5 escapist novels for your cabana enjoyment

Books by Ali Hazelwood, Jenny Fran Davis, Paul Rudnick, Steven Rowley and Holly Goldberg Sloan are best read poolside.

"Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style" by Paul Rudnick; 'Love, Theoretically,' by Ali Hazelwood

‘Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style,’ by Paul Rudnick

Robert Redford’s good looks, a tycoon’s bank account, Oscar Wilde-style humor – Farrell Covington has it all. When he swishes through the Yale library in 1973 to tell Nate Reminger he loves him, Nate is pretty sure it’s all a hoax. Could this offspring of the famously rich (and deeply bigoted) Wichita Covingtons be falling for a Jewish boy from middle-class New Jersey? He is, and that’s a beautiful thing because aspiring writer Nate is ready for his grand love story.

The two virginal college students immediately agree that they should take off their clothes and see what happens. Lust leads to love and adventures in a “Brideshead Revisited” version of Yale and the wildness of 1970s New York City. It’s a love exploding with joy, which sounds the alarm for the deeply homophobic Covingtons: Their hatred of who their son is and what his heart wants is the first of many gut punches these men will receive.


Rudnick’s prose is a hot contender for best banter in a beach read. He’s a humorist of note and an Obie Award-winning playwright, so it’s no surprise that his dialogue is so good that Nate and Farrell could zing back and forth for 365 pages and it would be riveting. But these characters have much to do.

As Nate tries to get a play to Broadway, he says to the talent: “Farrell always told me that luck and fate are unstable commodities which can’t be ignored. You have to lasso them, and hang on for dear life. So I’m prepared for anything. Are you?” Readers, prepare to be delighted. (Atria, $28.99)

‘Pieces of Blue,’ by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Lindsey Hill has no choice but to start over. Her husband – founder of a tech company – drowned in a surfing accident, but his body was never found. He’s left her with very little money and three children who are stunned by their father’s death, and they need a new stream of income, fast.

Lindsey’s world has gotten ugly, so she decides to go somewhere beautiful. When the life insurance money comes in, she buys a motel, sight unseen, near Laie, Hawaii. Originally from Wales, with a stiff upper lip, she packs up her children, says goodbye to Oregon and flies to the Aloha State. What else could possibly go wrong?


A lot. The motel has almost no electricity. And too many feral chickens. It’s a charming but old property, with far too many fixes for her to tackle alone.

Sloan made her name as a YA writer. “Pieces of Blue” is her first adult book, so it’s no surprise that the Hill children are beautifully drawn. Lindsey’s 12-year-old, Carlos, is ready to reinvent himself, and teenager Olivia is as uncomfortable in her new school as sand in a bathing suit. A handful of years younger, Sena is enthralled with those chickens. Their actions and reactions throughout the novel serve as a reminder that change can shake you at any age.

With a lot of unanswered questions, there’s room for the story to start running, even sprinting, but it remains character-driven throughout. Still, there is a tipping point in the plot. Screaming louder than the fowl is the mystery surrounding Lindsey’s husband’s death. That anxiety is tempered by the arrival of a ghostwriter who sparks something in Lindsey, and when he offers to do repairs in exchange for lodging, she’s thankful. But like the motel that’s charming on the exterior and a nightmare inside its sun-faded walls, not everything is as it seems.


A book about grit and healing, “Pieces of Blue” is a celebration of the sharp turns families are often forced to make, and how the knots make you stronger. (Flatiron, $28.99)

‘The Celebrants,’ by Steven Rowley

You are dead. Isn’t it a tragedy that you can’t hear the beautiful eulogies delivered at your funeral? That’s the idea behind Steven Rowley’s new book, “The Celebrants,” in which five best friends decide to celebrate one another with fake funerals and words of love when life hands them lemons.

The funeral idea stemmed, not surprisingly, from tragedy, as the group lost their sixth wheel to a drug overdose two weeks before their 1995 graduation from the University of California at Berkeley.

The concept sounds macabre (because it is), but “The Celebrants” is very much about being alive. It’s marketed as a modern-day “The Big Chill,” but it’s stirred together with a streak of Gen X independence, a pour of wry humor, some “St. Elmo’s Fire” feels and a loud reminder to live boldly.

