Fact: This is going to be one crazy summer. Closed pools. Cancelled vacations. No parades, no festivals, no summer blockbuster at the movies. But we’re tired, we’re grieving and we’re human. We need to relax, rest and escape.
Thankfully summer reads are still out there. Books that remind you of long, lazy days of childhood, that beg to be read on sand or on your bed in a frigid, air-conditioned room.
Maybe you’ve been trapped with your own family, and the dysfunctions have never felt more…dysfunctional. Escape with a new family, the Millers of Philadelphia, in Amy Meyerson’s “The Imperfects.” Ashley, the oldest sibling, lives a seemingly perfect life, but all is not as it seems on the surface. Ryan, the middle son, lives in Los Angeles where he struggles as a screenwriter, with his finances, and with his newly pregnant fiancée. Beck is the youngest, a paralegal with a scandalous past that holds her back. Their mother Deborah is the most dysfunctional of all, going in and out of their lives with various men, and leaving all of her children, but especially Beck, in the care of their grandmother Helen. When Helen dies, all are surprised that a piece of jewelry they thought was fake was actually the long-missing Florentine diamond, worth millions. How did this treasure come into the possession of an old woman in a small Philadelphia house? The siblings investigate, and eventually “solve” the mystery despite constant old, bad habits from all involved. Perfect for fans of Emma Staub and Ann Patchett.
‘You Had Me at Hola’
If you’d rather escape into soap operas, rom-coms or telenovelas, try Alexis Daria’s “You Had Me at Hola.” Jasmine is a tabloid fixture, due to her series of bad breakups. She came to New York to escape the Hollywood paparazzi and to play the lead in an original show for the fictitious ScreenFlix called “Carmen in Charge” Ashton is her co-star, and plays her ex-husband. Ashton is fiercely guarded and after their initial meet-cute, both try to deny the burgeoning sparks. Two parallel stories are told, the script that calls for exes Carmen and Victor to rediscover love, and real life, in which Jasmine and Ashton let their pasts betray their present. Once they drop their guard, the sex scenes are steamy and rich with repressed desire, while being respectful of consent and communication. This most contemporary Latinx love story is the perfect mix of comfortably predictable and uniquely its own.
‘The Guest List’
Another comfortable escape is the Agatha Christie-style whodunit, with a big cast of possible suspects and an unknown (until the very end) victim. Such is Lucy Foley’s “The Guest List.” Social media influencer Jules and handsome TV star Will are getting married in a resort off the Irish coast after a whirlwind courtship. Storms, copious amounts of alcohol and a guest list with secrets in their baggage keep us off balance at all times (though you’ll definitely be rooting for some guests to be innocent more than others). Olivia, Jules’ sister, is mentally fragile after an unnamed incident. Charlie is the bride’s poor, townie male best friend, and Hannah is his wife who feels out of her depth in this social circle. Johnno is the scholarship boy who has been Will’s “friend” since their school days. Aiofe is the resort owner and wedding planner, trying to stay out of sight and keep everything running smoothly. Chapters switch from narrator to narrator, and as secrets are gradually revealed, everyone is more interconnected than they could have imagined. This one might keep you up all night reading, and it will be worth the sleepless night.
Or, you could armchair travel to two very different parts of New York. “Lot Six,” playwright David Adjmi’s memoir of growing up as a Syrian Jew in a tight Brooklyn enclave is soul-baring even as it entertains. Adjmi is the youngest son by a great deal, with a big intellect and a complete lack of self-esteem or self-knowledge. He denies his religion, his homosexuality and his true interests to chase what he feels like he should. Adjmi’s honest depiction of his life as a pretentious, pseudo-intellectual college student, and his subsequent coming-of-age in several definitions, is powerful whether you are familiar with his works or not. I did not know him, but I did remember being a pretentious, pseudo-intellectual college student and found this book to be a good read.
Meanwhile, Emily Gould’s “Perfect Tunes” depicts another New York, far away from Broadway. The Lower East side at the dawn of the millennium was undergoing a rock renaissance with The Strokes and their kin owning the bars and the nightlife. This novel is set in that time, with Laura, newly arrived from Ohio, attempting to start a singing career, and starting a fling with Dylan the leader of the “it” band. Before the relationship could likely fizzle out naturally, Dylan dies and Laura finds out she’s pregnant. She decides to keep her daughter, and alter her plans for singing stardom, while living somewhat vicariously through Callie, her college roommate. But when daughter Marie grows up, that past can no longer stay in the past. With equal skill, Gould depicts the stale beer and cigarette smell of 20th century bars and the diaper cream and sour milk smell of new motherhood.
Finally, the biggest escape of all, into an otherworldly Mexican town with a deep, uncomfortable magic in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Mexican Gothic.” In the 1950s, Catalina marries the English heir of a silver mining family and goes to live on his estate in rural Mexico. But when she sends a letter to her family indicating something is amiss, Noemi’s father sends her to check out what’s going on, with the promise that she can continue her studies if she does so. Upon arrival, Noemi finds Catalina even sicker than she could imagine, and a house that seems to keep the inhabitants prisoner. Catalina’s husband is chilly, her father-in-law is near death but still terrifying, and the housekeepers force numerous rules to be followed. Noemi’s only possible ally is youngest son Francis, but can he be trusted? This gothic suspense is akin to Shirley Jackson or Daphne DuMaurier, with a uniquely Mexican setting.
Be good to yourself this summer. Read to improve, read to educate, but never forget to read just for the fun of it.
Jamie L. Watson is a collection development manager with Baltimore County Public Library.