Travel to the Jersey Shore as three childhood friends reunite in All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue. The young women are supposed to be meeting in Vegas for a bachelorette weekend, but when Kate, the bride-to-be, is dumped by her fiancé, the three regroup and head to the familiar comfort of Avalon and its stretches of glorious beaches. Kate, Dani, and Vanessa spent memorable childhood summers together down the shore. While they have remained in touch since graduating from college, the bonds forged during those special seasons have loosened. Each still harbors feelings of loss, guilt, and grief from the fateful night eight years earlier when Kate’s twin brother Colin drowned. Between that tragedy and adult responsibilities, the connection between the three twenty-somethings is not as strong. But what the three don’t know is that each harbors secrets that could impact the others’ lives. And each is at a crossroads in her life.
It turns out that the day Kate got dumped was also the day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa, the beautiful stay-at-home mom, has been conflicted for months since finding out her husband almost cheated on her. Her anger cannot be quenched and she has been tracking a former flame on the internet. Dani, the free spirit and wannabe writer, has just been fired from another job and is unable to control her alcohol or pill intake. This fast-paced tale features three realistic women facing their pasts and making decisions about their futures. It is a fabulous beach read with an authentic beach town setting. This girls’ weekend is all about forgiveness, with a little flirting thrown in for good measure.
Romance writers and readers are grieving the loss of a beloved author this week. Francis Ray, who wrote more than 50 contemporary romances, recently passed away. Her books have often appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Essence bestsellers lists. Throughout her long career, Ray won several awards including a Romantic Times Career Achievement award.
Two new books by Ray were published this summer. After the Dawn, the third book in her Family Affair series, brings together two unlikely characters to save a family business. Samantha Collins is shocked when her grandfather leaves her in charge of Collins Industry and also asks Dillon Montgomery, the man Samantha has been in love with for most of her life, to help her. Years ago, Samantha’s grandfather fired Dillon and cut ties with him, and Sam and Dillon haven’t been in contact since an awkward encounter years ago. Can the two of them make this work? All That I Need is the latest entry in Ray’s long running Grayson Friends series, which remains a fan favorite. This story features Lance Saxton and Fallon Marshall, two people who live very different lives. Both are forced to reexamine their priorities when they meet and fall in love.
German author Charlotte Link creates a gripping mystery with The Other Child, her first novel translated for an English audience. In a small town nestled on the coast of Yorkshire, a young woman finishes a babysitting job and heads home. The lighted path ahead is blocked, forcing her to choose a darker and more desolate route. She never returns home. Meanwhile, a group of characters gather to celebrate the pending engagement of Gwen Beckett and Dave Tanner. Gwen, painfully shy and living at home with her father, is not the average blushing bride. Her friends and family fear that Tanner is only interested in procuring her hand to gain access to the farm and fulfill his plan to turn the farm into a bustling hotel. Fiona Barnes, an old matriarch and a close family friend, rails against the pending marriage and creates a scene at a dinner party. It is not long before Fiona is also found dead with her head smashed in, much like the young woman that was discovered earlier that week. Enter Detective Valerie Almond, a nervous detective who is unsure of her place in the police force and her ability to solve a crime. Will she be able to piece together the clues before the killer strikes again?
Link creates a great atmospheric thriller with psychological intensity. She also incorporates a story within a story as Fiona recounts a situation that happened long ago during the height of World War II. Many of the characters are tremendously flawed and the cast of suspects will keep the reader engaged in solving the mystery. Fans of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James will easily gravitate to this novel and look forward to the next one.
Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is the kind of book that leaves the reader thinking about it long after finishing the last page. As the story begins, Noa is on death row awaiting X-Day, the day of her execution, when Marlene Dixon, the mother of her victim Sarah, approaches her. Marlene is a prominent Philadelphia attorney who tells Noa that she has changed her stance on the death penalty. Marlene says that she has formed a new nonprofit organization called Mothers Against Death, and she offers to petition for clemency on Noa’s behalf. What she really wants is for Noa to explain why she shot Sarah. During her trial and sentencing, Noa did not speak to defend herself. She did not offer any explanation for Sarah’s death.
