Best summer books 2016

full title · On the Beach

author · Nevil Shute

type of work · Novel

genre · Apocalyptic novel; science fiction novel; social criticism; tragedy

language · English

time and place written · Mid-1950s; Australia

date of first publication · 1957

publisher · Ballantine Books

narrator · Third-person omniscient narrator, with perspective shifting among the main characters

point of view · The narrator speaks in the third person, and switches from person to person, giving a complete picture of the events. The narrator primarily provides an objective viewpoint, telling what the characters look like and do and revealing few of their inner thoughts.

tone · Sincere; sorrowful; warning

tense · Immediate past

setting (time) · December 1962 to August 1963, one year after the end of a worldwide nuclear war

setting (place) · Primarily Melbourne, Australia, and other towns in southeastern Australia; also a submarine voyage to Seattle and nearby coastal areas of Washington State

protagonist · Primarily Dwight Towers and Moira Davidson, though Peter Holmes and John Osborne also have major roles

major conflict · The characters cope with the reality that they are among the few people in the world left alive after a catastrophic nuclear war, and that within several months they too will inevitably die from radiation sickness

rising action · The characters get to know each other; the Jorgensen theory provides some hope that the radiation might subside; the mysterious radio signal from the Seattle area also provides home that some have survived; the submarine searches for life along the coast of northern Australia but finds none

climax · The investigation of the Seattle radio signal finds that it has been a false hope; the Jorgensen theory is disproved

falling action · The submarine returns to Australia after the trip to America; the characters spend their last days in various ways; all ultimately commit suicide with pills as radiation sickness sets in

themes · Self-destruction; humankind’s destructive relationship with technology; knowledge as both danger and salvation

motifs · Work; sanity; obedience

symbols · The radio signal from Seattle; the beach; the narcissus flower

foreshadowing · The epigraph to the novel quotes T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” which indicates that the world will end “ot with a bang but a whimper”

On the Beach

On the Beach Introduction

Before Mad Mad: Fury Road, before I Am Legend, before The Walking Dead, there was one true king of the post-apocalyptic genre: Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. It may be less flashy, but this timeless novel has one thing that those modern masterpieces of post-apocalyptic panic can’t touch—it’s actually realistic.

Written in the early days of the Cold War, On the Beach is a reaction to the growing proliferation of nuclear weapons. Just look at how Shute depicts World War III: what begins as a tiny, regional conflict sprawls out of control through a series of betrayals and misunderstandings until, finally, the whole planet is locked in a duel to death. Roughly four thousand nukes later, the entire Northern Hemisphere is a heaping pile of rubble. It’s like everyone just hit an RKO outta nowhere on each other at the same time.

From there, we catch up with a groups of survivors in Melbourne, Australia, which was far enough south to miss out on the war altogether. That doesn’t mean the Australians out of the woods, though: the radioactive fallout is heading south and will hit them by September. After that? Yeah, you don’t survive massive radiation clouds. Sorry.

That leaves our characters with a mere nine months to make their peace and say their goodbyes.

Another thing that makes this novel uniquely, chillingly realistic is that Shute backs up his plot with some legit knowledge that makes the whole scenario that much scarier. Shute, in fact, had a successful career as an aeronautics engineer before achieving international recognition as an author. We can imagine he was pretty busy back then, his days embroiled in the life of an engineer and his nights spent mining for literary gold. Still, all of that hard work paid off with the 1957 publication of On the Beach, which would go on to become his most highly regarded work.

Anyway, it’s an eventful nine months for the characters in On the Beach—to say the least. As we watch the struggles of a diverse group of characters, we gain a frighteningly intimate understanding of what it would be like to live through such trying times.

And we haven’t even mentioned that mysterious radio broadcast from Seattle. Oh well, you’ll see soon enough….

What is On the Beach About and Why Should I Care?

What would you do if you found out that you only had one year to live?

Would you try to fulfill a childhood fantasy? Would you take one last shot at bagging the bae of your dreams? Or would you just go about life as usual?

As it happens, this is the exact predicament faced by the characters of On the Beach, each of whom reacts to it in a different way. John Osborne buys the Ferrari he’s been drooling over since he was ten. Moira Davidson, throwing logic out the window, pursues the man of her dreams. And Peter and Mary Holmes take comfort in the ritualistic pleasure of everyday life.

Although you probably won’t meet your end in anything as flashy as a nuclear holocaust, you’re—spoiler alert—going to bite the dust one way or another. You might call that a bummer, but we don’t think it has to be. Instead, take it as a reminder to seize the day…because you never know which day might end with a nuclear explosion.

On the Beach Resources


The Doomsday Clock
Want to know how close we are to the end of the world? Click at your own peril…

Nevil Shute Homepage
Fellow Shute-Heads, we’d like to introduce you to your new favorite website.

Movie or TV Productions

On the Beach (1959)
Gregory Peck? Ava Gardner? Nuclear radiation? Count us in.

On the Beach Trailer
Release you inner hipster and check out this vintage trailer for On the Beach.

