Summer Books You'll Remember

Fabulous fiction and nonfiction finds.
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Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Random House)

Mary Beth Latham’s cushy life is cause for envy: she has a nifty career as a landscape designer, a genial provider hubby and three snarky yet controllable teens. But this perfect tableau is just the set up for a sternly unsentimental tragedy, in which Latham’s bountiful suburban life implodes in an act of almost unimaginable violence. Amid a grief that would render most women catatonic, Quindlen’s supremely decent protagonist rummages through her years as a wife (both faithful and not), a mother and a proud provider for clues to her unintended role in the catastrophe. Latham, like most women, blames herself even though she’s been horribly victimized. This alarming but intelligent novel will drive that truth freshly home, as well as leave you telling yourself, as you tremble: And I thought I had something to complain about.-Sheila Weller To buy the book go to amazon.com.

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson (Alfred A. Knopf)

New mother Claire, a cellist and classical composer, is married to a workaholic TV writer and stranded in a cultural desert. Uncertain of her parenting skills and desperate for creative time, she hires a Filipina nanny, Lola. Writing in both women’s voices, Simpson (_Anywhere but Here_) deploys a sharp eye and mordant wit to show us the backstairs view of a Hollywood we’ve never seen. -Roxana Robinson To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Death Is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca (W. W. Norton & Company)

These sizzling coming-of-age stories are served on a plate of shattered glass, with a side of lacerating humor. Rivecca’s audacious narrators-a suicide-hotline failure, a young memoirist being stalked by her landlord and a third-grade teacher too eager to find abuse victims in her class-all ask the question, What am I doing here? The answers in this gutsy, heart-rattling debut collection are deliciously complicated and always unexpected. -Pam Houston To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell (Random House)

This elegiac memoir of the author’s alliance with writer Caroline Knapp (_Drinking: A Love Story_) is a testament to the art of female friendship-and its necessity. These scrappily independent women came from divergent backgrounds-Knapp was an upper-crust New Englander, Caldwell a child of the Texas Panhandle-but consoled each other over past alcohol abuse, bad love affairs (Caldwell’s) and severe anorexia (Knapp’s). When Knapp dies of cancer, Caldwell wrestles with grief. But ultimately she realizes that "dying doesn’t end the story; it transforms it." ?-Sheila Weller To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking)

Sexy is sexy, whether it’s 2010 or, as in this hot, fast, witty little novel, 1808: "Carolina held fistfuls of his jacket in both hands, waiting for the heat to pass. Instead, it grew stronger, singing louder than the violins. She lifted her face. ‘Again,’ she said." Carolina, the contessa of the book’s title, is a 19th-century Italian noblewoman whose encroaching blindness moves an eccentric neighbor to fashion a "writing machine"-aka a typewriter-to liberate her from her isolation. Emboldened, she embraces the dreamy darkness of her landscape-and the man who set her words, and body, free. -Meredith Maran To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Broken by Karin Fossum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In this surreal Norwegian import, a woman wakes to find a line of people standing outside her house-characters from her unwritten novels anxiously waiting for her to tell their stories. One man even enters her bedroom. Recognizing his despair, she relents and christens him Alvar Eide. When his life spins out of control, Alvar begs the writer to rethink his story. This ingenious novel brilliantly explores the tension between an author and her characters. -Carmela Ciuraru To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Father of the Rain by Lily King (Atlantic Monthly Press)

"It’s hard not to believe in something when your heart gets stuffed full," says Daley Amory, who narrowly escapes the wrecking ball of her father’s alcoholism only to get knocked down by it years later, with a good man and a great job on the line. King’s emotionally fearless novel about father-daughter entanglement is so accurate, it becomes archetypal. It is only by testing the limits of her capacity for sacrifice that Daley can emerge from the confines of total self-reliance into the possibility of trust. -P.H. To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman (Doubleday)

Imagine that you’ve somehow survived a tsunami of heartbreak: How do you keep your head above water? Iris Copaken, an elegant control freak who summers in a coastal Maine village called Red Hook, and Jane Tetherly, a flinty local who eats urban sophisticates for lunch, are two characters whose family tragedies dovetail in Waldman’s perceptive new novel. Read it to find out how grief quietly fuels the progress of young love or speeds the erosion of a middle-aged marriage-and for an oddly invigorating draft of salt air. -Cathleen Medwick To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Great Divorce by Ilyon Woo (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Eunice Chapman made breakup history in 1818 when her split from her abusive husband-an older man who joined a strict, celibate Shaker community and took their three children with him-resulted in a custody battle that rocked New York State. At that time, only a few years after the American Revolution, marriage rendered a woman "civilly dead," barring her from owning property or testifying against her spouse. Chapman nonetheless prevailed, writes historian Woo, but her victory didn’t come easy, and this biography makes a movie-worthy story of her struggle to reclaim her children and her destiny. -Meredith Maran To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (St. Martin’s Press)

In this superb debut novel, American photojournalist Helen Adams is drawn to the turmoil of the Vietnam War, which has cost her brother his life. While her lens soon makes her as famous as her pictures, Helen survives by taking cues from the jungle-savvy colleagues who are her paramours. But she must learn for herself the real trick of her trade: how to find truth amid the fog of war. -Ellen Emry Heltzel To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Lovers by Vendela Vida (Ecco)