The story is told through narratives written by Noa as X-Day approaches and letters that Marlene writes to Sarah at the same time. The truth is a murky thing that Silver slowly reveals over the course of the novel. The idea that both guilt and innocence exist on a spectrum is at the heart of the story. Neither of the women is what she seems to be in the beginning, and both share the burden of guilt to some degree. As Noa’s execution draws near, the reader realizes the complexity of the situation and must consider the difference between moral guilt and legal guilt. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is a complex, character-driven psychological thriller that will yield heated discussions at your next book club meeting.
Best-known for her teen books, Cecil Castellucci teams up with noted graphic novelist Sara Varon to create Odd Duck, an amusing tale of belonging and acceptance. A sort of graphic novel without panels, it tells the story of Theodora, a very proper duck who has her daily routine down pat. It includes wingspan exercises, quacking in a perfect tone, and swimming across the pond in back of her immaculately clean home with a cup of rose hip tea on her head (in order to maintain perfect posture). Then one day her world is turned upside-down with the arrival of Chad, a very different kind of duck, who moves into the vacant house next door to Theodora. Chad is an artist, a musician, a layabout with dyed feathers! Will Theodora be able to endure a neighbor like Chad?
Varon's accessible, anthropomorphic pen-and-ink pastel illustrations of the ducks and their surroundings match the loose, casual style of the text. Fun vocabulary is introduced to young readers throughout the pages, which include a few speech balloons and a lot of side commentary (with arrows) by an omniscient narrator. Odd Duck is a wonderful introduction for kids who are bridging the picture book, beginning reader, and graphic novel formats. Readers will enjoy making their own determinations as to whether Theodora or Chad is the odd duck, and what differences between friends really matter .
Alex London’s thriller Proxy propels the reader into a not-so-distant dystopian future in Colorado. An orphan teen living in the Valve, the slum of Mountain City, Sydney Carton is forced to take on years of debt just to secure his meager existence. And like many orphans, he’s repaying this debt by serving as a proxy, made to take any physical punishments intended for his patron. Unfortunately for Syd, his patron is the incorrigible, spoiled Knox Brindle, son of the wealthy head of SecuriTech.
Throughout their lives, Knox has been forced to watch Syd suffer the painful effects of the electro-muscular disruption (EMD) stick, used to deliver physical discipline. But since they’ve never met and he’s always watched onscreen, it’s been easy to remain detached. Now it seems Knox is responsible for the death of a young woman, and Syd will have to pay with his life. An unusual turn of circumstance throws the teens together in the same place at the same time, and it turns out that nothing is as it seems. Syd’s life may be worth more than anyone realizes.
Baltimore native London has created a detailed science fiction world that takes our current technology and debt-driven society to a whole new level. He manages to put a fresh spin on some time-honored storytelling tropes, creating an exciting, fast-paced novel that makes for a great summer teen read. Proxy is rife with both big thoughts and big action, as London explores the complex nature of friendship, sacrifice and the value of human life.
In author Gail Godwin’s newest novel, Flora, the aged Helen is remembering the summer of 1945. She lived on a mountaintop outside a small North Carolina town in her family’s once stately manse with her adored grandmother Nonie, described by one of Helen’s few friends as looking like “an upright mastiff driving a car.” Also in residence is Helen’s remote and sarcastic father who usually prefers the company of Jack Daniels to his daughter. Helen’s mother died when Helen was three. Nonie has died, unexpectedly, in the spring and Helen’s father has eagerly accepted a supervisory position at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee military facility, leaving the nearly eleven-year-old Helen in need of a caretaker.
Arrangements are made for cousin Flora to come tend Helen. Flora, a recent teacher’s college graduate, is everything Helen’s “right side of the tracks” family is not; her lack of guile and tender heart are viewed with polite condescension and her stories of Helen’s mother’s estranged family back in Alabama are an embarrassment. Hitler has killed himself but the Japanese are continuing to fight World War II. On the home front, polio has reared its paralytic head, victimizing Helen’s buddy Brian, and soldiers lucky enough to straggle home are bringing their own demons with them. Helen’s father declares that Flora and Helen must remain sequestered on the decaying estate for their own safety.
Writer Godwin is known for her graceful prose, sharply-drawn characters, and is at her best probing family dynamics influenced by Southern Gothic tradition. In Flora, she portrays both a country and a family on the cusp of change, responding to circumstances beyond either’s control. Helen’s struggle to regain her footing in a permanently altered world has far reaching consequences, and Godwin’s careful portrayal of Helen as a child desperately emulating her beloved adults rings sadly true.
