Heading for the beach for your end-of-the-year holiday break? Be sure to bring along some of the best beach books of the year. While that phrase usually applies to summer reading lists, we strongly believe that a beach is a beach, even if it’s winter where you call home (and you’re fleeing toward warmer weather). So here’s our list of the best beach books of the year – perfect for reading whether your year-end vacation involves sand or snow. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
what makes for a great beach read?
We’ve already shared our thoughts about the perfect books to read in the month of December. And also our list of the best books of the year for bibliophiles. But a list of vacation reading? Well, that’s completely different.
A beach read needs no real justification. It’s doesn’t have to be informative, or weighty, or provocative or even wildly intelligent.
It helps if it’s not totally dopey, of course. Or illogical, or filled with stereotypes.
Still and all, there’s really only one acid test. A beach book must be entertaining.
With that in mind, we reviewed the stack of books that we read this year, and pulled out the ones that were truly immersive, enjoyable, suspenseful or otherwise just really good fun.
Here’s our list of top picks for the best beach reads this year. Fire them up on your e-reader, or tuck them in your carry-on bag. They’re the perfect companion to sun and sand.
And we should note, we’re on Team Snow, and these will work equally well in front of a roaring fire, apres ski. There’s no guilt here – just pleasure.
the best beach books of the year
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. The latest book from the Big Little Lies author is about nine people who gather at a wellness resort and get much more than they bargained for. Some have come to lose weight, some to reboot their lives, and some for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. The director of Tranquillum House is a bit odd, but charismatic and seemingly has all the answers. When strange things start to occur, the guests face a decision: do they put aside their doubts and immerse themselves in everything this spa has to offer? Or run while they still can?
Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky. This debut novel tells the story of Lilian Quick: 40, single, childless, and working as a pet portrait artist. She’s working hard to build her brand on social media and struggling to pay the rent. Meanwhile, her estranged cousin has become internet-famous as “Eleven” Novak, the face of a massive feminine lifestyle empowerment brand. The two reunite, and Lilian enrolls in The Ascendency, Eleven’s signature program: an expensive, three-month training seminar on leadership, spiritual awakening, and marketing. The lessons are a resounding success. But which Lilian is the real one – the before, or the after?
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. In 1780’s London, a prosperous merchant finds his quiet life upended when he unexpectedly receives an unusual creature brought home by his ship’s captain. It’s a deceased mermaid, and when he attempts to monetize his exotic find, he meets the woman of his dreams. This debut novel is immersive, poignant and quietly subversive. Interwoven with the Dickensian goings-on is a powerful narrative about captivity, freedom and what it takes to make a life as a strong, intelligent, independent woman. It’s not quite as good as The Essex Serpent (to which it is constantly compared). But it’s a really good read, with some lovely prose that will stay with you.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. In this modern romance, a woman with Asperger’s syndrome hires a male escort to help her with sex and relationships—and finds herself (spoiler alert!) falling in love. Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old. Enter Michael Phan, gorgeous escort and experienced tutor. It starts as a no-nonsense partnership. Guess what happens next? If you loved the film The Wedding Date (and we did), you will love this novel.
The Adults by Caroline Hulse. A couple (now separated), plus their daughter (and her invisible friend), plus their new partners, all on an epic Christmas vacation. What could go wrong? In this debut novel, the adults grit their teeth over the forced fun activities at a theme park, drink a little too much after the little one is in bed, and overshare classified secrets about their pasts. Before long, their holiday is a social powder keg that ends with a call to – you guessed it – the cops.
Family Trust by Kathy Wang. When Huang family patriarch Stanley is diagnosed with cancer, his family—unfulfilled son Fred, overwhelmed daughter Kate, ex-wife Linda, and current wife Mary—must face their impending loss, as well as the discovery that the family fortune may not be exactly what Stanley claimed. For years, he has insistently claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. Now, as his heirs come to terms with Stanley’s approaching death, they’re starting to fear that Stanley’s “small fortune” may be more “small” than “fortune.” This debut novel has been described as a “mash-up of The Nest and Crazy Rich Asians.” What could be a better beach read than that?
