Books

The 21 Best Beach Reads Of 2021

From rom-coms to thrillers, these books are perfect for vacation reading.

Updated: 
Originally Published: 

With the COVID-19 vaccination campaign well underway, it’s beginning to look like vacations — albeit socially distanced ones — could be feasible for summer 2021. If you’re building a new TBR with beach season in mind, you can’t go wrong adding a few of the best beach reads of 2021 to your list. These romances and thrillers are the perfect kind of books to enjoy while you take in the sun, sand, and surf.

There’s just something about beach reads — those endlessly compelling novels about finding love, connecting with family, or escaping a gruesome fate. (While vacation reading is often associated with lighter fare, beachgoers know that even the most taut of mysteries can be perfect summertime book; indeed, it’s not uncommon to find sandy totes full of “Girl” thrillers.)

No matter if you’re looking for a feel-good rom-com, a tearjerking family drama, or a spine-tingling mystery, you’ll find something for your summer reading pleasure here. Take a look at the 21 best beach reads of 2021:

We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Leda and the Swan

Hazy memories of a college party become the central focus of this thriller from debut novelist Anna Caritj. When the party is over, all anyone can talk about is Charlotte: the young woman who showed up dressed as a swan. Leda remembers talking to Charlotte, but she’s not sure what happened next. She’s not even sure how she wound up in bed with Charlotte’s ex-boyfriend, Ian. But now that Charlotte’s gone missing, the events of that one drunken night are all Leda can think about.

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba

Chanel Cleeton’s latest is based on the real-life story of Evangelina Cosio y Cisneros: the daughter of a Cuban revolutionary who was jailed as a political prisoner in Havana in the late 19th century. The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba follows Evangelina and two other women — Grace, a New York Journal reporter, and Marina, a courier working with the anti-Spanish resistance in Havana — tracing their intertwined stories as Cuba, Spain, and the United States slip ever closer to war.

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It

Finlay Donovan’s having... a time. She still hasn’t delivered on her new manuscript, her ex isn’t helping out much as a co-parent, and she’s pretty sure everyone knows just how much of a hot mess she is. When she meets with her agent to discuss said undelivered book, Finlay accidentally agrees to take on a hit job from someone looking to off a troublesome husband. The job pays well, naturally, but is Finlay hitwoman material?

Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Jacob is the owner-operator of an understaffed B&B. Having recently broken his arm, he desperately needs some help running his business. Unfortunately, the only person around is Eve: a job applicant who hit him with her car — thereby breaking said arm — after she bombed her interview. Jacob has no choice but to accept her help, but that doesn’t mean he has to be happy about the arrangement. As the two spend time together in the B&B’s cozy confines, however, chaotic Eve and stuffy Jacob find that they have more in common than they think.

Better Luck Next Time

In the 1930s, U.S. women looking for quick divorces flocked to Reno, Nevada, where they could file suit to dissolve their marriages after a mere six weeks in residency. Set at a Reno dude ranch designed to give would-be divorcées some fun in the sun, Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Better Luck Next Time centers on three very different people — Nina, Emily, and Ward — as they find themselves in need of someone to lean on in the Nevada heat.

The Social Graces

Another novel based on a true story, Renée Rosen’s The Social Graces examines the legendary rivalry between Caroline Astor and Alva Vanderbilt — heavy hitters in New York’s Gilded Age social scene. As a nouveau riche clan, the Vanderbilts haven’t yet found their place in the city’s high society, which is full of old-money families like the Astors. Armed with a plan to legitimize her family, Alva intends to change all that — but going up against the Mrs. Astor isn’t for the faint of heart.

A Special Place for Women

May 11

Happy and You Know It author Laura Hankin returns to store shelves this year with A Special Place for Women. The novel centers on foundering journalist Jillian, who desperately needs a story to put her back on top — and infiltrating New York City’s most exclusive women’s club might be the best thing she could possibly do for her career. But as she’s pulled deeper into the club’s embrace, Jillian soon finds that her expectations were far off the mark, and that might just be her downfall.

The Summer of Lost and Found

May 11

A woman spending her 2020 quarantine in coastal South Carolina is torn between two potential lovers in Mary Alice Monroe’s new book. While waiting for her long-distance boyfriend, Gordon, to visit from England, Linnea reconnects with her ex, John, when he arrives from California. When Gordon finally shows up, Linnea may be faced with her toughest decision yet.