What happens when an ex-wife is forced to live with the woman who broke up her once happy marriage? First time author Amy Sue Nathan delivers a novel with that tantalizing premise in The Glass Wives. Evie Glass finds her world upended when ex-husband Richard dies in a devastating car accident. While she had come to terms with living alone with their ten year-old twins in what had been their dream house, she still counted on Richard to be there. Sure, he now had a new wife more than ten years her junior, Nicole, and a baby son with that new wife. But Richard was still an active parent to her children, someone who would continue to be there through their life milestones: the bar and bat mitzvahs, their graduations. Or so she had always hoped.
Once the shock of Richard’s death begins to wear off, Nicole Glass realizes to her horror that her financial support is now gone as well. Her part time sales job at the gift store doesn’t bring in enough to pay the mortgage, let alone anything else. And although she initially was happy about the thought of removing Richard’s widow from her life, she hadn’t realized her children had already developed a bond with their half-brother. And Nicole herself is left adrift, estranged from her own relatives.
The Glass wives begin to redefine family as necessity brings their separate families together under one roof. Nathan’s smart, thoughtful story, told with compassion and a sense of humor, makes a great poolside read. Need a compulsively readable choice (with a lot of discussion points) for an upcoming book club? The Glass Wives is a sure bet.
The majority of American brides have diamond engagement rings today, but that wasn’t always the case. The American expectation of a diamond engagement ring largely grew from the aggressive marketing of the DeBeers Company in the 20th century. J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements brings together a diverse cast of characters in a story centered around relationships and, of course, the engagement ring.
Kate, who lived through the turmoil of her parents’ failed marriage, has vowed never to marry. She and her partner Dan are very happy together, but she must set aside her feelings about marriage as she helps her cousin plan his wedding to his long-time partner. Evelyn married Gerald soon after the loss of her first husband. They have been married 40 years, and they now face their son’s crumbling marriage and his choice of a new relationship. James is a paramedic who married his high school sweetheart Sheila. Their life together is far from perfect, but they are working to stay together. Delphine’s relationship with musician P.J. is coming to an end because of his infidelity. She reflects back on their doomed relationship as she methodically trashes his apartment. In the midst of these stories, we also meet Frances Gerety, a fictionalized version of the woman who wrote the famous DeBeers slogan “A Diamond is Forever” in the 1940s. Frances works for the N. W. Ayer advertising agency in Philadelphia and has helped craft many of the marketing catchphrases for diamonds that we still recognize today. She never married, and her experience as a single woman working to promote engagements and marriage provides a counterpoint to the other stories.
Over the course of the novel, Sullivan slowly connects these seemingly unrelated stories. She presents no perfect characters and no perfect relationships, but the enduring nature of love and family shines through. This entertaining and rich look at relationships and marriage will be the perfect addition to your summer beach bag.
How does one continue after the death of a child? This is what two mothers contemplate when they are faced with the unimaginable. In The Still Point of the Turning World, Emily Rapp lays bare the utter devastation she and her husband experienced when their infant son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic disorder which is always fatal. Rapp, herself a writer, describes in a heartbreakingly poetic style the dreams and plans she had for Ronan before he was even born, and the course their life together took after the diagnosis. Reminiscent of Tuesdays with Morrie, Rapp draws on different religions, philosophies and myths as she delves deep into her grief and pain, assuming a role no parent wants to play. Rapp eschews the idea of measuring the worth of Ronan’s life by his developmental progress; instead, she learns to focus on the small ordinary moments with her son, determined to make his brief existence count.
In I’ll See You Again: A Memoir by Jackie Hance (with Janice Kaplan), Hance recounts the devastating day in July 2009 when a van being driven by her sister-in-law Diane crashed, killing Hance’s three daughters and five other passengers. Besides coping with the horrific reality of instantaneously losing all of their children, Hance and her husband Warren also had to deal with the family fallout and ensuing publicity. Diane’s body tested positive for alcohol and drugs, which was a complete shock to the family, and there were a number of bloggers and media outlets who blamed the parents for letting their three girls ride with Diane. The Hances’ quest to create meaning out of senseless tragedy led to the establishment of a foundation in honor of the girls, and in 2011, the birth of their fourth daughter. Like The Still Point of the Turning World, this is a painfully beautiful story of emotional frailty balanced with resilience, introspection in the face of loss, and boundless parental devotion. As Rapp muses, “children do not exist to honor their parents; their parents exist to honor them.”