Rowley tackles three of the friends’ fake funerals as the chapters move through the years, focusing mostly on the characters as they hit middle age, but the real reminder that death comes for us all is that one of them has been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. That reality is the shadow that brings the most life to the book, as the couple hit with this death sentence force each other to embrace every day, realizing how lucky they are to have each other and their found family.


“The Celebrants” may not scream vacation novel, more placid lake than high tide, but it’s a potent reminder that “to think about life is to contemplate death – it’s what makes living so valuable.” It’s a book that will inspire you to gather your friends and revel in the now. What is more vacation than that? (Putnam, $28)

‘Love, Theoretically,’ by Ali Hazelwood

Only Ali Hazelwood, a neuroscientist turned novelist, could make physics seem sexy. The reigning queen of STEM romance – yes, this is a thing, and yes, it’s great – does just that in her third novel, “Love, Theoretically.”

In snowy Boston we meet physicist Elsie Hannaway. She’s single, has a love life with no oomph, a bank account with (almost) no money, a family who views her as their shrink and a punishing schedule. She works as an adjunct professor of theoretical physics at not one but three universities, and is so badly paid that her side hustle is pretending to be a fake girlfriend to get men through awkward family situations. The dates are strictly business: A master shape-shifter, she takes on the persona of whatever it is her date’s overbearing parents want.

When she’s finally up for a big job at MIT and starting the long interview process, she gets a shock in the form of Jack Smith, brother to one of her fake boyfriends. He’s a star in experimental physics, who knows her as his brother’s (pretend) librarian girlfriend. He’s also heading the hiring committee, is no fan of theoretical physics and years before massacred her mentor’s career. Oh, and he’s a tall, gorgeous genius covered in science-inspired tattoos. The shock is quickly replaced by sparks.


Hazelwood has an uncanny ability to make readers care deeply about the protagonist’s career in science. A bit like tuning into the Olympics, barely knowing that skeleton is a sport and then ending up in tears over an underdog win, Hazelwood will have you cheering for theoretical physicists the world over. The ease with which she combines STEM concepts like Wigner crystallization with blood-pumping bedroom scenes in this book is a very good argument that this is her best yet. Hazelwood continues to push the genre, inspiring readers to cheer for Elsie as she fights through the often toxic, male-dominated environment of STEM academia – and to also cheer when Jack Smith’s shirt comes off. (Berkley, $28)

‘Dykette,’ by Jenny Fran Davis

Winter 2019. Three queer couples go to a Hudson Valley home to celebrate the holidays, and chaos ensues. There are hot selfies, even hotter sex, and enough insecurity and jealousy to make a therapist quit.

And then there’s the internet. Hands constantly on phones, and a live-streamed performance art piece that pushes the genre with its genius, though it might ruin lives with its cruelty (depends who you ask).

Identity and performance are at the center of “Dykette,” Jenny Fran Davis’s adult fiction debut. There are six people in the house, but the couples are all cut from the same slice of queer life: Think creative Brooklynites with enough cash to buy a 10-dollar organic onion and describe their souls as having that many layers.

We dive into this world through Sasha, a high femme getting her PhD in gender studies who is often hysterical and extremely insecure, with a deeply messy brain. As a narrator, she’s as unreliable as an old house. If Sasha were a cocktail, she’d be the pinkest cosmo in Park Slope, so there isn’t much space to hear the butch perspective on the drama, and sometimes a pink cosmo is too much. But the author identifies as femme, so Sasha’s authenticity radiates.


Before Davis wrote “Dykette,” she penned “High Femme Camp Antics,” an essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books that went viral. Those antics are dissected here, as is the femme-butch relationship and the generational shift between Xennial lesbians and contemporary queers.

This is a book full of queer vocabulary and gossip written in a bold, unapologetic way. And why should it be otherwise? With “Dykette,” Davis has filled what has been mostly an empty shelf in the literary world. (Henry Holt, $26.99)

Karin Tanabe is the author of six novels, including “A Woman of Intelligence,” “The Gilded Years” and the forthcoming “Sunset Crowd.”


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