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'50 Shades of Grey,' and 5 Less Painful Books for Beach Reading

Abe Lincoln's 'secret past' among summer pleasures

Woman in Sun Chair at the Beach

Photo by Reed Kaestner/Corbis

Beach reads to keep you company.

With so many people reading on Kindles and iPads these days, you may miss out on one of the joys of summer: discovering what everyone is reading while lounging at the beach or pool. Relax! We've covered the waterfront to scope out what some of the hot titles for summer are likely to be.

See also: Teen lit isn't only for teens.

The "Fifty Shades" Trilogy: Fifty Shades of Grey; Fifty Shades Darker; Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James
$15.95 paperback, $9.99 e-book

You've watched the hard-core "Shades" trilogy dominate the best-seller lists for 15 weeks now, and even that highbrow friend of yours has a copy stashed in her purse. That's why we can almost hear you wondering, Should I submit?

Well, if you do, know what's in store for you: paper-thin characters spouting middle-school dialogue during mechanistic scenes of sex, bondage, sex, punishment, sex, spankings and yet more sex in a "playroom of pain." But if, instead, you're a fan of gripping, well-crafted tales about complex relationships, try Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or the debut novel Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes.

Calico Joe by John Grisham
$24.95 hardback, $12.99 e-book

John Grisham drops readers into Major League Baseball's summer of 1973, when Willie Mays, Pete Rose and Reggie Jackson played the field, and Yogi Berra paced the dugout. Into their midst in his new novel comes "Calico Joe," a humble rookie from small-town Arkansas with an uncanny ease at swatting home runs for the Chicago Cubs. Sports fans will savor Grisham's re-creation of baseball glory. The rest of us probably won't be able to resist the somewhat syrupy scenes of reckoning among an abused son, his absent father and a national hero. If those prove too rich, you can always simply wait for the film adaptation, which seems fated to cast Robert Redford or Kevin Costner as one of the old-timers.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
$28 hardback, $12.99 e-book

Ever wondered why you smoke? Why you bite your nails or head straight for the praline ice cream when you're feeling blue? Funny, scientists have been wondering the same things — and here comes New York Times science writer Charles Duhigg to tell us what they've learned. More than 40 percent of the actions we perform each day, he reports, aren't conscious decisions; they're habits. That may inspire despair, but Duhigg's overall message is upbeat: Once you understand the cues that trigger a routine and the rewards that result from it, you can modify even the most destructive "habit loop" for the good. So long, margaritas — hello, sun tea!

Next: Was the Great Emancipator also a vampire hunter? »

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
$7.99 paperback, $7.99 e-book

Who knew Abraham Lincoln kept secret diaries? That's the first thing we learn in this clever historical mashup, where our future 16th president "reveals" that the undead killed many of his loved ones, including his mother, forcing young Abe to swear vengeance on every last bloodsucker among them.

Goofy? Blasphemic? Hardly — this lively read is above all fun. Grahame-Smith weaves vampire-centric explanations into the pivotal events of Lincoln's day, going so far as to invoke period photos to support his theory. Interest in this story should spike when the Tim Burton movie hits theaters in late June.

The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg
$25.95 hardback, $9.99 e-book

The latest thriller from the popular Swedish novelist risks committing "vacation sabotage": After page 1, you'll abandon your lofty plans for a beach run in order to uncover the secrets of a coastal village where the residents know wa-a-ay too much about one another's business. Fans of English mysteries should devour this Scandinavian noir. Fair warning on that front, though: When it comes to exploring the darkest recesses of human nature, Lackberg rushes in where Dame Agatha feared to tread.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
$35 hardback, $14.95 e-book

You long to sink your teeth into a meaty life story, but the recent rash of rock bios entices you not one bit. If that describes your summer wish list, try this juicy tale; Steve Jobs is lodged like a barnacle on best-seller lists.

Jobs, the Apple Computer founder who died of pancreatic cancer last October at age 56, granted Isaacson unlimited access to his eventful saga. The result runs nearly 600 pages — a bugs-and-all tale of how a smelly teenager (Jobs rarely showered) tinkering in his parents' garage became the most colorful computer mogul of our time. You may not fall in love with the mercurial Jobs — he could treat people deplorably — but you'll marvel at the myriad ways in which a single personality shaped the technology we use every day.