There’s something about summer that seems to call out for lazy afternoons burrowing into books by the pool, on the beach, or simply in a favorite armchair. My summer is anything but lazy, thanks to my involvement with the Merola Opera Program (a summer training program for opera singers, pianists/coaches, and stage directors), but I have been finding some reading time. I thought this would be a fun week to post some reading recommendations.

Your Scandalous Ways
by Loretta Chase

I finally had a chance to read this, and I loved it. It combines so many of my favorite elements in a book–intrigue, espionage, a heroine with a past, a hero with his own emotional baggage, witty repartee, fascinating secondary characters, a beautifully realized setting (Venice, 1820). I loved the fact that the heroine is not only a courtesan, she’s unapologetic about it. I loved that the spy hero really feels the soul-destroying strain of the business. I loved that Francesca and James seemed so well-matched.

Careless in Red
by Elizabeth George

I’ve been fascinated to see where Elizabeth George would take her series after the recent, audacious plot twist (two books ago, but the last book was in a sense a prequel). I’m currently in the midst of Careless in Red, and completely hooked. It’s equally intriguing to watch Thomas Lynley grapple with recent events and to meet a compelling new set of characters. I find myself staying up far later than I intended, driven by the desire to learn more about these people, what secrets they’re hiding, what drives them, what will happen next.

The Painted Veil
by W. Somerset Maugham
I love stories about married couples, both as a writer and as a reader. There’s so much rich and complex history to explore. The Painted Veil explores the theme in exquisite, heartbreaking detail. Their marriage beset by lies and shattered illusions, Kitty and Walter Fane leave 1920s Hong Kong and journey into the heart of a cholera epidemic.

Possession
by A. S. Byatt
Two modern-day academics investigate a literary mystery involving a secret love affair between two Victorian-era poets. Byatt not only creates vivid, compelling characters in both settings, she wrote the poetry for both her fictional poets. The poetry (each poet has a very different style) is interspersed throughout the book and often contains clues to the mystery. I read this book on a long plane flight, and I was so engrossed in it I wanted the trip to last longer!

Atonement
by Ian McEwan
A haunting, multi-layered book that begins on an English country estate in the 1930s. A thirteen-year-old girl (and aspiring writer) misinterprets her sister’s romance with the the son of one of the family’s servants, with tragic consequences that shatter lives and ripple through World War II and beyond for those involved. It’s a book I thought about for a long time after I read it, because I loved the characters so much and because the book questions the nature and power of what a novel is in a way that fascinated me as a writer. I recently saw the movie and also loved it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that was so close to the images in th my head as I read the book.

The Lymond Chronicles
by Dorothy Dunnett
This is actually a six-book series, but the books are so intertwined its impossible to pick just one. It was also nearly impossible for me to put them down once I started reading. I devoured the books the summer between high school and college, and have reread them many times since. The story begins in 16th-century Scotland and ranges all over the Continent. The fictional characters are so intertwined with real people and events you’d swear it must have happened this way. There’s wild adventure, court intrigue, romance, and at the heart of the series is the mystery of who Francis Crawford of Lymond really is—both the literal mystery of his birth and the tantalizing question of the real man behind the many masks he wears.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
by Laurie R. King
I was drawn into the world of the Mary Russell series with the first paragraph of this book. Mary Russell literally stumbles across the retired Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs and eventually becomes his apprentice. The mysteries are intriguing, but it’s the complex, evolving relationship between Holmes and Russell that makes me return to this book for frequent rereads and eagerly await each new book in the series.

Gaudy Night
by Dorothy L. Sayers
Gaudy Night is one of my favorite love stories. I love the whole Peter Wimsey series, particularly the books that involve Peter’s relationship with Harriet Vane. That relationship comes to a crisis point in this book. Peter and Harriet investigate a crime during a reunion at Harriet’s college at Oxford, while Harriet struggles with the risks of love and the dangers of passion and Peter realizes there will be no going back from whatever choice she makes about the course of their relationship.

Mortal Sins
by Penelope Williamson
A violent crime brings Lieutenant Daman Rourke face to face with his lost love, Remy Lelourie, now a silent film star and possibly a murderess. The story twists and turns through a dark, vivid, wonderfully realized 1920s New Orleans. The characters are compelling, the writing lush and lyrical, and the plot full of page-turning surprises.

Freedom and Necessity
by Steven Brust and Emma Bull
I keep talking about this book. Breakneck adventure, intrigue worthy of a chess match, page-turning mystery, and heart-stopping romance. There’s a brilliant hero on the run, an intrepid heroine, and a tangle of conspiracies, both personal and political. Set in England in 1849 and told in letters, this is one of my favorite books ever.

What’s on your summer reading list? Any recommendations to share? Any thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is again from Raoul in the aftermath of Kenneth Fraser’s death. One letter to Charles, another to Mélanie.

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