Back for 2018, 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: “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik
This book is a few years old now, but I always go back to it when I’m asked about favorite stand alone fantasy fiction. It’s one of those magical unicorns of a book that somehow walks the line between being a fairytale retelling (“Beauty and the Beast”) but blurring the events and twisting things around so thoroughly that by the end of the book, you’re questioning whether this wasn’t just an entirely new fairytale on its own and any similarities were just happen chance. I didn’t have a single criticism of this book when I read it, with its strong main character, beautiful writing, and complex magical world. What’s more, while it is a standalone novel, Novik will be releasing another fairtyale-esque book, “Spinning Silver,” in July and I can tell you right now, that one’s amazing, too!
Science Fiction Title: “Space Opera” by Catherynne M. Valente
I haven’t actually read this title yet, but I have much love for Valente’s “Fairyland” series as has been well documented on this blog. I also have two librarian bookclub friends whose judgement I trust who gave it high ratings, so on with the recommendation! The description of this one is about as wacky as it gets: intergalactic Olympics, but not so much the sports and more singing and dancing. And Earth has just made its first grand entrance. Will there song and dance numbers have enough glitter and air guitar to make the final cut? I don’t even know what more to say, but that the human band is called “Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.” I mean, c’mon, this has to be a hellava ride!
Mystery Title: “A Curious Beginning” by Deanna Raybourn
This was a no-brainer pick for me. I just discovered this historical mystery series this spring, and have absolutely loved the two I have read (the review of the second book to come shortly!). With its light tone, witty leading lady, and grumbly but endearing romantic interest, there’s nothing left wanting for a mystery title to while away the hours outside in the sun. Veronica Speedwell is right up there with Amelia Peabody and some of my other favorite female sleuths. The mystery itself was strong, even if the ending was a bit rushed. But who really cares. I was just there for the snappy banter and blistering romantic tension!
Historical Title: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Technically, this one has magic in it, too. But its such a non-integral part of the story, in my opinion, that I’m throwing this one in here anyways. Mostly, this book has been criminally under-recognized and I want to do my part to bring it to the attention of readers who enjoy British manners and society books. In many ways, it reads the way a modern Jane Austen novel would. The primary crux of the story is one of relationships and the roles that women are expected to play in society in a time period where their options were limited. Here we see two very different women who have chosen different paths. One, giving up one dream of the future in order to conform to the expectations of family and society. The other still rebelling and pushing back against what is expected of her. And between them, one man who is still not sure of his own place in the world. This is a sure hit for fans for historical romances.
Horror Title: “The Amityville Horror” by Jay Anson
So I just want to say straight away that this book is advertised and technically classified as ‘non-fiction’, but it’s pretty common knowledge now that the Amityville Haunting was a big ol’ hoax. It was all a huge distraction and cash cow to make some bank for some people and to provide a legal defense for another (specifically Ronny DeFeo Jr, who killed his entire family with a shotgun). But the story of the Lutz Family moving into the large house on 112 Ocean Avenue is a VERY entertaining read, even if it is a big lie. Anson tells a haunted house story with a certain matter-of-factness and a fast paced vigor, and the now notorious story is truly best on the page. From flies to a ghost pig named Jody to the sounds of a MARCHING BAND stomping through the house, this novel hits all the cliches, and yet feels fun and fresh in spite of it. If you want a quick beach read that is just fluff and fun, “The Amityville Horror” is the way to go when you let go of the illusion that it’s true.
Thriller Title: “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn
So unlike everyone else in the world, I was NOT impressed by the book “Gone Girl”. I didn’t find any of the characters likable, I called the twist early but didn’t enjoy the journey to the reveal, and I hated the ending. So if people ask me what Gillian Flynn I do like, I will ALWAYS say “Dark Places”. Libby Day survived a family massacre that her own brother was arrested for. Her notoriety dried up when media interest went elsewhere, and now she’s worn out and dysfunctional as an adult. But when a group of armchair detectives approach her with the theory that her brother didn’t do it, she is pulled back into her past, and starts to wonder if everything she remembers about that horrible night is actually untrue. This is a fast paced and well done thriller, and unlike “Gone Girl” there are characters here that you can absolutely root for. I remember devouring it in a couple sittings. If you hated “Gone Girl”, this is proof that Gillian Flynn still may have something to offer you.
Graphic Novel Title: “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud
If you are looking for romance, despair, a meditation on artistry, a very readable story, and a beautiful art style, “The Sculptor” will be a good pick for you to take on your vacation this summer. Don’t be daunted by the size; while it is a thick book, it reads very fast just because it’s so engrossing. It’s the story of a struggling sculptor named David who makes a deal with Death: he will be able to use his hands to sculpt and manipulate any kind of material and matter, but he will die in 200 days. David accepts, thinking that’s plenty of time to make his mark on history as an artist. But then he meets Meg, and love becomes a true problem for a man with so little time. While the characters in this are grating (ESPECIALLY David and Meg), the story itself is filled with such emotion and raw expression that I couldn’t put it down when I read it.
Non-Fiction Title: “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah
If you are a fan of “The Daily Show” you know who Trevor Noah is (and even if you aren’t a fan you probably know too). He’s a very dry, observant, and intelligent comedian who has taken over one of the great satirical platforms of our time. But in “Born a Crime” he goes back to his childhood in South Africa during and after Apartheid. The product of a bi-racial relationship (which was illegal in South Africa at the time), Noah tells stories from his childhood that run the gamut of funny, scary, and very, very devastating. Noah’s voice is quite witty and down to Earth as he recalls these various stories, and his love for his mother is powerful and leaps off the page. Plus, you will probably learn about South African history and culture, as well as a first hand account of what Apartheid did to Black South Africans while it was in place.
What books are you bringing to the beach, the cabin, or the pool with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!