Travel tip: If you find an X-rated photo of the owner’s mistress under the sofa in your summer rental-and then the owner’s agitated ex-wife shows up at your door-you really haven’t gotten away from it all. This provocative little novel, set in the decaying Turkish seaside village where grieving Yvonne once honeymooned with her late husband, is a story of nascent self-awareness in midlife, painful but at times unbearably sweet. -Cathleen Medwick To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz (Twelve)

Born to a poor Jewish family in Philadelphia, Robert Vishniak finds his way to college, where he transforms his identity by wearing his wealthy roommate’s made-to-measure clothes. As in many novels about social climbing, it’s women who guide our hero on his rise, and the most believable is his mother (he remembers how she could "smile with both sides of her mouth" before money woes changed her). This vivid morality tale is also a Magical Mystery Tour of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, in which Robert wins the prizes but pays a price. -Susan Straight To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

"This time, I bring my rolling pin to the Caribbean," writes Vanderhoof in her memoir with recipes about living on a boat with her husband in the tropics. She shares unforgettable stories about quirky islanders (Dwight, the skin-diving fisherman; Greta, who turns St. Lucia seamoss into homemade Viagra) and delicious dishes, like lobster pizza and stewed lentils with pumpkin. To buy the book go to amazon.com.

My Teenage Werewolf by Lauren Kessler (Viking)

Ah, to be the mother of boys. That will be your dream after reading Kessler’s yearlong investigation into the life of her teenage daughter, Lizzie, who must be admired for putting up with the zany project. Imagine if your mother stalked you online, strong-armed you into a road trip and signed up to be a counselor at your summer camp, as Kessler does here. But readers who live with Lizzies of their own will enjoy this glimpse into the adolescent brain, which is "not yet open for the business of wise and measured living." -Judith Newman To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi (Little, Brown)

On an idyllic Greek island, a young married woman falls from a cliff to her death, and the local police rule it an accident. The case is closed until a stranger in white sneakers, known as "the fat man," arrives from Athens to poke around. He stirs up trouble (and puts himself at risk) by exposing a lusty, obsessive affair and an official cover-up. This literary mystery has all the breeziness of a Greek isle, and its charming, eccentric chief detective deserves a sequel. -Carmela Ciuraru To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)

On New Year’s Day at the dawn of the 21st century, hunters stumble upon the bodies of 16 men and women in a snowy forest in France. It’s a gruesome mass suicide, sparked by The Faith, a secret cult to which all the dead people belonged. When celebrated sect hunter Dominique Carpentier closes in on the group’s disturbing secrets, she finds herself seduced by its guru, a charismatic composer. This satisfying philosophical mystery dissects religious fanaticism and the virtues of reason versus faith. -C.C. To buy the book go to amazon.com.

The Dead Lie Down by Sophie Hannah (Penguin)

Ruth is stunned when her boyfriend, Aidan, reveals that he killed someone years ago-because she knows that the woman is alive and well. Hannah’s psychological mystery, which marks the return of Sergeant Charlotte "Charlie" Zailer and her oddball fellow cop (and fiancé) Simon Waterhouse, unfolds in layers of concealment and revelation, with a clever tangle of plot twists (Ruth and Aidan have secrets of their own) that keep the reader guessing. -C.C. To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum (Alfred A. Knopf)

We don’t need a man to complete us, and we don’t need a piece of property either. But tell that to Daum, whose obsessive quest for a nest at the height of the housing craze landed her a lovable fixer-upper now worth $100,000 less than she paid for it. What is it with women and houses anyway? In this funny, horrifying (she came thisclose to buying a place near a roaring interstate because she was smitten with a landing), achingly honest memoir, Daum explores the way we wrap up our identities in our surroundings, at one point wondering, "Did the house look sexy on me?" Home truths, indeed. ??-Amanda Lovell To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Someone Will Be with You Shortly by Lisa Kogan (HarperStudio)

It’s a good thing Kogan has a sense of humor: She’s a single mother (her daughter’s father lives an ocean away) with a glamorous (make that grueling) job in a city where "tempers are short, to-do lists are long, nerves are shot." This collection of savory pieces, based on columns Kogan wrote for O magazine, is filled with riffs on disastrous dinner parties (two words: flambéed eyebrows), bad haircuts and her chagrin at reaching the point in life where revealing her age astounds no one. Still, she consoles herself with mantras like this one: "Seventh grade is over." A testament to grace-and a few guffaws-under pressure. -A.L. To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Alone with You by Marisa Silver (Simon & Schuster)

The characters in this polished, incisive collection are about to be startled awake. All the blood in Helen’s mother’s body is going to be taken out, boiled and put back in during an alternative cancer treatment; Sheila’s dog Patsy is about to attempt suicide; and Marie, having discovered that "identity was a porous thing, an easily felled house of cards," goes on a Saharan camel trek to decide her family’s fate. Each of these eight stories drives unflinchingly toward a moment of unexpected and inevitable clarity about the precariousness of the world and the resilience it requires. -P.H. To buy the book go to amazon.com.

Spoon Fed by Kim Severson (Riverhead Books)

When Severson, a recovering alcoholic and New York Times food writer, was feeling lost, she went looking for meaning in the kitchens of cooking’s grandes dames, Marion Cunningham, Alice Waters and Edna Lewis among them. Here she profiles these funny, smart, wise women, who understand how each great meal "contains a thousand little divine mysteries" and how eating teaches us about respect, love and community. As Severson puts it, "You belong to everyone else at the table and they belong to you." -Judith Newman To buy the book go to amazon.com.

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