The aroma of coconut-scented sunscreen fills the air. Kiddie pool toys are on special at Target, along with bikinis for the brave and cover-ups...

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The aroma of coconut-scented sunscreen fills the air. Kiddie pool toys are on special at Target, along with bikinis for the brave and cover-ups for the rest of us.

Yup, it’s beach-blanket time again. That means you will be madly searching for just the right beach book, and we’ve got ’em, with a long list for you to peruse. Below you’ll find quick takes on an assortment of recent fiction, along with a few already ascending the best-seller lists. Happy reading — and no splashing.

“High Plains Tango,” by Robert James Waller. Shaye Areheart/Random House, $24.95, 304 pp., in stores June 28: We just have four words for you: “Bridges of Madison County.” You know you’re hankering for some more of Robert James Waller’s prose, and here is a rich trove of it, right along the lines of “He bent her like the wind bends sienna wheat in a high plains summer and eventually came to know that loving Susanna Benteen took you as near to Truth as you can get without dying.” There is a plot, too, sort of: Hunky drifter rolls into small Midwestern town, builds house as tribute to his craftsman mentor, runs afoul of evil politicians. But there’s lots of Wallering in high-minded romance, and “Madison County” fans will be right at home.

“Little White Lies,” by Gemma Townley. (Ballantine Books, $12.95, 336 pp.: Natalie Raglan is fed up with her life in Bath, tossing out her philandering boyfriend and quitting her job in advertising to strike out on her own in London. There, however, she is isolated and lonely, stuck in a dead-end job working for an evil harridan in a dress shop. Natalie keeps getting upscale mail for Cressida, the previous (more glamorous) renter of her flat; eventually, she opens one of those intriguing letters and decides to pretend to be Cressida, with some surprising results. This is more fun than the usual mistaken-identity romp, and Natalie’s kind heart reaps its own rewards.

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“Something Blue,” by Emily Giffin. St. Martin’s Press, $22.95, 352 pp.: Giffin has produced a sequel to last year’s hilarious and touching “Something Borrowed,” in which long-suffering Rachel (soon to be maid of honor) steals the fiancé of her spoiled, imperious, gorgeous best friend Darcy. The new “Something Blue” stands just fine on its own merits, though you’ll enjoy it more if you also read “Borrowed” (which recently was reissued in paperback). “Something Blue” is Darcy’s story. While her appalling history in the prequel might predispose readers to hate Darcy, Giffin does a great job of character development and witty repartee that the reader forgives all — even when the ultra-materialistic protagonist eyes her post-fiancé boyfriend and muses, “A wave of buyer’s remorse washed over me.”

“The Sound of Her Name,” by Mary Morgan. St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95, 304 pp.: Seattle author Mary Morgan (“The House at the Edge of the Jungle”) returns to her native British Isles for a deeply affecting story that begins with an overheard remark at a 1968 cocktail party in the Pacific Northwest. Tim Bruce, the son of the family, overhears his father confess that he might have married a woman named Gwyneth Griffiths in Clarrach, Wales, “if it hadn’t been for the war.” On an impulse, Tim changes his itinerary for an upcoming European trip to include an impromptu stop in Clarrach, looking up this mysterious Gwyneth (now married to a small-town doctor). During Tim’s brief stay at Gwyneth’s house (he has broken his ankle and been patched up by Gwyneth’s husband), the revelations about that wartime era 24 years ago begin. We learn about Gwyneth’s desire for privacy, her artist’s studio (where she produces haunting variations on the same face) and her past. The finale has a couple of startling plot twists. The only caveat here is that one would love the novel to be longer, even more developed and fleshed out and sagalike — but what it does, it does perfectly.

“True Believer,” by Nicholas Sparks. Warner Books, $24.95, 322 pp.: The author of “The Notebook” and “Message in a Bottle” is back, with a predictable story about cynical New York journalist Jeremy Marsh, who specializes in exposés of paranormal hogwash and pseudo-psychics. When he is summoned to the little North Carolina town of Boone Creek to investigate strange lights in the town cemetery, he also ends up investigating (pretty thoroughly) the town’s attractive young librarian. Will the hip, black-clad New Yorker find happiness with the sweet ingenue whose granny is the town psychic? Does Nicholas Sparks write best sellers?

