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Posts Tagged ‘beach books’

summerwindMary Alice Monroe’s The Summer Wind (Gallery Books, digital galley) is as bright and breezy as its title implies, although the three half-sisters first introduced in The Summer Girls must navigate some rough seas.  In the first book in the trilogy, middle sister Carson returned to her grandmother’s home on Sullivan’s Island, S.C. and confronted her wild child ways and drinking problem. Now it’s older sister Dora who needs help from the family; she’s getting a divorce, her beloved house is up for sale, her young son has autism and is acting out. For a woman who has prided herself on being the perfect wife and mother, it’s just too much. Carson helps with child care via wild dolphin therapy, younger sister Harper advises on a make-over, and Dora runs into an old flame while walking the island. But both their grandmother, Mamaw, and housekeeper Lucille are keeping life-changing secrets. Monroe makes the most of the picturesque lowcountry setting and writes movingly of families, children with special needs and the ongoing battle to preserve tradition and the environment as the storm clouds gather.

augustA wave of nostalgia sweeps through the pages of The Girls of August (Hachette, digital galley), the sweetly lyrical new novel of female friendship from veteran storyteller Anne Rivers Siddons. Madison, Rachel and Barbara met 20 years ago when their husbands were in med school and they continue to reminisce about the various beach houses where they vacationed every August with a fourth friend, Melinda. But then Melinda was killed in a car wreck, and her husband has remarried a sweet young thing, Baby Gaillard, who this year is hosting the annual getaway on her family’s estate on an isolated South Carolina barrier island. Madison narrates the inevitable conflicts that arise on Tiger Island as the three older women cope with Baby’s alternately winning and immature behavior, as well as their own issues. Remember the old Alan Alda movie, The Four Seasons? But at only 150 pages, the book is half as long as such previous Siddons’ novels as Outer Banks, Colony and Islands and lacks her usual depth. Still, it made me homesick for the lovingly depicted lowcountry landscape and all the times when I’ve been an August girl.

mermaidReaders first met Maddie, Avery and Nikki in Wendy Wax’s Ten Beach Road when the three women were brought together by a dilapidated beach house on Florida’s Gulf Coast. They joined up again in Ocean Beach as they restored a South Florida mansion for their own television home show, Do Over. Now, as the first season of Do Over prepares to air, the trio heads for the Florida Keys, where they plan to turn a former rock star’s rundown estate into a bed-and-breakfast, despite the recently-out-of-rehab owner’s objections. Wendy Wax does a good job in The House on Mermaid Key (Berkley, paperback ARC) of catching readers up on her varied cast, which includes now-divorced Maddie’s grown daughter and toddler grandson. There’s tension, romance, sudden loss and satisfying details of rehabbing a resort. Yes, you must suspend disbelief to buy into the wish-fufillment relationships between the women and their perfect-for-them lovers, but hey, it’s summer. Read on, dream on.

breakwaterShelley Noble’s Breakwater Bay (HarperCollins, digital galley) finds a Newport, R.I., preservationist surprised on her 30th birthday by her boyfriend failing to propose and her beloved family revealing she’s adopted. Meri’s search for identity is aided by her smart, karaoke-singing best friend, her wise grandmother, the divorced neighbor she regards as a big brother, his unhappy teenage daughter and her understanding stepfather. Everyone’s a little-too-good to be true — except for a sniping ex-wife and a snobbish Newport couple — but the whole is predictably pleasing.

Lauren Willig’s That Summer (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover review copy) moves between 2009 and 1849 tothatsummer tell two intertwined stories centered on a London house. Out of the blue, New Yorker Julia Conley’s British aunt leaves her the shabby London house in Herne Hill, where she discovers a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The subject is Imogen Grantham, locked in a loveless marriage to an older man when she meets an ambitious portrait painter. Willig has a way with historical fiction (the Pink Carnation series), but I liked the contemporary storyline, which offers more surprises.

nantucketNancy Thayer’s Nantucket Sisters (Random House, digital galley), features best friends and “summer sisters” Maggie Drew and Emily Hudson. Maggie’s hardworking  mother is a local seamstress; Emily’s is a wealthy socialite who frowns on the friendship between the two girls and Emily’s attraction to Maggie’s brother Ben. Enter handsome Wall Street trader Cameron Chadwick to complicate life and love with questions of class and money.  You may think you know where the story is headed, and you may well be right, despite the requisite twist as Thayer ties up loose ends.

