The only mention of the pandemic in this little intro is in this sentence, and it's only in service of saying, well, let's not. Travel is back big time, and so is the classic dilemma of deciding which book or books to take along with you, whether you're headed to the beach for the day, the woods for a weekend, or across the ocean for as long as you can. That's where we come in, with picks from our staff experts for readers of all ages and interests. Our editors sifted and sorted through the titles hitting shelves from April to August and landed on these can’t-miss selections to jumpstart your season. So, get that trip booked and bookmark this page. We've got a lot of summer ahead. Happy reading! —Jonathan Segura, executive editor
Chuck Tingle (Nightfire)
Like most people who spend too much time on Twitter, I know Tingle as the author of such out-there and oft meme-ified queer erotica titles as Trans Wizard Harriet Porber and the Bad Boy Parasaurolophus and Space Raptor Butt Invasion, but his first traditionally published work promises to take a more somber tone: it’s a horror novel set at a gay conversion therapy camp. I couldn’t be more excited to see how it plays out. —Phoebe Cramer, reviews editor
The He-Man Effect: How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood
Brian “Box” Brown (First Second)
Ignatz Award winner Brown returns with another cultural history told via wry comics, this time taking on the wave of nostalgia for the 1980s, when Reagan-era deregulation opened up marketing to minors, and TV shows scripted to sell ushered in childhood-as-consumerism along with GI Joe and My Little Ponies. Get the kids out to run around and read up.
Deborah Levy (FSG)
A summer haze permeates this beguiling story of a woman and her double. While visiting Athens, Greece, Elsa sees someone who looks exactly like her, then proceeds to spot her around town and eventually across Europe into France. Along the way, she swims in the Mediterranean, loses herself in crowds, and stumbles into erotic encounters as her sense of self becomes more permeable. In Levy’s hands, this ontological mystery is a sensual delight.
Lilliam Rivera (Kokila)
While trying to achieve her dream of one day joining the L.A. Mermaids, a synchronized swimming team, middle schooler Nat must overcome challenges stemming from others’ anti-fat bias, her parents’ disapproval, and her own intense feelings. Rivera’s love letter to passionate girls empathetically centers—without judgment—a protagonist who is often disparaged for her body type and frequent emotional outbursts, resulting in an uplifting interrogation of being oneself and supporting others.
All the Sinners Bleed
S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)
Cosby’s latest Southern noir sees a Black sheriff’s homecoming complicated by a grisly school shooting and the subsequent discovery of a serial killer. What could be lurid is rendered moving—even lyrical—in Cosby’s hands, and he nicely balances psychological depth with brisk, page-turning pacing. This is a gritty, timely thriller that sticks in the head and never entertains at the expense of enlightening (or vice versa).
The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths
Brad Fox (Astra House)
This fascinating history begins in 1930, with two men climbing into a four-and-a-half-foot steel ball and being lowered 1,000 feet beneath the surface of the ocean. From there, the adventures of naturalist William Beebe, engineer Otis Barton, and biologist Gloria Hollister, who recorded Beebe’s observations via telephone line, only get more surreal and breathtaking. Per PW’s starred review, this “original and often profound” chronicle is “a moving testament to the wonders of exploration.”
Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown)
Harrison’s empowering ode to self-love begins with a smiling baby who has a “big laugh and a big heart/ and very big dreams.” Through a series of emotionally driven digital images set against dreamy pastel-hued backdrops, the happy, bouncing infant grows into a girl who, when faced with cruelty about her size, reminds herself that “she was good.” Throughout, deceptively simple text emphasizes the self-affirming message that it’s okay to take up space.
It Happened One Fight
Maureen Lee Lenker (Sourcebooks Casablanca)
Lenker’s debut pays homage to the screwball comedies of yore. In the golden age of Hollywood, starlet Joan Davis is determined to make a name for herself independently of her frequent costar and perennial annoyance, Dash Howard. But when an on-set prank leaves these sparring hearts accidentally married, their on-screen chemistry blossoms into real-life love. This should be a treat for film buffs and enemies-to-lovers fans alike.
