Best books to read right before heading off on a cruise

Okay, well, posting may be just a little bit light for the next couple of weeks, as I will be thoroughly out of town. My brother and I gave ourselves a serious vacation as a belated birthday present, since February is a terrible month for vacations. So we are flying to Barcelona tonight (unless something dire goes wrong, heaven forfend). Our cruise will depart from Barcelona tomorrow, bounce down the coast of Italy, touch here and there in Greece, make its way back up the other coast of Italy, and end in Venice.

I plan to enjoy this cruise as much as possible, as I’ve never gone on a cruise before and I doubt I will ever go on one again.

I’ve scheduled posts for this period, but I may not be able to add others until I’m back. I believe I should be be able to respond to comments.

I hope to be able to post pictures and comments on Facebook, so follow me there if you’d like. I may try to post some here if possible, but I’m not taking my laptop, only my phone, so we’ll see.


To start the whole cruise thing off right, I thought I’d take a look at a handful of cruise-centric books. Not “beach reads” or anything, but stories actually featuring cruises and cruise ships, like so:

Seventeen Best Cruise Books

The first book listed is “Cruise Confidential”, Brian David Bruns, about which they say:

Bruns’ “A Hit Below the Waterline” is the first in a series of books about the “other side of cruising.” His true tale of a year working for Carnival Cruise Line is at once a soap opera and an expose. His hilarious and bizarre accounts of crew life are captivating (truth is always stranger than fiction, even at sea), which makes this a permanent fixture on the cruise-themed bookshelf.

This is exactly the sort of book I’d like to read before or during a cruise. I’m curious about the other people on the ship — the ones who work for the cruise line rather than the ones who paid to go on the cruise.

Also on the list: books about the cruise industry, books about the actual ships, books about maritime history and the rise of cruise ships. None of that sounds nearly as interesting to me.

Perhaps especially not this one:

Stranded by Aaron Saunders

It might not be the best book to download to your e-reader right before an Alaska cruise, but Saunders’ account of the 1918 sinking of the steamship Princess Sophia, a harrowing disaster on the voyage from Skagway to Vancouver, is hard to put down. What’s even harder to believe is that nearly eight decades later, the cruise ship Star Princess almost met the same fate.

If I were superstitious and thought things went in threes, I’d deliberately avoid any cruise ship with “princess” in the name. Just in case.

How about this one:

The Boxcar Children: The Mystery Cruise in the series begun by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children series has captivated young readers for nearly a century. This tale follows the Alden kids as their family takes a Caribbean cruise. A false “man overboard” claim could have implications for the professor they dine with each night — is someone sabotaging his relative’s will by delaying his arrival? As always, the children investigate.

I loved the Bobbsey Twin stories when I was a child (and eventually gave the complete set to a woman who had two sets of twins, so I hope some of those children loved them as much as I did). Now I’m experiencing a strong kick of nostalgia, thinking about these mystery series for children. Pity I didn’t know the Boxcar Children was part of the same sort of long, continuing series. Wikipedia tells me there are more than 150 titles now, of which the first nineteen were written by Warner. That doesn’t include this one.

Well, moving on. Perhaps the seventeen books on the above list aren’t enough for you, or don’t tickle your fancy. How about this impressive list of fifty mystery standalones and series that take place on cruise ships? Apparently that’s quite a popular setting!

Unfortunately the linked post just provides titles, with links but without descriptions. Some of the titles are silly enough to suggest the book would be too cutesy for me, but clicking on just a few intriguing titles is enough to establish that others are not so cute and in fact aren’t cozy mysteries, but — is there a term for this? — regular mysteries. For example, these:

Murder on the Lusitania by Conrad Allen

September 1907. George Porter Dillman sets sail from Liverpool on the New York-bound Lusitania for its maiden voyage. Hired by the ship’s captain to pose as a passenger, George is in fact sailing the high seas as a private detective for the Cunard Line. While on board, he expects to deal with only petty crimes – some random vandalism, perhaps a scuffle or two in the bar – but then the ship’s blueprints are stolen from the chief engineer’s room and a man is killed in his cabin…

I might enjoy that even though at the moment I’m more interested in contemporary cruise settings.

