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15 Brainy books: Perfect beach reads to expand your mind

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Make it a smart summer

Grabbing a good book and hitting the beach is one of the best ways to unwind during the summer. And while escape literature is fun, we suggest boning up with one of these brainy books!
Make it a smart summer

Make it
a smarter summer

Grabbing a good book and hitting the beach is one of the best ways to unwind during the summer. And while escape literature is fun, we suggest boning up with one of these brainy books!


Make it a smart summer

Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson

A huge buzz maker this spring, Kate Atkinson's latest effort is a must-read — if you haven't already (in which case, read it again!). The premise? Ursula Todd lives again... and again... and again. It's kind of like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, except every time Ursula starts over, it's because she dies. Is she meant for a bigger purpose? Will she use her cat-like number of lives for the greater good?

Make it a smart summer

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Set in turn-of-the-century New York, The Golem and the Jinni delves into the unlikely kinship between Chava the golem — a creature created from clay and brought to life by a disgraced rabbi — and Ahmad the jinni— an ancient Syrian fire being. Not since muggles came to Hogwarts has there been such a riveting blend of the mystical and the mundane.

Make it a smart summer

Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness)
by Françoise Sagan

Although its heroine is a self-absorbed 17-year-old, this book is decidedly adult. When Cecile heads to Paris to spend summer vacation from boarding school with her father and his lover, she fully intends to fill her time with carefree moments and sexual adventures. But when her late mother's best friend unexpectedly arrives, Cecile's mindless summer fun takes a dark turn.

Make it a smart summer

Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber

An amalgamation of tales, author Natalie Serber's debut novel lays bare the most intimate and influential roles a woman will ever have — as a daughter and, later, perhaps also a mother. In stories of "flawed, resilient women," the book quietly exposes the complex web of emotions comprising the classic female archetypes and their manifestation in real life.

Make it a smart summer

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

To 15-year-old Bee, Bernadette Fox is "Mom." But to everyone else, the strong-willed woman maintains a reputation as a force to be reckoned with. When her own high expectations collide with her distaste for Seattle society, Bernadette disappears — leaving Bee to seek out her mother via any means possible.

Make it a smart summer

Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things by Ashley Cardiff

This obscenely funny and amusingly inappropriate examination of sexual development reads as though it were written by the love child of David Sedaris and Samantha from Sex and the City. From navigating the awkward waters of teenagedom to withstanding the ebb and flow of adult relationships, author Ashley Cardiff wades into territory that is at once raunchy and universal.

Make it a smart summer

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne

If you want to ease away from your standard beach reading fare of gossip magazines, this sharply written novel about an 11-year-old pop megastar coming to grips with his celebrity status is just the ticket. Young Jonny Valentine — modeled on the likes of Justin Bieber — proves a stirring narrator who, whether you're a Belieber or not, will have you both laughing hysterically and considering the dark underbelly of pop culture.

Make it a smart summer

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

The No. 1 New York Times best-selling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini, delivers again with a new novel about the complicated intricacies of family. This story poignantly examines how much familial bonds affect us and how the actions of those closest to us are often the ones that inflict the most damage — yet matter the most.

Make it a smart summer

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

As timely as it is touching, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid tackles war in a way many people are either unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with or both — through the eyes of women. Yael, Avishag and Lea share a childhood in an Israeli village and, later, conscription into the Israeli army. Punctuated by humor, the read is heavy — yes — but also funny and fiercely smart.

Make it a smart summer

Inferno by Dan Brown

Does the name Robert Langdon ring any bells? Dan Brown's latest in the saga of the Harvard professor, Inferno, boasts the intrigue and dark appeal fans of The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and The Lost Symbol have come to expect. This tome finds Langdon in the heart of Italy facing a harrowing riddle.

Make it a smart summer

Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race by Larry Colton

Want to have something substantial to talk about with your co-workers around the water cooler when you get back to work? Pick up this true, previously untold story of the first integrated sports team to develop in the racially tense town of Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights movement.

Make it a smart summer

The Kill Room: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel by Jeffery Deaver

If you haven't read a Jeffery Deaver work before, you've likely at least watched the film adaptation of The Bone Collector — the 1999 blockbuster starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie based on Deaver's 1997 novel of the same name. The latest installment in the Lincoln Rhyme series, The Kill Room, brings fans the same sharply drawn characters and crime thriller plot they've come to love.

Make it a smart summer

by Margo Lanagan

With a name like Yellowcake, how can this not be a great beach read? Well, don't get ahead of yourself. It is a must-read — but not nearly as light and sweet as the title may suggest. Rather, it is a collection of 10 stark tales ranging from fantasy to horror... but all with an underlying vein of humanity.

Make it a smart summer

The Immortal Life
of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

This isn't a newly published work, but — if it is new to you — it's definitely worth tossing in your beach bag. You won't be able to help feeling brainy when someone asks you what you're reading and you explain it's the true story of a poor Southern black woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 — and have since been used to develop such groundbreaking medical advances like the polio vaccine, cloning, in vitro fertilization and more.

Make it a smart summer

Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime by Sarah Smiley

This book deserves to be on your list for no other reason than it will make you a better person for reading it. The inspirational true story of a mother trying to fill the empty space left by her husband deployed overseas, the book shares the family's journey as they invite a new guest to dinner each week. By the close, you'll be begging for seconds.

More summer reading

June must-reads
RED HOT BOOK OF THE WEEK: Between You and Me
Beach reads: New must-read beach novels

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