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July 16, 2013

Salads make an easy supper

Summer reading, like summer eating, should be scintillating, yet languorous enough to match the pace of long summer days. Four salads and four new releases might provide just the right amount of excitement and relaxation so evocative of summertime.

“Stoker’s Manuscript” by Royce Prouty (Putnam) uses Bram Stoker’s original manuscript as the basis for a superb new recounting of the Dracula legend. Joseph Barkeley is a dealer in rare manuscripts. An orphan of the Romanian war, Barkeley has grown up in America. But when a wealthy client wants an authenticated copy of Stoker’s original Dracula manuscript, he must travel back to his homeland to negotiate the deal. The first part of the novel is somewhat slow, but as soon as the hero sees two red eyes peering at him through the darkness, the creepiness factor kicks in and makes for an exhilaratingly bumpy ride through Transylvania.

Former antiquarian bookseller and playwright, Charlie Lovett, used his experience in rare books and drama to pen a literary thriller in “The Bookman’s Tale” (Viking). When widower Peter Byerly, a book dealer from North Carolina, walks into a rare book store in Hay-on-Wye, England, he makes a startling discovery. A Victorian watercolor portrait, seemingly of his wife, falls out of an old tome on Shakespeare he happens to pick up. Obsessed with finding the artist, as well as researching the Shakespearean work, he uncovers proof that Shakespeare was the sole author of his plays. Lovett’s lyrical novel has been compared to A.S. Byatt’s “Possession,” and it is truly worthy of that description.

While David Morrell’s first novel, “First Blood,” starred that iconic action figure, John Rambo, his 26th novel, “Murder as a Fine Art” (Mulholland), takes a more literary path. Morrell paints a fine Holmesian thriller, basing the novel on real-life English writer and laudanum addict, Thomas De Quincey. Here we find an aging De Quincey suspected of a copycat murder similar to the Ratcliffe Highway Murders he had covered as a reporter in 1811. De Quincey must save himself by solving the current murder before another one takes place.

And finally, aimed at the younger crowd, “The Last Dragon Slayer” by Jasper Fforde (Harcourt) chronicles the adventures of orphan Jennifer Strange, the book’s 15-year-old narrator, as she learns she is the Last Dragonslayer. Leave it to the author of the quirky and fun “Thursday Next” series to invent an equally magical and hysterical novel for the adventurous kid in all of us.

Salads make easy meals that can be prepared in advance, leaving more time to spend with a good book. Try any or all of these.

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