Thursday, May 25, 2006

Top Ten Summer Reads

These top ten summer reads came from

A lovable pig. A baseball legend. Fearsome foliage. That's just some of the company you'll find in the pages of our 10 hottest summer reads.

The Ruins

Scott Smith
Knopf, 319 pp., $24.95
available July 18

What Stephen King did for cars with Christine and for dogs with Cujo, Scott Smith does for creepy foliage (and yes, it's horrifying!) in his new thriller, The Ruins.

It has been 13 years since Smith's thriller A Simple Plan rocked best-seller lists. Now he's back with a story so scary you may never want to go on vacation, or dig around in your garden, again.

Two couples enjoying a relaxing beach getaway in Mexico agree to help another tourist look for his missing brother. Their search takes them to an archaeological dig in some Mayan ruins.

What they find there is bad luck, a terrifying presence and an unimaginable battle to survive. Everything goes wrong, bad choices are made, and soon they are turning on each other.

If you love ABC's Lost and the novels of King and Thomas Harris, you'll love this book - and someday the movie: Film rights for The Ruins have been bought by

Ben Stiller.

The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth
By Leigh Montville
Doubleday, 400 pp., $26.95
In stores

It has been 58 years since Babe Ruth died, 71 since he last swung a bat. Yet as Leigh Montville writes in his lyrical biography, "The Babe remains remarkably vibrant." He was "the patron saint of American possibility." His "deferred childhood, extending pretty much though all of his life," was a "shared wicked delight." He was "crude and rude and kind and approachable, sometimes all in the same ten minutes."

But Ruth compares favorably to Barry Bonds, the modern-day slugger suspected of steroid use. Montville calls Big Bam "an attempt to tell the story again for the SportsCenter generation." He does that and a lot more. He does not break much new ground, but the writing is fresh and sharp, a reminder of all that remains unknowable about the most famous ballplayer.

Bonds will forever be linked to Ruth, but I doubt anyone will write a book about Bonds 70 years from now.

Lost and Found
By Carolyn Parkhurst
Little, Brown, 283 pp., $23.95
available June 13

The Amazing Race may have crossed the finish line for the season, but Lost and Found is just revving up.

In her new pop-culture-saturated novel, the author of The Dogs of Babel goes behind the scenes and imagines what TV reality show participants are really like.

Lost and Found- also the name of Parkhurst's fictional reality show - incorporates bits and pieces of actual shows we all either love or hate. It's like The Amazing Race, but it's one big global scavenger hunt.

Parkhurst's characters include a mother-daughter team dealing with a tragic secret, a husband and wife who believe religion will keep them faithful to heterosexuality, brothers divorced within a year of each other, and former child stars hoping to jump-start their careers.

You think the bickering is bad on TV? Just wait until you hear what Parkhurst imagines they're really thinking and saying off-camera.

The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood
By Sy Montgomery
Ballantine, 225 pp., $21.95
In stores

Animal lovers, prepare to be seduced by Christopher Hogwood.

The Good Good Pig is naturalist Sy Montgomery's tender valentine to the sickly runt she and her husband adopted and nursed back to health - and then some.

This little piggy comes home in a shoe box and soon porks up to 750 pounds.

Saved from the slaughterhouse, "Chris" lives in hog heaven in rural New Hampshire, indulging in "Pig Spas" (scrub-downs from the little girls next door) and choice slops (from a gourmet shop).

The peripatetic pig (this pen can't hold me!) becomes a local celebrity, adored by everybody, especially his besotted mistress, who tells his story with effortless charm.

When Christopher meets his maker after a good, long life, get ready for waterworks.

Spoiled rotten, dearly loved. Extraordinary, indeed.

Telegraph Days
By Larry McMurtry
Simon & Schuster, 289 pp., $25
In stores

Imagine Augustus McCrae from Lonesome Dove in petticoats and on


In his lighthearted new novel, Telegraph Days, Larry McMurtry creates the daughter whom Gus should have had with Clara - a lively, lusty, take-charge heroine named Nellie Courtwright. Nellie romps through the post-Civil War American West, ensnaring gunslingers and cowboys with her grit, gumption and gall.

Telegraph Days opens mere moments after Nellie's feeble father has hanged himself. She ditches the failing ranch, hustles into town, gets her little brother hired as the deputy sheriff and gets herself situated as the town's telegraph operator. Soon Nellie encounters legends such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Jesse James, the Earp brothers and other buckskin immortals before ending her days as a famous novelist in Hollywood.

Telegraph Days is a picaresque and entertaining ride.

Natural Selection
By Dave Freedman
Hyperion, 414 pp., $21.95
June 27

Jaws meets Charles Darwin in Dave Freedman's debut novel, Natural Selection, a maritime horror story.

