystery, which hit shelves on April 11, 2023, is Megan Miranda’s latest addition to the thriller books genre. It tells the story of a group of former classmates who meet up on the 10th anniversary of a tragic accident. The plot thickens when one of the survivors disappears.
Why she loves it: “Its dual timelines allow it to operate as both a mystery novel and a thriller. Only Miranda very slowly unspools the story of the ‘accident’ and the many secrets surrounding both it and the people who didn’t survive the night. Meanwhile, in the present timeline, the sense of paranoia and mistrust among the friends grows. So you’re desperate to see where this is all going, but you’re also trying to figure out what already happened. It makes for incredible tension.”
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The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Recommended by: Rebecca Makkai, author of I Have Some Questions for You
Fans of books about friendship will want to pick up a copy of 2018’s The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. This coming-of-age title from one of our favorite authors centers on the relationship between a college freshman and an older woman who inspires the younger woman to rethink her life and ambitions.
Why she loves it: “This is a powerhouse of a novel—many points of view, many years, so much to think about—all centering on the sometimes-problematic mentorship of a young, ambitious writer by an older feminist icon. It’s a novel of ideas, but they’re attached to a page-turning story, one that takes you on a long and satisfying roller coaster ride.”
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
Recommended by: Ann Napolitano, author of Hello Beautiful
From one of the bestselling Asian American authors today comes the powerful story of a young boy growing up without his mother, a Chinese American poet who left him and his father three years ago. As Our Missing Hearts kicks into gear, young Bird receives a mysterious letter and drawing that prompts him to search for his mom. Relying upon mere details of her past, including that her books had been banned, and the stories she had told him as a child, he discovers the truth of what actually happened and what lies ahead for both of them. This 2022 novel is especially thought-provoking amid a recent resurgence of book bans.
Why she loves it: “I’m a fan of Ng, and I think this is her best book yet. The writing is truly lovely, and the story is moving from the first page. I care about, and am worried for, the young boy named Bird. The heightened atmosphere of the world Ng has created is charged, and every night I’m turning the page as fast as I can, needing to know if Bird and his mother will be OK.”
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
Recommended by: Kate White, author of Between Two Strangers
Set in the summer of 1854, The Ghost Map explores what happens when one of the first modern cities of the world succumbs to an emerging disease that lacks a cure. Amid London’s rising population and lack of means to control the outbreak, a physician and a religious figure work to contain a mounting health crisis. This nonfiction title came out in 2007, but it’s even more engrossing in the era of COVID-19.
Why she loves it: “I’m a little late to reading this wonderfully written book, but I’m so glad I got around to it. It’s part history, part riveting detective story about the brilliant physician who in the mid-1800s figured out that cholera wasn’t transmitted through the air, as absolutely everybody thought, but by contaminated drinking water.”
Happy Place by Emily Henry
Recommended by: Emma Straub, author of This Time Tomorrow
A new addition to the romance novel category (it came out on April 25, 2023) is this romp of a read from one of our favorite authors. In Happy Place, a couple who secretively broke up months ago join friends for an annual summer getaway. Keeping up their ruse is harder than they expected and ultimately has the twosome contemplating their future together again.
Why she loves it: “Emily Henry’s books are pure pleasure. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a little romance in their beach bag, or in their ears—any place can be a happy place if you’ve got a good audiobook, even folding laundry.”
The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War—A Tragedy in Three Acts by Scott Anderson
Recommended by: Andrew McCarthy, author of Walking with Sam: A Father, A Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain
World War II buffs will relish this perspective-driven narrative that chronicles the lives of four men whose varied experiences share a common bond: upholding the United States’s reputation in a post-war world. Brimming with details and backstories that traverse the globe, The Quiet Americans, published in 2020, takes a close look at the covert operations of the CIA and its pioneering role in the American government. If you’re a fan of historical fiction or biographies of soldiers and spies, you’ll want to pick up this novelesque history book.
Why he loves it: “It’s a deep dive into the beginning of American espionage while being an intimate portrait of individuals. It’s macro and micro at once—each illuminating the other. Simultaneously fascinating, jaw-dropping and tragic.”
I Will Find You by Harlan Coben
Recommended by: Kristin Hannah, author of The Four Winds
Harlan Coben’s utterly suspenseful 2021 thriller, I Will Find You, centers on a father wrongfully accused of his son’s murder. After learning his son is alive, he embarks on a quest to clear his own name and find his son, plotting his escape from prison, dodging the authorities and uncovering what really happened before it’s too late.