Rebecca Yarros (Red Tower)
The addictive romantic fantasy that launches Yarros’s Empyrean series takes readers inside an elite and brutal war college for aspiring dragon riders. Physically delicate Violet makes an unlikely cadet, and she’s got a target on her back thanks to the crimes of her mother, but as she undergoes dangerous trials and wins over prickly classmates, she comes into her power. Combining thrilling action sequences with sizzling romance, this proves un-put-downable.
Terry J. Benton-Walker (Tor Teen)
This scintillating debut follows the Trudeau twins, members of a once-powerful magical New Orleans family, as they endeavor to uncover the truth behind an ancestor’s tragic past. Steeped in spiritual lore that takes cues from the rich cultural history of the Black diaspora, Walker parallels contemporary politics with an alternate magical history to create a layered world that is more than the sum of its mercurial characters and its many moving parts.
Gone to the Wolves
John Wray (FSG)
I’m not a metalhead exactly—I grew up on punk—but I do listen to metal, so when I heard about the latest from Wray, a deep dive into the death metal scene of the late 1980s, my interest was piqued. The author fully commits to the world of his characters and pulls off a rowdy and moving story of friendship. It’s an ace of spades. —David Varno, reviews editor
Tracy Butler (Iron Circus)
Hijinks aplenty go down at Mitzi May’s 1927 speakeasy, though not always as easily as the bootleg liquor. The venue is hidden under a café in St. Louis, and, by the way, the matron and all the patrons are cats. Butler’s hit webcomic crawling with feline flappers and mouser mobsters promises wily escapism into a historically detailed and profoundly weird world, with dynamic art and nonstop mayhem purring along.
Back to the Dirt
Frank Bill (FSG Originals)
A dispassionate account of combat in the Vietnam War drives the opening pages of this Southern noir, the narrator channeling Martin Sheen’s monologue in Apocalypse Now and instantly reminding readers of the Saigon swelter. Bill then takes readers to turn-of-the-21st-century Appalachia, where his veteran protagonist floats along on booze and steroids. The gripping plot hinges on loyalty and revenge, and comes with a gnarly body count. PW’s review called it “one hell of a ride.”
The Bawk-ness Monster
Sara Goetter and Natalie Riess (First Second)
In this riotous graphic novel series opener by Goetter and Riess, middle schooler Penny and her friends search for the Bawk-ness Monster, a half-sea-serpent, half-chicken that Penny claims once saved her from drowning. Psychedelically saturated full-color illustrations, which overflow with energetic movement and monster-hunting shenanigans, depict earnest dialogue and heartfelt friendships, while the madcap premise, which boasts evil scientist intrigue and an expanding cryptid encyclopedia, sets the stage for subsequent volumes.
Beware the Woman
Megan Abbott (Putnam)
Edgar winner Abbott returns for this breathless dive into desire and gender politics. At first, pregnant Jacy feels pampered by a summer road trip to visit her father-in-law, but things shift when she has a miscarriage scare and her husband aligns with his father’s old-school notions about women and pregnancy. Jacy starts to feel like a prisoner at her husband’s family estate, and Abbott manipulates the sense of menace like a virtuoso violinist.
Beautiful Trauma: An Explosion, an Obsession, and a New Lease on Life
Rebecca Fogg (Avery)
After a freak accident left Fogg with a partially amputated hand in 2006, she developed a powerful fascination with the science of recovery; here she weaves the moving account of her emotional recovery with deep dives into nerve regeneration and pain processing, making for a memoir that’s edifying and hard to look away from.
Juana Medina (Candlewick)
Elena, the enthusiastic purple elephant star of this on-the-move early reader, strives to polish her cycling skills. Rhythmic couplets and plenty of action verbs reveal with verve what happens as Elena takes off, tongue sticking out—and meets the first of several disasters. Across boldly rendered scenes of action, drama, and eventually victory, Medina captures substantial emotional highs and lows, making for an inspiring tale of persistence that’s just right for anyone tackling a learning curve.
