May 23, 2014

Summer romance titles to tuck in your beach bag

These 10 poolside reads will take you away into the fun, funny worlds of their female main characters.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

Sometimes, a good dose of “chick lit” hits the just-take-me-away spot, providing a fun and funny read perfect for the pool or on that flight to a well-deserved vacation.

The term “chick lit” popped into popularity in the late 1990s; decades later, the genre is alive and well but what we call it has come under some criticism. Responding to fresh waves of feminism, publishers are redubbing the category “women’s fiction” or “women’s literature.”

Do readers care what it’s called? I don’t know. But the appetite for these books is apparently insatiable, and for the summer of 2014, it has yielded a delicious mix of titles.

While the literary qualities of the works vary, the 10 titles previewed here seem to have these four elements in common (in addition to a tendency for aqua-colored covers): 1. They focus on a woman’s emotional life and her relationships. 2. Said woman will be happier at the end of the story than at the beginning. 3. Said woman will have sex at some point or wish she were having sex and it will all be duly noted and dwelled upon. 4. Wine and/or cocktails will be involved.

Pour yourself a glass of something cold, and enjoy. They’re listed by release date — some are already out, and a few you’ll have to wait for.

So you think you love dance

Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead

Knopf, $25.95

Release date: April 8

This novel by Maggie Shipstead, whose debut book, Seating Arrangements, became a national bestseller and critics’ pick, whisks readers into the world of professional ballet, with a behind-the-scenes look at the life of dancers.

Joan is an American who falls for a superstar Soviet, Arslan Rusakov. She helps him defect but their relationship is doomed. She is not as talented as he is and will never rise to his level.

As things fall apart, she moves from New York to California, gets married and concentrates on raising her son. But ballet is in her bones, and she soon starts a studio, where both her son and the girl next door take lessons.

As the kids grow up, they try their own luck as professionals, forcing Joan to face her past — and a surprising future.

Art & auctions I: Paris

A Paris Apartment, by Michelle Gable

Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99

Release date: April 22

This compelling and well-written debut novel by Michelle Gable is based on a true story. When the Nazis invaded Paris at the beginning of World War II, a wealthy woman fled her apartment in Paris, went south, and never came back.

When this woman died, at the age of 91 in 2010, the Paris apartment was opened for the first time in 70 years, stuffed to the gills with Belle Epoque furniture and decor.

In this fictionalized account, American April Vogt, a specialist with Sotheby’s, is sent to appraise the estate. She discovers journals kept by the apartment’s owner — a beautiful woman who was a demimondaine, a high-society courtesan who hobnobbed (or what have you) with the most famous men in arts, letters and politics.

April uncovers the woman’s many secrets while she prepares the estate for auction, but she is also sidetracked by her collapsing marriage back in New York and a new friendship with a crazy-handsome French lawyer.

Ready for some Texas football?

The One & Only, by Emily Giffin

Ballantine, $28

Release date: May 20

Emily Giffin burst on the chick lit scene in 2004 with Something Borrowed, followed by Something Blue and then, over the years, four more novels that went straight to the top of bestseller lists.

Giffin lives in Atlanta, but her newest book is set in North Texas, in the fictional college town of Walker, about halfway between Waco and Dallas. The story follows 33-year-old Shea Rigsby, who has lived in Walker her whole life. A devoted football fan, she is best friends with the daughter of Walker University’s famed Coach Carr.

Carr’s wife has just died, and it gets Shea thinking about her own stalled life. She is in a relationship with a guy she likes but doesn’t love, and she feels the same way about her job as assistant public information officer in the athletic department at the school.

As she begins to follow her passions, it leads her to a new romance with the Cowboys’ quarterback and a new job covering Walker football as a reporter for the Dallas Post. But conflicts arise, of course, and as her allegiances are tested, she finds herself in a tangle of fumbled relationships.

Two scandalicious tales

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, by Beatriz Williams

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $26.95

Release date: May 27

The plucky heroine of this book is Vivian Schuyler, a rich young Manhattanite who, in 1964, has just defied her family’s wishes by taking a position (a “filthy job” as her Mums calls it) at a magazine instead of pursuing the career of socialite/wife that her parents expect of her.

One Saturday, her life takes a new direction when she receives a notice that she has a package at the post office. There, she meets a handsome young doctor, who helps her carry home the box, which contains a suitcase that once belonged to her great aunt Violet Schuyler.

Vivian begins pursing the doctor and the story of Violet with equal amounts of zeal. Violet has been considered a black sheep in the family — the story goes that she, too, went against her family’s wishes and moved to Europe to become a scientist, but got involved in a terrible scandal.

The plot goes back and forth between 1964 and 1914, as readers are treated to both women’s tales.

Meet them in Mallorca

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub

Riverhead Books, $26.95

Release date: May 29

The most literary book on this list, The Vacationers is also one of the funniest. The blurb on the cover is from Maria Semple, which makes sense, as this smart, well-crafted novel reminded me of that author’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Here, the story is about the Post family, who take a two-week vacation to Mallorca, Spain, renting a house with a couple of friends. Everyone packs a big bag of dysfunction.

