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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

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Half a King

Joe Abercrombie (Del Ray)

I'd been saving up this morsel until I h​ad 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Agostino

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Prayer

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

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