Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Best Books Set On Islands

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Islands are one of my favorite book settings! There's so much potential for drama in remote locations. Here are 10 atmospheric island books I couldn't put down.

🌊  Best Books Set On Islands  🌴

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Young Adult Fantasy

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition—the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.


Why I love it: This is the ultimate autumn book. It’s set right after Halloween and is full of celebrations, delicious food, and terrifying human-eating horses that crawl out of the ocean every October. So . . . it’s unique. It’s also creepy and unpredictable. I love the world the author creates. I feel like I understand this island’s culture and landscape. Aside from the monster horses, it could be a real place. It’s very atmospheric.


Buy it on Amazon

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Adult Horror / Science Fiction

A class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan—where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller—Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. 

Why I love it: This book is massive, but I blazed through it because it's terrifyingly tense. It has lightning-fast pacing and nonstop twists. If you like Lord Of The Flies or The Hunger Games, this is a must-read. It'll keep you awake all night.

Buy it on Amazon

Island Of The Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Middle Grade Adventure Fiction

In the Pacific there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Around it, blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea elephants and sea birds abound. Once, Indians also lived on the island. And when they left and sailed to the east, one young girl was left behind. This is the story of Karana, the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Year after year, she watched one season pass into another and waited for a ship to take her away. But while she waited, she kept herself alive by building shelter, making weapons, finding food, and fighting her enemies, the wild dogs.

Why I love it: I was a bizarre kid who thought it would be awesome to be abandoned on a deserted island. The main character, Karana, probably didn't find it awesome. In order to survive, she has to make peace with her enemies and learn how to take care of herself in the wilderness. It's an inspirational story of resilience on a beautiful island.

Buy it on Amazon

Murder With Puffins by Donna Andrews

Adult Cozy Mystery

In an attempt to get away from her family, Meg and her boyfriend go to a tiny island off the coast of Maine. What could have been a romantic getaway slowly turns into a disaster.

Once there, they are marooned by a hurricane and that is only the beginning of their problems. Meg and her boyfriend arrive at the house only to discover that Meg's parents and siblings, along with their spouses, are all there. When a murder takes place, Meg realizes that she and her boyfriend can no longer sit by a cozy fireplace, but must instead tramp around the muddy island to try and clear her father who is the chief suspect.

Why I love it: You might not believe this, but I went through a cozy mystery phase when I was a teenager. I read a zillion of the things. This one has stuck in my mind for years because of the island setting. The characters want a romantic getaway. Instead, they get trapped in a freezing rainstorm with a murderer. The setting is somehow both cozy and scary!

Buy it on Amazon

Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson

Adult Historical Fiction

San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Piedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries—memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched.

Why I love it: Setting is massively important to me as a reader. If I can’t picture the setting, I’ll struggle to get into the book. Years after finishing Snow Falling on Cedars, I can still vividly remember the Pacific Northwest setting. This literary murder mystery is set right after WWII, which isn’t a time period I see often in literature. Instead of focusing on the war, it focuses on how the war changed American society.

Buy it on Amazon

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

Middle Grade Adventure Fiction

From Alec Ramsay and the Black's first meeting on an ill-fated ship to their adventures on a desert island and their eventual rescue, this beloved story will hold the rapt attention of readers new and old.

Why I love it: A boy and a wild Arabian horse are shipwrecked on an island and must rely on each other to survive, but their story doesn't end with their rescue. I read this book over and over as a kid because I loved watching Alec and Black learn to work together.

Buy it on Amazon

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister's name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysteriously returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a chance to fulfill her childish dream to work as a watermen alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.

Why I love it: That awkward moment when you relate to horrible people. I could relate to Louise. I saw a lot of my younger self in her. (Which is awkward because she sucks.) Sibling rivalry was definitely part of my childhood. I was never the smartest kid, or the prettiest kid, or the most talented kid in my family. Like Louise, I often felt overlooked. I think it’s important to show sibling rivalry in children’s books because it's a daily part of life for many kids.

Buy it on Amazon

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Adult Mystery

First, there were ten—a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a little private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they're unwilling to reveal—and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder.

