What to Read on Vacation

The secret to summer relaxation? One comfy lounge chair plus five unmissable books.
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The Matchmaker of Perigord

By Julia Stuart (Harper)

This frothy debut, as enchanting as Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, follows Guillaume Ladoucette, a barber in southwestern France. When his business starts to fail as his customers become older and balder, he reinvents himself as a matchmaker — a savvy career move since most of the village’s 33 quirky residents are divorced or otherwise single. Ladoucette ends up throwing everyone’s love life into chaos — while reencountering his own true love.

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By Justine Picardie (Bloomsbury)

Based on the life of Dame Daphne du Maurier (author of the gothic classic Rebecca), the story opens in 1957, when the 50-year-old novelist’s marriage is failing. On the verge of a breakdown, she focuses totally on her work, researching the life of Branwell Bronte, tormented brother of the famed literary sisters. The novel simultaneously follows two other protagonists: an editor of the Brontes’ manuscripts and a grad student working on a thesis about du Maurier’s life. Merging fact and fiction, all three narratives come together brilliantly in the end.

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Little Pink Slips

By Sally Koslow (Berkley)

Just out in paperback, this wickedly witty roman a clef is the grown-up answer to The Devil Wears Prada. Koslow’s likable alter ego, Magnolia Gold, editor-in-chief of Lady magazine, is ousted from her post when Bebe Blake, a notorious TV celeb and fashion disaster, is handed her job. Koslow, the former head of McCall’s, was dumped for Rosie O’Donnell. Yet her dishy novel doesn’t so much indict Rosie — er, Bebe — as it smartly critiques our superficial culture of celebrity mania.

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Real World

By Natsuo Kirino (Knopf)

The prizewinning Tokyo-based author may be 57, but she has a knack for portraying the lives of teenage girls. In her latest noir novel, four friends are overwhelmed by the intense emotions of youth while cramming for their college entrance exams. When one of the girls’ neighbors is murdered, they end up in danger themselves. By the end of this taut thriller, there is more than one dead body to contend with.

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America Eats!

By Pat Willard (Bloomsbury)

During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration hired unemployed writers across the country, including Eudora Welty and Saul Bellow, to chronicle our nation’s culinary culture. They filed evocative stories — which were never published in a single volume because of WPA funding cuts — detailing everything from possum dinners to ladies’ tea socials. Willard explores the original project and ambitiously retraces the writers’ footsteps. Her lovingly researched book, a tribute to regional cooking, is startling, funny, and lip-smackingly good.

Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2008.

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