Summer novels: Five bids for your beach time
The best reviews of summer reading: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown, the tribulations of a woman in Silicon Valley; Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks' first effort as Ian Fleming, continuing the James Bond saga; The Enchantress of Floren
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
by Janelle Brown (Spiegel & Grau, $25)
Silicon Valley money doesn’t buy happiness for the women in Janelle Brown’s “swift-paced and very readable” debut, said Ann Cummins in the San Francisco Chronicle. The book’s heroine is dumped by her husband on the very day that an IPO turns him into a half-billionaire, and she soon becomes so busy scoring drugs from the pool boy that she doesn’t notice her oldest daughter drowning in debt or her once-chubby teenager tipping over for every boy who shows an interest. Brown’s prose can go slack, and her male characters are two-dimensional monsters, said Katie Vagnino in Time Out New York. Still, her “unapologetically soapy” book feels “perfect for June,” said Rebecca Traister in Salon.com. Even when Brown is delineating the inability of these women to “resist the siren song of male approval,” her tale is “as addictive as the meth” on which Mom gets hooked.
Devil May Care
by Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming (Doubleday, $25)
Sebastian Faulks’ first crack at a James Bond novel proves to be a “serviceable madeleine” for 007 nostalgists but little more, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Set in what seems to be 1967, Devil May Care pits Bond against a grotesquely deformed drug lord who’s endeavoring to trick the Soviets into nuking London. Naturally, the action-crammed plot includes a “breathlessly” described beauty who quickly becomes entangled with Bond, said Patrick Anderson in The Washington Post. In one scene that “manages to be both dumb and offensive,” the villain parades her, naked, into his desert drug factory, and promises the army of enslaved addicts working there that she will be their plaything. Missing most from Faulks’ effort is the bite that Ian Fleming once put into every line about Bond’s male-fantasy world, said Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times. Though “competently constructed,” Devil May Care “compares with the real thing” in about the same way that “a sour-apple martini compares” with the elegant cocktail—“shaken, not stirred”—that 007 himself would drink.
The Enchantress of Florence
by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $26)
It’s not every year that a Nobel Prize–worthy writer produces a book that’s “the equivalent of a summer fling,” said Michael Dirda in The Washington Post. An enchanting paean to the power of female beauty, Salman Rushdie’s latest is set in “a gorgeous 16th century that never quite was.” It stars a wandering rogue who captures an emperor’s imagination with tales about a seductress in the royal lineage who seems to have been “at once princess, slave, and witch.” Despite the richness of Rushdie’s tapestry, said The Economist, he sometimes appears to forget that a novelist must foremost be a storyteller, “not a serial creator of self-delighting sentences.” He always has a destination in his mind, though, when “churning out mini-myths like Scheherazade,” said Troy Patterson in Entertainment Weekly. Rushdie’s characters and curiosity may roam to the boundaries of the Renaissance-era’s known world, but his “shimmering” fable ultimately celebrates “the deep sweetness of home.”
City of Thieves
by David Benioff (Viking, $25)
David Benioff is hardly the first Hollywood screenwriter to send a comic odd couple on a life-and-death quest, said Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. In his “funny, sad, and thrilling” new novel, a shy Jewish chess fanatic and a ribald ex-soldier set out to find two eggs during the Siege of Leningrad because their Nazi jailer wanted a cake more desperately than he wanted to see his two prisoners instantly executed. “If Thieves were a movie,” said Jake Lamar in People, it would start out like Schindler’s List and end up like Raiders of the Lost Ark. For better or worse.” But the book “ends up packing much more of a punch” than its high-concept setup might lead a reader to expect, said Robin Vidimos in The Denver Post. The opening scenes’ dramatic tension draws you into City of Thieves, but you’ll be “fully invested” in its main characters before the final credits roll.
Three Girls and Their Brother
by Theresa Rebeck (Shaye Areheart, $24)
Playwright Theresa Rebeck skewers celebrity culture so deftly in her debut novel that “you end up reading it for all the wrong reasons,” said Sherryl Connelly in the New York Daily News. The tabloid-ready drama starts when three stunning, intelligent, redheaded sisters pose for a New Yorker photo and suddenly become the It girls of Gotham nightlife. The teenage Heller sisters share narrating duties and aren’t distinctive enough to outshine celebrity itself—the novel’s true main character, said Joanne Kaufman in The Wall Street Journal. But this spring release is “stocked with plenty of satisfying vignettes,” including a “hilarious, textured account” of the youngest girl’s stumbling turn as an off-Broadway headliner. The narrative voices are “too often Holden Caulfield inspired” and the book’s climax is “cartoonish,” said Adam Begley in The New York Observer. “But the truth is I was charmed—and I won’t be the last.”
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