Craig Davidson (Graywolf)
This literary crime novel from the author of Rust and Bone is set on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and follows two childhood friends. After they get abducted and spend a hellish week in the woods, their lives take drastically different courses: one becomes a cop, the other gets involved in shady dealings. Dogfighting, smuggling, and murder make this a gristly summer book.
Gustavo Faverón Patriau, trans. from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan (Grove/Black Cat)
The best literary puzzle of the summer finds psycholinguist Gustavo piecing together clues fed to him by his old friend Daniel, who’s currently locked up in a mental institution for murdering his fiancée. This perfect blend of page-turning narrative and knockout prose is as good as it gets—Patriau’s book is pure pitch-black fun.
Kate Racculia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Pitched as The Shining meets Agatha Christie meets Glee, Racculia’s (This Must Be the Place) novel takes place at the mysterious Bellweather Hotel, the site of a murder-suicide in the early 1980s. Twenty years later, a high school music festival finds the hotel full of young musicians, but things take a dark turn when a girl goes missing.
Talk Dirty to Me
Dakota Cassidy (Mira)
Cassidy (The Accidental Werewolf) turns an implausible premise into a startlingly deep heartstring-tugger. A prankster's will forces exes Dixie and Caine to compete for ownership of a phone sex company; as they demonstrate their prowess on the phones, they begin to reconnect. Dixie's slow journey toward believing that she's worthy of being loved will bring tears to the eyes of the most jaded romance reader.
In Your Corner
Sarah Castille (Sourcebooks Casablanca)
Castille’s second contemporary (after the excellent Against the Ropes) doesn’t pull its punches. As Jake and Amanda train in mixed martial arts, he tries to prove to her that she can rely on people other than herself. Readers will cheer them on as they navigate their complicated relationship: talking, fighting, and having hot make-up sex.
Shelley Coriell (Grand Central/Forever)
Coriell’s Apostles series launch is a true rollercoaster ride of a romantic thriller. An FBI agent asks a woman who survived a serial killer's attack to help track down the culprit. She's reluctant because she fears for her safety—and because she's certain the killer is her brother. The gradual attraction between the protagonists is believable and intense, and the suspense is top-notch.
The Game and the Governess
Kate Noble (Pocket)
A bored aristocrat meets his match in a clever governess in this Regency-set series opener. The subtle development of romance between the devil-may-care earl and the proper former lady is the impetus behind this winning novel, which also boasts rich characters and a deliciously complex story.
Shield of Winter
Nalini Singh (Berkley)
The epic 13th installment of Singh’s bestselling contemporary paranormal romance series will be eagerly devoured by series fans and new readers. A virulent mental infection spreads among the psychic Psy, and only empath Ivy Jane and enforcer Vasic can stop it. The broad scope and urgency of the plot combine with sweetly subtle and intimate character interactions in a powerfully written story that stands well on its own.
Saints of New York
R.J. Ellory (Overlook)
In this first-rate New York City crime novel, homicide detective Frank Parrish does what he has to do to find a killer preying on vulnerable young women. Especially powerful is the backstory involving the Saints of New York, the corrupt cops who helped the mob in the 1960s and '70s.
I Am Pilgrim
Terry Hayes (Atria/Emily Bestler)
Screenwriter and producer Hayes makes his fiction debut with an exceptional thriller that boasts an utterly credible narrator who has had so many covert identities he can barely remember his original name. Soul-weary Scott Murdoch (aka the Pilgrim) comes out of retirement to chase a lone-wolf Middle Eastern man with a sure-fire bioterrorist plot to destroy the United States.
The Devil in the Marshalsea
Antonia Hodgson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner)
In her impressive first novel, set in 1727, Hodgson, the editor-in-chief of Little, Brown U.K., conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot. Tom Hawkins, the wastrel son of a minister, winds up in London's hellish debtors' prison, the Marshalsea, where he looks into the suspicious hanging death of another prisoner.
In the Wolf’s Mouth
Adam Foulds (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Booker finalist Foulds (The Quickening Maze) captures the Allied campaigns in Italy and North Africa in prose that matches the rough experiences of his characters. Set against the historical background, Foulds lets his violent cast of soldiers and criminals play out more personal conflicts.
