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Stake out a lawn chair, book in hand

Summertime, and the reading is easy 

Stake out a lawn chair, book in hand

Imagine yourself on a white beach, a slight breeze in the air, the water before you undulating in its hypnotic rhythms. You are relaxed, seated in your favorite beach chair, but something is missing. No, it's not the suntan lotion, or your umbrella. The missing element is a book. And not merely any book, but a great book. Hopefully, there should be something for everyone as we review what books you can look forward to reading this season.

If you are looking for easy laughs, look no further than Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not, by Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert. You may remember these three from the hilarious television series Strangers with Candy that aired on Comedy Central. And of course, Sedaris is the sister of that master of biting satire, David Sedaris. Wigfield is the story of an idyllic lakeside community gone terribly wrong. An adjoining dam threatens the community with mass destruction, but thanks to self-involved reporter Russell Hokes, the day is saved. Wigfield is filled with many "interesting" citizens, represented by Sedaris and company in various costumes. A laugh riot.

If your taste in humor is a bit subtler, then the new Tom Robbins novel, Villa Incognito just might be the answer. The plot, if we dare call it that, concerns several MIAs that refuse to return home to the states; a family of alluring women that share a cryptic history with an eccentric mythical character from Japanese history; a high wire artist; and somewhere in the midst of all this, a love story. Told in an easy rambling style, Robbins' latest (and possibly his best), has all the trademarks that fans have come to expect.

Jane Smiley returns with a new novel titled Good Faith. The time is the early '80s and the smell of quick money is in the air. Joe Stratford is a trustworthy, newly divorced real estate agent. But into Joe's life comes the devil in the form of a glib talking ex-IRS agent, Marcus Burns. The smooth-talking agent soon tempts Joe with the offer of making some big bucks quickly, and even though he is a man of principle, Joe is easily led astray from the path of the righteous. Smiley once again displays her versatility as a writer as she tackles the concept of the great American dream, greed, sex and money.

Margaret Atwood, another strong novelist, will once again amaze us with Oryx and Crake. The book details a bleak industrial wasteland populated with strange, hyperbred creatures and a single human survivor named Snowman. As he prepares himself for an excursion back into the RejoovenEsencecompound where his lab was located, Snowman tries to piece together a mix of fragmented memories in an attempt to understand how the world collapsed upon itself. This should be one of the most talked about books this summer.

Dennis Lehane is one of the hottest mystery writers around. Shutter Island, his first novel since the thrilling Mystic River, (currently being made into a film by Clint Eastwood) will not disappoint fans of the hard-bitten series. In the summer of 1954, two U.S. marshals arrive at Shutter Island, a hospital for the criminally insane. Returning character Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule, are investigating the mysterious disappearance of patient Rachel Solando. Searching for answers, they are stymied by the tight-lipped efforts of the hospital's chief physician, J. Crawley. As a major hurricane bears down upon the island the marshals find themselves trapped among the crazies with no escape.

British writer Rose Tremain, author of Restoration and Music and Silence, offers us a historical novel about the mid-19th century gold rush in New Zealand. In The Colour, two immigrants that have recently wed travel to New Zealand looking for a fresh start. The husband, Joseph Blackstone--a man bound by a haunted past--hopes to escape the memories of a disgraceful incident in England. Also seeking freedom is his wife, Harriet Salt, a spirited ex-governess that has narrowly escaped becoming a spinster. Along with Joseph's mother, the two attempt to scratch out a living on the harsh New Zealand landscape. But everything changes when Joseph discovers gold in a nearby creek and abandons both women.

In the realm of nonfiction, history continues to be a hot topic. The following titles are sure to capture the interest of students of the past. Bill Bryson, author of In a Sunburned Country and A Walk in the Woods, sets out to set the record straight on this thing we call life in A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson explains that "This is a book about how it happened. In particular how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since." Well, he certainly is not afraid to tackle big topics. Serious science readers will not find anything new here but for those of us that enjoy Bryson's skill as a wry narrator this will be a real treat.

The Great Wave, Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the opening of old Japan by Christopher Benfey is an exploration of the idea that after the Civil War, America was suffering from an identity crisis. And so in searching for a culture that possessed a sense of balance between old and new, leaders turned to Japan for answers. By focusing on a collection of well-known artists, writers and philosophers, Benfey recalls a time when the likes of Melville, Henry Adams and then president Theodore Roosevelt all undertook a fascination with everything Japanese.

The Spartans, a warrior culture in ancient Greece, were well known for their superior skill in battle tactics, strategic planning and their military strength. The Spartans--The World of the Warrior Heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse by Paul Cartledge is an enlightening study of this fierce civilization. Cartledge traces the development of Sparta, focusing on the people, their culture and the way that they have influenced modern life. The Spartans will tie-in to a PBS special that airs this summer.

"I am the daughter of my father's fourth plural wife, twenty-eight children--a middle kid, you might say," begins Dorothy Allred Solomon's frank and revealing memoir Predator's, Prey, and Other Kinfolk. Solomon's story is about the Mormon religion and its illegal practice of polygamy. Solomon's father was a physician and preacher that struggled to keep his multiple marriages hidden from the rest of the world, but it ultimately ended in his death from an offshoot branch of the Mormon sect. Solomon's work is thoroughly engaging, giving the reader plenty of insight into the practice of polygamy and an in depth study of the Mormon Church.

Several books of interest that have finally made their way into paperback include Yann Martle's booker prize winning novel, The Life of Pi, where Pi Patel, a son of an Indian zookeeper, sets sail with his family and several animals to Canada. Halfway through the journey the ship capsizes and Patel is left stranded on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal Tiger. Dr. Doolittle this ain't. After the tiger dispatches the other animals, it's just him and Patel for 227 days. The novel is a testament not only to the power of survival but also to Martle's talent as an author. Highly recommended. Other notable paperbacks include: Everything is Illuminated by Safran Foer, In the Forest by Edna O'Brien, Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science that Changed the Course of World War II by Jennet Richards Conant, City of Bones by Michael Connelly, and Sin Killer by Larry McMurty.

And finally I would be remiss if I failed to mention one of the most anticipated novels of the year. Drumroll please. Yes, it's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by the irrepressible J.K. Rowling. The book is due in stores June 21 and many local shops are staying open after midnight June 20 for a celebration of everything Potter. Do not disappoint the kids--or yourself--reserve a copy of Harry's latest adventures.

Remember, bring the suntan lotion--and a good book.

  • Stake out a lawn chair, book in hand

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