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We run this feature every year, and it's usually a lot of fun to put together. We start working on it in March before spring actually springs, and it's a nice exercise to imagine what you'd want to take along to read on vacation or a trip to the beach. Things, obviously, are a bit different this year, and with the world in the grip of a pandemic and with uncertainty in every direction, a little escapism isn't necessarily the worst thing. So we've put together some recommendations for books to get you through this strange season. And if you do end up throwing one in your bag and heading for the beach, who knows, maybe we'll see you there. But we'll stay six feet away. Here's hoping you have a safe and sane summer.

  • Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream

    Alvin Cailan, with Alexandra Cuerdo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    It’s a collection of fat-, sugar-, and carb-filled recipes that one should not eat in a single sitting, even if you start with, say, fried lumpia filled with pork and shrimp, before moving on to patis fried chicken, and ending with a bowl of rice drenched in chocolate ganache and condensed milk. But mostly it’s a book of assimilation. As Cailan writes, “It’s the story of not being Filipino enough to be Filipino, and not being American enough to be American.” —Mark Rotella, senior editor

  • Ping Pong

    Taiyō Matsumoto, trans. from the Japanese by Michael Arias (Viz)

    Table tennis gets the full-court treatment in this snappy and distinctively drawn sports manga, a much-anticipated English edition of the quirky saga first serialized in the 1990s. Schoolboy competitors Peco and Smile are faced with a new foe, and Matsumoto’s sharp, fantastic art, paired with winning characterizations and unexpectedly dramatic action makes for a genre standout for manga fans and newbies alike.

  • Empire of Wild

    Cherie Dimaline (Morrow)

    Dimaline draws on the Métis myth of the werewolflike Rogarou in this irresistible quest narrative. After Joan’s husband, Victor, disappears from their First Nations community of Arcand, Ontario, Joan tracks the Rogarou in search of answers. Dimaline takes readers from Ontario to New York to New Orleans and beyond to describe Joan and Victor’s passionate courtship and his gradual acceptance by her family, informing Joan’s rabid desperation. This literary thriller is a must-read.

  • Again Again

    E. Lockhart (Delacorte)

    Adrift in the summer between her junior and senior years, Adelaide Buchwald navigates the aftermath of an unexpected breakup and a wrenching family situation while working to fend off academic probation. Lockhart takes her penchant for plot twists to a new level with a narrative that explores the idea of the multiverse through scenes imagined and reimagined in an iterative style.

  • The Book of Dragons

    Edited by Jonathan Strahan (Harper Voyager)

    Strahan brings together some of the biggest names in sci-fi and fantasy for a blockbuster anthology of original tales of dragons, which range from high-flying adventure stories to quieter domestic fables and draw from many different cultural understandings of dragon mythology. The impressive variety of style and tone—combined with the authors’ infectious enthusiasm for their subject—means there’s something for everyone in this magical, escapist treat.

  • Boyfriend Material

    Alexis Hall (Sourcebooks Casablanca)

    Fake boyfriends catch real feelings in Hall’s flawless rom-com. Luc O’Donnell, the rascally son of a washed-up rock star, is tired of his messy love life serving as tabloid fodder, and so are his employers, who instruct him to improve his image with a stable relationship. Enter Oliver Blackwood, a straitlaced criminal barrister. Their opposite personalities play off each other beautifully, leading to moments of laugh-out-loud humor and heart-melting tenderness.

  • Hello, Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers

    Matthew Cordell (Holiday House/Porter)

    Caldecott Medalist Cordell’s authorized picture book biography begins on the TV set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood before circling back to the television host’s youth and building to his unexpected discovery of television’s possibilities for speaking to children. Cordell creates an open, affectionate atmosphere perfectly in keeping with Rogers’s quiet strength and generous heart.

  • Afterland

    Lauren Beukes (Mullholland)

    After a pandemic kills most of the world’s men, women are in charge of running what’s left of civilization. A 12-year-old boy, one of the last alive, and his mother go on the run across America to avoid those who would use him as a reproductive source or a stand-in son. Fans of high-concept feminist SF thrillers will be enthralled.

  • Chance: Escape from the Holocaust

    Uri Shulevitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    Caldecott Medalist Shulevitz turns to middle grade memoir to tell his account, in words and pictures, of his childhood flight from the terrors of the Holocaust. Over the course of his Jewish family’s harrowing journey from Warsaw to the Soviet Union, the young Shulevitz discovers his nascent love of art.