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savedateYou would think that the world of a wedding florist would be all hearts and flowers, sweetness and light. Think again. In Mary Kay Andrews’ new beach-worthy tale Save the Date (HarperCollins, paperback ARC), heroine Cara Kryzik faces a bunch of thorny problems. Her distant military father, the Colonel, is threatening to call in the loan she used to get her business Bloom established in downtown Savannah. He doesn’t understand that Cara, who divorced her cheating hubby a year ago, has had some unexpected expenses, like a broken cooler that ruins a wedding’s worth of flowers and a busted AC that the cranky landlord won’t fix. A couple of planned society weddings will pay the bills, if they aren’t derailed by a controlling MOB (mother of the bride) or a silver-tongued rival florist trying to ruin her reputation. But why is her best pal and assistant Bert so cranky all of a sudden? Cara feels besieged on all fronts, especially after handsome contractor Jack Finnerty dognaps her beloved pooch Poppy, mistaking her for the lookalike goldendoodle left to him by his ex.

But Andrews’ heroines aren’t ones to wilt in the face of adversity, and Cara’s no exception. She’s good at her job and with people (minus the occasional man), and she’s determined to grow her business, even it means staying up all night perfecting a bouquet or raiding her garden for just the right greenery. And so what if she’s an Army brat who lacks a Southern accent? No one’s going to put Cara in a corner, at least not for long.

Readers may well predict that Cara is headed for a happy ending — and a likely happy ever-after with Jack — but it’s her amusingly bumpy journey that will have them flipping pages. Highlights include a side trip to isolated Cumberland Island to talk a runaway bride down from a tree, the challenge to design an industrial-chic Goth wedding, a satisying show-down with her conniving competitor, and a plot to bamboozle Jack’s harpy of an ex.

Save the Date is one of my favorite MKA books, along with Spring Break, Hissy Fit and the Savannah series, but I am admittedly biased. Mary Kay Andrews, aka Kathy Trocheck, is a longtime friend and supporter of Caroline Cousins. It also happens that Cousin Meg is a wedding florist, both in the CC books and real life, which is how come I know a stargazer lily from lily of the valley and how to green in a centerpiece and wire a boutonniere in an emergency.

vacationersThe Posts are not the Griswolds, whose madcap misadventures are chronicled in the National Lampoon vacation movies. The Posts are much more believable, and so is their two-week summer trip to Mallorca in Emma Straub’s diverting The Vacationers (Penguin, purchased e-book). Still, there are enough misunderstandings, miscommunications and mishaps among family and friends to make this a pleasing comedy of manners, similar to the novels of Elinor Lipman and Jennifer Close.

Franny and Jim are supposed to be celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, but Jim recently lost his job as a magazine editor due to an indiscretion that may yet cost him his marriage. Franny, a travel and food writer, hasn’t decided yet, as she confides in her old friend Charles, visiting with his husband Lawrence. Also on the trip are eldest son Bobby, a Miami real estate agent, and his older girfriend, Carmen, a personal trainer. Daughter Sylvia is getting ready to go off to college and senses the tension between her parents, but what she really wants to do in Mallorca is lose her virginity. Her sexy Spanish tutor holds promise.

And so, during meals around the table, dips in the pool, outings to the beach and games of Scrabble, the likeable characters reveal themselves to readers and one another. Carmen surprises Franny with her willingness to help with meals. Bobby disconcerts his sister when he takes her to a nightclub after a fight with Carmen. Lawrence tries not be jealous of the attention Charles showers on Franny as he anxiously awaits an e-mail from New York. Jim is so jealous of Franny flirting with a retired tennis pro that he enlists the help of a British cyclist to follow her. Sylvia thinks everyone is lame, except for her tutor, whose good looks outweigh his taste in music.

All of the characters are well-observed, but my heart goes out to Sylvia, who is working her way through the Brontes. “She’d read all of Jane Austen that year — Austen was good, but when you told people you liked Pride and Prejudice, they expected you to be all sunshine and wedding veils, and Sylvia preferred the rainy moors. The Brontes weren’t afraid to let someone die of consumption, which Sylvia respected.”

