- "Seating Arrangements" is about love and family on a Nantucket-like island
- In "Calling Invisible Women" a former journalist becomes empowered again
- Love finds a way despite tragedy in "The Hypnotist's Love Story"
- Cathi Hanauer's "Gone" is beautiful, complicated and often funny
Kick back — there's a reason they call them beach reads.
"Seating Arrangements" by Maggie Shipstead
Winn Van Meter has everything an affluent person could hope for: a devoted wife of almost 30 years, two daughters, a privileged life in Connecticut, and a summer home on Waskeke — a fictional island resembling Nantucket.
Despite his comforts, Winn suffers from a typical midlife dissatisfaction: "He had almost everything he could think to want, and yet still ambivalence bleached his world to an anemic pallor."
Maggie Shipstead's "Seating Arrangements" is a whip-smart and engaging debut novel, set on Waskeke over the course of three days. Winn's oldest daughter, Daphne, is pregnant and getting married. His youngest daughter is lovelorn and mourning a recent abortion.
Strong personalities clash as Winn struggles with his long-burning attraction to one of Daphne's gorgeous and wildly flirtatious bridesmaids, Agatha, as his marriage grows stale. "He could not be sure that he had ever been in love with Biddy, or with anyone for that matter, but Biddy was the woman he had felt the most for."
Shipstead observes the absurdity of the upper class in Winn's trivial anxieties; he's incensed that he wasn't invited to join an elite golf club, and he carries on a rivalry with another island couple. This is the best kind of smart beach read: a book that expertly examines social life with heart and wit.
"Heading Out to Wonderful" by Robert Goolrick
"Heading Out to Wonderful" — about a drifter who takes up with the wife of the richest man in small-town Virginia — is by "A Reliable Wife" author Robert Goolrick, which means it's deliciously dark and dangerous.Oprah.com: 7 books that will take you on an inner journey
"Calling Invisible Women" by Jeanne Ray
When Clover Hobart, 50-something wife and mother of two, notices after her morning shower that she can't see her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she assumes she's had a stroke.
But when neither her husband nor her grown son notices anything out of the ordinary, Clover realizes she's become exactly what she often feels: overlooked.
Jeanne Ray's newest novel, "Calling Invisible Women," tells the humorous, touching story of how Clover reclaims her sense of self. Over the years, her once-thriving journalism career has shrunk to a weekly gardening column, and she's filled her days walking the dog, getting dinner on the table and being a pediatrician's dutiful wife.
But after she "disappears," she finds a support group of women all suffering from the same baffling disorder. Emboldened by this sisterhood and the freedom her condition gives her, Clover sees "a whole world of beauty and injustice I had never dared to notice before."
Stripping off her clothes to go undetected, she becomes a sort of superhero: punishing bullies on the school bus, halting bank robberies, preventing her son from getting a tattoo — not to mention reigniting her career as an investigative journalist. Invisibility is hardly a subtle metaphor. But Ray argues persuasively that going undercover has its benefits.
"Imperfect Bliss" by Susan Fales-Hill
"Imperfect Bliss" is Susan Fales-Hill's sitcom-ish tale of a mixed-race family obsessed with British royalty (the four daughters are all named for Windsors) and what happens when a very American reality show comes to town.
"The Hypnotist's Love Story" by Liane Moriarty
Patrick may be the best boyfriend Ellen, the protagonist of Liane Moriarty's "The Hypnotist's Love Story," has ever had. If only women from his past didn't keep getting in the way.
First there's former-girlfriend-turned-stalker Saskia. She's not "Fatal Attraction" scary — when she breaks into Ellen's house all she does is bake biscuits (that turn out to be delicious!). Still, she puts Patrick in the worst mood.
Next there's Patrick's eternally young and beautiful wife, who "had to go and die before she had time to get boring or annoying." How is an ordinary hypnotherapist to cope with this sort of competition?
You don't have to be a psychic to figure out that love (eventually) will find a way.
"Gone" by Cathi Hanauer
Beautiful, complicated, and often funny, Cathi Hanauer's "Gone" asks the question many long-marrieds barely dare to contemplate: What would you do if your husband left to drive the babysitter home and just never came back?Oprah.com: O's 2012 summer reading list