  • Butch Cassidy: The True Story of an American Outlaw

    Charles Leerhsen (Simon & Schuster)

    Leerhsen, who previously rehabilitated the reputation of notorious baseball curmudgeon Ty Cobb, recasts Butch Cassidy as the Robin Hood of the Wild West in a richly detailed biography that combines outlaw exploits with the economic and social history of 19th-century America. This vibrant account makes a perfect companion to a rewatch of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

  • Artifact

    Arlene Heyman (Bloomsbury)

    “She did not want to disturb the rats.” There’s the first sentence of a novel by a 78-year-old shrink who knows what life’s all about. The story follows Lottie—sexually aware from the get-go, devoted to science and high on life—from 1940s Michigan to the 1980s. You know what those decades meant, especially for us women. Read this on the beach and, trust me, you’ll never get out from under that umbrella. —Louisa Ermelino, editor-at large

  • Ikenga

    Nnedi Okorafor (Viking)

    Drawing from her Nigerian heritage and blending contemporary realism with elements of magic, Akata Witch author Okorafor’s first middle grade novel follows a boy with superpowers on a quest to avenge his police chief father’s murder.

  • A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby

    Vanessa Riley (Zebra)

    Riley’s intricate plotting sets this twisty, interracial Regency apart. When West Indian heiress Patience Jordan’s British husband dies, his mercenary relatives separate Patience from her baby and slander her name. Determined to be near her son, she disguises herself as his nanny in the household of her late husband’s brother, a rakish war hero with a heart of gold. Intrigue, banter, and smoldering chemistry make this unmissable.

  • Black Sun Rising

    Matthew Carr (Pegasus Crime)

    Philip Kerr fans will welcome this mystery set in 1909 Barcelona, Spain, where a visiting English explorer is blown up by an anarchist’s bomb. Oddly, the victim left a large bequest to a woman not his wife. Carr smoothly integrates early-20th-century Spanish politics into a suspenseful plot.

  • Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking

    Bill Buford (Knopf)

    Buford, bestselling author of Heat, delivers a hilarious account of the triumphs and tribulations he and his family experienced in the five years they lived in France as he immersed himself in the art of French cooking.

  • Everyone Knows How Much I Love You

    Kyle McCarthy (Ballantine)

    In McCarthy’s deliciously incisive tale of obsession, a woman tracks down her childhood friend in New York City. Rose, 30, worms her way into sharing Lacie’s apartment, and soon, in the best horror movie tradition, is costuming herself in Lacie’s clothes and throwing herself at Lacie’s new boyfriend, all the while secretly writing a novel that fills in the details of Rose’s betrayal when they were teens. McCarthy’s dark tone and beguiling narrative strike the perfect chord.

  • Everything Is an Emergency: An OCD Story in Words and Pictures

    Jason Adam Katzenstein (HarperPerennial)

    New Yorker cartoonist Katzenstein’s debut chronicles his coming-of-age and his coming to terms with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His disarming gag cartoons render his darkest fears light yet still effectively creepy, as he plays back the paralyzing worries that ran like a scratched record in his head for years and made everyday interactions feel impossible. From the “rock bottom” moment that brought him to accept counseling, he finds the therapeutic (and pharmacological) support to finally lift up the lever and heal. This memoir of mental illness manages to be genuinely funny, and will be useful for anyone seeking calm in an anxious time.

  • Jules vs. the Ocean

    Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster)

    The forces of nature and impermanence may be beyond our control, but Sima finds the funny in it. When Jules starts building her sandcastle right at the water’s edge, the sea seems determined to thwart her—its waves take not only her castles, but her green-handled bucket, too.

  • Burn Our Bodies Down

    Rory Power (Delacorte)

    Power, whose debut novel, Wilder Girls, was a bestseller last year, returns with a creeping thriller about a girl without a history returning to her mother’s hometown, her roots, and her poisonous family tree.

  • The Mother Code

    Carole Stivers (Berkley)

    Stivers debuts with a sweeping, prescient, and ultimately hopeful tale of a world devastated by a biological weapon. Humanity’s only hope lies in a generation of genetically modified infants, who must be raised by robots programmed to feel empathy. Probing the nature of human connection and what makes a family, Stivers renders her postapocalyptic vision with a scientist’s precision.

