Is your beach bag hungering for books? Are you famished for engaging stories, good reads, and a little romance? Or maybe it’s historical fiction, a vampire tale, or a mystery in an exotic location you want – not necessarily great literature, but page-turners.
The suggested titles below come to you thanks to today’s social networks. My reading friends and their book groups in California, Texas, North Carolina, and several towns around Boston have offered some “beach reads.” Both the New York Times Book Review and a friend’s on-line blog The Incurable Reader (http://www.rehobothnow.com/Incurable_Reader.html ) helped me mound the suggestions that poured in.
That said, I have to confess that the current smash-hit trilogy of the book-selling world are titles I’d blush to recommend. I haven’t read them, but I’ve heard about them and read reviews online. Not particularly well-written, the books fall into the category of erotica and it appears married women are devouring them! Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades of Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed were all released this year in paperback by E.L. James. This love-making trilogy is au courant, but not for everyone.
Another trilogy in progress is set in the court of King Henry VIII. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (Mann Booker Prize-winner 2009) enticed readers into the royal intrigue of getting rid of one wife so to bed another, as told by counselor Thomas Cromwell. Now the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies (John Macrae Book, 2012), depicts how disenchanted Henry has become with Anne Boleyn, relating also Cromwell’s ambivalence and ambition. This is a familiar historically-based story, but masterfully written from Cromwell’s perspective. Readers reported these books were “hard to put down,” and they will, no doubt, eagerly await number three expected to be set in 1540.
Another totaling engaging historical novel – this time based on only a tidbit of history — is Caleb’s Crossing (Viking Adult, 2011) by Geraldine Brooks, telling of the first Native American to graduate in 1665 from Harvard University. On Martha’s Vineyard, Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of the island’s Puritan minister, meets the son of the Wampanoag chief, whose people Reverend Mayfield is trying to convert. He arranges for Caleb and another youth to study Latin and Greek in Cambridge; Bethia observes the crossing cultures that Caleb navigates, as she lives in the city as an indentured servant. Earlier novels by this Australian-born author who now lives part-time on the Vineyard are Years of Wonder which became an international bestseller, March which won her a Pulitzer Prize in 2006, and People of the Book, a New York Times bestseller. Neither Brooks nor Mantel may be your “typical beach read” authors, but their stories are compelling and satisfying.
Paperbacks and now e-books are frequently the format of choice for the beach (or lake or mountain retreat). Many of the titles on this list come not only in hardcover, but in both paperback and electronically, so readers may want to explore their options. Rebecca Wells has been a favorite author, particularly her Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (1997) where she extolled women’s friendships and mother-daughter relationships. Now her Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder (2009) is available in paperback “which should help for a beach book,” reports the contributor who “loved it.” Calla Lily and her mother (M’Dear) are from small-town Louisiana, but Calla heads off to attend a big city beauty school with her mother’s lessons to guide her. “I feel that the world is a better, kinder and gentler world for having this book in it. It was a good read for my soul,” noted one book group member.
Author Nancy Thayer has created perennial bestselling novels of “warmth and wisdom.” Her Hot Flash Club (2003), Beachcombers (2010), and Heat Wave (2011) have been dubbed “pure beach read chick lit,” thus her newest title, Summer Breeze (Ballantine, 2012), is likely to be another leisure favorite. Three women from Texas, New York, and Massachusetts interact one summer at Dragonfly Lake in the Berkshires where their friendships provide comfort, insights, and the occasional tiff. Love and self-discovery abound.
Harlequin/Avon romances are traditionally beach reading materials; so if you are grabbing one from the grocery store display, look for award-winning and New York Times bestselling author, Lynsay Sands, who is known for her romantic comedies in this genre. Under a Vampire Moon (HarperCollins, 2012) brings 42-year old Carolyn, an unsuspecting divorced vacationer, to St. Lucia and into the arms of 25-year old hunk Christian Notte – he is actually 500 years old and in need of a soul mate. Are they right for each other? This outlandish situation presented in the 16th book in Sands’ Argeneau series of vampire love-stories is told with her customary humor and wit. Set in the Caribbean, it most definitely makes our list.
A selection of “who-dunit” mysteries must now be added to the historical fiction, the vampire tale, and other romances for beach reading. Who doesn’t love a good mystery well resolved? Ruth Rendell has been called “the reigning queen of crime fiction” for her long series of crime solving novels. The Vault: An Inspector Wexford Novel (Scribner, 2011) is Rendell’s 23rd Inspector Wexford story, providing a sequel to A Sight for Sore Eyes (2000). Called back from retirement, former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford is asked to solve a four-body crime scene discovered beneath a London house. His insight into the criminal mind and his joy of sleuthing convince him to act as a consultant in the case that is at a standstill.
In Boston, Robert P. Parker has been the detective-novel author of note, thanks to his Spencer for Hire series. After Parker’s death in 2010, his estate selected award-winning author Ace Atkins to continue the Spencer series. Recently released, Lullaby (Putnam Adult, 2012) by Ace Atkins, brings the glib detective back to action, managing to capture his original voice, sarcasm, and gritty attitude toward life. This time Spenser takes the case of a street-smart 14-year old girl in South Boston who wants answers to her mother’s murder. She’s not buying the case against a man fingered by the police. Spenser and Hawk pick up a trail she suggests.
Another well-loved mystery series comes from Scotland’s Alexander McCall Smith who writes the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. His newest release, number 13 in the mysteries featuring Precious Ramotswe, is The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection (Pantheon, 2012). People from the orphan farm and the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors again appear in this story to play a part in the troubles that Mama Ramotswe is called upon to set right. A new character actually appears first in her dreams and then shows up under a tree to help her. He is Clovis Andersen, the author of the agency’s guiding manual — The Principles of Private Detection. Together they fight injustice.
For those readers who gravitate to non-fiction, my book group sources had some overlap, across state lines. Erik Larson’s earlier narrative non-fiction books prove that history and real life can be as dramatic, sensational, and captivating as fiction. Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (a 2000 national bestseller) retold the devastating hurricane of 1900 that leveled Galveston and set the Weather Bureau straight. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (2004) documented the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and a little-known but gruesome serial killer. More recently Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts – Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Crown, 2011) “reads like fiction,” reports one California reader. The chilling eye-witness testimony of the family of America’s first Ambassador to Germany in 1933 at the start elicits the glamour of the New Germany and then the horrors of the Nazi regime. Readers come to understand how the world was slow to recognize this grave threat; the story is “dazzling [and] addictively readable” said one review.
Anne Lamott’s Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son (Riverhead, 2012) is both funny and serious, as it recounts Anne becoming a grandmother. She “laughs at herself and makes us laugh, too,” wrote one friend about this well-known author of both fiction and non-fiction. When Anne learned her nineteen-year old son would become a father, she started a journal to record the details of her love for her grandson and for her own mother, with whom she’d often been at odds.
Several of the titles recommended for this article show that readers recall and read the big sellers from years past, since it’s just not possible to read everything as soon as it comes out. To refresh memories, here are a few great stories to consider: Shanghai Girls or Snow Flower and the Secret Fan both by Lisa See; A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey both by W. Bruce Cameron or (my personal favorite) The Art of Racing in the Rain (another dog story) by Garth Stein; A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, Serena by Ron Rash, Wish You Well by David Baldacci, One Mississippi by Mark Childress; and The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman.
With our quick reviews in hand, all that’s left is a trip to the library, the book store, or your nearest computer. Fill up that tote bag and enjoy the read.
Judy Buswick is the author of Sally Palmer Field: New England Quilter. See her Web site at www.judybuswick.com for more information.