It’s curious, isn’t it, how “summer reading” became a thing? Winter, with its dark afternoons and rainy weekends, seems much more suited to curling up in an armchair with a book. Perhaps it dates from childhood, when summer stretched out before us as a chance to luxuriate in books (that is, for indoorsy kids like me) until school started again. Or from the idea of beach reading, which isn’t really a Seattle thing anyway. (How does that even work, what with the glare?)
I started my summer reading very early this year. Still fairly new to the books beat at The Seattle Times, I’m still thrilled by the multiple boxes of books that arrive every week — and I chose 15, from the hundreds of books coming out in late spring/early summer, to dive into. Actually I chose way more than that, but these are the 15 that I couldn’t put down, and that I thought represented a nice variety of summer-reading possibilities — from the frothy fun of Kevin Kwan’s irresistible “Rich People Problems” to the grit of Don Winslow’s great cop novel “The Force,” and something for every mood in between.
We’ll be, of course, recommending more summer-reading options in these pages throughout the season (watch for more frequent occurrences of Adam Woog’s mystery column); and I’ll keep you posted on how my Summer Book Bingo card is getting filled out. I’d love to hear about yours — tell me what you’re reading!
So, here’s what’s been keeping me pinned to my armchair lately …
“The Destroyers,” by Christopher Bollan (Harper, $27.99, on sale June 27). Just try keeping “The Talented Mr. Ripley” — that shimmering 1999 movie, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, of rich Americans getting into picturesque trouble in the sunny Mediterranean — out of your head while reading this dark-side-of-summer novel, by the author of “Orient” and “Lightning People.” Hapless do-gooder Ian, fleeing his wealthy father’s deathbed (he’s been disinherited), heads to troubled Greece in the hopes of getting some help from an old friend from prep school who’s perched there; it’s not vacation, he muses, but “a very warm exile.” Complications, of the dark variety, ensue. You can almost see the movie, can’t you? I could, as I rapidly turned the pages, lost in the harsh sunlight of Bollan’s world.
“The Dinner Party,” by Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown; $26) A couple views Manhattan from a bar overlooking Central Park: “Now night was rapidly resolving the green from the trees. A minute later, it seemed, the dark knit them together and they were all one. Yellow taxis lost their color and became lights floating on air.” In that story (“The Breeze”), one of 11 in this brief, piercing collection that focuses (mostly) on relationships teetering on a precipice, a marriage is heartbreakingly twisted and wrung out. Ferris, whose three novels include “To Rise Again at a Decent Hour,” isn’t merely a master of description, but he’s got a way of telling us everything we need to know about a character with just a few spare words. It’s as if we can see the air around these people, cool and shimmering, illuminating them.
“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” by Roxane Gay (Harper, $25.99; on sale June 17). “This is a book about my body, about my hunger, and ultimately, this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood,” writes Gay, author of “Bad Feminist” and “Difficult Women,” in the early pages of her wrenching, deeply moving new book — a memoir that’s so brave, so raw, it feels as if she’s entrusting you with her soul. She tells, in language all the more devastating for being spare, of how her body — how everything about her — was changed after she was gang-raped at age 12; about obesity; about trying to make herself into a safe fortress.”I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere,” she writes, of that girl she once was. “She is still small and scared and ashamed, and perhaps I am writing my way back to her, trying to tell her everything she needs to hear.”
“Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” by David Grann (Doubleday, $28.95). Readers of Grann’s work in The New Yorker (collected — irresistibly — in “The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession”) know that he’s a master storyteller; here, he’s got a massive canvas and a story that’s both horrifying and utterly gripping. In the 1920s, the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma — rich from oil money — was rocked by a series of murders and mysterious deaths. Read it for its nearly-unbelievable-but-true story; for the unexpected, shocking twist at the end; and for Grann’s master class, on nearly every page, in the art of painting a portrait in just a few words. Of one FBI agent: “He was six feet four and had the sinewy limbs and the eerie composure of a gunslinger. Even when dressed in a stiff suit, like a door-to-door salesman, he seemed to have sprung from a mythic age.”“Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman. (Viking, $26). Honeyman, a Glasgow resident making her debut with this first-person novel, pulls off an astonishing feat: Though her title character is the traumatized survivor of child abuse, the book is wonderfully, quirkily funny. You both ache for Eleanor — a lonely 29-year-old who struggles with social appropriateness and with dark memories of her past — and laugh with her. “Charming” seems an odd descriptor for a book with this subject matter, but it fits; watch closely for the “Jane Eyre” references throughout, and revel in the well-earned happy ending. Many of us might nod at Eleanor’s description of a favorite Emily Dickinson poem, which “contains two elements of which I am inordinately fond: punctuation, and the theme of finding, at long last, a soul mate.”
“One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter,” by Scaachi Koul (Picador, $16). Winner of the highly competitive Summer 2017 Author With Whom I’d Most Like To Have Happy Hour award, Koul is a writer for BuzzFeed Canada, making her debut with this collection of thoughtful, funny essays that made me think of Nora Ephron’s effortless voice. She writes, with instant-friend intimacy, of her family (her perpetually worrying parents in Calgary, her countless relatives in India), of what it means to be Canadian/Indian, of feminism, of her boyfriend (who’s white, older, and affectionately referred to as Hamhock), and of how to react when your bikini waxer seems to be having a heart attack. If her father’s email/text excerpts, which are deliciously sprinkled throughout, are for real (“May some heavenly force be your protector. I have been rendered speechless,” he emails, when she vacations in Ecuador), I’m hoping his book comes next. (Koul, by the way, will be in town May 31 at Seattle Public Library.)“Rich People Problems,” by Kevin Kwan (Doubleday, $26.95,on sale May 23). If you’re a sucker for books with phrases like “Jacqueline slipped on her figure-hugging cream fit-and-flare sleeveless dress with iconic pointelle knit trim” — and oh, I am — have I got a trilogy for you. Kwan’s first novel “Crazy Rich Asians,” a name-dropping, giddy romp through the lives of an ultrarich, multigenerational Singapore family, was the beach read of summer 2013 (the movie’s underway). It was followed by “China Rich Girlfriend” in 2015, and now comes the dessert course just in time for summer 2017 — in which the good are rewarded, the bad (sort of) get what’s coming to them, the outfits are amaaazing, and we learn (through Kwan’s trademark wry footnotes) that it’s not uncommon, among the ultrarich in Asia, to pay for plastic surgery for a beloved fish. Mr. Kwan, could you write another trilogy immediately, please?
“Woman No. 17,” by Edan Lepucki (Hogarth, $26). “It was summer,” begins this sultry novel from the author of the 2014 best-seller “California.” “The heat had arrived harsh and bright, bleaching the sidewalks and choking the flowers before they had a chance to wilt.” Cheery summer reading, no? “Woman No. 17” reads like a Hollywood Hills film noir, depicting the delicate, charged friendship/hostility between Lady, a newly single mother of a toddler and a mute 18-year-old, and S (short for Esther), the art student hired to take care of the younger child but soon drawn toward the teen. Dark stuff indeed, but the dialogue is sharp, the fragrance of the wilting air palpable — and how am I supposed to resist an author who describes the thick, dense fog over San Francisco Bay as “the gnocchi of weather”?
“Do Not Become Alarmed,” by Maile Meloy (Riverhead, $27; on sale June 6). This is one of those can’t-stop-turning-the-pages novels, which quickly reveals itself to be something more than a page-turner. Two young families take a cruise to Central America as a holiday treat, and just as they’re settling into wisecracking luxury, the unthinkable happens on a shore excursion: The children go missing. Meloy, who hasn’t written a book for adults for seven years (she’s the author of the middle-grade “Apothecary” series, as well as several earlier novels and story collections) writes with breathless tension yet lets her characters breathe; you believe these children and their desperate parents, and find yourself utterly entrenched in their fate.
