Top 20 summer books

Reading outside in summer is one of life’s great pleasures! If you’re stuck for summer reading ideas then have a look at our top 20 summer books for warm-weather reading. A mixture of modern, classic and contemporary literature.

 - 13 Min Read
Last updated and fact checked:
Top 20 summer books
Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Age Times. Commissions do not affect our writers’ or editors’ opinions or evaluations. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.

Summer is on its way, and at long last, many of us are looking forward to spending some ‘normal’ time with our friends and families.

Speaking of which, we spoke to one of our friends, Dane Cobain, about this topic while writing this article. Dane told us: "Nothing says summer holiday quite like a good book. I make it a habit of taking my longest owned and unread book with me whenever I travel, which is why I always end up reading Stephen King. He’s accompanied me to Holland, Germany, Spain, and Italy, as well as countless places throughout the UK. I’ve recently become a first-time homeowner, and so this summer I’m looking forward to sitting out in my garden with a book and a barbecue while the sun goes down. Bring on the books!"

Let’s take a look at the top 20 books for summer, some new, some old, and some a little off-piste.

1) Summer of '69 - Elin Hilderbrand

Let’s kick things off with a true summer book. A New York Times Bestseller, Summer of ‘69 evokes emotions parallel to that of the Bryan Adams hit by the same name.

Summer of ‘69 is somewhat of a historical study into 1969 USA, a year that marked great change and upheaval for many, juxtaposed against the rise of all forms of freedom.

Nixon, Vietnam, women’s rights movements, it’s all in there.

It mainly follows 3 families in their journey through this turbulent and tumultuous era. It’s poignant, powerful and evocative - considered one of the greatest modern summer reads.

2) 1984 - George Orwell

A book for the ages, and perhaps also a book for our age - or at least, that’s what some might argue!

1984’s prescience has become its most pressing, haunting and engrossing quality.

Written in 1948, George Orwell’s futuristic vision, like many other sci-fi writers, was right on cue.

Orwell himself was not strictly a science fiction writer at all, but 1984 is sheer literary craft at its most cutting edge.

It might seem like a strange book to read over the summer, but it brings home a variety of topics that concern us in our modern age.

Both terrifying, dystopian and dark, 1984 still brings forth some light - that light being that most of us still have a lot to be thankful for, even throughout these darker times.

3) Klara and the Sun - Kazuo Ishiguro

It would be impossible to leave out Nobel Literature Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and the Sun.

Once again, this is a book with enormous topical relevance. It follows Klara, the chief protagonist and artificial robotic friend who longs for human friendship.

Futuristic but emotive in the way it weaves between humanistic and seemingly robotic emotions, Klara and the Sun paints a compelling vision of humanity’s future and the role that robots might play in our society.

4) One Last Stop - Casey Mcquinston

From the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue, One Last Stop is a love story destined for beachside reading. It’s quirky, a bit confused, a bit outrageous and very funny.

A super-witty rom-com with irresistible page-turning characteristics, One Last Stop is bound to be a summer hit in 2021.

5) The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah

One of 2021s most eagerly anticipated books, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is a sublime work of historical fiction. Set in Texas, 1934, the Dust Bowl Era of the Great Depression, its chief subject matter is the struggle of strong women that came to support and define a generation.

It follows Elsa Martinelli who is faced with a heart-wrenching choice; fight for the home that she holds so dearly or travel to the west coast, to California, in search of a better life.

This book is written with a mighty conviction that mirrors that of its protagonist. It really conjures up a sense of struggle. It’s an ode to mothers, and to the courage of women.

This book was hailed for being lyrical in the way it captures the reader. It’s a powerful, moving and memorable read.

6) The Jane Austen Society - Natalie Jenner

Lovers of Jane Austen will love this book almost by default. Set after WWII in the homely English village of Chawton, The Jane Austen society follows an unlikely union of Jane Austen lovers who confide in the works of the great writer.

