Steamy summer reading selections
Whether you’ll be reading on the beach, by the pool or on your front porch, we’ve got five great books to start the summer off right.
An engrossing double love story set in the not-so-swinging ’60s and a contemporary London news office, The Last Letter from Your Lover offers a captivating tale of missed connections.
The novel opens when the victim of a bad traffic accident, Jennifer Stirling, wakes up in a hospital room unable to remember anything. Nothing is familiar to this Grace Kelly look-alike, not even her husband. After she is released, she is haunted by the strangeness of her surroundings and by her husband’s reserved manner. Finding a series of love letters addressed to her and signed “B” carefully hidden around her house confirms her sense that her marriage was an unhappy one. But who was her lover? Held back by fear and the rigid conventions of the early 1960s, Jennifer hesitates to grasp at a remembered chance of happiness, even after she discovers the identity of the man for whom she was willing to risk so much.
Forty years later, journalist Ellie Haworth uncovers a group of love letters signed “B” in the newspaper archives. The passion and tenderness of the letters draw Ellie in. She can’t help but compare the intensity of the letters with the cryptic text messages she receives from John, a married man with whom she is having an affair. As she labors to discover the people behind these mysterious letters, Ellie re-examines the choices she has made.
Author Jojo Moyes artfully combines the two threads of this romantic tale in ways that not only avoid cliché but offer continuous surprises. More than a simple framing device, Ellie’s story thoughtfully reflects Jennifer’s dilemma. In some ways, The Last Letter from Your Lover is itself a love letter to the all-but-disappearing handwritten message. But Moyes is too honest to simply pine for what once was; though Ellie may long for the passion behind a scribbled love note, the changing times offer her a freedom that Jennifer never had.
Mystery in the Big Easy
Claire DeWitt thinks differently than most people when it comes to solving mysteries. According to Claire, “Clues are the most misunderstood part of detection. Novice detectives think it’s about finding clues. But detective work is about recognizing clues.” In Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Claire is summoned back to New Orleans a year after Hurricane Katrina to investigate the disappearance of Vic Willing, a notable prosecutor who worked within the corrupt legal system of New Orleans.
Claire had worked in New Orleans a few years earlier, studying under the tutelage of Constance, a well-known detective. After Constance’s untimely death, Claire severed ties with the city. However, the prospect of an unsolvable mystery entices her to return to New Orleans, which is haunted not only by the recent memory of Katrina, but ghosts from Claire’s past.
Using the book Détection by the famous French detective Jacques Silette, Claire follows clues, omens and instinct to help her solve the mystery. Her unorthodox tactics include mind-expanding drugs, working with gang members and befriending the local homeless population, all of which lead her on an unlikely path to discovering the truth. Mick Pendell, another one of Constance’s ex-students, assists Claire and provides connections to different people around the city, including Andray Fairview, a youth hardened by gang life who is the key to understanding the truth about Vic Willing.
As the plot twists, you feel like Claire is always one step ahead, understanding each clue’s depth before you can put the pieces together. The mystery of Vic Willing’s disappearance pulls you in, but Gran’s enticing characters will keep you hooked. This is a page-turner with an unexpected ending that will leave readers wondering what is just around the corner for Claire DeWitt and her unlikely crew of accomplices.
A new werewolf legend
Just when you think you’ve seen it all in the fictional werewolf/vampire/witch craze, British novelist Glen Duncan comes along with a story unlike anything else out there. His dark, atmospheric and gripping The Last Werewolf has more in common with Anne Rice than Stephenie Meyer, but it’s a book completely its own. As the title suggests, Jake Marlowe comes to learn he is the last werewolf on Earth. He’s been a man/werewolf hybrid for almost two centuries, and he’s had about enough. With the help of his friend Harley, Jake realizes he’s being hunted by the WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena), and that’s just fine with him.
Jake was turned in a random act of violence in the mid-19th century, and his new identity (complete with unimaginable bloodlust, sexual yearning and pain of transformation) caused him to kill his beloved wife, Arabella. And so Jake has merely survived in the years since, killing when he must, seeing prostitutes instead of engaging in meaningful relationships and documenting it all in the novel, which reads like a journal. But just when he is about to give up hope, Duncan gives us a shocking twist—one that motivates Jake to keep on living, if only for a few more days.
To say much more would spoil the fun of reading The Last Werewolf, a supernatural novel that somehow reads like the best of literary fiction. Elegant and thoughtful while thrilling and violent, this is a book to sink your teeth into.
Brooks’ future America
It is a time of virtual vacations and robotic surgeries, “intelligent” electric cars and universal healthcare—which has resulted in endless waiting lines and sky-high premiums. In light of new scientific discoveries, cancer can be cured, bones can be regenerated and humans are living longer lives. Welcome to America in 2030, where the first Jewish president is in office and the national debt surpasses $200 trillion. In 2030, America’s most powerful lobbyist is the AARP and the preservation of life quality is reserved for the over-50 population, leaving little to no jobs, benefits or future security for younger generations. When the under-50 crowd decides enough is enough and begins initiating terrorist attacks on the “olds,” America finds itself in a period of extreme civil unrest. Add to the attacks the world’s worst earthquake ever—which levels Los Angeles—and the fate of America looks bleaker than ever.
When the government decides to offer China half ownership of L.A. in exchange for the $20 trillion needed to rebuild the city, America enters a new age where its power no longer holds up, its citizens can no longer pursue the lives their grandparents once lived and the country’s fate is undeniably uncertain. Is America selling the very dream that once defined the nation?
In his literary debut, 2030, legendary director and actor Albert Brooks creates a satiric, futuristic narrative in true Orwellian fashion. Instead of making gigantic hypothetical leaps to a completely robotic world where cars sail through the skies, Brooks leads his narrative down a more plausible path. Given America’s present issues, 2030 allows readers a glimpse into a possible future for America. It’s not exactly light reading, but Brooks’ thoughtful, provocative novel will give you plenty to talk about over cocktails this summer.
Sweetness and secrets
Ava Dabrowski—eight years out of college and satisfied, if not completely happy, with her well-paying job at a Chicago ad agency—has come to a crossroads. An affair with her boss has “wound down to its inevitable conclusion,” her estranged mother has died and her career has come to a standstill. She still harbors dreams of becoming a novelist, so when Will Fraser, an old college friend, invites Ava to spend the summer with his two aunts at the family home in Woodburn, Tennessee—a quiet getaway where she can work on her first novel—she quickly accepts his offer.
Ava and her hippie mother had moved around a lot when she was younger, but she experiences culture shock when she arrives in Woodburn, a town she soon realizes is “broken up into social classes that resembled Victorian England.” Southern author Cathy Holton perfectly captures the slow pace and local customs in which Ava immediately becomes immersed: the leisurely breakfasts, garden party dress codes and Toddy Time, held daily at precisely 5:00 p.m.
The more she learns about Will’s aunts, Josephine and Fanny Woodburn, and the story of the mysterious death of Fanny’s first husband Charlie, Ava realizes she has the plot for her novel. But at what price? Will, who is clearly interested in her as more than a friend, is disturbed by her research into his family’s dark secrets . . . and is even more annoyed by her attentions to his estranged cousin Jake, the black sheep of the Woodburn clan.
Holton delves into the flip side of the “moonlight and magnolias” version of Southern life, as she maintains the suspense surrounding not only the demise of Charlie Woodburn, but which of the dashing cousins Ava will eventually choose. Summer in the South is a winning combination of murder and romance, and an engaging summer read.