Articles and Interviews

Five “Scary” Experiments That Did Not Destroy the World
The world could end in a lot of ways, so it’s comforting to know that we can rule a few things out.

How the Manhattan Project Scientists Unwittingly Abetted the Vietnam War
This fascinating article reveals the complicated history behind the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the first atomic bomb.


The Moment in Time: The Manhattan Project
This video from the University of California tackles the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S. research project that culminated in the invention of the atom bomb.

Fallout Trailer
Although the documentary Fallout focuses on the film adaptation of On the Beach, it still contains plenty of insight into the book.


Myla Goldberg on On the Beach
In this brief NPR piece, author Myla Goldberg talks about her deep affection for On the Beach.

Welcome To The Nuclear Command Bunker
Want to know what it’s like to be the dude in charge of launching nuclear bombs? Click it, Shmoopers.


A Nuclear Explosion
This is an animated gif of a nuclear explosion. It’s really, really, really big.

A Vintage Copy of On the Beach
Man, they don’t make book covers like they used to…

With his lips clamped firmly onto hers, he probed the fleshy floor of her mouth, then moved around inside the teeth of her lower jaw to the empty place where three years ago a wisdom tooth had crookedly grown until removed under general anesthesia. This cavity was where her own tongue usually strayed when she was lost in thought. By association, it was more like an idea than a location, a private imaginary place rather than a hollow in her gum, and it seemed peculiar to her that another tongue should be able to go there too. … He wanted to engage her tongue in some activity of its own, coax it into a hideous mute duet. … She understood perfectly that this business with tongues, this penetration, was a small-scale enactment, a ritual tableau vivant, of what was still to come, like a prologue before an old play that tells you everything that must happen.

Image Ian McEwanCredit…Eamonn McCabe

The bulk of “On Chesil Beach” consists of a single sex scene, one played, because of the novel’s brevity and accessibility, in something like “real time.” Edward and Florence have retreated, on their wedding night, to a hotel suite overlooking Chesil Beach. Edward wants sex, Florence is sure she doesn’t. The situation is miniature and enormous, dire and pathetic, tender and irrevocable. McEwan treats it with a boundless sympathy, one that enlists the reader even as it disguises the fact that this seeming novel of manners is as fundamentally a horror novel as any McEwan’s written, one that carries with it a David Cronenberg sensitivity to what McEwan calls “the secret affair between disgust and joy.” That horror is located in the distance between two selves, two subjectivities: humans who will themselves to be “as one,” and fail miserably. The horror is in the distance between these sentences, which reside terrifyingly near to one another on the page: Florence: In deciding to be married, she had agreed to exactly this. She had agreed it was right to do this and have this done to her. Edward: When he heard her moan, Edward knew that his happiness was almost complete. The horror further exfoliates in the (utterly normal) physical calamity that ensues: Had she pulled on the wrong thing? Had she gripped too tight? He … emptied himself over her in gouts, in vigorous but diminishing quantities. … If his jugular had burst, it could not have seemed more terrible. By this point McEwan hardly needs the specter of murder to convince us that mortal stakes lie behind closed doors. Embarrassment is the death of possibility.

If “On Chesil Beach” is a horror novel, it is also as fundamentally a comedy, one with virtual Monty Python overtones: The waiters were arriving with their plates of beef, his piled twice the height of hers. They also brought sherry trifle and cheddar cheese and mint chocolates, which they arranged on a sideboard. After mumbling about the summoning bell by the fireplace — it must be pressed hard and held down — the lads withdrew, closing the door behind them with immense care. Then came the tinkling of the trolley retreating down the corridor, then, after the silence, a whoop or a hoot that could easily have come from the hotel bar downstairs. For need of surviving the folly of his own desire, Edward mustn’t observe the satirical similarity in McEwan’s descriptive language (pressed hard and held down, withdrew, immense care, trolley retreating down the corridor) to the language of pornography, to paraphrases of what will or won’t occur soon in the suite’s four-poster bed: The bed squeaked mournfully when they moved, a reminder of other honeymoon couples who had passed through, all surely more adept than they were. He held down a sudden impulse to laugh at the idea of them, a solemn queue stretching out into the corridor, downstairs to reception, back through time. It was important not to think about them: comedy was an erotic poison.

In the painstaking and microscopic one-night structure of “On Chesil Beach,” McEwan advances his exploration of slowness in fiction (early evidenced in “Black Dogs” and “Amsterdam,” and exemplified in the 24-hour time scheme of “Saturday”). This suggests modernist experiment — not only James and Woolf, but even, in its combination with McEwan’s legendarily “forensic” vocabulary (here we’re greeted by the most instrumental pubic hair in the history of fiction), the chilly Alain Robbe-Grillet. But McEwan’s tone is more normative than that of his forebears, and it may be worth asking: Why doesn’t he feel like a “late” modernist? And what does he feel like instead?

The Best Romance Books: 2019 Summer Reads

It’s May 2019 and you’ve kindly chosen the five best romance books of the past year for us. Before we talk about them individually, can you tell me what links these books together? What makes a good romance novel?

