These are the books that make readers want to escape. Their covers beckon with tranquil beach and lakeside scenes — endless layers of blue sky and water divided by a strip of sand, dotted with brightly colored flip-flops and umbrellas.
The books are sprinkled across store bookshelves every year as summer approaches, offering tales of betrayal, transformation, mystery and a hint of romance, set against a beautiful backdrop with just the right amount of humor and sass. It’s an inviting escape, whether you’re sitting on your couch or an Adirondack chair sunk deep in the sand.
But there is more to these books, and the women who write them, than meets the eye.
“These are the chocolate truffle in the box of books,” said Nancy Thayer, author of “The Guest Cottage,” and 22 other books.
Although Thayer has always been a writer, it took moving to Nantucket to realize it was the ideal setting for her books.
“Nantucket is a place where some kind of magic happens,” Thayer said. “It’s where I met my husband 32 years ago and we’ve been together since the day we met. It’s the kind of place that when people come here, they think they’ll be happy. I see people falling in love or recovering from some conflict here and I wanted to capture that.”
Snippets of conversations from tourists and locals float through the open windows of her home, surround her during walks across the island and echo across the ferry trips to the mainland. She was inspired to write “The Guest Cottage” after one of her friends rented a cottage on the island that was already taken.
Her stories often revisit themes of divorce, custody and stepparenting — which don’t always have to be presented in a negative way. Thayer herself married at 20 and divorced at 32, when she went to stay on Nantucket one November and met the love of her life, Charley. In this case, divorce liberated her to live the life she had always wanted.
Her books, and others in this category by authors like Dorothea Benton Frank and Mary Kay Andrews, portray characters enduring real, relatable conflicts.
These aren’t fluffy books — they’re a meal, Frank said. She wants her readers to feel entertained by humor and plot twists while learning something new.
Frank didn’t begin as a writer. She worked in the apparel industry for years and then as a nonprofit fundraiser. But it wasn’t until she lost her mother in 1992 that Frank felt spurred to action.
Frank grew up on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina in a house that had belonged to her family for 100 years. After her mother’s death, the house was sold — and not to Frank. Not only had Frank lost her mother, but her sense of place as well.
Determined to get it back, Frank decided to write her first novel about life on the island called “Sullivan’s Island,” sell a million copies and buy her mother’s house.
Not only did her ambitious plan pay off, but it turned Frank into a beloved author of 17 books. Her latest, “All the Single Ladies,” releases on June 9.
Frank covers a variety of issues beneath the scenic covers of her books, from divorce to domestic violence. “All the Single Ladies” weaves together topical issues like middle-aged women who want to retire but can’t, elderly care, green architecture and the legal pot business in Colorado.
These authors, whose paths inevitably cross as their book tours overlap each summer, also bond over the stories they tell.
Frank once drove through a hurricane with 50 mph winds to Mary Kay Andrews’ book signing in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, worried that people wouldn’t show for her friend’s event.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Andrews was a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, notably covering trials in Savannah that provided the basis for John Berendt’s book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” She penned the Callahan Garrity mystery novels under her real name, Kathy Trochek, before writing books like “Little Bitty Lies” and “Savannah Blues” as Andrews. Her latest, “Beach Town,” follows a struggling movie location scout looking for just the right spot on the Florida panhandle.
At a launch party hosted by FoxTale Book Shoppe in Alpharetta, Georgia, recently, hundreds of fans dressed in their favorite beach looks lined out the door to meet the author and celebrate her latest book. While waiting, they recounted their favorite scenes from her past books — like when character Grace Stanton discovers her husband is cheating on her and drives his car right into the swimming pool in “Ladies’ Night.”
Andrews’ books include themes of reinvention, lost love, second chances and betrayal.
“I want characters I can live for in a setting that makes me feel like I’m there,” Andrews said. “My characters are turned upside down and trying to reinvent themselves, but don’t need a white knight. They can save themselves in a crisis.”
When Andrews is working on a book, she spirits herself away to a new beach location to embed herself in the setting. It helps inform the plot and allow details to sneak inside the story. For “Beach Town,” Andrews walked through costume shops and Paramount Studios in Los Angeles and went on location with a scout in Atlanta, before staying on Cedar Key in Florida.
Once there, it’s all about soaking in life on island time — the relaxed pace of the locals — and taking time to watch the sunset with a glass of wine or cook out at the beach between writing.
These rituals are similar to how her readers describe feeling after finishing one of her books. “You made me feel like I had my toes in the sand,” they tell her.
The covers may draw in readers “like candy” Andrews said, but the books deliver on a promise.
“You know if you pick up a beach read, you’re excused from the problems in your own life and safe in a world with conflicts you understand,” Thayer said. “And you know you will get a happy ending.”