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Titles to while away summer hours

Summer offers time to catch up on favorite novels. Here are some 2014 releases.

Amy Tan speaks at a reading
Photo by Amy Sussman

"On the Rocks" (William Morrow, $25.99), by Erin Duffy, is a breezy beach read for young women. Abby Wilkes is trying on wedding dresses when she sees that her fiance has changed his Facebook status to "single" but hasn't told her. For six months she binges on self-pity and ice cream, then gives in to her best friend's appeal to spend the summer in Newport. She's available to date again, but hates navigating Google, Facebook and texts for potential partners. Has social media ruined the dating scene? Find out.

"The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden"(Ecco, $25.99), by Jonas Jonasson, is about how small coincidences shape history. Nombeko Mayeki spent her childhood in Johannesburg's slums. When she turned 15 an engineer in South Africa's nuclear program forced her into servitude. He was to make six bombs but made seven. Knowing how dangerous this is, Nombeko is in danger and flees to Sweden with the seventh bomb. Twin Holger One wants the King of Sweden to abdicate. Holger Two wants to keep the bomb from falling into One's hands. The quest to own the bomb and depose the king make merry reading as coincidences pile up and nothing turns out as planned.

"Worthy Brown's Daughter" (Harper, $26.99), by Phillip Margolin, is about racism in the 19th Century Oregon Territory. Margolin took 30 years to write this book, and his efforts show. Freed slave Worthy Brown goes to court to get his daughter away from their master, who is a Portland lawyer holding her captive. Based on a true story, the novel is a major departure for Margolin, whose many well-known thrillers are set in the 20th Century. Justice in Oregon was primitive at best. Court was held in open fields in summer and bars in winter. Judges, lawyers and petitioners rode from town to town to hold trial. Everyone had to know how to shoot a gun, and proceedings were sometimes interrupted by wild animals or local drunks. Blacks had no real legal status in Oregon, so this trial became a major sensation. Detailed, well-written and well-documented, this is one of Margolin's best efforts.

"Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932" (Harper, $26.99), by Francine Prose, is about a Paris cabaret where cross dressers meet and homosexual lovers find privacy. Based on a true story, the novel takes readers to the decadent side of Paris just before WWII begins. Louisianne Villars dresses as a man and loves women. She performs at the Chameleon Club, where she and her girlfriend Arlette are hired by Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi to pose for the photo whose caption echoes this book's title. She moves on to become a supporter of the Reich and spies on her native France for the Germans. Told in many voices and from many perspectives, the novel attempts to understand Villars' motives, though the ultimate answers are never clear.

"The Angel of Losses" (Ecco, $25.99), by Stephanie Feldman, is about the impact of discovering family secrets. Eli Burke dies and leaves a notebook of stories about The White Rebbe, the Angel of Losses and a lost letter of the alphabet which completes the secret name of God. His grand daughter Marjorie reads the book and sets out to find its meaning. She must reconcile with her sister Holly who is in danger because of Eli's past. Based on the Legend of the Wandering Jew, the tale incorporates Jewish myth and history,

"Up at Butternut Lake" (William Morrow, $14.99), by Mary McNear, follows a widow returning to her childhood home. Allie Beckett's husband has been killed in Afghanistan. She brings her son home to a cabin on Butternut Lake. She reunites with childhood friends Jax and Caroline. Then she meets Walker Ford, a newcomer whose handsome looks soon grab her heart. First of a planned series, this book draws readers into the small town life of Butternut and the small human dramas of its inhabitants.

"The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic" (William Morrow, $14.99), by Hazel Gaynor, is loosely based on the biggest single loss when the Titanic sank. The Addergoole 14 of County Mayo all sailed on the Titanic and their deaths were the largest number from any one location. Maggie Murphy survives and wakes up in a New York City hospital. In 1982 the scene shifts to Chicago and Maggie's granddaughter Grace Butler. Maggie finally tells her story.

"Season of the Dragonflies" (William Morrow, $25.99), by Sarah Creech, is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Lenore women make a unique perfume from mysterious flowers and they guard the location zealously. The perfume magnifies a woman's talents so she can realize her ambitions. Mya can envision how a specific scent will work. Her sister Lucia has no such talents. Mother Willow runs the factory, but one day begins to show signs of forgetfulness. A young man romances Mya in an attempt to take over the business, and a client threatens to blackmail them. Someone must save the business, and surprisingly it is Lucia.