Philip Kerr (Putnam)
In a departure from his Bernie Gunther PI series set in Nazi Germany, Kerr sets a thriller mainly in present-day Texas, where FBI agent Gil Martins gets on the trail of a killer targeting prominent atheists. A provocative premise, sure to offend some religious believers, makes this a standout.
The Good Girl
Mary Kubica (Harlequin/Mira)
Gillian Flynn fans will welcome Kubica's debut thriller, in which Mia Dennett, the daughter of a prominent Chicago judge, makes the mistake of leaving with a stranger whom she meets at a bar when her boyfriend fails to show. This Girl has heart—which makes it all the more devastating when the author breaks it.
The Hidden Child
Camilla Lackberg (Pegasus Crime)
Someone struck elderly Erik Frankel, an expert on Nazis, a fatal blow to the head in the house that he shared with his brother, Axel, who tracks Nazi war criminals, in this outstanding crime novel from Swedish author Lackberg. Is the historian's murder related to the uptick in neo-Nazi activity in Sweden? Det. Patrik Hedström, despite being on paternity leave, tries to find out.
Jo Nesbø (Knopf)
Norwegian author Nesbø takes the reader on a chilling ride with many unexpected twists in this searing standalone. Sonny Lofthus (aka the Son) escapes from an Oslo prison, where he's serving time for a crime he didn't commit, and launches a killing spree targeting those he suspects of having destroyed his policeman father—in particular, a gangster known as the Twin, who controls a criminal enterprise encompassing human trafficking, drugs, and money laundering.
Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
In Smith's superior psychological thriller, a London man doesn't know whether to trust his father or his mother. The father claims that he had to put the mother in a Swedish mental hospital because she was crazy, while she claims, after escaping and fleeing to London, that she's perfectly fine. The resolution is refreshingly free of contrivances.
The Death of Lucy Kyte: A Josephine Tey Mystery
Nicola Upson (Harper/Bourbon Street)
Lyrical prose and subtle plotting distinguish Upson's fifth novel featuring mystery writer Josephine Tey, who inherits a Suffolk cottage from her actress godmother that may be haunted. The satisfying ending feels true to life rather than pat.
Peter Pan Must Die
John Verdon (Crown)
Verdon's distinctive blend of brilliant puzzle and psychological insight into his sleuth, retired NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney, has never been better than in this fourth series entry. Can Gurney prove the innocence of Kay Spalter, who was convicted of the shooting death of her husband, a gubernatorial candidate, while he was delivering the eulogy at his mother's funeral?
The Merchant Emperor
Elizabeth Haydon (Tor)
Haydon’s long-awaited return to her Symphony of Ages epic fantasy series is a brilliant tapestry of familial sacrifice and adversity. Beloved protagonists Rhapsody and Ashe once again take on the eternal evils plaguing a land of music and dragons—and this time they have a newborn to protect. With taut plotting and unforgettable characters, this worthy series installment will easily enchant new readers.
Langley Hyde (Blind Eye)
A young man becomes a teacher at a most peculiar school in this gripping, beautifully written, and thoroughly enjoyable steampunk story. It's rife with class injustice, intrigue, and mislaid identities, blending the best parts of the modern thriller and the Victorian sensation novel.
Sparrow Hill Road
Seanan McGuire (DAW)
Rose Marshall is a ghost who's determined to hunt down her killer. She also has a job to do: helping the newly dead make the transition between states. McGuire (the InCryptid series) brings empathy, complexity, and a shivering excitement to this well-developed campfire tale, a powerful blend of ghost story, love story, and murder mystery.
The Stories of Jane Gardam
Jane Gardam (Europa (Penguin, dist.))
This magnificent selection of 28 short stories from Gardam dates from 1977 to 2007, and spans the length of her career. With such a broad spectrum of stories, ranging from wistful to surreal—one story finds a homeless man sneaking into a nice house for a bath, another begins by focusing on the diamond in the back of a character’s neck—readers will be thankful to have so much good writing in one place.
