With summer officially upon us, the Mental Floss team—like so many of our readers—has got books on the brain. Nothing completes a lazy summer day in the sun or week spent on the beach quite like a great book. And while the term “beach read” often brings images of fluffy fiction to mind, it doesn’t have to be that way.

To get you prepped for the best summer ever, our writers and editors shared the books they’re currently reading—and loving—any one of which would make a perfect addition to your summer reading list. Whether you’re into true crime, contemporary classics, or presidential history, we’ve got recommendations for every kind of bibliophile.

1. Thunderstruck // Erik Larson

The cover of Erik Larsen's book 'Thunderstruck.'
Amazon

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson interweaves the stories of two men who are strangers to each other but whose fates are tied together: Guglielmo Marconi, the self-taught physicist who aims to perfect the radio, and Hawley Harvey Crippen, a nondescript patent medicine salesman who commits a vicious murder in Edwardian London. Larson’s instinct for detail molds these two contemporaries into contrasting forces, and his mastery of suspense keeps readers hooked for the satisfyingly gruesome climax. The unusual mix of true crime and physics make Thunderstruck a riveting tale.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee // Casey Cep

The cover of Casey Cep's book 'Furious Hours.'
Amazon

In Furious Hours, Casey Cep brings to light the story of the only nonfiction book that To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee attempted to write: the bizarre but true tale of Reverend Willie Maxwell, who was accused of murdering (with the help of voodoo) five people for insurance policy payments he had taken out in their names. After Maxwell was gunned down at the funeral of one of the people he allegedly had murdered, the reverend’s lawyer—who had previously represented him in cases against insurance companies—flipped to defend his killer. Told in three parts, Furious Hours focuses on the reverend’s and the lawyer’s stories, before turning to Lee’s life, work, and her attempts to write what she hoped would be her In Cold Blood (a book that she had helped her childhood friend Truman Capote report). Part true crime thriller, part legal deep dive, and part exploration of the artistic process, Furious Hours is a page turner from start to finish.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Catch-22 // Joseph Heller

The cover of Joseph Heller's 'Catch-22.'
Amazon

George Clooney recently brought the anti-war allegory of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to the small screen in a six-episode series for Hulu, but the horror and absurdity of war, which Heller experienced firsthand as a teen Air Force bombardier stationed along the Italian Front, is as poignant now as it was when this novel came out in the midst of the Vietnam War.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Lady From the Black Lagoon // Mallory O'Meara

The cover of Mallory O'Meara's 'The Lady from the Black Lagoon.'
Amazon

The Creature From the Black Lagoon is one of the most iconic monsters to come out of Hollywood, but the woman who designed it has largely been forgotten. In The Lady From the Black Lagoon, writer Mallory O'Meara investigates makeup artist and special effect designer Milicent Patrick's untold story. In the process, she uncovers uncovers one woman's impact on the horror genre and sheds light on sexism's deep roots in the film industry.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Your Life Is Mine // Nathan Ripley

The cover of Nathan Ripley's book 'Your Life is Mine.'
Amazon

Blanche Potter's father was an infamous cult leader who went on a shooting rampage in the 1990s, when she was just a little girl, that ended with him taking his own life. Although she's tried as hard as she can to distance herself from that terrible time, when her mother is killed, she returns to her family home to find out that things are not as they seem—and that chapter of her life may not be closed after all. This thriller from bestselling Canadian writer Nathan Ripley (the not-very-secret pseudonym of Naben Ruthnum) is a slow burn that's a perfect summer beach read for those who like to keep it dark—very dark.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Assassination Vacation // Sarah Vowell

The cover of Sarah Vowell's book 'Assassination Vacation.'
Amazon

In Assassination Vacation, author and This American Life contributor Sarah Vowell explores the fascinating and horrifying history of three presidential assassinations—William McKinley, James Garfield, and Abraham Lincoln—with her trademark irreverent humor. Her journey takes her everywhere from the remote Dry Tortugas National Park (a military installation-turned-prison where Samuel Mudd, a doctor implicated in Lincoln’s assassination, was held) and Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. to the New Jersey town where Garfield spent his summers and McKinley’s Ohio grave, with her friends and family (including her then-3-year-old nephew, Owen) in tow. It’s not a straightforward account of the assassinations, but Vowell’s ability to weave humor and personal stories in with history means you’ll learn more than you thought possible—and chuckle while you do it.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive // Stephanie Land

The cover of Stephanie Land's book 'Maid.'
Amazon

Stephanie Land's account of her tenure as a housekeeper sheds needed light on the overlooked, overworked working class and the financial obstacles of the laboring life.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Soul of an Octopus // Sy Montgomery

The cover of Sy Montgomery's 'The Soul of an Octopus.'
Amazon

If you don't already consider octopuses to be some of the most intelligent, creative, and fascinating creatures on Earth, reading The Soul of an Octopus will change that. Writer and naturalist Sy Montgomery got up-close-and-personal with octopuses at Boston's New England Aquarium and in the waters of Polynesia to write this book. The book includes plenty of science, but by looking into the cephalopod's mind, it also inspires philosophical questions about the nature of consciousness.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The Ghosts of Eden Park // Karen Abbott

The cover of Karen Abbott's book 'The Ghosts of Eden Park.'
Amazon

In the early 1920s, George Remus had it all: A gorgeous wife, a thriving bootlegging empire, an opulent mansion. A German immigrant and self-made man, Remus first owned a pharmacy, then became a lawyer before quitting the law to break it; he moved to Cincinnati to peddle massive amounts of booze during Prohibition in one of the biggest bootlegging operations in the country. (By 1921, he owned 35 percent of all of the alcohol in the U.S.) Remus never drank himself, but he hosted wild parties where he gave out cars as gifts and encouraged his guests to jump in a pool named for his wife, Imogene. But those Gatsby-esque glory days were not to last. After being convicted on bootlegging charges, he went to prison—and his wife kindled an affair with the federal agent who had brought her husband down. And then … there was a murder. Karen Abbott deftly tells this strange-but-true story, which gets more bizarre and sensational with every page. Ghosts of Eden Park isn’t out until August, but you’ll want to hit that pre-order button now.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy // Dan Abrams and David Fisher

The cover of Dan Abram and David Fisher's book 'Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense.'
Amazon

Former president Theodore Roosevelt had a sterling reputation as a moral man—and he was eager to defend it when Republican party boss William Barnes accused him of libel in 1915. In Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense, authors Dan Abrams and David Fisher weave the history of law into a dee-lightful and compelling account of case. You’ll feel like you were one of the lucky audience members who was in the Syracuse courtroom for this “Trial of the Century.”

Buy it: Amazon

11. The Golden Compass // Philip Pullman

The cover of Philip Pullman's book 'The Golden Compass.'
Amazon

Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass has many of the hallmarks of a young adult fantasy book. There are witches, talking animals, and a young protagonist destined to save the world. But with mature themes that grapple with religion, death, and consciousness woven throughout this title and the rest of the His Dark Materials series, the book is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids. Dive into the series before the BBC/HBO adaptation hits screens later this year.

Buy it: Amazon

12. The Killer Across the Table // John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker

The cover of John E. Douglas's book 'The Killer Across the Table.'
Amazon

In his latest book, former FBI agent and behavioral analyst John E. Douglas (with co-author Mark Olshaker) takes readers into the interview room with four killers—and behind the scenes as he preps for those interviews, laying out not just the details of the men's lives and their horrific crimes but how he got the convicts to open up. The result is a fascinating look into the criminal psyche that’s a must-read for true crime fanatics everywhere.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Mostly Dead Things // Kristen Arnett

The cover of Kristen Arnett's book 'Mostly Dead Things.'
Amazon

Kristen Arnett's first novel, Mostly Dead Things, is an exploration of grief, family, queer love, Florida life, and, naturally, taxidermy. The novel centers on Jessa-Lynn Morton, whose father has just died by suicide in the family's taxidermy shop. In the aftermath, her mother begins making "aggressively lewd art" with the taxidermied animals, her brother shuts down, and Jessa-Lynn becomes the only one holding the family together. Arnett, who threw the launch party for her last book—the 2017 story collection Felt in the Jaw—at her beloved local 7-Eleven (which she tweets about near daily), is a writer with a unique voice and a strong sense of weirdness, both of which help make the novel a delightful gem. As fellow Florida native Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia, puts it, "Mostly Dead Things is one of the strangest and funniest and most surprising first novels I’ve ever read." It's the perfect book to read in the heat of summer when the weather is at its swampiest.

