Brain Candy

Summertime and the reading is easy


By Shannon Purdy Jones

For me, summer reading calls for what we at Scuppernong Books think of as “brain candy” — a palette-cleanser of sorts to give us a break from the weight of meatier books we’ve consumed. After all that we’ve been through during the pandemic, our first post-vaccination summer is the perfect time to relax or romp in the sunshine, shucking off the stresses we’ve been carrying around. So grab another beer from the beachside cooler and dive into a salacious romance or a thriller that can’t be put down. This year more than ever we’ve all earned a break to indulge in some guilty pleasures and unwind.

So here’s what we’ve got for you this month: Brain candy for every kind of reader, including those who still want something with a little bite for their poolside grazing.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine Books, $28) Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over — especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva. The only person not looking forward to the party is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud — because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth. By midnight, the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play and all this family’s love and secrets will come bubbling to the surface.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (Berkley Books, $17) When Poppy met Alex, there was no spark, no chemistry and no reason to think they’d ever talk again. Alex is quiet, studious and destined for a future in academia. Poppy is a wild child who only came to U of Chicago to escape small-town life. But after sharing a ride home for the summer, the two form a surprising friendship. After all, who better to confide in than someone you could never, ever date? Over the years, Alex and Poppy’s lives take them in different directions, but every summer the two find their way back to each other for a magical weeklong vacation. That is, until one trip goes awry, and in the fallout, they lose touch. Two years later, Poppy’s in a rut. Her dream job, her relationships, her life — none of it is making her happy. In fact, the last time she remembers feeling truly happy was on that final, ill-fated Summer Trip. The answer to all her problems is obvious: She needs one last vacation to win back her best friend. As a hilariously disastrous week unfolds and tensions rise, Poppy and Alex are forced to confront what drove them apart — and decide what they’re willing to risk for the chance to be together.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead, $28) When a young man is found gruesomely murdered in a London houseboat, questions arise about three women who knew him. Laura is the troubled one-night-stand last seen in the victim’s home. Carla is his grief-stricken aunt, already mourning the recent death of yet another family member. And Miriam is the nosy neighbor clearly keeping secrets from the police. Three women with separate connections to the victim. Three women who are — for different reasons — simmering with resentment. Each, whether they know it or not, is burning to right the wrongs done to them. When it comes to revenge, even good people are capable of terrible deeds. How far might any one of them go to find peace? How long can secrets smolder before they explode into flame?

Blush by Jamie Brenner (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $26) For decades, the Hollander Estates winery has been the premier destination for lavish parties and romantic day trips on Long Island. But behind the lush vineyards and majestic estate house, the Hollander family fortunes have suffered and the threat of a sale brings old wounds to the surface. Matriarch Vivian fears that this summer season could be their last — and that selling their winery to strangers could expose a dark secret she’s harbored for decades. Meanwhile, her daughter, Leah, who was turned away from the business years ago, finds her marriage at a crossroads and returns home for a sorely needed escape. And granddaughter Sadie, grappling with a crisis of her own, runs to the vineyard looking for inspiration. But when Sadie uncovers journals from Vivian’s old book club dedicated to scandalous novels of decades past, she realizes that this might be the distraction they all need. Reviving the trashy book club, the Hollander women find that the stories hold the key to their fight, not only for the vineyard, but for the life and love they’ve wanted all along.

Heatwave by Victor Jestin (Scribner, $22) Oscar is dead because I watched him die and did nothing. Seventeen-year-old Leo is sitting in an empty playground at night, listening to the sound of partying and pop music filtering in from the beach when he sees another, more popular boy strangle himself with the ropes of the swings. In a panic, Leo drags him to the beach and buries him. Over the next 24 hours, Leo wanders around like a sleepwalker, haunted by guilt and fear, and distracted by his desire for a girl named Luce. A prizewinning sensation in France and now stunningly translated by Sam Taylor, Heatwave is Victor Jestin’s unforgettable debut — a searing portrait of adolescent desire and recklessness, and secrets too big to keep. (Originally published in France under the title La Chaleur.)

The Coward by Stephen Aryan (Angry Robot, $14.99) Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just 17, he sets out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world. Only he returns victorious. The Lich is dead, the ice recedes and the Five Kingdoms are safe. Ten years pass with Kell living a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now, a new terror has arisen in the North. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more. For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero — he was just lucky.

Other notable summer reads: 

Sex/Life: 44 Chapters About 4 Men by B. B. Easton (Forever, $17.99), The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (Berkley Books, $16), Falling by T. J. Newman (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $28) and The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, $28.99)  OH

Shannon Purdy Jones is store manager and children’s buyer at Scuppernong Books. Her current favorite children’s book? Pearl by Molly Idle.

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