Emotional Beach Reads “Shore” to Tug at Your Heartstrings

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Hannah McKinnon is the author of Message in the Sand, The Lake SeasonMystic SummerThe Summer HouseSailing Lessons, and The View from Here. She graduated from Connecticut College and the University of South Australia. She lives in Connecticut, with her family, a flock of chickens, and two rescue dogs.

I love summer reading, and I especially love discovering titles that possess both heft and heart—something that will tug at my heartstrings and deliver me to the coastal locales I crave. It’s what I aim to deliver to readers of my own summer novels each year, and in my newest novel Message in the Sand.

You’ll find six of my favorite summer reads of all time below. They follow everyday people who find themselves at crossroads as they grapple with matters of family, friendship, love, and loss. Beach blanket-tested and sure to call for Kleenex!

The Salt House
by Lisa Duffy

If you’re looking for a beautifully written and emotionally poignant book to read on the beach, THE SALT HOUSE is one of my favorites. For Hope and Jack, the Salt House was supposed to be the stuff of dreams: a renovated home to raise their young family and run their lobster business on the rugged coast of Maine. A year later, we find them grieving the loss of their youngest child; an unfathomable tragedy for a young couple whose future held such promise. Told in alternating voices, we follow Hope, Jack, and their two daughters as they come to grips with both their individual and family suffering. The sudden arrival of a competing fisherman, whose presence in the brisk Maine waters threatens the future of their business, initiates a series of events that will ultimately heal or break the Kelly clan. Superbly told and evocatively written, this is a hopeful story of the aftermath of profound love and grief and the rebuilding of family and future. This is one of those rare titles where I couldn’t decide which I loved more: the characters or the writing. In THE SALT HOUSE, you get both!

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The Salt House
Lisa Duffy

In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

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Under the Southern Sky
by Kristy Woodson Harvey

What makes a family? After the demise of her marriage, journalist Amelia Saxton finds herself solo once more and retreating to her coastal North Carolina hometown in search of solace and healing among the close-knit community who knows her best. Once there, her job as a journalist proves a healthy and helpful distraction. During research, Amelia uncovers a story about a batch of embryos that have been deemed abandoned in a local clinic. But it’s a surprise personal connection to this piece of news that leaves her head newly spinning: among these “abandoned” embryos are ones belonging to her childhood friend, Parker, who lost his young wife, Greer, to cancer only a few years earlier. Should she tell him? Still stricken by loss, Parker decides that the only way to keep Greer’s memory truly alive is to find and retrieve the embryos, and find a surrogate. Suddenly Amelia finds herself more personally involved than she’d ever anticipated. As the two childhood friends navigate their own personal losses, they embark on an emotional journey forward as Parker searches for a surrogate with Amelia’s help. Along the way, a few family secrets are brought to the surface. In addition to following Parker’s and Amelia’s hesitant next steps, readers are treated to a sublime trip along North Carolina’s stunning coastline and immersion in the locale’s small-town Southern charm. Told in turn by each character’s distinct perspective, (even Greer, through old journal entries!), readers get a deep look into young love, heartbreaking loss, and what, ultimately, weaves the fabric of family.

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Under the Southern Sky
Kristy Woodson Harvey

One of Country Living’s 20 New Books You Don’t Want to Miss This Spring
One of Bookstr’s 8 Most Anticipated Reads of 2021
One of Frolic’s 12 Most Anticipated Books of 2021
One of BookTrib’s Most-Anticipated Reads of 2021
One of Brit + Co’s Books You Should Read with Your BFF

Two childhood friends discover that love—and family—can be found in unconventional ways in this timely, moving novel from the USA TODAY bestselling author of the “beautifully Southern, evocative Peachtree Bluff series” (Kristin Harmel, internationally bestselling author of The Winemaker’s Wife).

Recently separated Amelia Buxton, a dedicated journalist, never expected that uncovering the biggest story of her career would become deeply personal. But when she discovers that a cluster of embryos belonging to her childhood friend Parker and his late wife Greer have been deemed “abandoned,” she’s put in the unenviable position of telling Parker—and dredging up old wounds in the process.

