Beach Reads for Family Trips

The world may well be divided into two groups: those who read on a beach vacation and everybody else. The extended Fisher clan recently migrated to the Texas coast for our annual Port Aransas trip, some four days of beach fun and poolside relaxation. Most (and by most, I mean all of my immediate family circle) had a book in hand at some point.

For fun, I polled everyone to learn more about what they were reading. In case you are in need of a good beach book recommendation, check out our list (click on the titles for links).

Books for reading at the beach.
What my family is reading in 2016 at Port Aransas, with the addition of a book of ethical questions to spark conversation. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko

Book jacket for The Emerald Mile by Kevin FedarkoWho’s reading this? Husband

Genre? Adventure

What’s it about? This non-fiction book recounts the author’s 1983 attempt to pilot a wooden boat named The Emerald Mile through the heart of the Grand Canyon. The goal: to set a speed record for riding the entire length of the Colorado River by taking advantage of flood waters pouring from the Glen Canyon Dam.

Why this book? “Because you recommended it.” (Hubby often asks me to point him toward books he’d like. Usually, I’ve already read them, but not this one; it was the 2015 book for discussion at Davis Mountain Fitness and Training Camp, but I haven’t gotten to it. Yet.)

What are you enjoying so far? “It’s a little slow at first, but I like true nature adventure.” (Emerald Mile is a good discussion book. My dad and I have both hiked in the Grand Canyon–read more about that in “Special Rocks for My Dad”–and we enjoyed talking with my husband about what he was learning.)

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

 Book jacket for The Black Widow by Daniel SilvaWho’s reading this? Dad

Genre? Thriller/Espionage

What’s it about? An Israeli master intelligence agent in the style of James Bond, Gabriel Allon works to defeat terrorists who have plans to attack France.

Why this book? “I like this author. I’ve read several of his other books, and this one just came out on Tuesday, so I picked it up.”

What are you enjoying so far? “I like the intelligence aspect, especially in the area of fighting ISIS.” (Dad loves a smart spy book and has read just about any espionage thriller you could name. I think he gave me all the Tom Clancy books I own, starting with The Hunt for Red October.)

Magic by Danielle Steel

 Book jacket of Magic by Danielle SteelWho’s reading this? Mom

Genre? Romance

What’s it about? The White Dinner is an annual event in Paris; its guests are invited by secret invitation. The plot follows several couples over the course of a magical year, from one White Dinner to the next, around the world and through the course of their changing and developing relationships.

Why this book? “I’ve read many of Danielle Steel’s other books, and your dad got this one for me when he was in the book store picking up his book.”

What are you enjoying so far? “These books are easy to read and the characters are fun to follow. It’s nice to know that the story will always wind up positively.” (Mom felt a little sheepish about her pick, but who doesn’t love a frothy guilty pleasure now and then?! This type of reading, which I refer to as “candy bar books,” is perfect for the beach.)

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

Book jacket for Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia MarquezWho’s reading this? Older Daughter (who asked, “Can you change my name to protect my identity?” Done.)

Genre? Literature

What’s it about? Is Sierva Maria suffering from disease after being bitten by a rabid dog, or is she possessed? In the process of determining the answer to this question, Father Cayetano Delaura falls in love with his 12-year-old charge, a feeling that is not unreciprocated.

Why this book? “Initially, because of ‘demons’ in the title. I also like the author. Plus, I was already reading it, so I wanted to finish it at the beach.” (She also brought a second book, Love Is a Dog From Hell, a book of poetry by Charles Bukowski. That she was voluntarily reading poetry, even more so that she was reading poetry on vacation, made me a proud mama.)

What are you enjoying so far? “It’s very descriptive, and I like having a female main character. And it’s interesting figuring out whether she’s rabid or possessed.”

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

Book jacket for Voyager by Diana GabaldonWho’s reading this? Younger Daughter (who pointed out, “I did not sign a waiver for this material.”)

Genre? Sci Fi/Historical Romance

What’s it about? Claire Randall, a World War II combat nurse on a delayed honeymoon with her husband Frank, wanders into a magical stone ring in Scotland and is transported back in time. This is the third book in the Outlander series, which explores history—Scottish, French, American, and in this novel, West Indian—through the ups and downs of Claire’s timeless love for Jaime Fraser, the Scotsman from the 1800s who steals her heart.

Why this book? “Because I read the first two books in the series [and liked them].”

What are you enjoying so far? “Time travel. Boats. Goats! Murder.” (Originally, I had written this as “Time travel! Boats! Goats! Murder!” but Older Daughter, who also heard her sister’s comments, said that only “goats” actually warranted an exclamation point.) 

The Martian by Andy Weir

 Book jacket of The Martian by Andy WeirWho’s reading this? Son

Genre? Fiction/Sci-Fi

What’s it about? Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, alone. In a series of plot developments often referred to as “engineering porn,” the intrepid botanist uses science, his wits, and a healthy sense of humor to work out the problems of survival. (I think this is one of the best science fiction books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read quite a few: see “#TBT: How Mr. Spock Changed My Life.”)

Why this book? “Because my sister gave it to me.” (Younger Daughter: “It’s my book, and I want it back.”)

What are you enjoying so far? “Mark Watney is funny, and reading this book makes me feel smart.”

The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

 Book jacket of The Heart of Everything That IsWho’s reading this? Son’s Girlfriend

Genre? Native American Studies

What’s it about? Sioux chief Red Cloud was the only American Indian to defeat the United States Army and force an end to hostilities on his terms. Two scholars weave together research about this period of U.S. history and information gleaned from a newly discovered autobiography of the important Native American leader.

Why this book? “I like history, and it’s my dad’s book. I read Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne, which I loved, and I hoped this book would be similar.”(I read Empire of the Summer Moon and was captivated by the information about Cynthia Ann Parker, her son Quanah Parker, and the Comanches. A surprising thrill: the author was seated at a nearby table–along with novelist and Austinite Sarah Bird, swoon!–at a fundraiser we attended last fall.)

What are you enjoying so far? “I like the history part of it and all the information about Red Cloud and the Native American way of life.” 

Astonished: A Story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace by Beverly Donofrio

Book jacket of Astonished by Beverly DonofrioWho’s reading this? Me

Genre? Memoir

What’s it about? Beverly Donofrio, the bestselling memoirist who wrote Riding in Cars with Boys: Confessions of a Bad Girl Who Makes Good about her life as a young single mother followed by Looking for Mary: Or, the Blessed Mother and Me, recalls the night she was raped and the aftermath of the assault, during which she questioned her faith and considered becoming a nun.

Why this book? I’ve read both Donofrio’s other books and they spoke to me in many different ways, even though I’m not Catholic or religious. This, her third memoir, was on the sale table at Book People (oh, the temptations found there); I liked the cover; at the time of the memoir, Donofrio and I are approximately the same age; I loved that she’d moved to Mexico at the end of Looking for Mary, which is where she’s living when this book begins.

What are you enjoying so far? I’m fascinated by Donofrio’s intellectual and spiritual examination of whether or not to take vows at 50+ years of age. Her descriptions of time spent at various religious retreats are fascinating. I’d like to hang out with her.

Photo of 2,000 piece puzzle, "The World of Cats"
The other thing my family does at Port Aransas? What we call “extreme puzzling.” This year’s entertainment–2,000 pieces of tiny cats–bested us. But we had fun in the attempt.
Books for reading at the beach.
What beach vacation is complete without some tiny hands photos? Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler


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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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