  • The Girl from Widow Hills

    Megan Miranda (Simon & Schuster)

    Emotionally fragile hospital administrator Olivia Meyer doesn’t remember much about being swept away in a storm at age six and not being rescued for three days. Her troubled single mother has suffered as well. When a dead body turns up, Olivia turns sleuth in this twisty, surprise-filled psychological thriller.

  • Network Effect

    Martha Wells (

    Wells’s first full-length Murderbot Diaries novel is a rollicking standalone space opera with humor and insight to spare. SecUnit, a lethal but lovable artificial intelligence, has become rather partial to its fragile human companions and will do what it takes to protect them when they (inevitably) fall into intergalactic danger. Mayhem and surprisingly touching observations on human nature from a robotic point of view both ensue.

  • The One and Only Bob

    Katherine Applegate, illus. by Patricia Castelao (HarperCollins)

    With this stellar sequel to her Newbery Award–winning The One and Only Ivan, Applegate sounds precisely balanced notes of genuine humor and heart-tugging tenderness through the voice of Ivan’s best friend, Chihuahua mutt Bob.

  • Barcelona Days

    Daniel Riley (Little, Brown)

    I was a big fan of Riley’s first novel, Fly Me, and I’ve moved this one to the top of the to-read pile. It’s about a young couple digging into the jagged crags of their relationship—jealousy! infidelity!—after they get stuck in Barcelona while on vacation courtesy of the massive cloud of ash spit up by that Icelandic volcano in 2010. Revolutionary Road with tapas? Sign me up. —Jonathan Segura, executive editor

  • Lift

    Minh Lê, illus. by Dan Santat (Little, Brown)

    The creators of Drawn Together return, mixing a tale about sibling rivalry with a classic fantasy quest about a child whose small, special pleasure is pushing the button in her building’s elevator. Santat’s comedic versatility and theatrical use of light give the story cinematic momentum, while Lê’s insight into Iris’s conflicting emotions adds depth and warmth.

  • The Marriage Game

    Sara Desai (Berkley)

    Desai debuts with this sassy enemies-to-lovers romance. Layla Patel and Sam Mehta clash while being forced to share office space, but when suitors come calling for Layla at work in response to a dating profile her father made for her, Sam feels oddly protective and agrees to chaperone Layla’s dates. The outings that follow are hilariously disastrous, and Layla and Sam’s increasingly flirtatious bickering is a constant delight.

  • Hamnet

    Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf)

    In O’Farrell’s lyrical evocation of a home in Stratford-upon-Avon, the household’s most famous character is mostly off-stage. O’Farrell instead focuses on the wife and son of Shakespeare (referred to here as “the Latin tutor” or “the husband”), Agnes and Hamnet. Agnes is described in fecund, mythical terms, possessing a strong connection to nature and a steadfast nurturer, while Hamnet, who dies from fever at 11, is achingly vulnerable. This is a consummate work of literary inspiration.

  • Clap When You Land

    Elizabeth Acevedo (Quill Tree)

    Two sisters, one in the Dominican Republic, one in New York City, discover their sisterhood—and their father’s double life—when his plane crashes, leaving no survivors. In a verse narrative, Acevedo subtly, skillfully uses language and rhythm to pack an effective double punch, unraveling the aftermath of losing a parent alongside the realities of familial inheritance.

  • Nori

    Rumi Hara (Drawn & Quarterly)

    Capricious escape artist preschooler Nori and her doting, bemused grandmother star in this gentle comic series of linked graphic short stories. Their quixotic adventures dance seamlessly between nostalgically recalled street scenes in 1980s suburban Japan and the imaginary world of a small child, with plots that include chasing rabbits through schoolyards and winning a trip to Hawaii to represent the pride of the post-WWII generation at a community fair.

  • Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails

    John deBary (Clarkson Potter)

    Former New York City bartender deBary enthusiastically shares cocktail recipes, both classic and cutting-edge and geared toward budding mixologists, that are perfect for entertaining, even if via a remote chat.

  • Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe (Sal & Gabi #2)

    Carlos Hernandez (Disney/Riordan)

    In Hernandez’s rousing follow-up to Sal & Gabi Break the Universe, the titular duo is faced with a new set of challenges when a desperate Gabi from a parallel dimension appears, claiming that Sal’s father’s efforts to close wormholes will actually destroy the universe.

