What makes for a great summer read? For many readers, it’s a novel set in a beach community that supplies plenty of vicarious sun, sand, and leisure—wherever you may find yourself reading it. Elin Hilderbrand long ago locked up the title “Queen of the Beach Reads” with her beloved Nantucket novels tracing the lives and loves of islanders; she says she’s ending the series this year with Swan Song (Little, Brown; June 11). In 2020, Emily Henry brazenly titled her first adult novel Beach Read and has since delivered Happy Place (hint: it’s a cottage in Maine) and People We Meet on Vacation (not just one getaway, but 10 and counting). These are unambiguous summer reads, both in subject and in spirit.

For many of us, though, the beachy setting is optional: A summer read is simply one that delivers the kind of unalloyed pleasure we want while lolling on a hammock, a floaty, or a couch with the AC cranked up. That’s where I plan to devour Lies and Weddings (Doubleday, May 21), the latest novel by Kevin Kwan, who appears on the cover of our May 15 issue in an illustrated portrait by artist Reiko Lauper. Read Marion Winik’s recent interview with the author of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy; his new book is the second in a planned trilogy (Sex and Vanity was the first). These novels still center characters of Asian descent but find inspiration in the plots of English classics such as E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View and Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne. For a former English major like myself, they’re pure catnip.

What else is on my summer reading list? Any book by cultural critic Olivia Laing is a must-read, and her latest, The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise (Norton, June 25), may not be a beach read in the strictest sense, but at least it will transport me outdoors, from the 18th-century garden that the author restored at her home in Suffolk to the literary plots tended by poets John Milton and John Clare. It’s not all sunshine and roses; Laing also considers the exploitative effects of colonialism and capitalism in bolstering these Edenic sanctuaries, as often as not reserved for the upper class. In a starred review, our critic called it an “intellectually verdant and emotionally rich narrative journey.”

The cover of Jo Hamya’s new novel, The Hypocrite (Pantheon, Aug. 13), certainly gives off beachy vibes (via the rocky coast of Sicily), but having read the author’s previous novel, Three Rooms, I know better than to expect escapist fluff. That brilliant book offered a trenchant view of millennial life, online and off, in Boris Johnson/Brexit–era England; the new one probes generational and gender conflict through the story of Sophia, a young playwright who has written a spiky play about a Mediterranean vacation with her novelist father. Now he’ll finally see a production, and it’s doubtful he’ll be pleased with his portrayal. The novel is sure to be fascinating—another fine curtain raiser for this year’s summer reading season.

Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.