Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia is a tale of suspense set in a withering old hotel and featuring some of the most delightful characters to grace the pages of a work of fiction this year. The novel literally starts off with a bang, and once the reader enters the hotel, they better be prepared to stay.
In 1982, room 712, a young girl witnesses a horrible murder-suicide that will affect her for the rest of her life. Fast forward to 1997. The Bellweather Hotel hosts a statewide high school music festival which attracts some rather curious characters. Rabbit Hatmaker, a bassoon player, and his sister Alice, destined for stardom, arrive with their gun-toting chaperone, Natalie. There they encounter Viola, the stern and horrible program coordinator, and the foul-mouthed Scottish conductor, Fisher Brodie. When Alice returns to her room to discover her roommate has committed suicide, she immediately goes for help. But the body disappears, and it soon becomes apparent that 712 is an unlucky room, and that the past may be haunting the present.
There are several things to love about Racculia’s novel. All of the characters in Bellweather Rhapsody are complex and interesting with a very detailed backstories. She weaves their stories together, and as the characters bump into one another, the sparks begin to fly. The Bellweather Hotel is described in such detail that the rooms of the hotel become almost characters in their own right. Readers who enjoy novels with a strong sense of place will not be disappointed. Embedded in the story are several mysteries that keep the reader involved. The characters become intertwined with one another leading to an ultimately satisfying conclusion. Racculia captures the intensity of a musical competition where no matter the circumstances, the show must go on. This summer, make it a point to check into the Bellweather, a visit you won’t soon forget.
Two novels highlight the beauty of the beach and celebrate the power of female friendship. Enjoy perfect summer escapes with Anne Rivers Siddons’ The Girls of August and Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer.
Siddons introduces readers to Maddy, Rachel, Barbara and Melinda when they are in their 20s, newly married and seeing their husbands through medical school. As the four become fast friends, they make a pact to spend one week together in August at a beach house. Though their lives change, the women keep this promise and travel to different beach houses over the years to reconnect. That is, until Melinda dies in a car accident and the August ritual is abandoned. Years later, Melinda’s husband remarries Baby, a 20-something who tries to resurrect the annual trip. The four end up at Baby’s remote family home on a barrier island off the South Carolina coast where jealousy simmers, secrets are revealed and friendship is tested. Siddons once again delivers an emotionally satisfying Southern summer tale with well-drawn women dealing with real, explosive issues.
Looking for a different beach? Travel north with Nancy Thayer to beautiful Nantucket. This lush setting is where Maggie and Emily meet as children and develop an unlikely, but strong, summer friendship. Emily is from a moneyed family whose mother wants nothing to do with the islanders. Maggie is the daughter of a local seamstress struggling to make ends meet. As the two get older, real life gets in the way and the girls drift apart. Emily wants more from life than simply being the wife of a successful husband while Maggie works hard, saves her money and longs for a passionate romance. It seems unlikely their paths will cross again until one wealthy Wall Street broker begins wooing both women. This engaging novel has romance and drama, but its centerpiece is the beauty and strength of lasting friendship.
Teacher, blog and forum editor, roleplaying game designer and writer Jeremy P. Bushnell’s debut novel The Weirdness is the perfect amalgamation of his mediums of creativity. Only someone who has spent their life marinating in nerd culture would be able to devise a plot and cast as imaginative and unique as Bushnell has in The Weirdness.
Billy Ridgeway is growing too complacent with his life; all he has to show for himself as a self-proclaimed “writer” is a couple of short stories and a novel vomited forth at the tail end of a post-college-dropout bender of forced artistry. While his former peers are paying mortgages and spawning children, he’s stalled making sandwiches for eight hours a day at a Greek deli.
Of course, this all changes one morning when Billy awakens to a suave-looking dude he doesn’t know sitting on his couch. Introducing himself as “Lucifer Morningstar,” the dude offers Billy some coffee, and with it an only slightly nefarious proposal that would launch his writing career. In a rare bout of good judgment, Billy declines and tries to go about his day; unfortunately for him, Lucifer is a supernaturally persistent guy, and he’s about to make things weird—like, warlocks and sex-wolves and plots to take over the world weird.
Bushnell’s novel is a swirl of contemporary geek humor and sci-fi, blended with a unique, refreshing writing style. He uses unconventional means—absurd similes, unexpected question marks, hypothetical maybes—to create an amusing feeling of doubt and disbelief in his narrative voice, which allows his characters to act with as much hyperbole as the reader wants to perceive. The Weirdness has to be read to be believed, and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys contemporary, surreal fiction.
By now, the secret is out: J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, has a new mystery series for adults written under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith. Last year saw the publication of The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book featuring British private detective Cormoran Strike, and it made a splash when it was “leaked” that Galbraith was actually Rowling. Just released is the second Galbraith book, The Silkworm.
