These are this summer's best books, from beach reads to conversation starters

Whether you’re looking for a beach book with a Southern belle or two, an adventure with a pirate on North Carolina’s coast, or literary fiction that you can discuss at the next barbecue, local booksellers and publishers have plenty of suggestions for a summer read for you.

What makes for a good summer read anyway?

“I think it’s different things to different people,” said Jamie Fiocco, owner and general manager of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. “For some people, the traditional interpretation is an easy read that entertains. Maybe you want to laugh or cry, but you don’t want to be reminded about everyday challenges.

“For other people, assuming they have more time to read, they may use this time they want to spend more time thinking about, which means it may be non-fiction, poetry or more literary fiction,” she says.

Sue Lucey, co-owner of Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, craves a story that gives her a “book hangover."

"That’s when you don’t want to leave that world because you have become attached to the characters," Lucey said.

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"The Secret to Southern Charm" by Kristy Woodson Harvey Gallery Books

Mamie Potter, a bookseller at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, believes a summer read should be more entertaining and more engrossing. She suggests literary works that you can’t put down.

Sara Seten Berghausen, an associate curator of collections at Duke University, recommends books that create conversation. She sits on a committee that helps choose books for incoming freshmen to Duke.

“It should be something intellectually enriching, fodder for discussion, a book that addresses significant issues, something meaty to talk about," she said.

So, with suggestions from booksellers and local publishers, we came up with this list for a satisfying summer of reading.

Beach Reads and Romance

"The Secret to Southern Charm" by Kristy Woodson Harvey (Gallery Books, April 2018)

North Carolina native and New York Times bestseller author Kristy Woodson Harvey returns with a sequel to her beloved Peachtree Bluff series. Military wife Sloane Murphy is forced to deal with her husband missing in action as she tries to take care of her young children. Harvey, a UNC-Chapel Hill alum, infuses plenty of women power in this story of juggling the highs and lows of life.

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"Beach House Reunion" by Mary Alice Monroe Gallery Books

"Beach House Reunion" by Mary Alice Monroe. (Gallery Books, May 2018)

Mary Alice Monroe delivers a beach read as refreshing as a day on the Isle of Palms shore in South Carolina, the setting for this series of book. The Rutledge family saga continues as they enjoy salt, sea breezes along with a little turmoil and romance. A new generation forges their own way while an older generation heals old wounds.

"Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan. (Anchor, May 2014)

This entertaining book is part of a trilogy. The movie based on this romantic comedy comes out this summer. A Chinese-American woman visits Singapore, meets a rich bad boy and it goes from there. This domestic fiction is filled with social conflict and allows readers to experience a jet-setting lifestyle at least until the book ends.

Literary Thrillers

"Bearskin" by James A. McLaughlin. (Ecco, June 2018)

James A. McLaughlin delivers in his suspenseful debut novel about Rice Moore, a former Mexican cartel smuggler now trying to catch local bear poachers. Moore’s life unravels at the quiet nature preserve in rural Virginia as he closes in on a national criminal network. McLaughlin creates beauty and brutality in this thriller that will keeps you in turning pages.

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"Bearskin" by James A. McLaughlin Ecco

"Florida" by Lauren Groff. (Riverhead Books, June 2018)

Groff, the author of the instant 2015 New York Times bestseller "Fates and Furies," weaves together 11 short stories based in Florida. This literary collection explores the strangeness of human pleasure and pain in the Sunshine state that never cools off. In 2017, Groff was named by Granta Magazine as one of the Best of Young American Novelists of her generation.

Conversation Starters

"Halsey Street" by Naima Coster. (Little A, June 2018)

Durham author Naima Coster crafts a compelling and deeply personal story on the impact of gentrification in her debut novel, “Halsey Street.” Penelope Grand returns to Brooklyn to assist her ailing father, a self-made black man who has lost his spirit and record store when wealthy whites move into the neighborhood replacing familiar people and places.

