Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Did you know that August 9 is National Book Lovers Day?
When I was young and single, heading to the beach and bringing a book that you could immerse yourself into while lazing in the sun was a given. Even later on, when going on vacations with just my husband and me, it was a luxury to read, nap, drink, swim, rinse and repeat. Then kids came, and well that was the end of that.
Just kidding. (but not really)
With the advent of kids came the hyperawareness and the need to monitor them constantly so that my precious toddler didn't toddle right into the Atlantic Ocean and keep on going. So for several years, I gave up on books because I spent more time trying to figure out where I left off after an interruption then actually reading. So trashy gossip mags were all I could manage. (Who wore it best? Celebrities: They're just like us!)
Now I'm in the season of life where my kids are far more self-sufficient and I am happy to be able to pick up a book while lounging in the sun and sand. In this post, I'd like to share with you some of the books that I have enjoyed reading while on a beach vacation, as well as highlight some books that are on my list to read, which happen to have a setting that ties to the beach, the coast, or the South in general.
In my 'regular' life, my reading habits tend to gravitate towards non-fiction: current affairs, biographies/autobiographies, self improvement, productivity. But in my 'vacation' life, I love a little escapism, so this list will primarily feature fiction books. If you have a great book to recommend, please drop it in the comments below, I'm always on the lookout for a good read!
Later in this post is a list of Independent Booksellers in the Myrtle Beach area, so you can help support local business when you're in town. Even if you're buying books at home to bring on your trip to Bella Vista, please consider supporting a local bookseller in your hometown!
If you like to dive into book with familiar territory, here are some authors whose novels are usually set in North Carolina and South Carolina: Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Alice Monroe, and Mary Kay Andrews. Each of these authors has one or more book series, plus several stand-alone novels. If you like to read book series in order, this is a great website that show you the series order, just do a search by author's first name: Dorothea | Mary Alice | Mary Kay.
I recently finished Andrews' book Summer Rental which was a fun, frothy tale that was a surprisingly quick read (just a couple hours), which is perfect for an afternoon by the water. I've since devoured Sullivan's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank, which follows a woman navigating infidelity, divorce, and raising a teenager and The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe, about a work-driven professional coming back to her roots and rebuilding a relationship with her mother.
While the Benton Frank's Lowcountry Tales books are connected by their setting, the protagonists change. However Monroe's The Beach House is the first novel of a series, and I think I will continue with it, as I'm interested to see how the characters develop in subsequent books. Pat Conroy and Nicholas Sparks are other authors who set their books in the Carolinas.
Set in Louisiana, I also enjoyed Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. On a slight tangent, for another take on mothers, daughters, and friendship, the Joy Luck Club is great (just beware to bawl your eyes out in parts).
Live, from New York
I'm originally from New York, so these are fun reads that are set in the Big Apple:
Sex and the City is worth a read, just don't expect it to be anything like the show, otherwise you will be disappointed. It is a series of essays that Candace Bushnell wrote as a columnist for the New York Observer back in the mid-1990s. So if you're looking for fan fiction based on Carrie & co., this is not it.
I recently read Opening Belle, about a woman who is juggling being a wife, mother, and an investment banker on Wall Street (and was written by a woman who was actually the youngest managing director at Bear Stearns for 12 years... so I guess she's probably writing from experience!), it did come out in 2008 and references the financial crisis, which dates it a little, but didn't take away from me enjoying it.
I was fortunate to run across Crazy Rich Asians in 2018, so I didn't have to wait to snap up China Rich Girlfriend, then followed shortly by Rich People Problems. If you want to binge read, you can get the trilogy all at once. This series is only set partially in New York and then crosses the globe, but the protagonists are NYU professors (my alma mater), so I'll count them here. The movie adaptation was done well, but the books dove into far more entertaining detail.
Suspense / Thriller
I got into a Jodi Picoult spree several years ago because I loved how her stories were pretty intricately woven with a huge surprise at the end (resist the urge to skip ahead). The themes can be dark, so be forewarned these are not frothy chick-lit type books. Books I've read are Plain Truth | Perfect Match | My Sister's Keeper | Nineteen Minutes | Small Great Things | Picture Perfect
Lee Child is the pen name of James Dover Grant, author of the Jack Reacher series, whose protagonist is far more intimidating than the character portrayed by Tom Cruise in the movie adaptation. The fight scenes can be graphic and gory, but the stories are really engrossing. You can mostly read this series in any order, but if these are new to you, starting with Killing Floor makes sense. As with most things, the book is much better than the movie.
Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series is obviously well-known, thanks to the Matt Damon adaptation, but I generally enjoy the books far more than the films, and these books are able to go into far more detail than a feature film could ever do. I haven't gotten into the ones that Eric Van Lustbader has penned yet, though. The Bourne Identity | The Bourne Supremacy | The Bourne Ultimatum
The Agent Pendergast series is co-authored by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Childs and is a suspense/horror mix that my husband, in his many business travels though airport bookstores, picked up and then I dived into. These books are definitely page-turners; start with Relic and be ready to be creeped out. Interestingly, Douglas Preston's brother is Richard Preston who wrote The Hot Zone about the Ebola virus, which scared the bejesus out of me; you can read his original article from The New Yorker.
Historical fiction is another genre I enjoy, because it adds an extra dimension to the story. Here are some that I've read over the years: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden | The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory | Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
The suggestions that follow I wouldn't necessarily categorize as 'beach reads' but I do love to read (beach or not), so I thought I would throw in a couple others that I have enjoyed. I'm always on the lookout for other recommendations, so please drop a comment below if you know of a good book!
I don't know why I have this thing for royalty, but I have really enjoyed several biographies that went into great depths about the lives and times of these incredible strong women.
Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie | I bought this book after I took a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. We got to tour the incredible Hermitage and I was curious about the person who could pull this magnificence together.
Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser | I snagged this one after being enthralled by the movie adaptation that I watched on a plane ride. Her relationship with Elizabeth I was fascinating and I think the movie actually did a decent job, which is not always the case with adaptations.
The Reluctant Empress: A Biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Brigitte Hamann; I found this last one in the gift shop at Schönbrunn Place in Vienna, and it was simply riveting.
Science & Math
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the incredible story of one woman's contribution to the progress of science, without her or her family's knowledge or informed consent. It is based in a lot of science, but is a really fascinating human interest story.
The movie adaptation was pretty well done, but Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly in book form was so very good. I was a little bemused at first when the author kept referring to the women mathematicians as "computers" until I realized that's exactly what they did - people who compute.
These next two are on my list to read, recommended by friends: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore about women factory workers who unknowingly poisoned themselves through exposure to the newly discovered element of radium, and Code Girls by Liza Mundy, about women who helped the break coded messages through WWII.
My friend Kat is an bookstagrammer and I asked her for suggestions for beach reads. She came through for me and these are all on my shopping list now!
Circe by Madeline Miller | All time favorite!
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid | Historical fiction with great character study; takes place by Malibu, lots of surfing
Beach Read by Emily Henry | Romance that is very summery but with depth
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto | Cozy mystery in an island setting; hilarious and over the top
The Guncle by Stephen Rowley | Sweet story of a man who takes in his niece and nephew after a tragedy
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau | A great coming of age novel that also takes place by a beach for part of the story
Please check out her IG at @booknerdkat for ideas on some great reads, love her in-depth reviews!
Local Independent Booksellers
I also reached out to some local independent bookstores in town, asking them for their suggestions for beach reads and they had several great suggestions. Definitely plan to pop in to their shops when you're visiting Myrtle Beach. They also give trade-in store credits for purchases of used books, so if you are a voracious reader, this will be heaven!
Opened in 2007, this independent bookstore is located on Main Street in North Myrtle, they were kind enough to suggest these beachy reads:
Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedman
Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand
28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
A Time for Mercy by John Grisham
A little further from Bella Vista, The Bookworm is located in Murrells Inlet on 707, next to Driftwood's Restaurant. Run by a husband-and-wife team, it is definitely worth a visit for you booklovers out there, and here are their beach read suggestions:
The Lion's Den by Katherine St. John | A controlling billionaire's yacht, tropical locales, frenemies, and a body overboard
It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover | Unputdownable and heartbreaking; a great author
Josh and Hazel Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren | Cute and funny rom-com
The Push by Ashley Audrain | Dark and twisted, it'll keep you guessing until the end
Open Book by Jessica Simpson | Surprisingly genuine and heartfelt, great memoir
My Sister's Books
My Sister's Books was opened in Pawleys Island in 2002 by two sisters who are Navy veterans, what a great retirement plan! I think it is cool that they stack their books horizontally, makes it really easy to read the spines. If you've spent hours browsing at The Strand in NYC (like yours truly), you know what a pain in the neck it can be to always be tilting your head!
Well, that's a round up for some recommendations for great beach reading. Hope you find some time to kick back with a good book!
If you're staying with us at Bella Vista, know that we have some of the beach reads I've highlighted above stocked in the media cabinet in the living room. Feel free to borrow one to bring to the beach with you or to curl up inside, if the weather happens to be inclement.
Have you come across a great beach read? Please drop your suggestion in the comments below as I'm always adding to my 'TBR' (to be read) pile!