Details and descriptions of seven great “Beach Reads” with Cape and Islands connections
Imagine this scene: toes in the sand, the sun shining overhead, ocean sounds bubbling before you, and a brand-new book in your lap—waiting to be read. For many, this is a recipe for a great summer day on the Cape and Islands. For various reasons, “summer” and “reading” have always had a special synergy. Perhaps it’s due to the many books one had to read during summer vacations as a student; maybe it’s simply a result of the slower pace of the season, brought on by the heat, or by the simple comfort and relaxation of a day on the beach.
“The summer is a good time for an escape, and that’s what books can give us,” says Vicky Uminowicz, the owner of Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich. “People usually set aside a chunk of time to relax, and this is a perfect time to settle in with a good book.” According to Uminowicz, many who live on the Cape, or visit in summer, enjoy books set in the quaint villages and beach towns they know and love. To suit these readers, she often points out the work of two contemporary writers from Nantucket: Nancy Thayer (Nantucket Sisters, and new this year, The Guest Cottage) and Elin Hilderbrand (The Matchmaker).
“If you are reading on the beach,” the bookstore owner adds, “you might want something lighter than normal with interesting characters and a really good story.” Uminowicz says her own summer reading taste calls for titles that stretch the mind. “I like to learn something,” she says, “whether it’s through a wonderfully written character, or a really good story. I want a book that grabs me and opens my eyes to something different.”
With so many books published in a given year, it may be comforting to know that bookstores and libraries on the Cape and Islands are stocked with experts ready to share details on new releases and offer suggestions to help readers round out their personal summer reading lists. “My staff is amazing,” Uminowicz says, “and amazingly well-read.” She adds that visitors to the Cape can find incredible bookstores across the peninsula. “We are so fortunate to have so many really good bookstores on Cape Cod,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have that human interaction and get personal recommendations.”
Gearing up for many great beach days this summer, Cape Cod LIFE staffers gathered some details on seven books we think readers will enjoy. Some of the titles were written by Cape and Island authors, some are set in this neck of the woods, and some are simply of the beach, set by the beach, and for the beach. Toss a couple of these titles in your beach bag and enjoy!
A novel about challenges, Hope, and baked goods
Hope McKenna-Smith is divorced, she recently lost her mother to cancer, she is nearly broke, and she is struggling to keep her family’s Cape Cod bakery afloat. Enter Hope’s grandmother, who is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, and who shares a long-kept secret with her, asking Hope to travel to Paris to track down her family’s history before the truth is forever lost to memory.
In Kristin Harmel’s seventh book, The Sweetness of Forgetting (2012), the author explores the tough topics of Alzheimer’s, divorce, and the Holocaust, while engaging the reader with a tale filled with memorable characters. As every book featuring family-owned bakeries should, the novel also shares nine original recipes, including overnight meringues, chocolate dream squares, and Cape Codder cookies. Paperback, 349 pages.
Murder, love and faith—on the tip of the Cape
The second novel by Bay State native, Patry Francis, Orphans of Race Point (2014), is a character-driven narrative set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown. The story follows two close friends, Gus Silva and Hallie Costa, whose lives are intertwined across several decades. Silva’s life is marred by tragedy; as a child he is orphaned, and as an adult he is accused of murder.
Costa faces tragedies of her own, including an accident that sends the friends spinning off in different directions, only to come back together when it matters most. Strongly recommended by Uminowicz, the suspenseful tale is told in seven parts by alternating voices and explores the true meaning of faith, love, and friendship. Paperback, 544 pages.
A beautiful mind, a best-selling novel, and an Academy Award
When Chatham writer Lisa Genova self-published Still Alice in 2007, she personally distributed the book to many local bookstores, delivering copies out of the trunk of her car. Today, Genova’s first novel is known around the world and has spent more than 50 weeks on the The New York Times Best Sellers list for fiction.
As many readers are aware, the novel was made into a star-studded Hollywood film, and earlier this year actress Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the novel’s main character, Alice Howland. An esteemed professor at Harvard University, Alice is stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 50. The novel is written from Alice’s point of view as she navigates family, work, and her daily life while battling the progressive disease. Paperback, 400 pages.
Beachcombing for biologists-to-be
In Into the Field Guide: A Walk on the Beach (2013), Brewster writer, Laurie Goldman, offers readers an entry-point into the fascinating world of ocean and marine life. A marine biologist and science journalist, the author has a passion for the water, the beach, and the natural world, which makes the easy-to-follow guide a valuable Cape vacation resource.
Suitable for children and adults, the book offers descriptions of dozens of species divided in three categories: rocks, sand, and driftwood; animals; and plants and algae. Interesting characteristics, photos, and suggestions on where to find these coastal dwellers are also provided. Lastly, the color-coded pages make the book great for quick referencing during a day of sunbathing or beachcombing. Hardcover, 110 pages.
A poetic tribute to Cape writer’s ‘best friend’
In Dog Songs (2013), writer Mary Oliver shares original poetry about the great love shared between humans and dogs. A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Oliver writes of the beauty of the unleashed dog and the ways dogs take over our hearts and become part of our daily lives. Dog-lovers will appreciate how Oliver’s simple prose truly captures a life warmed by golden retrievers, West Highland White Terriers, boxers, and mutts.
A Provincetown resident since the 1960s, Oliver draws on the relationships she has experienced with her beloved dogs Benjamin, Ricky, and Percy over the years, creating a portrait of a loving and powerful bond. The book includes one essay and 35 easy-to-read poems making it perfect for a day of sun and reflection on the sandy shores of the Cape. Hardcover, 121 pages.
Naturally, Beston’s book is one of the Cape’s best
Are you in the mood for a classic? Perhaps a book that offers a glimpse into the strength and beauty of the Cape? Then look no further than Henry Beston’s, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod (1928). A Quincy native, Beston (1888-1968), spent 12 months in 1926-1927 living in a remote cottage in Eastham, exploring the area, taking in everything nature has to offer, and writing about his adventures and observations.
In the book, regarded by many as a timeless work of American nature writing, Beston wrestles with a topic still relevant today: man’s place in nature. The ‘outermost house’ where Beston handwrote his masterpiece was named a National Literary Landmark in 1964, but was destroyed during the Blizzard of 1978. Paperback, 218 pages.
Lessons shared—from one coastal community to another
While digging your heels into the sand, delve a little deeper into one of the most pertinent issues facing Cape Cod, the Islands, and many of the Bay State’s coastal communities today: erosion. In Islands in the Storm (2014), Ipswich environmental writer, William Sargent, takes a close look at how communities—particularly those with barrier beaches—are addressing sea level rise and storm-driven erosion.
Much of the book focuses on the recent history of Plum Island in the town of Newburyport, which has lost several homes to the sea in recent storms, but also includes references to eroding coastlines in New Jersey and on Nantucket. Sargent paints a picture of urgency and implores coastal residents and communities to think deeply about how close to the water one needs to live.
Most of the books mentioned in this article can be found at Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich and at Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee.