Last week, I made the ultimate mistake when it comes to preparing for a beach vacation. While hustling to set up my out of office responder and wash and fold enough socks and undies for the week, I completely forgot to think through my reading list (especially sinful because I write a weekly newsletter with book and article recommendations). I ordered a few books on Tuesday, but with everything taking longer than usual due to COVID, I hopped in the car empty-handed on Friday. Now, as a I sit waiting for the local bookstore in Santa Barbara to open so I can snag something to sink my teeth into at the pool today, I figured I’d round up some of my favorite vacation books so that you can plan ahead and avoid my mistake—whether you’re leaving for a trip soon or starting your list well in advance so when the time comes, you’re ready.
1. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
If you haven’t hopped on the Ruth Ware train yet, I’d suggest coming aboard if you’re into modern thrillers. An English writer, most of Ware’s books take place in the UK—and when I’m reading fiction, I always love when it takes place in a different country so I feel like I’m picking up the tiniest bit of culture, even when it’s a vacation read ;). In The Turn of the Key, a brand new nanny begins her watch of three small girls in their rural smart house. Is the house haunted, or are there just a lot of technological malfunctions? And why is one of the girls so keen to get her nany far, far away from the house?
2. Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
This book is part family drama, part story of friendships both brief and lifelong, part murder mystery, and more than anything, a search for—and reckoning with—truth. Claire is 7 years old when her sister vanishes from their resort on Saint X, a fictional Caribbean island. Her body is found days later, and Claire’s family spends the next weeks searching for answers. Decades later in New York City, Claire has an unlikely encounter that causes her to leap head-first into her sister’s still unresolved killing. I’d actually planned to save this one for vacation but ended up devouring it in a few days…whoops!
3. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
If you want a vacation book that you’ll zoom through while also keeping up with your Black Lives Matter education—enter, Such a Fun Age. Emira is a 25-year-old Black woman wrongfully accused of kidnapping the white child whom she is babysitting. The child’s parents are appalled, but their attempt to make things right—and Emira’s reckoning with what happened and what “right” even means or looks like—is a fascinating journey that will make you think through tough questions—while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
4. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
I don’t read a ton of memoirs, but this one by the last editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine gripped me all the way through. I had never heard of Ruth Reichl nor do I remember ever reading Gourmet, but, after seeing it on numerous book club lists and friends’ Goodreads feeds, decided to give it a shot—and I loved it. It reads as part Devil Wears Prada, part Gossip Girl, as Reichl finds herself as editor in chief at Gourmet making 6x her previous salary, with a clothing allowance and a personal driver. She parties with “a young Tony Bordain” and cooks heaps of chili for firefighters at Ground Zero, all while being an entirely relatable wife and mother. Oh, and there are recipes scattered throughout!
5. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
This is one of the best books I’ve read in quarantine—it fully distracted me, made me think, taught me something new…everything I look for in a great vacation book! The story, set in Seoul and told from the perspective of four different women, sheds light on classism, impossible beauty standards, family loyalty, and power dynamics.
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