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The Best Novels for Summer Reading: The Sequel

A wedding readers won't be able to resist crashing.

BEAUTIFUL DAY

Hilderbrand’s surprisingly original take on the wedding disaster novel.        

A wedding weekend is a time-honored literary pretext for exploring family dysfunction, and Hilderbrand’s version combines gentle irony with astute observation. The Carmichael family has vacationed at their rambling summer abode on Nantucket Island for almost a century. Now, the house will be the site of high-profile divorce attorney Doug Carmichael’s youngest daughter Jenna’s nuptials. "The Notebook," left by Jenna’s mother, Beth, who died of cancer six years ago, has planned the wedding down to the last detail. The weekend, which will include a rehearsal dinner, Saturday ceremony and reception, and Sunday brunch, has drawn the Carmichaels and their entourage into the ideal arena for emotional fireworks. Doug’s 40-year-old daughter, executive recruiter Margot, hopelessly enamored with her father’s rakish older law partner, Edge (one of many nicknames right out of the preppy handbook), regrets her one ethical lapse at her lover's behest, involving a more age-appropriate romantic prospect, Griff. Doug, who married second wife Pauline too soon after Beth’s passing, now contemplates divorce. Pauline, sensing Doug’s withdrawal, hopes that her daughter Rhonda’s service as a bridesmaid will finally earn her genuine entry into the Carmichael clan. Ann, the groom’s mother, a consummate politician, has miscalculated the personal toll of asking statuesque blonde Helen, her husband’s former mistress and mother of his love child, Chance, to the wedding. Crises small and large loom: Edge, though not married, refuses to make his and Margot’s relationship public; a historic tree named Alfie must be pruned to accommodate the wedding tent; Chance suffers a severe allergic reaction to mussels; Doug’s son Nick appears to be involved with a married bridesmaid. The populous cast makes establishing a coherent throughline difficult, and the first 200 pages are mainly prologue. But Hilderbrand’s casually tossed-off zingers, and her gift for eliciting sympathy for even the most insufferable of her characters, keep the pages turning until the disaster unfolds in earnest.

A wedding readers won't be able to resist crashing.

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-09978-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

A beautifully written novel, an experience to savor.

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TRANSATLANTIC

A masterful and profoundly moving novel that employs exquisite language to explore the limits of language and the tricks of memory.

It hardly seems possible that this novel, epic in ambition, is comparatively compact or that one so audacious in format (hopscotching back and forth across an ocean, centuries, generations) should sustain such narrative momentum. The award-winning McCann (Let the Great World Spin, 2009, etc.) interweaves historical and fictional truth as he connects the visit to Ireland in 1845 by Frederick Douglass, whose emancipation appeals on behalf of all his fellow slaves inspire a young Irish maid to seek her destiny in America, to the first trans-Atlantic flight almost 65 years later, carrying a mysterious letter that will ultimately (though perhaps anticlimactically) tie the various strands of the plot together. The novel’s primary bloodline begins with Lily Duggan, the Irish maid inspired by Douglass, and her four generations of descendants, mainly women whose struggle for rights and search for identity parallels that of the slave whose hunger for freedom fed her own. Ultimately, as the last living descendant observes, “[t]he tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.” The novel’s narrative strategy runs deeper than literary gamesmanship, as the blurring of distinctions between past and present, and between one side of the ocean and the other, with the history of struggle, war and emancipation as a backdrop, represents the thematic thread that connects it all: "We prefigure our futures by imagining our pasts. To go back and forth. Across the waters. The past, the present, the elusive future. A nation. Everything constantly shifted by the present. The taut elastic of time.”

A beautifully written novel, an experience to savor.

Pub Date: June 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6959-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

A rich portrait of intricate relationships within and among families by one of commercial fiction’s smartest, most...

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SISTERLAND

Her psychic sister’s prediction of a major earthquake unsettles a St. Louis woman’s life in the latest from best-selling Sittenfeld (American Wife, 2008, etc.).

