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A funny title for a just-plain-fun in the sun summer read. When I started reading this light hearted romantic comedy, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Richard, an English artist, has cheated on his perfect French lawyer wife. He has sold the only painting that has the power to keep them together. I didn’t see myself developing sympathy for either of them.

And then the book got funny! And I had some time on the beach with this, my only beach book. Courtney Maum is a blogger and humor columnist. She lived in France, where half of the novel takes place. This is her first novel, and it follows a pretty predictable story arch. I can see it being a beautifully funny film, and I would go see it in a heartbeat, because I did end up feeling for Richard. His foibles made for a perfectly funny summer beach read – and an especially ironic beach photo.

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I am a bit of a sucker for any book with an Emily Dickinson epigraph. The title of McBride’s debut novel comes from these lines,
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies –
which aptly introduce this novel in four voices. Set in Las Vegas, the story is narrated by Avis, Luis, Bashkim and Roberta. They all have separate and complicated lives that converge when an act of violence propels them into the same conflict arena. According to the author’s note, the plot was reimagined from an unbelievably sad headline news story. I’m not a fan of this sort of literary conceit. However, McBride’s theme is genuine and is summed up by Avis in one of her later sections with these lines – “It all matters. . . . What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”

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This is not the book review I am supposed to be writing. I am four book reviews behind, but I just finished reading The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry this morning and I feel compelled to share it right away as an offering of advice to all my reader friends – and especially my English teacher friends – who know at this point in the summer, you can’t waste your beach/hammock/porch swing time with a bad book. In other words, this is the last good book you may have time for before you have to surrender yourself to the damnable “summer reading” you should be doing.

The book is a love song to reading – especially short stories – and book stores. It is also a literal love story and a bit of a mystery. I am not going to spoil anything, beyond saying the baby in a basket reading a book on the cover is already a spoiler that I didn’t even notice until well into my digital IBook edition. A. J. Fikry owns and operates Island Books on fictitious Alice Island, where a sign hangs over the door that says “No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World.” And he is the sort of red wine drinking curmudgeon I fall in love with inside of the first chapter.

The gimmick of the novel that may have annoyed me much more if it wasn’t so darned literary is that each chapter is introduced with Fikry’s brief review of a well known short story that will figure into that chapter somehow. You learn that Fikry has the highest respect for the short story as a genre. At one point in the novel he slips a list of short stories to read under the door of his daughter who is having trouble writing a short story for a school contest. (This list would be a good course syllabus for any high school writing class.) In a later chapter you get to read her short story! None of this bookish “product placement” bothered me because I was so charmed by the story itself.

And it is an Ice Cream Cone of a summer story, perfect for a day like today, when I have allowed myself a sort of vacation day in Athens, Ohio. Because I want to have this book in hand to share with friends, I broke my No New Books promise and bought a copy at Little Professor, in part to celebrate the fact that Athens still has a reliable bookstore! And I am writing this review outside of The Donkey with David, drinking an iced coffee that I am not even mad dripped all over my best white shorts. Because I wanted you to read this review and then this book, I am typing frantically with 23% charge on my Ipad. Summer is short! Life is long, but not long enough to waste on the wrong books. Read this one – you deserve a treat.