  • The Only Good Indians

    Stephen Graham Jones (Saga)

    By turns terrifying and darkly comic, Jones’s masterful horror novel follows a group of friends from the Blackfeet nation as a mistake they made on a hunt years before comes back to haunt them. In a distinct, propulsive voice, Jones renders both supernatural and psychological horror with powerful cultural specificity. This is a must-read for horror fans.

  • A Good Marriage

    Kimberly McCreight (Harper)

    Manhattan lawyer Lizzie Kitsakis reluctantly agrees to defend an old law school friend accused of murdering his wife. Meanwhile, Lizzie’s alcoholic husband has big problems. Filled with credible plot twists and realistically flawed characters, this page-turner presses readers to question everything they think makes a “good” marriage.

  • In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida

    Kent Russell (Knopf)

    In a clever memoir that has hints of A Confederacy of Dunces, Russell and two friends explore his native Florida on foot—pushing an antique baby stroller full of backpacks and camera equipment—in a narrative that is at once insightful and entertaining, and filled with observations that reinforce Florida’s mystique.

  • Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion

    Bad Religion and Jim Ruland (Hachette)

    Sweat and sun are two things I associate with summer, but they’re also two things I associate with hardcore punk and Southern California, which make this biography of one of the region and genre’s most influential and important bands an epic read for the summer. It describes the prolific band’s career trajectory and discography along with their worldview, and lays out why they’re not only in the conversation for best punk band of all time, but why they deserve to be listed among the most important artists and philosophers of the past half-century. —Seth Dellon, director of strategic development

  • Outside In

    Deborah Underwood, illus. by Cindy Derby (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    “Once/ we were part of Outside/ and Outside was part of us/ There was nothing between us,” begins Underwood in plainspoken lines. “Now/ sometimes even when/ we’re outside.../ we’re inside.” Derby portrays this tension in a gentle series of illustrations and visualizes moments—indoors and out—when “outside reminds us” of its abiding presence.

  • Lake Life

    David James Poissant (Simon & Schuster)

    A retired couple invites their sons Michael and Thad for one last summer at their lake house in North Carolina before selling and moving to Florida. What could go wrong? Well, Michael, an alcoholic, fails to save a neighbor boy from drowning, while Thad, an underemployed poet with his blocked artist boyfriend Jake in tow, begrudges their open relationship. Poissant’s superb talent for observation makes for vicarious thrills, as the truth brings the family members to a head.

  • Happiness Will Follow

    Mike Hawthorne (Archaia)

    Blanca, Hawthorne’s fierce-minded Puerto Rican mother, was a hurricane of contradictions and a legendary superhero figure in her family as she struggled for their survival. Both a Catholic and Santeria practitioner, Blanca was prone to magical thinking and abusive rages—and Hawthorne tries to reconcile the chaos of his childhood in this powerful, tautly drawn memoir.

  • Felix Ever After

    Kacen Callender (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

    Featuring a realistic and relatable cast of queer characters and a whodunit that will keep readers guessing to the last twist, Callender’s story of a black trans artist navigating the bumpy road to self-love and self-determination sticks its landing at every turn.

  • The Rakess

    Scarlett Peckham (Avon)

    This fierce, feminist series debut flips the typical Regency romance script. The scandalous Serafina Arden cares more for the fight for women’s equality than she does for any of her string of casual lovers. But when she propositions architect Adam Anderson, a handsome single father with romantic ideals, it soon becomes a struggle to keep their relationship purely physical. Peckham strikes a perfect balance of politics, passion, and emotional vulnerability.

  • Or What You Will

    Jo Walton (Tor)

    Walton wows with this gorgeous tale of a fantasy writer returning to the world of her most popular series for what may be the final time. The author is dying, but her oft-recurring character turned imaginary friend has a plan to save them both. Weaving together somber realism, fanciful metafiction, and Shakespearean fantasy, this moving love letter to storytelling is complex, smart, and satisfying.

  • The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch

    Miles Harvey (Little, Brown)

    From King Kong to the Tiger King, American history is rife with would-be monarchs who aimed high and fell far. This riveting, expertly researched account restores one such throne seeker to his rightful place in the annals of audacity: James Jesse Strang, the 19th-century Mormon sect leader who declared himself ruler of an island in Lake Michigan. Packed with jaw-dropping twists and turns—plus counterfeiting, con artistry, piracy, and polygamy—Harvey’s vibrant chronicle is a certified page-turner.