Although identical twins Violet and Daisy Shramm as girls both had “the senses,” Daisy suppressed her abilities as part of her transformation into ordinary Kate Tucker, wife to Washington University professor Jeremy and mother to toddler Rosie and baby Owen. She’s mortified by being related to a professional psychic and appalled when Vi publicly contradicts seismologist Courtney Wheeling, who says a small quake that rattles St. Louis in September 2009 is not necessarily a prelude to a bigger one. Courtney is Jeremy’s colleague, and her husband, Hank, also a stay-at-home parent, is close with Kate’s. Vi is oblivious to the messy reality of life with small children, and we frequently see her imposing on her overwhelmed sister while condemning Kate (not without justification) as uptight and controlling; it’s a skillful way for Sittenfeld to spotlight the differences that make the twins’ interactions so fraught. The present-day narrative, moving toward the date Vi set for the big quake, intertwines with Kate’s memories of childhood and adolescence to explain why she felt so threatened by her powers—and to reveal a marriage as fraught in its own ways as Kate’s bond with Vi. Jeremy is exasperated by his wife’s anxieties, which sometimes threaten to dominate their lives; she feels inferior to her better educated, more relaxed spouse. The novel has some structural problems; scenes from the twins’ past take up more pages than their intrinsic interest merits and sometimes annoyingly interrupt the compelling main story. These flaws are insignificant compared with the powerful denouement: a shocking yet completely plausible act by Kate and its grim consequences for her marriage. The quiet closing pages remind us that damaged bonds can be repaired.

A rich portrait of intricate relationships within and among families by one of commercial fiction’s smartest, most perceptive practitioners.

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6831-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

Like Suzanne Rendell in the novel The Other Typist (2013), Silver explores convolutions of guilt and innocence beyond the...

THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON

Trained as a lawyer, Silver has written a darkly witty, acerbic jigsaw puzzle of a first novel about legal versus moral culpability.

No one, including the title character, disputes that 25-year-old college dropout Noa shot Sarah Dixon, her former classmate at Penn, in her Philadelphia apartment. She was found guilty and sentenced to be executed for the capital crime of murdering both Sarah and the unborn child she was carrying, her apparent motive excessive envy that Sarah’s lover was Noa’s long-estranged father, Caleb. After 10 years in prison, Noa has only six months left before what she calls X-Day when Sarah’s mother visits. A successful lawyer herself, Marlene fought for Noa to receive the death sentence but claims she has recently had a change of heart. Having founded Mothers Against Death, Marlene plans to file a clemency appeal for Noa. Ollie, the idealist young lawyer Marlene has employed as her assistant, asks Noa to tell him about herself, supposedly to build a sympathetic case. Noa suspects Marlene’s motives but slowly opens up to attractive, sympathetic Ollie. Parceling bits of her history, Noa comes across as prickly and defensive, the kind of defendant that jurors (and readers) automatically distrust. Meanwhile, Marlene writes letters to her dead daughter that show her as a dominating, judgmental woman who bears her own share of guilt for interfering in Sarah’s life out of obsessive maternal love—although Caleb, a creepy, aging ex-con with a violent past, would be every mother’s nightmare. In stark contrast to Sarah, Noa was raised by an inattentive, single mother in California and did not meet Caleb until her early 20s when he was already involved with Sarah, a wildly inappropriate affair explicable only as Sarah’s rebellion against Marlene. As Noa, Marlene and, by extension, Caleb duel to justify their actions, no one comes out unscathed.

Like Suzanne Rendell in the novel The Other Typist (2013), Silver explores convolutions of guilt and innocence beyond the law’s narrow scope with a sharpness and attention to detail that can be unnerving but demands attention.

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-34743-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice,...

LONG DIVISION

A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.