Same Time Next Summer
Annabel Monaghan (Putnam)
Exes get a second chance at summer love in this beachy and emotional romance. Wyatt Pope broke Sam Holloway’s heart as a teenager and she’s been protecting herself by making safe, sensible choices ever since. When the pair are reunited as adults, however, Wyatt, now a rock star, reawakens Sam’s free spirit. Monaghan captures both the giddy feeling of falling in love and the laid-back enjoyment of summer on the coast.
Chloe Gong (Saga)
Bestselling YA author Gong’s adult debut puts a high-octane fantasy twist on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. In her take, the star-crossed lovers come together while competing in gladiatorial games made more treacherous by Gong’s inventive magic system: the characters can jump between bodies at will. The resulting twisty page-turner should win Gong a legion of new fans.
Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray)
While visiting her college-age best friend Lili, high school senior Imogen Scott—the self-described “token straight, world’s best ally”—learns that Lili claimed she and Imogen used to date. The admittance prompts confusing feelings in Imogen, especially when she starts falling for another girl. Employing wryly funny and endearingly insightful prose, Albertalli crafts a striking portrait of one teenager’s experience navigating the fluidity of sexuality and the sometimes overwhelming fear of reinventing oneself.
I Felt the End Before It Came: Memoirs of a Queer Ex-Jehovah’s Witness
Daniel Allen Cox (Viking Canada)
At the start of his memoir-in-essays, Cox abandons his childhood faith with a “breakup letter to Jehovah”—and the rest proves no less odd and fascinating, as he negotiates his queer identity in New York, witnesses a world swept up in Y2K hysteria, and wrestles fears about becoming a writer given the anti-intellectualism of his religious upbringing. This is sometimes bizarre, sometimes lyrical, and always mesmerizing. —Miriam Grossman, associate reviews editor
The Last Count of Monte Cristo
Ayize Jama-Everett and Tristan Roach (Megascope)
This Afrofuturist adaptation of Dumas’s classic revenge tale “feels big-screen ready,” per PW’s starred review. The high drama features imprisoned seaman Quabbinah Dantes, who crafts a cunning plot to escape imprisonment and outdo and outwit those who betrayed him. The familiar plot is reset against a techie apocalyptic landscape done up with dayglo coloring. Acrobatic artistic sequences keep the story fresh even for a tale told many times—but never quite like this.
T.C. Boyle (Liveright)
Climate fiction is usually pretty sobering, so leave it to Boyle to make it great fun. The irony begins with the title—think Willie Nelson crooning as the world burns. The story involves a bicoastal family making their best effort to reunite after weather and wildfires quash a California wedding. Florida, where devastating floods reduce people to rowing around in boats, is no safer. This one’s best read from the comfort of a sturdy beach chair.
Ellie Engle Saves Herself
Leah Johnson (Disney-Hyperion)
After middle schooler Ellie Engle somehow brings her dead pet fish back to life, she struggles to balance her developing superpowers and romantic feelings for her best friend in this series starter. Tackling themes surrounding the pains of growing up—changing bodies, shifting bonds, early crushes, and defining oneself on one’s own terms—Johnson warmly renders a speculative, necromancy-oriented origin story with a contemporary arc about a girl learning to believe that she’s anything but ordinary.
A Most Agreeable Murder
Julia Seales (Random House)
Screenwriter Seales’s outstanding debut marries Jane Austen pastiche and locked-room mystery for a sharp, wildly entertaining whodunit. It’s the early 19th century, and 25-year-old Beatrice Steele harbors a frightful secret: she loves to solve crimes. When a wealthy bachelor turns up dead at the local ball, Beatrice teams up with private detective Vivek Drake to ferret out the murderer. The intricate plot races along at a sprightly pace, and Seales delights with sharp humor and accomplished narrative control.
Don’t Call Me Home
Alexandra Auder (Viking)
This enthralling debut from actor and performance artist Auder recounts her childhood living in the Chelsea Hotel with her mother, Andy Warhol superstar Viva, and sister, actor Gaby Hoffmann. At times, the author’s love for her mother “burned the inside of my chest,” and at others, she longed to “hit her over the head with a cast-iron frying pan.” Funny, bracing, and compulsively readable, Auder’s memoir resists juicy gossip in favor of hard-won truths.