  • Take a Hint, Dani Brown

    Talia Hibbert (Avon)

    The phenomenal standalone follow-up to Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a fake-relationship romance for the social media age. When a video of burly Zaf rescuing bisexual academic Dani from a stalled elevator goes viral, Zaf asks Dani to help keep the buzz going as he launches his charity. Their dynamic is just as sweet, supportive, and sexy as Hibbert’s fans would expect. This is a knockout.

  • Home Before Dark

    Riley Sager (Dutton)

    The Holt family’s experiences in the Vermont haunted house they once lived in were the sources for father Ewan’s nonfiction bestseller. After Ewan’s death 25 years later, daughter Maggie inherits the house and sets out to discover what really happened. Sager does a superb job of upsetting reader expectations in this horror thriller.

  • The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

    Katie Mack (Scribner)

    Despite an apocalyptic and seemingly all too timely subject, astrophysicist Mack’s look at how everything might end (as theorized by various scientists) actually promises to be a great escape from quarantine, and 2020 in general. Her perspective on the universe isn’t pessimistic or fearful, but enthusiastic and awestruck (and the potential universe-ending catastrophes she discusses are, mostly, reassuringly remote.) —Everett Jones, reviews editor

  • Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm #1)

    Lucy Knisley (Random House Graphic)

    When Jen moves to the country with her mother after her parents’ divorce, she is less than thrilled to trade comic book shops for chicken coop–related chores. Knisley’s autobiographical comics chops are on full display in her first graphic novel for kids, a fictionalized telling of her childhood experiences.

  • Prairie Days

    Patricia MacLachlan, illus. by Micha Archer (S&S/McElderry)

    Elaborate sun-filled spreads by Archer illuminate Newbery Medalist MacLachlan’s farm-life memories, which unfold over one long day, beginning with an orange sun rising, ending with a yellow summer moon, and creating a sense of endless space and ample time. Childhoods as free as this one are not as common as they once were; borrowing MacLachlan’s is the next best thing.

  • The New American

    Micheline Aharonian Marcom (Simon & Schuster)

    Marcom’s powerful tale of refugees from Guatemala and Mexico making their way to the U.S. draws on her work with the New American Story Project. Emilio, a student at UC Berkeley, is deported to Guatemala, where he doesn’t speak the indigenous language. Desperate to return home, he embarks on a treacherous trip with four other migrants. Marcom makes this a stirring, captivating adventure, from train hopping to an excruciating Sonora Desert crossing.

  • A Peculiar Peril (The Misadventures of Jonathan Lambshead #1)

    Jeff VanderMeer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    Adult author VanderMeer offers his first in a sprawling YA fantasy duology about an orphaned teen who, upon inheriting the family manor, discovers portals in the basement, one of which leads to an alternate version of Earth where a magical dictator, Aleister Crowley, is on a rampage.

  • A Royal Affair

    Allison Montclair (Minotaur)

    In 1946 London, former British intelligence operative Iris Sparks and her partner, Gwen Bainbridge, in the Right Sort of Marriage Bureau get a sensitive assignment: vetting Prince Philip as a potential mate for the future Elizabeth II. This is a must for fans of Netflix’s The Crown.

  • The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers

    Emily Levesque (Sourcebooks)

    Levesque recounts her life in astronomy and leads readers on a pilgrimage to observatories throughout the world. Adding a lively Indiana Jones vibe, she recalls how, for her and others, this career has led to close calls with lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, tarantulas, and scorpions.

  • Florida Man

    Tom Cooper (Random House)

    Our reviewer told me this reads like a movie, and I’m ready for something that will hold my attention as long as Tiger King did. Cooper’s action-packed, colorful Southern noir follows the vicissitudes of middle-aged Reed Crowe, owner of a fading down-market theme park and motel on the Gulf Coast in the 1980s, in Reed’s possession thanks to a cache of drugs he found in the ’60s as a teenager. Along the way, Cooper seeks the answers to two questions essential to life and the art of fiction: What if? And now what? —David Varno, reviews editor

  • We Dream of Space

    Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow)

    Newbery Award winner Kelly follows three siblings in the weeks leading up to the Challenger’s January 1986 launch, showing the incredible power of words—the irreparable damage they inflict and their ability to uplift—while crafting a captivating story about a family in crisis.

  • You Matter

    Christian Robinson (Atheneum)

    Under Caldecott Honoree Robinson’s broad gaze, everything in the cosmos has a part to play. Whether a massive asteroid blazing Earthward, the planet spinning in space, ants dining on crumbs, or a child gazing at an antlike cityscape below: “You matter.” By seeing all life as intertwined—ancient and new, minuscule and gargantuan, “The first to go and the last./ The small stuff too small to see”—Robinson represents life as both interconnected and precious. It’s a profound thought expressed with singular focus and eloquence.