“Prep,” by Curtis Sittenfeld. Random House, $21.95, 416 pp.: Parents who are still shuddering over Tom Wolfe’s bacchanalian view of college life in the best seller “I Am Charlotte Simmons” now have more angst on the way in this debut novel about an unhappy Midwestern girl who gets a scholarship to a prestigious Ivy League prep school. Easy to empathize with but hard to like, Lee doesn’t really know what she wants, besides the hottest boy in the school. She baffles and alienates her classmates and her parents, and doesn’t really come to any great epiphanies as she finally heads off to college, but her touchingly told story is engaging all the same. “Prep” is full of great details, convincing dialogue and spot-on teen interactions — and it should be, because the 29-year-old Sittenfeld (who is a woman with a surname-first name, in the best prep-school tradition) not only went to Groton but also teaches at St. Albans School.

“The Wives of Bath,” by Wendy Holden. Penguin (Plume), $14, 304 pp.: Hilarious saga of two British couples from the historic city of Bath, both attending prenatal classes before the birth of their babies. Bossy, spoiled Amanda, “who saw the world as a box of chocolates from which she always got first pick,” is married to the hapless Hugh; she has scheduled a Caesarean because she’s “too posh to push.” Meek Alice, whose husband Jake is a manic environmentalist and recycler of used cereal boxes, is planning a home birth complete with whale music. Needless to say, their babies have other ideas. Then Amanda decides she’s not cut out for motherhood, and Alice decides she’s not cut out for Jake, and the fun begins.

“The Art of Undressing,” by Stephanie Lehmann. New American Library, $12.95, 256 pp.: And you think your mom is embarrassing. Ginger’s 43-year-old mother, Coco, is a gorgeous exotic dancer who now sells sex toys and teaches such classes as “The Fine Art of Striptease.” Horrified by her mother, the repressed Ginger just wants to become a good chef, until she decides she wants to catch the attention of a certain young man. This book is worth buying just for the shopping scene alone, when mother and daughter assess the latter’s appearance in daring new dresses (“Ginger. The world will not stop spinning just because you have cleavage.”)

“Table for Five,” by Susan Wiggs. Mira Books, $19.95, 384 pp.: Northwest author Susan Wiggs has another winner in this poignant story about Lily Robinson, a teacher whose life changes completely after a car crash kills her best friend and the friend’s husband — leaving three orphaned children that Lily loves as if they were her own. The three children all deal differently with their grief, as does Lily when she discovers the children have been left in the custody of their unmarried uncle, an aspiring PGA tour golfer. Wiggs’ careful characterizations don’t indulge in sentimental cliches, though there are few surprises; even the title makes it clear where the novel’s plot is headed.

“4th of July,” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. Little, Brown, $27.95, 400 pp.: James Patterson is a prodigious producer of mystery best sellers (with the occasional help of some prose partners), though for this reader the main mystery is exactly why these novels seem to zoom off the bookstore shelves and onto the best-seller lists. Yes, “4th of July” is extremely fast-paced; many of the chapters run to a mere two pages, which gives you a sort of breathless feeling as the central character (the preternaturally gifted San Francisco Police Lt. Lindsay Boxer) zips hither and thither. She has a slew of problems: first, the legal proceedings against her for shooting two murderous teens who shot her and her partner first, and second, a serial killer who’s fond of Half Moon Bay, where she is vacationing. Those two bullets Lindsay took certainly don’t bother her much, as she sets about solving one case after another despite considerable personal peril. Despite the presence of a female co-writer, Lindsay seems about as womanly as Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Patterson’s prose style makes Tom Clancy look like William Faulkner.

“The Goddess Rules,” by Clare Naylor. Ballantine Books, $22.95, 368 pp.: Kate Disney is an artist, living in a garden shed in London, with some occasional visits from her ex-boyfriend Jake (when he feels like some unencumbered sex). Meek and unassuming, Kate paints pictures of people’s pets, but she doesn’t really have a life of her own — until glamorous retired actress Mirabelle Moncur zooms into her life with her lion cub on a leash. Mirabelle wreaks havoc all around with her unabashed sensuality, but she also teaches Kate the meaning of joie de vivre. Pure froth, as believable as the Tooth Fairy, but this also is the perfect accompaniment to coconut-scented sunscreen.

Melinda Bargreen: