Fall Fiction Picks: Get Swept Away with Sea Creatures

By Kristen Ness

by Celia Cooksey

Imagine your favorite stretch of beach. Hot summer days have turned to wind-swept autumn sand. The ocean cools ahead of winter. We all want to hold onto a bit of summer, the lure of the waves, and the wondrous creatures beneath. If you’re looking for the perfect book to crack open next to a fire, to keep you riveted to the end, and to bring a little sea life into your life, you’re in the right place.

Catch the wave of sea creatures in fiction! It’s a thing.

I noticed this recent trend because I love marine biology and reading. Who am I? I’m your guide to the best books with a bit of saltwater and suspense, the books with beautiful stories of love and loss, of mystery and marine life. And I’m also an author whose debut novel happens to fit this list.

Come along with me for a walk on the beach. I’ll take you back to where my love affair began with all things in and about the ocean. Although I spent my childhood in the middle of South Carolina, in Columbia, I like to say that I truly grew up during family trips to Isle of Palms, a barrier island 20 minutes from downtown Charleston. That’s where I pulled my first live whelk out of the sand and watched it slurp into its shell, where my toes found a hard circle of sand dollar I couldn’t see while waist deep in low tide, and where I fell in love. Summer trips were spent filling buckets with shells, slinging a cast net into tide pools, and learning hermit crab tracks in the sand. My sister, brother, and I would come in from a day on the beach, sunburned and satisfied, covered in a film of sand and salt, chattering about boogie board rides and the mesmerizing things we found. My curiosity about these things took a turn to science, and thus began my voracious appetite for marine biology and my quiet adoration for every sea creature from crustaceans to dolphins.

Fast forward a few decades and you’ll find me walking along that same Isle of Palms beach each summer during sea turtle nesting season as a volunteer with the Island Turtle Team. For the past 10 years, I’ve searched for sea turtle tracks on my beloved shoreline, sometimes with my own two children, and helped the amazing turtle ladies usher hatchlings from nests to waves. All of this has instilled in me a desire to continue to learn about and to conserve the ocean and its creatures.

What better way to do that than through books?

Which brings me back to the recent trend of sea creatures in fiction. I’m thrilled to tell you about it! Follow me!

We begin with Marcellus, the giant pacific octopus at the heart of Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel Remarkably Bright Creatures. Marcellus makes curmudgeonly observations about humans he sees from his aquarium tank, including janitor Tova Sullivan, a recent widow grieving her husband and the mysterious loss of her son. Through a series of unlikely friendships formed in shared loss and love, Marcellus helps Tova learn the truth of what happened to her son decades earlier while creating family bonds when each person—and octopus—needs it most.

Next, my debut novel At Loggerheads is a story of loggerhead sea turtles, murder, politics, and love, in which determined marine biologist Brooke Edens searches for the meaning of home while using clues from her knowledge of sea turtles to help detective Drew Young unravel a mystery that might impact the race for the White House. This murder mystery is a love letter to the barrier islands and coastal towns of the South Carolina Lowcountry, where the often-opposing forces of Mother Nature and human nature influence what people will do for money, for power, and for love.

Stay with me as we meet Jay Gardiner, a scuba diver on a quest to find the remains of his deceased father in the Pacific Ocean when he is accidentally swallowed by a sperm whale and has only one hour to escape before his oxygen tank runs out. This is Whalefall by Daniel Kraus, a riveting thriller that combines accurate scientific description with suspenseful and precise language, taking the reader into the belly of the whale to watch Jay struggle with his demons against the clock.

Our final stop is a love story. Shark Heart by Emily Habeck introduces us to newlyweds Wren and Lewis, only to throw us into turmoil when Lewis receives a rare diagnosis that will turn his physical body into a great white shark. Wrapped in this unimaginable struggle is a deep backstory of heartache and grief brought to the surface in Wren by her husband’s transformation. Readers bold enough to suspend disbelief will be rewarded with an epic tale of marriage, motherhood, and love.

As we return from our ride on the wave of sea creatures in fiction, I hope you’re inspired to read! With autumn upon us and the holidays rolling in, fall for these books and share them as gifts with friends and family. Bring home a bit of ocean, and let’s all catch the wave of sea creatures in fiction!

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