The term “beach read” can mean something different to each individual reader. Do you hear the phrase and think of a trashy romance, or maybe a police procedural that’s short and sweet and ultimately forgettable? Perhaps you think this label applies to any old paperback you don’t mind lugging around in a sandy beach bag full of spilled Cheetos. Whatever! But I think all readers can agree that a proper beach read must be compelling enough to suck you into its world despite the distractions of sunscreen reapplication and slushy alcoholic beverages. Or, if you’re not on vacation, less fun distractions like work and laundry and social interaction.
So whether you’re looking for entertaining beach reads that are heavier on the literary fiction side or ones that are full of supernatural creatures and improbable sexy times, here’s a list of five addicting series that will keep you company this summer, wherever you happen to be reading.
MaddAddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam
Genre: Speculative Fiction
How wigged out are you by the occasional expose that reveals what’s really in those McNuggets you love? (Admit it, they’re delicious.) If your answer is some variation of “extremely,” maybe don’t read these books. No, wait, read them and marvel at how such elegantly crafted prose can disturb you so deeply. But don’t worry about being grossed out by gore, because Margaret Atwood’s impeccable way with words just doesn’t do gratuitous violence or emotional manipulation. So sit back and enjoy her storytelling, and trust her to guide you through a horrifyingly near future post-apocalyptic world with style.
(Bonus! Series supposedly being adapted for television by HBO. I can’t wait to see what they do with the mutant pigoons.)
Fever Series, Karen Marie Moning
Darkfever, Bloodfever, Faefever, Dreamfever, Shadowfever
Genre: Urban Fantasy
The Irish Fae mythology has been covered a lot in recent fantasy, but this series is my current favorite. You will agonize over guessing the outcome of every intricately plotted mystery, but up until the very end you’ll still be surprised by how everything ties together. You might also be a little annoyed when you realize there was absolutely no way to accurately guess any outcome while reading, but you’ll still enjoy the ride. Really, I have no desire to discuss it flaws, because this series is just so fabulously entertaining. I have a feeling I’ll be rereading MacKayla Lane’s journey from a contentedly directionless airhead to a kicker of unseelie fae ass and lover of Jericho Barrons every summer.
Hyperion Cantos, Dan Simmons
Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, Rise of Endymion
Genre: Science Fiction
A Keats-themed planet, a poet whose violent muse tends to murder everyone around him, historical and political and literary references up the wazoo; this series is a science fiction-loving English major’s dream. A lot of the techie space jargon stuff floated way over my head, but I just waved at it happily and continued on with the compelling story. The first book’s Canterbury Tales-inspired format introduces seven far future pilgrims who swap hilarious, poignant, batshit crazy stories as they journey to meet a giant mysterious monster called the Shrike, who will grant one pilgrim his or her wish and impale the rest on his thorny metal tree of torment.
Black Jewels Trilogy, Anne Bishop
Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, Queen of the Darkness
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Well. This trilogy was my first foray into “dark fantasy”, and let me tell you, there is some seriously dark and weird shit going on throughout these books. And, fair warning, they’re extremely cheesy. Like, melodramatic, appealing-to-your-emotions-like-an-underdog-sports-movie cheesy. But Anne Bishop makes it work! Her world building is intricate and original but never clumsy or boring, and each of the characters (out of a very large cast) is fascinating. I love everything about these books, including the aforementioned weirdness and cheese, because they’re fun and I frequently found myself fist pumping in glee during my lunch breaks at work.
Outlander Series, Diana Gabaldon
Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, An Echo in the Bone, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood
Genre: Historical fiction, romance(ish)
I can’t stop talking about this series because I am ridiculously excited for the Starz television adaptation premiering on August 9. So one more time I will encourage anyone and everyone to pick up the first book and get hooked on the adventures of Claire Beauchamp Randall, a WWII combat nurse who mysteriously finds herself entangled in the dangerous 18th century politics of a bunch of kilted highlanders. The storyline might come across as a little ridiculous, especially to those who frown upon romancelandia type novels by default, but this series has so much more to offer than your average historical romance. The writing style is lovely, the historical details are well researched, and the story itself is compelling and fast-paced enough to give you one hell of a sunburn after you ignore reality long enough to forget to take a break from beach reading. And good lord, the swoon. The swoon is off the charts.