Travel around the world with these books set on islands, big and small. Take a tropical vacation to an island oasis or explore a beautiful island country.
Our July 2021 Uncorked Reading Challenge theme is books set on an island. I couldn’t think of a more perfect summer prompt.
Of course, you could travel via a good book to gorgeous islands like Hawaii and Santorini. In one of my new favorite island novels, Ariadne, get tipsy with Dionysus on Naxos.
Or, pick up a book set on an imaginary island, books based loosely on real destinations, or books set on larger island countries like Indonesia or Japan. In the process, let Jamaica Kincaid school you on conscious tourism.
So, what are some of the best books set on islands to take you there? Below, we are sharing island-based books set around the world in all genres for adults and teens.
Explore indie, translated literature, mysteries, science fiction, romance, thrillers, nonfiction, and historical fiction books set on an island.
Some of these islands will offer you an escape while others you will want to escape from. Let’s get started!
Don’t miss all of our Book Lists Set Around The World.
Where we love to grab our island books:
1. We get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month.
2. Try Audible Plus.
3. Find books via Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans.
4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.
Vibrant Books Set On Islands
For historical fiction and Greek mythology lovers, Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne is one of my favorite books set on an island. Head to both Crete and Naxos in the South Aegean Sea. Plus, Dionysus has a large boozy presence.
Ariadne, the Princess of Crete and daughter of ruthless Minos, helps the gorgeously green-eyed Athenian Theseus defeat her shameful Minotaur brother. Fleeing for her life and expecting to wed Theseus, he dumps Ariadne on Naxos and leaves her for dead.
Thank goodness for wine, y’all. Dionysus rescues and marries Ariadne, but he cannot resist the adoration and worship that beckons to him as an Olympian god.
As you read and mourn for Ariadne, be sure to look to the sky. Ariadne vibrantly brings to life mythology in a powerful woman’s story about love and sisterhood. I absolutely devoured it.
Back in undergrad, we read Kincaid’s A Small Place; I re-read this touching Antigua-based novel for years to come. A Small Place is also one of the shortest books set on an island on this reading list at 98 pages.
Kincaid asks visitors to see her homeland of Antigua not from a tourist point of view but instead like every other country. She defines this harmful tourist lens as designating Antigua as an island oasis and exotic paradise full of beaches, parties, and relaxation.
Instead, Kincaid requests that readers open their eyes to Antigua as a home with the same crime, corruption, and poverty that exist elsewhere. She wants travelers to open their eyes and hearts.
Kincaid juxtaposes descriptions of beauty against racism and colonialism. Because of Kincaid, I try to be a more educated and conscious traveler.
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One of these island-set books that will make you think differently about the world, head to Tokyo, Japan to meet convenience store worker, Keiko Furukura.
Keiko wants to be seen as ‘normal,’ which means following societal rules and playing the role of people-pleaser. Living a prescribed way of life, Keiko thinks she must get a ‘real’ full-time job, marry young, and have kids.
Even though Keiko tries to be the perfect convenience store worker and loves her job — comically shouting out promotions and making sure the shelves remain stocked — she knows that everyone else critically judges her.
When Keiko tries to conform in love and quits her job, nothing feels right.
Poignant and a little heart-breaking, Convenience Store Woman is the perfect Women In Translation read if you are questioning who you are and want to be.
How do we remain authentic to ourselves when society has a different definition of success?
For books set on tropical islands, escape to sexy Maui in multicultural romance Simmer Down. Foodies will especially love watching Nikki and Callum compete in the Maui Food Truck Festival.
P.S. Encounter swearing, cats, abs, and pink champagne. No kitties are hurt, either. Smith came for me with this island-based read.
Drop-dead gorgeous Callum and his brother Finn park next to Nikki and her mom, disregarding all proper food truck etiquette. When your livelihood is at stake, you gotta bring it.
Callum throws Nikki’s stubborn and cautious life plan into chaos as she starts falling for his abssss…him. Will Niki realize that there is more to life than work before it’s too late? And, can Nikki learn to love again after losing her father?
Fast-paced and super sweet, I appreciated Simmer Down as a blogger and IGer. Feel the salty Maui breeze and dance like it’s your first or last time. Callum and Nikki’s relationship will make your heart smile, and Callum is the perfect book boyfriend.
For science fiction books set on islands, travel to Iceland in Andri Snaer Magnason’s LoveStar. This unique read will not only make you think outside of the box but slightly weird you out.
Indridi and Sigrid are the perfect sci-fi millennials. They live in a cordless and wireless world where data is transmitted via birdwaves. Their lives are premeditated and controlled like M.T. Anderson’s Feed.
How did this society come about?
