Summer is here, and the romance and women's fiction section of the bookstore is positively overflowing. From this treasure trove of escapist reading, we've chosen several diverting stories guaranteed to carry you away from your usual humdrum routine.

Prolific romance and women's fiction author Debbie Macomber is beloved by her readers for her warm, down-to-earth stories that resonate with the challenges and joys of real life. She chronicles just such real life for two best friends in her new novel Between Friends.

A lifelong exchange of letters and personal diaries weaves the lives of two baby boomer girls who grow to womanhood amid the pivotal events of the 1950s and '60s. From childhood, rich kid Jillian Lawton and poor kid Lesley Adamski form an unlikely bond that transcends their markedly different families and rearing.

Tempered by world events like the Vietnam War and the more recent calamity of September 11, Jillian and Lesley confront the celebrations, sorrows and fears of everyday living with the strength of friendship that grows more resilient with every challenge. Debbie Macomber's gift for understanding the souls of women their relationships, their values, their lives is at its peak here.

Marriage on the mend
Imagine how you would feel if you couldn't read your best friend's letters, or the electric bill or a storybook to you preschooler. Candice Poarch writes with compassion about the unique confines of the imprisonment of illiteracy in Bargain of the Heart. With equal fervor, she tells the relationship-affirming story of one marriage's milepost the contemplation of divorce marked as an opportunity for rediscovery and renewal. For teacher Crystal Dupree and her attorney husband, Richard, the decision to give their marriage three months of courtship lets the pair rediscover what they first loved about each other. Their agreement, urged by Richard and agreed to by Crystal even though she believes he's more devoted to his work than to their marriage unleashes moments of reflection and sheer unbridled fear as together they find that the purest, most priceless agreement is a Bargain of the Heart.

Sexy suspense
The beguiling and conniving realm of mesmerism shines in Amanda Quick's latest sparkling Regency suspense novel. In Don't Look Back, Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz) brings back the delightful sparring duo of Slightly Shady for another adventure in intrigue and passion. Lavinia Lake's not-so-genteel business of investigations draws her into the chase for a priceless bracelet a hunt Tobias March is determined she won't venture into alone. Stir in the youthful adventures of Lavinia's niece, Emeline, and Tobias's nephew, Anthony, as they prove themselves worthy seconds in this "pas de duel" of wits and passion.

Quick is the wit and action in this cheery, cheeky, never-say-surrender adventure in the steamy dark side of Merry Olde Regency England.

Sandy Huseby writes and reviews from her homes in Fargo, North Dakota, and lakeside in northern Minnesota.



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