The main thrust of a romance novel is the happily ever after of the main characters. The central plot is that the couple in question gets together, whatever their path is. It could be an easy ride, it could be a difficult ride, as long as they get together in the end.

The romance books that I’ve specifically selected have diverse characters. There are also strong family themes going on in all of them. And they have pretty strong (female) relationships among the secondary characters.

What age did you start reading romance? Have you always been a huge fan?

It’s funny you should ask that because I actually fell into romance through work. There was a need in the community that had to be filled. I’d been an adult reference librarian for almost 20 years at a local public library in Long Island, New York. The romances in the collection hadn’t been really checked on in a while. There were complaints that we didn’t have enough variety, and when a certain high demand title hadn’t been ordered at all, my director wanted to have somebody in there to focus on the genre. As librarians, we can be spread out very thin with the day-to-day operations. You don’t really know which parts of your collection work unless you’re keeping an eye on all of it cohesively. So he put me in that role.

I was no stranger to romance in terms of, when I was a teenager, I would take books off my mom’s shelf—and my friends’ moms shelves—and read the passages we weren’t supposed to. I’d go to the romance section of the local drugstore and flip through the ones with Fabio on the covers, that kind of deal.

But really my passion for romance started when it was assigned to me as a project at work. I ended up falling in love with it as a genre, right alongside our patrons in terms of discovery. I had to read for work, of course, and I was building the collection for the community, but I started to gravitate towards certain subgenres that I personally really loved, too.

Is it one of the most popular genres at your library?

Oh yes, absolutely. You can’t always tell who those readers will be, but what happens with romance is that the readers that come in know who or what they’re looking for. Or, historically, they would come into the library to discover new authors or a re-discover a favourite’s backlist and then they would buy through those authors.

But now, with Amazon and Kindle Unlimited, BookBub and Prolific Works, you can get titles or read for free. There are promotions, like first-in-series offers to entice readers. There are also lots of Facebook groups, Advanced Reader Copy Clubs, Author Street Teams (where authors get their readers/volunteers to promote titles via word-of-mouth and their own social media) that kind of thing. Even a library’s own eReading or audio app. All of this helped change the landscape of how readers purchase.

The library is still that place for initial discovery, rather than, okay, ‘I’m going to discover this author here and then buy through all of their stuff.’ They’re not really doing that as much as they used to, in my experience, though I can’t speak for all public libraries. I can only speak for my own experiences with readers. Librarians need to recognize that patrons need those books to be on library shelves or they are going elsewhere. Because readers know they do have the options to find them elsewhere.

“Most are coming to romance novels because there’s sex”

Romance is super popular. And you’ve got to keep an eye on those circulation records, certainly on the digital side, because you don’t see patrons/readers unless you really want to get to know them, what appeals to them. They come in, they select what they want, and then they leave. But my readers came to know me as somebody who was specializing in romance, with purpose. They would come and talk to me and we’d get into these hilarious discussions at the desk. I had a couple of men as well and it’s been really a great ride.

All the books you chose are all by women. Women seem to be the dominant authors in romance, but are they the dominant readers as well?

They are, I have to say. But that’s changing. And there are a few male authors who write romance, too.

You mentioned reading the parts of romance books you weren’t supposed to when you were a teenager. I haven’t read all of the books on your list yet, but they’re quite racy, aren’t they?

Yes. Not The Accidental Beauty Queen, which has what’s called a “closed door” scene. But yes, they’re racy: that so goes on in romance.

So that’s not just your personal preference: that’s the direction of the genre?

You have to accept that that’s a huge part of romance and a huge draw. It moves the plot along and gets the characters together. Some people do come to romance looking for—this is a term that people don’t love to use anymore but readers use it, so I’ll call it this here—the ‘cleaner reads’. But most are coming to romance novels because there’s sex. The sex represents the same thing as the couple’s first kiss together. It drives the plot in a specific way to what’s expected for romance as a genre.

Let’s talk about the individual books now, these five books you’ve chosen as the best romance books published in the last year, so from 2018 to 2019. Have you put them in order of preference?

No, because they’re all really excellent. I just wrote down whatever came to my mind first.

I’m at a reference desk; I’m reaching that reader and I only have a couple of minutes with. That’s really how I came to how I discuss books. I try not to give plot away too, too much—just the general outline. You’re there to discover that book for yourself. Then I hope you’ll come back to discuss why you loved it, or even why you didn’t.

OK so let’s talk about The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory first. On the blurb it says it was a New York Times bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine book club book. It’s got a great opening scene. Why have you chosen it for your list?

I really did pick it because of that opening. I’ve never seen or read anything like it before, this surprise proposal via jumbotron at Dodger Stadium. It goes spectacularly wrong. It’s not meant to be funny—you’re kind of shocked, actually, and a little worried about Nik, who is the heroine. This guy proposing, Fisher, spells her name wrong; he didn’t really discuss any intentions with her. She didn’t know that he liked her this much, allegedly. And then it unfolds in front of, like, 45,000 people at Dodger Stadium.

There are some onlookers who feel sorry for her and just as the camera people are about to descend on her, so Carlos and his sister Angela whisk her away to spare her this further embarrassment. As the story continues we learn that Fisher had an agenda all along.

