2009-07-01 / Columns

Relax with a good book during the sultry days of summer


Anne Bressman,
Summertime, and the readin' is easy. On the sultry days of summer, we look for books that grab our attention and won't let us go. Whether your taste runs toward thrillers, "chick-lit," historical mysteries, or other genres, we have some great suggestions for you. So grab a tall glass of something icy, settle into a comfy spot outside, and enjoy (and don't forget the sunblock!).

JUDY: You say thriller, and I think Harlen Coben. I loved his newest, "Long Lost," which marks the return of Myron Bolitar, lawyer/sports agent/amateur sleuth—and the guy who has his back, Wyn, This one takes place in Paris and other European cities, where Myron is slightly handicapped due to his lack of knowledge of any foreign languages. After many years, Myron's old flame calls on him for help, and the fun follows from there.

AMY: Keep the pages turning with Rebecca Cantrell's "A Trace of Smoke." This novel fits into the growing subgenre of "Weimar noir" and concerns Hannah Vogel, a crime reporter in 1931 Berlin. Walking through the police department's Hall of the Unnamed Dead, she is shocked to see a photo of her brother, a cross-dressing cabaret star whose list of male lovers included at least one Nazi leader. Sensing the possibility of a scandal, Hannah searches for the killer—a search that will reveal the best and worst of the German character.

Judy Brookover
ANNE: Another fast-paced thriller involving Nazi history is Phillip Kerr's "A Quiet Flame," which brings hero Bernie Gunther back for a fifth outing. A former Berlin homicide detective, he seeks refuge in Argentina in 1950 after being wrongly accused of war crimes. One of his fellow passengers is Adolf Eichmann. Gunther arrives in Argentina, and is soon pressured by the local police to take on a case in which a girl has been savagely murdered. The case bears similarities to two cases he investigated in prewar Germany.

JUDY: We've been looking at some historical thrillers, but there's other good historical fiction too. Well-known biographer Simon Montefiore has written a three-part novel called "Sashenka," which follows a Jewish woman from her teen years in pre-Revolution Russia, through the Stalinist era. The third part of the novel concerns a modern day historian's research into the woman's life.

Amy Kaplan.
AMY: Montefiore has been receiving kudos for this epic novel. His bestselling biography of Josef Stalin established his credibility as an authority on 20th Century Russian history, and in this entertaining and engrossing story, he puts his knowledge to good use.

JUDY: Moving into present times, and much lighter fare, Jennifer Weiner has a new book, "Best Friends Forever." This is the story of two women who met and became best friends as children. One betrays the other in high school. As adults, the betrayer gains social and material success, while the one who was betrayed remains an "ugly duckling." Things get complicated when the betrayer finds herself desperately in need of help.

ANNE: "The Late Lamented Molly Marks" by Sally Koslow is another light choice. Molly, whose death may be suspicious, narrates this hilarious and thought-provoking novel from the afterlife. She is delighted to discover she can still keep tabs on those she left behind, including her beloved four-year-old daughter, her combustible twin sister, her piece-of-work mother-in-law and of course, her husband, Barry, a plastic surgeon with more than a professional interest in many of his female patients.

AMY: Let's not forget Dara Horn's newest novel, "All Other Nights." We can't call this light, but it is a page-turner, and a real departure from Horn's previous books. This story is set during the Civil War, and tells of Jacob Rappaport's adventures as a Yankee spy in Confederate territory. Jacob is assigned some difficult, morally challenging tasks. His actions lead him to danger, romance, and selfquestioning. I love the way Horn blends U.S. history with solid Jewish content (there's a good glimpse of Judah Benjamin), and builds a ripping good story.

JUDY: Maggie Anton's final book of her historical trilogy, "Rashi's Daughters" is "Book Three: Rachel." Rashi's youngest daughter, Rachel, enjoys a peaceful, happy life with her new husband Eliezer until the First Crusade disrupts their existence and her beloved father suffers a stroke. The author vividly brings to life the world of 11th Century France.

AMY: I think the thing people love about this series is Anton's descriptive writing about the minutiae of daily life. How did they keep house? How did they dress? What were their expectations of life?

ANNE: It's nice to see a family at that time who were so supportive of the women in their midst. And of course, it's a whole different approach to Rashi's life as well. It really fleshes out Rashi the person, not just the commentator.

We could go on and on… But stop by our libraries and we'll be glad to share more recommendations.

(Amy Kaplan is at Cong. Beth El, Judy Brookover is at Temple Beth Sholom, and Anne Bressman is at the Katz JCC and Temple Emanuel.)  abressman@jfedsnj.org

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