The best way to find out about Elin Hilderbrand is to read her books. It is on the wicker shelf in your new rental beach house, so look there. There, you’ll find her next to Dean Koontz, Emily Giffin, Terry McMillan, and other big names in summer reading. Their well-worn books haven’t been left behind, but given to the next wave of vacationers.
The fact that you can only see the water through binoculars from the roof won’t bother you after you find a big Hilderbrand book. You’re now on your way to Nantucket, which is where most of Hilderbrand’s 27 books take place. The last 15 years, she has at least one a year, sometimes two. When I read these books, I’d be able to get from the ferry dock to Madaket Beach, Sankaty Head Light, Jewel Pond, or any other place Hilderbrand’s characters eat, drink (and cheat on) and even get married and die. I have never been on the island myself.
These books are escape hatches for hard-core readers, bridges between mothers and daughters, and cat’s cradles that connect people. They’re beach reads with a strong undercurrent: a mix of fun (picnics, convertibles, flings) and gravity (divorce, deception, loss). They open the doors of mansions and cottages, serve buffets of everything from fried clam strips to bouillabaisse, and introduce people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes.
A lot of things change if you read Hilderbrand’s books in order. For example, the stakes get higher, the younger generation gets older, and the protagonists who were planning their lives now look back and see how it went. To become a Hilderbrand completist is to watch her grow from an inexperienced author to a seasoned expert who declares, “I’ve been through some things. I know what I’m talking about.” Listen, please.
So grab a chair on the beach, fill up your water bottle (or your rosé), and read these books to keep you going until fall.
I’m in the mood for sisters against the world.
With Vicki Lyndon Stowe’s two young sons and a pregnant neighbor who is fleeing her cheating husband, Brenda Lyndon and Vicki Lyndon Stowe arrive on Nantucket in the book “BAREFOOT.” Vicki has lung cancer, and Brenda is trying to get back on her feet after a professional scandal. The sisters will spend the summer at their aunt’s Sconset cottage, where they can reminisce about their childhood summers. In fact, Vicki has a lot of things on her to-do list, Brenda is working hard, and they go on bike rides to Sesachacha Pond. But there are problems and a smart, handsome, and suspiciously capable college student who they hire to look after Vicki’s two boys. She wrote her sixth book in 2007, and it shows a mother learning how to swim while also giving her an idea of how short her life is. From the moment her taxi hit Aunt Liv’s crushed clamshell driveway, I was wiping my eyes with my beach towel and wiping them with my towel.
Show me a woman who says, ‘To hell with all that.’
Expectations and responsibilities make Claire Danner Crispin feel overwhelmed in A SUMMER AFFAIR. She also thinks about the role she might have played in a car accident that almost killed her. Suddenly, everything Claire holds dear is in danger. When the husband of the driver, whose last margarita Claire bought, asked her to chair the Nantucket’s Children Summer Gala, she agreed without hesitation. In the middle of the night, there are planning meetings with the handsome billionaire who is the opposite of Claire’s boring, TV-obsessed husband. There is also drama with her friends and the return of a high school flame. Is this going where you think it will? Then, think again. Hilderbrand is way too clever to put the whole story in the title of her book, so she doesn’t.
I love novels ripped from the headlines.
As a mother, where do you turn when your husband has cheated investors out of billions of dollars, and your sons might or might not have been involved? In SILVER GIRL, Meredith Martin Delinn flees to Constance O’Brien Flute’s house on Nantucket, which is covered in fog. Flute is her best friend from high school. It’s the same thing when it comes to names: You can never have too many. It’s clear that the Madoff family was the source of this story, but Hilderbrand gives it her own sunny, optimistic twist. This isn’t to say that it’s all Rosa rugosa, but that there’s always a silver lining in the darkest of situations.
If I don’t get out of the heat, I’m going to faint.