Get the weekly Five Books newsletter

Carlos and Nik find themselves in a fling, but then it becomes something more. Just like anybody spending time together, they share food and treats and booze. It’s really nice to read those moments. It’s like people who need to heal from something, where they’re not really sure why it all happened to them. Real life comes into their spending time with each other.

Jasmine Guillory’s secondary characters become as important as her main characters. Her first book was The Wedding Date, and this one, The Proposal, is her second. There’s a new one coming out soon in the summer, The Wedding Party, and she has another title towards the end of the year. And the characters she chooses weave nice connective threads.

Let’s move on to the second on your list of best romance books of the past year, which is Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston which has just been published (May 2019). I didn’t get hold of a copy, but I read about the premise and it sounded great, very funny.

The months in pre-publication of Red, White and Royal Blue took everybody by storm. It’s just come out in the US and it’s already a breakout. It stood out, for me, because of the royal connection. In romance, the royals have always been big; it’s a sub-genre, and all the tropes that come along with that. But Red, White and Royal Blue was interesting to me because of the United States politics side of it.

In the book, the tabloids feed this tension between the US president’s son Alex, and his Royal Highness Prince Henry—a fictional Prince Henry. They don’t really like each other at all, but they have to smooth over this huge international mishap, and it turns into a media frenzy. So they sit down and have to agree to go out and pose as “best” friends. But as Alex and Henry are thrown together, they enter into a real secret relationship.

There’s a lot of layers of politics in this story, which seems to be something that readers are looking for right now, especially younger romance readers. That’s because American politics is such an important thing to people right now, especially if they’re on social media. They like to exchange what’s happening and try to make sense of it and this book is really excellent for that.

And for those of you who don’t know, Red, White and Royal Blue is a male-male romance.

Would you say that is mainstream now in romance books in 2019, same-sex romance?

It’s been part of romance for quite a long time, but it’s really starting to reach mainstream audiences now. That’s a good thing because it’s our community, it’s our family, it’s our friends, it’s us. I’ve been a librarian for almost 20 years and I’ve been part of an increasingly diverse community. We don’t really like to call it ‘diversity’ anymore because this is just who we all are. But we mention diverse characters, so patrons and readers know how to find what they’re looking for.

As far as in-person conversations go, this our community. We have people who are LGBTQ+; we have people who are neurodiverse. This shouldn’t be anything that’s labelled a “special” or “other” thing anymore in fiction. It’s more like, ‘I’m suggesting this book to you because you like the Royals. Oh and it just happens to be male-male.’

But, with any patron, if I know a trope or theme is not their jam, I wouldn’t suggest it. Except how could you not want to read a story about something that’s not only Royal, but a fun twist on diplomacy?

Talking about neurodiversity, shall we move on to The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang next?

This is another topic that’s mainstream now. Stella, the heroine, is an econometrician. She’s super, super smart and she hires an escort, Michael, to teach her sex. The reason why is because she happens to be autistic—she has not had a good experience with sex at all. She wants to learn it and she feels that if she hires somebody who’s an expert, or who she perceives as an expert, then she’ll get good at it and be ready to have an actual relationship with somebody.

Initially, she’s hired him to teach her sex, and there are some moments where it’s uncomfortable for her. Michael eases her through it. But then she realizes she actually needs to learn about relationships and interactions with people in general. She rewrites the proposal and says, ‘Okay, actually I want you to teach me relationships.’

“You have neurodiversity, you have the STEM heroine, and you have the escort with the heart of gold”

This story is mainstream erotic romance. It could also be considered a romance with erotic elements, if you want to label it. There are scenes where they are really describing what’s happening. And it’s actually perfectly approachable because you’re going through it with Stella. It’s often very light.

So you have neurodiversity, you have the STEM heroine, and you have the escort with the heart of gold—so you’ve got tropes going on with him. As I read it, I kept thinking about how Stella’s like all of us, she just processes things in her own way. As she says in the book, she’s just her. Her autism isn’t a label; it’s just who she is. She uses lists; she sets boundaries. But Michael sets boundaries, too. Hoang puts us in the analytical mind of her heroine and allows us to understand her. The way that Stella is depicted, we believe why Michael is captivated by her and falls in love with her. Her vulnerability is a universal thing.

It’s very endearing, her vulnerability. In the section about the author, it says that Helen Hoang herself has ‘autism spectrum disorder’ so I think the book is also interesting because it tries to show how people on the spectrum see the world, what’s it like.

Helen Hoang goes to great lengths to show us that Stella lives in a world that is often misunderstood. People are easily used when they are vulnerable or are in a situation where they don’t understand what is going on. For Stella to go through these lessons is actually a pretty smart way of teaching herself how to receive something good instead of it just being merely a function. Stella and Michael are beyond deserving of something good.

Support Five Books

Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you’re enjoying this interview, please support us by donating a small amount.

What I also really loved about The Kiss Quotient is the fact that it’s a flipped Pretty Woman. I really enjoyed that aspect of it a lot and I hope that readers will as well.

