20+ Beach Reads to Take Your Mind Off Your Thighs

Happy Summer! Welcome to the season of mosquitos, rampant body insecurity, hot asphalt, sunscreen in your eyes, and sand in… places we don’t want to talk about. Oh, summer… I still love you!

I’m celebrating this joyous season by helping you stuff your Kindle or other favorite eReader with so many books, your family and friends will think you’ve become one with your favorite beach chair.

Woman reading ebook on beach chair.
Don’t mind me. I’ll just be here until… September.

First, I’m offering deals on the newly re-released The Marriage Pact trilogy. You can get the original Marriage Pact romantic comedy on all digital platforms (Kindle, Nook, iBooks) for 99 cents, all month long.

I hope you’ll enjoy this trilogy, and if you do, that you’ll (pretty please with SPF 4000 on top) take a moment to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It’s tougher than ever to get noticed in a seemingly endless sea of fantastic romantic comedies & women’s fiction — a wonderful time to be a reader, and a HUGE challenge for authors. Thanks for your support!

BONUS: There is also a flash freebie on the entire trilogy box set – Kindle Only – from June 4 to June 8! Grab it quick!

Second, to even more fully load your Kindle with poolside / plane ride / low tide goodies, I’ve compiled a list my other favorite beach reads. Some of these are current or recent reads, others are older books I find myself recommending over and over for a relaxing, entertaining read. I’ve put in some mini-reviews to explain briefly why I love each one.

Or… you can Skip to the Buy Links!

Enjoy, and please share the love by leaving your current favorites in the comments!

Book Club at the Beach

For discussable women’s fiction that enthralls and provokes, without weighing you down (or sending you sobbing into the hotel bathroom), my current favorites are as follows:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I can’t say enough about how much I loved this novel by Atlanta native Tayari Jones: not just for its nuanced and lyrical approach to the backdrop of institutional racism, but for the beautiful, devastating, heart-wrenching love story(ies) at the center. An American Marriage is the perfect balance of thought-provoking, literary, and emotionally poignant. You won’t be sorry.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant reminded me a bit of The Rosie Project in its skillful, funny and delightful portrayal of a main character struggling to understand and navigate the social conventions of the world around her. This book is at once optimistic and heartbreaking, funny and warm. And if Reese Witherspoon didn’t already convince you to read it, I don’t know what else I can say!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Set in affluent Seattle within the micro-society of parents with children at a local private school, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is funny, insightful and with just enough snark. It’s one of those books I devoured so quickly I immediately wanted more, and honestly… I’m glad I read it after I wrote Sugar Street, because otherwise I might have been intimidated into thinking I had nothing to add to the conversation about suburban mama drama.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

An older selection, this book seems pretty polarizing among the Moriarty fans I know. Some absolutely loved it, and some just… didn’t. I come down in the former camp. This novel — about a woman who sustains a head injury and loses her last 10 years of memory — is definitely tied to the anchor of its artificially elevated premise. And while it’s more internally/psychologically focused (and FUNNIER) than Big Little Lies or The Husband’s Secret, What Alice Forgot still explores with realism and humor the themes of marriage, maturity, family and community, the way Moriarty always does so well. You might give your better half the side-eye while you’re reading this one, but you probably won’t be afraid to sleep next to him!

Beach Thrill: Until the Day I Die by Emily Carpenter

So y’all probably know that Emily is a friend and critique partner of mine, and you also know that if she weren’t, I’d still be ADDICTED to her clever style of Southern Gothic Suspense. All her books are amazing (and at time of publication, were also on sale on Amazon), but the fast-paced Until the Day I Die is one of my favorites, especially for reading on a summer retreat.

I mean, what if you were sent on a tropical retreat, only to find out (a) health food was mandatory and (b) someone was trying to kill you? Y’all. James Bond never had to deal with this crap. Grab Until the Day I Die (and Emily’s other books) and spend your vacation looking over your shoulder!

Psychological Thrill: The Good Liar by Catherine MacKenzie

This sharp, thought-provoking book weaves together the stories of three families impacted by a September 11th-type disaster in Chicago. It’s an engrossing read with well-developed character and beautifully woven plotlines, which brim both with unsettling suspense and relatable, realistic human emotions. Catherine MacKenzie deals with dark topics in a way that doesn’t leave you in the fetal position in the bathtub. Bonus points: I actually read The Good Liar at the beach, so I can vouch for its suitability personally.

