Great Writing + Great Story = Beach Bliss

Sometimes you want your beach reads as light and fluffy as the foam atop a piña colada. And sometimes you want something with a little more heft, a book more suited to reading alongside a Dark and Stormy. When you’re looking for the kind of beach reading that won’t fade from memory even faster than your tan, try one of these works of literary fiction, which combine juicy, engrossing storytelling with writing that’ll have you underlining every other sentence.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton DiSclafani
After committing an unspoken trespass at her family’s Florida estate, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is banished to a ritzy mountain riding camp. There, tucked away from the effects of the impending Depression (the year is 1930), she navigates homesickness, a complex social structure, and her own dark memories. The camp’s rigidity contrasts with the idyllic freedom of her childhood, and as the truth behind her exile is revealed, Thea struggles with how to move forward after familial abandonment.

And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini’s third novel is a thoughtful page-turner, spanning countries and generations. It begins in and around Kabul in 1952, focusing on a poor widower, his selfish new wife, and his dead wife’s children, Pari and Abdullah. They’re forcibly separated when Pari is sold as an adopted daughter to a wealthy couple in Kabul; the impact of that act echoes through the decades, as Pari grows up and the man who sold her is besieged by guilt. And their stories are just one corner of the vibrant, immense fictional tapestry Hosseini weaves.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
Celia and Marco are magicians trained from childhood by eccentric, powerful guardians to serve as pawns in a game of magical oneupmanship, which has raged since before their birth. Their battleground is the mysterious Le Cirque des Rêves, a roving entertainment full of all the wonders author Morgenstern can unpack from her fabulously fertile brain. If you’re the kind of person who’s never met a locked door you didn’t want to look behind, you’ll get lost in this nocturnal romance, and wish you could join the ranks of the rêveurs, red-scarved connoisseurs who follow the circus like people used to follow the Grateful Dead.

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
Catton’s doorstop of a book has an opener so irresistible, you won’t mind that it weighs more than your beach towel, frisbee, and water bottle combined. On a rainy night in Gold Rush–era New Zealand, 12 men converge on a hotel drawing room, all seeming strangers who have gathered for some oblique shared purpose. From this compelling setup unfolds a story that moves from hand to hand in a la ronde-esque setup, all circling the mysterious death of the town hermit and told in the rich, gently rollicking style of a 19th-century yarn.

Invisible Monsters, by Chuck Palahniuk
After a terribly disfiguring “accident,” the bottom drops out of supermodel Shannon McFarland’s high-profile life, dumping her a shadow existence of self-pity and regret. Then she meets transgendered Brandy, a literally self-made woman who shakes up Shannon’s worldview and prompts her to spend less time grieving and more time living. Empowered, Shannon embarks on a twisting revenge fantasy against the people she believes orchestrated her downfall, in Palahniuk’s signature pop-drunk, high-camp style.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
This Pulitzer Prize winner explores the small town of Crosby, Maine, through the eyes and relationships of perennially distempered Olive Kitteridge, an overwhelming woman who keeps a close eye on her neighbors and despises change. In 13 stories, Crosby and its people come into focus, in all their loneliness, betrayals, and moments of grace. Olive makes for difficult but rewarding company, and Strout’s illuminating character studies and deep understanding of small-town life carry this powerful novel.

World War Z, by Max Brooks
Told as an oral history of a zombie war that’s already occurred, Brooks’ chilling novel details large-scale disaster and the smaller stories of hope, indomitability, and ingenuity that allowed mankind to ultimately triumph—although, he tells us, our victory was anything but assured, and vestiges of the zombie threat remain. The book also gives practical advice for those looking to survive the zombies who still walk among us.

Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder and Paulette Møller (translator)
Sophie is a quizzical child of 14, a searcher whose mind is ignited by the mysterious appearance in her mailbox of two handwritten questions, reading, “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” This is just the beginning of a stream of strange, unbidden correspondence, including letters written to another girl, philosophical lectures, and videotape. Then a daring postmodern twist upends Sophie’s understanding of her very existence…

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt
The grief of Brunt’s 14-year-old protagonist, June, over the death of her beloved Uncle Finn is complicated by the fact that he was also (in her secret heart) her first romantic love. When his lover, dying of the same disease that killed Finn, reaches out to June, she finds solace in knowing someone who loved her uncle as much as she did, and juggles their tentative, secret friendship with the pain of distant parents, a changing bond with her sister, and the sense that she was born in the wrong place and time.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
In this coming-of-age classic, Cassandra Mortmain is an aspiring writer growing up in her previously wealthy, now impoverished family’s drafty, tumbledown castle. Her father is a blocked writer, her stepmother an eccentric, and her older sister is preoccupied by dreams of wedding bells. Cassandra is left to her own devices, to write and dream and, for the first time, fall in love.

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