Book picks to while away the waterside hours

We’ve finally hit the season when we can say “Life’s a beach” and actually mean it. And while boogie-boarding and whacking volleyballs around are all very well, what’s more fantastically, lazily beachy than planting your face in a really good book? So here’s a blanket’s worth of reads, from chick-lit to the wicked Wild West to, yes, an Einsteinian thrill ride.

Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love
By Lara Vapnyar. Pantheon, 160 pp, $23, hardcover.
Warning: you may experience sudden cravings for puffed rice and meatballs while devouring Moscow-born New Yorker Lara Vapnyar’s rich, witty, culinarily-obsessed short stories. The author serves up a vegetable fanatic and her artsy husband, two Russian women in a deadly cook-off for a man, an impotent carpet layer seduced by a soup-making prostitute, and more. If only beach concession stands sold borscht.

By Chris Hannan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pp, $24, hardcover.
In this debut novel by Glaswegian playwright Chris Hannan, the only “missy” is a nickname for opium, and the heroine—no pun intended—is a Wild West prostitute named Dol who’s fond of blissing out. Adventure and mayhem ensue when a mysterious crate of the stuff turns up and Dol must fend off a pimp named Pontius, a gang of serious baddies, Native American mule snatchers, feral children, and, well”¦ whew! Bring cold beverages.

Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag
By Michael Tonello. HarperCollins Canada, 272 pp, $27.95, hardcover.
What do you do if you’re a fashion-savvy American in Barcelona with no job and no money? Why, you sell luxury goods on eBay—starting with your own designer scarf—that the rich and stylish would gnaw their arms off for, natch. Tonello tells a deliciously addictive true tale of continent-hopping, celebrity-schmoozing, and a crazy-like-a-fox quest for that Hermí¨s “it” bag, the Birkin. Haute read, indeed.

By Craig Boyko. McClelland & Stewart, 336 pp, $29.99, hardcover.
When you’re caught up in stories as clever, imaginative, and absorbing as Victoria-based Craig Boyko’s, you could either take a dip after each one—hey, why not savour them while you swim?—or simply forget where you are until you’ve turned the last page. This young Saskatchewan-born writer moves easily from London during the Blitz to Stalinist Russia and unexpected, captivating places in between.

A Case Of Exploding Mangoes
By Mohammed Hanif. Bond Street Books, 336 pp, $29.95, hardcover.
Whodunit? Was it the CIA, the KGB, the blind lady, the first lady, a mysterious crow, Indian secret agents, or the Air Force junior under officer? And who’s that bearded guy? Brilliantly, this crazy-dark military satire of conspiracy and corruption is conjured from the mysterious 1988 death-by-plane-crash of Pakistani dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Call it this year’s Catch-22, with snake venom and Old Spice.

Final Theory
By Mark Alpert. Touchstone, 368 pp, $28, hardcover.
What if Albert Einstein really did complete that unified field theory, with its potentially very scary implications? What? Don’t worry. You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to dive into Scientific American editor Mark Alpert’s action-jammed, sweaty thriller in which everybody’s after that theory—and one another. “Everybody” means an imperilled university prof, a beautiful string theorist, the FBI, a brutal mercenary, and scientists aplenty. The twists will have you knotting up your beach towel.