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.
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.
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Tom Barren briefly traveled back in time to 1965, then returned to another timeline in 2016. Instead of the high-tech utopia he’s used to, everything is different. His parents are still together, and his father is nicer but never invented a time machine, instead writing science fiction. Tom even has a sister. Everyone calls him John, who turns out to be a very arrogant architect who copied the buildings of Tom’s world through shared dreams. With the help of his family and his new girlfriend, bookseller Penny, Tom tries to make things right, whatever the cost, with predictably entertaining results. For more time travel books and films, check out my July book display at the library. This is a good readalike for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, a Great American Read selection.
Space Opera by Catherynne Valente
This amusing, engaging science fiction novel was inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest, David Bowie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the author’s Maine Coon cat. Set in the near future, first contact with Earth is made by the appearance of an alien who resembles a flamingo and a fish, and can speak with your grandmother’s voice. The sentience of Earth’s inhabitants is in doubt, and Earth must participate in the upcoming Megagalactic Grand Prix and finish anywhere but last to survive. As Yoko Ono is no longer available, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, a former British glamrock trio, is selected. The two remaining musicians aren’t on speaking terms and have no ideas for a new song. Danesh Jalo (Decibel Jones) parties with the aliens en route to the contest, while Omar Caliskan (Oort St. Ultraviolet) misses his kids and chats with Oö, who resembles a red panda. Fans of Douglas Adams or Connie Willis may enjoy this whimsical, bittersweet, and ultimately hopeful musical extravaganza.
Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Alexa and Drew meet cute in this contemporary romance, in a stalled hotel elevator in San Francisco. Alexa is on her way to celebrate with a friend and has snacks and wine in her purse. Drew is in San Francisco for the wedding of an ex-girlfriend, and impulsively asks Alexa to be his date and pretend girlfriend. The two hit it off even though Alexa is uncomfortable to be the only black woman at the wedding. They have a fling, and are both surprised when Drew invites Alexa to visit him in Los Angeles, where he’s a pediatric surgeon. Alexa, chief of staff to Berkley’s mayor, is a bit of a workaholic, but enjoys their fling. She’s a little insecure that she’s short and curvy but he clearly finds her attractive, and they enjoy eating doughnuts and burgers together. Drew never introduces her as her girlfriend, and she is reluctant to share why a proposed arts program for delinquent teens is so important to her. The pair spend a lot of time in bed together, but basically close the bedroom door on the reader in this sensual but not at all descriptive romance. An enjoyable debut, sure to be popular.
On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Faith Frankel’s life is rather chaotic. Her boyfriend Stuart proposed with a ring made of red thread and set off to walk cross-country, posting frequent selfies in bars and with former girlfriends. Her father has left her mother and is painting faux Chagalls for bar mitzvahs. Faith is in some trouble at the private school where she works, supported only by coworker Nick Franconi. And the small house she’s impulsively purchased at a bargain price may have more history then she can handle, with one or more suspicious deaths. I enjoyed this frank and funny look at work, love, and family relationships, with great dialogue, appealing characters, and some very funny scenes. Enjoy!