I've never understood the concept of "beach reads," which suggests that readers put their brains on hold for the summer and prefer books with obvious plots and stock characters. Not me. And this summer has so many imaginative picks that it is with great reluctance that I named only five on "AM NW" this morning. But they're all good ones, guaranteed.
1. “The Passage,” by Justin Cronin. It would be impossible to sum up this 766-page futuristic thriller on a bumper sticker, but here’s trying: WAR ON TERROR MEETS THE VAMPIRES. It starts with a strange race of bloodsuckers found deep in the Amazon jungle. Some devious brainiac hatches a plan to take them north as part of a covert U.S. government program. Leapin’ lizards! The lid pops off and they become their own biological weapon, inflicting mass destruction. The last great hope lies in the special powers of one young girl who takes refuge in the woods of western Oregon.
2. “Mr. Peanut,” by Adam Ross. While we’re on the subject of death: Here’s another novel that tackles the theme, but it’s set in the present and revolves around dangers of a more domestic variety. A man – the title character – is accused of killing his wife, and with good reason: He’s a video game creator who has fantasized about doing so a few too many times. The detectives on the case also have their own dark histories in the husband arena. “Seinfeld” fans, unite! There’s humor and the truth in this kooky look at the dark side of wedded bliss.
3. “The Imperfectionists,” by Tom Rachman. Any media buff will adore this original and entertaining story of an English-language newspaper in Rome as its staff and freelancers struggle to survive in the Internet age. Each flawed character is a story in his or her own right, and collectively their tale shows how the sausage is made. Ugly, isn’t it? Media conspiracy theorists will rest easy, realizing that journalists could never be organized enough to conspire.
4. “The Cookbook Collector,” by Allegra Goodman. This isn’t a story about cooking but about what matters and what’s worth “collecting” as you go through life. Things, relationships, what?? The main characters are two sisters, one a slick high-tech exec, the other a grad student who works in an antiquarian bookstore. Goodman has been described as a modern-day Jane Austen, and this book is superb testimony that offers a lot of good discussion points for any book club.
5. “The Invisible Bridge,” by Julie Orringer.*** Another novel about the Holocaust? Yes, and this one’s a keeper. A young Hungarian Jew goes to Paris to make a name for himself as an architecture student in the 1930s. But the anti-Semitism infecting France takes its toll even before Hitler arrives. By the time Europe is in full-blown war, the promising student has seen a dramatic reversal in his fortunes. Orringer, borrowing from the story of her own grandfather, can’t explain why a whole race was targeted for extermination. But she uses her story to show how it happened: one small step at a time.
***My No. 1 pick!