What better way to enjoy a summer day than by diving into the pleasures of genre fiction? Here to help you find your next genre read are members of the American Library Association’s Reading List Council, who annually present their picks for the best in genre fiction. They found a crop of dark and chilling tales to contrast with the sunny weather outside as well as some fun beach reads. The eight genres the council currently considers include adrenaline titles (suspense, thrillers, and action adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, sf, and women’s fiction. The list below pairs each 2013 release with an older read-alike. Whether you choose one of the new books or one of the backlist read-alikes, you’re sure to find a perfect summer title. Note: these picks were finalized before the recent events in Cleveland.
Zan, Koethi. The Never List. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Jul. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780670026517. $27.95. F
Although best friends Sarah and Jennifer spent their entire childhood compiling the “Never List”— a set of detailed instructions designed to keep them safe from harm—it wasn’t enough to protect them from the sadist who abducted the girls from their college campus and kept them chained in a dark basement for three years while subjecting them to physical and psychological torture. A decade after Sarah’s escape from captivity, she continues to struggle with the knowledge that Jennifer did not survive. But when Sarah learns that her kidnapper is coming up for parole, she decides that it’s time to confront, once and for all, the terrible events of her past. VERDICT This fast-paced, disturbing thriller boasts a chilling premise as well as a layered first-person narrative full of shocking twists and turns. [See Prepub Alert, 2/1/13.]
Donoghue, Emma. Room. Little, Brown. 2010. 336p. ISBN 9780316098335. $ 24.99;
ebk. ISBN 9780316129114. F
Room is home to young Jack, a prison to his mother, and power to Old Nick. Jack’s world explodes when his mother sends him on a mission that will change the lives of all three. VERDICT This original and unforgettable novel, with contemporary and timeless themes, is even more affecting for being told from the point of view of a child.
[LJ 8/10; LJ Best Book of 2010]
Cargill, C. Robert. Dreams and Shadows. Harper Voyager. 2013. 434p. ISBN 9780062190420. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062190444. FANTASY
A child stolen away by the fairies is one of the oldest stories in fantasy, but in this debut, it is only the beginning of the tale. Ewan was taken as a baby to the Limestone Kingdom, where he was raised as a half-wild fairy creature and never told of the destiny that awaited him. Colby is another human child who encounters a djinn and makes a wish to see all the magical things that are normally veiled from human eyes. The fates of the two children are intertwined as they try to save Ewan from the forces of the Limestone Kingdom and the Wild Hunt. VERDICT Cargill shows us hard-drinking angels, jealous changelings, and trickster spirits in a brilliant modern fairy tale that is dark, bloody, and populated with creatures trapped by their own natures. (LJ 11/15/12)
McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue: An October Daye Novel. DAW, dist. by Penguin Group (USA). 2009. 368p. ISBN 9780756405717. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101140109. FANTASY
Having narrowly survived a job gone awry—one that led to a nearly 15-year stint as a pond carp in San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden—former private investigator and changeling October “Toby” Daye wants nothing further to do with the world of Faerie. Unfortunately, passing for human isn’t an option, especially after a dying woman’s curse compels Toby to investigate the murder of a fae countess. VERDICT Like Dreams and Shadows, this dark, gritty, and richly detailed urban fantasy introduces characters who awkwardly straddle the boundary between the mortal and supernatural worlds, presenting an inventive contemporary take on classic fairy tale lore.
