When you think of books to read in the summer, your mind may first conjure up a breezy, clever romance like The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory or Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. Maybe you think of books like Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six—a juicy tell-all about a fictional rock-and-roll band. Or perhaps you’re a fan of page-turning thrillers, and Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand or Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife would hit the spot.
But what if none of those quite fit the bill? If you’re like me, you gravitate toward books found off the normal summer path—books that are a little weird and macabre, books that are dreamy and dripping with atmosphere. Especially in the summertime, when everything’s all sunshine and snow cones, this kind of moody, darker fare is the perfect counter-programming.
Below are six examples for those looking for something a bit different in their summer beach reads:
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Hardinge’s lush prose and impeccable eye for creepy imagery create the perfect backdrop for this eerie tale of two sisters in post-World War I England. One of the sisters, narrator Triss, awakens confused after a terrible accident and soon discovers that something is wrong with her—very wrong—and that a shadowy figure called the Architect is after her family. Give this book to fans of Neil Gaiman and films by Guillermo del Toro.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
If you haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s first novel (recently adapted for television), you’re missing out on a seriously addictive, disturbing, beautifully written book. When Camille Preaker reluctantly returns to her hometown to investigate the murders of two young girls, she has to face her past and her scars—all revolving around the dangerous duo of her obsessive mother and her cruel, charismatic half-sister. “Sharp Objects” is my personal favorite of Flynn’s novels, and vividly conjures up the hot and humid atmosphere of summer in Missouri.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller
Readers who love atmospheric Gothic romances with a sinister edge, like Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, will love this haunting novel. On her deathbed, ailing narrator Frances reminisces about the summer she spent with married couple Cara and Peter in an abandoned English mansion. Hired to catalog the mansion’s architecture and contents for a wealthy buyer, Frances, Peter, and Cara begin the summer as strangers—and quickly become entangled in a messy, dangerous web of desire, love, and lies.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
For something satirical and darkly comedic, try “Beauty Queens” by award-winning author Libba Bray. This is the story of a beauty pageant gone wrong when a plane full of contestants crashes on a desert island, leaving the girls suddenly fighting the elements—and each other. With commentary on society’s definitions of beauty, this modern, feminist twist on Lord of the Flies is a great read for those who love Pretty Little Liars and Big Little Lies.
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
The author of the wildly popular summertime psychological thriller “We Were Liars” returned a few years later with another mind-bender. This one stars a girl named Imogen—only, her real name isn’t Imogen. It’s Jule. She’s on the run from something big. And the real Imogen used to be her best friend. A tightly-paced thriller told in reverse, this one is perfect for fans of the Christopher Nolan film Memento and books by Karin Slaughter.
Strange Practice: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw
A delightfully weird and quirky urban fantasy set in Victorian London, “Strange Practice” tells the story of Greta Helsing and her, well, strange medical practice: Her unusual patients are the supernatural creatures of London. When a mysterious sect of men dressed as monks start killing both human and non-human citizens, Greta sets off to figure out what’s going on and stop the bloody mayhem. Fans of Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, and V. E. Schwab ought to get a kick out of this one.