Back for 2017, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.
Fantasy Title: “Princess of Thorns” by Stacey Jay
I reviewed this one fairly recently on the blog, but it’s still stuck with me as one of the more simply “fun” fantasy books I’ve read in quite a long time. Not only is it a standalone fantasy book (quite the rarity in its own right), but it’s a perfect pick for a summer beach read due to its expert balancing act of tone and story. There’s plenty of action and adventure, just the right amount of romance, witty dialogue, and two main characters who are each a blast. On top of this all, the villain of the story is a compelling and sympathetic character on her own, and in many ways, brings to bare the true heart of the story. This is a fast, fun read that is sure to please fantasy lovers, especially those who like fairytale retellings. For more on this book, here is my review of “Princess of Thorns.”
Science Fiction Title: “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton
So while trying to come up with a science fiction pick for this list, I’ve discovered two things: 1.) I need to get back to my science fiction list, cuz man, it’s been a while since I’ve read any and 2.) what I have read is all super depressing and not really fit for a “beach reads” type of list (ie Oryx and Crake). So we’re going old-school with the fan favorite “Jurassic Park.” I don’t need to tell you the story with this one, though if you are basing all of your knowledge on just the movie, you will be surprised by aspects of it. There’s much more science mixed in with all of the dinosaur adventure madness. And yes, before you ask, dinosaurs eating people is my idea of a light read!
Mystery Title: “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” by Laurie R. King
As a lover of all things Sherlock Holmes, of course I have to highlight King’s amazing “Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes” series. I’ve been reading these books for over a decade now, and while there are some hits and misses in the long-running series, the first several books, and the first book itself, “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” are simply excellent. (While this is the start to a series, it easily reads as a stand alone novel, so I feel justified in including it). Here, Mary Russell becomes the apprentice and, later, partner of Sherlock Holmes. There are nods and winks to the original mysteries, but the stories themselves are all new. Most importantly, Holmes is spot on with the way I always think of him, and Mary Russell is a strong enough character on her own to never get lost in his large shadow. Definitely check this book out if you like historical mysteries, and Sherlock Holmes especially.
Historical Title: “The Other Boleyn Girl” by Philippa Gregory
Chances are good that if you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially historical fiction focusing on the years during the Tudor reigns, you’re already well familiar with Philippa Gregory. She’s written what seems like a million and one of these novels in her many years as an author, but I remember picking this book up way back when she was lesser known, and this was her first book and absolutely loving it (I have fairly mixed feelings about many of her following books). The story focuses on the life Mary Boleyn, the younger sister of the infamous Anne Boleyn. Through her eyes, we see the inner workings of the court, all while waiting with a sense of sickened dread for the inevitable doom of her family. While that sounds grim, and yes, it is, Mary’s story still has moments of brightness, and, for the most part, ends in a satisfying manner…you know, given the beheadings and all. This is a longer book, but for fans of historical fiction, especially those who like some romance in their stories, definitely check this one out!
Horror Title: “‘Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King
If you want to go for fun beach reads that are also a bit scary, you really can’t go wrong with horror master Stephen King. While he’s very good at dark and angsty existential dread, he can also tap into entertaining and ‘lighter’ horror. His second book, “‘Salem’s Lot”, has been referred to as vampires meets “Peyton Place”, so you know that there’s going to be some fun and sudsy drama along with your vampire scares. When a man comes home to the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot, he slowly comes to the realization that the townspeople are turning into vampires. This is the book that has the iconic scene of the little boy vampire hanging outside his brother’s window, and since it was still kind of early in King’s career it was before some of the darker and deeper themes of small town banality and innocence actually hides a deeper evil, a la “It”. Really, for fun vampire fiction, this is the book.
Thriller Title: “The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith
I literally read this one on a beach in California when I was a teenager, and have been meaning to revisit it as the trope of the ‘charming psychopath narrator’ has started to gain popularity again. Tom Ripley is living an unfulfilled life, so when he’s approached by the wealthy father of former classmate Dickie Greenleaf, he’s a bit surprised. Seems Dickie is living it up in Italy when he should be at home. So Tom says he’ll go find Dickie, but instead finds a life of luxury and power that he doesn’t want to come back from… even if that means murder and identity fraud is necessary. I haven’t seen the movie version, but I was quite struck with how charming and yet malignant Ripley was, and he paved the way for future characters like Dexter Morgan and Joe Goldberg. For unsettling and addicting thrills, take this one with you.
Graphic Novel Title: “My Friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf
Okay, before you question my tastes (more than you probably have already), I want to make it clear that this isn’t the story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes. This is the story of his teenage years, as seen through the eyes of his high school classmate and kind of friend Derf Backderf. It looks at the high school years of both boys, with Backderf’s not so popular group taking Dahmer into their fold, but only because they think he’s a complete weirdo whose weirdness entertains them. Backderf tells us the Dahmer he knew in school, the one who was the product of a broken home, who was hiding a heavy drinking habit, and who was never a member of any group of peers who could, or would, relate to him. While Backderf takes special care not to give Dahmer a pass when it comes to his later, horrific crimes, he does ask where the adults in his life were when he was so clearly fighting a number of demons, and whether interference could have saved multiple lives. This book is insightful and, yes, upsetting, but it’s also compulsively readable.
What are you planning on taking to the beach with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!