The impersonal and obsessed super-genius, LoveStar has socially engineered society. He’s pretty much Mark Zuckerberg, manipulating and controlling all of the data.
Along with disintegrating bodies into shooting stars when you die and ‘rewinding’ gosh-awful misbehaving children, LoveStar calculates your perfect partner.
Madly in love, this new pairing tests Indridi and Sigrid’s relationship. Can their true love survive?
Find even more brilliant books set in Iceland.
For books set on lavish islands, head to Capri in Kevin Kwan’s Sex and Vanity. I completely bought into Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series, and he writes engagingly and humorously about Asian-American culture. Sex and Vanity is also a modern-day retelling of A Room With A View.
Lucie Churchill is in Capri for an extravagant wedding weekend when she meets George Zao and his mother. Chinese-born but raised in Australia, George’s mom is both envied for her excessive wealth but also ostracized for her eccentric, gaudy taste.
Lucie is a Churchill, after all, with pilgrim blood from her father and Chinese-American roots from her mother. She instantly despises George but somehow she finds herself kissing him in the Italian ruins.
Fast forward to the future where Lucie is engaged to new money and total douche bag, Cecil. Cecil is a bit of a pompous, racist slug, and their engagement is on the fritz, especially when George moves to New York.
Lucie must learn to love herself before she can figure out who she really wants to be and her contribution to this high-class world.
I will never forget boating over to Capri on a hydrofoil, just like the tourists that Kwan’s waspy characters dread. Helicopters truly do drop off the rich and famous into the white-dotted cliffs.
This couture rom-com is not as world-building as Crazy Rich Asians, but laugh aloud and enjoy the pop culture references to Mary Berry and Moira Rose.
Themes of racism, ethnicity, and culture add substance to the story. Lucie’s story is about self-awareness and love.
Read even more books based in luxurious Italy.
While living in Indonesia as a U.S. Fulbright scholar, one of my friends, Angie Kilbane, translated The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata into English.
Of course, I have to suggest this autobiographical story about the boys deemed the ‘Rainbow Troops.” Plus, Indonesia is made up of 17,508 islands; so, it’s pretty important for our island-based reading list.
An inspiring Indonesian novel set on Belitong Island, watch as these impoverished students and their teacher, Lintang, fight for their educations and futures.
The Rainbow Troops is full of ambiance and showcases daily Indonesian life in both its struggles and beauty. Watch as the narrator, Ikal, comes of age.
Head to Indonesia with these Indonesia-based books.
One of my favorite mysteries of 2020, The Guest List by Lucy Foley transports readers to an island off of the coast of Connemara, Ireland.
As travelers, we loved exploring Connemara Loop filled with surreal landscapes, a national park, and endless coastal towns. If you like Agatha Christie, I think you’ll enjoy The Guest List.
Ferry over to this creepy Irish island with a looming graveyard and bog, foreshadowing one disastrous wedding weekend. With alternating timelines and perspectives, a waitress screams about a dead body during the Gatsby-proportioned wedding festivities.
All of the attendees are unlikeable and entitled brats. I think they love booze more than I do, too.
The ushers are part of a childhood cult-like prep school and have never grown up. The women have toxic relationships with the men in their lives.
Everyone has secrets and a motive… So, whodunit?
For nonfiction books set on islands and written by an expat, don’t miss Sarah Moss’s Names For The Sea. If you love adventure and are thinking about moving abroad, find exploration and community at the heart of Moss’s Icelandic memoir.
After road-tripping across Iceland as a teen, Moss moves to the land of fire and ice with her family in adulthood. Hoping to recapture her romanticized version of the island, she instead learns what it means to become an expat.
Moss embraces Icelandic culture and traditions. Her meager teaching salary enforces a life of simplicity.
Desiring to understand both Icelandic history and its present state during a financial crisis and volcanic eruption, Moss perseveres through the hardships of daily Icelandic life. Think winters filled with chilly temperatures and little sunlight.
Beautifully written, Names for the Sea asks readers to consider how we travel and build community. Does our nationality define us? How so? Are we always outsiders?
Chanel Cleeton is a goddess of historical fiction. I demolished Cleeton’s The Last Train To Key West, which is one of my personal favorite books set on an island.
Since I recommend The Last Train To Key West for two recent book lists & Uncorked Reading Challenges — Books Set On Train & Kick Butt Women In Historical Fiction — I’ve chosen a newer Cleeton, though.
The Most Beautiful Girl In Cuba is based on the true events and life of Evangelina Cisneros, a falsely accused Cuban prisoner and political symbol. Watch as three women fight for liberation in the late 1800s.