The character development here was especially critically acclaimed. A very English characterful novel with strong, eloquent characters whose personal tragedies connect to the reader.

Charming and witty, the Jane Austen Society is perfect for reading with a cup-of-tea in the garden.

Georgia Hill told us: "The Jane Austen Society looks just my kind of read. Set in Chawton, Jane’s home and somewhere I’ve visited often, it’s the just-post-war story of a disparate group of people trying to preserve a remarkable piece of English literary heritage. I can’t think of a better subject to read about while sitting in my sunny seaside garden, sipping tea and listening to the birdsong. I love reading outside and can’t wait until the weather’s better to do so - it’s one of the great joys in life."

7) People We Meet On Vacation - Emily Henry

A lovely romance that grabs readers by the heart, People We Meet On Vacation follows two paradoxically entwined friends.

It’s been dubbed the perfect summer novel - it’s mostly lighthearted, funny, a bit awkward, and a bit steamy. It takes us through the holidays of the two main characters and their slow-burning romance.

This friends-to-lovers story was an instant hit, the perfect setup for a summer rom-com read.

8) If It Bleeds - Stephen King

Stephen King is still pumping out some of the finest dark fiction and horror.

His most recent novel, Later, was released in 2021 and that is also well worth a read for any thriller or crime lovers. If It Bleeds is more firmly on the horror spectrum than Later, a little odd for summer perhaps, but people need some darker shades between the rom-coms, right?!

If It Bleeds was released back in 2020 and rates as one of his best collections of short fiction.

It actually contains 4 novellas; Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story, If It Bleeds.

All 4 are tense, dark and intriguing. The character development and storytelling is viscerally vivid - this is vintage Stephen King at his exemplary best.

9) It Had To Be You - Georgia Clark

This heart-melting novel follows Liv who’s husband, Elliot, dies suddenly leaving her to run their wedding-planning business.

If that wasn’t tough enough, she soon realises that he left half of it to a much younger mistress, Savannah. Somehow, the two salvage their relationship and form a bold, strong and unlikely friendship.

It’s smart, big-hearted and funny. A summer book with a warm centre and plenty of wit.

10) London's Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir

Something to mix things up here, this memoir-come-novel by Kate Macdougall follows the trials, tribulations, ups and downs of starting a dog walking business in one of the world’s busiest capitals - London.

It’s a gorgeous love letter to dogs and London itself. Strongly written with plenty of enthusiasm for the topic, this promises to be a heartwarming story that especially pleases dog lovers of every variety!

11) Normal People - Sally Rooney

Another deceptively simple romantic novel, Normal People explores the entanglement of young love and the coming of age.

It goes beyond romantic stereotypes but is still tender in the way it develops its two protagonists who become increasingly intertwined, making each confront how far they should go to save the other from their troubles.

Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends is similarly a great summer read. Both books combine a strong but emotive and realistic narrative with expertly interwoven sensitive themes.

12) Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer

Many might already be familiar with the 2007 film by the same name, directed by Sean Penn featuring Emile Hirsch as chief protagonist Chris McCandless.

Into The Wild fulfils the promise of its title, bringing the reader through the remarkable and ultimately tragic life of a teenage boy who left his civilised life to explore nature.

An excellent summer read, Into The Wild is very moving but warmly inspiring - sure to ignite wanderlust in any reader!

Into The Wild - both the novel and film - received widespread critical acclaim. They serve as a strong reminder of how young minds cannot possibly account for the unknown, but also how humanity retains an enduring desire to push the limits of our existence and survivability.

13) The Guest List - Lucy Foley

This No.1 Sunday Times bestseller is a modern Agatha Christie-inspired whodunnit.

It follows a dreamy wedding party on an island off the coast of Ireland. The tagline sums up the basic plot well; “The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body.”

Heralded as one of the most compelling page-turning psychological thrillers of the last couple of years, The Guest List promises to be tough to put down, no matter the weather.

