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The Best Books About Summer Romance

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What makes a great summer romance story? Stories that specifically take place during summer? Novels you reread every summer? (I am a confirmed re-reader. I love to catch the things I didn't get before, the third or the fourth or the twelfth time.)

In the end, I decided it is the novels that made me think of that gorgeous season, whether they happened during June through August or not -- the ones that evoked that endless, promising interval of change and growth and magic. We can reinvent ourselves in summer. It's the space between, the time flanked by what was and what will be. As close to magical transformation (I think) as real life can get.

When I worked as an editor at Harlequin, I'd take a pile of manuscripts and a blanket to Central Park on a long lazy evening or weekend, lie there listening to the distant, drowsy city sounds, and read, hoping to discover that magnificent story that made me sit bolt upright, knock over my thermos of lemonade...

These are books I would have loved to find in the pile. Tuck them in your beach bag, read them on your porch, settle down in bed, listen to the crickets, and enjoy.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
A haunting, expressive book about two Mexican-American boys in 1980's Texas. From the moment Ari and Dante meet at a public swimming pool at the age of thirteen, you are sucked completely into their world. The descriptions are so vivid you can feel the dust of the road between your toes and the rain slick on your skin. The kindness and gentleness with which this book is written will stay with you indelibly. An unexpected, extraordinary love story.
Quote I remember: "I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone's hand."
Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins
When Parker Welles' privileged life crashes and burns under the weight of her father's financial indiscretions, she fetches up in Gideon's Cove, Maine, spending the summer saving her last possession, a run-down cottage that needs serious TLC. Parker does too, but it takes her a while to figure out that James Cahill, formerly her father's yes-man, is just the guy for the job -- for the house, and for her. Lake swimming, kisses on the dock in starlight, all with Higgins' blend of unexpected, joyous humor and sudden poignance.
Quote I remember: "She smiled, and there it was again, that aching pressure in his chest. Love, or a heart attack. Kind of the same thing."
Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
Kenneally is the queen of YA books about athletic girls challenging themselves. This one is both a departure and not. Annie was not a jock, but now she's dedicating her summer and her life to running a marathon. It was her boyfriend Kyle's dream -- one he died before completing. Watching Annie rack up the miles and outdistance her pain, her fierce focus and her sizzling romance with "adrenaline junkie" Jeremiah, which develops apace with her progress -- they both leave you breathless.
Quote I remember: "And then he was gone, and snow covered the leaves, and then sun melted the snow, and all my regrets aside, I couldn't stand that all that training was for nothing."
The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti
This book takes one of my favorite summer romance plots--the road trip--and gives it a fresh twist, both moving and sardonic. Quinn and her two sisters--and bad-boy-on-the-surface-heart-of-gold Jake, the tattooed musician, embark on a cross-country pilgrimage to return objects their narcissistic father has stolen from the women in his past, finding solidarity, self-respect, romance and truth along the way. You will love going along for the ride with the chorus of women chiming in, each with their own piece of the puzzle about love and relationships.
Quote I remember: "The most basic and somehow forgettable thing is this: Love is not pain. Love is goodness. And real love -- it's less shiny than solid and simple."
Forget You by Jennifer Echols
Zoey's carefully ordered life begins to spin out of control when her father leaves her mother for Ashley, only a few years older than Zoey herself. But it really slams into the wall when her mother's breaking point trigger's Zoey's own emotional breakdown and impulsive acting out. The worst part--after a car accident, she's left with a 24 hour memory gap--and no idea why sexy and smoldering Doug Fox, her former nemesis, is suddenly acting as though they are a couple. Or why, when she hates him, she desperately wants that to be true. By turns suspenseful, rueful, and steamy, this is the masterful Jen Echols at her best.
Quote I remember: "Or that I couldn't stand to watch anything bad happen to you, because it was like it was happening to me too. Is that love?" His hand clasped my hand again and squeezed. I swallowed. "It could be."
My One and Only by Viv Daniels
In this intriguing and unusual New Adult, brainy Tess McMann first encounters hot, smart science nerd Dylan Kingsley at a summer science camp. Chemical reactions abound as the hero inexorably makes his way into the heart of Tess, a refreshingly brilliant and determined heroine. Honest, smart repartee, and a connection that both sizzles and speaks of real soul mates makes this book both strikingly original and shiveringly sensual.
Quote I remember: "When particles collide, they explode, strewing pieces of themselves in waves across the universe and combining to make something entirely new. And when I kissed Dylan in his dorm room kitchen, the universe expanded. It had to, because this -- this -- was not something that had belonged to our reality before."
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
I've lost count of the number of people I've recommended this book to. I am mesmerized by this evocative, beautiful story every time I reread it. Set at a coastal New England boarding school in the late 80's, it exquisitely evokes beauty, pain, love, regret and aching loss, telling the story of Jason Prosper, a teenager struggling to recover from the death of his friend, Cal, solve the mysteries of the beautiful and mysterious girl, Aidan, and finally come to terms with the way he both loved and failed them both. Powerful, devastating, touching and magnificently told, I can't say enough about this exquisite book.
Quote I remember: "Of course I loved him." I walked toward the window. "We were best friends." "You know that's not what I meant." "You don't know what you mean," I said. 'Because you know nothing about love."
Come to the Edge by Christina Haag
There's not a false note, or an exploitive moment in Haag's poetic, piercingly honest memoir about her life and her love affair with John F. Kennedy, Jr. Her carefully placed words capture her pain, joy and the sweetness of their relationship with vivid kindness and warmth. What makes this book truly heartbreaking and genuinely wonderful both is and isn't that it is about America's graceful lost prince...it is more truly about the glorious existence and elegiac end of a love affair and lost youth. For anyone who has ever loved and lost.
Quote I remember: "I did not know then that there are those you love no matter how much they hurt you, no matter how many years have passed since you felt them in the morning. I did not know how long it took to get over such a love, and that even when you did, when you loved again, you would always carry a sliver of it in your stitched-together heart."