The competition between the newspapers, their values, and the importance of the media, especially relevant today, added depth to the plot.
Seeing the contradictions of the Gilded Age set against the revolution was infuriating and well-written. I championed the feminist tones and romances. I also learned much more about Cuban independence from the Spanish.
I read The Survivors for book club, and honestly, I might not have finished this one otherwise — which would have been a mistake. Out of all of the books set on islands on this list, I will say The Survivors is a slow burn and starts even slower. I suggest giving it a chance, though.
Once you get past the initial tirade of characters, the atmospheric and somber murder mystery really sucks you into this small community’s set of tragedies and friendships. Whodunit?
Travel to Tasmania to the fictional island of Evelyn Bay, and watch as a group of friends overcome their guilt and grief from childhood trauma during a terrible and unpredictable storm. Then, fast forward to the future where a new murder turns a close-knit community on each other.
There are so many secrets that unfold. Kiernan’s journey of self-destruction and growth is admirable.
You’ll learn about life, death, and humanity at its core. I ended up loving The Survivors for taking me to Evelyn Bay. This island-based novel is a strong book club book, too, if readers like a slower placed story.
Head to Australia with these books.
One of my newest favorite island novels and series, head to England in Get A Life, Chloe Brown.
Chloe Brown has Fibromyalgia, a debilitating and painful chronic illness. Her former unsupportive friends and fiancée never understood her symptoms, leaving her scarred and a homebody.
When Chloe almost dies from a drunk driver, she decides to reclaim her life with a bucket list filled with items like ‘camping’ and ‘meaningless lovemaking.’
Chloe enlists the handsome apartment handyman to help her check off adventurous tasks. However, she finds herself quickly falling for him.
Red is sweet AF but also overcoming an abusive relationship. He’s damn good in bed, and the book is utterly sexy.
As someone with a chronic illness, I absolutely loved the representation in this island-based rom-com. Characters overcome pain and trauma; they seek professional help without stigma.
Get A Life, Chloe Brown is also about passion and growth. We witness strong family relationships and how to make new friends.
I devoured the sweet and feel-good storyline — even though parts are intuitively heart-rendering — cheering for Chloe and Red the entire time.
Chloe is strong, driven, and brilliant in her encouraging words and thoughts. What a protagonist. I cannot wait to read more in the series.
If you are looking for newer books that take place on an island and adore happy ending rom-coms, we laughed out loud to The Unhoneymooners.
The duo that writes as Christina Lauren produces some of our favorite lighter fluff reads. Head to Maui for an “unhoneymoon” and get drunk off of $1.99 Mai Thais.
When a buffet food-poisons Olive’s twin sister, Ami, along with her entire wedding guest list, Ami begs Olive to take the honeymoon she won to Hawaii. (Ami is hilariously all about the freebies.) Olive and Ethan, the groom’s brother, are the only two people who didn’t eat the bad seafood.
Deciding to travel together, even though they loathe one another, the unlikely duo starts falling for Maui and each other. As huge secrets seep their way out, disaster approaches the always unlucky Olive.
A fast-paced island book filled with ambiance and comedic situations, The Unhoneymooners is a two-day read that promises one heavenly and sexy-sweet vacation. We watch Olive grow but also love and trust herself. We just devoured it.
If you love a good island novel that’s also a book about books and bookstores, head to imaginary Alice Island in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. This fictional remote New England location resembles Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
A.J. Fikry’s life is rather depressing and messy. His wife died, his bookstore is failing, and someone has stolen his prized Poe poems.
What do we do when we are hurting? We tend to isolate people and ourselves. It doesn’t help that Fikry scowls at change. He’s kind of an endearing Scrooge.
When a mysterious package lands at his door, A.J. slowly starts to transform into a new man. Book lovers may most enjoy this heart-swelling Massachusetts island-based book.
Save Our Books Set On Islands Reading List For Later
YA Books Set On Islands
One of the most talked-about island novels of 2021, travel to Sugar Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
After witnessing the murder of her best friend, Daunis goes undercover for the FBI. With the infiltration of drugs in the Ojibwe community, her friends and family are dying, one by one.
While battling with lies that she tells her close-knit community, Daunis can’t help but fall for Jaime, a young officer on the case.
A fast-paced yet beautiful novel across generations with powerful Native representation, we appreciated learning more about the issues that affect communities like the Ojibwe. We also gained more knowledge about Ojibwe culture, heritage, and traditions.
Daunis’s character sometimes felt off-balance and contradictory in both her maturity and actions — our only qualm. Overall, though, this is a must-read and essential debut of 2021 with one fierce woman. For YA books set on islands, we’d start here.
P.S. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, is adapting this book for Netflix. Read more about Firekeeper’s Daughter.
