Summer reading lists aren’t just for kids, and beach reads don’t have to be fluffy (though there’s nothing at all wrong with a poolside Y.A. novel!). Queue up this list of engrossing books when there’s not a single breeze and the sidewalks are radiating heat—each one is absorbing enough to keep you from losing your cool.
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman
The obvious August attraction here is the fact that this book, about a young woman’s journey to learn about long-distance dog-sledding and, in turn, herself, takes place against a backdrop of frigid Norwegian tundras and an Alaskan glacier (the titular ice cube). But if that’s why you’re showing up, you’ll stay for the nail-biting adventures worthy of a Jack London novel, the intimate details about ethically training and caring for dogs, and how Braverman translates revelations about her identity and past into subtly profound statements on how our culture treats women. You’ll come away sharing the author’s firm belief that you don’t have to be a cookie-cutter badass to relish outdoor adventures—which, after all, are for everyone.
The Water Cure by Sophie Makintosh
Chilling in more ways than one, this gripping novel is part societal allegory, part electric thriller. Three sisters are raised isolated on an island in a sprawling, crumbling house by their attentive, often dangerous parents, who lead the girls in strength tests and purification rituals designed to protect them from the toxicity of the outside world. Much of the exterior dangers and illness are ascribed to men, and that is either perfectly fitting or painfully ironic depending on your view of their father’s actions. When both parents disappear and three shipwreck survivors—a young boy, his handsome father, and an older uncle—wash up on the shore, the three women react in radically different ways.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Transport your overheated summer self to a world of damp English shores, otherworldly monsters, and romantic mysteries with this almost unexpectedly wonderful novel by a British historian. It’s the tail end of the 1800s, and the science-obsessed widow Cora becomes taken with rumors of a mythical serpent devouring townspeople along a marsh in Essex. She decamps to investigate, and, in the process, becomes entwined with the locals in ways that lead to surprising and extremely satisfying conclusions. Through it all, the icy question remains: Are monsters real?
Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz
There’s no better ode to California beach culture than this heavily autobiographical tale by recently (and rightfully!) re-discovered author Eve Babitz, who catalogues the life of a Los Angeles surf babe–turned–party girl–turned–writer in this irreverent novel. Think Joan Didion with a dose of Thomas Pynchon-esque absurdity that is, above all, very, very cool.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
This riveting spy novel in the vein of a classic John LeCarré adventure twists the form by centering a black American-Carribean FBI agent named Marie. It’s easy to forget your own discomfort while watching Marie sweat through a threat to her two young boys, born out of an illicit on-assignment love affair with Burkina Faso’s embattled political leader. Deftly jumping back and forth in time, Wilkinson expertly lays out how Marie got into this situation—and how she plans to get out of it.