Our Book Voyage travels have taken us halfway around the globe, and as we approach the mid-point in our reading journey, it’s time for a little summer vacay, armchair travel style. So this month we’ll be reading books that take place on an island!
From the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, and from the tropical South Pacific to books set in cooler temperatures off the east coast of the USA, our list of recommended books offers a wide variety of island vibes.
As always, you are welcome to choose any book set on an island that you’d like. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a great list of island novels, as well as some wonderful memoirs and travelogues. If you prefer lighter island books, you’ll find some great rom books and escapist fiction on our list (and even more on our new beach reads list), but our recommendations also run the gamut from historical fiction to epic family sagas, with a few non-fiction picks mixed in for good measure.
You can read all about the Book Voyage challenge, find new book lists each month, and download your free printable map book tracker, with a color-coded map of each region here.
There are a lot of classic tropical island adventure books – like Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe – set on fictional islands. For our list, however, we’ve selected books set on islands that you can pinpoint on a world map.
Last month, we read books set in Southern Asia – a region that includes many island nations. Our book lists for Western Europe and Northern Asia included a few island countries as well. If none of the books on the list below catch your eye, feel free to also refer back to those regions for even more island book options.
The Best Island Books
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Becky's father has always been a mystery to her - all she knows is that he did before she was born and that her mom, Laura, has never been willing to talk about it. When Laura books a trip to Santorini, Greece, Becky decides to join her. But what Becky thought was an impulsive vacation reveals itself to be more than that. She realizes that her mom has a history with the island, and that sunny Santorini might just help answer some of her long-held questions.
You Then, Me Now is part romantic summer read and grippingly edgy, with unexpected emotional depth. This book is written from both mother and daughter's points of view - with Becky's chapters set in present-day, and Laura's chapters transporting us back to her early 20s.
The Book Girls Say... Angela honeymooned in the Greek Isles and wants everyone to have the opportunity to experience the beauty and magic of Santorini. So when we read the rave reviews that said the vivid descriptions of Santorini make the island like a character in this book, we knew it had to be on our list!
Ready to set sail this summer? Join one Greek family and one Indian family as they board a yacht for a summer wedding on the Aegean coast in this fun summer rom com!
Moti has felt jinxed her whole life. Take her name, for example - pronounced correctly it with a soft "t" (MO-thi) it means "pearl" in Hindi. But pronounced incorrectly with a hard "t" (Mo-Tee), as most people do, it means fatty or chubby.
She'll be joining her family to celebrate her cousin's wedding, but to do so, she has to overcome her fear of the water. Moti is also saddled with her mother's expectations that she find and win over the ONE man that she's fated to marry - and the only man her mom will approve of.
The Book Girls Say... We can't wait to read this one! Reviewers call it the perfect rom com and promise that you'll giggle your way through the book, fall in love with Moti, and find yourself craving all the food they enjoy aboard the yacht. Yes, please!
Although it's listed as #3 in the Love & Gelato series, this YA book set on the island of Santorini is a stand-alone and has no overlapping characters with the first two books in the series.
Liv's dad left when she was just eight, but all of her memories of him involve their shared love of the lost city of Atlantis. When a postcard arrives from Santorini inviting teenage Liv to visit her dad, she doesn't want anything to do with him, but her mom insists she take the trip. The island is beautiful, and she can't help but be charmed by the people, but the real reason her father invited her remains as much a mystery as Atlantis itself.
The Book Girls Say... If you enjoy YA novels, this is a good one! The descriptions of Santorini will have you feeling the salty breeze on your face, but by the end, that won't be the only reason your cheeks are damp.
This collection of short stories blends fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Not all of the stories take place in Haiti, but they all revolve around a common theme of the experience of being Haitian. At just 121 pages, this book is short in length, but big in impact.
If you have a hard time reading stories without fully fleshed out climaxes or conclusions, this might not be the right pick for you, but Roxane Gay does deliver intimate insights into Haiti's culture and practices.
The Book Girls Say... If you are looking for more stories set in Haiti, consider Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat. This collection of short stories was a Reese's Book Club pick, but be warned that it contains some explicit and violent scenes.
