Put Down the Self-Help Books—17 Novels Our Editors Are Reading to Escape Right Now

Summer afternoons were made for this.

By Camille Styles
claire zinnecker in hammock by lake, summer getaway, best fiction books

The newest business book, memoirs of people who inspire me, cutting-edge nutritional guides… one peek at my nightstand reveals that nonfiction books aimed at helping me become my best self are my default reading material. However, during a bout of insomnia I experienced a couple of years back, I realized that there are times when my mind just needs to shut off, and nothing helps me break my ruminating better than getting lost in the world of the best fiction books. Growing up, you’d rarely find me without at least three novels going at once—diving into a great story was my favorite form of entertainment, and I credit that love of reading as the backbone of my love of writing today (not to mention excellent spelling skills and an expansive vocabulary, if I do say so myself.) But today, I sometimes have to remind my Type A self that reading fiction isn’t a waste of time compared to the learning that happens with books specifically labeled “personal development.”

Research shows that, although nonfiction can help us build knowledge, it’s fiction that develops our “emotional quotient,” or EQ. It can increase social acuity, empathy, and critical thinking.

And that’s all in addition to the fact that getting lost in a juicy novel is one of the most fun things ever, especially during summer when a beach towel or hammock calls us to kick back with a good book.

Since I’m quite picky when it comes to choosing what I read (after all, if I’m going to devote eight or more hours to one storyline, it better be good!), I polled our team of trusted editors to find out the best fiction books they’re reading to escape this summer. My qualifications for a great read are twofold: First, I have to really care about the characters and what happens to them. And second, even if it’s escapist fiction, it must be well-written. Call me a snob, but I just can’t with bad writing. Our editors delivered the goods with 17 fictional books they’re loving for summer 2021. Read on for their recos, and add yours in the comments!

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Scroll on for the 17 Best Fiction Books Our Editors Say You Should Read This Summer…

Normal People, by Sally Rooney

Recommended by Michelle Nash, Senior Producer

“I literally read this book in one day. Normally I like to keep a novel on my nightstand to lull me to sleep in the evenings and I’ll drift off after a couple of chapters (or pages). Every once in a while though, I’ll come across a book so good that hours have passed and I’ve suddenly devoured the whole thing. This was one of those books!”

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Recommended by Riley Reed, Wellness Editor

“I discovered this book through one of my favorite book reviewers @but_i_thought_. First, I have to acknowledge the author, Kazuo Ishiguro. After reading the book I watched a profound interview where he talks about his writing style as one that compels the reader to think beyond the book for hours or even days. He says, “It seems to me odd when I listen to creative writing classes…the emphasis seems to be almost neurotically on how you hold the reader’s attention. This is all very important but I hear very little about how you stay in people’s minds afterward… It’s easy to be gripping and sensational but how do you linger? How do you haunt people?”

And that is why I absolutely loved Klara and the Sun. It won’t leave me. Though it speaks to artificial intelligence and the future of our society, it largely encompasses love, loneliness, and the meaning of family. The main character is imperfect yet flawless in her naivety, innocence, and curiosity about the world. Her empathy, despite the fact that she is a robot, is incredibly profound. There is dichotomous energy about the book… this delicate balance between revealing and withholding. Ishiguro paints just enough of a picture to leave you hooked while giving you space to conjure up images and details on your own.

My favorite novels completely alter my view of the world by seamlessly taking me out of my own reality. Klara and the Sun did just that… exquisitely.”

The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean M. Auel

Recommended by Sacha Strebe, Deputy Editor

“This book is one of my favorite reads of. all. time! I have read all six of them twice and am contemplating reading them all again this summer. This story is about a young girl named Ayla who is separated from her family during an earthquake in the ice age. She is on the brink of death when Iza—a medicine woman from the Clan—finds her but Ayla doesn’t look like them. She is Cro Magnum with blue eyes and blonde hair while the Clan is Neanderthal. They put her in the category of “the Others,” even calling her ugly, and in fact, the leader of the Clan wants to leave her for dead. But Iza feels an instant bond with Ayla and convinces him to keep her, promising she will train her in their ways. And so the story begins of how Ayla adapts to their customs and traditions, but it isn’t easy for her, she’s treated like an outcast, and life is very difficult. This story is a beautiful account of resilience, love, adventure, and perseverance in the face of adversity, while also serving as a historical look into how our previous ancestors lived and evolved from caves to nomads to farmers. It’s a riveting read. Prepare to be hooked!”

When the Stars Go Dark, by Paula McLain

Recommended by Camille Styles, Editor-in-Chief

“It’s been so long since I’ve read a suspenseful thriller, I’d forgotten how much I look forward to climbing into bed at night to truly lose myself in a great novel. When the Stars Go Dark focuses on a detective who flees to Northern California to escape a tragic loss in her own life. Of course, once there, she gets drawn into an ongoing mystery of a missing teenage girl, and a heart-pounding thriller ensues. I literally could not put it down until I found out the ending!”

Shiver, by Allie Reynolds

Recommended by Caitlin Clark, Contributing Editor

This book, published in January of 2021, has everything I’m looking for in a fun summer read. There’s a fascinating whodunit, a group of attractive former athletes, and, most importantly, it all takes place at a beautiful resort in the French Alps. It’s a page-turner, but I’m currently trying to pace myself to make it last. Physically, I’ll be baking in the summer sun, but mentally, I’ll be with my friends (one of whom may be a murderer I guess) on the frosty mountain top.”

