The Smart Girl’s Guide To Steamy Summer Reads

Ladies, it’s time to talk beach reads. While we’re all for picking up the latest historical nonfiction, we can’t deny the appeal of tomes that are a little more, ahem, interesting. Sure, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt will impress your towel mates, but it’s the summertime, and you deserve to have a little literary mental fun. 

And, since we don’t want to send you off to the R-rated section of Amazon to pick up any ol’ racy book, we did the, er, dirty work for you and picked out our favorite sexy reads that aren’t Twilight fan fiction.

Of course, these aren’t your average stories of ripping clothes and throbbing you-know-whats — these are tales that will stimulate your brain, too. From an Edwardian-era British tale of romance to a cutting-edge feminist tome, these are all reads you won’t have to hide inside the latest copy of InStyle(seriously, there are no crotch-covered jackets to be found here). Of course, it wouldn’t be a steamy beach read if there weren’t a little erotica, so maybe steer clear of cracking these open in easy view of your boss.


Peyton Place by Grace Metalious — This novel is inspired TV’s first prime-time soap opera, so you know it’s juicy. The story follows the lives of three women in suburban New Hampshire as they come to terms with their sexuality. Think of it as the original Housewives, but with less money, way more drama, and R-rated scandals.

Peyton Place, $14, available at Amazon.


A Room With A View by E.M. Forster — For all you Downton addicts out there, you’ll love the Olde English-ness and all the crotchety characters in this tome. But, you’d be surprised how the on-again, off-again drama of the tale’s central relationship is surprisingly exactly like what we go through today.

A Room With A View, $3, available at Amazon.


“Couples” by John Updike — It’s no secret that the ’60s were rife with sexual liberation, and Couplesdoes a deep dive of exploration into the matter. Some readers are slightly turned off by Updike’s, ahem, clinical, descriptions in the sex scenes, but it’s a pivotal novel about an even more pivotal time in our sexual history.

Couples, $13, available at Amazon.


Blood And Guts In High School by Kathy Acker— Be warned: This read is not for the faint of heart. It follows Janey Smith, a 10-year-old girl who, among other things, has relationships with older men, joins a gang in New York City, and gets sold into prostitution. But, its author is a seriously influential feminist who draws on her knowledge of gender studies to craft controversial tales.

Blood and Guts in High School, $13, available at Amazon.


Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant — For anyone obsessed with the Borgias, this tome is right up your alley — it follows the scandal-plagued family, as the patriarch Cardinal Rodrigo attempts to buy his way into the papacy. Not only does this story have family drama, illegitimate children, and a religious figure with an enormous taste for women, but it’s based on true events. It just proves our suspicion that everything was more fascinating in the olden days. 

Blood & Beauty, $16, available at Amazon.


Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth — This book shot Philip Roth to fame, but not without major controversy over its incredibly explicit treatment of sexuality. It tells the tale of a lust-obsessed bachelor with a bit of an oedipus complex, and it’s not for the faint of heart (or easily embarrassed). But, it’s a classic American novel that we think is worth reading.

Portnoy’s Complaint, $12, available at Amazon.


Fear of Flying by Erica Jong — Regardless of your personal opinions about adultery, there’s no denying that this is one hot novel, and held an important place in the second wave of feminism. Its protagonist, Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing (seriously!), is a young poet who takes a trip to Vienna and indulges her sexual fantasies with a man who is not her husband. Jong’s writing style is familiar and humorous, making it a surprisingly enjoyable read.

Fear of Flying, $13, available at Amazon.


The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst — This book has been described by some critics as the homosexual Lolita — while we don’t know if we’d go that far, it certainly has its steamy parts. It follows characters living in Flanders with wit and sensitivity, and while the whole of the novel is an enjoyable read, we’d recommend reading the love scene between protagonist Edward Manners and his much younger student while you’re not in public.

The Folding Star, $13, available at Amazon.


The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie— A love triangle set among the history of rock music? Sign us up. The main character is said to be inspired by both John Lennon and Elvis, and contemporary rock songs are woven into the tale of two men vying for the same woman. 

The Ground Beneath Her Feet, $13, available at Amazon.


Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld — Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, Prep, was a major hit among smart ladies looking for a break from daily life, and her newest is no different. Sisterland follows twin sisters with a rare psychic gift — sure, it may not sound sexy, but trust us, there’s a steamy twist that makes it all worth it. Plus, the author’s entertaining wit makes you feel way less guilty for reading. 

Sisterland, $18, available at Amazon.


Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin — This collection of short stories deals with all types of slightly taboo sexuality, but all with the guise of studying women. Its author was originally commissioned by a private “collector,” along with other well-known writers, to create erotica for his private consumption. It sounds slightly creepy, yes, but the result (which was published posthumously) is a fabulous description of women.

Delta of Venus, $9, available at Amazon.


The Love Wars by L. Alison Heller — For a break from the heavier material, turn to this easygoing, witty novel. It follows a divorce lawyer as she navigates life and love, and will (hopefully) make you feel better about your own sex life. 

The Love Wars, $10, available at Amazon.


The Year of Living Dangerously by C.J. Koch — The tale of an Australian journalist and a British diplomat living in Jakarta may not sound erotic, but that’s the ultimate payoff here. Living Dangerously tells a partly fictionalized version of the leadup to the Communist Party coup in Indonesia, woven with love triangles and ultra-sexy, dangerous scenes.

The Year of Living Dangerously, $11, available at Amazon.


Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller — Miller’s groundbreaking tale is said to have paved the way for free speech in literature, and experienced its fair share of criticism (including bannings) for its truly candid sexuality. Dabbling in erotica and history? That’s a win.

Tropic of Cancer, $6, available at Amazon.


The Heist by Janet Evanovich — Think of Janet Evanovich’s latest thriller as the beginner’s guide to sexy books. The fast-paced tale of feisty FBI agent Kate O’Hare will start your heart racing, and there’s planty of sexual tension throughout (hello, international con artist Nick Fox!). 

The Heist, $14, available at Amazon.


Written In My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon — This is the latest, yet-to-be-released tome in Gabaldon’s Outlander series, which promises the same blockbuster lineup of history, warfare, sex, and violence. We can’t wait!

Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, $14, available at Amazon.

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

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