We never require an excuse for pleasure reading, but the advent of summer does turn our minds to big, breezy novels and other literary treats. We've looked ahead to see what books are being published in the coming months, we've measured the buzz, and we've sampled the prose. What follows is our report on the season's biggest titles " plus a few unheralded gems that deserve attention.
Whether you go for the guilty pleasures of chick lit, the adrenaline rush of a good thriller, or the brain food of serious nonfiction, there's a book here for every taste " and plenty to keep you reading until Labor Day. So sit back, relax and enjoy.
"The Divorce Party," by Laura Dave (Viking, $24.95, available now) The buzz: Jumping on the fad for "divorce parties" (like a wedding, only the couple receives gifts for their separate lives), this novel has already been optioned by Jennifer Aniston's production company.
The plot: A socially prominent Montauk couple amiably mark their 35th wedding anniversary with a party to toast their divorce, but deeper feelings rise to the surface when their son introduces his fiancee to the family.
The twist: You might think Dave would play this scenario for laughs, but she delivers plenty of poignant twinges.
"Chasing Harry Winston," by Lauren Weisberger (Simon & Schuster, $25.95, available in June).
The buzz: This fun and clever third novel by the author of "The Devil Wears Prada" proves Weisberger's got staying power.
The plot: Three best friends vow to face their biggest challenges within a year " one agrees to bed six guys, one agrees to settle for one man and the narrator tries to accept that her life is perfect, until she meets a man who makes her question everything.
The twist: Chef Emmy, wealthy Adriana and book editor Leigh are more grown up than the assistants in Weisberger's first book, but they're still struggling to define themselves.
"All We Ever Wanted Was Everything," by Janelle Brown (Spiegel & Grau, $24.95, available Tuesday).
The buzz: A satiric debut novel by a former staff writer for Wired and Salon.com who had a front-row seat for the dot-com boom and bust.
The plot: A nouveau riche Silicon Valley woman and her two daughters take refuge in their suburban Colonial as they cope with divorce, bankruptcy, high-school gossip and a pool boy who deals crystal meth.
The twist: The plot sounds like "Desperate Housewives," but advance reviews compare it to Jonathan Franzen's National Book Award winner, "The Corrections."
Late Night Lit
"The Host: A Novel" by Stephanie Meyer (Little, Brown, $25.955, available now).
The buzz: A juicy horror novel for adults by the author dubbed the "next J.K. Rowling" for her blockbuster "Twilight" series for teens.
The plot: Set on a near-future Earth invaded by aliens who inhabit human bodies, the story focuses on a human "host" who holds on to a corner of her mind after her body is overtaken by a female alien called Wanda.
The twist: When Wanda falls for her host's old lover and joins him in resisting the aliens, it creates a love triangle, with the two women struggling for control of the same body.
"The Palace Council," by Stephen Carter (Knopf, $26.95, available July 8).
The buzz: Yale law professor with a reputation for sophisticated thrillers about race, class and politics delivers a tighter, faster read than before " and a riveting portrait of President Nixon.
The plot: Set during Watergate, Vietnam and the civil rights movement, the action revolves around a secret society's scheme to manipulate the president.
The twist: Narrator is a Harlem-based writer drawn into elite realms when the love of his life marries another man " one in a highly placed political family.
"When You Are Engulfed in Flames," by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, $25.99, available now).
The buzz: When it comes to compulsion, death, unwanted sexual advances and other everyday embarrassments, no one is funnier or more wistfully absurd than Sedaris.
Quotable line: "The cigarettes I bought that day in Vancouver were Viceroys. I'd often noticed them in the shirt pockets of gas-station attendants and, no doubt, thought that they'd make me appear masculine, or at least as masculine as one could look in a beret and a pair of gaberdine pants that buttoned at the ankle." The take-away: Though it's hard to believe Sedaris survived his family of lifelong smokers long enough to drop his own habit, his essay about quitting smoking in Tokyo is destined to be a classic.
Rainy Day Reads
"The Gargoyle," by Andrew Davidson (Doubleday, $25.95, available Aug. 5).
The buzz: Seven years in the making, this dark but surprisingly romantic first novel about a modern-day love that transcends time was sold to its publisher for a whopping $1.25 million.
The plot: As a man contemplates suicide in a hospital burn unit after a car accident, a woman who sculpts gargoyles appears at his bedside and convinces him that they first met in medieval times, when she was a scribe and he a mercenary.
The twist: The lovers' passion is intertwined with the highbrow history of the first German translation of Dante's "Inferno."
"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrie (Dial Press, $22, available Aug. 5).
The buzz: Romantics, bookish folks, World War II history buffs and Anglophiles will find this debut novel as charming as Helene Hanff's classic, "Charing Cross Road." The plot: Set in the aftermath of World War II in England, the story is told through an exchange of letters between an author looking for the subject of her next book and an avid reader on the Isle of Guernsey.
The twist: The society in the title is a book club formed to protect its members from arrest during Guernsey's German occupation.
"Dear American Airlines," by Jonathan Miles (Houghton, $22, available in June).
The buzz: The New York Times' "Cocktails" columnist Miles mixes up a wry and bracing tale that begins when a man is stranded at O'Hare, in the midst of a midlife crisis.
The plot: En route from the New York apartment he shares with his stroke-disabled mother to his estranged daughter's wedding in L.A., a man writes a complaint letter to his airline. But within a few sentences he realizes that he can't explain how much the airline has mistreated him without explaining his life, from his drinking and failed marriages to his father's survival of a Nazi labor camp.
The twist: By the time he's back in the air, Bennie's disappointment with the course of his life has lifted off.
"Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior," by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman (Doubleday/Currency, $23.95, available June 3).
The buzz: Yes, this look at the psychological forces that sabotage clear thinking at work, in politics and romance is a knockoff of "Freakonomics" " but it's a fun, eye-opening read in its own right.
Quotable line: Under the right conditions, even smart people will "visit the biggest candy store and walk away with a stick of celery." Big ideas: 1) First impressions are hard to change; 2) people will do stupid things to avoid taking a loss and 3) you might beat the odds by reading this book, but it won't be easy.
"War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq," by Richard Engel (Simon & Schuster, $28, available in June).
The buzz: Not only has Engel been in Iraq since before the 2003 invasion, but his fluency in Arabic has given him access to Iraqi prime ministers, insurgents and families, as well as U.S. leaders.
Quotable line: "I have learned a few things since I came here, but they weren't what I expected. I thought war would make me harder, make me tougher and initially, it did. I'd see bodies and conflict and it gave me thick skin. But then after a certain point, it starts to hurt." The take-away: Having survived a kidnapping attempt, the bombing of his news bureau, and having witnessed the aftermath of a suicide attack in which the bomber's face was sheered off and stuck like a pizza to the ceiling, Engels convincingly declares: "Iraq was not as bad as it looked on TV, it was worse."
"This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation," by Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan Books, $24, available in July).
The buzz: Reading this master satirist's columns and blog entries is as satisfying as scratching an itch, if you agree that the super-rich have the political game sewn up.
Quotable line: "I flinch when I hear Woody Guthrie's line 'This land belongs to you and me.' Somehow I don't think it was meant to be sung by a chorus of hedge fund operators." The take-away: In an age when leading pet hospitals offer CT scans, MRIs and dialysis units, and the ranks of children without health insurance continues to grow, let's not forget that children deserve care, too.