The Montauk Monster
Hunter Shea (Kensington/Pinnacle)
The urban mythologies of the Montauk Monster and the government labs on Plum Island creates unite to cause staggering levels of mayhem when mutant animals with toxic blood descend on a Long Island town. This wholly enthralling hulk of a summer beach read is redolent of sunscreen and nostalgia, recalling mass market horror tales of yore by John Saul, Dean Koontz, and Peter Benchley.
My Real Children
Jo Walton (Tor)
Walton's stunning, intimate novel introduces a woman who remembers living two lives in diverging timelines. As Patricia relives her memories of being both Pat (a partnered, childless career woman) and Trish (a married mother and homemaker), Walton embarks on a deep and moving exploration of family, choices, and the lives of ordinary women in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Dan Barber (Penguin)
Barber, journalist and chef of the trailblazing farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, New York, offers this multilayered narrative that addresses where food comes from—that is, from "soil," "land," "sea," to "seed." Barber's work is a deeply thoughtful and—offering a "menu for 2050"—even visionary work for a sustainable food chain.
Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison
Nell Bernstein (The New Press)
In this resounding call to action, journalist Bernstein analyzes the U.S. juvenile justice system in which more than 66,000 youths are confined. Readers learn about the stark reality of a system that removes two elements central to adolescent development—connection and autonomy. With considerable empathy, the author introduces adolescents in and out of detention centers, capturing their struggles to overcome traumatic histories.
The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas
Anand Giridharadas (Norton)
In what PW called "a classic story of arrival with a fresh and absorbing twist," New York Times columnist Giridharadas offers a riveting account of a hate crime and its unlikely reverberations. The book's catalyst is the encounter between Mark Stroman, a racist ex-con in Dallas who went on a post 9/11 killing spree targeting men he wrongly thought were Arabs, and Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-born convenience-store clerk who was shot by Stroman, but survived. PW praised the author's "evocative reportage."
The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
Marcelo Gleiser (Basic)
Balancing hard science with philosophy, astronomer and physicist Gleiser shows how the horizons of human knowledge have constantly shifted throughout history and how those shifts have affected our understanding of our place in the universe. Or is it the multiverse?
Michael Jordan: The Life
Roland Lazenby (Little, Brown)
In this hefty, revelatory biography by sportswriter Lazenby takes readers from Jordan's childhood in North Carolina, through his game-winning shot for the University of North Carolina in the 1982 NCCA Championship, to his tenure with the Chicago Bulls. It's a fascinating examination into the lonely, prideful man behind the glimmering icon.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
Evan Osnos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In his first book, New Yorker staff writer Osnos chronicles two potent, antagonistic forces—a swelling individualism and a political structure intent on controlling it—shaping China in this revealing journalistic portrait. Readers looking for a more substantive summer read will enjoy the vivid profiles of artists, writers, editors, economists, Internet dating entrepreneurs, conservative nationalists, liberal students, and dissidents, including imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and exiled lawyer-activist Chen Guangcheng.
Take This Man
Brando Skyhorse (Simon & Schuster)
Skyhorse's vivid family memoir traces his ongoing struggle to search for an identity and fatherly guidance amidst his entanglement in his mother's chaotic lifestyle. Spanning Skyhorse's life, the book focuses primarily on his childhood growing up Echo Park, Los Angeles—the setting of his novel The Madonnas of Echo Park.
Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York
Ted Steinberg (Simon & Schuster)
Estuaries are some of Earth's most dynamic ecological systems, and Steinberg shows how humans turned one, the mouth of the Hudson River, into one of the world's great metropolises. As the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent, his tale contextualizes past urban planning decisions and offers thoughtful appraisals of how we can continue to adapt to our unique ecological niche.
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
Susan Jane Gilman (Grand Central)
Nonfiction writer Gilman (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven) parlays her craft into an outstanding fiction debut, which follows an abrasive, unscrupulous protagonist from the 1910s to the early 1980s, and will tell you more about the American ice cream industry than you could ever imagine.
Roberto Bolaño's Fiction: An Expanding Universe
Chris Andrews (Columbia Univ.)
