Walking on Trampolines
By Frances Whiting, Simon & Schuster, 368 pages, $18.99
Australian Sunday Times columnist-turned-author Frances Whiting's debut novel, Walking on Trampolines, is a moving story about childhood friendships and first love – and how sometimes the two are one and the same. It begins in a small town called Juniper Bay, where Tallulah "Lulu" de Longland and Annabelle Andrews become fast friends, falling headlong for each other because of their mutually unusual mothers and their shared sense of humour, which they convey to each other in a secret language. But when Lulu meets Joshua Keaton, a love triangle forms that will tear the three friends apart – and yet bind them together for the rest of their lives. "I could have told her that he tasted like almonds and smelt like lemons and that the softest place on his skin was everywhere. I didn't tell her those things, but in the end, it didn't matter – she found it all out herself," writes Whiting, perfectly evoking the pain of an impossible love experienced while coming of age.
Where Sea Meets Sky
By Karina Halle, Atria Books, 384 pages, $18.00
Gemma Henare and Joshua Miles come from two different worlds, but these worlds collide at a Vancouver Halloween party, where they meet and are instantly drawn into each other's orbit. The next day, Gemma heads back to her native New Zealand – and Josh realizes that what was supposed to be a one-night stand feels uncomfortably like love at first sight. The problem: He doesn't even know Gemma's last name. In fact, all he knows about her is the name of the town she's from. Soon, he finds himself dropping everything and embarking on a quest, to find both Gemma and himself. B.C.-based former travel writer Halle paints a vivid and appealing picture of New Zealand here, and while the book has its share of spicy scenes, it's also full of revelations about art, travel, friendship, family – and the importance of being brave enough to take a risk, even if there's a chance it's going to break your heart.
By C.W. Gortner, William Morrow, 416 pages, $33.50
Although his novel is slightly dense with facts and details that don't always flow smoothly on the page and can make the first-person narrative feel forced, C.W. Gortner accomplishes a remarkable feat with Mademoiselle Chanel: He manages to capture and distill one of the most fascinating characters in history, and he doesn't shy away from presenting all sides of her – who she wanted to be, who she could have been and who she really was. The exhaustively researched novel is broken into acts, each one complete with a corresponding Coco Chanel bon mot, that chart her transformation from an impoverished and abandoned child named Gabrielle to the indomitable "Coco," creator of the little black dress and pioneer of the modern fashion world. Adding a delicious sense of place and time to the narrative are the mentions of Coco's many notable friends, including Cocteau, Stravinsky, Picasso and Churchill. And Gortner doesn't shy away from exploring a less attractive aspect of Chanel's story: her murky relationship with the Nazis during the German occupation of Paris.
By K.A. Tucker, Atria Books, 384 pages, $18
Once you become a fan of USA Today-bestselling Canadian author K.A. Tucker, reading one of her novels begins to feel like a long conversation with your hippest girlfriend – the one who tells it like it is, the one who sometimes shocks you, the one who always has the best stories. This second novel in the Burying Water trilogy is written in her trademark style: street smart, sexy, insouciant and suspenseful. The novel follows Clara Bertelli, an undercover cop who is plucked out of her Washington, D.C. criminal unit by the FBI to work on a prominent case involving the Russian mafia; and Luke Boone, the budding criminal with a heart of gold – and a fantastic body, naturally. Clara, under the guise of socialite Rain Martines, is under orders to get close to Luke, but as she does, she develops feelings that cause ethical lines to blur. The strong female lead and impeccable pacing mingle with a racy plot line, a surprisingly sweet love story and chilling details about the criminal underworld. It's Tucker's most compelling novel to date.
By Cynthia Swanson, HarperCollins, 352 pages, $31.99
Yes, the Sliding Doors-style plot has been done before – but Cynthia Swanson's The Bookseller still feels unique, and, with the help of her deft prose, the author sidesteps formulaic snags and makes the most of the trope the novel is pinned on. It's Denver, 1962, and Kitty Miller is a fulfilled singleton approaching middle age. She runs a bookshop with her best friend, Frieda, and as far as she's concerned, there's nothing missing from her life – until the dreams begin. Suddenly, it's Denver, 1963, and Kitty has morphed into Katharyn Andersson. She's married to Lars, the love of her life, and somehow knows everything about keeping her elegant house, caring for their beautiful children and moving within a new social circle. At first, Kitty delights in these nighttime expeditions, but soon she begins to experience memory lapses. As it becomes increasingly difficult to move seamlessly between her two lives, Kitty realizes she must make a choice – but that no matter which path she chooses, she will lose a part of herself.
Republic of Dirt
By Susan Juby, HarperAvenue, 416 pages, $22.99
Susan Juby's follow-up to her Stephen Leacock Medal-nominated The Woefield Poultry Collective has arrived. In Republic of Dirt, readers can happily revisit the madcap world of Woefield Farm, a scrubby plot of land inherited in the first volume by city-girl-turned-hopeless-environmentalist Prudence Burns. When Prudence falls ill with a thyroid condition, she's forced to hand over the reins to a somewhat unlikely team: There's eleven-year-old upscale poultry minder Sara, who is charmingly wise for one so young, and whose parents' marriage is in the process of disintegrating "under the crushing weight of their mutual loathing"; reclusive bluegrass legend and grumpy old man Earl, who is now part-owner of the farm; and 21-year-old Seth, who is at once a recovering alcoholic, a heavy-metal blogger, a potty mouth and a man on a mission to lose his troublesome virginity. Obviously, hilarity ensues, and Juby's light, comic touch makes this read a genuine delight. But she isn't just playing for laughs: There are also moments that are startlingly poignant, as each character is given a chance to shine – even Stan, the mule.