I've done lots of reading in the past ten days, too much to report in any detail. So, I'll simply comment on the best of the five novels and note the others. The best is good literature; the others are beach reads of varying quality.
Paula McLain's The Paris Wife is a luminous look at the young Ernest Hemingway and his crowd of Paris compatriots in the 1920s, seen through the eyes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Though a fictional rendering of that time in Hemingway's life, McLain's novel is thoroughly informed by biographies of Hemingway and by his own writings. Consequently, the reader learns a lot about the great author (the bad as well as the good) and the people with whom he surrounded himself — Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and others. To me, the book felt much like Nancy Horan's fine novel about Frank Lloyd Wright, Loving Frank, an intimate portrait of a great (but deeply flawed) figure on the American landscape.
This is an excellent novel. ★★★★★
And here are four other novels to consider.
The Arrivals, by Meg Mitchell Moore — A story about empty nesters whose adult children, each facing problems of different kinds, find themselves gravitating back home to their parents' home one summer in Burlington, Vermont. The characters, dialogue, and human dramas are very real. ★★★★☆
London is the Best City in America, by Laura Dave — A story about a young woman whose brother's impending wedding forces her to revisit her own decision three years earlier to abandon her fiance right before her planned nuptials — and to deal with her brother's ambivalence on the weekend of his wedding. This is a really skillful novel that nicely captures the angst and paralyzing indecision that many twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings feel when facing life's big decisions. ★★★★☆
These Things Hidden, by Heather Gudenkauf — A story about a young woman, recently released from five years in prison for a heinous crime, who tries to fit back into an unwelcoming community and to reconnect with family members who want nothing to do with her. It's partly a suspense novel, partly a domestic novel. Though it has some flaws, it's diverting entertainment. ★★★☆☆
Heat Wave, by Nancy Thayer — A story about a young woman (32) whose husband has just died of a heart problem, leaving her house-rich but cash-poor, and needing to find a way to support their two young daughters. They live on Nantucket, so the island itself is, of course, a strong presence in the book, as are the young woman's close female friends, in-laws, and a particularly handsome and available man who was her late husband's best friend. It's not a bad book, but Thayer is one of those authors whose characters address each other directly by name far more often than people do in real life, distracting the reader (this one, anyway) from some of the book's qualities. All in all, if you want a good beach read that's set on Nantucket, you're better off going with any of Elin Hilderbrand's books. ★★☆☆☆