Perfect Summer Reads
What makes a perfect summer read? The same thing that makes a perfect summer vacation: adventure, relaxation, fabulous scenery, new horizons and beautiful memories. Here are five, chosen by author Toby Devens. And you’ll want to add her new novel, Barefoot Beach , to your beach bag as well!
I write about female friendship, the ways it enriches, supports and sometimes rescues us. But what happens when close friendship takes a disturbing turn into obsession? Two girls are born around the same time, both privileged, both named Joan. One is almost beautiful, the other is beyond beautiful, dazzling, the center of attention with a craving for adventure in the oil rich, but stultifying-for-women world of Houston in the 1950’s. Joan is the sun and the other Joan, her shadow, can’t even hold on to her name and becomes Cece, the narrator of this compelling novel. Magnificent Joan takes off frequently, without saying—even to Cece, plunged into grief by her absence–where or what she does when away. We finally learn that Joan’s vanishing act conceals a secret that changes her and her best friend’s lives. Anton DiSclafani writes a story of two women in a place, time and social set that required good girls to live at home with parents until they were wed and then with husbands and children. And that’s pretty much all they did. It’s also a story about what that constricted world did to them. You won’t be able to put this one down.
Pat Conroy died in March, and this book—some say the highlight of his career—is my favorite. Centered on Tom Wingo, member of one of Conroy’s classically dysfunctional families, it presents a gauzy mother, abusive father, older brother Luke, and Tom’s twin Savannah who, after a horrific episode in childhood, has fled to New York City. But she can’t escape that trauma and retells it in her poetry and in sessions with a psychotherapist. Now Savannah has attempted suicide and Tom rushes to Manhattan to explore with Dr. Susan Lowenstein how he can save her. And save himself as well. The language is as lush as the setting, the salt marshes of the South Carolina low country. And the theme is one I play in my fiction: How the past invades the present to make it magic or tragic or both. If you’ve already read the book, first out in 1986, you’ll find it worth a re-read. You’re a different person now which makes the book a different book.
Warning: Bias alert. I’ve been crazy about Laura Lippman’s work for years. She’s a crime writer whose talent isn’t hemmed in by genre, as she’s proven with a number of standalones. And this particular story is set in the suburban Maryland city I call home. Writing this, I glance out my window to see Wilde Lake below. Okay, with that out of the way, here’s why this book stands on its laurels: A plot driven by a decades-old incident that suddenly surfaces like a shark to sink its teeth into the life of Luisa Brant. Lu, a 40-something widow, mother of two, is now Howard County States Attorney, a position once held by her father, respected professionally but a man who barely managed to raise his motherless children, Lu and her older brother AJ. As a teenager, AJ was involved in an altercation that cost the life of one boy and caused the permanent disability of another. And now, as Lu handles a new homicide case, she wonders if the two deaths are linked. We’re in detective territory here and it’s navigated expertly by an author who knows her crime. But it’s when we explore Lu’s background and watch her untangle a web of secrets and lies that the story becomes extraordinary. I promise you’ll care less about the whodunits than the whydunits when all the threads are woven to a satisfying conclusion.
How about a mini vacay to Paris? Take it turning the pages of this quirky, endearing, tribute to that city. It’s part memoir, part guidebook, part charming picture book. The emphasis is on fashion, and the enviable chic of Parisian woman. But as the book strolls thorough the arrondissements of Paris, you browse each district’s restaurants, entertainments, and the unique style of the women who live in the neighborhood. There are pages devoted to practical matters too: a lesson in tying scarves as Parisian women do; the art of using jam jars and wine bottles as flower vases. Angie Niles’ tone can be breezy or cozy, but it’s always intimate. Wherever you are this summer, kick off your flip-flops, slip into a pair of ballet flats from Louboutin and enjoy. Choose the paperback book to thumb through or rest on your coffee table. If ordering the eBook, sample first to see how it views on your reader. Either way, you’re on your way to the City of Lights at its brightest.
A private luxury plane sits on a runway in Martha’s Vineyard carrying eleven souls: David Bateman, mega-rich founder of an innovative hugely successful news network, his wife Maggie and their two children, a four year old boy and a nine year old girl who’d been kidnapped and rescued as an infant. Their guests for the flight: a Wall Street financier—under investigation for money laundering for enemy nations—and his wife. Last on board, nearly missing take-off, a failed artist who specializes in painting disaster scenes, like—hmm—plane crashes. . It’s a calm August night, yet 16 minutes into the flight, the aircraft plummets into the sea, killing all but two on board. Was the cause mechanical malfunction? A terrorist act? Unfinished business? Author Noah Hawley unravels the mystery with spellbinding skill. Tracking the characters, who they are, have been, what they might have done to precipitate the crash—and what’s next for the survivors—builds breathtaking suspense. You’ll be totally caught up in a gripping hunt for truth, personal and universal, under the pressure of sensationalist media gone wild. It’s a book I got up early and stayed up late to read.
What are your favorite summer reads?
Toby Devens, known for her women’s fiction, is the author of Happy Any Day Now and My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), as well as a humorous collection of poetry that was excerpted in Reader’s Digest and other national publications. She has worked in publishing and public relations and has led writing workshops. She lives in Maryland.
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