With two kids, I don’t have as much time as I did back then, and my attention span has shrunk to what I can skim between Popsicle requests and sunscreen applications, but I still look forward to a great beach read. The key is to find books that don’t require a PhD to follow and offer us smart moms a little summer fun of our own. Here are six that will do the trick. Just pick a destination and start the journey.
1. London: ‘The Royal We’ by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
At first, this looks like a cheesy tabloid-style rip-off of the Prince William-Kate Middleton story. And it is, but it’s also a surprisingly engaging, funny page-turner that offers a peek inside the royal family (complete with a charming man-whore “spare to the heir” you can’t resist falling for). Set in Oxford and London, Go Fug Yourself bloggers Cocks and Morgan tell the story of what happens when American Bex Porter meets a fellow student who just happens to be a handsome prince—with enough of a spin on the real tale to keep you guessing.
2. Mallorca: ‘The Rocks’ by Peter Nichols
The beautiful Mediterranean Sea surrounds this mystery, romance, family epic. Cleverly told backward, we first encounter an elderly couple, longtime residents of Mallorca, who were once married, but haven’t spoken in decades. Why? And what’s with the hinted-at romance between their children? It’s hard to say what’s more enjoyable—trying to figure out the answer or soaking up the sun among the olive groves as you’re transported back through time on the glamorous island.
3. Singapore: ‘The Moonlight Palace’ by Liz Rosenberg
My tween daughter and I both loved the story of 17-year-old Agnes Hussein, the daughter of a once-wealthy, eccentric Singaporean family. We follow Agnes as she tries to save the decaying family home, copes with odd relatives and stray boarders, and falls in love, all while 1920s Singapore is changing around her. Rosenberg paints such a vivid picture of this impossibly exotic country—complete with monsoons, the famous chicken rice, and dashing British officers—that you’ll swear you’ve been there.
4. Norway: ‘The Sunlit Night’ by Rebecca Dinerstein
Set “at the top of the world,” just north of the Arctic Circle, this is the story of how two very different New Yorkers—artist Frances and Russian émigré Yasha—end up on a secluded island in the Norwegian Sea. From brown cheese to Vikings to the 24-hour sunshine, Dinerstein quickly pulls the reader into this little-known, isolated world. The unique setting is the star of the story, but the slow, sweet love story between Frances and Yasha is what will keep you reading.
5. Germany: ‘The Glassblower’ by Petra Durst-Benning
Sisters Johanna, Ruth and Marie Steinmann are growing up in the German village of Lauscha in the late 1800s with their glassblower father when the unexpected happens. How the girls learn to survive in a time when women had very few options for supporting themselves is gripping, and the descriptions of the German forests and the oppressive winters are so detailed and convincing, you’ll feel a chill even in the hottest summer sun.
6. Key West: ‘I Take You’ by Eliza Kennedy
Don’t get judgmental. Heroine Lily Wilder is a smart, funny, successful lawyer about to marry dreamy archaeologist Will. The problem? She screws every man who crosses her path. I was never sure if I felt sorry for Lily, hated her or envied her bold confidence, but I couldn’t stop reading. The ending is, well, unexpected, and may make you rethink your concept of monogamy. Off-kilter Key West, Lily’s childhood hometown and the setting for the wedding, adds to the out-of-control vibe of Lily’s erratic path to the altar.