The Best Beach Listens to Kick Summer 2021 Off Right

Catch some well-deserved rays and chill out with 10 perfect audiobooks to take to the pool, the beach house, the car ride over, and—ahhh—right on the sand.

Let's face it: last summer wasn't up to our usual standard. Instead of chilling on the beach with our best buds and best snacks, we were navigating summer in a pandemic, worrying about our loved ones and the world as we sweated under our masks and stayed six feet apart.

This year, for many of us, holds the promise of summers past. We're gathering again, and thanks to loosened travel restrictions, even traveling to farther-flung beaches—which means bringing along the right books. But what is considered a "beach read," anyway? A breezy, escapist novel? Genre fiction? A marketing ploy? My cohosts Margaret, Melissa, Tricia, and I recently talked about this on Audicted, and while we debated the definition (and our personal picks), one thing we agreed on was that beach listening trumps beach reading. Forget awkward tan lines and lounging positions: just pop on your headphones and try some of the 10 best listens to start summer—and Pride month—right!

People We Meet on Vacation

People We Meet on Vacation

Tricia's pick: Editor Tricia proposes this book as THE great pre-vacation listen. It's perfectly suited for listening while on vacation, of course, but it's also perfect for those of us who don't quite remember what it's like to be around groups of strangers–engaging in oddball conversations, drinking a little too much to quell your nerves, and having chance encounters...remember those? Emily Henry, channeled by the effortless Julia Whelan, will remind you just how glorious it can be in this utterly charming getaway with two seemingly mismatched strangers.

That Summer

That Summer

Margaret's pick: Best-selling author Jennifer Weiner’s new novel begins with a deceptively simple premise: One woman receives messages meant for another woman with a very similar email address. The two women eventually become friends, but it turns out the email mix-up is more than just coincidence. One of them is hiding a painful secret of a sexual assault that happened to her when she was a young teen—a secret that, once revealed, will be devastating to her new friend. Narrated by Sutton Foster, That Summer explores provocative and timely themes while allowing listeners to imagine: What would you do if you were in these women’s shoes?

Bath Haus

Bath Haus

Kat's pick: If dark, sexy, and suspenseful is your summer jam, do not miss P.J. Vernon's sophomore psych thriller about a glamorous couple who seem to have it all, from a loving relationship to an impeccably restored Washington, DC townhouse. But when Oliver has an illicit encounter at a discreet gay bathhouse, he ends up the victim of a brutal attack and barely escapes with his life. In the traumatic aftermath, he’ll do anything to keep Nathan from finding out his secret—and as the danger moves closer to home, so do the lies. Cunningly crafted, this pitch-perfect thriller ratchets up the suspense with a dual POV voiced by Michael Crouch and Daniel Henning.

Firekeeper's Daughter

Firekeeper's Daughter

Melissa's pick: The YA community was the first to lose their minds over Angeline Boulley's incredible debut, but its reputation has grown far beyond genre recognition. Following an Ojibwa girl named Daunis over the summer before she goes to college, the story takes a shocking turn when Daunis witnesses a murder that thrusts her into an FBI investigation that threatens to tear apart her community. Be warned: Isabella Star LaBlanc's narration might make you cry, but that will only make you love this listen more.

Malibu Rising

Malibu Rising

Margaret's pick: The next best thing to vacationing somewhere fabulous is listening to a story that’s set there. Best-selling author Taylor Jenkins Reid has transported us to 1940s Hollywood and 1970s rock & roll; her latest listen takes us into the lives of the rich and famous in 1980s Malibu. The story takes place over one night in August in 1983, when the Riva siblings throw their annual massive end-of-summer bash. By midnight, the party is out of control, and by the morning, the mansion has gone up in flames. In between, we flash back through the decades to learn about Malibu’s history and the Riva family, whose saga contains glamour and tragedy, surfing and secrets. As always, Julia Whelan’s impeccable narration rides a wave of sheer perfection.

Sunset Springs

Sunset Springs

Kat's pick: Imagine if, in just a few languid hours of sunbathing, you could finish a new story by a National Book Award-winning author in one sitting. Kacen Callender's new audio novella clocks in at under three hours, but it will burrow its way into your heart for far longer. When 27-year-old Charlie must leave New York City for his mom's conservative hometown, he's sure he's one of the few Black, and only trans, people in town. But when he meets Jackson Ford, a former football star turned outsider after coming out, the two fall for each other in a swift and surprising romance narrated by nonbinary performer Commarrah J. Yochanan.

Summer on the Bluffs

Summer on the Bluffs

Margaret's pick: Best-selling author and Emmy-winning cohost of The View Sunny Hostin centers this brilliant beach listen in Oak Bluffs, the legendary and exclusive African-American summer haven on Martha's Vineyard. Imposing matriarch Amelia Vaux Tanner summons her three adult goddaughters to her house on the vineyard for one last time with the promise of giving one of them her beloved home at the end of the summer. Family secrets will be spilled–all the more deliciously when they're told in January LaVoy's award-winning voice.

The Guncle

The Guncle

Tricia's pick: Auntie Mame meets The Nanny meets...no one else but the delightful Steven Rowley in this utterly charming and heart-exploding novel, set in glamorous Palm Springs. Lay back and sip something decadent as Rowley himself narrates the story of a gay former sitcom star who finds himself the primary caretaker of his young niece and nephew after a family tragedy. Wit, wonder, and wisdom ensue as the Guncle teaches Maisie and Grant, learning something about his own heart and the meaning of family in the process.

Detransition, Baby

Detransition, Baby

Kat's pick: Sometimes you need something delightfully soapy for the beach—but that doesn't mean it can't be a, quote-unquote, Important Book. In Torrey Peters's groundbreaking debut, a trans woman named Reese receives a curious proposal from her ex, Ames: help raise a baby he's fathered with his new partner, a cis woman named Katrina. Ames, who was born male but lived as a woman for years before detransitioning, speculates that Reese can help him come to terms with the fraught prospect of fatherhood. With an epic beach scene at its explosive finale, this time-hopping journey through gender and identity lets you luxuriate in both a juicy premise and well-deserved literary accolades.

The Stand-In

The Stand-In

Melissa's pick: Some listens are just magic: the perfect marriage of plot, characters, and performance. Everything comes together in The Stand-In by Lily Chu, an irresistible romance about Gracie, who becomes a stand-in for a famous Chinese actress—and in the process has to get to know her uber-famous 'guide'…who it just so happens Gracie can’t stand. Or can she? Narrated by Phillipa Soo of Hamilton fame (who turns out to be a comic genius), this enchanting romance will send you straight to your summer happy place in a world of luxury, humor, and unexpected sparks.

Ready for even more beach listening? Check out the full episode of Audicted: The Best Beach Listens on Audible now.

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