  • The New Wilderness

    Diane Cook (Harper)

    Cook imagines a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness. Among the volunteers, Glen and Bea learn to eke out a precarious existence with Bea’s daughter in tow, while navigating strict rules enforced by rangers. Bea’s uncompromising survival instincts make her an indispensable travel companion, and so does Cook’s wry, irreverent humor.

  • Parachutes

    Kelly Yang (HarperCollins/Tegen)

    When Filipina American Dani’s mom rents out their spare room to an international student from Shanghai who is used to a life of luxury, the girls’ lives become twined, even as they chafe at the other’s socioeconomic misunderstandings. In her YA debut, Yang draws from headlines and personal experience to tell a contemporary story of class discrepancy, the pervasiveness of rape culture, and the Asian diaspora.

  • Self Care

    Leigh Stein (Penguin)

    In this sharp satire of wellness culture gone toxic, a Goop-like lifestyle company called Richual seeks to “catalyze women to be global changemakers through the simple act of self-care.” Maren, who got her start working for a nonprofit feminist organization, ensures Richual runs “like a well-moisturized machine.” That machine hits a rough patch after a male investor is accused of sexual misconduct. The plot flies by, but the real appeal lies in Stein’s merciless skewering of startup culture.

  • The Shooting at Château Rock: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel

    Martin Walker (Knopf)

    Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, the chief of police of St. Denis, France, looks into the suspicious death of a sheep farmer. He also helps prepare meals and considers breeding his pedigree hunting dog. Francophiles will relish the evocative descriptions of the Périgord region and its cuisine.

  • Flyaway

    Kathleen Jennings (

    For a delicious break from reality, look no further than Jennings’s immersive, bite-size debut, an eerie fairy tale set in rural Australia about a 19-year-old girl’s investigation into the disappearance of her two older brothers. Delightful snippets of the strange folk tales she grew up with weave through her search for her family, slowly blurring the line between the real and the fantastic. Jennings’s lyrical, dreamlike prose pulled me in from the very first page. —Phoebe Cramer, associate reviews editor

  • Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood

    Margot Mifflin (Counterpoint)

    Mifflin portrays the Miss America pageant as “an inadvertent index of feminist progress” in this witty and surprising history packed with highs (audience members cheering 1945 winner Bess Myerson—still the only Jewish woman to hold the crown—weeks after the end of WWII) and lows (Miss Montana Kathy Huppe resigning her title in 1970 after being told to muzzle her antiwar views). Readers will never view this “rhinestone relic” the same way again.

  • The Imperfects

    Amy Meyerson (Park Row)

    For summer fun, or Covid-19 self-isolation, I recommend this comic novel that brings together a train wreck of a family, the Holocaust, and a brooch with a 137-carat diamond found behind the dresser of a grandmother, Helen, after her death. The thing is, Helen didn’t live like she had squirreled away Hapsburg jewelry. To cash it in, the grandchildren and their mother have to work together to find out how she came to own it. —Judith Rosen, contributing editor

  • The Suicide House

    Charlie Donlea (Kensington)

    Two students from a prestigious Indiana prep school are murdered at a nearby secret hangout, an abandoned house in the woods. A year later, after a teacher was convicted of the crimes, students are going to the house and killing themselves. Why? Forensic reconstructionist Rory Moore and her psychologist partner, Lane Phillips, investigate in this chiller that’s perfect for fans of Donna Tartt.

  • Love in the Blitz: The Long-Lost Letters of a Brilliant Young Woman to Her Beloved on the Front

    Edited by David McGowan and David Crane (Harper)

    History and romance fans will relish this collection of WWII-era letters from a young British civil servant to her RAF pilot fiancé, which show how the couple overcame the Blitz, the privations of daily wartime life, and parental opposition to arrive at their happy ending.

  • Skyland

    Andrew Durbin (Nightboat)

    In Durbin’s lush, languid novella, a writer flies to Greece with a friend to track down a painting of French writer Herve Guibert, who died of AIDS in 1991. The narrator romanticizes Guibert, who wrote his masterpiece in a fevered state. On the beach at Patmos, the duo enjoys the sun, the beach, and the scantily clad young men. Durbin’s dreamy, sensual odyssey will have readers longing for the days when it was okay to get close to strangers.

