Beach reads


There are biographies, historical novels, mysteries, among the other types of books — good summer reads, those books you read barefoot, or on a porch, or while your skin freckles and you smell like coconut oil. I suspect good summer reads are chick-lit, geared for women: Engaging, romantic, and the sort of relatable, well-crafted stories that keep you interested, but ones you can read and put down to go for a quick dip, check on the kids, or maybe put something on the grill.

In addition to being good summer reads, the books by Nancy Thayer, Elin Hilderbrand, and Lynn Kiele Bonasia are all set on the Cape and Islands. The authors — two living on Nantucket, the third, on Cape Cod — understand and convey the nuances of the seasonal shift, the characters in small town communities and the realities of Island summers.

Nancy Thayer, the author of 13 novels, including “Stepping,” “Three Women at the Waters Edge,” and the “Hot Flash Club” books, lives in an 1840’s house on Nantucket.

In “Beachcombers” (Ballantine Books, 2010, 352 pp., $25), she crafts the complicated story of three sisters: Abbie, 30, the selfless surrogate mother who returns to Nantucket from London to start a babysitting service for summer people with her sister Emma, 28, who’s lost her fiance and her job in Boston. Their beautiful 22-year-old, socially ambitious sister Lily writes for the local weekly and lives with their widowed dad, Jim, who is becoming involved with their guesthouse tenant, Marina. Add a cast of local characters, romances all over the place, past complications, a lot of social-climbing, and loads of self-discovery.

Grab the suntan lotion and Ms. Thayer’s “Summer House,” (Ballantine Books, 2009, 368 pp., $15), and meet the wealthy Wheelwrights, who gather at the family’s large Nantucket summer house. The family is ruled by Nona, the 90-year-old family matriarch, whose reminiscences add depth to the story of family jealousies, romance, and infidelity. It’s a study of family dynamics with a rich cast of characters: The mother Helen, on the brink of divorce; daughter Charlotte, who operates a successful farmstand on the property incurring the wrath of her cousins; her gay son Oliver, who’s planning a summer wedding; and youngest son Teddy, struggling with alcoholism and his addict girlfriend’s pregnancy. What keeps this book afloat is the author’s authentic detailing of the rhythms of summer and island life.

Author Elin Hilderbrand (“Summer People,” “The Castaways,” “Barefoot”) also lives on Nantucket, and also writes about family — two sets of sisters — in “The Island,” (Little Brown and Co., 2010, 403 pp., $25.99).

The rustic setting, described in great detail, is Tuckernuck, a small Island off Nantucket — no commerce, phones, or anything but generator-powered electricity. Sisters India, free-spirited and widowed, Birdie, and Birdie’s two daughters, Chess and Tate, a wounded lot, wind up spending the summer in their ancestral home.

It’s a steamy maelstrom of broken hearts, divorce, secrets, and lots of romance among the privileged. Each chapter focuses on one of the characters: Chess breaks her engagement, but then her former fiancé dies in an accident. While the newly divorced Birdie arrives, expecting to plan the now grieving Chess’ September wedding, she soon finds herself getting involved with a married man. And then there’s Aunt India, harboring what could be a scandal, and Tate, who’s trying to revive a romance with the caretaker Barrett, the crush from her teen years.

“Summer Shift” (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2010, 315 pp., $15), is the second novel of Lynn Kiele Bonasia (“Some Assembly Required”), a former Cape Cod year-rounder who now summers in Orleans. Ms. Bonasia’s story centers on clam-bar owner Mary Hopkins, a widow who at 44 is tiring of the summer grind of tourists and crowds passing through. As Mary deals with a young waitress’ accident among the carefully described minutia of summer life, she rediscovers a long-lost love, and an appreciation of the friendships offered by some wonderfully eccentric characters.

So, take off your shoes, rub on some sunscreen, and tell the kids not to wander while you indulge in these good summer reads.