 

 

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monroeI think everyone and her sister wrote a beach book this summer. Here are four more for the Fourth.
The title characters in Mary Alice Monroe’s warm-hearted The Summer Girls (Gallery Books, digital galley) are three half-sisters named after their failed novelist father’s favorite Southern writers: Eudora, Carson and Harper. One’s in South Carolina, one in California, one in New York, but their paternal grandmother Marietta Muir asks them all to her 80th birthday weekend at the ancestral summer home on Sullivan’s Island, S.C. Once the three women, who spent time as girls together at Sea Breeze, return for an awkward reunion, Marietta springs her grand plan: Spend the summer with her and renew family ties. Dora, in the middle of a divorce and totally focused on her autistic son, declines, as does Harper, wrapped up in her NY job as her imperious mother’s assistant. But middle sister Carson, at loose ends after losing her TV production job, welcomes the invitation. She’s right at home swimming in the ocean and making friends with a wild dolphin and a good-looking marine researcher.
This is the first book in a trilogy, and once Monroe supplies the backstory, the focus is mostly on complicated Carson, who soon finds herself at a crossroads with her family and the future. Presumably, Dora and Harper will get their day in the sun in future books. A subplot focused on protecting dolphins from humans’ good intentions adds depth to the familiar story of sisters finding their way home.
sweetsaltA picturesque island off the coast of Maine provides the setting for Barbara Delinsky’s new novel of friendship and romance, Sweet Salt Air (St.Martin’s Press, paperback ARC). Philadelphia food blogger Nicole and successful travel writer Charlotte reunite on Quinnipeague Island 10 years after Nicole’s wedding to surgeon Julian. Now Nicole has a cookbook contract and wants Charlotte as a co-author. Turns out Julian’s at home coping with a secret diagnosis of MS. Turns out Charlotte has a secret that could help Julian but endanger her friendship with Nicole. Nicole unburdens herself to Charlotte, who in turn, confides in island bad boy Leo, who harbors a secret of his own.
Everyone wrestles with her/his emotions and desires while feasting on fried clams, fresh salad greens, herb bread, blueberry cobbler and other island delicacies. Yum. Appetizing and satisfying.
stargazeyBack to lowcountry South Carolina for barbecue and hushpuppies and Shelley Nobles’ Stargazey Point (Morrow, digital galley), a fictional coastal town between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach that’s still recovering from a long-ago hurricane and barely making it through the tourist season. Chicago documentary filmmaker Abbie Sinclair retreats to Stargazey to stay with a friend’s elderly relatives at their once-grand home and wins the three Crispin siblings’ hearts. But a local architect, who is restoring an old carousel, is suspicious of Abbie, sure she’s another real estate agent intent on wresting the Crispin homestead for development. Then Abbie’s work at the community center with neglected children and her help on an oral history project begin to change his mind.
It’s a sweetly predictable story, but too many stereotypes abound, including a badly behaved ex-girlfriend, an elderly Gullah woman dabbling in voodoo, and a faded belle throwing a hissy fit at the very idea of selling the family silver to pay back taxes.
100summersNostalgia drifts on the sea air in Beatriz Williams’ period beach book A Hundred Summers (Putnam, digital galley), set largely in the uppercrust Rhode Island community of Seaview in 1938, with flashbacks beginning in 1931. That’s when Whartonesque-named socialite Lily Dane fell hard for college football star Nick Greenwald, and he for her. Seven years later, though, single Lily is at Seaview with her kid sister, aunt and mother, while Nick is improbably married to Lily’s one-time best pal Budgie Byrne.
What star-crossing doomed Lily and Nick’s love? Lily reveals all — eventually — as her account of the past is juxtaposed with the dramatic events of 1938, including the great hurricane that struck New England. Expect storm-tossed seas and emotions.

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summergirlsIn Philadelphia, lawyer Kate is jilted the same day she discovers she is pregnant. In New York, former art dealer Vanessa is looking after her toddler daughter but dreaming of an old flame. And in San Francisco, aspiring writer Dani has lost yet another job and is struggling with her novel — “a story about a group of childhood friends at the beach, the death of a charming but reckless twenty-one year old boy, and a narrator plagued by secrets.” Mmm. Dani’s book sounds an awful lot like Meg Donohue’s entertaining All the Summer Girls (Morrow, digital galley), in which Kate, Vanessa and Dani reunite at Avalon Beach, N.J., their old haunt from high school and college years. Eight years ago, they spent the last carefree summer before college graduation on the Jersey shore, and it was wonderful “right up until the day it wasn’t,” when Kate’s twin brother Colin died. Unbeknownst to each other, they all have secrets involving Colin.

Donohue unpacks the trio’s considerable emotional baggage in present tense, rotating perspectives among the three friends. Each emerges as a strong individual with quirks and flaws that both irritate and endear them to one another. For example, “Kate is a Kate is a Kate,” the others say of her bad driving and good-girl ways. Vanessa’s beauty masks insecurites. Dani’s a romantic rolling stone with addiction issues. Still, friends take care of friends, and men are on the side, as Donohue’s novel mixes the grit of beach sand with the warmth of the summer sun. Vacation reading par excellence.

timefliesSo, too, is Claire Cook’s Time Flies (Touchstone, digital galley), which is as easy-breezy as its title implies (and cover depicts). Melanie is an Atlanta metal sculptor who creates works of art out of found industrial or household objects. Her latest project involves cutting up her marital bed after longtime hubby Kurt leaves her for another woman.