Why she loves it: “I have been reading Harlan Coben’s novels since the very beginning of his remarkable career. I love his trademark combination of suspense and emotion and relevance to today’s complicated world. His characters have become like old friends, and I can’t wait to dive into his literary world. I would—and have often—recommend his books to friends.”
Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo
Recommended by: Sloane Crosley, author of Cult Classic
In Magda Szabo’s 2016 novel, Iza’s Ballad, a mother and daughter learning to accept each other is the basis for a heart-wrenching story of familial love. Set against the backdrop of post-World War II Communist Hungary (the book was translated from the original Hungarian by George Szirtes), it centers on their changing relationship amid a new family dynamic.
Why she loves it: “I will give fair warning and say you have to push past the first 40 pages of gardens and grief and shawls before this delicate tale of two women reveals more of a real engine. When people recommend novels about mothers and daughters, I find those novels lean toward either the sappy or the cruel. Thus far, there’s just something very distinct and real about the dynamic between these two women and the sophisticated treatment of their politics. Szabo has such a haunting otherworldly style too.”
The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
Recommended by: Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Dog of the North
Originally published in 1940, Christina Stead’s classic work of historical fiction centers on a dysfunctional family before the term became part of the American zeitgeist. A father and mother with different temperaments struggle to manage their family and their own desires in this semi-autobiographical work set during the Great Depression.
Why she loves it: “I regret it’s taken me so long to get to this remarkable novel. … I’m astounded on every page by the lyrical virtuosity and elasticity of the prose, by the immediacy and originality of its scenes. And I’m not alone; it’s considered by many one of the great novels of the past century.”
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Recommended by: Adele Myers, author of The Tobacco Wives
A modern-day love story spanning 30 years, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is about Sam and Sadie, two college friends who ultimately become partners in a video game design business. As their relationship intensifies and they navigate the joys and heartaches that come with working together, they begin to understand that success isn’t defined solely by achievements and that the power of a lasting friendship, even when messy, triumphs all. The book is a triumph and rightfully made more than a handful of “best books of 2022” lists.
Why she loves it: “When my book club selected this book, I thought, ‘A book about gamers? Not for me.’ How wrong I was! This beautiful story of friendship, love, creativity and loss hooked me from the first page. The interplay between the characters’ lives and the games they created opened my eyes to a world I knew little about. When I finished it, I felt lost. I miss Sam, Sadie and Marx. I miss them so much I might take up gaming. That’s how good it is.”
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
Recommended by: Fiona Davis, author of The Spectacular
Joining the must-read list of books by Black authors, Brendan Slocumb’s 2022 novel, The Violin Conspiracy, follows a Black classical musician destined for stardom. On the night of a career-defining competition, when his prized, family heirloom violin is taken hostage, Ray sets out to recover the lost instrument and affirm his commitment to not only his profession but also his dreams.
Why she loves it: “Slocumb’s debut is about a Black classical violinist whose family fiddle turns out to be a priceless instrument. When it goes missing, he has to track down the thief while navigating a career-defining competition. The novel is a thrilling mystery as well as a gripping family drama, and the way Slocumb talks about music (he’s a musician himself) is truly joyous.”
Horse by Geraldine Brooks
Recommended by: David Baldacci, author of Simply Lies
A moving work of historical fiction that alternates between the present and the 1850s, Horse, which came out in 2022, consists of three narratives in which the worlds of art and science intersect and the issues of slavery, independence and what it means to be free are at the forefront.
Why he loves it: “Her research is world class, her writing elegant, her sense of place and pacing spot on. I love fiction and history, and she gives me both in copious amounts, all wrought by a storyteller of the first order. And the added bonus was I learned things that I should have known but didn’t. Read this book.”
Vanishing Maps by Cristina García
Recommended by: Angie Cruz, author of How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water
This multigenerational tale of four Cuban family members scattered across the globe explores their individual quests to develop a sense of self while still honoring their roots. With stories hailing from the United States, Germany, Russia and, of course, Cuba, each character takes their own journey to self-discovery before reuniting in Berlin. A welcome addition to an expanding genre of books by Latinx authors, Cristina García’s Vanishing Maps hits shelves on July 18, 2023.