The Last Cruise by Kate Christiansen. If you’re going a cruise for your holiday vacation, you might want to save this one until your safe return. But if you’re planning to be land-locked, then this is a worthwhile travel companion. The 1950’s vintage ocean liner Queen Isabella is making her final voyage before heading to the scrapyard. For the guests on board, it’s a chance to experience the bygone mid-20th century era of decadent luxury cruising. There are no children or cell phones allowed, which turns out to be a very good thing. We take the journey with an octogenarian chamber music quartet; a chef in the galley; and a tag-along friend who’s on this voyage as a treat to herself. The characterizations are vivid, and the details are sharp. You’ll like these people and you’ll feel their distress as things start to unravel. Spoiler alert: despite this book’s many pleasures, you may not be happy with how it all ends. You’ve been warned.
The Bucket List by Georgia Clark. Twenty-five-old Lacey Whitman is blindsided when she’s diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene mutation: the “breast cancer” gene. Should she have a preventive double mastectomy? Or take a wait-and-see approach? Lacey’s not ready to sacrifice her breasts before she’s had the chance to give them their hey-day. To help her make her choice, she (and her friends) creates a “boob bucket list”: everything she wants do with and for her boobs before a possible surgery. It’s sweetly funny and smart, and the memory of it will definitely make your next mammogram a bit less difficult to endure.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Our friends are raving about this best-selling novel. For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. If you loved Swamplandia, definitely dive into this one.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory. When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans. Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and soon she embarks on an epic rebound romance with him. Hmmm . . . what could possibly go wrong?
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui. As this charming road trip debut novel begins, Pival Sengupta has traveled thousands of miles from Kolkata to New York. She’s about to embark on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi, who came out and then disappeared. Pival’s guide is a new hire for her tour company: the guileless and resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never traveled beyond the borders of New York City. For modesty’s sake, Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress who’s just happy to have a paying job. As the bonds between this odd trio deepen, the story becomes a meditation on America, and friendship, and upended expectations.
Ghosted by Rosie Walsh. When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly. For both, it feels like destiny. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, Sarah has no cause for doubt. But he never calls. Weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried, while her friends tell her to forget him. Eventually she discovers she’s right: there is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance that has nothing to do with their romance.
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle. Years ago, Sabrina did the mental exercise of imagining whom she’d invite to a birthday dinner if she could have any five guests, dead or alive. She never thought her fantasy dinner would really happen, much less turn into the most efficient therapy session of her life. Her dinner companions? Her best friend, Jessica; her ex from a great love affair, Tobias; Conrad, her former philosophy professor; Robert , her father, who left her in the lurch to start a new family in California when she was only 5. And Audrey Hepburn.
Goodbye, Paris by Anstey Harris. On a getaway weekend to Paris, a boyfriend’s instinctive act of heroism leads to the revelation of all the secrets he’s been keeping. Grace, his suddenly jilted lover, has to rebuild her life back in Kent, England. With the help of a whimsical old man who frequents her music shop and the angst-ridden teenage sales clerk she has befriended, she comes to terms with what happened during her first year of music school that derailed her dream of being a professional musician, and starts to forge a new path.
French Exit by Patrick deWitt. In this novel, a wealthy widow and her adult son flee New York for Paris in the wake of scandal and financial disintegration. Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s the Price’s aging cat, Small Frank, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband. Described as “a one-of-a-kind ‘tragedy of manners,’ a send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper,” consider this a little vacation to Paris.
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. In Denmark, Professor Anders Larsen, an urbane man of facts, has lost his wife and his hopes for the future. On an isolated English farm, Tina Hopgood is trapped in a life she doesn’t remember choosing. Both believe their love stories are over. Brought together by their shared love of a Seamus Heaney poem, they begin writing letters to each. They find that they have a great deal in common. But then Tina’s letters stop coming.
Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce. In this debut novel set in London during World War II, a young woman who longs to be a war correspondent inadvertently becomes a secret advice columnist instead. After a misunderstanding, Emmeline Lake finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, renowned advice columnist of Woman’s Friend magazine. Her employer is very clear: letters containing any “Unpleasantness” must go answered. But Emmy surreptitiously begins to write back to readers who have shared their most personal troubles.
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her friend Elsie and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light. If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago? Cannon is one of our favorite authors, and this novel is described by one reviewer as “an amusing and heartbreaking story about forever friends who come to understand how the fine threads of humanity connect us all.”
That’s it! Our picks for the best beach books of the year. What’s on your reading list for your vacation? We’d love to hear it. In the meantime, happy reading!
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