  • The Last Great Road Bum

    Héctor Tobar (MCD)

    Tobar takes readers on a tumultuous travelogue through 20th-century history, a fitting literary journey for summer 2020. The novel follows the real-life story of Joe Sanderson, an aspiring writer who chased revolutions from Vietnam to El Salvador. Tobar seamlessly blends real newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries with fiction. I read this beautiful book while sheltered in place, and the stability of Sanderson’s 1960s middle-class white Midwestern childhood felt distant and exotic. —Jason Boog, West coast correspondent

  • The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist

    Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)

    If you collect grudges as a hobby, welcome to the club, and to the joys of this transportingly funny memoir by Eisner Award–winner Tomine (Killing and Dying), who relays and rues affronts and awkward encounters from his past couple decades as one of indie-comics’ favorite shy-boy cartoonists. The book is full of juicy comics scene cameos, but it’s the vulnerable turn Tomine takes when a medical scare grants fresh perspective that truly got me. —Meg Lemke, comic reviews editor

  • No Room at the Morgue

    Jean-Patrick Manchette, trans rom the French. by Alyson Waters (New York Review Books)

    I recently read A Long Way Off by Paul Garnier (1949–2010). Its bleak, darkly comic story put me in the mood for more French noir. This short novel from Manchette (1942–1995), about a Paris private eye who can’t resist helping a beautiful woman who arrives in his office with blood on her hands, looks like just the ticket. —Peter Cannon, senior editor

  • On Time and Water

    Andri Snær Magnason (Open Letter)

    Icelandic writer Magnason gave me a tour of Reykjavik exclusively featuring buildings abandoned after the 2008 financial crash. He’s a great guide of lost worlds: witty, irreverent and insightful. The same goes in this book, already a global bestseller, which began as an obituary for the melting Okjökull glacier and builds into a lament for our ruined future and a prayer that we may yet forge a different path. —Ed Nawotka, bookselling and international editor

  • On Ajayi Crowther Street

    Elnathan John and Àlàbá Ònájìn (Cassava Republic)

    This scathing satirical portrait of the family and friends of a conniving Christian minister in contemporary Lagos, Nigeria, offers keen social insight in a wickedly funny, irresistibly readable graphic novel that examines the social fault lines of middle-class urban Nigerian society. While the demented pastor is hiring men to fake being cured of being gay by religious conversion, his own children are desperately hiding their own true sexuality, and he’s also secretly preying on a young female domestic in his own house. It’s a vividly illustrated exposé of social hypocrisy, vicious homophobia, and sexual assault in contemporary Nigeria. —Calvin Reid, senior news editor

  • The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: And Other Excursions to Iceland’s Most Unusual Museums

    A. Kendra Greene (Penguin)

    Taking readers on a one-of-a-kind journey, Greene introduces some of Iceland’s, if not the world’s, most unusual museums. Sites visited during her thoughtful and amusing travelogue include the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, the Icelandic Phallological Museum, and the tiny town of Skógar, home to only 21 people and the country’s second-largest museum.

  • Slum Virgin

    Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, trans. from the Spanish by Frances Riddle (Charco)

    Cabezón Cámara’s stunning tour de force follows Quity, a down-and-out Argentinean journalist who hopes to salvage her career by profiling Cleo, a trans ex-prostitute known for her visions of the Virgin Mary. The propulsive narrative is filled with humor, danger, and romance as Quity and Cleo navigate the hardscrabble Buenos Aires slum of El Poso and fall in love.

  • One Step Ahead

    David Sally (St. Martin’s)

    Applying psychology and game theory to negotiation might seem like a dry exercise, but this is anything but. Behavioral economist Sally updates negotiation tactics made famous in Machiavelli’s The Prince and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People for the 21st century. He takes readers into the board rooms of Bain & Co., the cozy back room of secret IRA liaison Brendan Dunny’s fish-and-chips shop, and the Beirut apartments where UN diplomat Gianni Picco used “divergent creative thinking” to free eight hostages. Want to confuse your counterpart? Play the part of the bumpkin Hayseed, the bumbling Inept, or the erratic Kramer. Sally’s clever book demonstrates how to “bring the gift of the psychologist synchronously to the task of the prophet” to get what you want. —Seth Satterlee, reviews editor

  • The Son of Good Fortune

    Lysley Tenorio (Ecco)

    In Tenorio’s sly, empathetic tale, 19-year-old Excel, an undocumented Filipino immigrant, reluctantly returns home to Colma, Calif., from Hello City, where he’s $10,000 in debt and drawing potential heat from the feds. At home, he returns to a dismal pizza job and eventually seeks help from his mother, Maxima, a former action star who gets by running online scams. Perfectly paced and with unforgettable characters, this is the kind of book readers will wish would never end.

