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The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Emma Saylor is one hundred percent okay with her clean, orderly, maybe a little predictable life with her dad and Nana in Lakeview.  Change makes her nervous anyway (maybe not quite as nervous as driving, which, new license or no, she is absolutely never doing, no matter how much her dad pushes her into it), and she likes everything to be organized, tidy, and exactly where it’s supposed to be.  Maybe it’s because she lost her mom to addiction when she was a kid, and her dad is all about careful and cautious (and clean teeth, but then, he’s a dentist), but Emma likes it when she knows she can be sure where everything – and everyone – is going to be.

So when her plans to stay with her best friend while her dad is on his honeymoon trip fall through at the last minute, Emma is more than a little frazzled.  But after the roller coaster ride that was life with her mom, she wants her dad to be happy, and she really like Tracy, her new stepmom, which means going to stay with her mom’s mom, Mimi, and her cousins, all of whom she last saw when she was four years old, at the lake is going to have to be okay.  Even if they’re virtually strangers.  Emma’s sure she’ll be fine  – after all, her mom told her tons of stories about the lake right up until she died.

When Emma gets to the lake, she finds a whole new world – one where she’s Saylor, not Emma.  One where everyone knows her, but she doesn’t know them.  One where everyone remembers her mom, and isn’t afraid to talk about her.  One that’s messy, and chaotic, and a little wild, and overflowing with family and new friends and love.  Full of cousins, childhood best friends that might maybe turn into more, hotel housekeeping trials and tribulations, boats and docks, crash courses behind the wheel, impromptu proms, invisible lines between the two sides of the lake and the people that occupy them, and nothing, nothing, nothing that’s predictable.

Is it really summer without a Sarah Dessen novel?  Nope!  The queen of summer is back with a fabulous new novel, one that’ll have you grabbing your towel, flip flops, a bottle of sunscreen, a big thermos of sun tea and hitting the dock to sink into this delicious novel of family, first love, and figuring out where you come from – and where you’re going.  Tuck The Rest of the Story into your beach bag this summer – and then indulge in a good re-read of some of Sarah Dessen’s other delicious novels!

The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

Sasha and Ray share three sisters – practical and newly, hopelessly in love Emma, magical, ethereal Quinn, and gorgeous, not-sure-who-she-is-yet Mattie – and a bedroom in their family’s summer house on Long Island, but they’ve never met.  They stand on opposite sides of the divide created by the colossal earthquake of Sasha’s dad Robert and Ray’s mom Lila’s ugly divorce.  The house is the only thing neither could let go – in Lila’s family for generations, but bought by Robert when his new wife’s family finances self-destructed.  Neither Lila nor Robert was willing to give it up to the other, so now every summer Sunday the house changes residents – with only Emma, Quinn, and Mattie able to cross the line in the sand.

Sasha and Ray have an entire childhood of shared memories – Lego cities (Sasha and Ray, adding to it on alternate weeks), plants loved (Sasha) and neglected (Ray), bed made (Sasha) and unmade (Ray), toothpaste in the sink (Ray) and clothes left in the bed (Sasha), and book reports on To Kill A Mockingbird (Sasha and Ray).  In the summer, each one is only a little more than half of a whole person, an outlier and a newcomer to an old history of secrets and lies between their parents, existing to their sisters only in the other’s absence.

When Emma gets Sasha and Ray each half a job stocking shelves at the local grocery store, their lives get even closer.  The demands of Manager Francis, a young man with a shiny new MBA and an old, still shiny sense of self-importance, force email contact and, for the first time, Ray starts to get a sense of who Sasha is beyond her shoes and the scent of her shampoo.  Sasha starts to wonder about her not-brother, the boy she’s shared a crib, toys, a bed, a bathroom, and a plant with her whole life.  But can two people born on either side of such a great fault line in their family ever inhabit the same space at the same time?

This is a rich summer story of family, old secrets, new love, and all the ways that we fall apart and come together.  I love how all the siblings’ stories have a place here – Emma’s love story, the quiet magic of Quinn’s peace-making, Mattie’s journey of self-discovery, and Ray and Sasha’s agonizing almost-touching lives.  Stack The Whole Thing Together on your porch pile of books to be savored this summer alongside your battered copies of Sarah Dessen, Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Jennifer E. Smith’s books along with a big pitcher of lemonade, a box of Kleenex, and a lot of pillows, because you won’t want to put this one down!

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

secret lifeNew York City, 1964.
When budding journalist Vivian Schuyler rushes to the post office at noon on a Saturday to pick up a mysterious parcel, she doesn’t expect to fall in love.  Nor does she expect to discover the existence of a fifty-year-old long-buried family scandal, in the form of a battered suitcase belonging to a great-aunt whose existence has been kept secret until now.  But there you have it.

Berlin, 1914.
Scientist Violet Grant, married to the decades-older, brilliant and eminent nuclear physicist Dr. Walter Grant, is not expecting to fall in love either.  Her marriage to Walter is more of a partnership of equal minds (or so she has convinced herself), and love is not a factor in the equation of her life.  Until Lionel Richardson prowls into her laboratory and her life in the spring before the assassination of the Hapsburg heir.  Now a soldier,  Lionel was an old student of Walter’s and is in Berlin recovering from a war injury.  Taking an opportunity to indulge his old hobbies, he begins to work closely with Violet in her quest to understand the inner workings of the atom.

When Vivian’s mother informs her that the suitcase belonged to her great-aunt Violet, who first committed the unspeakable crime of becoming a scientist, then murdered her husband and disappeared with her lover in the days before the breakout of World War I, Vivian knows she has a delicious story on her hands that could make her career.  But untangling the threads of her own family history – and breaking into the suitcase to discover its contents – prove more difficult than she could have imagined.  Especially when the Schuylers would prefer the past, and Violet, stay buried.

Sublimely scandalous, with a sweeping scale and epic love affairs, and generously peopled with some of the most famous scientists of the time – who wouldn’t want to spend an evening making music with Dr. Einstein? – the author of A Hundred Summers (fans will cheer at Lily and Nick’s cameo appearance) and Overseas has written another fabulous novel soaked in champagne and rich with the glamour of 1914 prewar Berlin and the glossy high-society world of 1960s New York.  But the best part of this glittering confection?  Violet and Vivian, who, fifty years apart, fight for the right not just to be seen, but to be seen as equal – Violet, in her role as one of the first female scientists of her time, and Vivian as a journalist.  Delicious!