Originally published August 7, 2011 at 7:01 PM | Page modified August 16, 2011 at 2:02 PM

Lit Life

Best summer reading picks: women's fiction favorites

The last installment in Lit Life's summer reading series covers women's fiction, and features guest columnist and Seattle Public Library librarian Linda Johns. Johns picks books by Marisa de los Santos, Rain Mitchell, Jean Hanff Korelitz and Ellen Sussman, as well as Seattle-area authors Laurie Frankel and Kristin Hannah.

Seattle Times book editor

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Editor's note: The fourth and last installment of Lit Life's summer reading series features guest columnist Linda Johns, a Seattle Public Library reader services librarian. The topic: women's fiction. Here are some of her favorites. — Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times books editor

One of my favorite kinds of stories (and a favorite part of life) is the geography of friendship, where unexpected circumstances and simple proximity forge some of the strongest relationships imaginable. These first three books give readers vivid three-dimensional characters and a reminder of how we find community. The next three suggestions, showcasing a range of experiences in women's fiction, include a family saga, a smartly unsentimental journey set at an Ivy League school and a witty novel of random encounters in Paris.

In "Belong to Me" by Marisa de los Santos (Harper Paperbacks, $15), Cornelia Brown is determined to prove that suburban life can be just as culturally rich and creatively varied as her former urban life in Philadelphia. But finding like-minded souls starts to seem impossible when she first meets Piper, her rigidly perfect neighbor. Look for a new book by de los Santos, "Falling Together," also featuring Cornelia, in October.

A popular Los Angeles area yoga studio brings together five women, each at a pivotal point in her life, in "Tales From the Yoga Studio" by Rain Mitchell (Plume, $15). This debut is a welcome variation of what I think of as "the book-group plot," where unlikely friendships spring from a common interest (reading, knitting, cooking). For readers who enjoyed "The Jane Austen Book Club" by Karen Joy Fowler or "The School of Essential Ingredients" by Seattle author Erica Bauermeister.

In "The Atlas of Love" by local author Laurie Frankel (St. Martin's Press, $24), a Seattle graduate student's friends step in to help her raise her baby, Atlas, in true modern-family style. Local scenes and frequent references to food and literature add to this smart, fun novel.

An absence of friends makes the heartache of "Night Road" by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, $28) all the more wrenching when a tragedy shatters the world of a mother who has built her life around her teenage twins. This engrossing family drama packs the same sort of emotional wallop as Anna Quindlen's "Every Last Thing." If you're not familiar with Hannah's novels, but you like authors such as Laura Moriarty and Jodi Picoult, it's time to give this Bainbridge Island author a closer look.

Even if I weren't fascinated by academic settings, I would thoroughly enjoy being immersed in "Admission" by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Grand Central Publishing, $15). Portia Nathan, an admission officer for Princeton University, buries herself in her work, neglects her relationship with her boyfriend, and feels her heart break several times a month for the kids who are "excellent in all the ordinary ways" — because it might not be enough to gain admission to a highly selective college. This is realistic fiction at its best with family secrets, love lost and found, and juicy tidbits about Ivy League admissions.

Escape to Paris for one day in "French Lessons" by Ellen Sussman (Ballantine Books, $15) and follow the stories of three American tourists, each paying a pricey French tutor for a one-on-one immersion into the culture, language and food of the city. The intoxicating backdrop of Paris makes this novel immensely satisfying. Read it and then go see Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." Or go to Paris.

Linda Johns

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