Beach Reads: Summer 2021

Back for 2021, 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.

Serena’s Picks

Fantasy Title: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

I highlighted “Uprooted” in this list several years ago, but I think now is as good a time as any to return to the well and select Novik’s follow-up fairytale fantasy, “Spinning Silver.” In theory, these two books exist in the same world. In practicality, they each can be read as complete stand-alones. This time, Novik tackles “Rumpelstiltskin,” but her complete expansion and unique take on the fable leaves only the barest hints of the original story. Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, and when forced to take up the role herself, find she has has a particular talent for the role. So much so that she draws the eyes of powerful magical beings who would put her skills to an even greater use. But this isn’t simply Miryem’s tale. We also follow the path of a nobleman’s neglected daughter and a peasant girl who is trying to protect her family. Honestly, it’s hard to say which I like better between this book and “Uprooted,” so just go ahead and read both.

Science Fiction Title: “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan

This was a favorite sci-fi read from last summer, and a perfect book for this summer’s beach read list. Not only is it a stand-alone title, but it’s also a short, quick read. Driftwood is the world where all other worlds go to die. After whatever apocalypse took them out, the final scraps of the land and its inhabitants find themselves mashed up against other failed worlds, slowly grinding themselves into oblivion. But even here, life flourishes and civilizations rise and fall. But where everything eventually comes to end, one being endures, a man named Last. Weaving through a variety of tales and worlds, Last’s story slowly unfolds, though there, too, histories and mysteries are layered one upon another. This was such a unique read that I’ve been raving about it pretty much since the moment I set it down. Definitely check it out if you want a quick, science fiction read.

Mystery Title: “Crocodile on the Sandbank” by Elizabeth Peters

I actually had to look past through our Beach Reads posts of the previous summers, because I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t featured this one yet! It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in the “Amelia Peabody,” series, but I will never forget the sheer joy of reading this first book for the first time. I was sitting outside a coffee shop in the summer, and I ended up sitting there for like four hours just blowing through this book and laughing out loud. Oh, the days before children! Of all the books I’m featuring this go-around, “Crocodile on the Sandbank” is by far the best fit for a Beach Read in that it’s just a sheer joy to read. Fans of historical mysteries have to check it out, and if you like intrepid heroines, this one’s also for you!

Historical Fiction Title: “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler

Technically, this book could fall under sci-fi/fantasy as well, as it features time travel at the heart of the story. But as most of it is focused on the historical aspects of time travel rather than the science fiction behind it, I thought it would work well here. Dana, a young African American woman, suddenly finds herself wrenched from her life in 1976 back to antebellum Maryland. She saves a young white boy from drowning and only barely escapes with her life. The story jumps back and forth through time as Dana’s life continues to intertwine with this same young man. This book is a staple of science fiction literature and, obviously, Butler is one of the genre’s most beloved authors. If you’re looking for good historical fiction novel as well as one to check off on many “must read” lists, definitely get your hands on “Kindred.”

Kate’s Picks

Horror Title: “Feed” by Mira Grant

I reviewed one of the spin off books on this blog, “Feedback”, which takes place in the same zombie tech universe, but I haven’t touched much upon the original story that started it all. In a world where cures for the common cold and cancer became a reality, the solutions merged into a virus that turns people into zombies. Now society has figured out ways to adapt and move on, and bloggers and vloggers act as sources of news. We follow Georgia and Shaun Mason, sibling reporters who are in high demand, and who have been hired by a Presidential candidate to cover his campaign. But as they get deeper into the politics, they start to find disturbing connections to the zombie hordes. It’s savvy, it’s fun, and it’s wholly unique, and a great read for a vacation.

Thriller Title: “Help for the Haunted” by John Searles

When Serena and I and some of our friends stumbled upon an Alex Award presentation about this book at ALA in 2014, we hadn’t heard of “Help for the Haunted”. But it became clear almost immediately that it would be a thriller that is right up my alley. Sylvie Mason is one of the daughters of a famous ghost hunting duo, and after a call in the middle of the night takes her and her parents to an abandoned church, her parents end up dead. A year later, Sylvie is living with her older sister Rose, who may know more than she’s saying about their parents’ deaths. On top of that, the family basement, which houses the haunted artifacts left over from their parents cases, has been acting up. Sylvie wants to find out the truth about her parents… no matter what that truth may be. Given that this is loosely based on Ed and Lorraine Warren, and that “The Conjuring 3” is now released, this thriller is a timely choice.

Graphic Novel Title: “Ms. Marvel (Vol.1): No Normal” by G. Willow Wilson and Adrial Alphona (Ill.)

While my reactions to the “Ms. Marvel” stories have had their ups and downs, I absolutely loved the very first book, “Ms. Marvel: No Normal”. In this first volume we meet Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City who suddenly has super powers thrust upon her. She becomes Ms. Marvel, and her life of fighting crime as well as trying to survive high school begins. “No Normal” has the perfect set up which introduces Kamala, as well as her family and friends, and shows us a dynamic and engaging superhero that gives voice to those who aren’t as represented in comics. And while the series does have moments of being a little aggressively quirky, “No Normal” is pretty much on point and excellent from start to finish. Definitely check this one out if you are looking for a comic series with a lot of heart.

Non-Fiction Title: “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish

Non-fiction is such a broad swath of genres, but I thought that for beach reading you probably want to keep it lighter! So instead of going for my usual true crime pick, we turn to humorous memoirs, and there we find “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish! Haddish has established herself as a gifted comedienne in the past few years, and her memoir is a collection of reflections about her life. Some of it is VERY funny (naturally), while other parts of it are poignant and at times hard to read. But through it all Haddish has wry self awareness and some really fun stories about her life. “The Last Black Unicorn” feels like a good mix of the fun and the painful, and I found myself laughing and shedding a few tears throughout. It’s the kind of memoir that you won’t want to put down, and will make you root for Haddish the whole way through.

What books are you taking to the beach with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Beach Reads: Summer 2021”

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