That Summer

May 11

A working wife and mother struggling to have it all is drawn into another woman’s glamorous life when an email mixup brings them together, in Jennifer Weiner’s That Summer. Getting Diana’s misdirected emails couldn’t have come at a better time for Daisy, who desperately needs a distraction from her sleepless nights. When Diana extends an offer of friendship, Daisy accepts, but she soon learns that their “chance” encounter may have been orchestrated by Diana herself.

The Hunting Wives

May 18

The transition from the hustle and bustle of Chicago to the quiet laziness of small-town Texas isn’t easy for Sophie, who finds herself itching for something, anything, to do. Enter Margot: one of the most infamous socialites around, and a member of the elite women’s club known as the Hunting Wives. Joining the clique to drink and go target shooting in the wee hours, Sophie finally feels like she may have found her place in Texas. But when a girl’s body turns up near the Hunting Wives’ stomping grounds, she begins to realize that her new friends may be who she thought they were.

The Summer Job

May 18

In need of an escape, Birdy takes a job that her BFF, Heather, turned down: working at a Scottish hotel for the summer. Posing as Heather, Birdy falls in love and finds herself, in Lizzy Dent’s The Summer Job.

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel

May 18

In this delightful novel from the author of Love and Miss Communication, two families agonize over whether to sell their once-successful Catskills resort. Last Summer at the Golden Hotel promises snark, sass, and sunshine-filled fun.

How to Find a Princess

May 25

The second installment in Alyssa Cole’s Runaway Royals series centers on Makeda: a woman whose life was already imploding before she found out she was the heir to the throne of Ibarania. When Beznaria turns up to help Makeda to claim what’s rightfully hers, she’s hesitant to follow, but what does she have to lose? The more time Makeda spends with Bez, however, the more the princess’s life starts to heat up.

Impostor Syndrome

May 25

Tangerine is Silicon Valley’s hottest new startup, and Alice’s Chinese immigrant parents are thrilled their daughter is working there. Alice knows that Silicon Valley isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but she doesn’t want to burst their bubble. Discovering a huge gap in Tangerine’s network security might be Alice’s big break, but the trail appears to lead back to Tangerine COO Julia — a Russian operative living in fear of losing it all.

Golden Girl

June 1

When she’s killed in a hit-and-run accident, romance novelist Vivi gets the opportunity to watch over her family, and give them a little nudge in the right direction. But with only three chances to intervene, and a forthcoming novel that could ruin her reputation forever, Vivi has to make some tough choices in this poignant novel.

One Last Stop

June 1

Red, White & Royal Blue author Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel is One Last Stop. In this sapphic rom-com, a cynical 23-year-old who doesn’t believe in true love finds herself falling — hard — for a gorgeous woman she spots on the subway. Just as August starts to think that she might be a big softie after all, she learns the truth about her lover’s predicament: Jane’s an accidental time-traveler from the 1970s, and August may be the only person able to help her out of her temporal bind.

Malibu Rising

June 1

From Daisy Jones and the Six author Taylor Jenkins Reid comes Malibu Rising: the story of a rockstar’s four children, and the one fateful night they spend together in 1983. Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit are L.A. royalty, and everyone wants to be invited to their latest summer bash. Each of them has a secret or two they want to keep, but in the party’s alcohol-induced haze, those secrets are about to boil over.

The Chosen and the Beautiful

June 1

Nghi Vo retells The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective in The Chosen and the Beautiful. Casting Jordan as a queer Vietnamese woman adopted by American parents, Vo’s novel retraces Fitzgerald’s footsteps before blazing its own magical trail through the literary canon.

Our Woman in Moscow

June 1

When an American diplomat’s family disappears from London, public opinion splits over whether or not the Digbys intentionally defected to the Soviet Union or were kidnapped and forced over the border. But when Ruth Macallister discovers that her estranged twin sister might still be alive, she teams up with a U.S. operative to smuggle Iris and her family out of Moscow.

Seven Days in June

June 1

Shane and Eva once spent a passionate week together as teenagers. Now both working as established fiction writers, they’ve just been reunited. Hiding their past from their friends and colleagues, Shane and Eva rekindle their old flame, but Eva has questions she needs Shane to answer before they break it off again.

Such a Quiet Place

July 13

A close-knit community still reeling from the murders of two beloved neighbors — and haunted by the specter of the victims’ abandoned house — must confront the skeletons in its collective closet when the woman previously convicted of the crime walks free.