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12 of the Best Summer Reads: 2016

The books you won't want to put down this season.

I met my friend Rachel during our first week of college, and by the second week, I already regarded her as my most trusted source for book recommendations. She is and has always been a voracious reader—you may have seen her "Reading, Lately" posts on her blog, Heart of Light—and has the ability to tear through several books a week. Since I ask her every summer for her go-to reads for the beach and beyond, I thought I'd have her share her recent favorites here: 

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The first thing you need to know is that I’m not a fan of the term “beach reads,” most oft-used to categorize summer reads, because it feels a little demeaning. Don’t get me wrong—I’m an avid reader and I happily alternate between classic literature and trashy thrillers. I just don’t believe in limiting my vacation reading to any one category. Here are a few of my favorite suggestions to add to your summer reading list, depending on what you're in the mood for...

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The Poison Tree: A naïve, young college student throws caution to the wind when she meets a fascinating and unconventional new friend, but their dreamy summer of irresponsibility soon turns into a nightmare. The writing is strong and the plot is twisty, so be prepared for some late nights.

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Rennie Airth’s John Madden series (River of Darkness, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, The Dead of Winter, The Reckoning) is set in the English countryside in the aftermath of WWI. The detective is a brooding soldier, fresh out of the trenches, trying to put his life back together. Don’t let the bucolic setting fool you—these mysteries are disturbing in the best possible way and, if you're anything like me, you'll get so attached to the characters that it’s sometimes a little stressful. There are four books so far and the fifth is expected to be released early in 2017 (yay!).

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Department of Speculation: This is a slim, beautiful piece of writing and you’ll have to force yourself to slow down so you can absorb it properly. It's a simple premise—tracing a woman's adult life in bits and pieces but the voice is perfect—humorous and honest and beautiful. I liked the lack of detail, the way the writing felt like memories and the way the timeline played out with occasional jumps.

We The Animals:Justin Torres’ short debut novel whisks you through a childhood that is rough and messy and pierced with moments of intense beauty. It’s tough to write about childhood in a way that is honest because it’s tempting to simplify the emotions that children feel. This book avoids that pitfall and manages to touch on really difficult topics in a way that feels tender. You’ll want to re-read it as soon as you finish.

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Justin Cronin’s vampire-apocalypse series (The Passage, The Twelve, The City of Mirrors) isn’t just about terrifying bloodsuckers, it also features some amazing landscapes that will leave you itching for an adventure (hopefully minus the imminent threat of death). As a California native I particularly loved the vivid descriptions of the 10 freeway as a deserted wasteland. Good news: The last book in the trilogy was released in May, so you can now binge read straight through.

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Young Skins: A strong debut collection from Irish author Colin Barrett. All these short stories are set in a small Irish town. The writing is fresh and energizing and darkly humorous, even if the subject matter is usually depressing.

A Manual for Cleaning Women: My only complaint about this collection is that it could have stood for some judicious editing – there are so many stories included and some could have been weeded out. But so many of the stories are flat-out amazing that I still recommend it all the time. The writing is lyrical and cutting and effortless.

Get in Trouble: I love telling people to read this book but I hate giving a description. Just do it. It feels more magical if you read it without knowing what you’re getting into. The stories are dark, imaginative, and completely unexpected.

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The Magicians trilogy (The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land) tells the darkly funny story of a bratty, overly academic kid who gets whisked away to a magical boarding school. This series has pluses and minuses for me (I’m easily annoyed by over-privileged teenagers) but the writing is snappy and the descriptions of magic as a really physical, grueling challenge are so great. C.S. Lewis devotees will love that the main plot circles around a Narnia-esque land brought to life. I also found that the characters grow up a bit by the last book, which really pulled it all together for me.

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These books are high-quality enough that you won’t be embarrassed if someone asks you what you’re reading, and so absorbing that even poolside cocktails won’t be able to distract you.

Liars and SaintsIf you love sagas, you will love this book. It follows a Californian family through several generations, tracing their origins and their complicated relationships. I never wanted it to end.

The Truth According to UsThis is a charming novel set in a small town in West Virginia in the 1930s. It’s funny and sweet and features a cast of characters that you will fall in love with immediately.

Beautiful RuinsPure Hollywood madness set against gorgeous backdrops–this is basically your ideal escapist novel. The writing is good, and there’s plenty of humor and romance.

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