Leave your tattered old paperbacks at home; this year's beach reads are a weightier bunch—literally. From a patriotic history to a good old-fashioned mystery, T+L has put together the ultimate summer reading list.

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin Eight decades after Orwell's stint as a British officer in Burma, Larkin retraces his steps—no easy task in a country that's a virtual police state. Part travelogue, part meditation on the "unwitting prophesy" Orwell laid out for Burma in his dystopian novels, Larkin offers a portrait of a vibrant but ill-fated country. (Penguin Press, $22.95)

Disturbed Earth by Reggie Nadelson Artie Cohen—T+L contributor Nadelson's Russian-born New York City detective—returns in a psychological thriller about a missing child. The case takes him into the bleakest corridors of Brooklyn and through the placid heights of Manhattan's Upper West Side before twisting a little too close to home. (Walker & Co., $24)

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham The author of The Hours follows up his celebrated Virginia Woolf–inspired novel with a trilogy of stories riffing on Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, including a haunting tale of Irish immigrants in an industrial-age New York and a sci-fi saga set 150 years in the future. (FSG, $24)

Until I Find You by John Irving When your mom is a tattoo artist, life's bound to be interesting. It certainly is in this generously proportioned novel (819 pages) from the master of epics. Irving's latest is the story of a freewheeling Canadian boy growing up fatherless in the latter part of the 20th century. (Random House, $27.95)

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova For those who snubbed the Anne Rice vampire frenzy, here's the literary version: a debut novel about three generations of historians on the trail of Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula)—a quest that drives them into the chilling heart of one of Europe's spookiest legends. Be prepared for sleepless nights. (Little, Brown, $25.95)

1776 by David McCullough The Pulitzer Prize–winning historian brings to life all the drama, upsets, and resounding implications of the first year of battle between the redcoats and George Washington's improbably victorious "rabble in arms" band of soldiers. (Simon & Schuster, $32)