January and February always seem to stretch on interminably: By months’ end the snow is dirty and slushy; the kids are alternating between being sick and bouncing off the walls, but it’s too cold to kick them outdoors; and you? Well, you could use a break. A SPRING break. (See what I did there?)

Vacation reads — beach reads, specifically — should either be lighthearted and fun or totally engrossing page-turners. Both genres lend themselves well to an entire day spent laid out in the sun, cocktail in one hand, book in the other. Below, some suggestions for what to pack this season.

Missing Molly

Natalie Barelli

beach reads: "Missing Molly" by Natalie Barelli

Rachel Holloway is a very normal young woman who works at her local newspaper. When the paper decides to produce a podcast about the cold-case disappearance of Molly Forster 15 years prior, however, Rachel finds herself with a very abnormal problem: She is Molly Forster, and she does not want to be found out. Australian writers are getting more attention these days after the resounding success of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” (based on a novel by Aussie Liane Moriarty). Barelli, a fairly new author from Down Under (“Missing Molly” is her third novel), has gotten acclaim for her ability to write page-turners with plot twists that you don’t see coming, but are still plausible.

The Woman in the Window

A.J. Finn

beach reads: "The Woman in the Window" by A.J. Finn

Reminiscent of “The Girl on the Train,” this book is about Anna, an agoraphobe who has shut herself away in her small Manhattan apartment. She drinks too much and is a very unreliable narrator, which gets further complicated when she believes she witnesses a crime and tries to report it. Did she hallucinate, or did she actually witness a crime that’s being covered up? The suspense builds slowly at first, but by the final twists and turns of this novel, it’s impossible to put down.

Sunburn

Laura Lippman

beach reads: "Sunburn" by Laura Lippman

This one is endorsed by Gillian Flynn (author of “Gone Girl”), so you know this book gets crazy. With “Sunburn,” Lippman pays homage to James M. Cain, a master of noir thrillers like “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Set in small-town Delaware in 1995, the book follows the strange-yet-steamy relationship between Polly and Adam, two people with secrets. Any more information than this will give away the completely bonkers plot twists this book contains.

Three Days and a Life

Pierre Lemaitre

beach reads: "Three Days and a Life" by Pierre Lemaitre

It’s 1999 in Beauval, a small town in northern France, and tweenager Antoine has just accidentally killed a neighbor boy. Panicked, Antoine covers up the murder, and as the years go by, the young boy goes from “missing” to a long-forgotten cold case. Antoine becomes a successful Parisian doctor, but he’s forced to face his past when the young boy’s remains are discovered. “Three Days and a Life” is a slow-burn psychological thriller and much less gruesome than typical Lemaitre novels. The tension exists almost purely in Antoine’s head, and the question lying just below the surface of this novel is whether Antoine can really be a reliable narrator. As you watch him make mistake after mistake, you find yourself rooting for him and also wanting to shake some sense into him. Is there a twist ending? Well, it wouldn’t be a good thriller without one…

Dead Until Dark, Book 1 of The Southern Vampire Mysteries

Charlaine Harris

beach reads: "Dead Until Dark" by Charlaine Harris

Fans of HBO’s “True Blood” series (which ended in 2014) might be surprised to learn that the show was based on a series of novels that follow a plucky small-town Louisiana clairvoyant named Sookie Stackhouse. In Sookie’s world, vampires have recently “come out of the coffin” to coexist peacefully with humans, and while most living beings are somewhat threatened by this, Sookie much prefers the company of vampires (especially as boyfriends) because she can’t hear their thoughts constantly intruding into her mind. Think of these like a “Twilight” for adults (it should be noted that Sookie predates Bella by about four years). The whole series is fun and quick to read — you might make it through all 13 books in a weeklong vacation.

Star Island

Carl Hiaasen

beach reads: "Star Island" by Carl Hiaasen

Cherry Pye, world-famous pop star, has a drug-and-alcohol problem. It’s bad enough that her family (rather than send their meal ticket to rehab, of course) has a body double on retainer for when Cherry can’t go out in public. This well-choreographed routine starts to unravel, however, when the body double, mistaken for Cherry, gets kidnapped. Carl Hiaasen writes outlandish storylines so well and with so much humor that you’ll completely forget how ludicrous the plot is — or you’ll find yourself laughing out loud because of it. Hiaasen also has a colorful cast of characters running through most of his novels (including “Skink,” a former Florida governor who went crazy and lives off the grid), making his books fun to read in succession.

But Did You Die?: Setting the Parenting Bar Low, Book 5 of the I Just Want to Pee Alone series

Jen Mann and others

beach reads: "But Did You Die?" by Jen Mann

Jen Mann first gained popularity from her hilarious blog, “People I Want to Punch in the Throat.” Several books about throat-punching later, she started a book series about parenting. This latest essay collection is about, well, trying to survive parenthood. A cute and easy read, it’s especially useful when you’re at the beach, pretending it’s not your kids who are wreaking havoc a few feet away from you. Just dig your nose deeper into this book and hope nobody gets sand in their eye.

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship

Kayleen Schaefer

beach reads: "Text Me When You Get Home" by Kayleen Schaefer

The power of female friendship is undeniable; sometimes women can feel like their best friend knows them far better than their partner. Schaefer analyzes the rise of female friendships in pop culture (“Sex and the City,” “Broad City,” and “Parks and Rec,” to name just a few), and relays funny anecdotes from her own experiences and the experiences of other women she knows. Though this book rarely strays from white, heteronormative examples of female friendship, it is still an uplifting read that will give you warm-and-fuzzy feelings — and make you want to text your best girlfriends.

Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure

Lynn Comella

beach reads: "Vibrator Nation" by Lynn Comella

A fascinating look into the history of women-focused sex toys and sex shops. Comella traces the origins of feminist sex-toy stores, the goal of which was not just to sell vibrators, but to also promote sex positivity in women and facilitate community outreach and sex education. An academic text through and through (Comella is a gender and sexuality studies professor, and the book was published by Duke University Press), the book is smart, entertaining, and very thoroughly researched.

 

More from Make It Better: 


Danielle McLimore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has worked in book publishing since 2009. She lives with her husband, two sons, and a very misbehaved dog. She proudly supports the Center for Reproductive Rights.