It’s just really, really well done. Helen Hoang does such a great job with her writing. It isn’t like any other book out there, it really is in its own category. Right now, I couldn’t do a read-alike for it. Which is a good thing.

Let’s talk about Take the Lead next. What attracted you to this book?

Technically it’s from 2017, but this book won the RITA Award for best first book in 2018, so I felt like I could slide it in. It’s for fans of Dancing With the Stars or I guess in the UK it’s Strictly Come Dancing.

The heroine, Gina, is in her fourteenth season of this Dancing with the Stars-like show called Dance Off and it might be her last because she hasn’t had a win. Stone is in his fourth season of his family’s Alaska-based, reality TV series called Living Wild. It’s an off-the-grid, survivalist kind of deal.

With her talent and his build, they’re paired up and maybe also set up by the producers for what’s called a ‘showmance.’ That’s like a fake romance just for the length of the show to garner interest and maybe vote the dancing couple through.

But Gina takes all of this very seriously. She’s trying to buck all the stereotypes. She’s Puerto Rican and she’s trying to avoid this “hot Latina” stereotype they want to pigeonhole her into. She says, ‘Nope, (not happening) I’m a serious dancer and I’m going to do this. I have to do this.’ Being paired with Stone could equate to this win for her.

But what she and Stone didn’t count on was having actual chemistry with one another. We find that Stone is equally dedicated, even though he’s really not keen on Hollywood. He’s reluctant as she’s trying to teach him. He’s not really feeling it, but then he ends up finding that he does have a knack for dancing and he definitely has that chemistry with Gina. Stone realizes that he just needs to give in and have fun with it, let loose a little bit.

The thing that I really loved about this story is that their happily ever after is rooted in hard-earned teamwork and totally for the right reasons. They both have their baggage, of course. The way they come together is so much fun because Alexis Daria has us following along in this dance competition: all of the prep, all the behind-the-scenes work. There are some heartfelt (family) moments, but it’s just a great ride, it really is.

I like the behind-the-scenes aspect, because it seems glamorous on the outside but then on the inside, it’s just really hard work and quite depressing.

Yes, super hard work and a little bit heartbreaking. It really is.

We’re already at no. 5 of the romance books you’ve chosen. Last but not least, tell me about The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson, which seems like another good one.

The Accidental Beauty Queen is an example of women’s fiction with romantic elements and also romantic comedy. I chose it because this also seems to be a direction that a lot of publishers are going in when it comes to their romance acquisitions. I know a bit about what goes on behind the scenes because, as a librarian, buying is also a huge part of the job. When books are marketed to you and you start to hear different buzzwords you want to put your finger on the pulse of that on behalf of your readers.

Teri Wilson has written for Harlequin. She has also had a few of her books adapted into Hallmark movies. She’s very popular among my own readers, so that’s one of the reasons why I selected her as one of my top five.

In this book Ginny is up for Miss American Treasure. This is a pageant that her mother has previously won, so there’s pressure from the get-go. Ginny brings along her school librarian twin sister, Charlotte, for luck. Charlotte agrees to come because it a vacation and she’s a huge Harry Potter fan (it’s set in a somewhat fictionalized Orlando).

But Ginny has an allergic reaction almost as soon as they get there and it’s not a pretty scene. Her face is a disaster (pageant-wise) and the doctor tells her, ‘Guess what? You’re going to be out a couple of days.’ She’s like, ‘a couple of days! This is my last chance. What am I going to do? ’ So she pleads with her sister Charlotte to pose as her until she recovers. So Charlotte has to go through this makeover. Think Miss Congeniality meets The Parent Trap, with the twins trading places.

Charlotte very, very reluctantly agrees. There’s a little bit of backstory, because she’s trying to get over why she called off her engagement. She meets one of the pageant judges on the stairwell with their respective dogs, and they begin to flirt with one another. It’s actually Ginny’s dog, Buttercup, who is adorable. He starts it, but he doesn’t realize that she’s a contestant—because she’s Charlotte when he first meets her. She doesn’t know she has to pose as Ginny, yet, then. It’s very innocent. There’s nothing nefarious about it or him.

“You have the erotic romance becoming more mainstream, even more than Fifty Shades of Grey”

Charlotte spends a lot of time getting to know herself through this process. She gains a sense of self-confidence that she didn’t know she was missing. She didn’t care that she dressed down and is considered too bookish: not in a bad way, just in a different way from her glamorous sister. She also uses this time to get to know her twin. And that’s a really beautiful thing.

The romance part of the story is delightful and funny and Wilson really does allow you to suspend your disbelief. While I love the Miss Congeniality and The Parent Trap combination, there are also all these little nods to Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice.

So this romance is really popular with your readers?

The author is popular and certainly since this came out it’s been very popular. You’re rooting for the romance between Charlotte and Gray but you’re also rooting for the bond between the sisters—how Charlotte comes to her sister’s aid and all the hilarity and the problems that ensue. That is the great joy of this book, and it’s really a direction that romance seems to be going in.