Still, other challenges await — Melanie’s best friend BJ has convinced her to attend their high school reunion in New England. Single-nester Melanie is more than a little wary. Road trips are bumpy when you have a highway driving-phobia, and reunions are downright dangerous when you don’t really remember the guy sending you flirty e-mails.

Cook handles familiar themes of mid-life crisis and memory lane with her typical wit and flair, and Melanie is another of her bright, sassy heroines. Merrily we read along, and the pages fly by. Woot!

islandgirlsThe three sisters in Nancy Thayer’s satisfying Island Girls (Ballantine, digital galley) have different mothers, but each calls charming Rory Randall her father. When he dies of a sudden heart attack, a codicil in his will insists his daughters spend the summer together in his Nantucket house before selling it and  splitting the proceeds.

Arden, a Boston TV host, arrives with a chip on her shoulder dating back to her teenage years and her exile from Nantucket at the hands of Rory’s third wife, whose daughter Jenny is already in residence with all her computer equipment. Middle sister Meg, a community college professor, wants the quaint back bedroom with the desk so she can finish her biography of Louisa May Alcott’s younger sister. The bickering begins immediately before a tentative truce is declared. Arden becomes swept up in a round of island parties, well aware of the presence of her TV station’s owner. Jenny, having recently broken up with her boyfriend, is forced to work on an IT project with his best friend and her arch enemy. Meanwhile, frumpy Meg makes a mess of her relationship with a colleague back in Boston. Heaven forbid they take advice from one another, but they do agree to a council of war with their respective mothers when Rory’s past unexpectedly arrives. Oh, goody, fireworks! Plus tears and laughter. Rory Randall would approve. I sure do.

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ladiesnight“To live well yourself is the best revenge.” Grace Stanton, the heroine of Mary Kay Andrews’ beach-alicious new novel Ladies Night (St. Martin’s Press, review copy), certainly has the living well down pat: She writes a popular lifestyle blog from her posh Florida home. But the revenge thing? After she catches her husband Ben with her naked young assistant (and it’s exactly what it looks like), she drives his precious Audi convertible into the pool. The “he had it coming defense” doesn’t go over well with Judge Stackpole, who orders her into “divorce therapy.” Meanwhile, Ben has taken custody of the house, the blog, the bank accounts (and the skanky assistant), and Grace has to move in with her mom above the family bar, The Sandbox, on Anna Maria Island.

Trading betrayal stories with the other wronged spouses in her therapy group actually proves a good thing once their strange counselor-divorce coach goes AWOL, and the four women and one man move to The Sandbox for drinks and strategy sessions. Even as Ben tries to ruin Grace’s online reputation with readers and sponsors, she starts the true Grace blog, chronicling her efforts to restore a cracker cottage. She rescues a little dog and falls for the divorced father of a little boy. Still, obstacles to living well abound, including Judge Stackpole, who seems to delight in sticking it to Grace and the other group members. Mmm. Time to turn some tables.

Ladies’ Night is funny, smart and hopeful. Just add lemonade, or maybe your favorite adult beverage. Cheers!

timebetweenI was little worried when I first heard that Karen White, who often writes about Charleston, S.C., was setting her new book, The Time Between (NAL, digital galley) on Edisto Island, my family’s home turf. It’s kind of like when they replaced the old drawbridge to the island, making it easier for tourists to find us. We used to be a secret.

Happily, White gets most of island life right, although locals don’t spell out the full names of Edisto spots in casual conversation, like Island Video and Ice Cream. Nor am I fully convinced that sisters Eleanor and Eve spent their childhood on Edisto as the daughters of a local shrimper. That was before the accident that left beauty queen contestant Eve in a wheelchair. Eleanor, once an aspiring concert pianist, feels guilty about Eve, as well as for her attraction to Glen, Eve’s high school sweetheart husband. She gets a chance for redemption when her investment banker boss Finn Beaufain asks her to help care for his elderly aunt Helena, who has lived on Edisto since she and her sister escaped from Hungary in 1944. Eleanor is soon trekking back and forth between the big house on Edisto and the shabby home she shares with her careworn mother, Eve and Glen in North Charleston.