“Combining the romance of Beautiful Ruins with the magical tapestry of works by Isabel Allende," this epic novel tells the story of the Esposito family over the course of nearly a century. On the island, life centers around a flower-draped café called the House at the Edge of Night where, throughout the generations, the community of Castellamare gathers to gossip and talk. You'll see how lives change as the people of this island are impacted by two world wars, a great recession, passions, friendships, and bitter rivalries.
This is a quiet novel with a slow, leisurely pace, but it's a lovely and absorbing story with great writing and well-developed characters.
Read With the Book Girls... Although we've generally only included books set on real island on this list of recommendations, Castellamare is the exception. Unlike many other fictional islands in literature, this one bears striking resemblance to other islands in the Mediterranean off the Italian coast. You'll still get a great sense of island life in this corner of the world.
Described as magical and haunting, this novel is set in Augustown, one of the poorest sections of the suburban sprawl of Kingston, Jamaica. This is where we meet Ma Taffy, a blind grandmother, and her grandson, Kaia.
Throughout this novel, the author (who is also a poet) delves into matters known little outside Jamaica, and provides a historical portrait of the country in the 20th century through conversations, events, and the retelling of folk stories.
Southern Asia's Maldives island chain may sound like a dream honeymoon destination, but what happens when the vacation never ends?
Chloe and Dan haven't known each other for very long, but they had a dream wedding and then set off for a relaxing honeymoon in the Maldives. Dan jokes that he'd like them to stay forever, but as the trip goes on, it becomes less of a joke, and more of a demand. He insists they shouldn't leave, and he won't let her!
This psychological thriller is described as perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go). Reviewers promise you won't be able to figure it out!
The Book Girls Say... This book seems to fall somewhere between chick lit and thriller, with easy to read, darkly humorous prose. The setting of the Maldives is beautifully described, and you'll feel like you're really there... for better or worse.
Ko Phi Phi is a butterfly-shaped island off the coast of Thailand that attracts tourists from around the world. On December 26, 2004, an earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia, triggering a massive tsunami. Ko Phi Phi was hit by two walls of waves, from opposites sides of the island, that pulled hotels, restaurants, and people out to sea, but miraculously, some survived.
In this novel, resort owners Lek and Sarai are struggling to make ends meet and agree to provide room and board to an American named Patch in exchange for his help. But when Patch's brother arrives with his girlfriend, he brings with him secrets that put both families at risk. But the worst is yet to come...
Inspired by the author's multiple trips to Ko Phi Phi, both before and after the tsunami, Cross Currents is a fictionalized account of island life before that fateful day, as well as the tragedies and triumphs that followed.
The Palacio family fled their home in crumbling, volatile Venezuela to make a new home in Trinidad as illegal immigrants. Yola Palacio wants nothing more than for her family to settle into a quiet new life despite their illegal status, but things don't go their way. When Yola's aunt dies, they learn that she was keeping a big secret in the form of a huge debt to a local criminal named Ugly. Without the money to pay off her aunt's debt, Yola's family is forced to do Ugly's bidding in this uproariously funny novel.
The Book Girls Say... Some readers question whether it's appropriate for the author to write about the global refugee crisis with such absurd and sarcastic humor, but others applaud her for writing an entertaining and thought-provoking family drama that helps shine a spotlight on a topic that too many people would rather ignore.
Old Havana comes to life in this historical fiction novel. In 1947, Patricio flees Spain with nothing more than the clothes on his back and his dreams. Once in Havana, he lands a job at El Encanto - one of the most luxurious department stores in the world that caters to Hollywood stars and other rich and famous clientele.
It is here that Patricio meets and falls in love with Gloria, the young wife of notorious mobster Cesar Valdes. Within the walls of El Encanto, it's easy for them to believe that anything is possible.
Patricio and Gloria's love affair spans over half a century, as the stories of their lives are intertwined time and time again. Each time Patricio knows that loving her could be suicide. Still, he can't help but be drawn to this beautiful woman who has a penchant for both Christian Dior clothes and Einstein's theories.
Growing up in Miami, Marisol heard romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother, Elisa. The story alternates perspectives between Elisa in the 1950s and Marisol in present day.
In 1958, nineteen-year-old Elisa is the daughter of a sugar baron and a member of Cuba's high society. Her family's position largely shields her from the growing political unrest, at least until she embarks on a forbidden affair. In 2017, Marisol arrives in Havana for the first time to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish of having her ashes spread in her birth country. Marisol tries to reconcile the contrast of Cuba's timeless beauty with its political climate, all while uncovering the story of her grandmother's past.