Oh No, the Aunts Are Here
Adam Rex, illus. by Lian Cho (Chronicle)
Via a quartet of unconditionally, relentlessly loving aunts, Rex and Cho breathe new life into a staple of kid humor: the oblivious-to-personal-space older relative. Exasperatedly observed second-person text and kinetic art show the aunts swarming their beloved nibling, kitted out with fanny packs, lip balm, and sun visors. As their visit turns fantastical, they prove that they’re good people to have on one’s side in this high-spirited, high-comedy portrait of intrusive, effusive loved ones.
To Have and to Heist
Sara Desai (Berkley)
In this fun rom-com caper, a crew of debt-ridden millennial gig workers attempt a diamond heist, led by smart, scrappy Simi and mysterious thief Jack. Desai mines her kooky cast’s contrasting personalities for laughs and keeps the pages flying with criminal hijinks and simmering romantic tension. It’s the perfect balance of swoonworthy moments and cinematic action.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey)
A new book from Moreno-Garcia is sure to get genre readers buzzing. In 1990s Mexico, best friends Montserrat, a film audio editor, and Tristán, an actor, team up with struggling director Abel to produce a screenplay written by a Nazi occultist that’s rumored to grant good luck to whoever finishes the film—but their efforts go horrifically awry. Our starred review called it “a powerful and chilling thrill ride.”
The Last Girls Standing
Jennifer Dugan (Putnam)
Sloan and Cherry have been inseparable ever since they became the sole survivors of a summer camp massacre perpetrated by masked, machete-wielding assailants—until new evidence emerges, prompting Sloan to question their entire relationship. Ominous motives, misremembered events, and emotional manipulation abound as Sloan works to uncover the truth. This enthralling departure from Dugan is a solid addition to the camp horror genre, boasting urgent mystery and queer romance alongside its psychological thriller foundation.
Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story
Julia Wertz (Black Dog & Leventhal)
I’m a full-on Wertz fangirl, so I have been eagerly anticipating this newest graphic memoir from the caustic New Yorker cartoonist, which follows her winding recovery from alcohol addiction. These comics are hilarious, and sad and raw—she draws her antics like a jovial comics enfant terrible, but what wins you over is Wertz’s vulnerability. This is poised for a breakout readership; and will delight fellow devotees who’ve cringed at her cartoons since her webcomics days. —Meg Lemke, reviews editor
The Last Gay Man on Earth
Ype Driessen, trans. by Lenny Kouwenberg (Street Noise)
Ype’s boyfriend wants him to take a vacation—but what if he’s too afraid to get on the plane? This relationship squabble grows extra campy and surreal, and even the robot vacuum cleaner has an opinion as the spat spirals into an existential crisis. In a kind of comics-as-selfies experiment, Driessen’s elaborate fotonovela style presents scenes pose by pose, staged with real-life snapshots dotted over by word balloons. How it all goes is, well, up in the air—and for comics fans bored with the usual, it’s certainly something different.
Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
Literary titan Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle is one of the best New York novels in recent memory, one of those books one doesn’t want to end, so it’s a real treat to have a sequel. Crook Manifesto picks up with Harlem fence Ray Carney and hard man Pepper as they deal with countercultural upheaval and urban blight in the 1970s, when Art’s resolve to go straight is once again put on hold.
The Eyes and the Impossible
Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris (Knopf and McSweeney's)
High-spirited narrator Johannes—an “unkept and free” dog entrusted by three penned Bison to be the “Eyes” of the park where they all live—proves an ebullient braggart, a faithful and intrepid operative, and a drolly humorous reporter in this exuberant illustrated novel. Harris contributes illustrations of Johannes amid full-page classical art reproductions, while Eggers crafts a rousing tale of community, joyful self-reliance, and the pleasures of running very, very fast.
