The room, shadowed well with awnings, was dark and cool. Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans.
"We can't move," they said together. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Summer, for all intents and steamy purposes, is here. And while it might indeed be too hot to move, as it was for Fitzgerald's ladies, it is never too hot to read -- and summer reads can be delicious respites from the heat.
For fans of chick-lit, that broadly defined literary genre that includes books about women who variously suffer injustices or enjoy the heck out of shoe shopping, the perfect seasonal tome is relatively breezy, involves some sort of escape from our own ordinary lives and generally has a happy ending. If there is a beach involved, so much the better.
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I've found a dozen works that hit shelves this week or will later this summer and that seem just right for the plane, the pool, the porch or your own enormous couch. (Note: Look for reviews this summer of some of these books both on our Sunday Books page and as Beach Reads in Your Life.)
Happy summer, and happy reading!
State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett
One of the more literary works on this list, this book will whisk readers from their own too-hot summer into the truly steamy Amazon jungle. The plot centers on two women. One works for a pharmaceutical company and is sent to the jungle to investigate the death of a research scientist. The other heads the research team working in the jungle. They've met each other before as student and teacher, and now their relationship takes a twist. Patchett wrote the bestselling, award-winning Bel Canto and has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Expect great writing in a story described by the publishers as "a tale of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice."
Released June 7 by Harper, $26.99.
By Rosamund Lupton
This is the U.S. debut of a novel that has already been a hit in Britain. And while it revolves around the relationship between two sisters, this one also happens to be a work of crime fiction. The younger sister, Tess, is discovered dead in London's Hyde Park, and police think it's a suicide. But Beatrice refuses to believe it and begins a quest to uncover the truth. Did Tess' pregnancy have anything to do with her death? What about that trial drug from the pharmaceutical company? The New York Times called Sister "a taut, hold-your-breath-and-your-handkerchief thriller.... Both tear-jerking and spine-tingling." This is Lupton's debut novel.
Released June 7 by Crown, $24.
South of Superior
By Ellen Airgood
This one takes place in a small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Seeking change, a bitter and hardened Madeline Stone leaves life in Chicago to become a caretaker for an aging man. And, apparently, change she gets. She gets to know the longtime residents and becomes involved in the conflicts between the working-class townspeople and the new-moneyed newcomers. Predictably, she learns life lessons and to let go of her sour attitude. This is Airgood's debut novel, and her inspiration comes from her own life story. At 25, she moved to a small town in the U.P. There she married the owner of a local diner, became a waitress and baker, and fell in love with the local community.
Released June 9 by Riverhead Books, $25.95.
The Art of Forgetting
By Camille Noe Pagán
This is a story about a friendship between two women that takes a turn when one of them suffers a traumatic brain injury. Marissa, an editor at a health magazine, has always been sort of quiet and steady, and Julia, a ballet dancer turned ballet publicist, has been outgoing and vivacious. When Julia gets hit by a car, she loses much of her memory, and her personality changes. Apparently, old issues between the women start to emerge, and their relationship becomes strained. This is Pagán's first novel -- she has been a magazine editor and written for national health publications, and she says in press materials that she treated this book as a work of journalism in terms of the research she did into brain injuries and how they can affect personalities.
Released June 9 by Dutton, $25.95.
Joy for Beginners
By Erica Bauermeister
Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients was a New York Times bestseller and a book-club favorite. In that work, she told the stories of a group of people who came together to take cooking classes at a restaurant. Here, she once again focuses on the tales of a small cast of characters united by a common goal. This one takes place in Seattle, as Kate and her five friends unite to celebrate her recovery from cancer. Kate announces that she is going to challenge herself by doing something difficult that forces her to step out of her comfort zone: She's going white-water rafting down the Grand Canyon. She asks each of her friends to commit to taking on a similar challenge -- challenges Kate gets to choose.
Released June 9 by Putnam, $24.95.
By J. Courtney Sullivan
Alice is the matriarch of the Kelleher family. She and her now-deceased husband built a cottage on the Maine shore more than half a century ago, and her three children and their children return every summer. The story centers on four women in the family -- Alice, her daughter-in-law Ann Marie, her daughter Kathleen and Kathleen's daughter Maggie -- and during this particular summer, the four very different women bring all sorts of emotional baggage to the place, some of it relatively new, and some of it deeply rooted in the past. This multigenerational story has lots of strong themes, some disturbing (alcoholism, crippling Catholic guilt, infidelity) and some, of course, uplifting (love, forgiveness). Sullivan, who wrote the bestseller Commencement, brings a big dose of seaside ambiance to this work, from lobster rolls and outdoor showers to cold, invigorating surf.