The Book Girls Say... If you've already enjoyed Chanel Cleeton's books set in Havana, be sure to check out her newly released novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba, which follows the stories of three women set against the Spanish-American war and the Cuban fight for freedom from the Spanish.
The audiobook version of Next Year in Havana, as well as several of Cleeton's other books, are available free with an Audible membership.
Seven-year-old Rachel will quickly capture your heart. She's full of zest and big dreams, especially of traveling outside of her Hawaiian island. When a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, her family jumps into protective mode, knowing that she'll be taken from them if anyone finds out she has leprosy.
During a sibling argument, Rachel's sister makes the mistake of calling her a leper in public. When the authorities confirm her diagnosis, she's whisked away to Kalaupapa, a quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i.
While members of the settlement are shunned by the outside, they're welcoming to new arrivals. Young Rachel must learn to accept her new home and the varied cast of characters who will become her new family.
While this historical fiction novel set in the 1890s is based on the tragic history of a real leper colony, readers find that the book shows the power of positivity and human's incredible ability to overcome tragedy.
The Book Girls Say... The sequel, Daughter of Moloka'i, has equally fabulous reviews.
The Kindle version of this book is currently free with Kindle Unlimited.
If you're a fan of memoirs based on unorthodox childhoods like The Glass Castle or Educated, Freckled is a similar tale set in Hawaii. Author T.W. Neal (Toby) typically pens mysteries, but in 2018 she shared her own personal story about growing up in Kauai in the 1970s.
Her parents were addicts and hippies, creating an unstable environment. Nights were spent in tents and vans instead of in a stable home. Yet, with resilience and intelligence, she balanced caring for her parents, her siblings, and herself.
Because the family moved around, the story will give you insight into the island's different regions.
We're read many accounts of life during World War 2, but this is the first WW2 historical fiction we've run across based on local life in Hawaii. The main characters are a mother, Violet, and her daughter Ella. The duo is trying to acclimate to live without Ella's father, who disappeared one year earlier. Violet suspects Ella knows more about the disappears but has been scared into silence.
With vivid descriptions of life on the island, you'll follow Violet and her friends as they try to survive the lingering war and set up a stand to sell pies to soldiers in training. Other themes include prejudice against the Japanese Hawaiians on the island, Violet's reluctance to enter another relationship, and deep female friendships.
What should a bride and groom do if they get food poisoning and are too sick to go on their non-refundable honeymoon to Hawaii?
Give it to the Best Man and Maid-of-Honor, of course.
That would have been perfect if the duo didn't hate each other. Follow along as they try to avoid each other while still taking advantage of all the pre-paid activities on a vacation intended for a newlywed couple.
The Book Girls Say... This funny and steamy rom-com is perfect if you're looking for light escapist reading. We have even more books in this style over in our Beach Reads post!
Sometimes 40th birthdays trigger major life reflection, and that was definitely the case for successful CEO Catherine. Instead of attending her own birthday party, she impulsively flies to the luxury resort in Barbados that she visited on her honeymoon ten years earlier. She never expected she'd be divorced, childless, and alone the next time she saw the island.
Anders also landed at the resort after breaking free from a high-pressure, successful stint on Wall Street. When he invites Catherine to one of his spin classes, it sets off a whirlwind two weeks exploring the island together and helping Catherine discover that she's worth so much more than her career.
Life in London is hard in the post-WW2 years, as they are still dealing with rationing and shortages. Forty-seven-year-old teacher Margery is fed up with her hard life and decides to post an ad for a French-speaking assistant to join her on a trip halfway around the world, despite barely being able to afford basic life at home.
Margery is looking for the fabled golden beetle of New Caledonia that her father told her about when she was a young girl. But, no matter what obstacles she faces, Margery pushes forward in this cross-ocean historical adventure that takes an unlikely duo to the South Pacific.
While this novel is fiction, it's based on the true story of three anthropologists in Papua New Guinea in 1933. The character Nell is based on famed anthropologist Margaret Mead.
While their days are filled with jealousy, conflict with each other and the tribes they are studying, and fierce love, their research has had an enduring effect on the understanding of human nature. Reviews say the novel gives you an excellent feeling of place, and you'll feel like an anthropologist yourself, studying the complicated relationships between the characters.