“My Life with Bob,” by Pamela Paul (Henry Holt, $27). Bob is not a person, but a battered and beloved object: the Book of Books, a journal in which Paul has kept track, in tidy longhand, of every book she’s read since her junior year of high school. Perhaps the teenage Paul had an inkling that she’d grow up to become the editor of The New York Times Book Review? Part travelogue, part affectionate look back at who she once was, and part literary title-dropping (be warned: Paul will judge you if you like Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”), this is one of those books for people who love books that will make you feel like part of a tribe. The chapter in which she discusses reading with her children is especially charming; you hope they’re busy making little Bobs of their own.
“No One Can Pronounce My Name,” by Rakesh Satyal (Picador, $26). I’ll confess to being initially drawn to this one because of the title (nobody ever gets my name right), but what I found in its pages was a gentle, funny and utterly charming portrait of an unlikely friendship, set in a community of Indian Americans in a Cleveland suburb. Ranjana, an empty-nest mother, secretly pursues fiction writing (“she settled on the idea of an arranged marriage involving a vampire”); Harit, a lonely gay man, lives with his near-catatonic mother, both of them mourning his late sister. Satyal, author of “Blue Boy,” finds delicate humor throughout (Ranjana’s writing group, in particular, is wickedly and wonderfully drawn), and beautifully sketches that way that the world changes when you feel that someone, somehow, understands you. “This man,” Ranjana muses, “this prisoner between worlds, might be the confidant that she had been searching for all this time.”
“Startup,” by Doree Shafrir (Little, Brown, $26). A beach read — if your beach has wifi — and very contemporary screwball comedy, this is a cheerful satire in which three people in Manhattan’s high-tech community collide. Mack is a gingham-shirted tech bro planning the launch of version 2.0 of his “mindfulness app”; Katya a young tech journalist wanting a big scoop; Sabrina a middle-aged (by tech standards; she’s 36) writer who works for Mack’s company as an Engagement Ninja — a job title, not a euphemism. When Mack sends a raunchy text to an employee that Katya and Sabrina accidentally see, complications ensue. Shafrir, a longtime journalist at BuzzFeed, knows this world and fills the book with delicious detail. (Just one: Katya’s boyfriend has a failed startup, StrollUp, that’s “like Uber for strollers.” Doesn’t that just tell you everything about the guy?) Good, dizzy fun, if you can put your iPad down long enough to read it.
“Persons Unknown,” by Susie Steiner (Random House, $27; on sale July 4). British author Steiner’s “Missing, Presumed” introduced me last year to my new favorite fictional detective; you’ve got just enough time to catch up with it before the engaging sequel emerges. Manon Bradshaw has seen a few changes since the last book: she’s transferred back to Cambridgeshire, gotten pregnant, and found herself intimately involved in a murder case involving a wealthy banker — with connections to both her sister and her adopted son. Like the best police procedurals, it’s got a intricately sketched supporting cast (I particularly like sweet sidekick cop Davy Walker, who “wishes his face was more Jack Reacher, less Charlie Brown”). And Manon — disheveled, passionate, perpetually sleep-deprived — continues to be fine company. Looking forward to a return to Cambridgeshire.
“The Force,” by Don Winslow (William Morrow, $27.99; on sale June 20). Written in propulsive present tense (something I didn’t notice for a while, being so busy flipping pages) by the author of “The Cartel,” this tale of a once-good now-dirty NYPD detective played out in my head like the best cop movie I’d ever seen. (Which it might be, before too long: Ridley Scott already has the movie rights.) Denny Malone, “the King of Manhattan North,” has a brother lost on 9/11, a pair of partners he’d willingly die for, a family tucked away on Staten Island, and ethics as slippery as a frost-choked sidewalk; it’s a dark, masterful story of a city on the verge of implosion, and of a man all too aware that he’s been chipping off little pieces of his soul. “We have one job — hold the line,” says Malone, on the streets of his “kingdom.” “The rest of it’s just details.”
