A story that takes a deep dive into grief, loss and guilt, a perverse and gritty novel set against the backdrop of a meditation retreat, Elin Hilderbrand's literary homage to the film Same Time, Next Year, and more.
The House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman
The House on Fripp Island sets the reader up for one story, but then slyly delivers a different, even better story. A prologue lets us know that 20 years ago, someone died on a trip but we aren’t told who or why or by whose hand. We are introduced to two very different families traveling to a tiny, lush island off the coast of South Carolina for an all-expenses paid vacation. Apart from the moms, Poppy Ford and Lisa Daly, who were childhood friends in West Virginia, the two families barely know each other. But as it becomes apparent that both families are weathering some changes, alliances form, and secrets shaped by class, loyalty, ambition, fidelity, and desire bubble to the surface. Readers will be drawn into a smart, keenly-observed look at family dynamics as they try to figure out which of the eight characters was speaking from the grave in this atmospheric beach read. —Vannessa Cronin
The Lightness by Emily Temple
Not sure what kind of teenager you were, but I was definitely the brooding, rebellious type, not unlike the unreliable narrator in debut author Emily Temple’s The Lightness—a haunting, suspenseful, coming of age novel that explores the power dynamics and defiance of teenage girls teetering on the edge of self-destruction. When 15-year-old Olivia arrives at the Levitation Center—a self-described “Buddhist Boot Camp for Bad Girls” high in the Colorado mountains—she’s utterly alone and displaced after her father walked out of her life never to be seen again. She’s soon drawn into a dangerous circle of troubled teens and their ringleader, Serena, who longs for spiritual enlightenment at any cost. Together they fast on nettle tea, meditate at midnight, and choke each other into unconsciousness. But when their escalating dangerous practices fail to yield their intended results, they set their sights on a new obsession—Luke, the retreat center’s gardener—convinced that this is the summer he’s finally going to teach them how to levitate…or die trying. —Marlene Kelly
28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
Elin Hilderbrand, one of the reigning queens of the beach read, has done it again in this tale of an affair that takes place over 28 summers. Mallory Blessing meets her brother’s fraternity brother, Jake McCloud, over Labor Day weekend in 1993. The two immediately fall in lust, and inspired by the movie Same Time Next Year, decide that every Labor Day they will meet and reenact this perfect weekend of innocent love. And they succeed—for 28 summers—despite the twists their lives take. Mallory stays in the beach cottage on Nantucket she inherited from a beloved aunt, and becomes a talented English teacher at the high school. Jake marries his high school sweetheart, an exacting and cold lawyer who eventually runs for President. Hilderbrand doesn’t just focus on the three days each year Jake and Mallory spend together, so the set-up never gets stale, and you’ll find yourself rooting for this star-crossed adulterous couple. Nantucket isn’t as much of a character in the novel as in Hilderbrand’s other works, but she weaves in some recurring characters, restaurants, and locations to satisfy her devoted readers. 28 Summers is a total page-turner, and a perfect “beach read,” whatever that means in the summer of 2020. —Sarah Gelman
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Brit Bennett's debut novel, The Mothers—about motherhood, female friendship, and finding love with a broken heart—was one of the most talked-about books of 2016. Four years later, Bennett introduces a new cast of characters, and like her debut, The Vanishing Half examines sisterhood, black identity, and parenthood with compassion and conviction. The Vignes twins grew up inseparable in the ’60s in Mallard, Louisiana, a small town reserved for black residents with light skin. Stella and Desiree Vignes are tall and beautiful, and they dream of lives beyond the lynching of their father and housekeeping for white people, like their mother does. When they flee to New Orleans as teenagers, Stella discovers that she can pass as white, and so begins the fracture that will forever separate the twins. Stella disappears in California and continues to play the part of a white woman, keeping her past a secret from her husband and daughter. After leaving her abusive marriage, Desiree returns to Mallard with her daughter, Jude, who is “black as tar.” Jude, desperate to find a place where she fits in, goes to college in California and discovers she was searching not just for herself but for her mother’s sister. Told in flashbacks and alternating points of view, this novel asks what is personal identity, if not your past. A riveting and sympathetic story about the bonds of sisterhood and just how strong they are, even at their weakest. —Al Woodworth
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
A Burning by Megha Majumdar is a thoughtful and thought provoking debut set in present day India. The novel starts off with a young Muslim woman named Jivan leaving a message on Facebook that criticizes the government. The problem is she does so in reference to a train station bombing; as a result, her almost castaway comment will come back to find her. The story is told from three different points of view, which the author masterfully choreographs. There is Jivan. There is Lovely, a Hijra who wants to be a movie star. And there is PT Sir, a gym teacher who finds himself drawn to a local populist movement. Their stories snake around each other to establish a captivating storyline, and while there is ripe space for political and social exploration in this book, Megha Majumdar never sacrifices the inner lives of her characters to explore those broader themes. She delivers on both levels, and that is a truly exceptional achievement. —Chris Schluep
A story that takes a deep dive into grief, loss and guilt, a perverse and gritty novel set against the backdrop of a meditation retreat, Elin Hilderbrand pays literary homage to the film "Same Time, Next Year", and more.