Few authors cause such brain-itching mania in readers as Roberto Bolaño—and who better to answer all the questions you’ll surely have upon finishing 2666 (such as, What is the secret of the universe?) than Chris Andrews, the translator of 10 of the Chilean writer’s books? The first big book of Bolaño criticism sets a very high bar. —Gabe Habash, deputy reviews editor
Half a King
Joe Abercrombie (Del Ray)
I'd been saving up this morsel until I had time to properly savor it, and then I opened it just to take a taste and couldn't stop reading. Abercrombie's greatest gift is for description that brings you fully into his gritty, bloody fantasy world of battle and intrigue. A ship captain's cabin is "cramped and garish, gloomy... The place smelled of tar, salt and incense, stale sweat and stale wine." Where a more action-focused writer might see these words as wasted, Abercrombie takes the time to immerse the reader, making everything--including the action, which is fast-paced and violent--feel more real. Even with all the description, Half a King has about half the page count of Abercrombie's previous fantasy novels, and it still contains plenty of his trademark wry wit and appealing characters, so it's a terrific introduction to his work. —Rose Fox, reviews editor
Qur’an in Conversation
Michael Birkel (Baylor University Press)
My Muslim friends and colleagues have been able to explain a lot to me about Islam, but I confess to being puzzled by the Qur’an because its literary form and references are unfamiliar. So I look forward to the friendly guidance of author Michael Birkel, who is a Friend (that is, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers) and teacher of religion at Earlham College. Birkel allows readers to overhear the conversations about Islam’s sacred text among North American religion scholars and other influential Muslims. Many of the contributors are young and they come from a variety of disciplines and cultural backgrounds. Sacred texts fascinate me in the way they compel attention and shape cultures. Nope, it’s not a beach read, but a novel is #2 on my summer reading list. —Marcia Z. Nelson, religion reviews editor
The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel
Benjamin Black (Henry Holt and Co.)
The Raymond Chandler Estate made a spot-on choice in Benjamin Black to revive the iconic P.I. Philip Marlowe in a new mystery series. The reader is taken on a nostalgic - but deadly - trip back to 1950s Los Angeles and Santa Monica that finds Marlowe in his stifling office on a summer day, bored, lonely, waiting for his new client to show up. What would a Chandler mystery be without a beautiful blonde dame from a wealthy family who lies and deceives the gumshoe from the start? Thugs and questionable LAPD cops circle around Marlowe through the story, which captures the noir atmosphere and language of Chandler so superbly I had to remind myself the page-turner was written just last year, and by an Irish literary novelist. —Wendy Werris, west coast correspondent
Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush
Geoff Dyer (Pantheon)
I read this nonfiction hybrid during the winter, but I’ll definitely be revisiting it this summer along with two of Dyer’s early novels that are coming out on the same day. Dyer's leisurely approach to writing and interviewing always reminds me that it’s possible to put together a solid literary work while taking it easy and cracking a joke now and again. His effortless prose style can come off as lazy or insouciant to the untrained eye, but he balances it out by thoroughly investigating his subjects with a genuine curiosity. It’s also set on a ship (though not quite a cruise ship, but a military aircraft carrier) so it only seems appropriate to read it out in the sun. —Oren Smilansky, intern
Comics Squad: Recess!
Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, et al. (Random House)
When better to laugh about school than in the middle of summer, well before back-to-school shopping (and anxieties) get underway? And how better to laugh about it than with eight comics shorts from talented creators like Gene Luen Yang, Dan Santat, Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman? From a hilarious Dog Man adventure from Dav Pilkey, in which “all the books in the whole world!!!” are wiped blank, turning the populace “supa dumb,” to a Lunch Lady story from Jarrett J. Krosoczka that lets Lunch Lady’s assistant, Betty, shine in battle with a pizza monster, it’s the sort of book that will leave kids eager to restart school in the fall.* —John Sellers, children's reviews editor
*This is actually very unlikely.
