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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

25 Best Summer Books to Escape From Work During Your (Well-Deserved) PTO

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Bailey Zelena

In the time leading up to your scheduled PTO, it’s hard to keep your mind on work. And that’s exactly where I am right now. With a beach trip coming up, I’m already mentally packing—and for me, that means planning which books I’m going to bring with me. (Confession: It’s going to be way too many for a seven-day trip.)

But not just any book will do for a vacation. The best beach reads help you escape from your day-to-day life (as in, they aren’t about the office) and are often lighter reads. But what a good vacation book is varies for everyone, so I reached out to my fellow Musers to get their opinions on the best summer reads to help you enjoy your well-deserved time off.

Here’s what they recommended:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Most of this list is in no particular order, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid had to go first due to the number of people who agreed with the recommendation from Muse CEO and Cofounder Kathryn Minshew.

This book tells the story of an old-Hollywood star who’s most famous for the many men she had relationships with. When I read it, I was fascinated from page one, but then a single line about a quarter of the way through suddenly transformed the story I thought I was reading, and from that point on, it was impossible to put down. No spoilers here, but you’re in for a beautiful, gripping story that will carry you through the entire spectrum of human emotion—from utter devastation to overwhelming joy.

If you’re looking for other books by Taylor Jenkins Reid, check out Malibu Rising, which has a built-in beach-y theme, and I’ll personally be taking Daisy Jones & The Six on my summer vacation.

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Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover

“Anything Colleen Hoover is ​​a greatttt beach read,” says Nicolette Finder, Account Manager at The Muse. Hoover has an easy-to-read writing style that pairs with her gripping plot lines to make her books a terrific escape from work. In Reminders of Him, the protagonist returns to her old hometown—after finishing a prison sentence—to try to reconnect with her daughter and ends up starting a risky romance with a local bar owner along the way.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is the best to help you escape!” says Amy Corrado, Project Manager. This young adult fantasy draws on West African mythology and the culture of the Yoruba people. The story follows Zélie, a magic user (or maji) in a kingdom where magic is outlawed and the maji have been brutally repressed. It’s “so so good and its a series, which helps keep the entertainment going,” Corrado says.

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The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

For this book, poet Ross Gay set out to capture something delightful every day for a year, says Stav Ziv, Deputy Editor. The result was “102 bite-sized essays that force you to look at the world with fresh eyes and find delight in sights and experiences you might otherwise take for granted”— which can be the perfect mindset for a vacation. Additionally, “the structure of the book means you can either immerse yourself in a slew of delights all at once or read an essay here and there in snatches of time on a train ride, around family activities, or between dips in the ocean,” Ziv says.

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This recommendation comes from Senior Account Manager Morgan Franklin, who calls it “a remarkable novel that depicts the heartaches and triumphs of four generations of a Korean family. Pachinko beautifully speaks to tradition, womanhood, identity, and family.” 

Ziv adds, “If you’re looking for an epic that’ll carry you across time and space—and are willing to sit with heartbreak and struggle during your time off—this book is a winning pick.” And once you’re done, you can always check out the Apple TV adaptation.

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The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Every year for a decade, best friends Poppy and Alex went on vacation together for a week. Then, on their last trip together, something went wrong. But Poppy is determined to fix things and bring back the yearly tradition that was the only thing that made her truly happy. As a book that’s about a vacation itself, “The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry is the epitome of a beach read,” Corrado says.

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Dune by Frank Herbert

“Dune is just good,” says Owen Percoco, Full-Stack Engineer II, of the classic sci-fi novel that takes place on the desert planet Arrakis—which is great for appreciating any nearby water on your vacation. This epic is full of intrigue, action, and power struggles, and it takes place in a unique society where everyone is addicted to the drug “Spice.”

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

“​The Song of Achilles is an achingly beautiful retelling of the legendary Greek myth of Achilles and his lesser-known love story with Patroclus,” Minshew says. It follows the two through training and the Trojan War, resulting in “an absolutely beautiful read that just might crack your heart right open.”