Parker has been unable to move forward since the loss of his beloved wife three years ago. He has all but forgotten about the frozen embryos, but once Amelia reveals her discovery, he knows that if he ever wants to get a part of Greer back, he’ll need to accept his fate as a single father and find a surrogate.

Each dealing with their own private griefs, Parker and Amelia slowly begin to find solace in one another as they navigate an uncertain future against the backdrop of the pristine waters of their childhood home, Cape Carolina. The journey of self-discovery leads them to an unforgettable and life-changing lesson: Family—the one you’re born into and the one you choose—is always closer than you think.

From “the next major voice in Southern fiction” (Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author), Under the Southern Sky is a fresh and unforgettable exploration of love, friendship, and the unbreakable ties that bind.

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The Forever Summer
by Jamie Brenner

Twenty-eight-year-old Marin Bishop appears to have it all: a successful career, a devoted fiancé, and a bright future, all thanks to her years of diligence and commitment. But in one fateful day, she loses all of it. Thinking she’s seen the worst, nothing can prepare her for the results of a DNA test that turn her head sharply in the direction of a coastal Cape Cod town she has never been to. When a woman claiming to be her half-sister enters her life, Marin finds herself agreeing to travel to Provincetown, Massachusetts, so the two can meet their presumed grandmother. But it’s what lies in store in the picturesque coastal village that will truly alter Marin’s sense of self and all the things she thought she wished for. One summer, one Cape Cod town and three generations of women collide to raise new questions and unveil old secrets in an unforgettable story of family, love, and identity. This summer read was both sweet and savory, and the backdrop of historic Provincetown is just a beautiful added bonus.

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The Forever Summer
Jamie Brenner

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MENTIONED IN:

Emotional Beach Reads “Shore” to Tug at Your Heartstrings

By Hannah McKinnon | May 27, 2021

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Summer Secrets
by Jane Green

Journalist Cat Coombs is living it up in London. A young woman with a bright future as a journalist, she finds herself spiraling through darkness when confronted with a family secret. While traveling to Nantucket on a family visit, Cat makes a mistake she cannot forgive herself for. Back in London, in the aftermath, she realizes her hard-partying days are over and it is time to face facts and make some hard choices. But what of the family she left behind in Nantucket? As we follow Cat through single motherhood and into her forties, we also see her turning her head toward the past. Returning to Nantucket may mean reconnecting with those she feels she wronged. But will it also cause her to hurt the one she loves the most? SUMMER SECRETS is a story of forgiveness and moving forward, even when the one we find hardest to forgive is ourselves. I first read this book when it came out in 2015; it’s stayed with me ever since!

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Summer Secrets
Jane Green

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Emotional Beach Reads “Shore” to Tug at Your Heartstrings

By Hannah McKinnon | May 27, 2021

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Big Summer
by Jennifer Weiner

We didn’t need it, but here’s further proof that Jen Weiner delivers every time. Told with her signature wit and humor, BIG SUMMER explores the bumpy road of lifelong female friendships and the equally arduous journey of befriending ourselves. Daphne Berg is understandably suspicious when her ex-bestie, Drue Cavanaugh, saunters back into her life after years of estrangement and asks her to be her maid of honor in her upcoming wedding. The two haven’t so much as crossed social media paths in forever! But she cannot help herself; smart, sassy, sophisticated Drue lures Daphne to her luxurious Cape Cod digs with the same kinds of promises she used back in the early unsinged days of their friendship. Only this time, Daphne has tasted her own success and come to love both herself and the life she leads both online and in the real world. Will it all be enough for her to withstand Drue and the pitfalls of their rocky past? A fun, splashy, and honest portrait of women’s friendships and the ways we see ourselves in each other.

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Big Summer
Jennifer Weiner

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“Sexy and satisfying, Big Summer is the perfect quarantine read.” —USA TODAY

“The beach read to end all beach reads.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Big fun, and then some. It’s empowering and surprising—a reminder to put down the phone and enjoy each moment for what it is.” —The Washington Post

A deliciously funny, remarkably poignant, and simply unputdownable novel about the power of friendship, the lure of frenemies, and the importance of making peace with yourself through all life’s ups and downs. From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Good in Bed and Best Friends Forever, Big Summer is the perfect escape with one of the most lovable heroines to come to the page in years.

