By ALA RUSA-CODES Reading List Council Members
Summer is the perfect time to dive into genre fiction, and members of the American Library Association’s Reading List Council, which annually present its picks for the best in genre fiction, are happy to share some of their favorite summer reading choices. The eight genres the council currently considers include adrenaline titles (suspense, thrillers, and action adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, and women’s fiction. The below list pairs each 2012 release with an older read-alike. Whether you choose one of the new books or one of the backlist read-alikes (in grey), you’re sure to find a perfect summer read.
Brackmann, Lisa. Getaway. Soho, dist. by Random House. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781616950712. pap. $15. F
On vacation in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta, newly widowed Michelle Mason has a fling with a good-looking stranger named Daniel. But after Daniel is attacked in her room and she is arrested for drug possession, Michelle quickly realizes that her holiday romance is turning into a nightmare. Her only option is to locate Daniel and hope he can help her find a way out of this mess before it is too late. VERDICT The ideal staycation thriller for armchair travelers from the author of the best-selling Rock Paper Tiger.
Smith, Scott. The Ruins. 2008. 384p. Vintage. ISBN 9780307390271. pap. $14.95. F.
Here’s a real summer vacation gone wrong. Four twentysomething Americans in Cancun impulsively decide to accompany a chance-met fellow tourist on a side trip to the jungle. They hope to find their new acquaintance’s missing brother and visit an archaeological ruin, but right from the beginning, when the locals seem spooked by their hand-drawn map, it’s apparent that something is seriously amiss. VERDICT The tension escalates to a terrifying pitch as Smith (A Simple Plan) explores the way people can change when placed in terrifying situations.
Child, Lincoln. The Third Gate. Doubleday. Jun. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780385531382. $25.95. F
Archaeologist Porter Stone and Yale professor Jeremy Logan delve deeply into the swamps of Northern Sudan in search of a powerful artifact: the crown of King Narmer, the first pharaoh of Egypt. VERDICT A master of spine-chilling suspense, Child (Terminal Freeze) creates a tension-filled, fast-paced adventure sure to please fans of the supernatural thriller.
Brown, Dan. Angels & Demons. Atria: S. & S. 2003. 572p. ISBN 9780743486224 $26; pap. Pocket Bks: S. &. S. 2009. 736p. ISBN 9781416524793. $9.99. F
This grand summer novel by the author of The Da Vinci Code introduces readers to famed symbologist Robert Langdon, who is attempting to stop the Illuminati, an ancient secret organization, from destroying Vatican City. VERDICT Filled with superb puzzles, a breakneck plot, and wondrous settings and descriptions of artwork, this fascinating story will feed thriller readers’ appetites for riddles, conspiracies, and unlikely heroes.
Haynes, Elizabeth. Into the Darkest Corner. Harper: HarperCollins. Jun. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780062197252. $25.99. F
This intensely dark and suspenseful tale is told through two parallel storylines. One, set four years in the past, centers on the young and vivacious Catherine Bailey, barhopping with her girlfriends and looking for love. The second storyline focuses on Catherine’s life in the present, in which she has changed her name, moved to a new city, trusts no one, and compulsively checks the locks on her doors and windows. What happened to her in the intervening years and can she reclaim her life? VERDICT This chilling debut tale of obsession will keep readers awake late into the night.
Watson, S.J. Before I Go To Sleep. HarperCollins. 2011. 368p. ISBN 9780062060556. $25.99. pap. 2012. ISBN 9780062060563. $14.99. F
Christine is another woman trying to reclaim a life gone to pieces. After a mysterious accident, she wakes up each morning with no memory. Her husband Ben repeatedly explains the details of their life together, but the next morning all is lost once again. One day Christine discovers that she has been keeping a journal and the terrifying words she has written there, Don’t trust Ben, throw everything into question. VERDICT Relentless pacing in Watson’s intriguing debut psychological thriller draws the reader into Christine’s race to figure out who to trust and how to recover her life.
Harkness, Deborah. Shadow of Night. Viking. (All Souls Trilogy). Jul. 2012. 592p. ISBN 9780670023486. $28.95. F
Picking up where last summer’s best-selling A Discovery of Witches left off, geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont and Oxford scholar and witch Diana Bishop travel back in time to Elizabethan England to hunt for the enchanted Ashmole 782 manuscript and to seek magic lessons for Diana. VERDICT Readers who enjoyed the first book’s striking detail and complex world-building will be equally as thrilled with this second book in the trilogy, as Harkness, a scholar herself (history, Univ. of Southern California), focuses her lens on the denizens, culture, and geography of late 16th-century Europe.
