On Turpentine Lane

5 of 17
On Turpentine Lane
320 pages; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
There are times when a reader wants an enigma of a novel filled with brooding characters and grisly crimes. But when there's already too much darkness in the world and a cheering respite is in order, we can all be glad for Elinor Lipman's On Turpentine Lane, a romantic comedy with just enough sly wit to keep it from turning sugary.

Thirty-two-year-old Faith Frankel has decided to buy a charming little two-bedroom fixer-upper in a Massachusetts suburb without consulting her fiancé. Having fallen in love with the home's soapstone sink and gumwood finishings, she's willing to overlook the presence of asbestos and the fact that one or two people may have taken their last breath on its basement floor. And in any case, Stuart, Faith's husband-to-be, is on a leisurely, crowdfunded walk across America, with plenty of time to reconnect with ex-girlfriends and sit down with TV producers intrigued by the in search of stories sign he wears around his neck. (Yet he has no patience for Faith's long-distance attempts to stoke the home fires, even spurning her suggestion of phone sex because "the government constantly monitors cell phone conversations.")
To be sure, Faith isn't living a storybook existence. There are painful breakups and awkward silences. A parent might experience a later-life crisis and become an abstract expressionist painter. Even that easy office job could lead to an embezzlement charge. But we can trust that like her foremothers Jane Austen and Laurie Colwin, Lipman will find a way to make the world right for her heroine. Would that she could do so for the rest of us! 
— Leigh Haber