Beach reading recommendations in every genre. Sand optional.
There's a metric ton of summer reading lists out there, many of which feature books that by international law must have a colon in the title. Books with names like, Murderous Flapjacks: An Esoteric Halflife of Breakfast.
These books feature incredibly deft use of language, explore themes of human suffering or perhaps reveal deeper truths about lasting peace. Or they rip your heart out of your chest and hand it to you. There you are, at the pool, at the beach, on a warm green hillside in the cool, breezy mountains, eager for a vacation that took months to plan. And the book you're reading leaves you feeling bleak.
Vacations, in my world, are a time when rules do not apply, when you can have two scoops of ice cream for dessert every night – heck, when you can have dessert with breakfast. (Pass those esoteric pancakes, please.) So in my world, I treat my brain to a vacation, too. I want ice cream for my brain. I want happy endings, laughter, sparkling plots, memorable characters, and blissfully good writing.
Behold my "Guaranteed Brain Vacation Reading List." These are books in various categories that in my never-humble opinion have stood the test of time in their perfection for beachside, mountainside, poolside, or even commuting-and-wishing-for-vacation-side reading.
The Queen of Good Vacation Reading: Nora Roberts
That's not a book title. That's a backlist of champions. Roberts is my never-fail author for good summer reading. If you like romance, some suspense, and fabulous characterization in a contemporary novel, Roberts cannot be beat. Roberts' publisher issued the The Chesapeake Quartet, four of her best books, in two double-novel volumes, so you can read all four books with minimal suitcase load. The first two, Sea Swept and Rising Tides are available as The Quinn Brothers and the second two, Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Blue are available under the title The Quinn Legacy. The quartet follows four adopted brothers who begin life as troubled children and end up living in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland. All four Quinn brothers are sigh-worthy and marvelous.
Eccentric and Hilarious Family Dramas
For a little less courtship and a little more family, there are two books which still make me giggle, sniffle, and maybe even weep behind my giant sunglasses.
Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons, is set during World War II among the women of a very eccentric Southern family. Ever notice that sometimes, authors use "Southern" as shorthand for "eccentric" and never quite justify either one? No worries here. This book, and its characters, are genuine and completely charming.
Sullivan's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank will make you appreciate the family you're vacationing with, even if they used up all the hot water. Susan Hamilton Hayes finds herself with a broken marriage, the new and scary title of "single mom to teenage daughter," and a new life for herself as she revisits her family's past – and their past scandals–on the coastal Carolina islands.
Hot Blooded Men, Warrior Women Seek Adventure and Action
If you're a bloodthirsty reader and crave tales of the creatures who need it to survive, there are some addictive series out there.
While some fans debate the direction of the latest books in the series, the first four novels of The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward are pure, undiluted vampire romance crack. The Brotherhood is an order of vampire warriors in a battle with evil slayers, and the relationships within the Brotherhood are part of the truly irresistible quality of the series, to say nothing of the inner workings of a luxury-obsessed warrior class of vampires told in a breakneck and campy writing style. The first one, Dark Lover should only be attempted when you know you have at least a few hours to read.
The same is true of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, which is also paranormal, and features an entire population of otherworldly creatures, from werewolves, valkyries and witches to elves and demons. Combining fantasy, romance, and adventure with savvy contemporary references, Cole's books, starting with A Hunger Like No Other, are not like any fey-filled fantasy book you've read before, and each one features strong, confident warriors –and that's just the women. They're alluring, clever and utterly fun.
Speaking of action, and the future, Ann Aguirre is a new author whose debut novel Grimspace introduced a heroine who rocks and rocks hard. Affected by a rare gene, Sirantha Jax can navigate space ships through an alternative universe, allowing her and her crew to bend time, and set some fine speed records in the process. When she's the lone survivor of a horrific crash, of which she has no memory, she's vulnerable and alone until a rebel group rescues her –for a rather sinister reason.
Past-Perfect: Historical Romantic Fiction
Now, if you're like me, romantic tales set a good two hundred years in the past really rock your petticoats.
My go-to authors for never-fail historical romance pleasure include Julia Quinn, especially her Bridgerton series, starting with The Duke and I, and Teresa Medeiros, who can take a fairy tale myth, stand it on its head, and shape it in to historical romance like no one else. Among her best is A Kiss to Remember, because it not only plays with fairy tales, but also with some of the most hilarious romance plot clichés to ever hit the printed page.
Better Ab Workouts Through Laughing
If you want laugh-out-loud reading, look no further than Jennifer Crusie, specifically Bet Me, which features, among other things, a clever and funny romance, chicken marsala, a perfect marvel of a hero, and a curvy, self-aware heroine with a serious shoe habit who manages to never cross the line into cloying and annoying. Other Crusie novels that stand up to some dig-your-toes-in beach reading are Welcome to Temptation, Faking It, and her latest co-authored effort with Bob Mayer, Agnes and the Hitman.
If you prefer witty, sudsy fun books to ride shotgun next to your sunscreen, look no further than Meg Cabot and Rachel Gibson. Cabot is known for her young adult books, like The Princess Diaries, but her contemporary novels are fantastic vacation fare, especially The Queen of Babble series and the Heather Wells series. Gibson is capable of the one-handed comedic smack down with her breezy and unquestionably hilarious style, especially in True Confessions and the award-winning Tangled Up in You.
Wherever you're going this summer, guaranteed merry, clever, and funny books give your brain the vacation it deserves. Happy reading and even happier summer.