  • Ripped from the Headlines! The Shocking True Stories Behind the Movies’ Most Memorable Crimes

    Harold Schechter (Little A)

    In 40 incisive essays, Schechter details the real-life inspirations for such classic crime films as Arsenic and Old Lace, Dirty Harry, The Fugitive, Murder on the Orient Express, and Psycho. This is a must-have for true crime and movie trivia fans.

  • One True King

    Soman Chainani (HarperCollins)

    This is the last book in the sequel trilogy to the School for Good and Evil series. Whew, that’s a mouthful. The books play with fairy tale tropes in such a wonderfully unexpected way that I was beyond thrilled when Chainani announced a follow-up trilogy to the original three books. The world is so richly imagined with characters that you can simultaneously root for and against. I cannot wait to see what’s in store for the finale. —Drucilla Shultz, bookroom editor

  • The Vanishing Half

    Brit Bennett (Riverhead)

    In the Jim Crow 1950s, twins Desiree and Stella Vignes long to escape their town of Mallard, La., where their father was lynched. As teens, they flee to New Orleans, and then Stella disappears. Eventually, the twins reunite, reckoning with the decisions that have shaped their lives. Bennett explores her characters’ struggles with great compassion, following Stella through her decision to pass as white as characters’ story lines satisfyingly diverge and intersect through the generations.

  • The Paris Hours

    Alex George (Flatiron)

    This elegiac novel, set in my beloved Paris between the world wars, suits my current mood: the four main characters, living their lives in the shadow of celebrated artists and writers, are each desperate to recover something—or somebody—they have lost. It’s a lovely story about the essentialness of human connection, making this the perfect read when forced to practice social distancing. —Claire Kirch, Midwest correspondent

  • When These Mountains Burn

    David Joy (Putnam)

    Joy’s North Carolina noir takes readers on a white-knuckle ride through an opioid- and wildfire-ravaged region of the Smoky Mountains. In 2016, with the Tellico fire smoldering in the background, a retired forester gets a nightmarish phone call. He must pay his pill-addicted son’s debt to a pusher in Cherokee country, or else he’ll be killed. The hardboiled prose crackles as the story becomes an unforgettable tale of father and son.

  • Red Ants

    Pergentino José, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead (Deep Vellum)

    José is a rising star in Mexican literature, and this collection of short fiction, which examines indigenous life in the U.S.’s southern neighbor through the lens of a contemporary magic realism, should only further his acclaim. Veteran Spanish translator Bunstead, who adds translating from Sierra Zapotec to his résumé (and to the English-language book market for the first time), takes José’s clean, punchy lines and makes them sing—and stick with you. —John Maher, news and digital editor

  • Utopia Avenue

    David Mitchell (Random House)

    For some people—*raises hand*—the words “new David Mitchell novel” are recommendation enough. (Bonus: obvious and less-so connections to the Mitchell multiverse.) For everyone else: enviably assured dialogue, immersive scene-setting, precise wit, and disarmingly human characters will convince you that in late 1960s London, a bright-shining psychedelic-folk-rock band named Utopia Avenue really did (figuratively and often literally) seduce the bell-bottomed trousers off its eager fans. And you’ll count yourself among them. —Carolyn Juris, features editor

  • The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice

    David Hill (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    Who doesn’t enjoy a good mob war? Or a tale of a down-on-her-luck gambler holding out for one more hot hand? Or the rags-to-riches story of a poor kid who grows up to become one of the most powerful men in his town? Hot Springs, Ark., native Hill delivers all that and much more in this cinematic history of his hometown’s star turn as “perhaps the most sinful little city in the world.” —Dave Adams, reviews editor

  • When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse

    Chuck DeGroat (IVP)

    DeGroat, a licensed therapist and professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary, unveils the hidden vice behind many church structures and leadership that has made the modern Christian church a breeding ground for abuse and cover-ups. This is a fascinating and eye-opening read. —Marian Amo, digital editorial coordinator

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