So with Helen Hoang, you have the erotic romance becoming more mainstream, even more than Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a different version of erotic romance. Then you also have this other piece of romance where it’s going more in the direction of women’s fiction with these rom-com elements. So that’s why I wanted to select this book as well.

See all the recommendations in our best books of 2019 series.

Interview by Sophie Roell

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at [email protected]

Finally, shore season is upon us! After the winter we had, we’ve been counting down the days until beach time and it’s finally here. As we begin to pack up for Memorial Day Weekend, we wanted to share a brand new edition of our most popular blog post! The Ultimate Beach Reads 2018 guide will have something for everyone! Categories include Fiction, Chick Lit, Fantasy, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Thriller and Young Adult Reads. We have personally read ALL of these books and recommend them to you. Head over to our Instagram page for a chance to win 2 of the books featured on our list!

*Note- This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, we get a small commision at no cost to you.


Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

“Two very different people, one very small island.

For Sophie Ducel, her honeymoon in French Polynesia was intended as a celebration of life. The proud owner of a thriving Parisian architecture firm, co-founded with her brilliant new husband, Sophie had much to look forward to—including a visit to the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel. More…”

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

“It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb, there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift; Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need More…“

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

“In the bestselling tradition of Jojo Moyes and Jennifer Weiner, Jenny Colgan’s moving, funny, and unforgettable novel tells the story of a heartbroken young woman who turns a new page in her life . . . by becoming a baker in the town of Cornwall

A quiet seaside resort. An abandoned shop. A small flat. This is what awaits Polly Waterford when she arrives at the Cornish coast, fleeing a ruined relationship. More…”

The Jane Austen Project: A Novel by Kathleen A. Flynn

“Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this engrossing debut novel offers an unusual twist on the legacy of one of the world’s most celebrated and beloved authors: two researchers from the future are sent back in time to meet Jane and recover a suspected unpublished novel. More…”

The Husband Hour by Jamie Brenner

“Lauren Adelman and her high school sweetheart, Rory Kincaid, are a golden couple. They marry just out of college as Rory, a star hockey player, earns a spot in the NHL. Their future could not look brighter when Rory shocks everyone-Lauren most of all- by enlisting in the U.S. Army. When Rory dies in combat, Lauren is left devastated, alone, and under unbearable public scrutiny. More…”

Still Life by Louise Penny

“Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called into the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter. More…“

The Little French Bistro by Nina George

“Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage. After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as “the end of the world. More…“

Today Will be Different by Maria Semple

“Eleanor knows she’s a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother’s company. More…”

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan

“The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. More…”

Chick Lit

The Café by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

“Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up — and she hasn’t looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious… and hopelessly in love with her boss. More…”

From Notting Hill from Love Actually by Ali McNamara

“Movie fanatic Scarlett O’Brien dreams of a life as
glamorous and romantic as all the big screen flicks she
worships. When a chance house-sitting job in iconic Notting
Hill comes along, she knows living in one of her favorite
movie settings is an opportunity too good to pass up. More…”

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

“Welcome to Greenwich, Connecticut, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor. More…”

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

“Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. More…”

Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper by Hilary Liftin

“Actress Lizzie Pepper was America’s Girl Next Door and her marriage to Hollywood mega-star Rob Mars was tabloid gold—a whirlwind romance and an elaborate celebrity-studded wedding landed them on the cover of every celebrity weekly. But fame, beauty, and wealth weren’t enough to keep their marriage together. Hollywood’s “It” couple are over—and now Lizzie is going to tell her side of the story. More…“

Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

“When Janey Sweet, CEO of a couture wedding dress company, is photographed in the front row of a fashion show eating a bruffin—the delicious lovechild of a brioche and a muffin—her best friend and business partner, Beau, gives her an ultimatum: Lose thirty pounds or lose your job. More…”

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club Pick

A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls. Every woman has a secret life . . .More…“

My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curan More…

You are the plucky but penniless heroine in the center of eighteenth-century society, courtship season has begun, and your future is at hand. Will you flip forward fetchingly to find love with the bantering baronet Sir Benedict Granville? Or turn the page to true love with the hardworking, horse-loving highlander Captain Angus McTaggart?


The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

“Mitch Albom creates his most unforgettable fictional character—Frankie Presto, the greatest guitarist to ever walk the earth—in this magical novel about the bands we join in life and the power of talent to change our lives. More “

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. More…

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

“Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion! More…”

Legendary: A Caraval Novel by Stephanie Garber

“A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name. More.

The Mermaid’s Daughter by Anne Claycomb

“A modern-day expansion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, this unforgettable debut novel weaves a spellbinding tale of magic and the power of love as a descendent of the original mermaid fights the terrible price of saving herself from a curse that has affected generations of women in her family. More…“

Family Dramas

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“In this entrancing novel “that speaks to the Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in us all” (Kirkus Reviews), a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine. More…“

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. More…“

Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead

“Laura hails from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, born into old money, drifting aimlessly into her early thirties. One weekend in 1981 she meets Jefferson. The two sleep together. He vanishes. And Laura realizes she’s pregnant.