Why I love it: Islands are a perfect place for murder mysteries! There's nowhere to run, and help is not coming. It creates a tense reading experience. I couldn't put this book down until I figured out who was murdering strangers on a private island.

Buy it on Amazon

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Young Adult Fantasy

Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you've never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens.

In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon—the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter's moon, the blood moon—this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting.

Why I love it: It’s a delightfully bizarre composite novel about reincarnation. The main characters cross paths in every story, but their bodies and relationships change. It’s fun to figure out the connections. If you don’t like young adult horror, don’t let this book’s genre put you off. It’s more eerie than horrifying, and I have no idea why the publishers call it young adult. It’s a short, strange book that defies classification.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Adult Historical Fiction

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.

Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district office Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.

Why I love it: The best part of this novel is the suspense. It’s very subtle. You know at the beginning of the book that Agnes will be executed eventually, and you spend the entire book waiting for it to happen. Agnes doesn’t know when she will be killed, so the reader and the character are both dreading the moment when someone shows up at the door to lead Agnes to her death. I couldn't stop reading!

Buy it on Amazon

What's your favorite book set on an island?


  1. Island of the Blue Dolphins was so good.

    I was also a weird kid who wanted to live on an island by myself. Hehe.

    Here is my Top Ten Tuesday post.


  2. Murder With Puffins sounds cute.

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday.


  3. I like your take on this subject! I haven't read Island of the Blue Dolphins since school.

  4. I added both books in the Island of the Blue Dolphins series to my list.

    I was going to get a copy of Murder With Puffins but then I saw there were 34 books, yikes!

  5. I love that you chose islands! So fun. I loved The Scorpio Races.

  6. Great choice for islands! I haven't read any of these yet, but The Scorpio Races does sound awesome and atmospheric :)

  7. You added several of my favorite books: Scorpio Races; Burial Rites; Midwinterblood; And the Island of the Blue Dolphin. Wow. A walk down memory lane.

  8. I know I read Island of the Blue Dolphins as a kid (late 70's or early 80's) but I remember absolutely nothing about it. I blame the passage of 4 decades. lol

  9. Nice list!
    I just followed the water theme, so here is mine:
    Here is mine: https://wordsandpeace.com/2023/08/29/top-ten-covers-or-titles-with-water/.
    Here is one book I really liked a lot with Island in the title: https://wordsandpeace.com/2019/03/26/book-review-the-pine-islands/

  10. I loved Black Stallion. Still one of my favorite movies.

    Island of the Blue Dolphins was always around seems like as a kid but I never read it. Battle Royale sounds awesome.

  11. Great topic! I read two of these as a kid, but don't remember much. I did notice I read quite a few Island books too.

  12. Oooh! Interesting spin on this week's topic! I really need to read The Scorpio Races soon!

    Here’s my Top Ten Tuesday

    Rabbit Ears Book Blog: WORLD’S WEIRDEST BOOK BLOG!

  13. Burial Rites is a beautifully intense read.

    I had never heard of BATTLE ROYALE but it sounds amazing. Now, to find a Kindle edition!

  14. Same! I've read the majority of these books. I can't resist a good island setting :)

    Happy TTT!

  15. Jacob Have I Loved was one of my favorites as a child and still remains so. I have a twin sister, so I really related to the story.

  16. There's something about an island setting---it makes the story bound to a small, isolated world?---I don't know, but it adds greatly to the feeling of the story. I've read half of these, and I enjoyed them. I've often thought about reading The Scorpio Races. I think I was afraid it would be too scary...murderous horses and all.

  17. I love this topic and now I am wondering how many books I have read set on islands...I did enjoy Then There Were None and need to read it again. Other than that, I can't think of any at the moment, although I am sure I have!

  18. Islands do have so much potential for a story. The book about the characters in all different lives sounds interesting!

  19. I've only read "Snow Falling on Cedar." I enjoyed the book but felt he could have cut the adjectives in half. My favorite island book: Maarten Troost, "Getting Stoned with Savages" (set in South Pacific and very funny--he's written a couple of books about living on such islands)

    1. This is Jeff https://fromarockyhillside.com

  20. I love "That awkward moment when you relate to horrible people." I've definitely had that moment. The time when you find yourself reading a character doing something stupid or outright bad and think, "Oh no, is this me?" LOL!