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"Halsey Street" by Naima Coster Little A

"Southernmost" by Silas House. (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, June 2018)

Southerner and award-winning author Silas House tests a pastor’s religion when a gay couple moves into the family home after a flood in his new novel, “Southernmost.” House draws on some of his own experience as a gay man once married to a woman to inform this compelling story of courage and compassion.

Read Next

"A Place for Us" by Fatima Farheen Mirza. (SJP for Hogarth, June 2018)

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"A Place for Us" by Fatima Farheen Mirza SJP for Hogarth

Mirza’s debut novel, reminiscent of "The Kite Runner," examines the inner-workings of an Indian-American Muslim family in California struggling with traditions in the modern world. This story explores the expectations that each generation has for the next. “A Place for Us” is the first book from actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint at Hogarth.

"Barracoon: The Story of the Last 'Black Cargo'" by Zora Neale Hurston. (Amistad, May 2018)

Fans of the late anthropologist and Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston will rush to read her richly-reported narrative of one of the last living survivors of the Atlantic slave trade. Famed anthropologist Franz Boas and the father of black history Carter G. Woodson sent Hurston to Plateau, Ala., to interview 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis. She documents his capture by warriors, his journey through the Middle Passage and his struggle in the United States. An astute story told by a keen observer and word stylist.

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"Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston Amistad

Adventures: Big and Small

"Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize: The 300-Year Voyage of Queen Anne’s Revenge" by Mark Wilde-Ramsing and Linda Carnes-McNaughton, (UNC Press, June 2018)

Archaeologists and authors Mark Wilde-Ramsing and Linda Carnes-McNaughton narrate the extraordinary adventure of the notorious pirate Blackbeard and his flagship vessel Queen Anne’s Revenge. The duo details the story of the stolen ship and loot along with its fearsome captain.

"Appointed Rounds: Essays" by Michael McFee. (Mercer University Press, February 2018)

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"Appointed Rounds: Essays" by Michael McFee Mercer University Press

Poet and UNC-Chapel Hill English professor Michael McFee crafts a slim book of 50 wide-ranging essays examining the mundane things that matter most to him. Appointed Rounds for him means the essential duties, the daily mail of life we are meant to tend to. The pieces range from “My Inner Hillbilly” to “Gradebook.”

"Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State" by John Trump (Blair, 2017)

DUR_ Still & Barrel cover
“Still & Barrel” by John Francis Trump John F. Blair, Publisher Submitted

Journalist and author John Trump guides readers through the rich detailed history of moonshine in North Carolina in this boozy read that highlights 36 current artisanal distilleries. He offers great points of interest for a spirited road trip. Bring a designated driver.

Read Next

"The Best Cook in The World: Tales from My Momma’s Table" by Rick Bragg. (Knopf, April 2018)

Former New York Times reporter and bestselling author Rick Bragg captures the soul of his mother’s cooking in his chatty memoir and cookbook, “The Best Cook in The World.” He makes it plain with masterful storytelling along with 74 mouthwatering recipes outlining What You Will Need and How to Cook It for Poke Salad, Pan-Roasted Pig’s Feet and Tea Cakes. Bragg is the author of the non-fiction bestsellers "Ava’s Man" and "All Over but the Shoutin.’"

Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at

Book event

Join Mary Alice Monroe reading from latest book, “Beach House Reunion” and Kristy Woodson Harvey reading from her new novel, “The Secret to Southern Charm.” They will be together June 21, 11 a.m. at Quail Ridge Books, 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, in North Hills Shopping Center in Raleigh.

More of our favorite reads so far this year

Here are many of the books that have been featued on The News & Observer's pages this year.

"An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones, a 2018 selection for Oprah’s Book Club

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"The View From Here" by Lynne Hinton

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"The Crossing" by Jason Mott

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"Whiskey & Ribbons" by Leesa Cross-Smith

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"Mrs. Fletcher" by Tom Perrotta

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"Swimming Between Worlds" by Elaine Neil Orr

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"Promise" by Minrose Gwin

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Young Adult

"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander

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"Dear Martin" by Nic Stone

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"Nyxia" by Scott Reintgen

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“Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South" by Virginia Willis

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"Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel" by Alon Shaya

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