“No One Is Coming to Save Us” by Stephanie Powell Watts (Ecco, $26.99) Echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” flit through this book, like a bird’s distant call, and it’s to Watts’ great credit that the two books seem to fit together; two unlike voices merging in harmony. Jay Ferguson has returned, wealthy, to the depressed North Carolina factory town where he grew up — and where Ava, the girl he loved long ago, still lives with her husband. From there, an engrossing family saga unfolds that’s quite different from Fitzgerald’s (the characters are contemporary and African-American, and the tale focuses more on the female characters, not all of whom have “Gatsby” parallels), but finds its own music. “The possibility of the past, if it is a good one, or even if it has good moments, is that it can be alive, if you let it,” writes Watts. “All of it alive, not just the terror, but the beauty too.”
A dozen new paperbacks for summer
If you’re a waiting-for-the-paperback person, try one of these; some of which I’ve read and recommend; and some of which now reside on my ever-growing reading list:
“The Nix” by Nathan Hill (Knopf, $17). This sprawling novel, about a college professor and his estranged mother, is on my summer reading list because a) I hear it’s pretty great, and b) Meryl Streep is supposedly starring in the TV adaptation. (And Hill’s coming to Seattle June 23.)
“Eligible,” by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, $17). This contemporary rewrite of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” (swoon!) is (surprise!) quite delicious. I don’t remember Sittenfeld’s previous novels (“American Wife,” “Sisterland,” “Prep”) being this funny; if you’re a comedy-of-manners fan, this might be just your cup of tea.
“I Almost Forget About You,” by Terry McMillan (Broadway Books, $16). McMillan’s “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (1996) is a summer-reading classic, and her latest €” also a NYT best-seller €” follows similar themes of love, resilience and second chances.
“The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press, $16.99). If anyone hasn’t read Bainbridge Island author Hannah’s moving World War II story of two French sisters — it’s sold more than 3 million copies — now’s your chance. A movie’s coming soon, too.
“Before the Fall,” by Noah Hawley (Grand Central Publishing, $15.99, out June 6). A plane crashes. One man, and one child, survive. What happened, and why? I read this terrific suspense novel last summer, in what seemed like one sitting; just try to put it down.
“Another Brooklyn,” by Jacqueline Woodson (HarperCollins, $14.99, out May 30). A finalist for the National Book Award, this tale of growing up in 1970s Brooklyn was one of the most acclaimed titles of last year; it’s also a rare novel for adults from Woodson, who wrote the award-winning adolescent novel in verse “Brown Girl Dreaming.”
“The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore (Random House, $17; out May 23). I quite liked Moore’s 2010 mystery novel “The Sherlockian”; this one, a NYT best-seller, is a 19th-century legal thriller involving Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. Oh, and Eddie Redmayne’s set to star in the movie.
“The Wangs vs. the World” by Jade Chang (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99, out June 6). Chang’s debut, in which an immigrant Chinese businessman takes his family on a cross-country road trip (which goes about as well as most family cross-country road trips), was a kick; I think it might go nicely with long summer afternoons.
“Today Will Be Different” by Maria Semple (Little, Brown; $16.99, out June 27). Set on a single day in Seattle — filled with chance encounters, unexpected complications, everyday annoyances, and people who don’t cross the street properly — Semple’s novel is an irresistibly funny portrait of a woman who refuses to give up on love.
“The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, $20). For some of us, summer means diving into a thick nonfiction tome ” and if that’s you, Mukherjee’s acclaimed exploration of the science of genetics should be just the thing. (He’s the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.”)
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi (Vintage, $16). Named as one of the best books of the year by multiple outlets, Gyasi’s debut novel follows two half-sisters, born in 18th-century Ghana, through eight generations.
“The Wrong Side of Goodbye” by Michael Connolly (Grand Central Publishing, $15.99). Sometimes, summer or otherwise, all you want is a good detective novel — and Connolly’s series, featuring not-exactly-retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch, is one of the best. (For a great summer project, start and the beginning and read your way to this one; it’s number 21.)
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