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Southern beach books

8 ideas for what to read when you have time to relax this summer

What do you want in a “beach book”? Forgettable fluff? Or something more substantial because you’re on vacation and finally have time?

Author Dorothea Benton Frank says she always wants a book from which she’ll learn something — or one “that I wish I had written.”

Here are eight new or coming-soon Southern-tinged titles, all well beyond pure escapism, all good bets for your beach or pool tote.

“By Invitation Only” by Dorothea Benton Frank (William Morrow). 

‘By Invitation Only’ by Dorothea Benton Frank

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The queen of the salt-sprayed Lowcountry tale (“Sullivan’s Island,” etc.) has done it again. Reading Frank is like spending time with a favorite friend who’s witty and a bit crass and has got to tell you every tidbit.

Frank is at the top of her game when poking plain-talking fun at both the subtle and larger differences between Northern and Southern folks. She does just that in this, her 19th novel, because the groom was raised on a South Carolina peach farm and the Chicago bride is all privilege and sophistication. Count on at least one family’s life blowing up. Count on a story brimming with snappy dialogue that always rings true. (William Morrow, $27.99)

“The High Tide Club” by Mary Kay Andrews (St. Martin’s Press).

‘The High Tide Club’ by Mary Kay Andrews

Andrews (“Beach Town,” “The Weekenders”) knows how to tell a beachy saga and smoothly balance many plot threads. In this memorable yarn, richer than a typical breezy read, a 99-year-old heiress summons Brooke, a spunky young lawyer. The ailing heiress owns a 20,000-acre barrier island off the Georgia coast and is desperate for it to remain protected.

There are old scores to settle, old secrets and a long-ago murder in the mix. As one character says, it’s finally time to talk about something that’s “been clawing at my heart all these years.” (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99)

>> RELATED: Novelist Mary Kay Andrews and her beachy-keen cookbook

“Beach House Reunion” by Mary Alice Monroe (Gallery Books). 

‘Beach House Reunion’ by Mary Alice Monroe

“The ocean’s breeze caressed her skin, and she looked out over the thicket of shrubs to the mighty blue ocean beyond … Here was where he’d first made love to her …”

Monroe comes through swimmingly with another title in her “Beach House” series featuring the Rutledge family of Charleston. This story centers on Linnea, out of college but “at sea,” and her Aunt Cara, widowed too soon. They spend a summer together at Primrose Cottage on the Isle of Palms while forging new paths, dealing with family drama and dysfunction. Of course, each woman will take steps toward romance.

As ever, Monroe brings nature into play, astutely and metaphorically connecting it to her plot. Linnea begins working with the Turtle Team that helps sea turtles. Each chapter begins with interesting facts about the threatened reptiles. (Gallery Books, $26)

“Dreams of Falling” by Karen White (Berkley). 

‘Dreams of Falling’ by Karen White

White, among Atlanta’s most prominent authors of historical fiction (more than 20 titles, including “The Night the Lights Went Out”), transports readers to Georgetown, S.C., in the 1950s. Her multilayered and atmospheric story, Southern to the core, moves between the ’50s and the present day, always reminding us of the powerful pull of home, true love and the meaning of friendship. It’s steeped in family ties, romance, forgiveness, what-ifs, dreams, a mysterious fire, a mother’s disappearance and a big, dark secret among other secrets.

To have a friend, you must be one, right? That adage arose a number of times while reading this absorbing tale that will have readers nodding because they can connect. (Berkley, $26, June)

“All We Ever Wanted” by Emily Giffin (Ballantine). 

‘All We Ever Wanted’ by Emily Giffin

Atlanta’s Giffin (“Something Borrowed,” “First Comes Love”) is a worldwide best-selling author because she gets under your skin — by creating relatable characters wrestling within believable situations. Her latest, centered on a scandalous episode involving high school students and cellphone misuse, is destined for greatness.

Giffin crafts an unpredictable page-turner that unfolds in the voices of three superbly distinct characters. You’ll like and root for each: a 16-year-old girl (the victim); her humble and protective single dad; and the mom of the alleged perpetrator whose life of wealth and entitlement has spiraled out of control. Very timely for the #MeToo moment. (Ballantine, $28, June)

“The Dying of the Light” by Robert Goolrick (Harper).

‘The Dying of the Light’ by Robert Goolrick

Virginia native Goolrick agrees with William Faulkner’s sentiment that “for Southerners, the past is as real as the present; it is not even past.” In 2009, Goolrick released the steamy-sexy “A Reliable Wife.” While set a century ago, mostly in the devastatingly brutal Wisconsin winters, it feels like a contemporary novel — as does “The Dying of the Light.”

This one’s a swiftly moving saga about the demise of a once-wealthy Virginia family and the beautiful daughter’s obligation to come to its rescue. Diana Cooke’s mission is to snag a very wealthy husband who’ll save her family’s famous Saratoga, largest and once grandest estate in Virginia.

In 1917, Diana is quickly claimed by the horrible, disgusting and disgustingly rich Captain Copperton.

Get set for despair, dangerous sex, tragedy, scandal and forbidden love. Through descriptive prose, Goolrick delivers a multidimensional tale spiked with more juicy stuff. Oh, and if you missed it several years ago, snap up “A Reliable Wife” for your beach bag, too. (Harper, $26.99, July)

“Pieces of Her” by Karin Slaughter (William Morrow). 

‘Pieces of Her’ by Karin Slaughter

“… you didn’t have a covert storage facility filled with everything you needed to completely restart your life unless you had a hell of a lot of things to hide.”

For the worst summer heat (August), with water close by for cooling off, sink down with Atlanta’s Slaughter, one of the world’s top crime writers (35 million books sold in 120 countries). Known for two Georgia-set series, in recent years she’s churned out stand-alone titles like last year’s “The Good Daughter” and her forthcoming 18th book, a riveting mother-daughter tale that pivots back and forth between the present day and 1986.

“Pieces” gets off to a pulse-racing start with a mall shooting. Andy soon learns that her mother, Laura, is not exactly who she pretends to be. Slaughter, a storyteller extraordinaire, keeps pounding it out while getting better and better. (William Morrow, $27.99, August)

>> RELATED: Karin Slaughter lists her favorite books

“Rush” by Lisa Patton (St. Martin’s Press). 

‘Rush’ by Lisa Patton

Pining away for your sorority days? Or maybe you’ve always wondered about sorority life and its secret-society ways. Then here you go. Patton gives readers a ringside seat to the sorority drama at the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss” in Oxford) — but the story is deeper than getting the inside scoop on sorority rush.

Cali is a student who can’t risk the Alpha Delta Beta sisterhood finding out that she lacks pedigree. Miss Pearl is the housekeeper who’s tended to rich girls in the sorority mansion for more than 25 years, yet she herself can barely make ends meet. Patton set out to raise awareness of the poor pay and benefits of workers like Miss Pearl — “the help.” Told with humor and heart, this is a story of right versus wrong, of old traditions pitted against modern ideas and changing times. (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99, August)

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