Summer is rapidly approaching, and with it the promise of long lazy days spent on the gulf coast's sugar sand beaches. But in Tampa Bay, you don't have to wait until June. Take advantage of the fine weather right now and get to the gulf.
To me, no beach day is complete without a great book and a cooler full of delectable snacks. If you're headed to the shore but have no idea what to bring, have no fear. We've rounded up our four favorite beach reads — some old, some new — and paired them with seaside-friendly snacks, so all you have to worry about is which swimsuit to wear. Whether you're in the mood for a paranormal fantasy or a collection of humorous essays, we've got you covered. (SEE RECIPES BELOW.)
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
This four-part paranormal fantasy series will transport you to mysterious places.
If I could only bring one book to the beach, it would be one of the books in the Raven Cycle. Filled with wry humor, rich characterization and bizarre plot twists, these novels are the ultimate escapist beach reads.
When Blue Sargent kisses her true love, he will die. At least, that's what her psychic mother has told her for years. Blue has never paid much attention — until she meets the wealthy, eccentric Gansey and his band of private school "Raven Boys." Together, they embark on a quest to wake an ancient Welsh king and claim their reward. Jump in Gansey's beloved orange Camaro and follow the teens as they explore sentient woods, defy prophesies and discover things about themselves and their world that will leave them forever changed.
The last book in the series, The Raven King, is being released at the end of April, so you won't have to wait long for the finale.
What to eat: When the teenage characters aren't searching for ancient Welsh kings or failing their Latin homework, they meet at a local restaurant to bond over sweet tea and pizza. Pack a thermos of lemon-blueberry sweet tea and an abundance of pizza-flavored popcorn.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
When summer arrives, do you ever get the urge to throw your clothes in a suitcase and buy a ticket to some exotic place? If you're like me, that means taking day trips to the shore rather than globetrotting, and that's where Elizabeth Gilbert comes in. Pack a copy of Eat, Pray, Love and you can tour Italy, India and Bali — without ever leaving your beach towel. Gilbert's memoir will have you savoring the double mozzarella goodness of Neapolitan pizza, meditating in an Indian ashram and basking on the white shores of tropical Bali.
What to eat To further immerse yourself in your imaginary vacation, fill your picnic cooler with a dish from each country: a mozzarella and prosciutto rollup for Italy, curried shrimp for India and fruit sushi for Bali. (Optional: You can make the fruit sushi more authentically Indonesian by using tropical fruits like mangoes.)
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Looking for a more suspenseful read? Pack your cooler with decadent lobster sandwiches and spend your summer on a private island with the Sinclair family.
"This island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever," 17-year-old Cady Sinclair tells us, in her dreamlike, evocative prose in We Were Liars. But it's not as idyllic as she makes it sound.
In this book, Cady has just returned to the family island after a mysterious accident two summers ago. She suffers amnesia and excruciating headaches, but the wealthy Sinclairs are all about keeping up appearances. As she drinks fizzy lemonade and swims in the ocean with her three best friends, she struggles to remember the tragedy that nobody wants to discuss.
Bring plenty of sunscreen, because you won't want to leave the beach until you've reached the book's shocking twist ending. It's a fast, easy read, but be warned: This suspense is far from light.
What to eat: A Sinclair-inspired lunch wouldn't be the same without lobster. Pair a lobster sandwich, topped with bacon, lettuce and avocado, with a fresh tomato salad. Serve Cady's favorite berry pies for dessert, and imagine this beach is your own private island.
Although, as the book progresses, you might be glad there are other beachgoers around you after all ...
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
When you pack Why Not Me? in your beach bag, you've basically invited Mindy Kaling to join you on a sunbathing excursion. As you lather on your coconut-scented sunscreen, she'll whisper tantalizing secrets about kissing her co-stars and make you laugh out loud over her brief stint as a sorority girl. Kaling's warm style makes you feel like you've brought a friend, not a book. Her essays range from the amusing "Things to Bring to My Dinner Party" (she requests an old photo of Colin Firth and a bottle of hot sauce, among other things) to the poignant "Soup Snakes," which made me root for her and B.J. Novak to get married and live happily ever after. It's the perfect, light-hearted beach read — but don't dismiss it as mere comedy. There are moments of piercing social commentary and even heartbreaking revelations.
What to eat: Bring along tequila-soaked watermelon wedges, just as sweet and refreshing as this book — with a bit of a kick. Alternatively, pack a bag full of pink and red Starbursts — her favorite kind — and a package of Kaling-approved Sour Punch Straws. For something more substantial, pack your cooler with cucumber sandwiches. "I love cucumber," Kaling says on her Tumblr, The Concerns of Mindy Kaling. "It wins the prize of Single Easiest Vegetable to Deal With, doesn't it? So easy to slice and prepare." Layered with a spread of jalapeno, mint, cilantro and lime, it's a refreshing take on the traditional British tea sandwich. I'm sure if Kaling knew what you were bringing in your cooler, she'd show up for real at your beach day.