To begin with, Franny, a food writer, and her husband, Jim, are at odds, and Jim has just lost his job as editor at a Manhattan magazine. Their daughter Sylvia, celebrating her graduation from high school, is also escaping social media shame after a graduation party gone awry. Their son and his longtime girlfriend, a personal trainer whom none of them can stand, are also part of the mix.

Over the course of two weeks, all seven characters try to pretend that an extended family vacation is relaxing, instead of an act of torture where everyone embarrasses and annoys one other. Can this family be saved?

Star-crossed love in London

For Once in My Life, by Marianne Kavanaugh

Atria, $16

Release date: June 17

If you’d like a little London journey, try this debut novel from Kavanaugh, a former Marie Claire deputy editor.

This one is about two soul mates who, over the course of about 10 years, keep just missing each other at a series of events, even though their friends tell them they would be perfect for each other.

But Tess and George follow their separate ways. Tess stays in a job she isn’t interested in because it’s easier than taking a chance on following her passion for vintage fashion, and she stays with her handsome boyfriend, Dominic, even though she starts to find him rather dull.

Meanwhile, musician George finds himself in an easy but lackluster relationship with a high-powered attorney. Is it too late for the stars to realign and the two to start following their passions?

Mother’s little helpers

All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner

Atria, $26.99

Release date: June 17

Jennifer Weiner is a powerhouse novelist with more than 11 million copies of her books in print. Her debut novel, Good in Bed, is in its 57th printing, and In Her Shoes was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz.

All Fall Down is her 11th novel in 13 years, and shows how she smartly pushes the envelope on women’s fiction, covering relationships but digging into deeper, more controversial and substantial issues.

This one explores the weighty topics of mental health and work-life balance. The story centers on Allison Weiss, who has a husband she loves, a beautiful suburban home outside of Philadelphia, an adorable daughter and an increasingly successful and demanding job as a blogger. The problem is that it’s all becoming way too much for her to handle. Her father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, her daughter is exhausting, the house is too expensive and beyond the couple’s financial means, and she’s discovered overly friendly emails between her husband, a newspaper reporter, and one of his sources.

Allison starts taking prescription drugs to help her get through the day and before she knows it, she is spending thousands of dollars a month on what she won’t admit is an addiction. This is an ambitious novel with good subplots, including Allison’s controversial, feminist blog posts.

Escape to Nantucket I

Nantucket Sisters, by Nancy Thayer

Ballantine, $26

Release date: June 17

If you like your beach reads to be about places that have great beaches, this easy-breezy read from Nancy Thayer is a good option.

Emily and Maggie are best friends every summer in Nantucket, though they come from different worlds. Emily’s family is rich and has a summer house. Maggie lives with her mom and brother year-round in a tiny cottage in ‘Sconset. Emily’s family generally looks down their nose at Maggie’s family but Emily can’t help but be attracted to Maggie’s handsome brother, Ben.

The novel starts when the girls are just 11 but quickly gets them through college and into their early 20s when their class divisions start to pull them apart and each, unbeknownst to the other, meets a rich, handsome man who will forever change both of their lives.

Can the women reconcile despite man trouble? Will either of them ever find their true loves? This one is aimed at the under-30 set and those who love a good sentimental story.

Escape to Nantucket II

The Matchmaker, by Elin Hilderbrand

Little, Brown and Co., $28

Release date: June 10

If you’ve ever spent much time in Nantucket, you’ll know that there are certain things that happen every year — rain, snow or sunshine. Daffodil weekend comes every April, Christmas Stroll happens every December, and Elin Hilderbrand rolls out another novel based on the island just in time for beach season.

This one is about 48-year-old Dabney Kimball Beech, who works for the island’s chamber of commerce. She’s also the unofficial matchmaker of Nantucket, having brought more than 40 couples together over the years. She is married to a great guy who is an economics professor at Harvard, but her world turns upside-down when she gets an email from the true love of her life — her old boyfriend (and the father of her child) who left the island almost three decades ago. He is back on the island.

She’s also trying to figure out how to get her engaged daughter out of that commitment because Dabney’s relationship radar shows that the two are all wrong for each other. With lots of descriptions of the town and its restaurants and beaches and parties, Hildebrand delivers another delicious vicarious vacation to New England’s upscale island getaway.

Art & auctions II: Newport (and Texas)

The Price of Inheritance, by Karin Tanabe

Washington Square Press, $16

Release date: Aug. 5

Karin Tanabe is a relative newcomer in the world of women’s fiction — she’s written one previous novel, The List, and before that was a reporter for Politico. This book follows the story of 29-year-old Carolyn, a superstar in the American Furniture department at Christie’s auction house in New York City.

Carolyn makes a big sale for Christie’s, then is sent to Texas to handle the estate of a wealthy Houston widow. But things go terribly wrong with that sale, and Carolyn loses her job and retreats to Newport, R.I., her hometown, where she finds solace with her best friends — beautiful and wealthy heiresses — and a handsome Marine stationed on the town’s naval base. But once again, Carolyn gets caught up in a scandal, this one involving art forgery and theft.

I felt like the art crime plot got a little convoluted at times, but I also learned a lot about the high-dollar auction world and enjoyed the peek into how the rich live in historic Newport. This book is going to be promoted as a book club offering, and it will have a reading group guide as an appendix.

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