So Long Marianne
Kari Hesthamar, trans. from Norwegian by Helle V. Goldman (ECW Press)
Sometimes it’s better not to know too much about the artists you admire. Reading a memoir from a former lover and muse is particularly dangerous territory, but the story behind one of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs will be pretty irresistible for his fans. In fact, Cohen looks pretty gallant entering the story after Norwegian writer Axel Jensen abandoned Marianne Ihlen and their newborn son on the sun-drenched Greek island of Hydra. It’s a story of love that, like many of his songs and poems, is both beautiful and heartbreaking. —Leigh Anne Williams, Canadian correspondent
We Were Liars
E. Lockhart (Delacorte)
Lockhart’s utterly immersive story of family privilege, young love, and insurmountable tragedy, is told through the lattice work of 17-year-old Cadence Sinclair Eastman’s broken memory. Spending the summer on Beechwood, her grandfather’s private Massachusetts island where she suffered an inexplicable accident two years previous, Cadence is joyfully back in the company of “the Liars,” her cousins Mirren and Johnny, as well as her love interest, Gat. Cadence believes that idyllic Beechwood and the Liars will enable her to remember the truth of what happened to her. The slow churning of events would be almost excruciating, were it not for the hypnotic prose that carries the dreamlike days of Cadence’s present and past summers along like a strong tide. The climatic conclusion is seamlessly plotted and brutally unanticipated; I can’t remember the last time I have been so sideswiped. —Matia Burnett, assistant children's editor
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals
Patricia Lockwood (Penguin Poets)
I’ve chewed the ears off anyone who would let me about this book, so why stop now? Lockwood beams humanity through the looking glass and off the strangest carnival mirrors so that we see ourselves in all our horrifying beauty. Her poems are perceptive and sensitive in observation while being uncannily imaginative in their execution. It’s like laughing your way through an emotional particle accelerator. —Alex Crowley, reviews editor
The Mad and the Bad
Jean-Patrick Manchette, trans. from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (NYRB Classics)
I first read French crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette in the early 2000s, after City Lights published translations of two of his books: Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman. Both are great, but the former is a modest masterpiece—a taut little psychological thriller about an ordinary bourbon-drinking, pill-popping, West Coast jazz–loving French businessmen, forced by extraordinary circumstances to kill or be killed. Manchette wrote 10 very short novels between 1971 and 1981—pioneering works of European leftwing neo-noir (he was allegedly influenced by the ideas of the Situationist International)—but after Three to Kill and Prone Gunman appeared in English in 2002, it took nearly a decade for a third to be translated. Femme Fatale was released by New York Review Books in 2011 and was, to my mind, disappointing. NYRB will release a fourth Manchette translation, The Mad and the Bad, in July, and it lives up to the promise of the first two U.S. releases.—Daniel Berchenko, managing editor
Summer House with Swimming Pool
Herman Koch, trans. from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Random/Hogarth)
Base human instincts come out in Koch’s equally devious follow-up to The Dinner. This time, two families that don’t really like each other end up at a vacation home together. Throughout, Koch keeps ratcheting up the tension, and very few real-world events will distract readers from finishing this addictive book in one or two sittings.
Alberto Moravia, trans. from the Italian by Michael F. Moore (NYRB Classics)
Moravia is one of the great post-WWII Italian writers and this is one of his masterpieces: censored by the Fascists in 1941 and not published until 1944, when it made Moravia's reputation. A young boy on the cusp of adolescence is spending the summer at the beach with his widowed mother, "a big beautiful woman still in her prime." Agostino adores his mother until the intrusion of a young suitor sends him reeling and into a love-hate relationship with a crude gang of boys who humiliate him and initiate him into the ugliness of poverty and adulthood. This new translation is brilliant, as is the story, told in only 100 perfect pages. You'll wish you were on that Mediterranean beach, and then again, maybe not, but you will never forget Agostino's summer. —Louisa Ermelino, reviews director
Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night
Barbara J. Taylor (Akashic Books)
