Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a lovely, old-fashioned story about the blossoming of an unlikely affair between the retired and chivalrous Major Pettigrew and Jasmina Ali, a local Pakistani store owner. Part of the story's delight is that both the Major and Jasmina are widowed, with no expectation of a second chance at love. Don't even try to resist this book's charm; just enjoy it. As the two protagonists' romance unfolds, you'll warm to the humor in the Major's dealings with his vapid, upwardly mobile son; and appreciate Simonson's handling of some very unsubtle racial prejudices in contemporary English village life. Even though the Major can't always manage to meet his own high standards, you'll be eager to support him as he figures out what love means to him.
384 pages, $15, Random House
Moon River And Me
by Andy Williams
Iconic in American popular culture, Andy Williams' career charts like a history of mid-20th-century entertainment. With more than 20 platinum and gold albums, 20 years in Las Vegas and a television run that surpassed 10 years, it amounts to seven decades of show business. At 82, Williams still tours and performs year-round, often at his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Mo. His new memoir, Moon River and Me, is candidly fresh and frank. Williams says his father was the driving force in his early years. "It wasn't my passion to be a singer," Williams tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. "It was really [my father's] passion to have his boys sing. And in the long run, I'm very glad that he instilled that in me and got me to do it."
320 pages, $16, Plume
by Leslie Caron
Leslie Caron was an 18-year-old ballet student living in postwar Paris when Gene Kelly cast her to play a wide-eyed young beauty he meets in the film An American in Paris. But just a few years before she became an international sensation, Caron and her family were eating dandelions that they'd gathered from along the railroad tracks during the war in France. She went on to star in Gigi and Daddy Long Legs, and became known for playing young French women who discover life, men and champagne. But "age crawls behind you and sneaks under your skin like an imposter," she writes in her memoir Thank Heaven, in describing her slide into alcoholism after age 50 and the intense effort it took to pull out of it.
288 pages, $16, Plume
How Markets Fail
The Logic of Economic Calamities
by John Cassidy
Free-market believers say that when individuals act in their own rational self-interest, society benefits. But that theory has skeptics — including John Cassidy, a writer for The New Yorker and author of How Markets Fail. What's his solution? "There should be a heavily regulated banking sector where you can deposit your money and the banks look after it safely," Cassidy tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "Then there should be a more widely regulated sector where the banks can take risks if they want, but if the risks turn out badly, they go bankrupt."
416 pages, $16, Picador
City Of Gold
Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism
by Jim Krane
In the late 1950s, Dubai was just a little village with no electricity, not a single concrete building or paved road and no running water. Now it's a place where Paris Hilton films her latest TV show. The Arab emirate began its stunning transformation in 1959, when it borrowed a few hundred-thousand pounds to build a port. That, in turn, helped Dubai attract Western businessmen, migrant workers from South Asia and billions of dollars in capital from every corner of the globe for its economy built on shipping and logistics, tourism (Dubai gets more annual tourists than does all of Australia or all of Brazil), construction and real estate, and a large financial services sector — though the later two sectors have been much damaged by debt in recent years. "There's a whole market of very fast-growing countries that don't have a big financial hub right now, and Dubai wants to be this hub," author and Associated Press journalist Jim Krane tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "But the damage to its financial reputation could put it out of the running for that job."
384 pages, $16, Picador
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also writes the Follow the Reader blog about digital publishing issues.
Summer is the time for flings and affairs, a season that evokes daydreams about what could have been. But if you don't fancy yourself straying, books are an ideal way to live vicariously. You can explore all the naughty things you can't quite bring yourself to do, fantasize about the love you long for, or, on the more serious side, plumb the pages for truths about our human capacity for ecstasy and pain.
It's a luxury to ride the crest of a character's emotional life, from the agony of betrayal, to passion's joys. Here are some recent titles that take a fresh look at illicit love.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
By Helen Simonson, hardcover, 368 pages, Random House, list price: $25
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a lovely, old-fashioned story about the blossoming of an unlikely affair between the retired and chivalrous Major Pettigrew and Jasmina Ali, the local Pakistani store owner. Part of the story's delight is that both the Major and Jasmina are widowed, with no expectation of a second chance at love. Don't even try to resist this book's charm; just enjoy it. As the two protagonists' romance unfolds, you'll warm to the humor in the Major's dealings with his vapid, upwardly mobile son; and appreciate Simonson's handling of some very unsubtle racial prejudices in contemporary English village life. Even though the Major can't always manage to meet his own high standards, you'll be eager to support him as he figures out what love means to him. (In this passage, Jasmina Ali prepares tea for Major Pettigrew, as he absorbs the news of his brother's death. "It was strange, he thought, to listen again to a woman clattering teacups in the kitchen.")
