The Light of Paris
By Eleanor Brown
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 320 pages, $35
Eleanor Brown's follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut The Weird Sisters is inspired by the author's real-life discovery of her grandmother's letters from Paris in the 1920s, where she had lived for a time. These letters showed Brown a new side of her grandmother, and she responded by writing about a woman who presents one face to the world while leading a different inner life. As Madeleine Spencer, who is married to a controlling husband but who has also succumbed to the role of people-pleaser for far too long, sifts through letters from her own grandmother while escaping her husband's tyranny at her family home, she begins to see what might have been had she followed her dream of becoming an artist instead of getting married. Margie Pearce, Madeleine's grandmother, is equally endearing, brought to life by the letters Madeleine finds in her mother's attic. "It was impossible to reconcile the woman I had known with this girl, so honest and young and silly," Madeleine reflects. We were all young – or, younger – once and we all have a story, dreams we either chased or didn't. Brown does a beautiful job of conveying the universality of this in a story about a fork in the road and the kind of strength that can only come from within.
I Almost Forgot About You
By Terry McMillan
Crown, 355 pages, $36
The bold, exuberant author who brought us Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back has returned, finally, with a book that is just as wise and empowering as the novels that brought her such fame. I Almost Forgot About You gives a voice to smart, successful women everywhere who are looking for more, even though they seem to have it all – and also to anyone who has ever had the courage to look at her past, no matter how painful parts of it were, in order to find out who she is today. Dr. Georgia Young is 55, and her daughters are grown. By all accounts, she's a success. But – and this is a familiar refrain in today's world – something is missing. The way Georgia navigates her ennui is refreshing, wise, and honestly rendered. Reading about Georgia's trip down memory lane – to visit every man she's ever loved – feels like it's being delivered by a straight-talking aunt, one who has seen more of the world than you have and wants you to understand that it's not going to be all sunshine and roses along your path – but that you're going to be okay. You really are.
By Jennifer Close
Bond Street Books, 320 pages, $29.95
Washington is a strange place, at turns wonderful (the free museums, the moving war memorials, the enthralling whiff of power) and infuriating (the nonsensical traffic circles, the way it feels like a staging area, the fact that almost everyone who lives there has a government job and wants to talk about it). New York Times bestseller Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dresses), who currently lives in Washington, does an impeccable job of presenting this city with all its flaws and intrigue. Beth is a New Yorker at heart who follows her White House-staffer husband to Washington. Once she gets past the fact that most dinner parties involve comparing security clearances before the appetizer, life becomes more tolerable – especially when she finds a new friend in the wife of Matt's work friend, Jimmy. Ashleigh, a Texan, is unlike anyone Beth has met, and the two couples form an easy foursome. But soon, Jimmy's professional successes eclipse Matt's, and his charm extends its way into Beth and Matt's relationship in an insidious manner. As the newly established friendship gets complicated, the backdrop of the Obama administration and modern-day politics in general makes the story even more compelling.
The Long, Hot Summer
By Kathleen MacMahon
Grand Central Publishing, 400 pages, $31.50
Current front-runner for the best book I'll read this summer – and not just because of the perfect title – Kathleen MacMahon's The Long, Hot Summer is one of those novels that is poignant and funny, thought-provoking and entertaining, all at once (and much like MacMahon's terrific debut, This is How it Ends). I found myself jotting down lines as I read, like this one: "Relationships between men and women are all about … the balance of power, and if you can't get it right, then it's a fight to the death." This book is about all kinds of relationships, and the struggles within them: between parents, siblings, children, spouses, lovers. It follows four generations of a family convinced they are different from everyone else as they slowly – and often painfully – learn that they aren't so different after all. There are nine character voices in total, but MacMahon more than pulls it off, making each one unique and authentic.
The House at the Edge of Night
By Catherine Banner
Doubleday Canada, 415 pages, $32.95
YA author Catherine Banner's debut adult novel is set on Castellamare, a fictional Italian island that is charmed into existence by a talented storyteller. (Side note: so far this summer, as far as I'm concerned, YA/adult crossover authors are batting a thousand.) The House at the Edge of Night is gorgeous, an epic, detailed and heart-filled family saga I wanted to carry with me everywhere, because each moment I spent with it brought pleasure and revelation. The story of Amedeo Esposito, his family, and the life they lead on the island is imaginative and wholly absorbing. And the best part is how the art of storytelling itself is woven into the tale: Amadeo writes all the stories he's heard over the course of a lifetime in a red notebook, and these collected stories are passed down through the generations. The stories Banner uses are based on Italian folklore – revealing, among other things, the magical power of storytelling, one that will never be defeated.
The Miracle on Monhegan Island
By Elizabeth Kelly
Liveright, 323 pages, $33.95
The latest from Ontario-dweller Elizabeth Kelly – bestselling author of The Last Summer of the Camperdowns – is an absolute must for dog lovers. Why? Because it's narrated by a dog. I know, I know, but answer this question honestly: If anyone could write a genuine, tender story about you and your family (and your dog could use a typewriter; bear with me), don't you think your best canine friend would be the one for the job? Ned is a Shih Tzu who is stolen out of a car by prodigal son Spark Monahan as he makes his not-so-triumphant return to Maine. (He was thinking the dog might soften the blow his long absence dealt to his young son, Hally.) But Hally is not to be bought so easily, and he begins stirring up more trouble than even his father could, culminating in the claim that he has had a powerful spiritual vision. The danger and intrigue that result from this claim are well-observed by a narrator on the outside. Of course the narrative isn't without moments of great levity – but there is also unexpected wisdom, and profound humanity.