Some people say that summer reading — whether poolside or briskly air-conditioned — means big, unwieldy books, too heavy to lug farther than from the shelf to the lounge chair, a single volume to last the season. These people baffle me. The best summer reading is absorbing, delightful and, in the sun or shade, will make you break a sweat. That’s romance, and here are eight new releases for the summer. They’ll take you from Regency England to Gilded Age New York to present day, from summer camp to a Broadway stage to, yes, a sex-commune chateau in rural France.
Let’s start with that sex-commune chateau. Tiffany Reisz’s THE CHATEAU (8th Circle Press; paper, $14.95; ebook, $5.99) is both a spiritual sequel to the midcentury erotic novel “Story of O” and a prequel to Reisz’s erotic thriller series, Original Sinners, but it works beautifully as a stand-alone story. There are a few hints at its prequel nature, but let those flow by and there’s a surprisingly engrossing erotic thriller here all on its own. I say “surprisingly” because the plot, on paper, is thin. Kingsley Boissonneault, a lieutenant in a secret French military intelligence agency, is tasked with rescuing a supervisor’s nephew from a suspected cult. What Kingsley finds is a fully consensual commune where men serve the women and everyone is very happy with the situation. Kingsley is a secret masochist, which gives him an edge in gaining entry to the chateau as well as a thorny past to work through in his time there — he’s haunted by dreams of his high school lover, a beautiful and sadistic boy who abandoned him. By the strictest rules of romance, “The Chateau” isn’t one — the core of the book isn’t a romantic relationship, but Kingsley’s coming to peace with his past. But it’s surely a romantic thriller, and a very erotic one at that. Reisz writes sadomasochistic scenes that are charged with love and care alongside the sex and suffering, and Kingsley is an engaging hero to follow on this strange fantasy of a mission.