I adore scrappy Violet, the eight-year-old protagonist of this novel, who is blamed by just about everybody in Scranton, a hardscrabble, blue-collar town in Pennsylvania's coal mining country, for causing her nine-year-old sister's death. Even though the community sits in judgement of her and her family, Violet refuses to conform to others' expectations of how she should behave in the wake of this tragedy. The author says that this novel was inspired by an event that actually occurred in her own family decades ago. It's a profound story of how one unforeseen event may tear a family apart, but another can just as unexpectedly bring them back together again. —Claire Kirch, midwest correspondent
Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America
John Waters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
"I haven't felt this excited or scared for a long time," so begins John Waters's latest book, a travelogue of sorts, in which the cult movie icon documents his experience hitchhiking across America. I found myself with similar sentiments upon receiving the galley of Carsick several weeks ago. The prospect of the Pope of Trash thumbs up on a highway with his pencil mustache and droopy cardboard sign that reads "End of 70 West" is thrilling for sure, but in a campy reality TV show like way. My initial concern was whether this golden idea could translate into an entire book. Turns out it can and does, but in unconventional ways (which of course is the John Waters way). Hours trapped in a car on the road and one's imagination is bound to run wild. Two-thirds of the book comes straight out of the mind of Waters who conceives of worst and best case scenarios for modern hitchhiking in the form of two novellas; the final section is the real juice. The result is a flavorful book, with the same cheeky sentimentality we experienced in Waters's memoir Role Models plus a Divine-sized dose of kitsch. John Waters fans like me will be ecstatic. —Annie Coreno, reviews editor
Days of the Bagnold Summer
Joff Winterhart (Random House UK)
Summer ennui is captured perfectly in this acclaimed English graphic novel. Sue Bagnold, a 52-year-old librarian and Daniel, her 15-year-old metalhead son, must spend the summer together after Daniel’s planned trip to the US with his father is cancelled. Sly humor based on frustration and familiarity unfolds in six-panel pages as Daniel thinks about Metalica and Sue attempts to bond with her son in disastrous ways. Like a kinder Little Britain sketch played out with real character development, we eventually understand both these misfits. Winterhart’s loose art is matched by his sharp characterization. Wherever you are this summer, this book is bound to make your own experiences seem thrilling by comparison. —Heidi MacDonald, graphic novel reviews editor
Land of Love and Drowning
Tiphanie Yanique (Riverhead)
Book industry friends have been telling me great things about Tiphanie Yanique’s debut novel, which is set in the Virgin Islands and covers three generations of love, loss, magic, and drama in the Bradshaw family. Summer always makes me want to travel, and even if I’ll be staying close to home this year, I can still travel mentally and emotionally via a beautiful book. —Jessamine Chan, reviews editor
Dog vs. Cat
Chris Gall (Little, Brown)
What happens when cats and dogs stop being polite... and start getting real? Gall has a blast with the answer to that question, and kids will, too. After being (separately) acquired by their owners, Mr. and Mrs. Button, Cat and Dog aren’t just sharing a house—they’re going to be roommates. There’s a definite Oscar and Felix quality to the testy relationship that develops between persnickety Cat and anything-goes Dog, and as is often the case in this sort of story it takes the arrival of a third party to unite them (the enemy of my enemy, etc.). Frustrated siblings forced to share a room, you’re not alone.
Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson (S&S/Atheneum)
Many can feel at odds with their families, but it isn’t usually a question of breed. Not so for Gaston, whose mother and siblings are poodles while he seems to have a bit more bulldog in his DNA. A poodle named Antoinette has the precisely opposite problem, but trading families isn’t much of a solution. Robinson’s naïf paintings are the source of tremendous delight in this story, as Gaston and Antoinette try hard to fit in with both their own and the other’s family. Best of all, and most reassuringly, DiPucchio leaves readers with the message that home is home, even when you don’t look like your brothers and sisters.
My Teacher Is a Monster (No, I Am Not.)
Peter Brown (Little, Brown)
We’ve all been there: running into a teacher at the grocery store, the bowling alley, the park—anywhere that isn’t school. But guess what? As Brown makes clear, the experience can be just as unpleasant (or at least unexpected) for the teacher, too. For young Bobby, it’s even worse since the teacher in question is Ms. Kirby, with her olive green skin, reptilian claws, and ferocious fangs. Is Ms. Kirby really a monster? Readers will enjoy finding out and maybe develop just the teensiest bit of empathy for the Ms. Kirbys in their own lives—just in time for school to start up again.