Freedman, a former Wall Street executive, creates a survival-of-the-fittest predator from the deepest depths that can snack on mere sharks. The creature, forced to look for new food sources by an underwater virus, is a supersized, hostile kind of stingray. It's hungry, learning to fly and comes with a set of teeth "more powerful than the crushing mechanisms of most garbage trucks."

The novel opens with a question: "Aren't dinosaurs, crocodiles, lions and sharks really monsters? ... Every single one of them a product of evolution. So could evolution make another monster?"

Of course it can in a thriller with a budding romance between scientists and a lot of marine biology thrown in. There's also much foreboding: "Strange things were happening in the world's oceans." The formulaic writing won't win any literary prizes, but it doesn't slow down the plot.

OK, everybody in the water!

By Tilly Bagshawe
Warner, 480 pp., $24.95
June 13

Ah, to dwell forever in a fantasy world where reality, sexually transmitted diseases, terrorism threats, credit card limits and cellulite never loom.

If this sounds like your ideal summer literary destination, book a trip with fledgling trash queen Tilly Bagshawe.

Aficionados of sex 'n' shopping sagas will fondly recall the Brit's debut novel, Adored, now out in paperback. That book centered on modeling and movies. In Showdown, Bagshawe probes the world of high-priced horseflesh and L.A.'s mega-money moguls. The plot revolves around the romantic and professional collision between a gorgeous horse trainer from California's cowboy country and a feisty English girl jockey.

Supporting players include trophy wives possessed by insatiable carnal and consumer appetites, vile real estate developers who like to dominate women emotionally and sexually, overweight heiresses stalked by fortune hunters, and stallions on two and four legs. Go, girlfriends! Use that whip hand!

Jump at the Sun
By Kim McLarin
Morrow, 320 pp., $24.95
July 3

Whew. Kim McLarin sure aims high in Jump at the Sun, and you've got to love her for that.

At its best, her daring novel has the fire-breathing sass of Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale and the soul-searching depth of Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Grace Monroe is what they used to call a Buppie. She's a black sociologist with a Ph.D. Her husband, Eddie, is a chemist. They've got two cute little girls and a nice new McMansion in a Boston suburb. Life is good, right? Well, not exactly. Grumpy Grace's maternal instincts are MIA: She loves her kids (she thinks), but she's tempted to pack her bags and flee without even a see-ya-later.

What's wrong with her? Aren't black women the rocks who hold their families together? Grace looks for clues in the fascinating life of her elusive, poor Southern grandmother, Rae, and in the damage Rae inflicted on Grace's mother, Mattie.

Jump at the Sun is not flawless, but it's honest and surprising and provocative. And that's refreshing on a hot summer day.

The Whole World Over
By Julia Glass
Pantheon, 509 pp., $25.95
In stores

Julia Glass' The Whole World Over is such good company that toward the end of its 509 pages, it's tempting to ration a few pages a day.

This is Glass' first novel since she won the 2002 National Book Award for Three Junes, her lyrical debut about a gay bookseller (Fenno) and his family and friends.

Fenno returns in a minor role in The Whole World Over. But taking center-stage is Greenie, who leaves NYC to be a chef for the governor of New Mexico, bringing her 4-year-old son. Her husband, Alan, a therapist, stays behind.

Everyone is trying to figure out their lives - whether to adopt, have children, get married or leave a relationship.

All this builds to Sept. 11, 2001, a day of terror, and, for the people in this novel, a day of reckoning with their own lives.

A bonus: delicious descriptions - one overwrought wife is "mosquitoey."

The Whole World Over is the literary fiction of the summer - and, surely, way beyond that.

The Futurist
By James P. Othmer
Doubleday, 257 pp., $23.95
June 6

This intelligent, wise-cracking debut satire, written by a former Young & Rubicam ad exec, takes a hard look at what's cool, what's not and what people are willing to buy into morally, emotionally and culturally.

Yates, the book's protagonist, is a "futurist" paid millions to be "the Codifier of Cool." But a series of events - he's dumped by his girlfriend, witnesses a deadly soccer riot in Johannesburg and makes an emotional connection with a prostitute - sparks an attitude adjustment.

He decides he's a phony. He proclaims it to the world and is cheered as if he's the new, new thing. He even gets a job offer and is hired by a mysterious organization to travel the world to find out why everyone hates the USA.

Yates' tumultuous journey takes him to Bas'ar, an

Iraq-like country, where he sees firsthand why Americans are so unloved.

The Futurist slams pundits, corporations, government policy and American war policy. Othmer leaves us with a taste of fear in our mouths even as we're laughing at Yates' ridiculous life.


Megan said...

I REALLY want to read "The Futurist"

Kim said...

Me too! That was the one book that really stood out among the others when I read the list.

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