Cormoran Strike is an unusual man. The illegitimate and estranged son of a rock star, a former military special investigations officer and missing a leg thanks to an encounter with an IED, The Silkworm opens with Strike’s star on the rise. After unraveling the suspicious circumstances surrounding a supermodel’s death in The Cuckoo’s Calling, the hoi polloi are flocking to Strike’s detective agency, which is finally turning a profit. Mousy and odd, his new client Leonora engages Strike to locate her husband, Owen Quine, a has-been author desperate for a bestseller. While Quine may be missing, his latest novel is not. Unauthorized copies of his Bombyx Mori are popping up all over London, and since the perverted story disgustingly skewers a number of barely disguised book world luminaries, Quine’s enemies are becoming legion. Strike and his secretary/assistant Robin pick up the case, finding themselves at odds with the local police.
Rowling’s writing style is straightforward as she moves these plot-driven whodunit stories along at a steady clip, and her characters are likeable and well-drawn. Readers will return to this entertaining series to find out if Strike maintains a clean break from a long-term but toxic relationship, or if Robin attains her goal to move beyond office secretary to become a detective herself in spite of her stuffed shirt fiancé’s objections.
Ah, summer. That time of year when the fridge is covered in cream-colored envelopes with fancy fonts. It’s wedding season, and if you’re spending all your time buying gifts from registries and listening to a bridal march for what feels like the 100th time this summer, why not take a break from all those taffeta bridesmaids dresses and have yourself a little vacation to southeastern France in Ellen Sussman’s new book A Wedding in Provence?
Olivia and Brody are excited to spend their wedding weekend at a charming B&B owned by their friends in Provence. In their 50s, they are optimistic at their second chance at a loving marriage. Their family and friends are in attendance, ready to celebrate with them. However, even in this idyllic setting, old family jealousies and new problems threaten to overturn the joy of their wedding weekend. Olivia’s daughters, Nell and Carly, are coming from two disastrously different romantic situations: Carly’s longtime boyfriend has decided to skip the wedding altogether, and Nell, mourning the loss of her dead boyfriend, picks up her seatmate on the plane to attend the wedding with her.
Carly and Nell are not the only ones with secrets to keep. Emily and Sebastien, the owners of the B&B, are weathering a difficult time in their marriage, Brody’s father has just left his mother after 55 years, and then there’s wild card best man Jake, who seems harmless, but has his own hidden agenda.
Fans of romances with an edge and of Sussman’s other novels, such as French Lessons or The Paradise Guest House, will find this novel a summer soap opera to read while waiting for the bridal party to have their photos taken and cocktail hour to begin.
On the Rocks by Erin Duffy opens with Abby trying on the Vera Wang wedding dress of her dreams. At that moment, her fiancé Ben changes his Facebook relationship status to single and Abby’s life is shattered in this charming novel of friendship, family and love in the crazy age of social media.
As Abby struggles to get over Ben, her best friend Grace decides they both need a change of scenery and rents a quaint cottage in Newport for the two to share over the summer. While the pair leaves their problems behind, they enjoy sea breezes, refreshing cocktails and the attentions of handsome men. Abby also secures her very own dating coach when she meets Bobby, an awkward, out-of-work lawyer who demands that she focus on dating as if it were a job. But dating has changed in the 12 years Abby was with Ben, and social media has put a scary spin on the social scene. From Facebook to a walk-of-shame website, Abby navigates her new role as a singleton without the privilege of privacy and the possibility of being cast as a viral victim just a click away.
Duffy’s fresh story is a humorous but realistic foray into contemporary dating. Bad dates, laughable pick-up lines, crazy families and clever dialogue are peppered throughout this fun and relatable story that's ultimately the tale of one woman’s unpredictable journey to happiness. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Sarah Pekkanen and Nancy Thayer should definitely pack this one on vacation!
In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a hoarder dies of emphysema. While unearthing mountains of ruined furniture, useless junk and disgusting garbage, her daughter, Liza, discovers a small fortune in $100 bills. But someone in Massachusetts disputes her claim and is willing to go to any lengths to get his money back; including torture, arson and murder. Terrified and on-the-run, Liza travels across the country desperately seeking safety.
In Bisbee, Arizona, a developmentally disabled man suffering from Alzheimer’s has gone missing, requiring an all-out manhunt. Friends, neighbors and the police form teams hoping to find the gentle giant before he is lost in the Arizona desert. What could these two cases possibly have in common?
Joanna Brady, now the well-seasoned sheriff of Cochise County, must juggle two challenging investigations at once, straining budget resources and pushing her deputies to their limits. Confronting long-held family secrets and lies, Sheriff Brady must do some unearthing of her own to discover the appalling truth.
Filled with non-stop suspense, original characters, taut action and realistic police procedure, Remains of Innocence is set in the backdrop of the hauntingly beautiful Arizona desert. J. A. Jance’s latest Sheriff Brady mystery is sure to please fans of Michael Connelly, Craig Johnson and Archer Mayor. New readers of Jance’s work as well as fans of this series will find this a very satisfying outing.
