Summer books: 5 paperbacks you must read--and then ten more.

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 1, 2014 - 8:06 AM

Maybe you missed them in hardcover — or want to read them again.

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MINNEAPOLIS POET HEID ERDRICH is the author of “Original Local” and the Minnesota Book Award- winning “National Monuments.” She recommends “Sacred Wilderness” by Susan Power. “Reading the realist- surrealism of ‘Sacred Wilderness’ will bring you jolts of recognition or thrilling introduction to new places you’ll want to visit, all the while imagining you are there with the fictional and actual friends Susan Power depicts with affection and drama.”

Photo: JIM GEHRZ • jgehrz@startribune.com,

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“Time Present and Time Past,” by Deirdre Madden. (Europa Editions, 161 pages, $16.)

This exquisite novel is about family, the tug of the past and the translucence of the present. It is told through various points of view: Fintan, a middle-aged lawyer; his sister, Martina, who has a terrible secret; Fintan’s wife, Colette, and his son, Niall. Not much happens: Fintan becomes enamored of old photographs, he overeats and is chastised for it, he and Martina reconnect with a long-lost cousin. But Madden’s subtle, sure-handed prose weaves past and present together in a way that is moving and powerful.

“The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War,” by Daniel Stashower. (Minotaur Books, 354 pages, $16.99.)

Shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural, detective Alan Pinkerton (yes, that Pinkerton) uncovered a plot to have the president killed during a trip to Baltimore. Author Daniel Stashower is a mystery writer, winner of an Edgar Award, and here he spins history like a thriller, with Lincoln’s train chugging ever closer to Maryland and doom while Pinkerton works feverishly to foil the bad guys. Even though you’re pretty sure you know what happens — plot thwarted! death averted (for now) — it’s a great read.

“Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites,” by Kate Christensen. (Anchor Books, 353 pages, $15.95.)

As British food writer Nigel Slater did with “Toast,” Kate Christensen in her memoir views life through the prism of meals. The foods mentioned here are of the comfort variety, but this is not gentle stuff; Christensen’s father beats her mother while Kate and her sisters eat soft-boiled eggs and toast; later, a teacher who smells of mint (“the most sinister child-molester smell possible”) gropes Kate.

But there are happy memories here, too, of her mother’s “rich, lumpy and buttery” mashed potatoes; a hippie Thanksgiving of legumes and nuts; camping trips fueled by Tang and Space Food Sticks. A rich and satisfying read.

“Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn. (Broadway Books, 415 pages, $15.)

Gillian Flynn’s third novel was the blockbuster hit of 2012 and beyond, spending 75 weeks on the bestseller list and only now available in paperback. Snap it up! This mystery is confounding, enthralling, mesmerizing. The characters are likable — no, wait, they’re despicable. No, wait, they’re both. Told in alternating chapters by the missing woman and her husband, the prime suspect, “Gone Girl” is hard to put down. Slather on the sunscreen; once you start reading in the lawn chair you will not be getting up any time soon.

“The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son and the CIA,” by Scott C. Johnson. (Norton, 304 pages, $15.95.)

Scott Johnson grew up in exotic places all over the world, believing his mysterious father to be a diplomat. Eventually, he learns the truth: His father is a spy for the CIA. Scott goes on to become a journalist — a profession not unlike his father’s: “Spies gather secrets and keep them to themselves and their governments. We gather secrets and tell them to the whole world.” This is a fascinating account of the world of espionage and of the tricky relationship between a father and his son.

10 at a glance

“Margaret Fuller: A New American Life,” by Megan Marshall. (Mariner, 474 pages, $16.95.)

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for biography is a nicely told story of the intelligent and fearless woman who died too young. Fuller was a muckraking journalist, Thoreau’s editor and Emerson’s friend.

“On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation,” by Alexandra Horowitz. (Scribner, 308 pages, $16.)

Alexandra Horowitz began walking through her New York neighborhood as a way to force herself to concentrate on her surroundings. This book, which follows a dozen walks, finds the remarkable in the familiar — ecosystems in parking lots, evidence of wildlife (rats, primarily) in urban yards, bugs on a leaf.

“Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953,” by Elizabeth Winder. (Harper Perennial, 265 pages, $15.99.)

The summer of 1953 — when the college-age Sylvia Plath was a “guest editor” at Mademoiselle magazine and staying in the ladylike Barbizon Hotel — starts with excitement, red lipstick and a perfect pageboy haircut. Poet Elizabeth Winder gives us a thrilled and optimistic Plath, on the cusp of something big, with only hints of her later darkness.

“Sisterland,” by Curtis Sittenfeld. (Random House, 412 pages, $15.)

“Sisterland” follows twin sisters, both with ESP, one who rejects her powers, the other who embraces them. This captivating novel by the author of “American Wife” is about safety vs. danger, family ties and secrets.

“The Interestings,” by Meg Wolitzer. (Riverhead Books, 538 pages, $17.)

Meg Wolitzer’s engrossing, sweeping novel about success and art follows four friends from their teen years at a precious summer camp to middle age. This highly praised book is funny, insightful and wise.

“The House at Belle Fontaine,” stories by Lily Tuck. (Grove Press, 203 pages, $14.)

Infidelity, friendship, love and tragedy — National Book Award-winner Lily Tuck packs all of life into these 10 exquisitely crafted, economical stories.

“Three Weeks With Lady X,” by Eloisa James. (Avon, 388 pages, $7.99.)

Looking for pure escapism? Make it well-written escapism. Eloisa James is, in her other life, Mary Bly, a professor and Shakespearean scholar; her raunchy romance novels are well-researched and have the period details down perfectly.

“The Colour of Memory,” by Geoff Dyer. (Graywolf Press, 292 pages, $16.)

Back in print, Geoff Dyer’s debut novel is a thinly disguised autobiography about being down and out in London in the 1980s. “I like to write stuff that is only an inch from life,” he says in the new introduction. “But all the art is in that inch.”

“Crazy Rich Asians,” by Kevin Kwan. (Anchor Books, 527 pages, $15.)

Hilarious and satirical, Kevin Kwan’s first novel is about a young American woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. There she finds herself in a sea of opulence underscored by culture clash. It’s really very funny.

“Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm,” by Mardi Jo Link. (Vintage, 258 pages, $15.)

It would be fun to be broke and divorced if you could be broke and divorced the way Mardi Jo Link was: while also being mouthy, resourceful and tough. In the opening scene, Link tries to set her wedding gown on fire. Later, down to her last nickel, her kids hungry, she enters a “mystery squash” in a zucchini contest, and wins $100 worth of bread. A triumph of stubbornness over — well, everything.

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books.



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