The Glass Sentence
S.E. Grove (Viking)
In this debut novel, Grove establishes a fascinating and complex framework for an alternate Earth. A mysterious event has left the planet carved up into different historical eras—it’s the late 19th century in much what was once the United States, while the pharaohs rule North Africa, and Canada has become an ancient frozen wilderness. Understanding and exploring the new world requires a mix of mapmaking and magic, and that’s where 13-year-old Sophia and her uncle Shadrack, a famed “cartologer,” come in. Sophia’s dangerous, unpredictable travels make for gripping reading and bode well for later books in the Mapmakers series.
The Great Greene Heist
Varian Johnson (Scholastic/Levine)
With a sprawling, talented, racially diverse, and memorable cast at its heart, Johnson’s caper reads like a middle-grade Ocean’s 11. The action centers around an upcoming school election: even though Gabriela de la Cruz isn’t currently speaking to Jackson Greene, he’s determined to make sure that his friend-slash-crush has a fair shot at becoming class president when it looks more and more like the election might be fixed. Amid all the banter, stirrings of romance, and sci-fi references, Johnson thoughtfully explores prejudice and privilege in a way that gives the story real heft.
The Hundred-Year House
Rebecca Makkai (Viking)
Makkai’s intricate novel winds through the twisty history of a huge estate outside Chicago named Laurelfield. At the center are husband and wife Doug and Zee, who have schemes of their own until they stumble upon more than they bargained for within Laurelfield’s walls. Keeping track of family secrets, cover-ups, and changing alliances has never been more fun.
The Thickety: A Path Begins
J.A. White, illus. by Andrea Offermann (HarperCollins/Tegen)
It doesn’t feel like a stretch to think of White’s debut as a Half Bad for middle-grade readers. Rather than a world split by two kinds of magic, White sets his story in an isolated, religiously devout community where witchcraft is the worst of crimes, and where the magical woods rife with strange creatures are ever encroaching. Twelve-year-old Kara and her family can’t escape the sins of her mother, who was executed for being a witch, especially not after it begins to appear as though Kara has inherited her mother’s gifts. It’s an eerie story, even horrifying at times, with an 11th-hour twist that will leave some readers with their jaws on the floor.
Like No Other
Una LaMarche (Razorbill)
LaMarche’s second novel is a thrilling Brooklyn romance—Crown Heights, to be specific. Yes, the excitement of first love is a big part of that thrill, but so are the stakes: for Devorah, her Hasidic family’s traditions mean that she shouldn’t even be speaking to a boy like Jaxon, let alone allowing him into her heart. The relationship that develops between two teenagers who live mere blocks apart yet worlds apart tests their friendships, faith, and families, as LaMarche explores persistent prejudices, crises of conscience, a hunger for independence, and the potential for love to beat the odds.
Love and Other Foreign Words
Erin McCahan (Dial)
Readers in the mood for serious laughs need look no further than McCahan’s story about 15-year-old Josie Sheridan, who is determined to break up her older sister Kate’s impending marriage. Kate's fiancé, Geoff, is an awkward librarian who grates on Josie’s last nerve (and whose personality is perhaps more familiar than Josie would care to admit). Josie is certain that Kate can’t possibly love Geoff, but she’s on less solid ground when it comes to the men in her own life, and whether love might be possible with any of them. There are some very funny family dynamics at play, but it’s Josie’s analytical, overthinking narration and knack for delivering truly lacerating quips that will have readers sticking by her side.
This One Summer
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki (First Second)
The cousins behind 2008’s Skim return with a moody, contemplative graphic novel that homes in on women at critical stages in their lives. The primary focus is on Rose and Windy, whose families spend time together every year at the same lakeside Ontario cottages. But even as Rose seems to be outgrowing Windy, causing tension, the struggles of their parents and some older local teenagers loom large, underlining the idea that actions don’t occur in a vacuum. Printed in the rich blue ink of a clear night sky, Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations powerfully evoke both the strong emotions at play and the intimacy (and claustrophobia) of a vacation town.
We Were Liars
E. Lockhart (Delacorte)
Now here’s a novel that people will be talking about long after the beaches have cleared for another season. The trick, for readers of any age, will be tearing through it fast enough to avoid having any of its twists spoiled, either online or in real life. Set on a private island off Cape Cod, Lockhart’s story unfolds through the unreliable narration of Candace Sinclair Eastman, as she tries to unlock family secrets through the haze of lingering brain injuries in the wake of an accident. Hers is a journey that’s painful, heartbreaking, and hard to forget.