Romantic Comedy – The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

If you’d told me at the outset how charmed I could be by this tale of two twenty-something professional rivals falling for one another at a publishing house… well, I would’ve told you margaritas are a bad idea for breakfast. Not that there’s anything wrong with twenty-somethings having a slow-burn office romance. I just didn’t think 43-year-old me would be too enraptured by it. Sort of a been there, done that thing, you know? But I have to admit, this somewhat conventional trope is covered in almost excruciatingly clever (and hot) detail by Sally Thorne. I found myself not only sucked in to the slow and steady pace of The Hating Game, but ultimately reminded why I fell in love with romantic comedies to begin with. If that’s not beach-worthy, I don’t know what is.

Royal Romance (Modern) – A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Okay, I have to say that I haven’t finished this one yet–I started reading on my Kindle right before my surgery, and reading is still one of my physical challenges. But I ADORE Alyssa Cole’s smart, funny style and the science nerd element of this book has me itching to get back to it in a couple of weeks. A Princess in Theory is part of Alyssa’s Reluctant Royals series, which I’ll certainly be reading if it holds up to what I’ve read so far. It’s funny, cheeky and delicious. Check it out and let’s compare notes!

Beach Bodice Rippers – Regency Reads

A couple of years ago, I went on a Regency bender, covering about 20 Regency-era romances in a few months. (It was shameful! I woke up with my bodice loosened and realizing that I’d spoken to a man without a formal introduction!) Ahem.

I loved every minute, and I learned what so many others had the wisdom to see before me — there’s so much variety, humor and steaminess in Regency romance. Here are some of my favorites–most of these are the first in series or can be read standalone, and any are a fun introduction to the genre if you haven’t read much beyond Jane Austen.

Valerie Bowman with a cutout of her book, Never Trust a Pirate
Bonus: Lifesize NEVER TRUST A PIRATE with the author Valerie Bowman herself at the helm! (And yours truly hamming it up on the cover…)

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah Maclean
The Duchess War (and the Brothers Sinister Collection) by Courtney Milan
Never Trust a Pirate by Valerie Bowman (I mean, PIRATES. At the beach!)
Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen (This book is smarter than its title. Think of the Scandal TV show in 1819 London)

But What About Jane Austen?

Don’t worry. I have you COVERED. I’m reading (listening to) and loving Sonali Dev’s modern retelling of Jane Austen’s masterwork: Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors. I am a huge Austen fan and love modern takes on her work (Bridget Jones, anyone?). While the period manners and restrictions are timebound, I find the themes are timeless and can be endlessly mined for both romance and social commentary. I’m also keenly aware of how often modern takes on Austen’s work can go sideways: getting the characters but missing the point, or vice versa.

Sonali’s latest novel is rich in not just sensory details (the food descriptions–Y’ALL), but in understanding of the salient themes of this book that go beyond Lizzie and Darcy’s (or in this case, D.J. and Trisha’s) will-they-won’t-they romance. Treat yourself to Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors; and if you love it, also check out Sonali’s Bollywood Bride or The Bollywood Affair for a light, culturally infused modern rom-com.

Oh, you mean ACTUAL Jane Austen?

Well. In my humble opinion the best of Jane Austen’s six novels to read at the beach is Persuasion. This oft-underrated novel has a beautiful love-long-denied romantic arc, a relatable (if perhaps too easily influenced) heroine, social comedy out the wazoo, Bath, and… Frederick Bloody Wentworth. Captain Wentworth doesn’t get the same swoony credit in our culture as Fitzwilliam Darcy, but his tormented brooding over Anne Elliott makes my heart fluttery all the same. (Or it could be the almond lattes).

Plus, Persuasion has what every beach read needs: a group road trip to the sea shore! Close your eyes to the ocean breeze on the Florida panhandle or the Jersey Shore, and pretend for a minute that you’re Louisa Musgrove, about to jump off a wall in Lyme Regis to get the attention of your desired man. (How did Jane predict reality television so accurately?)

YA Romance – What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What If It’s Us is proof that two best friends can write a novel together and not only NOT kill each other in the process, but also produce a squee-worthy romance that you’ll zip through in a single day by the pool. Ben and Arthur meet at a post office in New York City (well, almost), and then get separated. It’s up to fate to see them through from there.

Admittedly, I don’t read widely in YA Romance, but What If It’s Us is too charming to pass up, especially if you’re a fan of John Green’s (The Fault in Our Stars or Will Grayson, Will Grayson), or Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. OR if you loved Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli’s first novel and the inspiration for the film Love, Simon). OR any of Adam Silvera’s previous books, like They Both Die at the End.

Hope you enjoy at least a few of these fabulous reads! And please share this post and add your own favorite beach books in the comments.

Happy Summer!


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MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a Distracted Writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction -- her latest, SUGAR STREET released on 8/7/18. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

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