Buy it: Amazon

14. The Water Cure // Sophie Mackintosh

The cover of Sophie Mackintosh's book 'The Water Cure.'
Amazon

Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Sophie Mackintosh's first novel is a haunting, lyrical book about disasters—environmental, societal, familial, emotional—that takes place in an unnamed location in an unspecified era, one in which all men have been rendered literally toxic. Growing up on an isolated, fortified island with their parents, sisters Grace, Lia, and Sky are kept an ocean away from any man who isn't their father. Each day, they're made to undergo strange, often painful rituals designed to cleanse them of the toxins that their parents say lurk at every turn. But when their father disappears and newcomers arrive at their home, the sisters are forced to reevaluate how they see the world.

Buy it: Amazon

15. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone // Lori Gottlieb

The cover of Lori Gottlieb's 'Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.'
Amazon

Ever wonder what's going on in your therapist's head as you're going on and on about your problems? Journalist and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb explores what it's like on both sides of the patient-therapist relationship in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, a book that details her experiences treating clients as well as the experience of visiting a therapist herself. The book is a warm, honest portrayal of people navigating life's big challenges—heartbreak, illness, the trials of marriage, anger issues, and more—that will make you feel like you just came out of a session with a beloved therapist yourself. In a good way, we promise.

Buy it: Amazon

16. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up // John Carreyrou

The cover of John Carreyrou's book 'Bad Blood.'
Amazon

The biotech start-up Theranos seemed too good to be true: It promised a state-of-the-art process to expedite and improve blood testing for hundreds of millions of people. But founder Elizabeth Holmes trafficked more in fantasy than fact. This comprehensive account of business malpractice reads like a thriller.

Buy it: Amazon

17. The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies // Ben Fritz

The cover of Ben Fritz's book 'The Big Picture.'
Amazon

Journalist Ben Fritz weaves a tale of Hollywood at a crossroads, with blockbusters and micro-budget horror movies driving out the modestly budgeted dramas that are increasingly winding up on other platforms. From the Sony hack to the rise of Marvel, The Big Picture is an excellent primer on the current state of the movie business.

Buy it: Amazon

18. American Places: A Writer's Pilgrimage to Sixteen of This Country's Most Visited and Cherished Sites // William Zinsser

The cover of William Zinsser's book 'American Places.'
Amazon

Pearl Harbor, Mount Rushmore, Disneyland: America is full of real places that have been elevated in our national consciousness to imply something bigger. Author William Zinsser, best known for his indispensable guide On Writing Well, hits the road to understand why these popular destinations—not to say tourist traps—have become icons. He talks with park rangers, cashiers, artists, archivists, and workers who have the perspective to explain the transformation of a South Dakota mountain into a symbol of American character, or a Massachusetts pond into the locus of our yearning for simplicity. Like the best travel narrators, Zinsser takes us along with him on his journey of discovery with enthusiasm and peerless prose.

Buy it: Amazon

19. The Best Survival Stories Ever Told // Edited by John E. Lewis

An image of the book 'The Best Survival Stories Ever Told.'
Amazon

Spoiler alert: Not everyone survives in this collection of the greatest, most improbable tales of men and women against nature. Near-disaster in the polar regions is recounted by Ernest Shackleton and Douglas Mawson (total disaster is covered by Robert Falcon Scott). Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay battle to the summit of Everest, while Theodore Roosevelt bushwhacks through the Amazon jungle and barely lives to tell about it. Lesser known, but no less dogged, explorers traverse the Empty Quarter and drift across the stormy South Pacific. Pick up this anthology when you’re safely wrapped in a beach towel with a gentle sea breeze ruffling your hair.

Buy it: Amazon

20. Orange World // Karen Russell

The cover of Karen Russell's book 'Orange World.'
Amazon

Karen Russell is a national treasure. With a flair for high weirdness that manages to avoid caricature or camp, she crafts stories that are both psychologically rich and terribly strange—think bog bodies, tree spirits, and breastfeeding the devil. But the real joy of reading Russell is her commitment to using language in news ways: Her sentences are worth reading again and again to take their full weight. The effect is enhanced if you've ever seen her read in person; she's incredibly sweet and almost elfin, delighted to be sharing with you these dispatches from the uncanny—which are never really about another world after all, but about the full weirdness of this one right here.

Buy it: Amazon

21. Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding // Jessie Sholl

The cover of Jessie Sholl's book 'Dirty Secret.'
Amazon

When novelist Jessie Sholl learned of her mother's cancer diagnosis, she knew that part of taking care of her mother would mean repairing their fractured relationship and coming to terms with her mom's compulsive hoarding. While Sholl delves into her mother's abusive childhood, parenting choices, divorce, and the psychological impacts all of that had on everyone in their family unit, she also sheds light on the mental blocks many compulsive hoarders face.