The set-up is ripe for old secrets, family conflicts, new dreams. Did I mention that too-good-to-be-true Finn is the handsome divorced father of a little girl overcoming a grave illness? Or that enigmatic Helena’s sister died in mysterious circumstances? Eleanor narrates most of the involving story, with occasional chapters from Helena and Eve’s perspectives. Eve’s thoughts aren’t really needed, but every story should have a character as tart-tongued and strong-willed as Helena. And Edisto, of course, makes a picturesque and perfect setting, IMHO.

Open Books: Readers of this blog know that Mary Kay Andrews is a longtime pal of Caroline Cousins. I hope to actually meet Karen White at a booksigning later this month. And this is just the beginning of posts on the wave of summer fiction, including new books from Dorothea Benton Frank, Claire Cook and Mary Alice Monroe. I’m writing about them a few at a time from beach at Edisto. 

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Four beach books for the Fourth, or for whenever you want your reading lite.

I’ll never again watch Dancing with the Stars without thinking of Deirdre Griffin, the title character in Claire Cook’s lively Wallflower in Bloom (Touchstone, library hardcover). Deirdre, fed up with assisting her brother Tag’s rocketing career as a self-help guru and her own sorry love life, uses his fans and her social-networking skills to become the hit show’s first non-celebrity contestant.  Even as Deirdre, weighed down with extra pounds and poor self-esteem, struggles to learn the cha-cha with dance partner Ilya, Tag and the family begin to reevaluate her role in holding them together. Cook spices her cute Cinderella story with inside show trivia — I want some illusion mesh of my very own — and humorous self-help aphorisms.

Reality TV also figures in the plot of Wendy Wax’s Ocean Road (Berkley, paperback galley from publicist), a stand-alone sequel to last year’s Ten Beach Road. The three women — Maddie, Avery, and Nicole — who became friends renovating a Florida Gulf beach house — head to Miami, along with Maddie’s grown daughter and Avery’s estranged mother. They’ll be filming the pilot for a home improvement show called “Do-Over,” and the neglected mansion owned by ancient vaudevillian Max is badly in need of repair. But the film crew seems intent on capturing the women’s messy personal lives instead of their renovations, and outside forces, including an actor on location, a secret from the past and hurricane season, threaten to thwart the whole project. Pleasantly predictable, the book offers fascinating DIY details and a delightful supporting cast (the Oscar goes to Max) as the women hammer out their problems and shore up their friendship.

I felt completely at home reading Dorothea Benton Frank’s Porch Lights (William Morrow, library hardcover), and not just because it takes place in my part of the world — the South Carolina Lowcountry — and I know the author. I think it’s because I’m from a family of talkers, and Frank’s two narrators — Jackie, a widowed Army nurse, and Annie Britt, her opinionated mother — can talk a blue streak. After Jackie’s firefighter husband is killed in the line of duty, she takes their traumatized 10-year-old son from New York to the family house on Sullivan’s Island. Annie, who drove off her husband Buster with her meddling ways and constant chatter, tries to comfort Jackie and young Charlie with down-home meals and a heaping helping of good intentions. Fortunately, neighbor Deb, sister-in-law Maureen and Buster himself help  keep mother and daughter from driving each other crazy. At times, reading Porch Lights is like being on a conference call with two of your best gal pals, who hardly come up for air as they talk, talk, talk, skittering from subject to subject like a couple of water bugs. They entertain, overwhelm and keep on keeping on.

Kate Klise rotates among four narrators in her zippy In the Bag (Morrow, paperback review copy). Teenager Webb and his dad Andrew are in coach on the flight to Paris, while Daisy and her teen daughter Coco are in first class. On a whim, Andrew sticks a mash note in Daisy’s carry-on, but what brings the two single parents and offspring together is checked luggage. Webb arrives in Madrid with Coco’s black duffel bag, and Coco is dismayed to discover she has Webb’s duffel in Paris. The two tech-saavy teens soon find one another on the Internet and their e-mail exchanges propel the story fast-forward as the initial mix-up leads to comic complications and conspiracies.

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Novelist Meg Wolitzer has a thoughtful essay in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review about women’s literary fiction and how it often is unjustly  relegated to “the second shelf” below books by men. She notes, however, that she is using the term “women’s fiction” to discuss “literature that happens to be written by women,” and not “a certain type of fast-reading novel, which sets its sights almost exclusively on women readers and may well find a big ready-made audience.”

In other words, “popular fiction,” “chick-lit,” “beach books.” Oh, please. I understand that many writers and publishers and critics care very much about the distinctions, which are handy labels for booksellers and librarians, but most readers don’t. They’re looking for good books of all kinds, and, yes, covers can signal  appealing subject matter, but so what?  The contents are what counts, and a great many readers happily turn the pages of Anne Tyler, Anne Rivers Siddons and Anne of Green Gables. (Also Anonymous, but that’s another story for another day.)