Here’s another:

Grave Passage by William Doonan

With only days until their final port, the passengers of the Contessa Voyager learn that their guest lecturer, an ex-F.B.I. profiler, has been found hanging from the ship’s rock-climbing wall. Suddenly their balmy, carefree idyll on the Caribbean is fraught with danger and anxiety. Will someone else be next? What can the shipping line do to ease the passengers fears? Clearly, this is a job for Henry Grave, a professional maritime detective. Join him as he helicopters aboard to solve the crime. His methods and style are unusual, and guaranteed to keep you laughing as you follow him from one hidden clue to the next.

One more:

The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey

The year is 1921. A passionate affair between voracious romance reader Alma Webster and her dentist, Walter Baranov, has led to his wife’s murder. The lovers take flight aboard the Mauretania and the dentist takes the name of Inspector Dew, the detective who arrested the notorious wifekiller Dr. Crippen. But, in a disquieting twist, a murder occurs aboard ship and the captain invites “Inspector Dew” to investigate.

What an idea! Wow.

Surely there are a million romances set on cruise ships? Google is letting me down for that one, but I can’t believe there’s any shortage in this category.

Here at aLibris is a huge list of books featuring a cruise setting — too huge and unwieldy for me to wade through. Here’s the first entry, which sounds too tense for me:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

This was meant to be the perfect trip. The Northern Lights. A luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship. A chance for travel journalist Lo Blacklock to recover from a traumatic break-in that has left her on the verge of collapse. Except things don’t go as planned. Woken in the night by screams, Lo rushes to her window to see a body thrown overboard from the next door cabin. But the records show that no-one ever checked into that cabin, and no passengers are missing from the boat. Exhausted and emotional, Lo has to face the fact that she may have made a mistake – either that, or she is now trapped on a boat with a murderer…

No, thanks.

How about SFF that features a cruise ship setting?

I can think of two: the cruise ship in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, which I don’t think we get until the second book, right? But then it is a very important setting after that.

And this one:

The Wheel of Darkness (Pendergast Series Book 8)

In the exciting eighth supernatural thriller from bestsellers Preston and Child (after 2006’s The Book of the Dead), FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, seek peace of mind at a remote Tibetan monastery, only to fall into yet another perilous, potentially earthshaking assignment. The monastery’s abbot asks them to recover a stolen relic, the cryptic Agozyen, which could, in the wrong hands, wipe out humanity. The pair follow the trail to a luxury cruise ship, where a series of brutal murders suggests the relic’s evil spirit might already have been invoked.

This was the second Pendergast novel I read and I had trouble suspending disbelief in both of them. In this case, I could not believe no one just dropped everything and searched every single cabin until they found the bad guy. Following rules is all very well, but good heavens above, there are limits. I had other issues with the plot, but as I recall, this was the single biggest suspension-of-disbelief I encountered.

You know what, now that I think of it, Nicholas Valliard would have wrapped Pendergast’s whole problem up in a tenth the time and with a tenth the drama.

All right! If you’ve got a favorite cruise ship story, especially SFF, drop it in the comments, please. I will be checking comments here from time to time — I hope no one will get stuck in the spam filter during the next two weeks.

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8 thoughts on “Best books to read right before heading off on a cruise”

  1. Ile-Rien is the only one I can think of, but I hope you have a fabulous time on your cruise! Looking forward to your stories next month. :)

  2. David Foster Wallace wrote a non-fiction account of him taking a cruise in the book “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”. It was so irreverent and funny that I got interested in reading his work. Alas, the interest did not survive the first 5 pages of “Infinite Jest”. I know, not SFF but just thought I’d throw it in.

  3. Happy belated birthday! Wishing you a lovely trip with many wonderful sights to see and enjoyable things to do.

  4. I hope you’re having a fabulous trip!
    The only cruise story I remember was The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match. It’s a romance, as you’ve probably guessed, and yes there’s a duke in it.
    But wait. Don’t roll your eyes like that. The aforementioned duke is in his 70s and the heroine, a lady’s companion, is in her 50s. Plus, it’s set in the early 1900s, with elegant clothes and whatnot. Plus, it’s got humor and charm. A fun read.

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