Gabaldon, Diana. Outlander. 20th ann. ed. 2011. Delacorte. 688p. ISBN 9780440423201. $35. F
Time-travel stories that combine swashbuckling adventure, romance, and vivid historical details don’t get any better than Gabaldon’s now classic debut. Claire Randall and her husband Frank are taking their second honeymoon in Scotland when Claire stumbles across a mystical stone circle that whisks her back to the 18th century. There she meets the wounded clansman Jamie Fraser and unexpectedly finds shelter and even love while trying to find her way in a tumultuous historical time. VERDICT With vividly drawn, relatable characters and a respectful, loving eye for the history of the Scottish Highlands, Gabaldon’s Outlander series launch is a lush, romantic epic.
Miller, Madeline. The Song of Achilles. Ecco: HarperCollins. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780062060617. $25.99. F
Patroclus, exiled prince of ancient Greece and lover of the famous warrior Achilles, is at the center of this romantic tale, Miller’s first novel, which also features many other mythical heroes, both human and divine, with the Trojan War as a backdrop. VERDICT The interference of the Greek deities in mortals’ daily lives makes for a stunning mix of larger-than-life action and authentically human emotions, while stellar writing and sympathetic portrayals of complex characters breathe new life into an ancient story.
Renault, Mary. The Persian Boy. Vintage: Random. 1988. 432p. ISBN 9780394751016. pap. $15.95. F
Renault (d. 1983) also looks at a famous Greek historical figure through the eyes of his lover. This second of three novels she wrote about Alexander the Great (Fire from Heaven; Funeral Games) follows the emperor in his last years as observed by Bagoas, a Persian boy. Gelded and sold as a concubine to the King of Persia, he gains not only his freedom but love when Alexander conquers his homeland. VERDICT For historical fiction fans, this beautifully written and emotionally gripping tale humanizes another legend, flaws and all, and brings the ancient world vividly to life.
Rash, Ron. The Cove. Ecco: HarperCollins. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780061804199. $26.99. F
In the rural North Carolina mountains, Laurel, an outcast and supposed witch, lives with her brother, maimed during World War I, in a cove the townspeople believe is haunted. She comes upon a mute stranger in the woods playing a silver flute. Their meeting changes the lives of these three protagonists in unexpected and glorious ways. VERDICT Haunting, poetic and wise, Rash’s (Serena) latest novel is a book to savor on long summer days.
Frazier, Charles. Nightwoods. Random. 2011. 272 p. ISBN 9781400067091. $26. F
Luce has chosen to live alone in the North Carolina mountains. When she becomes responsible for her murdered sister’s troubled twins, she finds love, danger, and a life she could never have imagined. VERDICT Like The Cove, Frazier’s (Cold Mountain; Thirteen Moons) novel delivers an evocative story with a strong sense of place, a heroine with a deep and abiding character, and a stimulating, complex plot.
Powers, Tim. Hide Me Among the Graves. Morrow. 2012. 528p. ISBN 9780061231544. $25.99. F
The late John Polidori, author of The Vampyre, returns to Victorian London to haunt his young relations, Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister, poet Christina. Polidori’s malevolent presence prompts the siblings to join forces with a reformed prostitute and the father of her missing child, whose life is also threatened by Polidori, to destroy the vampiric creature. This is a semi-sequel to The Stress of Her Regard (1990), a supernatural take on the Romantic poets, from the always inventive and genre-blending Powers. VERDICT A fascinating exploration of the fine line between inspiration and insanity, this horror/historical fiction/adrenalin blend will make your flesh creep and your heart pound.
Newman, Kim. Anno Dracula. Titan. 2011. 560p. ISBN 9780857680839. pap. $14.95. F
Gothic horror and alternative history combine just as successfully in Newman’s classic take on vampires. Never again will the sun rise on the British Empire once Queen Victoria marries Count Dracula. Meanwhile, Jack the Ripper carves up vampire prostitutes. First published in 1992, Anno Dracula, with its cameos by literary luminaries and fictional characters alike, including Oscar Wilde, Dr. Jekyll, and Sherlock Holmes, paved the way for countless such mash-ups. VERDICT History and horror are balanced perfectly in this original take on the vampire canon; it will appeal not only to the bloodthirsty but to the bookish as well.
