Even if your days of mandatory summer reading are long gone, summer is still a great time to indulge in a new book or two.
The long, hot, afternoons of July and August have a way of making work or chores unthinkable, so if you’re feeling lazy, what better way to relax than by kicking back in a hammock with a glass of lemonade and a good story?
Most grownup summer reading lists focus on bodice-rippers and detective stories, and there’s nothing wrong with that; summer is the perfect time, after all, to do things just for fun. If you find yourself wanting to read something a bit more off the beaten path, though, why not try one of the following novels? All are page-turners guaranteed to keep you riveted whether you’re lounging on the beach or enduring a long plane ride, but their imaginative premises blow other attempts at mystery, romance, horror, and sci-fi/fantasy out of the water.
The White Devil, by Justin Evans
Evans takes the classic Victorian ghost story and gives it a fresh and literary twist by setting it in a boys’ boarding school once attended by Lord Byron himself. The result is a thrilling, creepy, and—in the end—surprisingly heartbreaking tale of obsession, revenge, and star-crossed love.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
Morgenstern’s dark and dreamlike novel tells the story of a mysterious circus and two young magicians named Celia and Marco who, though destined from birth to be rivals, nevertheless fall in love with each other. The Night Circus’s nonlinear narrative makes it a bit of a challenge, but rest assured that it is well worth the effort.
Defending Jacob: A Novel, by William Landay
In some ways reminiscent of William March’s classic The Bad Seed, Defending Jacob is both a murder mystery and a family drama. When a well-known attorney learns that his son is suspected of murdering a fellow student, he finds himself confronting disturbing questions about the nature of evil and the line between guilt and innocence.
Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith
Grahame-Smith’s reinterpretation of the Nativity is as original as his now-famous take on classic literature, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Unholy Night is almost guaranteed to spark controversy, but Grahame-Smith’s novel is neither an attack on nor a defense of Christianity; it is, however, a rollicking adventure in which the “Three Wise Men” are three thieves who find themselves reluctantly playing the role of escort to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph during their flight to Egypt.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games and its successors may be chock-full of action and adventure, but they also offer a surprisingly nuanced look at political oppression, societal corruption, and mass entertainment run amuck. Though aimed at pre-teens and adolescents, Collins’ dystopian trilogy is worth reading at any age.
The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman
A novel in the tradition of Atonement and A Farewell to Arms, The Lost Wife juxtaposes the horrors of war with the poignancy of lost love. Lenka and Josef meet and fall in love in 1930s Prague, are separated by the Nazi invasion and the Holocaust, and meet again by chance decades later in New York in a story that is both tragic and uplifting.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Despite its whimsical and lighthearted title, Riggs’ novel abounds with mystery and eeriness. To tell the story of a supposedly abandoned orphanage for children with uncanny and magical abilities, Riggs makes interesting use of vintage photographs; the result is a truly one-of-a-kind reading experience.