Why she loves it: “I am a super fan of Cristina García’s storytelling style; her books, funny and smart, have electric and complicated worlds with characters full of contradictions and vitality. Vanishing Maps is even more enjoyable to me because it is set 20 years after her debut novel, Dreaming in Cuban, a book that influenced and inspired me to tell my own stories. Anyone who loves to read about lovable and infuriating matriarchal figures set in multiple cities across the globe should read this book.”
Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
Recommended by: Ann Hood, author of Fly Girl
Fresh from one of our favorite authors is this 2023 story of William, a young man who, years after a childhood tragedy, becomes an integral part of his girlfriend’s family. As he comes to know each of her three sisters, his past suddenly confronts him, threatening to uproot not only his relationship with Julia but also the possibility of their future together.
Why she loves it: “I love to read and recommend a big book, by which I don’t mean lots of pages but rather a book full of interesting characters that spans many years—like this one! It begins with William, a lonely child who gets swept up into the world of basketball and, ultimately, into the world of a family with four daughters who all love him in a different way. Hello Beautiful breaks your heart, then slowly puts it back together again.”
Reef Road by Deborah Goodrich Royce
Recommended by: Luanne Rice, author of The Shadow Box
Set against the backdrop of the 2020 pandemic, Reef Road is an intriguing story of two women from seemingly different walks of life in Palm Beach, Florida, who cross paths when a severed hand washes up on the beach. A reclusive writer who is haunted by a friend’s murder and a woman whose husband and children are missing join forces to solve the mystery in this compelling read from January 2023.
Why she loves it: “Reef Road is riveting and suspenseful. The first time I read it, I tore through the pages, needing to find out what was going to happen next—a truly up-all-night experience. But I felt drawn to reread this fascinating novel, to absorb all the clues—not just those in the intricate plot, but the deeper truths about generational trauma, how an act of violence echoes through the decades, touching people who weren’t even born when it first occurred. With great insight, Deborah Goodrich Royce examines evil, shines light on her characters’ lives and has written a great psychological thriller.”
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Recommended by: Suzanne Park, author of The Do-Over
A daring art heist is at the root of this 2022 mystery novel. In Portrait of a Thief, Harvard undergrad Will is thrown off course when he is contacted by a Chinese benefactor with an unusual request. What ensues is a fast-paced read inspired by real-life accounts of Chinese art heists.
Why she loves it: “I read the book a year ago but listened to the audiobook for spring break this year. It’s well paced, and there’s an exciting art heist. I found it to have remarkable depth, too, as it also manages to incorporate themes of cultural appropriation, belonging and familial expectations.”
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Recommended by: T.C. Boyle, author of Blue Skies
This 2017 nonfiction book, written by a professor of sociology at Princeton, follows the lives of eight families living in Milwaukee and struggling to maintain a home. Desmond’s work provides an inner glimpse into the shocking reality of the American housing crisis that is still relevant today.
Why he loves it: “It is compelling, shocking and depressing in equal parts and a real eye-opener in terms of illuminating the way society treats and profits off the poor. I’d recommend Evicted to friends far and wide, as it is able to summon the deepest emotional response in its readers.”
Tiger Country: A Novel of the Wild Southwest by Stephen J. Bodio
Recommended by: James A. McLaughlin, author of Panther Gap
In Tiger Country, a 2018 debut novel by travel writer Stephen J. Bodio, the New Mexican landscape and its wildlife inhabitants are on the minds and in the hearts of a diverse range of characters. From naturalists and political activists to the media and ranchers, each shines a light on what it means to coexist with nature and how the survival of a single species rests in their hands. If you love novels with settings that come to life, check out the most iconic book set in every state.
Why he loves it: “I’m only about halfway in right now, but I’m entranced by Bodio’s deep engagement with wild New Mexico and the outsize characters who live there. The plot is right in my wheelhouse—a madcap plan to ‘revive the Pleistocene’—and the writing itself puts me in mind of a cross between Ed Abbey and Jim Harrison, but Bodio’s style is unique. Tiger Country is his first novel, and it’s shot through with the ‘real’: gritty firsthand experience with every aspect of living in the Southwest, from ranching to rodeo to a delight in rare rattlesnakes. That hard-won authenticity is juiced by Bodio’s highly sophisticated natural history and science chops, as well as his broad cultural facility.”