The perfect page-turner for a long afternoon’s summer reading.

14) Of Mice And Men - John Steinbeck

Another book set in the evocative era and landscape of the Great Depression, Of Mice And Men follows two main ranchers; George and Lennie, who move through the USA in search of new job opportunities.

Of Mice And Men is a typical school literature study book, but revisiting this short 107-page novella later on in life is a different experience.

You can see why it remains one of American’s most beloved novels, and why it’s come to be so influential despite its diminutive size and straightforward narrative style.

Of Mice And Men sets its characters upon a stage - its story plays out so we can foresee the tragedy that lies in waiting.

A striking story of hope, companionship, loneliness, alienation and exploration - a somewhat bleak American reality - or the American dream?

15) The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden is a children’s book, but it packs many truthful themes that remain engrossing in adulthood. It’s been heralded as one of the all-time best children’s classics and follows Mary Lennox who moves into a new manor house in gloomy Yorkshire.

Her experience changes when she learns of a locked secret garden within the manor’s grounds.

One day, a friendly robin helps Mary find the key, and that’s when her magical journey begins.

The Secret Garden’s charm draws upon its authentic rendering of childhood emotions; curiosity and spirituality through imagination. The perfect book to read to children this summer.

16) The Wind In The Willows - Kenneth Graham

For sure one of the most charming children’s novels in all English literature. The Wind In The Willows follows the life and times of its 4 main characters; Mole, Mr. Toad, Badger, and Ratty.

The Wind In The Willows is another children’s book with a human heart at its core. It’s fun but truthful in its portrayal of life as a winding road, full of surprises that we cannot comprehend until we overcome them. At the roots of The Wind In The Willows is friendship and the unbreakable bonds that form between its charming characters.

One of the key themes of The Wind In The Willows is the ‘Wild Wood’ and what lies beyond it - the ‘Wide World’. It has a habit of evoking a warm sense of safety and retreat within children and adults alike.

17) A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

The ultraviolent A Clockwork Orange was a true shocker when it was first released in 1962. It’s the perfect book to read alongside 1984, or any other Orwell novel.

The novel explores criminality, justice, the struggle between people and the state and the nature of free will and choice.

Using futuristic slang, A Clockwork Orange is a densely written work, a sermon-like exploration of redemption and struggle against actions spiralling out of control.

A summer read? Maybe, maybe depends on your taste! Those who like intense or violent psychological thrillers will enjoy what A Clockwork Orange has to offer, but it’s not for the faint-hearted or genre newbies!

18) Human Universe - Brian Cox

The dulcet tones of physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox are incredibly valuable for science, and this typically well-written book by the astrophysicist himself is awe-inspiring and powerful on the deepest and most fundamental of levels.

It’s difficult to turn extremely intricate and complex universal concepts into something so tactful and resonant, but this is what Brian Cox achieves in Human Universe.

Human Universe asks all the big questions and provides big answers, at least to the extent of our knowledge. It’s an exploration of human understanding and consciousness as well as space.

19) The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett

Following twin sisters in the 1950s to the 1990s USA, this exploration of racial and personal identity is a meditation on how our fate can be wildly different, despite sharing quite literally the same origins for the sake of the Vignes twins.

The Vanishing Half is an expertly crafted novel that explores divergence, both in culture and identity. It’s a real eye-opener, set in the past but with very modern relevance.

20) Fair Warning - Michael Connelly

An expertly crafted thriller by the acclaimed Michael Connelly, Fair Warning follows Jack McEvoy as he walks the thin line between detective and suspect.

The murder has was following as a veteran reporter was particularly brutal and chilling - but things take a turn for the worst when he becomes a suspect in his own unfolding drama.

Reviewed as a ‘crime novel of the highest order’, this intense thriller has received stellar ratings across the boards. A pulsating page turner fit for summer days and warm evenings - it’ll get the palms sweaty!

See More