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Summer books: Fiction

  • Article by: MEGANNE FABREGA
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 4, 2012 - 9:57 AM

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette," by Maria Semple (Little, Brown, $25.99)

No one is safe in Maria Semple's hilarious second novel, least of all Bernadette herself. Microsoft employees, denizens of Seattle and overzealous mothers get their due when Bernadette Fox moves to town. Unfortunately, the alleged safe space that Bernadette carves out for herself in this brand-new universe falls to pieces, and it's up to her daughter, Bee, to put things back together when her mother disappears. Semple's snappy writing and spot-on humor make this one of the funniest beach reads of the summer.

"Park Lane," by Frances Osborne (Vintage, $15)

Fans of "Downton Abbey" will have plenty of reading choices this summer to fill the void left by the popular television series, including Frances Osborne's second novel, which takes place between 1914 and 1923. Osborne deftly parallels emerging suffragette and erstwhile socialite Bea's privileged lifestyle with the lowered expectations of reluctant housemaid Grace. While their stations in life may be quite different, by the end of the novel their lives have intersected in ways they could have never foreseen.

"A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar," by Suzanne Joinson (Bloomsbury, $26)

Two women travelers bound by blood but separated by nearly a hundred years stand at the center of Joinson's rich debut novel. In 1923, Evangeline has taken her bicycle, her notebook and carefully hidden curiosity on China's Silk Road with evangelists whose pure intentions have disastrous results. At the beginning of an entirely different millennium, Frieda returns from yet another trip abroad to find her unreliable boyfriend, a mysterious letter and a stranger who soon becomes a confidant.

"The Chaperone," by Laura Moriarty (Riverhead, $26.95)

Film star Louise Brooks was a legend in her time, but the real lead of "The Chaperone" is Cora Carlise, Brooks' 36-year-old chaperone for her first visit to New York City in 1922. As Cora struggles to tame Louise's free spirit, she finds herself moving past the safety of her own personal boundaries. In this fictional account of Cora and Louise's off-and-on relationship, Laura Moriarty writes with grace and compassion about life's infinite possibilities for change and, ultimately, happiness.

"The Red House," by Mark Haddon (Doubleday, $25.95)

"How rarely people were together," laments Dominic -- father, husband, uncle -- as he gazes around the dinner table in the midst of a family vacation. Angela and Richard, sister and brother, have physically brought their families to the Red House for a week of reconciliation after the death of their mother, but while they all may be living under one roof they inhabit distinctly different psychological spaces. Mark Haddon, best known for his novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," perfectly captures the ambivalence of cultivating family relationships that may be best left alone.

"The Uninvited Guests," by Sadie Jones (HarperCollins, $24.99)

It was a dark and stormy night in the English countryside as Emerald Torrington prepared to celebrate her 20th birthday. Little did she know that a group of strangers would lead her one evening down a twisted path that she and her family would never forget. With a changing cast of characters, and a side story of a nail-biting "Great Undertaking," Orange Prize finalist Sadie Jones creates a novel thick with tension that even the sharpest knife would struggle to cut.

"Tell the Wolves I'm Home," by Carol Rifka Brunt (Dial Press, $26)

With this debut novel that flawlessly encapsulates the fragile years during the mid-'80s when the specter of AIDS began to haunt society at large, Carol Rifka Brunt establishes herself as an emerging author to watch. Sisters Greta and June have lost their beloved uncle to AIDS, but he leaves behind a legacy that draws out their secret selves from beneath their impervious teenage exteriors. As June forms a clandestine friendship with her uncle's lover, also afflicted with AIDS, she is forced to acknowledge the depth of her true feelings for her late uncle. "I know all about love that's too big to stay in a tiny bucket. Splashing out in the most embarrassing way possible." "Tell the Wolves I'm Home" will undoubtedly be this summer's literary sleeper hit.

"Tigers in Red Weather," by Liza Klaussmann (Little, Brown and Company, $25.99)

The family grouping that travels to Tiger House on Martha's Vineyard every summer isn't large, but their problems seem to be monumental. Amid the wealth and privilege of this insular summer community, two generations of cousins struggle with warring emotions of love and loathing over a span of 25 years, "Never realizing what they have. Always wanting something else." Liza Klaussman's delicately crafted novel is like a house of cards; each move builds to an inevitable collapse at the end.

Meganne Fabrega is a freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

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