Ellen Heltzel: Great Summer Reads

      Book Critic and Author, Ellen Heltzel, stopped by to tell us about five books worth reading right now:

      1. "Inferno," by Dan Brown. Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code," is getting more sophisticated in his old age. His latest novel, inspired by Dante's great classic, shares some of "The Da Vinci Code" features: Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks in the movie), an attractive female sidekick, and evildoers who want him dead. Why argue with success, especially when Brown is becoming a better writer along the way? A great summer read and, with all the Florentine landmarks in the background, the next best thing to actually traveling to Italy.

      2. "And the Mountains Echoed," by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini proved himself a born storyteller with his first novel, "The Kite Runner," which focused on a father and son in Afghanistan. Then came "A Thousand Splendid Suns," about two women living amid economic hardship and the cruelty of Islamic fundamentalists. Now, in his third book, a brother and sister are front and center as Hosseini expands his reach around the globe. All along, he has displayed a knack for tugging at our heart strings with the ties that bind.

      3. "The Cuckoo's Calling," by Robert Galbraith. This mystery came out in April and received positive reviews but might have been headed for the biblio version of hell, the remainder desk. Then, about two weeks ago, the author's real name was revealed: She was none other than J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Three hundred thousand copies were rushed into print, and with good cause. The bulky private eye Cormoran Strike is a fabulous invention who showcases Rowling's dry wit and briskly directed plots.

      4. "The Realm of Last Chances," by Steve Yarbrough. This novel set in contemporary America gets at the existential loneliness that pervades a society where mobility makes us all nomads, to one extent or another. A fifty-something couple from California relocates to Boston and begins to drift apart. The conditions are rife for an affair and -- voila -- a triangle ensues. No fireworks, just a well-told tale: Yarbrough's strength is a Raymond Carver-esque examination of the way
      regular people live and think now.

      5. "The Manor: Three Generations at a Slave Plantation on Long Island," by Mac Griswold. Griswold, a landscape historian, stumbled across this real-life manor in the 1980s, hardly believing it was the remnant of an 8,000-acre property first purchased in 1653 and still owned by the same family. She inspired an archeological dig at the place while traveling far and wide -- London, Amsterdam, the Ivory Coast and Barbados -- to research the family and the slave trade that became the backbone of New World development. History buffs, this is a gem, and to anyone who thought slavery was an evil institution exclusive to the South, guess again. New York didn't outlaw slavery until 1827.