On sale Tuesday, Knopf, $25.95.
By Katie Lee
The publicists call this one an "Eat, Surf, Love" tale, and it appears to be one of the lighter novels on this list -- not that there's anything wrong with that. First-time novelist Lee, who has written two cookbooks, tells the tale of a successful screenwriter who discovers that her husband has been cheating on her. She high-tails it to Mexico, where she discovers her bliss by the beach. Readers may recognize Lee from television -- she has been a food and lifestyle contributor for The Early Show, and has been on shows ranging from Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray to Top Chef and Iron Chef America. Oh, and they'll probably also recognize her as the ex-wife of Billy Joel. Last fall, the New York Post reported that Lee handed in the first draft of the novel just when she learned how to surf herself -- though in Montauk, not Mexico.
On sale June 21, Gallery Books, $25.
The American Heiress
By Daisy Goodwin
Published first in the U.K. as My Last Duchess, this novel is based on the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress who married the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. In this story, the fabulously rich Cora Cash of New York and Newport is taken to Great Britain by her pushy, snobby mother, who wants Cora to have the one thing that even the wealthiest American girl can't buy: an English title. Cora meets a duke, a man whose family has fallen into financial misfortune, and soon enough she becomes a true aristocratic duchess. But can the brash and independent Cora be truly happy in merry old tradition-bound England? Goodwin fills the pages with detailed description -- including breathtaking accounts of Cora's staggering wardrobe. And there's a bit of a beach in this one -- Cora can see it from her vast, crumbling countryside home, and she heads for the cool relief of the water during one particularly stressful time.
On sale June 21, St. Martin's Press, $25.99.
By Elin Hilderbrand
Hilderbrand has found a successful formula for her chick-lit novels. They tend to take place in and around Nantucket, where she lives. They tend to involve women having relationship problems. And they tend to include descriptions of rich people's wonderful island houses and fancy lives. In this newest work, her protagonist, Meredith, has just lost her money and her lifestyle thanks to her husband, who was caught cheating rich investors out of loads of cash. Meredith heads to Nantucket with her best friend from long ago, where she is faced with an old love and new problems.
On sale June 21, Reagan Arthur Books, $26.99.
Then Came You
By Jennifer Weiner
Author of Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, Little Earthquakes and more, Weiner is a dollar-making machine in the world of chick-lit, and this book is bound to be the blockbuster of summer. The story line involves four women whose lives become entwined through surrogacy. India Bishop marries a rich older man and wants to have his baby but needs help. She turns to Annie, a working-class mother of two who could use some money, and to Jules, a smart, beautiful Princeton University senior who is willing to sell her eggs. But things go awry when the baby daddy dies and Bettina, his 23-year-old daughter from another marriage, is named the unborn baby's guardian. How will the women sort through their new relationships to each other and to the baby?
On sale July 12, Atria, $26.99.
Always Something There to Remind Me
By Beth Harbison
Ah, first love. Erin Edwards moved on her from high-school boyfriend, Nate Lawson, about 23 years ago. And yet, when her boyfriend proposes, Erin feels like maybe she needs to check out what she suspects may be unresolved feelings toward the first love of her life. Bingo. She finds Nate, and her world takes another turn. Harbison is the author of chick-lit novels Hope in a Jar and Shoe Addicts Anonymous, the latter of which is about to be made into a movie starring Halle Berry. Because of this, Harbison's publicists are predicting a breakout year for the author.
On sale July 19, St. Martin's Press, $25.99
Girls in White Dresses
By Jennifer Close
This is Close's first novel, which centers on three friends in their young-adult years -- Isabella, Mary and Lauren. While many of their friends are getting married and launching amazing careers, these girls seem to be, to quote the theme song from Friends, "stuck in second gear." The description on the book jacket is flat-out funny: "Our protagonists are grappling with blind dates ('What about me says, Set me up with an obese pe rson?'), chasing away ghosts from the past ('Bridget Carlson was the kind of friend you couldn't get rid of') and learning that sometimes beauty is in the eye of the beholder ('Our friend Ellen dates ugly boys')."
On sale Aug. 9, Knopf, $24.95.
Catherine Mallette, 817-390-7828