Red Waters Rising by Laura Ann Gilman
Isobel is riding with her mentor Gabriel, exploring the hot, humid southern portion of the Devil’s West, in the third book of the trilogy which began with Silver on the Road. Isobel is the young Left Hand of the territory; arbitrator and sometimes enforcer in this magical land. As Isobel and Gabriel approach the Mudwater River (aka the Mississippi), everyone they meet seems increasingly uneasy. Gabriel is feeling the call of the River while Isobel may be too closely connected to the land of the territory. In the city of Red Stick they may be facing a riot, or another flood. An imaginative, well-drawn book set in an alternate 19th century North America, which leaves room for more stories in the Devil’s West.
The Reluctant Fortune-Teller by Keziah Frost
Norbert, 73, lives a quiet and happy life with his Chihuahua, Ivy. He is surprised when his art teacher Carlotta comes to visit, along with her friends Birdie and Margaret. They have observed that he might be having financial difficulties, and propose training him to read cards so that he can tell fortunes at a local cafe. When he has some vet bills to pay off, he tucks Ivy into a carrier, and charms the locals and tourists with his readings. He is naturally observant and has a wealth of knowledge from reading Reader’s Digest, and enjoys helping people. Carlotta is worried that he’ll be too successful, but the only real suspense is whether Norbert will be able to help Carlotta’s troubled granddaughter Summer. Gibbon Corner, a tourist town on Lake Ontario, is a fitting setting for this witty, heartwarming novel. If you like cozy mysteries or gentle reads, you’ll probably enjoy spending time with Norbert and Ivy.
Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
With three children in daycare and one in elementary school, Vivian Miller is already stressed, with her life revolving around her work as a CIA analyst and juggling childcare with her husband Matt. Matt calls to say that Ella’s sick and needs to be picked up within an hour, just before his photo shows up in the files of a Russian agent Vivian is tracking. This all happens in the first chapter, with the pace and suspense hardly letting up throughout the story. Can Vivian trust Matt? Will Omar, her colleague at the FBI, be able to help? What should Vivian tell her parents? Flashbacks to Vivian and Matt’s past, including a memorable first meeting, a surprise trip to Hawaii, then life as young parents, have her doubting their whole life together. Vivian would really like to stay home with the kids, but Matt logically urges her to keep her job, and to try for a promotion. I thought Vivian was rather easy to manipulate, but the author, a former CIA analyst, never gives her any easy choices. There’s not a lot of depth here, in either the characters or the plot, but this hard to put down thriller is a good readalike for The Expats by Chris Pavone. Movie rights have been sold, and Charlize Theron may produce and star in the film.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Hilarious, touching, and wistful, this novel unexpectedly won the Pulitzer Prize. Arthur Less, almost 50, is a minor novelist, occasional teacher, and very appealing company. Avoiding both his birthday and the wedding of his younger lover Freddy, Arthur accepts invitations to travel for an interview, an award ceremony, a retreat, a teaching assignment, and as a food critic in order to get away. With his beautifully tailored blue suit, Arthur visits New York City, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Paris, Morocco, southern India, and Kyoto, Japan. There are some funny travel mishaps, and he’s far from being as fluent in German as he believes. Arthur thinks that most of these invitations come from his association with an older, award-winning poet, and has a humble opinion of his own talents, especially as his current manuscript needs major revisions. A truly charming story, this novel is an enjoyable, rewarding read.
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
Imagine a five-month long crime spree in which no one is killed or even seriously injured. This happened recently on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, in rural Accomack County, once wealthy and now full of abandoned buildings, dozens of which have been set on fire. Meet the firefighters, mostly volunteer, stretched to their limit, and the law enforcement officials trying to figure out where the arsonist will strike next. Likeable mechanic Charlie and his girlfriend Tonya, an attractive night clubber with two children, are clearly involved, but the author, an award-winning reporter, frequently surprises the reader as the story unfolds, from the first fires to the final court case. This is a story of small-town America and how it’s changed over the last century, along with an unlikely love story and a page-turning crime drama.
Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh
Finally, a feel-good novel perfect for summer reading. Set in England, Paris, Monaco and Italy, it’s also great for armchair travelers. Tim Gandy is feeling overlooked. At 55, he’s facing early retirement and must admit that his marriage to Isobel is rather blah. He’s close to only one of his three children, although Rosie is pregnant, so there’s happily a grandchild in his future. Tim has always dreamed of traveling in Europe, and Rosie encourages him to make his Grand Tour, even without Isobel, who dislikes travel. Despite feeling a bit guilty indulging himself, he’s off to Paris. Sketching at Versailles, he meets Francine, a gallery owner, who fascinates him. In Monaco, he meets Archie, a young yacht salesman, and poses as a consultant in a very funny scene aboard a superyacht. Afterwards, Archie takes him to meet his Aunt Rosamund, an elderly novelist who give Tim some good advice. The author is known in Great Britain for his gardening books and television shows, and does an excellent job with the gorgeous scenery and giving the story a strong sense of place. The characters are appealing, the story is not too predictable, and it’s quite charming. Perfect escapist reading, although it may make you long to escape to the Riviera, Paris, or Italy for a stroll in a garden or to enjoy a fabulous meal.
Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin
This atmospheric novel focuses on a pivotal summer for eleven-year-old Marcus on a South Carolina barrier island, living with his artist aunt, helping guard a sea turtle nest, and becoming fascinated with a ruined cottage. Locally known as Grief Cottage, a family staying there may have died in a long ago hurricane. Charlotte frequently paints the cottage, and Marcus likes to visit it, wondering if it’s haunted. Having lost his best friend and his mother, Marcus is unsure if his eccentric, reclusive Aunt Charlotte really wants him to stay. He visits with an elderly neighbor and gets good advice from Charlotte’s friend Lachicotte Hayes when not riding his bike, checking on the turtle nest, and unpacking boxes and memories from his last apartment with his mother. Young Marcus is good company in this melancholy, leisurely read. A fairly lengthy epilogue makes for a satisfying resolution, tying up some loose ends on a hopeful note.