Chris Pavone’s second book The Accident seems like an unlikely mash-up at first blush, but, in fact, it is a perfect blend of two worlds that rarely crossover. One world is the rapidly collapsing world of publishing and the other is the treacherous world of international espionage. The point where they connect is a globe-spanning multimedia empire, Wolf Media, whose founder committed a horrible crime. A memoir has surfaced exposing the founder's many crimes written by an anonymous yet highly accurate source. As the manuscript winds its way through the publishing world, it goes viral in the traditional sense of the word, it spreads unchecked and brings death to everyone who reads it.
Pavone’s sophomore outing works for a number of reasons. You quickly see that the world of espionage and publishing are natural counterpoints. People in those fields work hand-in-hand with the powerful and influential, but they lack the wealth, resources and fame of the same. They are Cinderella at the ball, allowed to see the spectacle, but living lives much separated from it. Secondly, Wolf Media and its real life counterparts have had a huge impact on publishing and wield unprecedented influence on international affairs. Pavone tackles this idea head-on, showing Wolf Media as both the possible savior and destroyer of traditional publishing, while at the same time being manipulated by — and sometimes manipulator of — intelligence agencies.
Pavone, a longtime veteran of the publishing industry, provides keen insight into modern publishing, an industry that seems to be living from one quarterly balance sheet to the next. Just as interesting is his depiction of a post 9/11 U.S. intelligence apparatus that is so focused on one particular region and threat that an off-the-books intelligence operation can operate without oversight and for the benefit of corporate partners.
The Accident is much like the David Mamet film The Spanish Prisoner. Each time you think you know where the story is going, you will be surprised, right up to the final shocking revelations. Pavone has crafted a unique tale of intrigue, espionage and murder in our modern world where spies and secrets are far less the provenance of nations than powerful multinational corporations.
Some books are beautifully written while others tell a fascinating story. And then there is Anthony Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See, which combines exquisite prose with an engrossing and layered tale of history, science and myth set in Europe during the era of World War II.
In August of 1944, the French coastal city of St. Malo was the location of a battle between the occupying Nazi troops and the Allied forces determined to drive out the Germans. In the city, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a 16-year-old blind girl, is home alone, hiding under her bed when the shelling begins. Across town, German army private Walter Pfennig is stationed with his radio team in the basement of the Hotel of Bees.
Doerr moves his story back and forth within a 10 year time frame. Marie-Laure was living in Paris with her father, the locksmith for the vast complex of the National Museum of Natural History. The pair fled Paris as the Occupation began, possibly carrying with them a priceless diamond steeped in legend from the museum’s collection. As a boy, Werner lived in an orphanage where he repaired a radio discarded as trash. He and his little sister would tune in to French radio broadcasts about science. Gifted with an analytical mind, Werner is drafted by the Nazis, using his skills to hunt down amateur broadcasters for the Resistance. Doerr carefully unfolds each character’s narrative as they gradually converge in St. Malo.
The center of this story might be a peerless gem, as cursed as the Hope diamond, both precious and horrifying. It might be the realization that both good and evil — or caring and callousness — can live within one heart. All the Light We Cannot See is a finely crafted work and deserves its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Readers of World War II literary fiction might also enjoy Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, a 2012 Man Booker finalist.
We all have friends from yesteryear with whom we pine for the perfect, golden memories of whatever chapter of our lives we consider to be “the good old days.” Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel The Girls from Corona del Mar follows two best friends, Mia and Lorrie Ann, as their journeys take them from their California hometown to the far corners of the world and back again, testing their bond along the way.
Mia is convinced that her friend Lorrie Ann is her counterbalance in the universe. Beautiful, soft-spoken and otherwise perfect in every manner, she can do no wrong in her kindred spirit’s eyes. Lorrie Ann’s only flaw seems to be her terrible luck; despite being an elementally good person, she suffers three distinct, life-altering tragedies that leave her reeling and unsure of her purpose in life. Mia feels powerless, remorseful and guilty, as if her best friend was being punished for her own shortcomings.
As the two grow older, their lives become disparate; Mia marries and moves to Turkey to develop her career while Lorrie Ann is swallowed up by the world. After years of sporadic contact, Mia is shocked when her best friend turns up in Istanbul, battered and in need of help. What transpires after the two are reunited challenges the temper of their time-forged companionship.
The Girls from Corona del Mar is a tragic, beautiful reckoning of the worst catastrophes life can muster, and illustrates just how powerful and enduring friendship can be, despite the fragility of youth. Anyone who has lost a best friend to time or distance will sympathize as Mia and Lorrie Ann’s story progresses. Rufi Thorpe has written a wonderful debut that will be enjoyed by fans of literary fiction or women’s literature.