No matter where your warm-weather plans take you -- the back yard, the beach, a motor trip to the mountains or a flight abroad -- a book can be a welcome companion.
Perfect for leisure-time reading are these half-dozen recent novels, a ''lite'' six-pack that won't require a designated driver.
"Sick Puppy" (Knopf, $26)
By Carl Hiaasen
''Sick Puppy'' is a rollicking action-adventure about an environmentalist with an anger-management problem who goes head-to-head with a sleazy, portly, cigar-smoking, shady-dealing lobbyist.
As sand soothingly sifts between your toes, you will also meet the lobbyist's lovely wife, their very sweet dog (the sick puppy), a grizzled ex-governor who leads a survivalist's life in the woods, a business associate with a penchant for Barbie dolls, and a dozen other very colorfully written characters of questionable morals and motives.
It's a fine story, part mystery, part romance, with grandiose revenge scenarios. Set in various Florida locales, and hilarious throughout, this is a nearly perfect vacation read.
(Random House, $19.95)
By Ken Wells
Meely is 15. He's not book smart, but he's clever and self-sufficient. His mom is dead, his dad hunts gators in the bayou. He has a few friends, including a black family with a pretty daughter and a couple of school chums he fishes with.
He also has several enemies, among them the school bully. When Meely embarrasses them during a softball game, they don't take it lying down. A brawl ensues, followed by a trial of questionable fairness.
This is a sweet coming-of-age tale with a ''Huckleberry Finn'' quality. The wheels of justice creak and groan, then prevail.
"The Blue Bedspread"
(Random House, $21.95)
By Raj Kamal Jha
A man tells this heartfelt story, set in India, to his newborn niece, whose mother died in childbirth. He is watching the baby overnight, until her adoptive parents pick her up the next day.
In the course of the night, he writes the story of his life and that of his sister, the baby's mother -- the hard years, the significance of a blue bedspread. Childhood memories are expressed with wonder. The siblings' adolescent confusion is woven into the secrets that haunt their adulthood.
The story is reminiscent of Arundhati Roy's ''The God of Small Things,'' expressing Indian ideas with an eloquence that approaches poetry.
"When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon"
(Talk Miramax, $22.95)
By Frances Park
Marcy Moon narrates this story that alternates between the present and a hot summer in the 1970s when her beautiful sister Kisook returned from college, painted her eyes Egyptian style and insisted on being called Cleopatra.
Daughters of Korean immigrants, the sisters couldn't have been closer or have grown farther apart. Young Marcy idolized Cleo, her clothes, her car, the way she melted men with a toss of her sleek hair.
As an adult, the bookish and dutiful Marcy knows a darker side of Cleo. Marcy wants to save the world, but will she help her sister when the chips are down?
"Use Me" (Morrow, $23)
By Elissa Schappell
''Use Me'' is an unfortunate and misleading title for a moving story about a young girl named Evie, her parents, growing up, college days, going to Amsterdam, falling in love, and dealing with cancer and loss.
The story begins in France and is uneven at first, as it alternates between Evie's life and that of her future roommate. But, like a diary, it gains maturity, and finally ripens when Evie becomes a mother.
This entertaining book could make readers long for exotic destinations and feel homesick at the same time.
"Crazy for Cornelia"
By Chris Gilson
''Crazy for Cornelia'' is a Cinderella tale in which Cinderella is a doorman on New York's Upper East Side and the handsome prince is a rich, beautiful debutante named Cornelia Lord.
The doorman works in the building where Cornelia and her father live. Despite the stories in the tabloids, Cornelia is no ordinary heiress. She is an admirer of the scientist Nikola Tesla and is secretly building a museum to honor his work. The doorman wants to sculpt saints in neon, in memory of his mother.
Then a business partner of Cornelia's father wants to marry her and sell out her fortune to an evil firm in Hong Kong, and Cornelia is sent to a posh asylum that specializes in electroshock therapy.
Can the doorman save her? Yes, it's dippy, but it will complement a sun bath perfectly.
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