Ophelia Bradley, Account Executive, adds: “I was vividly transposed to their world, taking every moment and memory with me.” It’s a “summery read, but disclaimer: There will be tears in the last chapters!”

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Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion by Tori Telfer

“If you binged Becoming Anna or The Dropout, this book is for you,” Franklin says. This nonfiction rec is “an iconic collection of cunning women who swindled, stole, and scammed their way through history.” Each chapter focuses on a different woman, so you can take in each full story in one sitting (or standing if you’re the kind of person who reads in line for roller coasters…which I’m definitely only sometimes guilty of).

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The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager

If you like some suspense on your vacation, check this one out. An actress is alone at her family’s cabin after the tragic death of her husband, “when someone washes ashore and all sorts of characters come out of the woodworks,” Bradley says. It’s a “psychologically thrilling page-turner for sure!”

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The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

As you approach the end of this book, you might start to get sad, because once it’s over you’ll have to leave Blackheath Manor and the guests of the party being thrown there. At 11 PM on the night of said party, the hosts’ daughter, Evelyn Hardcastle, will be murdered, and the narrator gets to live the day eight times to try and stop it—each time in the body of a different party guest. The world of Blackheath manor instantly draws you in, making it an ideal escape. And fun fact: In the U.K., the title is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but the author had to change it for the U.S. to avoid confusion with the aforementioned Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

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Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman

Personally, I have mixed feelings about pigeons: My dog loves few things more than sprinting at a cluster of pigeons on the sidewalk and watching them fly away and I love seeing how happy it makes her, but also a flock of pigeons once pooped all over me right before I went on a tour of Florence.

Still, if you’re taking a trip to a place full of pigeons, escaping a city overrun by them, or just want to learn about how these birds have gone from being worshipped as gods to depended on for vital communications to thought of as a nuisance, consider this book. CMS Manager James Brown said, glowingly, “I read this on a beach once. Does this count?” (Seriously though, the reviews are great.)

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The Beach by Alex Garland

This novel follows three tourists as they search for an untouched, idyllic beach in Southeast Asia and then discover the realities of living in paradise. “It’s super gripping and fast and it takes place on an island in Thailand, so it’s very cool to read if you’re on vacation in that sort of environment,” Percoco says.

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The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

OK, so this one does touch on the office and people’s jobs, but I’m willing to bet your job isn’t as a caseworker for the well-being of magical youth. Linus Baker’s is, and he takes a special assignment to investigate an orphanage for magical children on a beautiful island—the first time he’s ever seen the ocean. It’s a light, heartwarming story that’s easy to read and introduces you to some memorable characters such as a little green blob who wants nothing more than to be a bellhop, the sprite who guards the island and its inhabitants, and an adorable six-year-old boy who happens to be the Antichrist.

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The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

The Wedding Date was a rom-com novel full of laughter, fun, and romance,” says Sean Kielar, Account Manager. In this book, which is part of a series that can be read in any order, Drew asks a woman he gets stuck in an elevator with to be his fake girlfriend and plus-one at his ex’s wedding. Shocking: They can’t stop thinking about each other afterwards. “When it comes to vacation I’m looking for a book to ease my mind, keeping the mood light and fun.” Kielar says. “Jasmine Guillory nailed it.”

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This isn’t the lightest vacation read: “I cry at the beach a lot,” Bradley says. But if you’re looking for something deeper that deserves your full attention while you’re temporarily free of any work worries, Homegoing is it. The book follows the descendants of a 17th century Asante woman named Maame. One of Maame’s daughters marries a British general who works in the slave trade; the other, her half-sister, is sold into slavery in the U.S.

Each chapter is the self-contained story of someone in the next generation of each sister’s family up to the present day, which makes it easy to jump into quickly over a number of sittings. But the effect is anything but quick. Instead it’s a visceral, soul-shaking experience that helps readers grasp the permanence of the scars of slavery and how they continue to reverberate through generations.

“Fair warning: You will be angry. You will cry. Maybe even yell! What a brilliant read!” Bradley says.