Barr, Nevada. The Rope. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Anna Pigeon Mysteries). 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780312614577. $25.99. F
Summer in the National Park Service would seem like a great opportunity to mend a wounded spirit, but when a young Anna Pigeon signs up for seasonal work at a park on the shores of Utah’s Lake Powell she finds herself in serious trouble. The story opens with Anna trapped in an isolated canyon, wounded, drugged, and unsure of who put her there. Anna’s attempt to escape and find out who wants her dead makes for a tension-filled tale. VERDICT This prequel to Barr’s long-running series (Burn; Borderline) gives fans a terrific new look at a beloved crime fiction character.
Walker, Mary Willis. Under the Beetle’s Cellar. Bantam. 1996 (op but still available). 340p. ISBN 9789994637126. pap. F
Journalist Molly Cates races against the clock to save a school bus full of children from an extremist cult. What makes Walker’s (The Red Scream) story special is the perspective of the bus driver, Walter Demming, as he struggles to keep the children under his care safe from their kidnappers. VERDICT Those with a particular fear of being buried alive might want to avoid this heart-pounding thriller, but the stout of heart will enjoy the ride.
Quinn, Julia. A Night Like This. Avon. (Smythe-Smith Quartet). Jun. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780062072900. pap. $7.99 F
Long-time Quinn fans remember the Smythe-Smith family from her popular series about the Bridgertons. In this second book in the more recent series (after Just Like Heaven), she focuses on the burgeoning relationship between Daniel, the lone Smythe-Smith brother, and governess Anne Wynter. VERDICT A governess and an exiled Earl? This is, of course, the perfect pairing for a Quinn novel, as usual full of fantastic characters and a sweet and spicy romance.
Long, Julie Anne. How the Marquess Was Won. Avon. 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780061885693. pap. $7.99. F
Nicknamed Lord Ice by London’s scandal sheets, Julian Spenser, Marquess Dryden, thaws when he shares an impulsive, illicit kiss with schoolteacher Phoebe Vale. What makes his attraction to the bright, witty, and supposedly unkissable Miss Vale even more inconvenient is that she’s also chaperone to his intended bride. VERDICT Fans of Julia Quinn’s upbeat, engaging romances will enjoy Long’s (To Love a Thief) appealing characters, witty banter, and comic scenarios.
Thompson, Karen Walker. The Age of Miracles. Random. Jun. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780812992977. $26. F
This melancholy debut novel examines the impact of a global natural disaster on ordinary people. When the earth’s rotation slows to a crawl, resulting in longer days, civilization begins to unravel. Eleven-year-old Julia documents society’s steady decline while coping with the challenges of everyday life, such as friendship and first love. VERDICT Beautifully written and with great appeal for both teens and adults, this combination of an end-of-the-world story line with coming-of-age fiction equals a tour de force.
Hegland, Jean. Into the Forest. 1997. 240p. Dial: Random. ISBN 9780553379617. pap. $15. F
Young women in peril at the end of the world is given a different spin in Hegland’s (Windfalls) story of Nell and Eva, sisters eking out a life in living in a remote forested area of Northern California in the wake of societal collapse. VERDICT This haunting tale of survival is dark and heartwrenching but narrated beautifully and filled with thought-provoking ideas.
Barbieri, Heather. The Cottage at Glass Beach. Harper: HarperCollins. Jun. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780062107961. $24.99. F
When Nora Cunningham discovers that her attorney general husband has been having an affair, she takes her two daughters to Burke Island, off the coast of Maine, for the summer. Nora hasn’t been back to the island since her mother disappeared there many years before. Tradition says that Burke Island is a magical place. Can that magic help Nora heal her broken heart, understand what happened to her mother, and chart a new life for herself? VERDICT Barbieri’s (The Lace Makers of Glenmara; Snow in July) mix of fairy tale and family drama in a picturesque seaside resort makes her third novel a terrific beach read.
Allen, Sarah Addison. Garden Spells. Bantam. 2007. 304p. ISBN 9780553384833. pap. $15. F
Two mysteriously gifted sisters deal with abandonment by their mother in very different ways in this novel by Allen (The Girl Who Chased the Moon; The Sugar Queen): Sydney runs far away to find adventure while Claire sticks close to home, unwilling to open up to the world around her. When Sydney unexpectedly returns, both sisters find healing and joy in rediscovering the magic that lives within them. VERDICT Self-discovery with a touch of magic can always make for a great summer read.