I’ve been thinking of this because I just read three very different novels that are being marketed as “women’s fiction.”

In the appropriately dishy Gossip (Morrow; hardcover review copy), Beth Gutcheon follows three friends through the years, with a twist. Although Lovie has been good friends with both Dinah and Avis since boarding school days in the early 1960s, the other two have little in common except Lovie and her tony dress shop. That changes when Dinah’s favorite son, who is also Lovie’s godson, falls in love with Avis’ only daughter.

Lovie is a likable, sometimes catty and possibly unreliable narrator as she recounts Dinah’s short career as a newspaper columnist, Avis’ marriage to a wealthy drunk, and her own long-running affair with an older, married man. As in The New Girls (my favorite of Gutcheon’s many novels), the characters’ lives typify the times. “Dinah said it was as if we’d all gone to sleep one night in the world of Edith Wharton and awakened the next morning at Woodstock.”

Love that Janis Joplin inspires the title of Jane Green’s latest, Another Piece of My Heart (St. Martin’s Press; hardcover library copy), but that’s about it when it comes to this grating tale of a war between stepmom Andi and teenage Emily. Green gives both about equal time to tell their side of things and how Emily’s pregnancy rips the fabric of family, but they’re equally unpleasant characters. Andi whines, Emily bitches, they’re both selfish. I wanted to tell them both to shut up, but I shut the book instead.

By contrast, I was sorry to come to the end of Susan Mallery’s winning Barefoot Season (Mira, digital galley via NetGalley), which is a lot more than the beach book its cover indicates. Michelle Sanderson and Carly Williams were best friends growing up until Michelle’s betrayal severed their bond. Now, 10 years later, Michelle, an Army vet with a bum hip and PTSD, returns to her family’s small inn on Puget Sound after the death of her difficult mother.  She finds the business struggling against heavy debt and is quick to  blame single mom Carly, who has been managing the inn in hopes of becoming part-owner. Forced to work together by a loan officer with her own agenda, Michelle and Carly have to confront the past and weather the present if either is going to have a future on Blackberry Island.

Mallery is best-known for her numerous contemporary romances, and while both Michelle and Carly are looking for new loves, their friendship and the relationship between mothers-and-daughters is center-stage. It’s often heavy-duty stuff, but Mallery’s not heavy-handed as she mixes trust and betrayal, heartbreak and humor. I’m looking forward to the next entry in the promised series.

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Chill out with your favorite cool beverage and a new novel. It’s summer, and hey, readers wanna  have fun.

So do the three women in Mary Kay  Andrews’ breezy Summer Rental, who used to channel Cyndi Lauper’s peppy anthem as Catholic schoolgirls in the 1980s. Now Ellis, Julia and Dorie have planned a reunion on  North Carolina’s Outer Banks, spending a few weeks relaxing in a rambling old  beach house.

But the likable trio arrives at Ebbtide towing extra emotional baggage. Career-woman Ellis has just lost her job in corporate banking and realizes she’s left with “a life as dull and colorless as the sand beneath  her toes.’’

Julia, a fashion model who lives  in London with a photographer, also is wondering what’s next, career-wise and relationship-wise. At least she  hasn’t been blindsided by a cheating husband like schoolteacher Dorie, who  impulsively invites a stranger to be a fourth housemate. Madison (not her real  name) is on the run from something or someone.

Andrews adds a grouchy landlord who only communicates by  e-mail and a good-looking single guy in the garage apartment. The mix makes for a sweet, refreshing cocktail of a tale – with a twist, of course, and an  unexpected punch when Madison’s past catches up with her.

Fans know that Andrews, who grew up in St. Pete, honed her skills with plot and pacing as mystery novelist Kathy Hogan Trocheck.  With such previous beach book hits as Savannah Blues, Hissy Fit and The Fixer-Upper, she’s not planning on  a return to crime. But e-reader owners can now find digital editions online of Lickety-Split and Crash Course, her capers featuring Florida senior sleuth Truman Kicklighter.  They’re replete with  Sunshine State color and characters. And Kicklighter is a kick.

Reading Claire Cook’s Best Staged Plans is like catching up with an old friend. You may not have talked in months, but you pick up right where you left off with what’s new and what’s next now you’re at mid-life.

