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Bestselling authors discuss art of 'the beach read'

This image released by Riverhead Books shows "Inter the Water," a novel by Paula Hawkins, which was released on May 2. (Riverhead Books via AP)
Original Publication Date May 09, 2017 - 7:46 AM

NEW YORK - For author Elin Hilderbrand, the art of the beach novel is very much a matter of location.

Starting with where she writes.

"I write my books in longhand, so I actually work on them at the beach," Hilderbrand, who sets her bestsellers at home on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview.

"And all those elements that make for an authentic summer experience, the fetishes that go with summertime — love of that special summer place and the distinction between summer and the rest of the year — these are what I try to depict in my novels."

The "beach read" is shorthand for disposable page-turners, but Hilderbrand and others who write them have long-held rules and standards: strong characters and narratives, and settings that are compelling and accurate. Mary Alice Monroe, whose "Beach House for Rent" comes out in June, sets her work along the South Carolina coast and calls it a "personal pet peeve" when she reads a beach story and finds mistakes in the description of the landscape.

Monroe believes the "beach read" can be more than an escape. She likes to combine stories of family, friendship or romance with her advocacy for environmentalism. "Beach House for Rent" tells of two women unexpectedly sharing a summer home and the plight of shorebirds that helps unite them.

"What encourages me to keep working is that I know I am making a difference through my books," Monroe says. "My method when I'm writing a book is to do research and become part of the story I tell. When my readers experience something like a wounded pelican on the beach, or when they see a bird fly off, they experience it, too, because it's authentic to my life."

Hilderbrand's novels include "Beautiful Day," ''Here's To Us" and "The Matchmaker." Her next book, scheduled for June, is called "The Identicals" and uses the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard for a family drama about identical twins who are perhaps more alike than they want to acknowledge.

Not many writers, Hilderbrand included, growing up dreaming of publishing "beach reads." She attended the prestigious writing school at The University of Iowa and found herself among authors more likely to write the Great American Novel than the Great American Beach Novel.

"So here I am, in the middle of the country with all these hyperintellectuals, and I'm so miserable," Hilderbrand says. "And I decided, to make myself feel better, that I'm going to write a novel set in Nantucket. So I started writing this book called 'The Beach Club' based on a local hotel. It wasn't my intention write a beach novel, per se, but I just went there.

"I imagine they thought I was really silly," she says of her fellow Iowa students. "I'm laughing all the way to the bank."


Here are other books to look for this summer:

—"The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" (Atria Books,) by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Imagine if before their deaths, Lana Turner or Elizabeth Taylor agreed to sit down to an extensive interview about their much-scrutinized love lives. That's what happens in "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo." An up-and-coming journalist gets the scoop of her career by landing an exclusive interview with an aging legendary actress. She's ready to talk about her life and storied relationships. The book is fascinating, emotional and will be hard to put down. For fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid, this is her best work yet.

"Into the Water" (Penguin Group,) by Paula Hawkins

The bestselling author of "The Girl on the Train" follows up that smash hit with "Into the Water." Hawkins sticks to the suspenseful format she's known for with the mystery behind the deaths of women who are believed to have drowned in the same river in an English town. Like "The Girl on the Train," the narrators jump around, the characters are complex and there are surprises throughout.

"Rich People Problems" (Doubleday,) by Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan closes out his "Crazy Rich Asians" trilogy with "Rich People Problems." If you haven't read the first two books, you should start there, but Kwan's books about the absurdly wealthy in Singapore are laugh-out loud funny. These books are fun page-turners.

"Fitness Junkie" (Random House,) by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

Like their co-author debut, "Knockoff," Sykes and Piazza's second novel, "Fitness Junkie," is more than just its title. Both books provide insightful commentary about the times we live in. "Knockoff" explored society's obsession with e-commerce and social media. "Fitness Junkie" tackles the wellness craze. A CEO of a couture wedding-dress company is forced to go on leave from her job because she's gained weight. She embarks on a fitness journey to shed pounds and discovers what really matters to her.

"Quicksand" (Other Press,) by Malin Persson Giolito

This Swedish mystery follows a teenager named Maja who is on trial for a series of murders where her boyfriend and best friend were among those killed. The story is told in the present time and in flashbacks, piecing together what really happened. Throughout the book, as you get to know Maja, you'll waiver on whether she's guilty. It's a satisfying murder mystery.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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