"The Wedding Bees" (William Morrow, $14.99), by Sarah-Kate Lynch, is a romance from a New Zealand writer. Sugar Wallace is always on the move. Every spring she goes someplace new with her bees and sweetens the lives of people with her honey. In Manhattan the queen bee goes on strike and the drones won't make honey. Why? Sugar won't have anything to do with the man who loves her.

"The Golem and the Jinni" (Harper, $17.99), by Helene Wecker, is the paperback version of Wecker's first novel. A woman, a golem created out of clay and intended to be the husband of a man who dies en route to America, and a jinni, a fire being held captive in a copper flask by a Bedouin wizard and released by a Syrian tinsmith, meet in New York City in 1899. The story combines Jewish and Arab folk mythology.

"The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells" (Ecco, $26.99), by Andrew Sean Greer, is about a woman who lives three different versions of her life. In 1985 her lover leaves her and her brother dies. She receives electroconvulsive therapy and a day later wakes up in 1918, and then again in 1941. Each life is different. In one she is married, in one her brother is alive, in one she has a child and in another she does not. Which life does she ultimately choose?

"Big Brother" (Harper, $26.99), by Lionel Shriver, sets the issue of obesity against the backdrop of sibling relationships. Pandora is married to cabinet maker Fletcher and has children Tanner and Cody. Pandora makes a pull-string doll which propels the family from poverty into fortune. She invites brother Edison to come visit. She is stunned to find he is obese and is also full of braggadocio. Edison overstays his welcome. Pandora moves into an apartment with him in an effort to help him lose weight and at risk of losing her own marriage.

"Tai Pei" (Vintage, $14.95), by Tao Lin, is a semi-autobiographical look at hipster life in Brooklyn. Main character Paul leads a shallow life, cycling from work to bars to relationships with very little commitment to any. He takes an internet crush to Las Vegas and marries her on a whim. He says as little as possible to his parents in Taiwan. Vapid and clueless, the book resembles the proverbial accident from which readers cannot avert gaze.

"The Husband's Secret" (Putnam, $25.95), by Liane Moriarty, is about three women in a Catholic school in Sydney, Australia. Cecilia is a volunteer at St. Angela's and runs a Tupperware business. She finds and opens a letter from her husband which is to be opened only if he is dead. Tess learns her husband is in love with her cousin and business partner. Furious, she moves to Sydney and enrolls her son at St. Angela's. Rachel is the school secretary. She is convinced gym coach Connor murdered her daughter. How their lives cross and what lessons they learn make this a very different look at Catholic school life.

"Sea Creatures" (Harper, $25.99), by Susanna Daniel, is set in South Florida. Graham Quillian has parasomnia, a sleeping disorder characterized by sleepwalking. He is denied tenure at Northwestern. His wife Georgia loses her consulting business at the same time. Graham takes a two-year fellowship at a school in Miami, Georgia's home town, and they move there with son Frankie. They live in a houseboat behind Georgia's father and his second wife Lidia. Three-year-old Frankie won't speak. Their marriage starts to fall apart. Georgia takes a job with reclusive artist Charlie Hicks and begins to spend time with him and Frankie while Graham goes on a research trip. Their tranquility will be interrupted soon.

"The Valley of Amazement" (Ecco, $29.99), by Amy Tan, is her first novel in eight years. The story is set in the Shanghai Courtesans in remote China and in San Francisco. Lulu Minturn, a California white woman, follows her Chinese painter lover to Shanghai. She becomes the owner of a courtesan house. She abandons her daughter Violet who becomes the city's most famous courtesan. Violet then loses her daughter Flora. Violet looks for the answers to who she is. A key figure to the answer is Flora.

"Carthage" (Ecco, $26.99), by Joyce Carol Oates, is about the disappearance of a girl and the involvement of a veteran. Cressida Mayfield disappears. Decorated Iraq War veteran Brett Kincaid becomes the prime suspect. The twin stories of the horrors he saw in Iraq and the tortured inner life of the disappeared girl intertwine.

"The Days of Anna Madrigal" (Harper, $26.99), by Armistead Maupin, is the ninth and final part of the "Tales of the City" series. The series is set in San Francisco. The book features Anna, the transgender landlady of 28 Barbary Lane. She is now 92 and under the care of Jake Greenleaf. Anna's family are set to go to Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. She plans to go to Winnemucca, where as a 16-year-old boy he fled his whorehouse home. Her story comes full circle and all secrets are told in this final tribute.

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