The best novels that take place on the coast

Carol Newman Cronin Author Of Ferry to Cooperation Island
By Carol Newman Cronin

Who am I?

As a sailor and 2004 Olympian I am happiest on salt water, so that’s where most of my characters live their best lives. I write coastal fiction; stories with a happy ending that could only take place on or near the water. Boat rides are a bonus! As both a reader and an author, my tastes span across several traditional genres: from young adult time travel to literary fiction, with stops along the way for a light touch of romance. This list reflects that range. If you want to learn more about all the books (and boats) I enjoy, please subscribe to my Thursday blog, Where Books Meet Boats. Meanwhile, enjoy these five fantastic examples of coastal fiction!

I wrote...

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

What is my book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain—or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across the wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such “improvements.” But despite Brenton’s nickname as “Cooperation Island,” he’s used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he’ll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders—including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that’s been kept from him for years.

The books I picked & why

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The Islanders: A Novel

By Meg Mitchell Moore,

Book cover of The Islanders: A Novel

Why this book?

Personalities collide during a Block Island summer. While I enjoyed all three point-of-view characters, I laughed out loud at Anthony the author’s “head-writing;” he described a scene in front of him as if he were writing a novel. Tongue just slightly in cheek, I felt like Moore was poking fun at the novelist’s eye—while simultaneously using it as shorthand to show us Anthony’s view.

The Islanders came out only a few months before my book. Though both novels can be considered “beach reads,” they are each much more than just a fluffy happily-ever-after throwaway. An island makes a very convenient metaphor; for our lucky characters, it is actually their whole world—even if it’s not forever, or as long as it lasts, but “just for the summer.”

The Riddle of the Sands

By Erskine Childers,

Book cover of The Riddle of the Sands

Why this book?

The first time I read this book I was sailing through the Frisian Islands, where it takes place—though unlike its two main characters, I didn’t have to worry about German patrols or being arrested as a spy. A classic thriller, the remote and shifting islands of the area help to drive the plot. It could, quite simply, take place nowhere else. Great sailing scenes as well!

When We Believed in Mermaids

By Barbara O'Neal,

Book cover of When We Believed in Mermaids

Why this book?

This mountain-based author has captured a world that fits right into the #coastalfiction genre. We feel in our bones the joy that two estranged sisters feel when wave-riding, and we see the mesmerizing changes in both ocean and sky as a storm approaches. Though the only boat rides are on ferries, the descriptions of both the California and New Zealand coastlines make me want to go back. The book is also a reminder of the subtle ways we recognize people: a distinctive walking style, seen across a street, can take us right back to childhood.

Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens,

Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Why this book?

“Marsh is not swamp,” states the first sentence, somehow managing to imply the exact opposite for this ocean-salt-air-lover. Kya Clark, known to townsfolk as The Marsh Girl, could live nowhere else; this story could’ve only taken place exactly where it’s set.

The storyline wanders between past and present, but Owens trusts her readers—and I was never lost. The story did surprise—right up until the very last scene.

My only complaint is the cover image: the main character gets around in a derelict skiff with an ancient outboard, not a shiny canoe. But there’s as much going on below the surface as there is in plain sight: prejudice, development, education, love, and loss—all tucked away beneath a damn good story.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

By TJ Klune,

Book cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea

Why this book?

How could I resist a book with an impossible cliff-mounted house towering over a tropical sea? This fantasy is written for a younger audience but adults can definitely enjoy it—and learn something about differences and tolerance. Though there’s sometimes more description than needed, the writing is so consistently lovely that I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.  

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