The Hand That First Held Mine
By Maggie O'Farrell, hardcover, 352 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, list price: $25
In The Hand That First Held Mine, a love affair launches Lexie Sinclair's career. Innes Kent is an older, urban sophisticate who plucks young Lexie from sheltered 1950s suburbia and beds her in the big city. Confident, opinionated and sharp, Lexie takes to her new milieu — London's bustling art and literary scene. She can handle her men, even as she comes to loathe the one who fathered her son. But that isn't all there is to Lexie. Underneath her tough demeanor is a woman with a shrewd understanding of her complex emotional life. A seemingly separate story follows Elina, a Finnish emigre, and her boyfriend, Ted, through their son's first weeks. While the haze of birth obscures Elina's thinking, something much thornier interferes with Ted's psyche. The two story lines, each with its own compelling view of love, coalesce in a dramatic and surprising ending. (At the opening of the novel, O'Farrell writes that the trees are stirring in the wind: "It is almost as if the trees know, in their restlessness, in their head-tossing impatience, that something is about to happen.")
The Other Family
By Joanna Trollope, paperback, 336 pages, Touchstone, list price: $15
The Other Family spins an affair all the way out to examine the dilemma of the second family. The sudden death of celebrated crooner Richie Rossiter leaves his second family stunned. But more shocking is the fact that Richie never married the woman who mothered his three daughters and caused him to abandon his wife and son. He may have been a famous heartthrob, but Richie's aversion to committed love is exposed posthumously when his will is read. Trollope masterfully explores each family member's confused reactions to the difference between the man they thought they knew and the one who left them in the lurch. It's a measure of Trollope's skill that although you sympathize with all of the bereaved, you're never quite sure whose side to take in the ensuing entanglements. Thus, you'll be pleased that by the end of the book, each character has found a way to reclaim hope out of love's cinders. (In this excerpt, Richie Rossiter's family returns home from the hospital, mute and in shock, after his unexpected death.)
By Eleanor Catton, hardcover, 320 pages, Reagan Arthur Books, list price: $23.99
The Rehearsal,, an edgy debut from New Zealander Eleanor Catton, orbits around scandal in the high school. The music teacher, Mr. Saladin, is having an affair with Victoria, one of his students. Catton uses a quirky, middle-aged, female saxophone teacher to investigate the ramifications of this affair for Victoria's sister and her schoolmates. Wily and manipulative, the saxophone teacher plays her female pupils and their mothers like pawns. The sax teacher is a central character, but she's never named.
A second story line follows Stanley (think twisted reflection of A Streetcar Named Desire), who is oppressed by his usually absent and always inappropriate father. Stanley auditions for and matriculates at the "Institute," a local drama school. Embarking on their theatrical training, Stanley and his classmates are forced into brutal personal exposure, stripped of their identities by a small group of zealous instructors. Like the saxophone teacher, these instructors have no names; they are known only by their titles.
There are few ways to anchor yourself in this book. In addition to the anonymity of key adults, there is virtually no description of place. One assumes the story is set in New Zealand, given that the school year ends in November. Time is marked through a stark recitation of the days of the week for the saxophone teacher's story, and the months of the year for Stanley's adventures at the Institute. The detail is in the oozing sexual tension — between Victoria and her high school teacher, between uninitiated and obsessional adolescents, and between would-be lesbians, to name a few. The two stories collide at the end, leaving you with more questions than answers. Satisfaction derives from the extraordinarily inventive writing and a plot that works on multiple levels. (In this passage, the saxophone teacher explains that when you breathe into the instrument, "you're not just giving it life — you're giving it your life.")
By Paul Auster, paperback, 320 pages, Picador, list price: $15
For another truly unsettling book, try Invisible. The most startling love affair takes place between the protagonist, Adam Walker, and his sister. Before you say "ugh," read the book. In wry reportorial style, Auster tantalizes the reader by describing what appears to be the same set of events from three separate perspectives. Even though each narrative is credible, they all conflict with one another. There's an unsolved murder, or maybe not; an enigmatic Columbia professor with a girlfriend who's crazy, or maybe not; and Adam himself, who is or is not a reliable storyteller.
Invisible is vintage Auster — beautifully crafted with characters who elicit empathy and pity, and a plot that challenges even the most flexible of nonlinear readers; by the end, you have no idea who has actually had affairs with whom, let alone whom to believe in general. No matter how savvy you are, when you're done, you'll need to return to the beginning to see if there is a way to untangle this Mobius strip of a narrative. What's engaging here is not only the compassion you'll feel for Adam and some of the other characters, but also the tug of justice unfinished. (Read as Adam, a sophomore at Columbia, encounters Rudolf Born, a French visiting professor, at a noisy New York party. Adam is drawn into Born's charismatic orbit — against his better judgment.)
Hold Me Tight & Tango Me Home
By Maria Finn, paperback, 223 pages, Algonquin Books, list price: $13.95
What to do when your spouse leaves you for someone else? Tango! In her memoir, Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home, Maria Finn confronts her sorrow and anger over her husband's affair by tangoing her way across the globe. Part of Finn's story of recovery concerns the friends she makes along the way. She also gives us a course in tango technique. Tango embraces sexy and sad; Finn shares the lyrics of melancholy and longing set to some of tango's most celebrated tunes.
Although Finn supplies us with fascinating bits of tango's history and cultural adaptations (did you know Finland has a rich tango tradition, or that the Russians are tango crazy?), the real reason to recommend this book is for inspiration. Thumb your nose at your partner's betrayal: dance your way through it! ("Tango understood my broken heart," Finn writes in this excerpt. "It beckons on a night when you're feeling lonely; it promises escape from the grind of daily life.")