Citoyen “City” Coldson is a 14-year-old wunderkind when it comes to crafting sentences. In fact, his only rival is his classmate LaVander Peeler. Although the two don’t get along, they’ve qualified to appear on the national finals of the contest "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence," and each is determined to win. Unfortunately, on the nationally televised show, City is given the word “niggardly” and, to say the least, does not provide a “correct, appropriate or dynamic usage” of the word as the rules require. LaVander similarly blows his chance with the word “chitterlings,” so both are humiliated, City the more so since his appearance is available to all on YouTube. This leads to a confrontation with his grandmother, alas for City, “the greatest whupper in the history of Mississippi whuppings.” Meanwhile, the principal at City’s school has given him a book entitled Long Division. When City begins to read this, he discovers that the main character is named City Coldson, and he’s in love with a Shalaya Crump...but this is in 1985, and the contest finals occurred in 2013. (Laymon is nothing if not contemporary.) A girl named Baize Shephard also appears in the novel City is reading, though in 2013, she has mysteriously disappeared a few weeks before City’s humiliation. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways.

Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.

Pub Date: June 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932841-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

In this touching summer read, forgiveness benefits both the person bestowing it and the recipient.

ISLAND GIRLS

A story of family from Thayer (Summer Breeze, 2012, etc.).

Thrice-married Rory Randall dies and in his will leaves his expensive home in Nantucket to his three daughters on the condition that they all live in it together for a summer. Arden and Meg are half sisters. Jenny is the daughter of Rory's third wife, Justine, whom Rory legally adopted when Justine claimed not to know who Jenny’s father was. While Arden and Meg lived with their respective moms, they spent a couple of summers with Rory, Justine and Jenny in the Nantucket home. Then Arden, the oldest, went through that snotty, hostile phase that some troubled teens go through, and Justine responded by putting an end to those visits. The three girls, now in their 30s, meet again at Rory’s funeral and the reading of the will, then embark upon the requisite summer together. After a rocky start, the reunion results in a life-changing summer for all, as they challenge each other to reach their full potentials, stop fearing relationships with the men who love them, share secrets and make discoveries.

In this touching summer read, forgiveness benefits both the person bestowing it and the recipient.

Pub Date: June 18, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-345-52873-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

A welcome return for the author.

THE ONE-WAY BRIDGE

Pelletier’s long-awaited addition to the tragicomic annals of fictional Mattagash, Maine.

Mattagash is a town divided by a one-way bridge, a crossing that can only be made by one car at a time. The bridge will figure heavily in the at-times-farcical story, but in the meantime, Pelletier is bent on making us love the “cantankerous” men and the staunch yet wistful women who people this ultrarustic pocket of the Northeast. Many voices, most of whom share distant or close kinship, alternate points of view. Orville, 65, the town mailman, is staring down retirement as he delivers mail for the last time. He can’t ignore the insults that his archrival Harry has heaped on him, most recently a regulation-flouting, moose-shaped mailbox. Since the kids have left, Orville’s wife, Meg, is more absorbed by computer games involving penguins than her paunchy husband. Billy, a downstater, has decided peddling pot and pills is safer in Mattagash than in Portland, where he’s left a trail of drug debts and broken hearts. It’s been awhile since he’s gotten a shipment from his connections, cartel wannabes the Delgato cousins: Instead, their parcels contain fake fingers. Trying to rectify his poverty by doing odd jobs with his own fifth (or sixth?) cousin Buck, Billy is in increasing danger of freezing to death in an unheated camper and a classic Mustang convertible with the top permanently down as a Maine winter looms. Harry, recipient of a Purple Heart, is still tormented by flashbacks and dreams of combat in Vietnam and guilt over the deaths of his buddies and the carnage inflicted by both sides. Since his wife, Emily, died of cancer years before, Harry, though respected in town, has been something of a recluse. With so many characters, a coherent plot takes awhile to emerge, and when it does, it neatly melds the fallout from Billy’s traffic in bootleg Viagra with the more profound ramifications of wounds, both physical and psychic.

A welcome return for the author.

Pub Date: May 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-8073-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

On the day her fiance came out and left her at the altar, Faith escaped to the West Coast, where she’s had a thriving...

THE BEST MAN

When Faith Holland was abandoned at the altar three years ago, she left her hometown for San Francisco to regroup; coming home to Manningsport, she’ll have to confront her past and Levi Cooper, the disturbingly handsome chief of police she blames for ruining her life.