Printz-award-winning author Libba Bray has a hilarious imaginary island-set book for you. In fact, she even mocks the island trope itself with some quicksand, pirates, giant snakes, and a volcano hiding headquarters.
Beauty Queens is a mix of Troop Beverly Hills meets Survivor. I personally enjoyed the Beauty Queens audiobook.
When a plane crashes on a deserted island carrying 50 obnoxious contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Pageant, all hell breaks loose in a comedic way.
The ladies decide to keep the pageant competition going, Survivor-style, literally and figuratively. Sexy pirates show up…
Beauty Queens will make you think about inner and outer beauty very differently.
For YA books set on islands, head to shimmering Santorini in Jennifer Evans Welch’s Love & Olives. One of my favorite destination YA authors, Jennifer Evans Welch transports readers to countries like Greece, Ireland, and Italy.
An intuitive and sincere story about love, family, and finding yourself, Love & Olives is such a happy and feel-good read. The history, bookstores, and Santorini are a huge bonus.
You don’t have to read her other two books first, either, even though Jennifer designates Love & Olives as Book 3. The stories are not related.
Follow along as Liv Varanakis heads to Greece to help her estranged father work on a National Geographic documentary about his obsessive passion, Atlantis.
Although Liv falls in love with Greece and a boy, she’s not sure if she can forgive her father for leaving her; he still has some pretty heavy secrets.
I stayed up past midnight finishing Love & Olives with misty eyes. Santorini oozes off of the pages and into your imagination.
If you seek out stories with dysfunctional families and themes surrounding mental health, you’ll champion multiple characters in this novel. I dare you not to be jealous of the gorgeous bookstore Liv stays in, too.
For captivating indie YA books set on islands, pick up Jennifer Ann Shore’s The Islands Of Anarchy series. New Wave is the first in this feminist and dystopian novel set in the Galapagos Islands. Cheer for Mol, as she never loses sight of who she is.
Enter a world of poverty and famine while those in power thrive just like the Capital of The Hunger Games. Society is divided into sectors laid out across islands with each island and societal role meeting a specific need.
Mol finds herself caught in a world that she loves but equally despises. As she attempts to hawk her deceased mother’s necklace to buy food, she becomes a prisoner and key player in a revolution.
Yet, Mol also falls for the man who helped create this unfair and constraining system.
I envision Mol as a Smithie. Beautiful and aware, watch as Mol builds relationships, falters, and learns how to fight like a warrior with her words and weapons.
Fearless, she leads an army for the greater cause, even taking a bullet. She is strong and kickass but also flawed and working on herself.
Find an uplifting story of courage that deeply resonates with all that we need to fix in modern day society.
Welcome to the world of unreliable narrators with Lockhart’s We Were Liars. Set on a private island, strap in for one wild ride with a massively satisfying surprise ending.
Meet Cadence whose family is constantly and deceitfully fighting over who will get their grandfather’s inheritance. When a tragic summer vacation accident devastates Cadence, perception is everything.
Follow four friends, the Liars, as their secrets, tragedies, and lies unfold. Friendship and family never looked like such a mysterious yet ticking time bomb. Themes of parental neglect, class, race, and gender are at the heart of this story.
I listened to the audiobook for We Were Liars, and I’m pretty sure my jaw actually dropped at the chilling and thrilling ending.
One of the sweetest YA books set on an island for 2021, head to Japan for a Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians story of family and love.
As a Japanese-American living in California, Izumi Tanaka doesn’t feel like she belongs. Izumi doesn’t fit in at school, and when she learns that her estranged Japanese father is the Crown Prince of Japan, she quickly realizes that even in Japan, people will always see her as a foreigner.
What’s a coming-of-age young woman to do? Head to Japan, act with her heart, and win over an entire country. Izumi is a leader offering up integrity, new traditions, and change.
Find heart-fulfilling romance and a beautiful, feel-good story about exploring heritage and families. Izumi’s character is courageous and empowering — shining far brighter than any glitzy tiara or perfectly selected outfit.
Even More Island-Based Books
Books That Take Place On Islands That Our Community Is Reading
These are some of the books set on islands that Uncorked Readers have read for our annual Uncorked Reading Challenge. If you love these island book suggestions, join in on the conversation and our Facebook Group, Uncorked Readers, here. You may actively participate and post or just sit back and gather fabulous book recommendations.
What are your favorite books set on islands?
P.S. I am sad that Long Island is a peninsula and not an island. I really wanted to drop Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam on this list. If you want to cheat, I say go for it!
Which island-based books have you read? What is your favorite book set on an island? Is there an island book you think we absolutely must read? Let us know in the comments.