The Paris Mystery
Kirsty Manning (Vintage)
Manning launches a new mystery series starring intrepid reporter Charlie James, who faces off against professional sexism and a cold-blooded killer in late-1930s Europe. After a circus party ends in death, Manning embarks on a serpentine investigation that takes her through swinging Paris at its hedonistic peak. Readers will be intrigued to see what happens when an author known for mastery of historical detail dabbles in straight-up genre fare.
Edison’s Ghosts: The Untold Weirdness of History’s Greatest Geniuses
Katie Spalding (Little, Brown)
Mathematician Spalding’s delightful survey mixes knee-slapping humor and meticulous research to showcase a diverse cast of historical luminaries at their most idiotic. From Thomas Edison’s belief he could telephone the spirit world to Albert Einstein’s bumbling maritime mishaps, readers will learn a lesson perfectly suited to the dog days of summer—being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Schadenfreude never tasted so sweet.
Summer Is for Cousins
Rajani LaRocca, illus. by Abhi Alwar (Abrams)
Three generations of family gather in a water-adjacent home to enjoy summer in this lively portrait of intergenerational companionship, love, and connection that's vividly told by LaRocca. Alwar’s expressive, uniquely rendered character designs skillfully portray the expansive brood, while spreads crammed with activity (cousins pile out of cars and descend upon a local ice cream stand) convey the warmth and coziness of a bustling family vacation.
We Could Be So Good
Cat Sebastian (Avon)
Set in a 1950s newsroom, this gay romantic drama follows a hardworking reporter who strikes up first an unlikely friendship and then a forbidden romance with his boss’s hapless son. Sebastian’s first book since finishing her London Highwaymen duology promises lush historical scene setting, cozy domesticity, and big romantic feels.
Some Desperate Glory
Emily Tesh (Tor)
Tesh’s sweeping space opera epic follows Valkyr, a human woman raised in a fascistic cult that brainwashed her to believe the alien majoda race are inherently evil. After she leaves home bent on exterminating the majoda, however, she’s forced to question her beliefs. The ensuing chronicle of Valkyr’s deradicalization “deserves a space on shelves alongside genre titans like Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler,” per PW’s starred review.
One of Us Is Back
Karen M. McManus (Delacorte)
Someone from the Bayview Crew’s past has resurfaced to finish what they started in this electrifying mystery, the third installment in McManus’s One of Us Is Lying series. The group is back together for the summer when they see a mysterious billboard that reads, “Time for a new game, Bayview.” History seems destined to repeat itself in this highly anticipated, harrowing thrill ride for fans and newcomers alike.
Tobi Ogundiran (Undertow Publications)
Alive with witches, griots, restless spirits, and an unfailing capacity for surprise, Ogundiran’s superb weird-fantasy fictions have in recent years dazzled readers of FIYAH, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other speculative lit mags and anthologies open to the unexpected. The Nigerian-born physician’s debut collection features the best of these, including the marvelous “The Tale of Jaja and Canti,” an unforgettable story of a construct, a quest, a mother, and much urgent, mythic feeling. —Alan Scherstuhl, BookLife reviews editor
The Devil of the Provinces
Juan Cárdenas, trans. from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis (Coffee House)
There’s a brain-melting surreality to Cárdenas’s slim existential crime novel, set in a stifling and provincial Colombian city. A biologist returns there after 15 years abroad, down on his luck and happy to work for peanuts at a boarding school. But after his students start to go missing and questions persist about his golden boy brother’s long-ago unsolved murder, the protagonist ends up in over his head.
The Manifestor Prophecy
Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray)
Twelve-year-old Nichole Blake, hoping to be trained in her inherited magical ability, learns the truth about her family and the fantasy books she loves in this action-packed kickoff to the Nic Blake and the Remarkables series, which is suffused with Thomas’s trademark voice. Rooted in a mixture of African diasporic myth, biblical references, and U.S. history, this elaborate supernatural read features brave and sweetly vulnerable characters with unflappable senses of humor, and boldly confronts fantasy tropes and questions of forgiveness.
The Lie Maker
Linwood Barclay (Morrow)
This riveting thriller centers on a washed-up writer’s search for his long-lost father. After a copyediting gig falls through, Jack Givins is approached by the U.S. Marshals to write backstories for people in witness protection. The position gives Givins the idea to contact his father, who entered the program when Givins was a child. When he discovers the authorities have lost track of his father since then, he runs blindly on his trail. Crafty plotting and rich characters make this a winner.
