Best summer beach reads

June 12, 2015

beach timeAirplane reading and beach reading have one thing in common: they’ve got to be distracting and that means fairly light. But not completely mindless. The kind of book that you can pick up for a while, then put down while you take a sip of a pina colada, take a dip in the ocean or take a walk in the sand. And pick back up again.

Or a book that will carry you through a nap under a beach umbrella and back.  Not every book I read has to be literary or deeply meaningful. Sometimes, like eating dessert instead of dinner, I just want some mind candy.

Who doesn’t like a good beach read?

We’ll be spending a week in Hawaii this summer and I plan to be prepared for both the beach and the long flight over the Pacific Ocean. Because that flight means uninterrupted reading time, too.

Back in the days before e-readers, I once brought an entire suitcase of books for a month in Rome. Doesn’t that sound like an anachronism today? Who would do that? Today, I love my Kindle Paperwhite for travel reading because it’s lightweight and does only one thing: lets you read books. That means I’m not tempted to do Facebook or any other thing made possible by a full-fledged tablet. It’s actually a pretty good reading experience and I love being untethered from my phone, social media and email.

I’m not quite sure it’s compatible with sand, though. But then, neither is any book that you want to keep.

Where was I?  Oh yes, beach reads. I found some good ones and here they are:

beach-readingAxis Sally: The American Voice of Nazi Germany by Richard Lucas.  The tale isn’t so strange, but the woman is. She was an American actress who broadcast fear, uncertainty and doubt aimed from Germany to American troops during World War II.  Her messages were meant to demoralize the troops and they hated her. The book is less a biography than it is a fascinating, objective look at a narcissistic personality who easily manipulated reality to support her position and lack of conscience. Mildred Gillars was certainly a bizarre woman and while given her background, some of her behavior and quirks (ok, more than quirks) might be understandable, many of them are not.  That puzzle is what makes this such a good book.  I found an old recording of one of her broadcasts on YouTube, HERE. Check the four minute mark for a sample of her broadcasts as Axis Sally, as the troops called her.

 Searching for Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan. This frothy read isn’t as light as a Harlequin, nor is it a trashy novel, but I wouldn’t consider it literary, either. Still, it’s solid and diverting. It’s about young women in the 1950s who leave their small towns for Manhattan’s Barbizon Hotel for Women and what happens to them. I love the 1950s, I love the unique, anachronistic nature of the Barbizon and the characters were drawn just right for this genre. To my surprise, the book’s written by a man and one from a working class family in Philadelphia, to boot.  I love that he had the guts to write what he calls a “sudsy novel” and that he was inspired by the first such novel he read, Peyton Place. Google “A conversation with Michael Callahan” to read an interview with this unpretentiously good writer who wrote a great beach read.

 Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. Her first novel, Seating Arrangements, won her the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, so it’s no surprise that this is a well-written book despite some plot twists and turns that were, well, somewhat predictable. Nonetheless, the story moved along.  Maybe a little…well…dramatic. But you know what?  There’s a time and a place for deep, meaningful literary fiction and the beach would not be those things. The story begins as a young ballet dancer helps a Soviet dancer she’s slept with defect. I believe a character-driven book is the mark of a skillful writer, and that’s what this is.  Plus, she really let us into the world of professional ballet, and that helped move the book along at a fast pace.

 The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob. Maybe you want something a little different. A little quirky.  Here’s a read about an idiosynchratic Indian-American immigrant family that takes the reader to India in the Seventies and on to 1990s Seattle. It’s got mystery, humor, pathos and it makes you think. But really, not that hard. After all, you’re on the beach!  It’s a book about the family, connections and the generational divide. Books that involve India continue to attract me and the experience is richer since our trip there 18 months ago. I do recommend this book. It’s 500 pages, so start it at the beginning of your trip.

How about you?  Got a good beach read or two you want to recommend? The Comments section awaits!




47 comments on “Best summer beach reads
  1. Sandy says:

    I love a good read! I haven’t had much time lately to read with the kids out of school for the summer, though. I probably should do that instead of watching tv late at night..LOL! I’m sure it’s better for my brain! 😉

  2. I just finished “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. It’s really beautifully written and a wonderful story, although not light reading.

  3. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says:

    I will have to check a few of these out. I Love reading at the beach.

  4. These look good!

    The beach read I’m recommending this year is Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein — a YA novel set in pre-WWII Ethiopa. I learned a little-known aspect of history and about women and minorities in early aviation.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I love the sound of Searching for Grace Kelly. I rarely read novels but summer is usually when I do! Airplane and beach reading does have to be very distracting.

  6. Meg Root says:

    I love a good summer read overview! Just reading your reviews relaxes me. So far, I’m going old school. My son read “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck this year, and I remembered the summer I read it when I was his age. Loving it even more the second time around.