Never Love a Gambler
Keith Ridgway (New Directions)
A colleague gave me this to read, saying something about how I'd like it even though I am very picky about my books and put more down than I finish. It's a sampler of three stories (two related, the third probably not -- but maybe?) by an Irish writer, and, really, it's pretty great. Damp and dreary in that singular Irish way, exceedingly grim and just demented enough -- there's an assassin, a gangster, a very smelly dog, some mysterious digging, a Downton Abbey meets True Detective kind of vibe, and then Ridgway goes and drops a line like, "He seemed like a man who had buried murdered children in the darkness" on you. How can you not want more? —Jonathan Segura, executive editor
Bald New World
Peter Tieryas Liu (Perfect Edge)
Perhaps a century in the future, all humans suddenly go bald, forcing film cameraman Nicholas Guan to confront unexpected questions of identity in an industry and culture that prefers fakery to reality. Liu crafts a vivid future Beijing—"a city of vapors, a metropolis of neon calligrapy"—where a broad farce of spy girls and gadgets gradually becomes a serious commentary on the nature of self. Nick's philosophical journey of personal discovery forms the heart of a deceptively deep story.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami, trans. by Philip Gabriel (Knopf)
Tsukuru Tazaki is a throwback Murakami protagonist, an unassuming, half-of-a-beer drinking, shirt ironing Tokyoite reminiscent of the Torus from both Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Unable to see himself as anything but a bland “empty vessel,” Tsukuru undergoes an emotional breakdown in college after his four best high school friends refuse to see him for mysterious reasons. Sixteen years later, a girlfriend inspires Tsukuru to open the lid on his past and he sets off to reconnect with his former group and figure out exactly what happened all those years ago. Moody and sentimental, it is a refreshing return to the murky emotions of youthful friendship that made Murakami’s early books so powerful. Seth Satterlee, digital media assistant
Tania Malik (Norton)
This rags to riches epic follows the Indian boy Madan and his journey from an impoverished childhood to successful adulthood. Malik paints an unforgettable picture of the small town of Gorapur, and with astounding language cuts to the core vitality of her characters.
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation
Blake J. Harris (It Books)
Why spend all summer inside playing videogames, when you can have just as much fun reading about them at the beach? Harris’s new book chronicles one of the fundamental pop culture rivalries in recent history, the epic battle between Sega and Nintendo for market dominance in the early days of the videogame industry. Reminiscent of Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, the colorful personalities, bold risks, and underlying conflict make an intoxicating combination that will send millennial gamers into a nostalgic tailspin.
Mad Honey Symposium
Sally Wen Mao (Alice James)
Sonically dexterous, formally inventive, and overflowing with a disorienting array of wild imagery, Mao’s linguistically textured debut not only strikes every chord one would expect from a strong poetry collection, but does so in ways most readers wouldn’t—or couldn’t—anticipate, never mind find wild pleasure in.
Philip Kerr (Putnam)
As a big fan of Kerr’s Bernie Gunther PI series, I confess I was wary of this standalone, a contemporary thriller whose theme is the power of prayer. I was relieved to discover that the book’s hero, Texas-based FBI agent Gil Martins, has a lot in common with Bernie. In investigating the suspicious deaths of a number of prominent atheists, Gil runs into all sorts of unexpected trouble, as bad as any Bernie encounters while trying to be an honest cop in Nazi Germany. Readers into noir with a supernatural tinge will relish how it all plays out for Gil, a lapsed Catholic who struggles with his faith. Christian fundamentalists may want to take a pass. —Peter Cannon, Senior Reviews Editor
This Is the Water
Yannick Murphy (Harper Perennial)
In this obscenely suspenseful novel, written in second-person and spread out over 48 short chapters, a serial killer is scoping out potential victims from a girls high school swim team. But Murphy, no stranger to stylistic experimentation, inverts this story from a whodunit to a “whogotit” by revealing the identity of the killer early, and drawing dramatic tension from the question of which character will solve the crime.