The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality
Andy Clark (Pantheon)
Cognitive philosophy professor Clark’s stimulating survey of the surprising ways the human brain misinterprets reality covers studies on how suggestion, prediction, and expectation can cause people to think they sense what isn’t there. This is chock-full of insights that reveal the world isn’t necessarily as it seems. Pop psychology fans could hardly ask for a better primer on the tricks the mind plays.
The Truth About Max
Alice and Martin Provensen (Enchanted Lion)
This jewel of a story, a never-before-published picture book by the late, Caldecott-winning Provensens, follows a rambunctious, “always hungry” tabby cat named Max, who previously appeared in Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm. Via an informal, sketchbook-like narrative and thin-lined ink drawings lightly washed in watercolor, Max’s life unfolds in vignettes that depict the maturing protagonist, detail his fraught interactions and “important tail,” and hint at his “real life”: heading solo into a moonlit night.
Zora Books Her Happily Ever After
Taj McCoy (Mira)
Bookstore owner Zora Dizon embarks on a relationship with her celebrity crush, mystery writer Lawrence Michaels, even as she develops feelings for his best friend in this adorable romp. McCoy makes the love triangle work by making both love interests equally viable, meanwhile bibliophile and aspiring amateur sleuth Zora proves a worthy heroine. Readers will have no trouble rooting for her to find true love.
The Surviving Sky
Kritika H. Rao (Titan)
On a semi-sentient temple city floating above an uninhabitable near-future Earth, Iravan, who can control plant life with his mind, and his estranged wife, Ahilya, a rebel, must work together to save their home from climate collapse. Rao’s gorgeous debut blends scientific concepts, botanical magic, and Hindu mysticism into an equally mind-bending and heart-pounding cli-fi adventure.
The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Deya Muniz (Little, Brown Ink)
When a dying lord’s fiercely independent daughter refuses to marry, he persuades her to live life disguised as a man to avoid social upheaval. Now known as Count Camembert, she chafes at her newly restrictive life until meeting and falling head-over-heels for Crown Princess Brie. In this delightfully illustrated graphic novel by Muniz, impeccable rom-com instincts, carefully balanced high stakes, and poppy full-color art combine to spin a sweet romance that interrogates duty, identity, and love.
To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse
Howard Fishman (Dutton)
Singer-songwriter Connie Converse, who disappeared in 1974 at age 50, languished in obscurity until a 2004 WNYC broadcast renewed interest in her singular music and her puzzling story. The promise of a comprehensive treatment of her life is tantalizing for fans such as myself who have had to make do with the biographical scraps that have so far come to light. I’m looking forward to getting some answers (and some new mysteries, no doubt) about one of music’s great enigmas. —Marc Greenawalt, reviews editor
Cecilia Rabess (Simon & Schuster)
Rabess hits the scene with one of those full-throated, fully realized debuts that everyone is sure to be talking about. It’s a mismatched romance involving a progressive Black woman and a contrarian white man who met in college her freshman year, when she was celebrating Obama’s election in 2008 and he wasn’t. They’re reacquainted after graduation, but when Trump begins his presidential run in 2015, a new rift opens between them.
Lisa Graff (Philomel)
McKinley O’Dair is excited to celebrate 1993 during her town’s annual Time Hop—a party thrown every June to commemorate a single year in history—until she finds herself transported to the real 1993. In this immersive, laugh-out-loud time-travel novel, Graff employs snarky, youthful prose and abundant nostalgic early 1990s callbacks to explore issues surrounding fate, destiny, and connection via one 12-year-old’s yearning to find a place—or time—where she truly belongs.
Dave Barry (Simon & Schuster)
Crime fiction doesn’t come much funnier than this Florida-set caper from Barry. Jesse Braddock has little hope for a better life until she stumbles on a cache of gold bars, supposedly a buried Confederate Army payroll shipment—but the treasure has already captured the interest of some ex-cons who plotted to find it during their time in prison. Barry keeps the comic suspense flowing at a sprightly pace. Carl Hiaasen fans, take note.
