Summer books: Paperbacks

  • Article by: LAURA BILLINGS COLEMAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2013 - 2:30 PM

 

“Vengeance,” by Benjamin Black (Picador, $16)

When business titan Victor Delahaye shoots himself during a sailing excursion off the coast of Ireland’s County Cork, the obvious suspect pitches the pistol overboard — a plot point that muddies the waters only briefly in this mild, midcentury whodunit. For readers, the more compelling mystery in author John Banville’s pseudonymous franchise is the character of Quirke himself. With a weakness for bad women and good whiskey, the impenetrable Irish pathologist continues to puzzle, while the fluid prose raises it a few notches above the better-plotted competition.

 

“By the Iowa Sea,” by Joe Blair (Scribner, $16)

After setting out on an “Easy Rider” fantasy with his girlfriend Deb, reality hits hard when the author runs out of money in Iowa, gets hitched and has a family of four — including one son with an autism diagnosis. This bruising but hopeful memoir got its start as a Modern Love essay in the New York Times, and it covers everything from marital infidelity to HVAC repair and the meaning of life with brutal honesty and hard-won wisdom.

 

“Circles of Time,” by Phillip Rock (William Morrow, $14.99)

You can’t help wondering whether “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes cribbed a bit from this family saga, the second installment of the “Passing Bells” trilogy published in the 1970s and reissued for the generation still reeling from Matthew Crawley’s car crash. The great house of Abingdon Pryory is the pivot point for plenty of Jazz Age angst, where the titled Greville clan is riven by World War I, climbing hemlines and crumbling social codes. It’s the perfect summer reading while you wait for Season 4.

 

“The Uninvited Guests,” by Sadie Jones (Harper Perennial, $14.99)

Sterne is the name of the Torrington family manor, falling into ruin and ready for a cash infusion that may yet come from an advantageous marriage for Emerald the ingénue. But just as the servants are preparing for her 20th birthday party, a passel of third-class passengers from a nearby train wreck arrive to wreak havoc, pushing what starts as a pleasant Edwardian comedy of manners into more ghoulish, Edward Gorey territory. Clever plotting and smartly observed characters (like the widow and second husband who meet “in the far-down places between grief and sex”) make for a highbrow page-turner.

 

“The Suitors,” by Cecil David-Weill (Other Press, $16.95)

Even more rarefied real estate is at stake in “The Suitors,” where the Ettinguer sisters contrive to save L’Agapanthe, the family villa on the Côte d’Azur, by seducing a billionaire to pay for it — or perhaps courting one so vulgar their parents take it off the market. Like a French Nancy Mitford, Cecil David-Weill (daughter of a former chairman of Lazard Freres) is at her most interesting when she’s parsing the manners of the super-rich, explaining why offering a Jet Ski as a hostess gift is simply never done.

 

“An Uncommon Education,” by Elizabeth Percer (Harper Perennial, $14.99)

In this coming-of-age novel set at Wellesley College, earnest narrator Naomi Feinstein overcomes her isolation when she’s initiated into the Shakespeare Society, a Seven Sisters secret that’s not nearly as sexy as it sounds. Equal parts “Prep” and “Dead Poets Society,” this elegant debut novel might have benefited from a little more Donna Tartt drama.

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