Hilderbrand’s first winter book, WINTER STREET, came out in 2014, but I didn’t pay much attention. To me, the appeal of a snowy beach is as baffling as the hype over frozen hot chocolate. WINTER STROLL, WINTER STORMS, and WINTER SOLSTICE are three more books by the Quinn family. When we first meet this family, they’re about to celebrate Christmas on Nantucket. Kelley owns the Winter Street Inn with his second wife, Mitzi. It’s just as the Quinns are about to meet up for the most stressful holiday of the year. When Kelley walks into Room 10, she sees Mitzi in the arms of the man they hired to be Santa Claus. From there, we’re going to the dysfunctional family derby, where we’ll drink bottomless eggnog and hang evergreen garlands all over the place.
I’m looking for ‘Parent Trap’ vibes with an adult twist.
There are two identical twin daughters in the world: Billy Frost and Eleanor Roxie-Frost split up, and each parent gets to keep one of them. People who live on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are Billy and Harper. Eleanor and Tabitha live on Nantucket, and All is well until Billy dies and Tabitha’s daughter goes against her mother. Then the twins have to find a way to cross the 20 or so miles between their islands and their lives. Unlike their movie counterparts, these sisters grew up together. But what they don’t know about each other is what makes THE IDENTICALS one of Hilderbrand’s best movies. Another thing: Eleanor is a designer, like Lilly Pulitzer, so this one has fashion on top of the usual mouthwatering spreads and beautiful scenery.
I need a break from Nantucket.
She went back to the year she was born, when the Vietnam War was going on, Woodstock was going crazy, and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. She did this in honor of her 50th birthday and her twin brother’s. This summer, we follow the Nichols family to their summer home on Nantucket and to Martha’s Vineyard, where Kirby works at the Shiretown Inn. It talks about the difficulties of interracial and interfaith relationships during the 1960s, as well as the stress of having a brother serve in the military and the death of a young senator who was drunk. She puts real-life events on a fictional canvas and makes a soundtrack with the names of her chapters, like “Both Sides Now,” “Born to Be Wild,” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Actually, I need a break from this country.
It’s the first book in Hilderbrand’s second trilogy of winter books. It came out the year before “Summer of 69.” This time, she wipes the sand off our feet and takes us to the Caribbean (where she spends part of each year). Hilderbrand went to graduate school in Iowa City. Our tour guide is a widow who visits St. John with her sons to help her make sense of the death of her husband in a plane crash, and she lives in the same town as Hilderbrand. His house is fully equipped because it’s on the island. He was away from home a lot. One man’s double life turns out to be good for his family in ways I won’t tell you. In the end, I didn’t leave either of these books to be read by strangers at the end of my vacation. After I started this book, I bought its sequel, WHAT HAPPENS IN PARADISE, and I didn’t leave either book behind.
Hook me up with an old-fashioned rom-com.
She tells her son, Link, to look for an envelope in her desk drawer. Before she dies, she tells him to. On the front of the envelope, there are two words: “Please call.” Inside, there is a number. Link does what his mother tells him to do, and he is surprised when he gets in touch with Jake McCloud, the husband of the person who is going to be the next president. We learn that Mallory and Jake have had a secret rendezvous every summer for the last 28 years, through marriage, kids, jobs, and Jake’s wife’s political career. There’s a reason why the two haven’t been able to be a real couple, and it becomes clear as the story goes on. Even though we know how the story is going to end, we still root for them.
Give me the best of the best.
I don’t like dead people in fiction, but I made an exception for Vivian Howe, who dies in the first few pages of Hilderbrand’s new, most philosophical, and best novel, GOLDEN GIRL, which comes out on June 1. I think it’s the best book Hilderbrand has written. She is a “wash-ashore” on Nantucket, a best-selling author of beach reads, and a mother of three. Let’s hope the similarities stop there. Hit and run accident: Vivi is sent to a place called the Beyond at the start of the book. There, she gets one summer to look after her kids and three “nudges” if she wants to help them make decisions. The story is a family saga, a mystery, and a moving look back that is clever but not sleazy. It’s clever without being sleazy. People who work on Hilderbrand’s books and movies say to the chief of police, Ed Kapenash: “This is all very life-like art here, Chief.” A book by Vivian Howe is like a movie that I can’t get out of my head. But, she says, “They usually end up being happy.”