Flight Paths: How a Passionate and Quirky Group of Pioneering Scientists Solved the Mystery of Bird Migration
Rebecca Heisman (Harper)
Science writer Heisman demystifies bird migration in this stellar study. Birders will swoon over the detailed profiles of contemporary ornithologists, who are using genome sequencing, isotope analysis, and radar to shed light on where birds travel and how they know how to get there. Readers will want to keep their binoculars handy.
When You Can Swim
Jack Wong (Orchard)
Spanning numerous locales—including a local pool, a sandy beach, and a winding river—this immersive telling by Wong showcases myriad children encountering the joys of swimming. Each body of water is generously detailed in pastel and watercolor, while sinuous prose offers up emotive ambiance, for example describing a lake “pitch-dark from tree bark.” These scenes, and a final suspenseful sequence, personify the way that swimming can offer feelings of autonomy, connection, and freedom.
Rana Joon and the One and Only Now
Shideh Etaat (Atheneum)
In 1996 San Fernando Valley, Rana Joon enters a rap contest to honor a deceased friend while contending with familial conflict and her growing feelings for a girl in Etaat’s vivacious, lyrical debut. Abundant era-specific cultural and musical references recall a bombastic summer block party, imbuing the narrative with a nostalgic vibe that expertly complements the heady seasonal setting, making for a lively and thought-provoking exploration of being one’s most authentic self.
The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight
Andrew Leland (Penguin Press)
I’ve been a fan of Leland’s since 2021, when I read his brilliant New York Times Magazine piece “Is There a Right Way to Act Blind?” Leland is, to my mind, part of a new vanguard of writers (among them Chloé Cooper Jones, who blurbed this book) who interrogate disability with refreshing intellectual rigor, and this book-length study of blindness masterfully melds histories both personal and cultural. —Sophia Stewart, news editor
Emma Cline (Random House)
A young woman named Alex cons her way through five days on Eastern Long Island in this dreamy and mischievous anti-beach novel. Like the hero of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” Alex drifts from one fancy house to the next, drawn to pools and surf and managing to convince strangers that she belongs among them. The farther Alex goes with her lies and self-delusion, the harder it is to look away.
Symphony of Secrets
Brendan Slocumb (Anchor)
Slocumb’s thought-provoking mystery centers on fictional early 20th-century composer Frederick Delaney. After one of Delaney’s long-lost operas is recovered, Bern Hendricks is called in to authenticate it, and learns his lily-white musical hero might have had a lot of help from a Black contemporary. This exploration of the ways race, power, and modern music intersect is a timely page-turner.
Elliot Page (Flatiron)
Page’s hotly anticipated debut pulls back the curtain on the trans actor’s 2007 Oscar campaign for Juno, during which he was pressured to present as a hot new Hollywood starlet. Page recounts the cognitive dissonance of feeling his dreams come true while being asked to suppress his emergent transness, and his subsequent path out of the closet. This is poised to be one of the season’s most discussed celebrity memoirs.
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder
David Grann (Doubleday)
Marooned on an island off the coast of Patagonia in 1741, crewmembers of the HMS Wager scavenged for shellfish, drank barrels of wine, and built cabins on the beach. Sounds like paradise? Not quite—they were starving, scurvy-ridden, and mutinous. Miraculously, two separate groups of survivors made it back to England—where they were court-martialed to determine which one was telling the truth about what happened. Brisk enough to read on a lazy summer afternoon, Grann’s swashbuckling saga will have you praising the lord for lounge chairs and mai tais. —David Adams, adult reviews director
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
James McBride (Riverhead)
McBride leaves the Brooklyn of Deacon King Kong for 1970s Pottstown, Pa., delving into a marginalized community of Jewish immigrants and Black people who close ranks after a mysterious skeleton is unearthed by a development project. As with McBride’s previous work, this one’s strength is in the vibrant characters. Here, they form bonds against outsiders who attempt to interfere in their lives.
