Summer is almost gone, but there is still time to hang out by a pool, catch rays on a deck, or feel the sand between your toes—and what’s the beach without a fun, compelling and very queer beach read? We’ve assembled the some of the gayest summer books, from memoirs to young adult fiction to classic retellings, for you to dive into as you sip a lemonade or prosecco in your coolest swimsuit with a cutie by your side. (Note: the links included go to IndieBound or the author/publisher website, but most books are available in print and digital formats on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)
“The Chosen and the Beautiful” – Nghi Vo
Highly-anticipated and rave-reviewed, this new lesbian take on an old straight classic is a summer essential. In Nghi Vo’s reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the focus is on Jordan Baker, who’s both a part of the glamorous 1920s Jazz Age scene and outside of it. Jordan is wealthy, fun and great at golf, but she’s also an adopted Vietnamese immigrant and in love with her close friend Daisy Buchanan. If that’s not enough of a selling point, there’s dark fantasy too! A page-turner with plenty to say about love, prejudice and the power of magic, “The Chosen and the Beautiful” won’t stay in your beach bag for long.
“Everyman” – M. Shelly Conner
Family epics are perfect for summer reading; they are both entertaining and incredibly intriguing. If these books are your catnip, Black dapperqueer author M. Shelly Conner has you covered. It’s 1972, and Chicagoan Eve Mann is absorbed in the Black Power and civil rights movements, when her birth mother, Mercy—forever a mystery to Eve—unexpectedly passes away. Determined to finally unlock the secrets of her heritage, Eve travels to Ideal, Georgia, and is met with assistance from professor Brother Lee Roy, resistance from her aunt, Mama Ann, and unexpected help from two strangers named James and Geneva. Eve’s quest to find the truth—her mother’s, and her own—makes for a gripping addition to your bookshelf.
“Fair Youth” – M. Dalto and Laynie Bynum
I am a sucker for all things Shakespeare, especially queer reimaginings of the Bard and his work. (If you don’t believe me, look no further than my own forthcoming novel!) If you have the same obsession, snatch up Dalto and Bynum’s latest from queer publisher NineStar Press—not a retelling of a play, but a rendering of Shakespeare himself as a modern, queer woman. Billie leaves behind her comfortable but boring life in Kentucky for the lights of Los Angeles, with a dream of selling her screenplays to Hollywood. When Billie meets Kit (think Christopher Marlowe, but…different), a fellow writer with lots of charisma and even more connections, she finds herself questioning her own sexuality—but when a studio exec sets his sights on Billie, the results could be deadly.
“The Hellion’s Waltz” – Olivia Waite
Five years ago, lesbian historical novels were few and far between; but thanks to authors like Olivia Waite, they’re now available for our summer-reading pleasure! The latest installment in Waite’s “Feminine Pursuits” series (if you haven’t checked out the previous two, rectify that immediately) is a dazzling tale of a life-changing heist with a duo of ambitious women at its center. Recently impoverished Sophie Roseingrave doesn’t quite trust silk weaver Madeline Crewe, but she’s intrigued nonetheless. Meanwhile, Maddie seeks to fund the weavers’ union with a grand scheme to defraud her greedy male colleague. If only Sophie would stop trying to interfere, and stop being so attractive….
“How to Find a Princess” – Alyssa Cole
Bestselling romance author Cole turned lady-loving heads with her novella “Once Ghosted, Twice Shy”, and her newest novel explores a female-female love story to the fullest. Say it with me: queer “Anastasia” retelling. Part of Cole’s new Runaway Royals series, “Princess” follows the burgeoning relationship between beautiful investigator Beznaria Chetchevaliere, and down-her-luck Makeda Hicks. Recently unemployed and dumped, Makeda doesn’t realize she’s the lost heir of an entire country until Bez comes into her life. The two take an adventure-filled trip to Ibarania so Makeda can claim the crown, opening Makeda’s eyes in more ways than one. Is there a better poolside read out there? I don’t think so!
“Just One Night” – Chelsea M. Cameron
Chaotic copywriter Paige is hell-bent on seeking revenge against her cheating ex Wyatt, and there’s only one way to accomplish that goal: seduce Wyatt’s longtime crush, gorgeous bartender Esme Bell—and in their small town, word will get to Wyatt fast. Easy, right? Not quite, especially as Paige gets to know Esme and finds her not only gorgeous, but sweet and funny. Soon, Paige knows she wants more than a one-night stand, but what happens when Esme discovers Paige’s original intentions? Cameron, a queer nonbinary author, has long been a favorite for their funny, heartfelt romances, and their latest has beach read written all over it.
“Rise to the Sun” – Leah Johnson
Raise your hand if you missed live music. (Raising my own hand right now.) If so, this story of two Black queer teen girls finding each other at an open-air festival is the summer read for you. GO interviewed YA sensation Leah Johnson last year, just ahead of her groundbreaking debut novel, “You Should See Me in a Crown,” and her sophomore effort is just as beautifully promising. Olivia has just been dumped and is looking forward to a fun weekend with her bestie, while soon-to-be college student Tori is mourning the recent passing of her father and is retracing his steps to honor his memory. Neither set out to fall in love, but guess what happens?
“Saved by a Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting” – Mary Gauthier
Folk musician Mary Gauthier’s personal journey has been, in a word, epic. The Grammy nominee taught herself to play guitar when she was 12 years old and wanted nothing more than to write her own songs. However, Gauthier struggled with addiction for a decade, and it wasn’t until an open mic night with a friend that she realized she needed to help make the music that kept her going. In “Saved by a Song,” Gauthier shares her own artistic process for songwriting, as well as her personal struggles with substance abuse, coming of age as a lesbian in Louisiana, and losing loved ones to AIDS. A fascinating read from beginning to end, Gauthier’s book is best enjoyed on your porch, with a glass of cold sweet tea.
“With Teeth” – Kristen Arnett
Arnett’s debut novel hit The New York Times bestseller list for a reason: “Mostly Dead Things” explored queer identity and love in the midst of a struggling Florida taxidermy practice. Now the author is back with a twisted tale about family, and what happens when you’re a queer mom who learns her child’s behavior is … concerning. Sammie Lucas is living the dream with her beloved wife and young son, but her spouse Monika is absent more than present, and her boy Chad gets more aggressive each year. When the teenager’s bad behavior turns physical, Sammie must question her supposedly perfect family unit. “With Teeth” is both darkly funny and just plain dark, a perfect page-turner for sunbathing in the sand.
COMING IN OCTOBER: “Dogs on the Trail: A Year in the Life” – Blair Braverman and Quince Mountain
Fun fact: preorders really help authors! Plus, you receive the book right when it comes out—it’s like a surprise you’ve already paid for. Support the first-ever trans musher (or sled dog racer), Quince Mountain, by preordering “Dogs on the Trail,” out October 26 and co-written with Mountain’s spouse and teammate, author Blair Braverman. Through photographs, personal anecdotes and cool facts (a 50-pound sled dog burns more than 10k calories a day), Braverman and Mountain beautifully illustrate the journey of raising and racing sled dogs—and pay tribute to their fans, who raised $100,000 for local villages and schools during the team’s first Iditarod race!