Buy it: Amazon

22. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States // Samantha Allen

The cover of Samantha Allen's book 'Real Queer America.'
Amazon

Follow transgender journalist Samantha Allen as she travels through the heart of Red State America, including the Deep South, the Bible Belt, and Mormon country (where she was missionary a decade ago). Allen shines a light on queer communities that often get less focus than those in the Haight-Ashbury or along Christopher Street and offers a humorous, hopeful outlook on the status of queer America.

Buy it: Amazon

23. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper // Hallie Rubenhold

The cover of Hallie Rubenhold's book 'The Five.'
Amazon

Over the past 131 years, millions of words have been written about Jack the Ripper—from detailed accountings of his (or her) crimes, to guesses as to who the notorious serial killer might have been. In that time, Jack himself has become the most famous figure in these brutal unsolved slayings, while the women he murdered have been largely ignored. Historian Hallie Rubenhold endeavors to set the record straight with The Five, in which she tells the tragic tales of Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly, Jack’s “Canonical Five” victims. In addition to separating fact from fiction, like the erroneous belief that Jack only preyed on prostitutes, Rubenhold gives a long-awaited voice and backstory to these women, and presents them as being not just victims of the world’s most notorious murderer, but of the prejudices against women in Victorian England as well.

Buy it: Amazon

24. The Trial of Lizzie Borden // Cara Robertson

The cover of Cara Robertson's book 'The Trial of Lizzie Borden.'
Amazon

Given that it’s been more than 125 years since Lizzie Borden was put on trial for the murder of her father and stepmother in the summer of 1892, it would seem as if researchers have learned everything there is to know about the case against Borden, and why she was ultimately acquitted. But Cara Robertson, who began researching the crime in the 1990s, when she was an undergraduate at Harvard University, doesn’t think the story is as simple as that famous (and rather bleak) nursery rhyme lets on. She spent 20 years carefully researching and cultivating documents from the trial and came across new evidence that put a fascinating spin on a tragic story you thought you knew everything about. The book incorporates transcripts from the trial, newspaper accounts of the day—including pieces from local New England papers that took a different view on the crime—and recently uncovered letters written by Lizzie herself to give you a whole new perspective on one of America’s most famous murder trials.

Buy it: Amazon

25. The Sopranos Sessions // Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall

The cover of the book 'The Sopranos Sessions.'
Amazon

It says a lot about The Sopranos that, though the series premiered 20 years ago, we’re still talking about it. Regularly. And comparing every new piece of prestige television that comes along to David Chase’s superb mafia drama that successfully managed to convey the duality of a mob boss who is also a doting family man. Whether you loved the fade-to-black ending or hated the ambiguity of it all, television critics Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall have compiled a book of reviews, interviews, episode recaps, television analyses, interviews—including a few new ones with Chase—and more to bring you back to a pre-Game of Thrones time when all anyone could ever talk/argue about was The Sopranos. And with good reason.

Buy it: Amazon

26. Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies // Alastair Bonnett

The cover of Alastair Bonnett's book 'Unruly Places.'
Amazon

Locations on the map that don't actually exist. Islands that vanish and then reappear. Dead cities. Tribes of very alive humans thriving in cemeteries. Alastair Bonnett's Unruly Places is the thinking person's guide to the odder corners of the map, and an attempt, as the jacket blurb puts it, "to reinspire our geographical imagination." It succeeds: Bonnett never descends into ruin porn or easy nostalgia, and the depth of his research (and in some cases, experience) shines through. At a time when humans are often all too sure they've conquered the globe, it's thrilling to know the inscrutable, unruly places that Bonnett describes still exist.

Buy it: Amazon

27. Moonbath // Yanick Lahens

The cover of the book 'Moonbath.'
Amazon

Haitian writer Yanick Lahens has a singular voice: sometimes spare, often haunting, and capable of creating scenes that express both great suffering and transportive beauty. In Moonbath, she tells the story of four generations of one family in a Haitian village, knit together by love and trauma. It's an eye-opening book (at least for a relatively privileged American reader) that, although fiction, also touches on the larger history of Haiti to create the kind of empathetic and imaginative possibilities that only the very best literature achieves.

Buy it: Amazon

Written by Erika Berlin, Michele Debczak, Shaunacy Ferro, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Jake Rossen, and Jennifer Wood.

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