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The best thing about a good novel? It feeds your noggin.

May 22, 2015

What makes a perfect read for a summer getaway? Page turnability is a must, plus a dash of romance and maybe some mystery or suspense. It needs enough sultry, scandal, and serious to keep you engaged until the last rays of the day’s sun. A beach read doesn’t necessarily need to be about the beach, and you’d probably read it anywhere, but ideally you won’t be able to put a beach-read down until you’re done.

But the best thing about a good novel? It feeds your noggin. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a brain-scan study and found that when subjects read about characters in a story, parts of the brain used to process other people's intentions lit up. The results suggest that fiction may actually make us more empathetic.

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Here, Health's book reviewer Jen Doll rounds up 11 of her favorite picks for the season ahead.

The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. The witty bloggers behind Go Fug Yourself weave the not-quite-fairy-tale of a British royal romance—or, more specifically, the romance between a British prince and the American girl who captures his eye. ($26, amazon.com)

The Daylight Marriage, by Heidi Pitlor. This Stephen King-approved “hypnotically readable” novel involves a wife who’s vanished and a husband who’s trying to understand what’s happened, but it’s not just another Gone Girl. ($25, amazon.com)

The Ghost Network, by Catie Disabato. People are buzzing about this debut novel, in which a famous pop singer goes missing on her way to a performance, and her assistant and a journalist embark on a quest to find her. ($17, amazon.com)

How to Start a Fire, by Lisa Lutz. This novel about love, friendship, tragedy, and growing up tells the story of three best college friends, and what happened between then and now. ($25, amazon.com)

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll. Ani FaNelli has carefully constructed her ostensibly perfect “having it all” life to hide a sordid past. Everything is great. And then the truth rears its ugly head. ($25, amazon.com)

The Knockoff, by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. Think The Devil Wears Prada gone digital combined with a dose of All About Eve. Glossy mag editor Imogen Tate battles her former assistant Eve Morton for control of a magazine, and much more. ($26, amazon.com)

The Rocks, by Peter Nichols. This love-story-plus-mystery involving two honeymooners who split but live on the same island for 60 years, never speaking—and the generations that follow—may be the perfect beach read. Bonus points for most vacation-aspirational cover. ($28, amazon.com)

In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume. A much-anticipated adult novel from the beloved Blume, who uses a series of plane crashes remembered from her New Jersey childhood as a jumping-off point to dig into the lives of three generations of families. ($28, amazon.com)

Eight Hundred Grapes, by Laura Dave. Who knew? It takes 800 grapes to make a bottle of wine, apparently. But there are many more secrets embedded into this compelling novel about a Sonoma wine-making family and a woman’s discovery a week before her wedding. ($25, amazon.com)

The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler. A young librarian receives a book from an antiquarian bookseller that includes the tale of doomed lovers—and, possibly, clues to a family curse. ($27, amazon.com)

Killing Monica, by Candace Bushnell. A famous writer has to fake her death to reclaim her life from her own creation. Said to skewer “pop culture, celebrity worship, fame, and even the meaning of life itself,” Bushnell’s latest has already had to cope with the meta-ness of being hacked, and some of its early pages revealed, in 2013. ($27, amazon.com)

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