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The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Long before Emily went to Paris, Sally Jay Gorce did it in a more entertaining, charming, and sympathetic way in this fun, laugh-out-loud read. Franklin recommends The Dud Avocado “for anyone who doesn’t mind giggling to themselves on the beach while living vicariously through the uninhibited and hilarious Sally Jay Gorce”—as she tries to break into the French film industry in the 1950s and has several love affairs along the way.

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The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina

“Not a beach read, but further offshore,” says Jason Uechi, SVP of Engineering. “The Outlaw Ocean is a nonfiction account of numerous stories of modern life/crime at sea.” If you’re looking to read some strong investigative journalism on your trip, check out this book for an exposé on what really goes on in international waters. I wouldn’t read this one on a cruise, but you do you.

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Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead told Fresh Air that he was looking for “a project that has the capacity for joking and humor” after completing two Pulitzer Prize–winning novels that told stories of violence, oppression, and abuse. “The colorful and lively world Whitehead paints in this somewhat lighter (though still meaty) novel—about a furniture salesman and occasional fence who finds himself enmeshed in a hotel heist in 1960s Harlem—makes it a compelling read for your vacation,” Ziv says. “And if you like it, you’re in luck, because Whitehead is working on a sequel.”

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In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

While In a Lonely Place might not be the best vacation read for everybody, the chilling descriptions and the subtle but steady suspense building will keep any modern true crime fan turning the pages of this relatively short novel. If it were written today, it would still be a standout psychological thriller, but it was published in 1948—making it revolutionary.

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Let's Get Physical by Danielle Friedman

“Ever been in a barre class and wondered, as you pulsed and shook, who concocted this evil torture, er, form of exercise? I certainly have,” Ziv says. Danielle Friedman’s curiosity about the origins of barre led to a viral essay for The Cut and then this book, which follows the rise of women’s fitness from the belief that a woman’s uterus could fall out if she exercised too much through the eras when jogging and Jazzercise took off. “Friedman's smart, lively voice and narrative style full of detailed anecdotes and juicy tidbits make this nonfiction book a fast, fun read while weaving together a cultural history that’s about exercise, yes, but also fads, feminism, and Jane Fonda, among other things,” Ziv says. “Plus, it might make those Mrs. Maisel scenes make a little bit more sense.”

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28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand has made a career of writing books, primarily romances, about her hometown of Nantucket, so basically any of her books make a great summer read. Dani Gibbs, Accounting Manager, recommends 28 Summers. It’s about an affair that went on for one weekend a year for almost three decades (or “28 summers”) and the aftermath—which is made even more complicated by the fact that one of the affair’s participants is married to the frontrunner in the 2020 presidential election.

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The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, this fairly literal interpretation of the genre will make a great vacation read. Once a city grows large enough in identity and culture, it comes to life in a human host whose job is to protect the city and its inhabitants. But when it comes time for New York City to be born, there’s too much history and culture for just one person and each borough gets its own personification. In addition to being a thrilling fantasy adventure, this novel is a celebration of how every place and city is unique, making it a great read for any vacation to a new place (but especially New York City).

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Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (and other nostalgic reads)

“This is old school but I just recently bought the Scholastic Kids Goosebumps series as they were my favorite books back in elementary school,” says Flávia Ribeiro, Junior Project Manager. Maybe Goosebumps is an old favorite for you too, but if not, you don’t need to limit yourself. You might have loved Judy Blume’s books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or the Percy Jackson series. Regardless, you can spend your vacation rereading some nostalgic stories from your childhood and teenage years. They’re likely to be quick and easy reads for you as an adult and they’ll be a great escape from your 9-to-5 life. Plus, they’ll likely be a bit cheaper to get a hold of (or you may even have them tucked away in a box somewhere!).

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab was suggested by Catherine Pargeter, The Muse’s VP of Data, but it also made it onto my packing list this year. In the early 18th century, Addie LaRue made a deal with the devil: She could live for as long as she wanted, but no one would remember her once she left their sight. If you’re looking for an escape from your normal life that’s about escaping from the constraints of a normal life and has a love triangle where one of the points is the devil, this is a great choice (and possibly your only choice). This book also centers the wonder you can find in new places and experiences—which is a great mindset to be in on any vacation.

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