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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!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

hundred summersLily Dane has always summered in Seaview.  Idyllic and secluded, she and her best friend Budgie grew up sailing, sunning, and swimming in the bay, coves, and on the beaches of Seaview.  The summer of 1938 is no different.  This year, Lily has come down from Manhattan with her mother, her scandalous aunt Julie, and her six-year-old sister, the fiercely independent Kiki.  Lily plans to laze in the sun and spend time with her beloved Kiki – until Julie announces that Budgie Byrne is returning to Seaview for the first time in seven years, and bringing her husband, Nick Greenwald, with her.

Lily first met Nick Greenwald in the autumn of 1931.  She and Budgie drove up from Smith to the Dartmouth football game to watch Budgie’s boyfriend, the gorgeous Graham, play – but the moment Lily catches sight of Nick’s intense, fierce piratical gaze on the field, she is lost, and Nick falls just as quickly.  Seven years later, Lily is quite sure she is over him – after all, he is now married to her best friend.

But as Budgie – and Nick – slowly twine their way back into Lily’s life, old secrets begin to rise to the surface.  Why would a powerful, honest man like Nick, a man who once dreamed of becoming an architect, marry a manipulative, selfish woman like Budgie?  As old secrets come to light and the truth of what happened seven years ago slowly rises to the surface, Lily must find the strength to fight for what she loves most.

If you’re looking for a decadent summer beach read, A Hundred Summers will keep you in your Adirondack chair long after the ice cubes have melted in your lemonade.  Dark family secrets, star-crossed romance, old money, wealth and privilege, sea, salt, and sailing, and plenty of lazy, sun-soaked summer days in the sand lie between the pages of Beatriz Williams’s second novel.  Looking for more?  Check out her debut, last year’s Overseas, a tale of time travel, World War I, Wall Street and enough swoon to put stars in your eyes!