vintageAt Hourglass Vintage in Madison, Wisconsin, every item in the boutique has a story to tell . . . and so do the women whose lives the store touches.

A small-town girl with a flair for fashion, Violet Turner had always dreamed of owning a shop like Hourglass Vintage. But while she values the personal history behind each beautiful item she sells, Violet is running from her own past. Faced with the possibility of losing the store to an unscrupulous developer, she realizes that despite her usual self-reliance she cannot save it alone. Eighteen-year-old April Morgan is nearly five months along in an unplanned pregnancy when her hasty engagement is broken. When she returns the perfect vintage wedding dress to Violet’s shop, she discovers a world of new possibilities, and an unexpected sisterhood with women who won’t let her give up on her dreams.  Betrayed by her husband, Amithi Singh begins selling off her vibrant Indian dresses, remnants of a life she’s determined to leave behind her. After decades of housekeeping and parenting a daughter who rejects her traditional ways, she fears her best days are behind her – until she discovers an outlet for her creativity and skills with a needle and thread.

An engaging story that beautifully captures the essence of friendship and style, Vintage is a charming tale of possibility, of finding renewal, love, and hope when we least expect it. (description from publisher)

Vintage  is also available for check out as a free ebook through the RiverShare Digital Library.

Simple writing and complex, yet realistic, characters make Jennifer Close’s Girls in White Dresses a great choice for a leisurely summer read.  The book follows a group of recent college graduates, Isabella, Mary and Lauren (plus a host of their mutual friends) as they maneuver new lives in New York with its ever-present trials and tribulations.  They each have their share of new boyfriends, new jobs and more than an abundant supply of engagement parties and weddings to attend.

Throughout the book, Close presents a funny and vivid portrayal of the complex relationship between friends.  Her accurate representation of the misunderstandings, the fights and the ultimate close bond between these young women rings true and I would imagine many readers of this book will see either themselves or their friends in the pages of Girls in White Dresses! 

I was a teenager myself when Ann Brashares released her first Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book.  If you’ve never read them before, they’re a pretty fun set of novels geared towards teens.  The series centers around four girls who have been friends since bith.  When they’re in high school, they go out shopping one day and discover a pair of seemingly magical pants that fit all four of them, despite their very different body types.  The girls have to spend the summer apart, so they ship the pants to each other as a way to keep in touch.  The first four books find the girls falling in love, getting into college, struggling with their families, and most of all sticking together through thick and thin.  I devoured all four books and found myself pretty attached to Lena, Bridget, Carmen, and Tibby by the end of the fourth book, not really wanting to part with them just yet.

So imagine my delight when, ten years after that first book, I find out that Ann Brashares has written a fifth book about the girls titled Sisterhood Everlasting.  This time, they are in their late 20s and are experiencing life as adults.  Carmen is an actress living in New York City, Lena is teaching art classes at RISD, Tibby is in Australia with her longtime love Brian, and Bridget is constantly changing jobs and apartments in San Francisco.  Though Carmen works hard to keep everyone together, the girls don’t see much of each other anymore.  That is, until Tibby suddenly sends them all plane tickets for a trip to Greece, giving the girls a chance to finally come together once again.

Beyond that, I can’t say too much about the book because something shocking happens, and I don’t want to spoil interested readers.  All I will say is that this book has a really different tone from the other books (especially since it’s now geared more towards adults rather than teens), and if you’re a longtime fan of the series, it might not be a bad idea to read this with a box of tissues nearby.  It’s really a story about how even the closest of friends can drift apart, how much we change over the years, how little we really change, and how we deal with tragedy.  As someone who has read the previous books in the series, it was interesting to see where they all ended up and continue on with their journeys.  Lena and Bridget have always been my favorite characters, and their stories in this book are especially compelling.  If you’ve never read any of the other books, Brashares does a pretty good job at giving you the background information you need, but I’d still recommend giving the earlier books a try.  They were even made into a couple of movies, with the first book being made into the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the second, third, and fourth books being combined into the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.  Overall, I’m glad I got to revisit these old friends one more time.

There’s something very comforting about Erica Bauermeister’s books — they’re sort of  “stop and smell the roses”  reminder.   For me, when she describes the smell of freshly baked bread, I swear I’m going to master making it from scratch, even though my past attempts at bread -baking have often yielded less-than satisfying results.  Indeed, at times I’ve been too embarrassed to throw it out for the birds!  (I mean, really, what if even they didn’t eat it?) But enough about me.

As in her first book, The School of Essential Ingredients, each chapter focuses on a different character.  In her new one, Joy for Beginners,  the characters are all women and all friends, even though they are different ages and at various stages in their lives.  These women don’t live Pollyanna lives — loved ones still die, couples still divorce, some parent-child relationships stay strained — but through it all, their friendships remain strong and continue to provide the support and encouragement each of them needs.

The book opens with a potluck dinner party, celebrating Kate’s recent victory over breast cancer.  Kate agrees to try something she’s always feared– white-water rafting– but in return, each of them must also promise to do something they find difficult, though Kate  gets to pick their challenges.  In some cases, the task seems surprisingly simple, such as baking bread or discarding books left by an ex-husband.  Still, Kate seems to have an innate sense as to what her friends need most.

I really enjoyed this book.  It’s a perfect gift for a good friend — or for someone who wants to make bread from scratch!

Four close friends, Tracy, Olivia, Holly and Janis who met years earlier at St. Ursula’s High School, decide to reunite by taking a relaxing trip to the Caribbean in Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Still Summer.   At the last minute Janis cancels due to the health of her husband, so Tracy invites her nineteen year old daughter, Cammie, in the hope to salvage their fragile relationship.  After boarding a private yacht, complete with the two person crew of Lenny and Michel to navigate the waters, they set sail on their journey upon the Opus.

In the early days of their journey, Cammie develops a relationship with the young and handsome co-captain, Michel, much to the chagrin of her mother, Tracy.  When Michel and Cammie set off for a secluded part of the beach, they are discovered and head back to Opus to suffer the consequences.  When trying to dock with the boat a tragic accident ensues with both Lenny and Michel falling overboard and the women don’t know if they are dead or alive.  Quickly the foursome realize they are alone on the boat – now without a working engine.

Soon thereafter, they are discovered by a trio of modern day pirates – with deadly results.  Still Summer captures some of the turmoil between these women held over from their youth  as well as the desperation of trying to survive on the open sea.  I listened to the audiobook version of Still Summer, which made for a suspenseful and emotional journey of survival and what it means to live a fulfilling life.

Wildwater Walking ClubThis is the perfect vacation/summer/beach book – light and fun but not too trashy (so you don’t have to be embarrassed to be seen with it) with a fun story line and a simple message – invest in yourself, it’s your most valuable asset.

The Wildwater Walking Club opens with Noreen Kelly taking an early buyout from her company and then discovering that she’s been dumped by her boyfriend the same day. Suddenly, she has time on her hands and has no idea what to do with it. Noreen has always defined herself by her job and her relationships, hardly taking the time to look at the world around her. Sad and lonely, she goes for a walk. Which eventually leads to longer walks, meeting new friends, starting adventures she never would have tried before, finding herself.

This charming story of women’s friendships, loyalty and getting involved will make you happy and hopeful – and it might just inspire you to put on a pair of walking shoes and start walking!