Wendy Walker (Blackstone)
Walker’s penchant for buzzy, acclaimed thrillers bodes well for her latest yarn about a cold case detective saddled with an unwanted admirer after she’s caught up in a department store tragedy. Detective Elie Sutton saves one man’s life by killing another, and slowly learns that the survivor isn’t at all who he says he is.
The Power of Language: How the Codes We Use to Think, Speak, and Live Transform Our Minds
Viorica Marian (Dutton)
Marian makes a rousing argument for multilingualism and its ability to sharpen executive functioning and boost creativity, among other benefits. Herself a trilingual, Marian exposes the “myth” of the “critical period” of childhood language learning, shows how multilingualism can promote cross-cultural understanding, and makes a convincing case that picking up a second (or third, or fourth) language can be enjoyable instead of intimidating.
Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club
J. Ryan Stradal (Penguin/Dorman)
Stradal’s novels set in Minnesota always resonate with this Minnesotan. There’s a strong sense of place, quirky characters who remind me of people I know, and dives into regional peculiarities like supper clubs. While Stradal’s voice is firmly an Upper Midwestern one, he explores universal themes: love, loss, regrets for one’s past mistakes, and longings for what might have been— plus, of course, the importance of family. —Claire Kirch, Midwest correspondent
The Humble Lover
Edmund White (Bloomsbury)
A May-December romance disrupts the life of elderly Aldwych West, leaving him aching with desire for his fickle and promiscuous lover, August Dupond. The sizzling romp revolves around New York City’s ballet world, of which Aldwych is a patron and August is an up-and-coming performer. White confidently invites readers into this rarified world, and into that of BDSM, but the greatest pain is in Aldwych’s heart.
Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy
Colin Dickey (Viking)
Dickey’s previous books delved into Americans’ obsessions with haunted houses, UFOs, aliens, and more. His latest tackles a scarier subject: the fear that “secret groups are conspiring to pervert the will of the people and the rule of law.” Tracing this idea through history from the Salem witch trials to QAnon, Dickey contends that paranoia is baked into America’s democratic institutions. It promises to be an entertaining, elucidating, and disturbing trip off the beaten path.
Sing Her Down
Ivy Pochoda (MCD)
Since 2013’s Visitation Street, Pochoda’s gotten better with every book. I don’t know what she’s got up her sleeve for the next one, but it’s going to be tough to top this full-blooded western noir about two women who break out of prison during the pandemic and the detective on their tail. This thing goes big and loud and makes no apologies. —Jonathan Segura, executive editor
The Late Americans
Brandon Taylor (Riverhead)
Friends and lovers navigate fraught relationships, class differences, and personal frustrations as their grad school programs wind down in Iowa City. Taylor perfectly captures that bittersweet feeling in a student’s life of summer’s approach, when all things must come to an end. Along the way, he writes freely and irresistibly of sex and interpersonal drama.
Unlikable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate
Anna Bogutskaya (Sourcebooks)
This colorful tour of the pop culture canon serves up smart analysis of women characters who have upended the strictures of traditional femininity. Bogutskaya consistently entertains as she considers what audience reception to Mean Girls’ Regina George, Breaking Bad’s Skyler White, and Fleabag’s eponymous protagonist suggest about power and representation in the entertainment business, making this a whip-smart companion for summer TV binges.
Tania James (Knopf)
James, who once published a short story in which Indiana Jones defensively fields questions from South Asian people about ancient relics from India, brings a keen sense of adventure and cinematic drive to her writing. This one’s about a 19th-century mechanical tiger and its creator’s determination to reclaim it from a British museum. Not only is the novel terrifically entertaining, it also has a lot to say about the ownership of art.
Esmeralda Santiago (Knopf)
Santiago combines a sweeping look at the Puerto Rican diaspora with an intimate family story, shifting between Luz’s life as a teen in Puerto Rico in the 1970s and the Bronx in 2017, when her daughter longs to learn more about her past. The pair travels with two of Luz’s old friends to San Juan during hurricane season, where, amid Maria’s catastrophic destruction, they learn more about their heritage than they’d bargained for.