10 Unconventional Beach Reads

When most people talk about “beach reads,” they usually mean something easy, light, fluffy and romantic, the sort of breezy book you can take to the beach and sort of half-read if you feel like it while tanning and in-between sneaking surreptitious glances at the hottie down the beach who’s body-surfing. Fortunately for the rest of us who prefer something with a bit more substance, there’s a whole host of amazing books that require less brainpower than Melville’s “Moby-Dick” but aren’t necessarily cookie-cutter romances. Here are some of my favorites:

Maria V. Snyder – “Touch of Power”

I’m slightly biased on this entry. Maria V. Snyder is also the author of my absolute favorite book of all time, “Poison Study.” But in “Touch of Power,” the start of a freshly finished trilogy paints an interesting world that you just can’t help getting sucked into. Avry, the healer and heroine of the story, lives in a world where she and other healers like her are hunted and killed, accused of spreading a decimating plague. However, Avry soon joins up with a band of rogues (“joins” is a rather loose term… “kidnapped” is more appropriate) who actually value her gift, and she soon finds herself in a position to actually use her power—but at what cost? A gorgeous fantasy with the perfect light touch of romance, “Touch of Power” should be on any fantasy guru’s list.

Scott Westerfeld – “Uglies”

As far as the trend of YA dystopian novels go, it’s starting to look a bit like a school jumble sale—loads and loads of junk with one or two good or halfway decent things stuffed in there as well (I’m looking at you, “Hunger Games.” It’s your fault). “Uglies” is my favorite dystopian by far, and was actually ahead of the curve, it came out before the trend started and I am immensely glad that it was unaffected. Of course, every dystopian novel has to have a twist, and the world of “Uglies” separates people entirely by looks. They’re classed as “Pretties” or “Uglies” until, of course, our main character, Tally, gets in some trouble when her best friend Shay decides to run away to an Uglies settlement and is issued an ultimatum by the government. It’s a fun thriller for all, and the start of a great series.

Ally Carter – “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You”

Teenage girls at a top secret spy school. Yep, that pretty much sums this one up. Ally Carter’s most famous series “Gallagher Girls” starts with “Love You” and follows the exploits of spy-in-training Cami, the Chameleon, and all the challenges teenage girls face growing up, including falling for some not-so-top-secret boys, which is the main plot of the first novel. The series only concluded just last year and is six volumes strong. If you’re a fan of girl power, spy novels and some surprisingly bittersweet twists, this one is for you.

Chris Howard – “Saltwater Witch”

I first started reading “Saltwater Witch” in college when I was looking for descriptions of underwater environments for a novel I was writing, and it did not disappoint. An epic fantasy filled with mermaids, it tells the tale of teenage Kassandra, an exiled mermaid living in Nebraska with no memory of who she is or where she really came from. Until it starts to come back to her, little by little, and she starts to find herself again. With surprisingly epic and ordinary villains this book is a great portal into two worlds—the ocean and the land. Best of all, it’s the first book of a trilogy and there’s more to come.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

You’re probably wondering why I have a kid’s book on the list. Well, because it’s a fantastic book, that’s why. “Howl’s Moving Castle” was the basis for the Studio Ghibli movie of the same name and fleshes out the world of Sophie and Howl in much more glorious and intricate detail than you can smoosh into a movie—even a Studio Ghibli. Following the adventures of cursed hat-maker Sophie and reknowned wizard and troublemaker Howl, the book is part comedy, part fantasy, part innocent romance and all heart. It’s the sort of book that makes you think about yourself, your dreams and your family, and you don’t even realize it’s done that to you until it’s too late.

Douglas Adams – “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

One of my favorite summer books, Douglas Adams sends readers to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, following a motley crew of aliens, humans, an android and two white mice on their highly improbable adventures. Perfect for anyone who loves a good laugh and has a thing for science fiction and exploration. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what’s going on some of the time—most of the protagonists don’t either. Wonderfully whimsical and random, I don’t think I ever went more than a paragraph without laughing.

Lauren Weisberger – “The Devil Wears Prada”

For anyone who’s seen the movie—read the book. Especially 20-somethings. A grueling look at the worst of the entry-level positions in society, “The Devil Wears Prada” is still, somehow, a really fun read. Definitely an emotional rollercoaster, my heart ached for protagonist Andrea as she was repeatedly sent through the wringer by her verifiably sociopathic and possibly psychotic boss, Miranda Priestly. So, if you think your boss is bad, read this. It might just put it into perspective for you. Bonus: This book has a far more hard-hitting ending and a few more scandalous subplots that they took out for the movie to keep it PG-13.

See Also

P.G. Wodehouse – “Mike and Psmith”

A classic British comedy writer, Wodehouse is most famous for creating Jeeves and Wooster. Yes, that “Bring my car around, Jeeves,” butler. “Mike and Psmith” however, has its own charms, following the exploits of these two secondary school boys through the world of school cricket and other assorted mischief. While I found Mike to be a little dry, Psmith is a hero after Tom Sawyer’s own heart and steals the spotlight with fantastic flair. Extraordinarily well written, it’s no wonder Wodehouse is such an influential comedy classic.

Robert Rankin – “The Witches of Chiswick”

Robert Rankin would be the result of taking P.G. Wodehouse, some steroids, vodka and a random assortment of items found in someone’s garage sale and putting them all in a blender together. “The Witches of Chiswick” takes place in a future society (the days after the days after tomorrow) where being thin is frowned upon, everything is digital and art has lost almost all its value. Oh, and the world is secretly run by witches, as our protagonist, the thin and art-loving Will Starling quickly finds out. In true Rankin style, Will is a likeable hero who soon finds himself in so far over his head that he has no idea how he got there in the first place. A bit of a reluctant hero, it’s easy to sympathize with him and cheer for him, but the mysterious witches and the exploits of Victorian England are the real show-stealers. Like with Douglas Adams, it’s OK if you don’t always understand what’s going on, no one in the book really does, either.

Sophie Kinsella – “The Undomestic Goddess”

Sophie Kinsella is more famed for her “Shopaholic” series, but “Undomestic Goddess” is a personal favorite of mine—with far fewer financial talks sprinkled in it. Samantha Sweeting a high powered London lawyer ends up losing her job because of a mistake costing her company 50 million pounds and runs away to the Cotswolds and accidentally takes a job as a housekeeper. While this is probably the most classic romantic beach book on the list, it focuses more on Samantha’s girl power and her escapades than it does her love life. My personal favorite scene is when she tries to convince her employer that a “Nimbus 2000” is a brand of ironing board!

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