This time, it’s Sandy Sullivan, a cheery Boston home stager with an early-retiree husband, a newly-wed daughter in Atlanta, and a slacker son in the basement of the renovated house she’s prepping for sale, even though she’s still wondering what’s her “postmom” mission in life.  She loves her tennis-playing husband — such a good guy — but she and Greg seem to be stuck in comfortable routines.

“Ah, the things you never thought to ask before you commited to a lifetime with another person. Will you get up with me to watch the sunrise, or will you snore the morning away? Will you write me poetry or take the easy way out with a Hallmark card for every occasion? Will you get the house ready to put on the market when I ask you to? Can you dance?”

Best Staged Plans begins slowly, as Sandy channels HGTV, obsesses over reading glasses, mourns past pets and family rituals. But the pace picks up when gal-pal Denise’s boyfriend Josh offers her a job staging a boutique hotel in Atlanta. Sandy’s Southern sojourn finds her getting to know her new son-in-law, meeting a homeless woman, and helping Denise deal with her bad boyfriend. It all helps her put her life in perspective as she picks out paint chips — you can’t go wrong with Benjamin Moore’s Million-Dollar Red.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Seven Year Switch) spices her light-hearted tale with tips on home decorating and gourmet meal assembly.  At one point, Sandy notes that “the thing about staging is that you have to stay open to surprises, because they often turned out to be better the things you planned.” Good advice whether you’re making over a room or your life.

Open Book: This is my blog, and I can write about my friends’ books if I want to. St. Martin’s Press sent me an ARC of Mary Kay Andrews’ Summer Rental, and Hyperion Voice sent me a review copy of Claire Cook’s Best-Staged Plans. You girls have a blast on your book tours. I’ll just continue getting the popcorn off the ceiling and hum “Wanna Have Fun.”

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Toss these two novels in the beach bag to share with your mom, sisters, daughters, gal pals. Easy reading that still illuminates the ties of family and friendship.

Best-selling romance writer Debbie Macomber’s eighth entry in her Blossom Street series, A Turn in the Road, takes three generations of women from Seattle to Florida on an eventful car trip.

Six years ago, Bethanne Hamlin’s husband, Grant, left her for a younger woman. Distraught and humiliated, she dreamed of the day he’d admit his mistake and come back to her and their two children. But now that day has arrived, Bethanne’s not sure she can ever trust him again.

Putting off a decision, she instead volunteers to drive with her ex-mother-in-law to Vero Beach for Ruth’s 50th high school reunion. Then her college-age daughter Annie, who is having boyfriend trouble, decides she’ll go, too. Of course, both Annie and Ruth would love to see Bethanne reunite with contrite Grant. By the way, he’ll be flying to Orlando for a real estate conference while they’re in Florida.

But before Grant can personally plead his case once more, the women make a few sidetrips, and Bethanne meets Max, a helpful biker hiding a painful past.

Turns out Max, whose path again intersects with Bethanne’s in Las Vegas, isn’t the only one hiding things.  Widowed Ruth is hoping she’ll see her high school sweetheart, Royce, at the reunion, although he may not want to see her. Her long-ago “Dear John’’ letter hurt him badly. Ruth can’t bring herself to dial the number Annie found on her laptop.

Macomber may have left Seattle, but she’s on familiar emotional territory. She chronicles her characters’ conflicted feelings with customary warmth and gentle humor. Ruth drags Annie to an Andy Williams concert in Branson. Once in Florida, Bethanne and Annie conspire to recreate Ruth’s high school prom.  Grant is surprised to find he has a rival and intensifies his courtship.

New love. Old love. Love lost and found. What’s not to like?

The three women in Wendy Wax’s new novel Ten Beach Road are strangers to one another at book’s beginnings.

Still, homemaker Madeline Singer, TV home show host/architect Avery Lawford, and professional matchmaker Nikki Grant all lost their savings to Ponzi schemer Malcolm Dyer. He’s nowhere to be found, but the trustees trying to sort out his mess have awarded each woman a one-third share in a beachfront mansion on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Alas, Bella Flora has seen far better days, and the Mediterranean Revival house at Pass-a-Grille needs a major renovation if it’s ever going to sell. The women strike a deal with hunky contractor Chase Hardin, a frenemy of Avery’s youth, to provide the elbow grease to restore Bella Flora to her former glory.

Wax dutifully details the womens’ mishaps with mops, ladders and polyurethane over the summer, providing each with a crowded backstory as they hammer out their new makeshift friendship.

Maddie worries over her now-jobless husband back in Atlanta, while her single pregnant daughter arrives with a video camera.  Avery, still smarting from her divorce from a handsome heel, can’t stand Chase’s condescending chauvinism.  And glamorous Nikki is harboring a secret that will affect them all.

