Sunscreen? Check. Towel? Check. Forgetting something? One of these books.
The long rainy winter of our discontent is over at last. Never have Seattle readers been more eager to hit the beaches … with a book or two in hand, of course. Here are a few beach-worthy options to accompany what we all hope will be a summer in the sun.
“Map of the Heart,” by Susan Wiggs (William Morrow, $25.99, out August 22)
An ambitious and far-reaching love story about four generations of family on two continents, and the consequences of their long-held secrets. At the center of the story is a trio of characters: Camille, a widowed photographer with a case of survivor’s guilt and a troubled teenaged daughter; Camille’s French-born father, who wants to resolve the secrets of his parents’ World War II past by returning with his family to Provence; and an improbably perfect American historian and former naval officer who wants Camille. Bainbridge Island author Wiggs weaves all this together in a heartwarming saga of loss and reunion that ends up in a positive cavalcade of happy endings.
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“Secrets of the Tulip Sisters,” by Susan Mallery (HQN Books, $25.99, July 11)
The fictitious town of Tulpen Crossing in Skagit Valley’s tulip country is the setting for this light but engaging novel by Seattle author Mallery. Kelly and Olivia, two estranged sisters who survived a troubled childhood with an unutterably toxic mother, spar and reconnect as they get to know each other on an adult basis. Mallery ties everything up quite neatly at the novel’s end with a “happily ever after” for all; this is a “summer reads” romance, after all. But a large part of the novel’s real charm is the sense of place, the details of tulip farming and tourism, and the creative ways in which the community is revitalized with Olivia’s marketing savvy — a gala fundraiser and a cleverly revamped craft mall.
“Sun at Midnight,” by Rosie Thomas. Overlook Press, $27.95 (496 pages, July 25).
Getting a bit too toasty on that beach? How about a novel that takes you to Antarctica? Welsh-born Thomas, a popular-fiction mainstay who has “trekked in the footsteps of Shackleton on South Georgia Island,” writes about Alice, a 30ish Oxford scientist who has long worked in the shadow of her more famous mother. When Alice’s relationship with an unfaithful sculptor collapses, she decides to join a research team’s project in Antarctica. Thomas vividly describes the shivery blue-and-white frozen landscape, the biting cold, and the ever-present danger that means one person’s small mistake could doom the entire team. An unexpected humdinger of an emergency connects Alice with the taciturn, remote Rooker, who might find his own salvation with her. (The book, published in the U.K. over a decade ago, is coming out for the first time in the U.S. this summer.)
“Cocoa Beach,” by Beatriz Williams. (William Morrow, $27.99)
A feisty heroine who drove an ambulance in France during World War I is the central character in this complex and ingenious novel about greed, dark secrets, and true love. In 1917, Virginia Fortescue, passionate and headstrong, falls in love with a British army surgeon, Simon Fitzwilliam — but the avarice and duplicity of others cause a series of complications that appear to end in 1922 with Simon’s death in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He has moved there to resurrect the family fortunes, and his powerful but shifty brother has told Virginia that Simon died in a catastrophic fire that destroyed his house. But Virginia is not so sure. Williams’ narrative offers a tropical milieu of rumrunners, skulduggery, concealed identity, dangerous complications for Virginia and her toddler daughter Evelyn — and lots of entertainment for readers. The author will be here in Seattle July 8 for a 6:30 p.m. event at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.
“Secrets in Summer,” by Nancy Thayer (Ballantine Books, $27)
Known as the “queen of the beach reads,” Thayer has written thirty novels based in Nantucket — the setting for her latest book about Darcy, a divorced 30-year-old librarian who is dismayed when her ex-husband and his new family coincidentally rent the house next door for the summer. The houses are so close together that Darcy sees and hears much more than she’d like to. Complicating matters further, the 14-year-old stepdaughter of the distasteful ex is dating “Mr. Wrong,” an older boy who pressures her for sex and tries to introduce her to heroin, as Darcy unwillingly overhears; should she intercede? Fortunately Darcy has allies, and the Nantucket scenery is so enticingly described that you’ll want to go there at once.
“The Light in Summer,” by Mary McNear. (William Morrow, $15.99)
The latest entry in McNear’s cozy “Butternut Lake” series features an unmarried small-town librarian heroine named Billy whose track record with men is less than stellar. She has a teenage son named Luke, conceived in a one-night stand with Wesley, who has completely disappeared; Luke’s beloved grandfather has just died, and the Luke is well on his way to becoming a minor hooligan. Billy has only her trusty dog and the collected works of Jane Austen for company. But things change overnight when a new man enters the scene: charming Cal is well-off, from Seattle, and in the process of discarding a highly unsatisfactory wife. Finally, when Wesley surprisingly resurfaces, the only thing we are missing is a reunion scene in which he intones in the best Star Wars tradition, “I am your father, Luke.”
“Mr. Right-Swipe,” by Ricki Schultz (Grand Central Publishing, $9.99):
When the promotional language invites comparisons to “Trainwreck” and “Bridesmaids,” the reader is well prepared for this saga of hookups, drinkups, and girlfriend bonding. Breezy, brazen, littered with hashtags and exclamations like “dayum” and “yanno?,” Schultz’s new book about a trio of girlfriends and their misadventures is more alcohol-soaked than a tequila worm, but it’s a fun beach read. (The title refers to an online dating site in which participants swipe their screens right or left to indicate a yes or no on the prospective match.) Educators will roll their eyes at Schultz’s descriptions of a first-grade teacher who routinely arrives late and hungover to greet her amazingly seraphic, filled-with-the-joy-of-learning little sweethearts – and her studly occasional colleague, dubbed the “Hot Sub.” He works nights as a stripper, but hey, his heart’s in the classroom (and, of course, with our heroine.)
“Party Girls Die in Pearls,” by Plum Sykes (Harper Books, $26.99)
You know you’re in England when people are punting (the nautical variety), knocking back Pimm’s, and given names like Ursula Flowerbutton — the heroine of this new murder-mystery romp by Sykes (author of “Bergdorf Blondes”). Set in 1985, the highly entertaining if over-the-top narrative gets rolling when the bookish Ms. Flowerbutton discovers the well-dressed, aristocratic corpse of Lady India Brattenbury. Horrors! Fortunately, Ursula is an aspiring reporter and amateur sleuth who joins forces with another Oxford student in an all-out attempt to solve the mystery while looking fabulous and impressing titled fellow students. If the author’s tongue were wedged any more firmly in cheek, she might require oral surgery, but this rollicking mystery is a lot of fun. (Helpful footnotes will aid the uninitiated in identifying “BOY” as a “mega-groovy King’s Road boutique.”)
“The Little French Bistro,” by Nina George (Crown, $26)
The author of “The Little Paris Bookshop” returns with this saga of 60-year-old Marianne, a German woman married for 41 years to Lothar, possibly the most boorish husband in all fiction. Hopeless and suicidal, she runs away, and is rescued from several attempts to end it all. Marianne ends up instead in a little fishing village on the coast of Brittany, where she finds a far more attractive new life: working in a small hotel/restaurant, enjoying a lively set of new acquaintances, eating delicious seafood — and finding a man who truly appreciates her. The fact that Marianne even contemplates a return to Lothar when he tracks her down will make readers want to shake her and shriek, “Girl! What are you thinking?”