Enter: Emma. More…“

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

“The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet: the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 . . . and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later. More…“

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

“It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years, the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family. More…“

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

“The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families. More…“

The Royal Treatment by Melanie Summers

“For fans of Bridget Jones and The Princess Diaries comes a laugh-out-loud, feel-good comedy with a sizzling side of romance…

Ultra-private, ridiculously handsome Crown Prince Arthur has always gotten by on his charm. But that won’t be enough now that the Royal Family is about to be ousted from power once and for all. When Prince Arthur has to rely on the one woman in the kingdom who hates him most, he must learn that earning the love of a nation means first risking his heart. More….”

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

“This is almost a love story. But it’s not as simple as that.

Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more. More…“

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

“Don’t miss this curiously charming debut! In this hauntingly beautiful story of love, loneliness and self-discovery, an endearing widower embarks on a life-changing adventure.

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden. More…“

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

“The story of your life never starts at the beginning. Don’t they teach you anything at school?

So says 104-year-old Ona to the 11-year-old boy who’s been sent to help her out every Saturday morning. As he refills the bird feeders and tidies the garden shed, Ona tells him about her long life, from first love to second chances. Soon she’s confessing secrets she has kept hidden for decades. More…“

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

“If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. More…“

The Trust by Ronald H. Balson

“When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. More…“

Historical Fiction

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon More…

Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

“Tom Hazard has just moved back his to London, his old home, to settle down and become a high school history teacher. And on his first day at school, he meets a captivating French teacher at his school who seems fascinated by him. But Tom has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life. More…“

Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo

“As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. More…“

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

“In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. More…“

Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W Gortner

“For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century. More…”


Best Day Ever: A Riveting Psychological Thriller about the Perfect Marriage by Kaira Rouda

“Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he’s promised today will be the best day ever. More…”

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

“A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged. More…“

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

“When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing. More…“

The Woman in the Window by A.J Finn

“For readers of Gillian Flynn and Tana French comes one of the decade’s most anticipated debuts, to be published in thirty-six languages around the world and already in development as a major film from Fox: a twisty, powerful Hitchcockian thriller about an agoraphobic woman who believes she witnessed a crime in a neighboring house.

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening…More“

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

“Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone. More…“

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

“The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country. More…“

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

“When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her castmates. More “

Young Adult

Fallen by Lauren Kate

“There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move. More…“

Fallen Crest High by Tijan

“Mason and Logan Kade are two brothers who did their own thing. They were rich and expected to attend Samantha’s school, Fallen Crest Academy. They chose public school and now she has to live with them. The problem is that she doesn’t care at all: about them, about her friends, about her cheating boyfriend, or even about her parent’s divorce. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe change is a good thing. More…“

When It’s Real by Erin Watt

“There’s nothing ordinary about Oakley. This bad-boy pop star’s got Grammy awards, millions of fangirls and a reputation as a restless, too-charming troublemaker. But with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley needs to show the world he’s settling down—and who better to help him than Vaughn, a part-time waitress trying to help her family get by? The very definition of ordinary. More…“

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right? More…“

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand

This comical, fantastical, romantical, New York Times bestselling, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey is “an uproarious historical fantasy that’s not to be missed” (Publishers Weekly, starred review). More…

From Twinkle with Love by Sandhya Menon

“Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2. More…“

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

Vibrantly offbeat and utterly original, Lucy Keating’s debut novel combines the unconventional romance of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the sweetness and heart of Jenny Han.

For as long as Alice can remember, she has dreamed of Max. Together, they have traveled the world and fallen deliriously, hopelessly in love. Max is the boy of her dreams—and only her dreams. Because he doesn’t exist. More

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

“New York City as you’ve never seen it before. A thousand-story tower stretching into the sky. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible—if you want it enough.

Welcome to Manhattan, 2118.

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched. More…“

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

“American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school. More…”

PSST: Need more recommendations? Check out the 2017 Ultimate Beach Reads List.


Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

I always like to pick out a bunch of books to bring with me whenever I get ready to go on vacation. More often than not, I end up taking more books than I could possibly read on one trip. My philosophy is that I’d rather have too much to read on a trip than too little.

If you’re like me, you’re probably starting to think about what’s on your summer reading list this year—and I can’t recommend the books below highly enough.

None of them are what most people think of as a light read. All but one deal with the idea of disruption, but I don’t mean “disruption” in the way tech people usually mean it. I’ve recently found myself drawn to books about upheaval (that’s even the title of the one of them)—whether it’s the Soviet Union right after the Bolshevik revolution, the United States during times of war, or a global reevaluation of our economic system.

If you’re looking for something that’s more of a typical summer book, I recommend Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Result. (And if you haven’t read the first two books in the Rosie trilogy, summer vacation is the perfect time to start!) I also can’t resist a plug for Melinda’s new book The Moment of Lift. I know I’m biased, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Here is my full summer reading list:

Upheaval, by Jared Diamond. I’m a big fan of everything Jared has written, and his latest is no exception. The book explores how societies react during moments of crisis. He uses a series of fascinating case studies to show how nations managed existential challenges like civil war, foreign threats, and general malaise. It sounds a bit depressing, but I finished the book even more optimistic about our ability to solve problems than I started.

