Jennifer Weiner on best summer reads

(CBS News) Reading a book is one way to spend a summer day. Here are recommendations of Jennifer Weiner, author of the best-selling novel, "The Next Best Thing":

Ever since the wave of books with pink covers and high heels hit America's shores, some scowly hipster or dour critic's been insisting that witty tales about single girls in big cities - the dreaded "chick lit" - was DOA.

While the shelves might not be as crammed with stories of sex and the city as they once were, the strong have survived.

This summer offers great examples of the genre at its best - as well as darker fare.

In "These Girls" by Sarah Pekkanen, three young women come to New York City. Two of them are chasing magazine careers, one of them's running from demons back home. In Pekkanen's vividly-detailed story, the ladies bond, struggle with secrets, nasty Internet comments, and happy endings that may or may not involve Mr. Right.

Stacey Ballis' "Off the Menu" has a classic chick-lit figure - the Boss from Hell - at its center. Alana Osterman will do anything for her charismatic superstar celebrity chef employer - to the detriment of her personal life.

But when she meets a hot Southerner named RJ, the B-word - balance - comes into play, as Ballis serves up a tale of a modern woman trying to have it all with style and wit - Alana's dog, for example, is described as being "assembled by disgruntled committee."

Jillian Medoff's "I Couldn't Love You More" considers the darker side of the choices we make - and their consequences. Eliot Gordon has what Alana wants: a loving partner, a daughter she adores, stepdaughters, sisters, a busy and fulfilling life. Then an old flame shows up ... and, when the kids are in the water, Eliot faces an unthinkable choice.

"I Couldn't Love You More" might look like fluffy summer fun - and it is fun, witty and big-hearted - but it is also a thoughtful examination of the choices we make and the devastating prices we pay.

Speaking of choices, and prices, what happens when the foundation of your life turns out to be a lie? College professor Patsy MacLemoore is driving drunk when she kills a mother and a young child. She's tried and convicted, does her time, then begins the slow process of making a life for herself - always in the shadow of the tragedy she's caused.

Then, out of nowhere, a phone call reveals a different truth, and turns Michelle Huneven's novel "Blame" into one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in years. What if the worst thing you've ever done turns out to be the thing that saves you?

Finally, Leonard Pitts won the Pulitzer Prize for his columns for the Miami Herald. In his novel "Freeman," he turns his considerable gifts toward the painful wake of the Civil War. "Freeman" is gorgeously written, a searing, wrenching read. Fans of "Cold Mountain" and Cormac McCarthy will love this story of a former slave making his way across a shattered nation to find the woman he loves.

So whether you're looking for laughs and escape, or challenging tales of damaged people, or a broken land - just something to keep your mind off that sunburn - this summer's shelves offer something for every beach bag.

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