While the very idea of “beach reads” might not woo the literati, there’s nothing wrong with indulging oneself in a page-turning romance or serial thriller while soaking in the sun and sand.
Some of the best loved beach reads transport the reader to tropical settings or charming seaside towns in which intrigue and drama unfold against a backdrop of possibility, imagination and memory of the sort only those long, languid summer days can conjure.
For the recommended summer reading we’ve included here, we asked Virginia Beach-based librarian Sarah Sindlinger to take the “beach” in beach reads literally and give us her picks for recent books with seaside settings.
“I wanted to pick a somewhat inclusive, well-rounded list that had a mix of fiction and non-fiction,” Sindlinger says. “I wanted to include some author diversity and not just a list of what you normally think of as beach reads.”
From crime themes—such as a murder mystery set on the Outer Banks—to historical fiction, romance, family saga and more, her list has all the plot twists you’d expect, including those in a stranger-than-fiction story written by a woman who grew up on Cape Cod only to discover her one-time childhood babysitter was a serial killer.
Smile Beach Murder
By Alicia Bessette
From Outer Banks-based author Alicia Bessette comes this easy-reading, cozy mystery with a little romance for good measure. Set in a fictional Outer Banks town, it focuses on a reporter who returns to her childhood home. While working in the same bookshop where she found solace following her mother’s murder, the death of an acquaintance leads to some treasure-hunt style sleuthing and introduces a cast of colorful local characters.
By Belle Boggs
When a young wannabe poet gets offered the “job of a lifetime” running a new school for aspiring writers, she thinks it will be an easy way to make quick money off some gullible students. She soon realizes that this new job actually requires real work, and her students are not as small-minded as she has judged them to be. This quirky novel manages to be satirical and empathetic as characters with differing beliefs find common ground and gain respect for each other.
Rockaway: Surfing Headlong into a New Life
By Diane Cardwell
Breaking the mold of a typical surf memoir, the author is a middle-aged journalist living a fast-paced life when she finds herself in a personal crisis. After watching some surfers off the coast of New York, she decides to learn the sport basically on a whim. She ends up discovering an entirely new community along with some valuable life lessons. The book also includes engaging descriptions of what it’s like to learn the mechanics of surfing as a novice.
The Last Train to Key West
By Chanel Cleeton
Set in 1935 during the Great Depression, this novel tells the intertwining stories of three very different women. Key West is well-known in modern times as a mecca for spring breakers and Hemingway fans, but this book shows a completely different view of the island. The history of a plan to build a railroad to Key West and descriptions of the deplorable way that veterans who were hired to work on it lend an interesting insight. Romance included!
The Last House Guest
By Megan Miranda
In this novel from an author known for crafting perfect summer thrillers, a group of friends in a Maine resort town are scrutinized after a well-known visitor is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. It’s an intriguing and thrilling take on the beach proving a summer paradise can turn out to be anything but. There are bombshell plot twists aplenty.
On Ocean Boulevard
By Mary Alice Monroe
The epitome of a beach read and part of the author’s “Beach House” series, this novel is set on Sullivan’s Island, where a family saga unfurls. Well-developed characters do some soul-searching, find love and strengthen friendships. This is one you could imagine yourself reading while sitting on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay with a drink in hand, paper umbrella optional.
By Meg Mitchell Moore
If you’re looking for unapologetic escapism, try this pure summer beach read. It comes complete with all the family drama and secrets, plus a little humor mixed in with those beautiful summer breezes and sunsets. Author Meg Mitchell Moore paints a vivid picture of those quaint little beach towns in Maine that always sound so appealing and make you want to move there and write a s beach read of your own. Her latest book, Summer Stage, comes out in late May.
The Invisible Husband of Frick Island
By Colleen Oakley
The detailed description of Frick Island in this book immediately calls to mind unique places closer to home—like Tangier (though the author has said it’s based on Smith Island in Maryland). It also has the quirk factor: a woman whose husband is presumed dead, but she keeps pretending that he is still alive. She even has the other townspeople going along with the charade.
Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise
By Jack Parlett
For many years, Fire Island has been an important part of queer history in America. The author gives an illuminating account of this important space and describes the influence of the artists who began seeking refuge there. He doesn’t shy away from showing both the good and the bad sides of this community. Although diverse, it hasn’t always been welcoming to all. Personal experiences are blended in with historical research, which makes for an enjoyable read.
The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer
By Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan
This well-crafted true-crime tale is about a woman who grew up on Cape Cod, only to realize that the man who used to babysit her (while her mostly absent young mother made her way in and out of various bars and clubs) is a real-life serial killer. It’s an interesting journalistic twist on the memoir and includes compelling descriptions of growing up on the sands of Cape Cod.