I don’t generally read what most people think of as “beach books.” I despise fluff and have no patience for books with cardboard characters or mediocre writing. However, I do enjoy light-hearted books so long as they have some depth of character or theme or delightful wordplay or wit. Or both. For the days when you can’t handle Dante or Bronte, try these.
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
A meta-novel before “meta” was a word, this story of Miss Buncle who writes a lightly-veiled novel about her small English village starts a train of events in which the novel’s events start coming true. Delightful (with heavy emphasis on the light).
Thrush Green by Miss Read
My first Miss Read book, this was a charming introduction to characters I hope to meet in other books. The story takes place over the course of a single delightful day when the fair comes to the village of Thrush Green, with the characters’ back-stories told in flashback. Filled with eccentric, likable, and even lovable characters, this is vacation reading at its best.
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
The first book in Karon’s Mitford series about a charming small town in North Carolina, this book introduces us to bachelor Father Tim, elderly but still lively Miss Sadie, loving and feisty Louella, the guys at the Grill, the irascible Emma, and new-woman-in-town Cynthia Coppersmith. If you smell romance, pin a rose on your nose. There’s also a possible Vermeer, a jewel thief, and a really big dog. Also, Dooley Barlow, who deserves his own sentence. I could go on with the cast of crazy, comical, and lovable characters, but you’re better off just reading the novel for yourself.
The Red Signal by Grace Livingston Hill
Set at the outset of U.S. involvement in World War I, this is the rather unlikely tale of a German American girl trapped on a farm run by German spies. The girl escapes (but only after discovering the nefarious plot unfolding, quite literally, beneath her window) and takes proof of the plot (which she stole at the risk of her life) to Washington, D.C., where she demands an audience with the President. There is also, of course, a romantic subplot, and another harrowing escape from near-death. The best kind of beach book. Unbelievable and yet great fun because you know all the high drama is going to end well.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
When Valancy Stirling learns from the doctor that she has only a few months to live, she upends her proper family’s expectations of their boringly predictable daughter by running away, getting a job, and then marrying the local rogue, Barney Snaith. How her family responds and how this marriage of convenience works out are the primary through-lines of this charming novel by the author of Anne of Green Gables.
A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse
Pretty much any Wodehouse is a good vacation companion–or a good book for a rainy day, for that matter. This is my favorite of his novels that are not about Jeeves and Wooster. An American playwright in London finds himself the sudden and short-lived protector of The Girl in Brown. The rest of the novel is a series of (of course) mistaken identities and madcap comedy. (My favorite Jeeves and Wooster novel is Joy in the Morning, which is laugh-out-loud funny. I read it at a retreat and had to muffle my laughter in my pillow so I wouldn’t disturb the people in the neighboring rooms who were being holy and praying. What can I say? Laughter is carbonated holiness, right?)