Tour’s Books Blog

June 18, 2014

Beach Reads – Part 1

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 10:40 pm
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Summer in the publishing industry sees a rash of lightweight, mostly romantic ‘chick-lit’ type releases, commonly called ‘beach reads’.  Undemanding, usually a bit on the fluff side, sometimes tear-jerkers, but mostly just read once and toss type books.  It kind of gives ‘beach reads’ a bad name.  But there are other beach reads that can make your vacation more fun.  This whole thing became a topic of discussion on a travel forum, because lots of folks love to read on vacation and most wanted mystery – unaware of some of the very good UF out there.

Recently, a thread on the Sanibel forum on Trip Advisor talked about the closing of yet another small, independent book store that sold both new and used books.  For those of us who prefer to read a dead tree book, this is a serious matter.  Buying inexpensive used books while on vacation sure beats hauling them down to an island.  The poster asked for other locations to buy used books and several of us replied.  Obviously, a place like Sanibel does NOT attract the lovers of nightlife, but it does tend to attract readers, so yeah, books get sold even in the supermarkets.  It’s a very popular family spot, but it is also a very popular retirement and seasonal home spot for those who can afford such things.  The forum has a couple of doctors, a veterinarian, professional people of various types, and small business owners, but they all have one common interest beyond the natural environment of Sanibel and it’s most popular past-time, shelling, they like to read.

Years ago, in the early 90’s I was in another now defunct bookstore looking for more reading material and hoping to find a local author.  I found Randy Wayne White and his Doc Ford books.  I had to go back to get them, because the author actually had to stock the shelves himself!  Of course I’d already read every Travis McGee book, Charles Willeford’s books, Florida Straits by Lawrence Shames was fresh off the press that year, and I was reading the Lassiter books by Paul Levine, some of James Hall’s Thorn books,  John Lutz’s Fred Carver books, as well as Hiaasen’s books (loved Native Tongue), and Tim Dorsey’s equally off beat Serge Storms books, but so many other Florida authors had yet to hit the shelves – Tom Corcoran, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Jonathon King, James Grippordano, James O Born, were still unpublished.

Turns out, like me, folks like books that are set in the environment where they are.  Tony Hillerman’s wonderfully descriptive and evocative prose weighs heavily in his building of the Southwest as a setting and the Navajo culture as his ‘hook’ for his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series.  He did it with such respect for the Navajo and their traditions, it was a cultural lesson on its own.  I had read quite a lot of Hillerman before my first visit to our Southwest and he captures its essence perfectly.

John D MacDonald set the stage for the many authors that came after him for Florida, much as Hillerman did, though their styles were very different.  Tom Corcoran does it for the Keys.  We may have had different favorites, but we all agreed, reading books set in the area you vacation in does seem to enhance the trip.  I love mystery as a genre, but some authors can be pretty heavy for a vacation.  I tend to enjoy action type books with some snark.  On the other end of the spectrum, you can get authors so quirky, not everyone likes them.  I also enjoy a good romantic suspense book for a beach type read, or cozy mystery – though good cozies are hard to find today and predictable ones are thick on the ground.

I cheerfully reread some books too.  One year, on St John in the USVI’s, the house I rented had a small library and there sat Jack Higgin’s Thunder Point, partly set on St John.  His boat captain and master diver character in the book was based from a real local he’d met while there researching his story locations.  It was such a different experience reading it sitting there, looking at the same amazing views as in the book.

So that brings me to ‘beach reads’, which is just code for “It ain’t War and Peace, thank God!”  Seriously, who wants to be bummed out on vacation?  Jeeze, leave the serial killers, and ‘great literature’ for some long winter night when there’s nothing on TV.  You’re on vacation.  Here are some authors and titles for different locations that make good ‘beach reads’, even if there is no beach in sight!

Jersey Shore/Jersey – Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak mystery series set in a fictional Jersey shore town.  Light reading by an author who is also a comedian and names each series book after an amusement park type ride.  Looking for a cozy?  E.J. Cooperman’s Haunted Guesthouse series set in a Cape May like town.  Also, Harlan Coben’s early Myron Bolitar books with North Jersey (where he lives) often used, or David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter books also set in North Jersey, or the most famous one, Janet Evonavich’s Steph plum series set in Trenton – though I’d stick with books 1 to 7.  That said, they actually runs tours of Steph Plum’s Trenton.

Cape Cod/Massachusetts  – There are a bunch of options – Rick Boyer’s Doc Adams books if you can find them, or for a true classic, Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Asey Mayo mysteries written in the ’30’s and ’40’s.  Or for Massachusetts in general, Spencer books by Robert B Parker. Looking for a cozy?  Try Charlotte MacLeod.  She’s written 4 of them, but try Max Bittersohn or Peter Shandy series first. UF?  The Connor Grey series by Marc Del Franco.