The audiobook version of this book is free with an Audible membership.
Despite unrest between ethnicities in other parts of Cyprus, Famagusta was a peaceful Mediterranean resort in 1973. A glamorous hotel is about to open, with Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony.
Everything changes when there is a Greek coup. Turkey quickly invades to protect the minority Turkish Cypriots. Forty thousand citizens flee, leaving only two families behind - the Georgious and the Özkans. The Sunrise tells their stories.
The Book Girls Say... If you enjoyed The Thread from our Eastern Europe list,The Sunrise might be a great fit. Readers seem to love or hate Victoria Hislop's descriptive style, so keep that in mind. She provides a great sense of history and place in her books, but less emotional connection with characters.
This classic, epic novel is long at 672 pages, but is perfect if you're looking for an in-depth historical fiction account of island life in the Caribbean. It starts 700 years ago in 1310 and continues all the way through the Fidel Castro era in Cuba. Several different islands are covered, and the stories are told in sections instead of following one set of characters throughout.
The Book Girls Say... While based on history, keep in mind that is book is a work of fiction, and there is one fictional island included, All Saints. It's a rough read, telling of the violent past, including but not limited to slavery, that helped formed the islands. You won't get the tourist viewpoint in this one.
Set 13 years after Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, the 2021 new release Don't Make Me Turn This Life Around gives us an updated look into the life of fictional character Libby Ross-Velasquez. Her family is going through a rough patch with distance in relationships, a death, and an illness, so Libby books a trip to Vieques, a small Puerto Rican island.
Her dream of escaping reality for a bit turns into a nightmare as a hurricane approaches the island. She fears that in an attempt to make things better, she's put her family at risk of a bigger disaster.
The Book Girls Say...You may need some Kleenex for some of the heart-wrenching scenes in this one. While the cover looks like a light rom-com, reviewers say it's fabulous, but heavy at times and has a bit less humor than some of Camille Pagan's other works.
The Kindle version of this book is currently free with Kindle Unlimited.
by Torre Deroche Setting: Across the Ocean with Several Island Visits
Looking for a travelogue memoir full of adventure with a side of romance? Grab Love With a Chance of Drowning ASAP!
Author Torre is Australian but plans a year in the US to escape a bad relationship at home.
On a night out in a San Francisco bar, she meets Ivan, a handsome Argentinian adventurer, and they have undeniable chemistry together. The only problem is that he's leaving on a long trip alone across the ocean in his small boat. This sounds like a worst-case scenario to Torre, who gets seasick and has a fear of the water.
When her only options are saying goodbye to the deep connection she's developed with Ivan or joining him on the boat, she chooses to face her fear of the water, and they set sail. This memoir chronicles the good time and bad of their epic journey together.
Birdie has spent the year preparing for her daughter's lavish wedding on Nantucket, making sure every contingency is covered, and every detail is perfect. So imagine her shock when her daughter calls off the wedding the night before!
This is only the first shock to the family, and as more revelations happen, Birdie gathers her two daughters and her sister to retreat to the smaller, rustic Tuckernuck Island. With no modern comforts like phone lines or grocery stores, the four women think it will be the perfect escape. But isolated time with sisters and daughters leads to the exposure of more hidden truths.
The Books Girls Say... With a vast catalog of books set on the island of Nantucket, including an Elin Hilderbrand novel was an easy choice. If you aren't drawn to books set in tropical locations and would rather have a book set on the east coast, this is a great alternative!
Anthony is a rising literary star, but he's struggling! He borrows a friend's crumbling beach house on Block Island, of the coast of Rhode Island, in hopes that the quiet solitude will be just what he needs.
Joy came to Block Island a decade ago after her divorce to build a new life for she and her young daughter. She now owns the island's beloved whoopie pie cafe, but a new-to-town food truck is threatening her business.
Lu and her surgeon husband are spending the summer on the island with their sons while he commutes back and forth to the mainland hospital. A former-corporate lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, Lu is quietly working on a new project that is becoming more and more demanding of her time.
Over the course of one summer on Block Island, the lives of three strangers become intertwined through romance, well-meaning lies, and secrets - but as June turns to August, the truth will eventually come out.
The Book Girls Say... This Block Island book is a delicious summer read that's perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand's Nantucket-set novels.
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