Sleepless City by Reed Farrel Coleman
Recommended by: Brendan DuBois, co-author of Countdown
The first book in the Nick Ryan series, Sleepless City (hitting shelves on July 11, 2023) is a suspenseful read about a veteran NYPD cop who works tirelessly to get the job done, no matter how involved it is. While he’s the one fellow cops call when they are in trouble, Nick has his own challenges to face as he takes to the streets.
Why he loves it: “As the novel opens, Ryan is recruited to serve for a shadowy group of prominent New York officials, who need a man like Ryan to work behind the scenes, eliminate dangerous men and operate in the shadows to maintain peace and order in New York. With crisp dialogue, taut suspense and an incredibly detailed vision of Manhattan and its boroughs, Reed Farrel Coleman has written a modern noir tale that will be long remembered.”
The Long March Home by Marcus Brotherton and Tosca Lee
Recommended by: Don Bentley, author of Forgotten War
The bombing of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath informs the plot of this new work of historical fiction. Three young soldiers aiming to stay alive and return home become entrenched in the battle on the infamous Bataan Peninsula, where they are forced into a war that will consume nearly four years of their young lives. A tense, engrossing tale, The Long March Home landed on bookstore shelves on May 2, 2023, and is a stellar new book to read.
Why he loves it: “The book is fiction, but as a veteran of Afghanistan, the depictions of friends who become brothers in the crucible of combat really resonated with me. In my opinion, this is one of the finest books of historical wartime fiction since Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer.”
Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan
Recommended by: Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Romantic Comedy
When an Indian American husband and wife decide to go their separate ways after 36 years of their arranged marriage, their family life is upended, and the fallout has their children at odds within their own relationships. As these characters navigate the world of online dating and real-life romantic entanglements, the unexpected humor makes for a touching tale. Published on May 2, 2023, Late Bloomers is both funny and moving—a family drama the entire family can enjoy.
Why she loves it: “I like that characters are nuanced and real-seeming, and I’m intrigued about the insights about family, love, relationships and the upheaval of relationships.”
Love & Other Scams by Philip Ellis
Recommended by: R. Eric Thomas, author of Congratulations, The Best Is Over!
What’s a summer reading list without a fun, feel-good rom-com in the mix? That’s what you’ll get with 2023’s Love & Other Scams. Partners in crime set out to pull off a high-stakes job at a posh wedding in this romp of a read. But with one character focused on the theft of an object and the other on stealing her heart, these con artists slowly find that when it comes to life and love, the sight lines can be blurry. For more light summery reading, make your way through the Summer I Turned Pretty books in order.
Why he loves it: “This is a rom-com caper set in and around the wedding world, so it rings all my fizziest, flirtiest, sauciest and swindling-est bells. I’d recommend it to any friend who loves fun or has gossiped with me at the back table of a wedding reception.”
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney
Recommended by: Disha Bose, author of Dirty Laundry
A whodunit set on a remote island during a family member’s birthday party is the setup for Alice Feeney’s 2022 thriller, Daisy Darker. But at the stroke of midnight, when the guest of honor is found dead and successive deaths follow, the title character must find out the identity of the killer before the tide—and time—runs out.
Why she loves it: “It’s a dark, atmospheric thriller, set in an old mansion on an isolated island. A dysfunctional family has gathered for the reading of a will, which makes it reminiscent of a Christie novel. I’m still waiting for the twist, which I haven’t figured out yet, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey.”
Meet the Benedettos by Katie Cotugno
Recommended by: Elissa Sussman, author of Once More with Feeling
While author Elissa Sussman may be reading Meet the Benedettos this summer, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for your chance to pick up Katie Cotugno’s latest—it comes out on Dec. 5, 2023, though you can preorder it now. This contemporary family drama centers on a group of twentysomething sisters/reality show superstars whose new reality of post-celebrity life has them on a downward spiral. When a handsome star and his pal move into the neighborhood, the sisters suddenly have something—and someone—on which to focus their attention. Figuring out who winds up with whom makes for its own level of entertainment.
Why she loves it: “I love a Pride and Prejudice retelling, and I’d read Katie Cotugno’s grocery list, so it’s a perfect combination of my interests. Cotugno’s writing is fun and fresh, and her attentive, clever eye should make me mad with jealousy—instead, it just makes me happy that she’s written another wonderful book.”