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Recommended by Hannah Zahner, Beauty and Wellness Editor

“Not a new book (published in 2014) but a favorite nonetheless. After raving reviews from multiple friends, I finally picked up a copy last year. I love a good war novel, and this one set late in World War II, in the little French city of Saint-Malo, is full of beautiful imagery and emotion without being too flowery or dragging on. It follows a blind French girl and a German boy, as their journey through wartime overlaps their stories. I couldn’t put this one down, and as a good war book does, it envelopes you in a time full of sorrow mingled with gentle beauty and triumph.”

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Recommended by Lourdes Avila Uribe, Contributing Editor

“I first read Fitzgerald’s classic novel when I was in high school, and find it to be the perfect book to revisit during the hot months. It’s the quintessential tale of its era, which the New York Times described as a time when “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession. What more could you want? It remains fresh, sexy, and the best juicy summer read. You can almost feel the heat, taste the cocktails, and see the longing looks—the descriptions jump off the page and live vividly in my mind. I really can’t get enough of it! If you haven’t read it since your school days, or if you’ve never checked it out, the summer is the perfect time to crack it open and enjoy it with an adult beverage of your choice. It’s a quick and pleasant read.”

When Life Gives You Lululemons, by Lauren Weisberger

Recommended by Bridget Chambers, Editorial Intern

“This book is technically a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada but is just as good on its own. It was the perfect beach read, as it is clever, funny, and highly entertaining. The story follows former Miranda Priestly intern Emily Charlton and two other women in their efforts to bring down a powerful man. It made me want to drop everything and pursue a career in celebrity damage control, although I could never handle the stress!”

The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave

Recommended by Camille Styles, Editor-in-Chief

“I always love the suspense of a novel that hinges on a character who’s not quite what they appear, and in The Last Thing He Told Me, Dave takes that concept to new heights. The main character, Hannah, finds out that the love of her life, Owen, isn’t who he said he was—on the day that he disappears, his former boss is arrested by the FBI, and federal agents arrive at her home to drill her with questions. As Hannah and Bailey (Owen’s 16-year-old daughter) begin a journey to find out the truth of his identity, they form an unlikely partnership that also turns this into a great family drama. If you (like me) are always looking for that rare thriller that isn’t at all gory or disturbing, this is it. The riveting mystery will leave you guessing until the final chapter.”

Where Jasmine Blooms, by Holly Warah

Recommended by Edie Horstman, Wellness Contributor

“Truth be told, fiction isn’t at the top of my reading list. I’d rather skim through wellness blog posts or flip through a cookbook. Otherwise, I’m re-reading old issues of Sunset or the Magnolia Journal. But, I recently finished Where Jasmine Blooms, and I loved it. This heartwarming, cross-cultural story is so beautifully written. Warah’s storyline lures you in, page after page about Palestinian culture, marriage, and motherhood. It’s moving and heartbreaking, a book that touches on all senses.”

Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub

Recommended by Lourdes Avila Uribe, Contributing Editor

“Straub writes the perfect summertime novels, and while Modern Lovers isn’t her most recent book, it’s definitely one of my faves. She manages to sharply capture all the different iterations of Brooklyn’s mom (without parodying any of them or being too biting) as she tells the story of old friends raising their families in New York. It’s a funny, sweet, and sometimes brutal look at middle age, relationships, friendships, parenting, and career/life shifts.”

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

Recommended by Camille Styles, Editor-in-Chief

The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse

Recommended by Emerson Prokos, Social Media Intern

“The Sanatorium provides you with a perfect escape from reality. From the moment I picked up this book, I could not put it down. The author crafts each character and scene with so many descriptive words that I felt like I was really there in the chilling Swiss Alps. If you love a thrilling murder mystery, The Sanatorium is the book for you. It is sure to not only keep you entertained with the plentiful twists and turns, but the Sarah Pearse novel will also keep you on the edge of your seat and constantly looking over your shoulder.”

American Royals, by Katharine McGee

Recommended by Michelle Nash, Senior Producer

“I highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted vacation read with some good drama. American Royals follows the story of the “American royal family,” as if our country had accepted a monarchy instead of democracy upon its inception. It’s entertaining, witty, and hard to put down!”

Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters

Recommended by Lourdes Avila Uribe, Contributing Editor

“I hate to be a cliche, but there are simply few things as deliciously indulgent as lesbian historical fiction. Tipping the Velvet explores the “ lesbian underworld” of 1890s England. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young woman who falls in love with a male impersonator and discovers herself and her sexuality while trying to stay afloat in hardscrabble London. It’s an entertaining, engrossing, and let’s be real, incredibly sexy look at queer life during the Victorian era. It’s the perfect beach read!”

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

Recommended by Michelle Nash, Senior Producer

“I was a little late to the party on this book, but it was definitely worth the wait. Vanishing Half follows the story of black twin sisters in the American south who go on to lead completely separate lives. It effortlessly switches between voices to tell a larger story about family ties and racial identity.”

November 9, by Colleen Hoover

Recommended by Bridget Chambers, Editorial Intern

“To be honest, I only ever bought this book because November 9th is my birthday, but once I stopped reading it I couldn’t put it down. It was definitely a little cheesy, but aren’t all good light romances? Cheesiness aside, this book will keep you guessing and turning page after page to see what happens between Fallon and Ben on every November 9th for years. I can guarantee that you won’t predict the ending, and must warn you that you will laugh (and cry) out loud, so choose your reading spot wisely.”