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

A sparkling novel about the complexities of female relationships, the pitfalls of living out loud and online, and the resilience of the human heart, Big Summer is a witty, moving story about family, friendship, and figuring out what matters most.

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Castaways
by Elin Hilderbrand

Any summer list is incomplete without a signature Elin novel, but though I’ve read and enjoyed them all, THE CASTAWAYS is still one that tugs at my heartstrings hardest. Greg and Tess MacAvoy are the glue of their tight-knit group of Nantucket friends and family; young, beautiful, and deeply in love, the couple are enviously poised for a happily-ever-after life. However, a tragic boating accident ends their young lives, leaving their group of friends and community reeling in the wave of loss, grief, and the truths that surface about the couple’s marriage. All was not as it seemed on the surface. Greg, a beloved high school teacher, found himself entangled in scandalous rumor with a troubled teenage student. Tess, devoted wife and mother, found herself grappling with the crumbling of her marriage and the tales that swirled in their small-island enclave. With two small children left behind, Tess’s and Greg’s friends are left to unravel the truths and make sense of the aftermath. A story of gripping love and the complexities that come with it, THE CASTAWAYS is one that deserves its place on your summer beach blanket even all these years later.

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The Castaways
Elin Hilderbrand

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MENTIONED IN:

Emotional Beach Reads “Shore” to Tug at Your Heartstrings

By Hannah McKinnon | May 27, 2021

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Message in the Sand
by Hannah McKinnon

If you enjoy these titles and authors, be sure to check out Hannah McKinnon’s upcoming summer release, MESSAGE IN THE SAND, out 6/15!

Wendell Combs is as local as they come. Born and raised in the small town of Saybrook, Connecticut, his venture into the larger world was met with heartbreak. Now, middle-aged and a confirmed bachelor, he seeks solitude, working as head caretaker for wealthy Alan Lancaster’s forty-acre estate, White Pines, a place he has come to love for its beauty, peace, and quiet.

Alan’s eldest daughter, fifteen-year-old Julia, also loves White Pines, but for very different reasons. She and her little sister spend their days riding horses, swimming in the lake, and painting landscapes inspired by the property they adore. While her parents prepare to host their annual summer gala fundraiser, Julia’s eyes are set to the simpler joys of summer: she’s fallen in love with the boy-next-door and longs for their next encounter.

But as the last guests leave on that magical summer night, a tragedy no one could have predicted suddenly occurs, shaking the entire town to its core. This stirring and affecting tale explores the connection between people and place and what, ultimately, makes up the fabric of a family.

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Message in the Sand
Hannah McKinnon

An emotional and unforgettable tale of a small town irrevocably affected by an unforeseen and shocking event—from the author of the “charming gem of a novel” (Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author) Mystic Summer.

Wendell Combs is as local as they come. Born and raised in the small town of Saybrook, Connecticut, his venture into the larger world was met with heartbreak. Now, middle-aged and a confirmed bachelor, he seeks solitude from his tour of duty as a soldier back in his hometown, working as head caretaker for wealthy Alan Lancaster’s forty-acre estate, White Pines, a place he has come to love for its beauty, peace, and quiet.

Alan’s eldest daughter, fifteen-year-old Julia, also loves White Pines, but for very different reasons. She and her little sister spend their days riding horses, swimming in the lake, and painting landscapes inspired by the property they adore. While her parents prepare to host their annual summer gala fundraiser, Julia’s eyes are set to the simpler joys of summer: she’s fallen in love with the boy-next-door and longs for their next encounter.

But as the last guests leave on that magical summer night, a tragedy no one could have predicted suddenly occurs, shaking the entire town to its core. Wendell and Julia now face an uncertain future. At the height of their grief, two very different women return to Saybrook: Ginny Feldman, Wendell’s first love, who cannot stay away any longer, and Candace Lancaster, Julia’s estranged aunt who wants nothing to do with the town or the family estate she escaped decades earlier. Now, the only familiar things Julia has to cling to are Wendell and White Pines, but it looks like she’s about to lose both...

With Hannah McKinnon’s “sharp and evocative” (Kirkus Reviews) prose, this stirring and affecting tale explores the connection between people and place and what, ultimately, makes up the fabric of a family.

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Emotional Beach Reads “Shore” to Tug at Your Heartstrings

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