California – Well, it’s tough to beat California for a location with a huge range of settings.  Don Winslow does a 2 books series using a California surfer as his lead character (Dawn Patrol, The Gentleman’s Hour) and many stand alones, including The Winter of Frankie Machine.  Robert Crais has the ultimate wise-cracking PI in his early Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books that get more serious as the series progresses.  Marshall Karp started his Lomax & Briggs buddy cop series with The Rabbit Factory, set in a fictional Disneyland.  You also have Richard Kardey’s horror-UF Sandman Slim books take place there – and in Hell.  Sue Ann Jaffarian has a vampire mystery series, Fang-in-Cheek, set there using the very human Madison Rose as her lead – only 2 books so far.  Her Ghost of Granny Apples and Odelia Grey series are also California based.   And what could be more classic than Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books set in LA?  Or for San Francisco, try Krysta Davis’s Sophie Katz books, on the lighter ‘chick-lit mystery’ level.  Jenn Bennett sets both her Arcadia Bell UF series, as well as her new paranormal romance series, Roaring Twenties, in the Bay Area as well.  The October Daye UF/Fantasy series is also set here and in Fairie and is one of the very best around written by Seanan McGuire.  It takes a bit to get into it, but her world building is complex and excellent.

North West – Seattle is the hometown for J. P. Beaumont in J.A. Jance’s fictional police detective books, but some are kind of grim.  Aaron Elkins does his Gideon Oliver series here and the early books include trips to the Olympic Peninsula.  G. M. Ford does two entertaining series here, his Leo Waterman books and his investigative reporter books featuring Frank Corso.  Yasmine Galenorm, a well known paranormal author, writes a cozy mystery series under the pen name, India Ink.  Speaking of paranormal, Kelley Armstrong sets her paranormal Darkness Rising YA triliogy here and Lauren Dane does the 4 book Bound by Magick series here as well as numerous romance and paranormal romance books in the Washington and Oregon areas.  Elizabeth Lowell (also writes as Ann Maxwell) set her Donovan romantic suspense books in the Seattle area.

Southwest – OMG where to start?  Tony Hillerman would top the list and maybe that’s all you’d need.  But cozy lovers rejoice, Old Scottsdale is home to Jenn McKinley’s Cupcake Bakery mysteries.  J.A. Jance has one set here too with female deputy Johanna Brady.  The Phoenix area is home to the start of one of the best new UF  series to come out lately, Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid.  You’ll find Coyote is featured in a couple of books.  And over in New Mexico is one of my favorite UF/mystery/romance series, the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones.  She also wrote the YA Darklight trilogy set there.  For more traditional mystery lovers, there’s Michael McGarrity’s Kevin Kearny books or the late James D. Doss’s Charlie Moon series set in southern Colorado and New Mexico.

Scenic West/Big Sky Country – Welcome to Walt Longmire country, thanks to Craig Johnson and his now iconic sheriff in modern Wyoming.  My personal favorite is Junkyard Dogs.  C. J. Box has based his Joe Pickett series in Wyoming as well.  The amusing historical mystery series featuring Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer by Steve Hockensmith is set mostly in Montana in the late 1800’s.  Deadwood, SD is home to Ann Charles’ humorous/scary paranormal mysteries called – obviously – Deadwood Mysteries.  Cheaper in ebook, but all are also in print with illustrations.  Laura DiSilvero sets her ‘Charlie’ Swift mysteries in Colorado Springs – kind of CO’s answer to Steph Plum.  Carrie Vaughn sets her Kitty Norville parnormal/UF series largely here and the best of the series, IMO, is Kitty’s House of Horrors. It can be read as a stand alone.

Texas – Texas is home to many mystery series old and new.  Jeff Abbott set two series here, Jordan Poteet and Whit Mosley.  Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes is a series of short, easyt mystery reads with lots of character. D.R. Merideth is a native Texan and did the really good John Lloyd Branson series and Charles Matthews series.  Before he became famous as the children’s/YA mythological adventure writer, Rick Riordan did the Tres Navarre series.  Diane Kelly writes the Tara Holloway Death and Taxes series that’s not a cozy, but more of a classic old style mystery book.  She also started a similar series featuring a K-9 officer Bridget, and Officer Megan Lutz set in Fort Worth.

Louisiana and Deep South – OK, his books are filled with atmosphere and corruption, not exactly beach reads, but James Lee Burke has to head the class in this location.  Jana DeLeon sits on the opposite end of the spectrum with her light. humorous, Mudbug series.  A little more meaty, but still played for laughs, is her Sinful, Louisiana Miss Fortune series about a CIA assassin hiding with a price on her head, and she has several stand alone books.  Over in Alabama is one of the best of the cozy series, Southern Sisters, by the late Anne George.  In Mississippi, Peggy Webb does her Elvis series that never really appealed to me, but many like.  For paranormal/UF there is, naturally, Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris (meh to they suck) and the very good in progress series, The Sentinels of New Orleans by Suzanne Johnson.  For some quality smut, try Lauren Dane’s Charvez Witches series. There are several really good, but rather dark series that I’m not mentioning, but look for authors Ace Atkins and Jack Kerley, if you like darker stuff.

That’s it for part 1.  I’ll begin Part 2 with the Low Country and cover the key major cities.  This should get you started.

 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. I’d like to suggest your readers might also enjoy a Mexico location. Murder in Mexico is my series of twelve mysteries set in and around the upscale expat colony of San Miguel de Allende. Artist Paul Zacher is drawn into crime investigation because ‘he might see things differently.’ Maybe it’s time for the rich humanity of Mexico to show through all the narco headlines! Ready for the real Mexico, beyond the phony news reports? Take a look at this suspenseful and often funny series, available in Print, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBook in the Apple Store. Start with ‘Twenty Centavos’ by trying a sample on my website.

    http://www.sanmiguelallendebooks.com/titles.html

    Comment by johnscherber — June 22, 2014 @ 12:10 pm | Reply


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