On the day her fiance came out and left her at the altar, Faith escaped to the West Coast, where she’s had a thriving professional life and a comical romantic life. Summoned home for a few months to work the harvest at her family’s winery and help with some crisis management, Faith realizes that some things in her small town will never change—for the good or the bad—but she knows the time has come to establish a new reality with her ex, her family and maybe even Levi Cooper, the best man who forced Jeremy to be honest with her and himself on their wedding day. It’s so much easier to blame and despise him; if she lets down her guard, she might have to deal with their short but profound shared past and her own guilt and secrets from a long-ago tragedy that has haunted her for most of her life. Higgins’ newest heart-tugging romantic comedy juggles a spectrum of emotionally powerful elements, including the death of a mother, the abandonment of a father and a sigh-worthy high school romance gone awry. With her typical engaging voice, compelling storytelling and amusing dialogue, Higgins keeps the audience flipping through pages as quickly as possible, but it is her spot-on ability to make her characters at once funny, authentic and vulnerable—vulnerable to the point of breaking, so they can heal, stronger and better and more able to love—that is her true genius and guarantees most romance fans will both laugh out loud and get teary, sometimes at the same time. Another sweet, touching must-read for Higgins fans and anyone who enjoys a perfect combination of humor and romance.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-373-77792-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harlequin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

A colorful, stimulating journey through time.

THE PERFUME COLLECTOR

The story of a woman who receives an unexpected inheritance, from Pennsylvania-based author Tessaro (Innocence, 2005, etc.).

Grace Munroe, a young woman in London in 1955, receives a letter from Paris informing her that a woman she has never heard of has just died and left her an apartment and an investment portfolio. Believing it must be a mistake, she flies to Paris to investigate this strange inheritance. The story then moves back in time and across the ocean to New York in the 1920s, and they are definitely roaring. Moving from continent to continent and decade to decade, the author reveals the sometimes-tragic, sometimes-exhilarating life journey of Eva D’Orsey. A brilliantly gifted orphan, Eva is catapulted by circumstances into womanhood at a young age. Her journey involves following two men she met while working with the housekeeping staff of a high-end New York hotel. One of these men is himself an orphan and the protégé of an older Russian woman, Madame Zed, who teaches him the art and science of creating perfumes. Andre opens a perfume store in Paris while Eva is in Monte Carlo, counting cards for the rebellious son of an aristocratic English family. Before long, Eva joins Andre at the perfumery in Paris, but then the Nazis take over, and Andre, a Jew, is carted off to a concentration camp despite Eva’s attempt to save him. Eva’s story, told from her perspective, is interspersed with her story as told by Madame Zed to Grace Munroe, who has followed a clue to the old perfume shop. 

A colorful, stimulating journey through time.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-225783-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

The author combines an impressive knowledge of history, sociology and psychology to create an intellectually and emotionally...

ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE

The past meets the present in Lehmann's work of feminist literary fiction.

In 2007, 39-year-old Amanda indulges her interest in history by running a vintage clothing business in New York City. She is contacted by Jane Kelly, who, at 98, is getting rid of a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff, selling whatever she can for whatever she can get. Amanda takes an old trunk full of clothing on consignment and, while going through the items, finds a journal, started in 1907 by a woman named Olive, sewn inside a muff. These two women are separated by a century but have a lot in common. Olive is rebelling against the 19th-century concept of a woman’s “place” in society, and Amanda feels herself caught between two historic eras. Olive’s mother died in childbirth, and she was raised by an upper-class, loving but conservative father. His fortune was lost in the stock market, and when he died, she became poor. The author presents compelling, often shocking historical details about the treatment of working women in the early years of the century. Meanwhile, Amanda, in contemporary Manhattan, is considering extricating herself from an affair with a man she dearly loves. Along the way, she visits a hypnotist. The tape she receives after her session introduces questions that bring her closer to Olive. 

The author combines an impressive knowledge of history, sociology and psychology to create an intellectually and emotionally rewarding story.

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-8205-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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