Then there’s a hurricane.

Ten Beach Road makes for diverting reading, both in spite of and because of its predictability.  As the tide turns. . .

Open Book: I read a digital edition of Debbie Macomber’s A Turn in the Road (MIRA) through NetGalley, and Wendy Wax’s publicist sent me an advance copy of  Ten Beach Road (Berkley Trade Paperback). They’re just the first in a wave of summer books I’m enjoying. More to come!

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Hollywood calls them rom-coms, as in romantic comedies. Publishers label them chick-lit. I’ve always thought of them as beach books, even if I’m reading them in winter. They make me think of sun and porches and peaches and girl-talk. But now it really is summer, and I’ve been downing them like pink lemonade.

Jill Murray, the likeable heroine of Claire Cooke’s latest breeze of a book, Seven-Year Switch, is holding it together as a single mom, although her cottage’s porch railing is falling off. Husband Seth ran away and joined the Peace Corps seven years, leaving her with three-year-old Anastasia and no money. So she teaches around-the-world cooking classes at a community college and answers phones for a travel agency specializing in girlfriend getaways. Jill may cook exotic food and talk of faraway places, even be a culture coach for a cute guy who wants to open a bike-rental business in Japan, but she’s always there for her 10-year-old daughter. Suddenly, so is Seth. Or so he says.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Life’s a Beach) covers a lot of emotional territory, plus a trip to Costa Rica, in less than 250 pages. And the ending, with a black zebra tarantula as Cupid, seems rushed. But this is pop fiction with the fizz of female empowerment. Jill is flawed and funny; that she doesn’t get her neighbor Cynthia’s sense of humor is a hoot in itself, as is her attempt to mold herself with Spanx. You’ll want her for a pal.

Also Dempsey Jo Killebrew of Mary Kay Andrews’ The Fixer-Upper, now out in paperback. That Dempsey, a young Washington lobbyist, is so clueless at book’s beginnings about her boss kicking her under the bus of a political scandal, makes you want to root for her more. The girl is in a mess. So, too, is Birdsong, the pink ancestral mansion in small-town Georgia, which her father suggests she help renovate and flip.  He provides the dilapidated house — including a cranky old cousin of a tenant — and then it’s up to Dempsey. But it’s going to take more than elbow grease, paint and power tools to fix things when a pitbull reporter and the Feds show up asking questions about Dempsey’s last job. Happily, there’s this good-looking young lawyer in town, not that Dempsey needs a guy to rescue her when she finds her inner steel magnolia.  

The Fixer-Upper is one of my favorites of Andrews’ Southern charmers, right up there with the hilarious and exhilarating Hissy Fit, and the one that jump-started it all,  Savannah Blues.

Katie Fforde is a like a British Mary Kay Andrews. Several of her light-hearted books, including Stately Pursuits and Saving Grace, involve young women and old houses. Wedding Season, the newest one published this side of the Atlantic, offers three appealing heroines: cynical wedding planning Sarah, and her two best pals, unassuming dress designer Elsa, and Bron, who can do hair and cakes with aplomb. You might think it would be their celebrity client, referred by handsome photographer Hugo, who would play the princess bride, but it’s Sarah’s sister, getting married on the same day, who keeps putting up the obstacles to true love. Not my favorite Fforde but worth a spin.

Ann Brashares, of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, reaches out to an adult audience with My Name is Memory, in which boy meets girl over and over again through time, but she doesn’t always remember him. Romance and reincarnation aren’t really my thing, but Brashares’ characters — Daniel and Sophia/Constance/Lucy — have more than their share of adventures. For a more conventional boy-meets-girl (and her sister) beach book, check out Brashares’ The Last Summer (of You and Me).  

Open Book: I’ve met Claire Cook, and she’s a Facebook friend and FOB (friend of blog). Her publisher sent me a copy of Seven-Year-Switch (voice/Hyperion). I knew Mary Kay Andrews when she was still Kathy Hogan Trocheck, and she’s a longtime friend and mentor, being Caroline Cousins’ mystery mom, as well as FOB. She sent me an advance reading copy of The Fixer-Upper (Harper) last year. I’ve never met Katie Fforde, but I’ve bought most of her books, including Wedding Season (St. Martin’s Press), over the internet in their British editions because I can get them a year earlier. Ann Brashares’ publisher sent me an ARC of My Name is Memory (Riverhead/Penguin), after I requested it in a web promotion. I bought my hardcover copy of The Last Summer (of You and Me), and would whoever I lent it to, please return.

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