Summer means reading—at the beach, by the pool, or in a hammock in the shade. We checked in with Vroman’s Sherri Gallentine and Jen Pino, who suggest these new fiction and nonfiction titles for the top of your reading pile.
THE BRIDE TEST BY HELEN HOANG
In Helen Hoang’s sophomore novel, The Bride Test, we get a more in-depth look at a character from her first book, The Kiss Quotient: Michael’s younger cousin Khai. Things that make other people feel deeply don’t seem to affect Khai, and he’s given up on falling in love with anyone. However, his mother has a different idea. On a trip to Vietnam, she meets Esme, who seems like the perfect candidate to marry her son. Esme, wanting to make a better life for her family, agrees to come to the Bay Area for the summer. What she doesn’t expect is to immediately fall for Khai. Now she must figure out a way to get Khai to reciprocate that love before the summer comes to an end. As in The Kiss Quotient, Hoang here writes amazing characters that chip away at your heart and are impossible to get enough of. The Bride Test gets you rooting for both Khai and Esme as they go through their own interior battles, making you alternately cry and jump for joy. It is going to be hard to wait for more of Hoang’s novels, but for now I can’t recommend the first two enough. —Jen Pino
CAPE MAY BY CHIP CHEEK
In the fall of 1957, newlyweds Effie and Henry arrive in Cape May, New Jersey, for their honeymoon. The seaside town is nearly empty, but a house at the end of their street is occupied, and the couple befriends its residents: Max and Clara, a sophisticated and wealthy couple, and Max’s younger sister, Alma. Effie and Henry are soon in over their heads, partying and drinking like they never have before. Things get out of control, and the two make mistakes that will haunt them for years to come. Cape May, the debut novel from El Segundo’s Chip Cheek, is a steamy summer read. —Sherri Gallentine
THE LIGHT YEARS BY CHRIS RUSH
Picture a stereotypical 1970s suburban childhood and then make a 180-degree turn: that is what you will find in Chris Rush’s memoir of his early years. Introduced to drugs at age 11 by an older sister and growing up gay with an intolerant father, Rush is sent to Catholic school, from which he is expelled. He leaves his New Jersey home; over the next several years lives with his sister on and off in Arizona and Northern California, surrounded by drugs and drug dealers; and eventually, as a young teen, strikes out on his own when it becomes clear he can’t go back home. The time Rush spends alone in the Arizona desert offers some of the most powerful and heartbreaking passages in his memoir, and I can’t remember being, as a reader, more emotionally involved with a book than I was with The Light Years. —S.G.
THE LAGER QUEEN OF MINNESOTA BY J. RYAN STRADAL
I was fully committed to this book by the second paragraph! Sisters Edith and Helen become estranged when their father dies and they learn that he has willed the family farm solely to Helen. Helen sells the farm, starts a brewery, and goes on to dominate the light-beer market in the Midwest. Meanwhile, Edith takes a job at a nursing home, where her pies become so popular that the facility begins accepting dinner reservations. Los Angeles–based Stradal weaves together the stories of the sisters and Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, perfectly. This novel is filled with warmth and humor and is a pure joy to read. You don’t need to be a beer drinker to enjoy The Lager Queen of Minnesota, but it doesn’t hurt. —S.G.