8 Books That Will Make You Glad You’re Not at the Beach

“Beach reads” that take the sting out of your cancelled vacation

Woman standing on beach with shark warning sign
Photo by Lubo Minar

Although socially distanced outdoor activities are certainly safer than indoor ones, this year a lot of people will be avoiding crowded beaches and packed seaside bars out of fear of COVID-19. But the beach was fraught with peril anyway. From gulls attacking your sandwich to jellyfish stings to undercurrents that could drag you out to sea, many things can go wrong to interrupt an idyllic beach vacation in even the best of years. If sprawling out on the sand with a typical beach read is not in the cards for you this summer, consider diving into one of the following books that might make you glad to be far from the shore after all.

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Creatures by Crissy Van Meter

Evie, the bride-to-be protagonist of Van Meter’s debut novel, prepares for her wedding on a fictional island off the coast of southern California. However, the festivities are overshadowed by the presence of a malodorous beached whale carcass, the uninvited arrival of Evie’s long absent mother, and the fact that the groom (a fisherman) might be lost at sea. Circumstances prompt Evie to confront the topic she’d most like to avoid: her unstable upbringing and complicated relationship with her charismatic, drug-dealing father.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

30-year-old Margot works as a desk clerk at a Jamaican beach resort frequented by wealthy white tourists. Pimped out by her abusive mother at a young age, she now has sex on the side with white men who visit the island looking for poor women to exploit. While she does this to pay her younger sister’s tuition at a private school, her romantic inclinations tend toward a wealthy local lesbian who has been branded a witch by their village.

They Are Trying to Break Your Heart by David Savill

Human rights researcher Anya travels to a beach resort in Thailand for Christmas in 2004, hoping to track down a presumed-dead brigade commander who may have participated in the gang rape of a Bosnian woman during the war a decade earlier. She also hopes to reconnect with an old boyfriend teaching English in Bangkok, but the imminent Boxing Day Tsunami threatens to engulf her in another horrific international crisis.

Being Dead by Jim Crace

Middle-aged zoologists Joseph and Celice, who have been married for 30 years, revisit the sand dunes of Baritone Bay, where they first met and made love while researching their doctoral dissertations. There they are surprised, robbed, and murdered, their bodies left to return to nature in the dispassionate manner they themselves used to teach about. Chapters about their shared history and their daughter’s search for them are interspersed with chapters narrated by their decomposing corpses.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

If you’re looking for a more light-hearted beach disaster, consider the latest release by Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan. In this updated twist on E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, half-Chinese half-WASP Lucie meets George, an attractive boy from Hong Kong who has spent years surfing in Australia, at an over-the-top wedding on the Isle of Capri. Though the two have instant chemistry, a drone-related PR disaster forces them apart. By the time they reconnect at the Hamptons years later, Lucie is freshly engaged to a terrible, social media-obsessed nouveau-riche white guy.

The Last Night at Tremore Beach by Mikel Santiago, translated by Carlos Frías

In this debut novel by Spanish writer Mikel Santiago, creatively blocked composer Peter rents a secluded seaside house in County Donegal, Ireland. His only neighbors are an older couple who live down the beach. Returning from dinner at their house one night, Peter is struck by lightning and begins to experience violent headaches and visions of disasters befalling his children, girlfriend, and neighbors. Are these a mere side effect of the lightning strike, or is Peter now able to see the terrible things that may be lurking in his future?


Jaws by Peter Benchley

In this 1974 novel that inspired the hit Spielberg film, the fictional seaside resort town of Amity, Long Island is plagued by a great white shark. After the first victim’s body is found, the local police chief attempts to close the town’s beaches, but the mayor—worried about lost tourism revenue and declining real estate prices—overrules him and beachgoers flood into town. More attacks ensue, until a trio of shark hunters set out by boat to solve the problem once and for all.

The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen

The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen

In this supernatural thriller from the author of the Rizzoli & Isles series, Boston food writer Ava escapes to the coast of Maine after a tragic incident, renting the house of a 19th-century captain who was lost at sea, where she hopes to finish a cookbook project in peace. However, she soon discovers the captain’s ghost stalks the house, looking to seduce her. Then a dead woman’s body washes up to shore, and Ava learns that the previous tenant left in a hurry, the townspeople may be covering up a longer list of dead women, and a killer—human or ghostly—might even now be on the loose.

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