Nine Pints, by Rose George. If you get grossed out by blood, this one probably isn’t for you. But if you’re like me and find it fascinating, you’ll enjoy this book by a British journalist with an especially personal connection to the subject. I’m a big fan of books that go deep on one specific topic, so Nine Pints (the title refers to the volume of blood in the average adult) was right up my alley. It’s filled with super-interesting facts that will leave you with a new appreciation for blood.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. It seems like everyone I know has read this book. I finally joined the club after my brother-in-law sent me a copy, and I’m glad I did. Towles’s novel about a count sentenced to life under house arrest in a Moscow hotel is fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat. Even if you don’t enjoy reading about Russia as much as I do (I’ve read every book by Dostoyevsky), A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story that anyone can enjoy.

Presidents of War, by Michael Beschloss. My interest in all aspects of the Vietnam War is the main reason I decided to pick up this book. By the time I finished it, I learned a lot not only about Vietnam but about the eight other major conflicts the U.S. entered between the turn of the 19th century and the 1970s. Beschloss’s broad scope lets you draw important cross-cutting lessons about presidential leadership.

The Future of Capitalism, by Paul Collier. Collier’s latest book is a thought-provoking look at a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of people right now. Although I don’t agree with him about everything—I think his analysis of the problem is better than his proposed solutions—his background as a development economist gives him a smart perspective on where capitalism is headed.

Barack Obama Shares His 2019 Summer Reading List

As summer’s end approaches—bringing with it an end to the time for summer reads—former President Barack Obama has shared some of what he’s been reading this season. In his summer reading list for 2019, Obama has highlighted books that span genres and feature authors from a variety of backgrounds, from veterans like Colson Whitehead and Téa Obreht to newer voices like Stephanie Land and Lauren Wilkinson.

In an Instagram post, Obama shared his picks for what to read this summer. He suggested starting with reading or re-reading the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison‘s collected works, including Beloved, Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye. “You’ll be glad you read them,” he wrote. “And while I’m at it, here are a few more titles you might want to explore.”

Obama’s other picks include:

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead (2019)

One of the most anticipated books of summer 2019, the Pulitzer Prize winner’s latest novel follows a black teenager in 1960s Florida who unexpectedly ends up at an abusive reform school and befriends another boy there. Inspired by a real reform school, Whitehead explores America’s relationship with racism through the horrors of the Jim Crow South.

Exhalation, Ted Chiang (2019)

The latest short story collection from Chiang, who wrote the story that is the basis for the award-winning movie Arrival, tackles many of humanity’s most pressing questions through tales about free will, evolution and alternative universes.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (2009)

This Man Booker Prize-winning historical novel completely reimagines sixteenth century England under Henry VIII. Mantel examines a society experiencing complicated and rapid change through her fictional portrait of Henry’s advisor, Thomas Cromwell.

Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami (2014)

From ex-boyfriends to bartenders, the characters in the seven stories in bestselling Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s short story collection deal with loneliness as many have lost the women in their lives. The stories oscillate between mysterious, dark and, at times, humorous, to paint a complicated picture of the dynamics between men and women.

American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson (2019)

Structured as a letter addressed to her two young sons, this thriller is centered around Marie Mitchell, a black FBI intelligence officer. American Spy travels in time betweem Marie’s upbringing in 1960s Queens and her spy work during the Cold War to highlight the trials of a protagonist questioning her identity as a woman, a person of color and an American.

The Shallows, Nicholas Carr (2010)

Is the Internet changing us for the better or for the worse? The question looms over Carr’s book, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and illuminates the consequences of the Internet, including how it has shaped the way we think, read and even feel.

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren (2016)

Science is at the heart of geobiologist Hope Jahren’s award-winning memoir. Jahren explores her relationship with the subject, beginning as a child in Minnesota where she played in her father’s college laboratory. Lab Girl asks poignant questions about the way we view the world and the lengths we’ll go to protect it from threats of our own making.

Inland, Téa Obreht (2019)

In her follow-up to her 2011 bestseller The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Oreht’s new novel follows two characters living in the unsettled American West. One is Nora, a wife and mother waiting for her husband to return home, and the other is Lurie, a former outlaw who believes he is being haunted by ghosts. In an interview with TIME, Obreht discussed her own feelings about how places can be haunted. “When horrific things happen in certain places, they are just always happening in those places in perpetuity, and you can feel the impression of it pressing down on you,” she said.

How to Read the Air, Dinaw Mengestu (2010)

In Mengestu’s bestseller, Jonas is the adult son of two Ethiopian immigrants, desperate to learn more about his roots after his father dies. Examining issues of immigration, differences between generations and the power of familial bonds, How to Read the Air addresses the difficulty of building a robust family history.

Maid, Stephanie Land (2019)

In her memoir, Land recounts her experiences working as a maid for upper-middle class Americans in an effort to support her young daughter. The book analyzes the disparities that exist between economic classes in the country and showcases how privileged people treat those who are working just to make ends meet.

Most Popular on TIME

Write to Annabel Gutterman at [email protected]