  7. Carla says:

    it used to be a big facet of my self definition I would go into a bookstore and struggle to find a book I hadn’t read.
    I’ve lost that. I need to refind that starting with these 🙂

  8. I read Maggie Shipstead’s first novel Seating Arrangements. So I can’t wait to grab hers and read it on my kindle paperwhite. I went to Rome in the Fall there’s too much to do to read there! lol

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your summer beach reads. The last time I went to the beach I read the entire Jan Karon Mitford Series. Next beach trip will be the Father Tim also by Jan Karon. I’ll check out some of yours as well.

  10. amar naik says:

    well i am not much of a good reader at beach . i enjoy spending time with my friends and family when at the beach.

  11. Sheryl says:

    Thanks for these suggestions, Carol. I read Sleepwalker’s Guide a while ago and loved it – but haven’t read the others. Time to load up my Kindle!

  12. Dorit Sasson says:

    I have to get my hands on Maggie Shipstead. I almost got the chance to interview her for my global radio show. Thank you for the reminder.

  13. Shantala says:

    Hi, I came across your blog through Write Tribe and I am glad I stopped by. Always a pleasure to connect with a fellow book lover. The Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing looks interesting. I am going to check it out. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  14. Laurel Regan says:

    What a great mix of books! I haven’t read any of them, so thanks for bringing the titles to my attention. And isn’t the Kindle Paperwhite the best?! Totally hooked on mine.

  15. Ruth Curran says:

    I can’t stop raving about Us by David Nicholls. It is such a wonderfully told story about a family. The plot takes a few turns and nothing is really all that expected (what an amazing surprise). I just devoured it.

    Adding your suggestions to my list! Thanks!

  16. Mary Hill says:

    I am reading Kristin Hannah Nightingale about World War II. I love her book. Great beach reads.

  17. Lisa Nolan says:

    Summer reading lists are so fun to explore! I can’t wait to check out these books!

  18. These are some very intriguing books. Sadly we don’t go to the beach often so I will have to read these at home..

  19. Axis Sally does sound like an intriguing read. WW2 fascinates me, especially the Western theatre.

  20. Misty Battle says:

    Awesome. I am always on the lookout for poolside reads. I have to check them out.

  21. I love reading, although, lately that seems like a distant memory. Keeping up with the kids and work doesn’t leave ample time for reading. But thank you for your list, I will keep it in mind when we are traveling later this month.

  22. I Have a LOT of reading to catch up on! Right now I’m ordering some Jen Lancaster books!

  23. Michelle Hwee says:

    This is awesome! I have been meaning to find new books to read! This is great, thank you for sharing it!!

  24. Karen W says:

    Reading for enjoyment for myself rarely happens anymore. I have several books in my TBR pile. I think the library would like them back. LOL

  25. These sound like interesting books. Normally, I just browse the online book store and look for free ebooks. However, if your sitting outside on the beach I don’t think ebooks would work in the daylight very well. I think a good book in hand is a must have.

  26. Heather says:

    These sound like great books. I agree I like the feel of a kindle better. I do have an iPad mini, but I like the lightness of my husband’s kindle.

  27. Debi says:

    Most of my reading is nonfiction. However, I do find summer to be the perfect time to get in a fiction book or two. Amazon Unlimited has tons of fabulous beach books.

    Crazy Little Thing by Tracy Brogan is perfect for the beach.

  28. thanks for the great suggestions, Carol. I’m bookmarking this page because I’ll need good vacation reads next month.

  29. Carolann says:

    I’m reading “Waking Up” by Sam Harris it’s an excellent read. I doubt this classifies as a beach read, but I do read it in my backyard. I guess that’s the closest I’ll get to a beach at the moment. Thanks for the suggestions and have a great time on vaca!

  30. I love learning about good books from other readers. I am very much intrigued with your review of Axis Sally and The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. I love Indian-American stories.

  31. rocky says:

    I will check these books out! thanks for sharing..

  32. Lisa Rios says:

    I like beach reads. These are all sounds like great list of books for beach reading. I would love reading the “Searching for Grace Kelly” & will definitely check this out for sure.

  33. Kimba says:

    I definitely want to check out “Searching for Grace Kelly” – thanks to you I just added it to my summer reading beach bag!

  34. Bismah says:

    Once my little guys are a little bigger I will pick up on some reading again. I really like the idea of reading on the beach!

  35. Rebecca Swenor says:

    I don’t have a list written down right now for good summer reads. These ones sound interesting and I know I will look into reading The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. Thanks for sharing.

  36. Debbie Denny says:

    I have got to get these. They sound awesome.

  37. Jhoveleen says:

    These selections of books must have to check. I’m looking forward to reading any on the list this summer.

  38. Bettylouise says:

    The name Axis Sally brought back a lot of memories to me as I remember her from the war. Her counterpart Tokyo Rose broadcast from Tokyo to Allied troops in the Pacific.
    I read a great deal mostly mysteries reviews on my site.

  39. Carol, I love this post and I, too, love my Kindle paperwhite. I am an avid reader but I can read anything on the beach or on long flights. I remember reading Mitchener’s Hawaii on the beach of La Jolla shores in San Diego after my senior year in high school. Somehow the subject lent itself well to the beach! Thanks for sharing this great post on #TheLeisure Link!

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