Willig, Lauren. The Ashford Affair. St. Martin’s. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781250014498.$24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250027191. F
Addie is the poor cousin who comes to live at Ashford House in 1906. Clementine is a high-powered attorney in 21st-century New York. When Clemmie learns about a buried family secret involving her Granny Addie, she begins a journey into the past that could change everything she thinks she knows about her family. VERDICT From the ballrooms of British society to colonial Kenya to modern-day Manhattan, this well-researched and lavishly detailed family saga spans a century and three continents. (LJ 2/1/13)
Solomons, Natasha. The House at Tyneford. Plume: Penguin Group (USA). 2011. 368p. ISBN 9780452297647. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101559338. F
Elise must leave her glittering life in 1938 Vienna to become a parlor maid in an English manor house. Falling in love with the master’s son throws Elise into a life heretofore unimagined as the world around her is in similar upheaval. VERDICT An old-fashioned novel with a modern tone set in the World War II era, with all the tragedy and survival spirit of the time. (LJ 12/11)
Hill, Joe. NOS4A2. Morrow. 2013. 704p. ISBN 9780062200570. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062200594. HORROR
Driving a 1938 Rolls-Royce, Charles Manx gathers deserving children and takes them to Christmasland, a place of endless games, cocoa, and gingerbread cookies that doesn’t appear on any map. Vic McQueen, the only kid to escape Manx’s macabre game, has unusual talents of her own. Now an adult, Vic must confront her worst nightmare to save her son before it is too late. VERDICT Hill delivers an intricate story line full of terror and courage that brings out the best and the very worst in his protagonists, characters you won’t soon forget. A book focused on Christmas may not be the most obvious summer read, but readers will feel the “chill” when they hear those
first Christmas carols come September. (LJ 2/15/13)
Barker, Clive. The Thief of Always. Perennial: HarperCollins. 2008. 267p. ISBN 9780061684265. pap. $13.99. HORROR
Young Harry Swick, already jaded by life, desperately wishes for some fun and excitement—which the eccentric Mr. Hood is only too happy to offer. Mr. Hood is the designer of the Holiday House, which has stood for hundreds of years as a refuge for wayward children. Seasons come and go in a day, revelries are always around the corner, but all is not as it seems in this haven. When things start to sour at Holiday House, Harry begins to suspect something malevolent in Mr. Hood’s attentions, but it might already be too late. VERDICT Barker (Books of Blood) finds the perfect balance between wide-eyed wonder and the evils of lost innocence in a fantasy that reads like something Ray Bradbury would have written if he were fed a steady diet of Stephen King in his formative years. (SLJ 2/1/93)
Hallinan, Timothy. Little Elvises. Soho Crime. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781616952778. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781616952785. M
L.A. burglar Junior Bender has developed a reputation as a kind of ad hoc private eye with crooks for clients. His latest task in this second book of a series is to prove that a music-industry mogul, famous for promoting a string of 1960s pop sensations collectively known as “Little Elvises,” is innocent of the murder of a tabloid journalist. Of course, the complications only start there. VERDICT A well-drawn cast of quirky characters, witty dialog, and a fast-paced and funny plot make this crime novel nearly impossible to put down. (LJ 2/1/13)
Block, Lawrence. Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. HarperCollins. 2004. 320p. ISBN 9780060582555. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061808524. M
Bernie Rhodenbarr is your typical New Yorker—except this resident makes his living as a professional burglar. Bernie specializes in stealing valuables from the well-to-do denizens of the Big Apple, and while his neighbors would consider him a good guy, Bernie just can’t help but love the thrill of a good heist. Bernie breaks his own rules and accepts a burglary job from a total stranger, but things go from bad to worse. When the police show up in the middle of the theft, a corpse is discovered in the room next door, and Bernie is the prime suspect. Now he’s got to find the real killer to clear his less-than-sterling reputation. VERDICT A first-rate example of what a cozy mystery can be. With the right combination of humor, snappy dialog, plot, and characterization, Block gives his series debut (first published in 1977) enough zip to appeal to genre and nongenre fans alike.
Higgins, Kristan. The Best Man. HQN: Harlequin. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780373777921.$7.99. F
Faith Holland left town after her groom, Jeremy, left her at the altar. Now she’s returning home—a little older, a little wiser, but still struggling in the relationship department. Meanwhile, Jeremy’s best friend, Levi Cooper, has become the local sheriff, and Faith is not at all happy to run into him again, especially as she and Levi fight their attraction to each other. Can these two let their guard down enough to acknowledge their true feelings? VERDICT Higgins is a brilliant storyteller, filling her novel with zany situations, humorous dialog, and realistic characters.
Shalvis, Jill. Head Over Heels. Forever: Grand Central. (Lucky Harbor Novel). Dec. 2011. 368p. ISBN 9780446571630. $7.99. F
Chloe has always had a reputation as a flighty, offbeat free spirit, but she’s now working hard to prove to her sisters she can be a responsible business partner. Sawyer, the local sheriff, is straitlaced, serious, and, most annoying, always on hand when Chloe is in trouble. Whenever these two find themselves in the same room, tempers—and sparks—begin to fly. Will they find common ground, and maybe even love? VERDICT Charming, genuine main characters, real emotional connections, close family bonds, quirky small-town personalities, and just the right amount of sizzle make this a satisfying beach read.
Scalzi, John. The Human Division. Tor. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780765333513. $25.99. SF
In this collection of linked stories, army technician Harry Wilson and diplomatic corp officer Hart Schmidt are just two of the memorable characters trying to improve the reputation of humanity in a galaxy where everyone seems against them—even the population of their home planet, Earth. With a knack for crafting entertaining interstellar politics and diplomacy, Scalzi tells 13 discrete stories (originally sold serially online), each with its own perspective and tone. All told, these add up to one satisfying and very fun whole. VERDICT Featuring the author’s trademark humor, clever dialog, and a hefty dose of action, this is a wonderful addition to Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” universe.
Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cetaganda. Baen. (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures). 1995. 302p.
ISBN 9780671877446. pap.
Miles Vorkosigan has been sent on a diplomatic mission to the home planet of his people’s long-standing enemy, the Cetagandans. He and his cousin Ivan are there for the funeral of the Emperor, but they quickly become embroiled in local politics. The Cetagandans have taken genetic engineering to artful heights, and when someone steals a piece of software that holds the key to their genome it is up to Miles and Ivan to find the culprit before they are framed for the crime. VERDICT This title is part of a long-running series that also features humor, action, and memorable characters. This reviewer envies those who have not yet had the chance to meet indomitable underdog Miles and who have the option of a summer spent devouring the entire saga.
Kinsella, Sophie. Wedding Night. Dial. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780812993844. $26. F
When the love of Lottie’s life gives her a vacation instead of an engagement ring, she breaks up with him in typical dramatic Lottie style. Days later, her college boyfriend Ben makes an appearance, and the two quickly decide to wed. Meanwhile, Lottie’s sister Fliss and Ben’s best friend Lorcan frantically try to derail the wedding night while they fight their own growing attraction. Never fear: in the end—after international flights, bribery, blackmail, and disaster—all the characters end up discovering true love and learning a bit about themselves in the process. VERDICT Kinsella continues to delight in creating quirky characters and over-the-top situations, and this title is a perfect choice for those craving a great escape.
Keyes, Marian. Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married. Avon. 1999. 440p. ISBN 9780060090371. pap. $15.99. F
Lucy Sullivan is a depressed, single, twentysomething Londoner with two roommates and a boring office job. Then, a fortune-teller predicts that within the next year Lucy will get married—a laugh for Lucy who is so woefully unlucky at love. Whom would she marry? VERDICT As with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996), readers will root for the spirited Lucy in her humorous, occasionally heart-wrenching, and ultimately heartwarming adventures to find love.
ADDITIONAL WOMEN’S FICTION
Moore, Edward Kelsey. The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. Knopf. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780307959928. $24.95. F
Dubbed the Supremes, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean have been friends since their high school days back in the turbulent 1960s. The trio have met every week for 40 years at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat for food and friendship, laughter and tears. VERDICT This is a big-hearted novel, full of humor and appealing characters who make it a delightful read. While we don’t ordinarily think of male authors writing women’s fiction, Moore gets inside the heads of these women, and his genuine affection for his characters is compellingly evident.
Flagg, Fannie. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. 1987. Ballantine. 403p. ISBN 9780449911358. pap. $15.99. F
As she listens to nursing home resident Ninnie Threadgoode tell stories of Whistle Stop, AL, in the 1930s, Evelyn decides to make positive life changes that lift her out of a midlife crisis. VERDICT Though this story of small-town characters may appear quaint, it packs great emotional punch, fearlessly touching on issues ranging from racism to depression. The storytelling never wavers, and bittersweet events are laced with gentle humor. A modern novel with the feel of a classic.
BONUS GENREBLENDER: ADRENALINE/HORROR/SF
Beukes, Lauren. The Shining Girls. Mulholland: Little, Brown. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780316216852. $26. F
Harper Curtis is down on his luck, a drifter in Depression-era Chicago with a predilection for violence. When he finds a key to a special house that allows him to travel through time, he uses the house (or it uses him) to hunt down and kill certain special girls, his Shining Girls. Kirby Mazrachi is identified as a Shining Girl, but she survives Harper’s brutal attack and starts hunting him. VERDICT The gripping mix of sf, horror, and suspense works because of the way the likable characters Kirby and her newspaperman ally contend with the menacing chill of Harper and his special house. (LJ 4/1/13)
Renner, James. The Man from Primrose Lane. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. 2012. 384p.
ISBN 9780374200954. $26. F
An eccentric recluse is murdered, and true-crime author David Neff, whose wife recently committed suicide, investigates the crime, taking him to the brink of sanity as he discovers links between his wife and the murdered man. VERDICT Compelling, genre-twisting, and explicit in description, this title confounds and entertains readers with a tale that exploits both obsession and reality. (Xpress Reviews, 3/18/12)
The 2012-2013 Reading List Council Members contributing to this article are Alicia Ahlvers, Craig Clark, Emily Hamstra, Jennifer Hendzlik, Megan McArdle, Jared L. Mills, Vicki Nesting, Gillian Speace, Valerie Taylor, Ann Chambers Theis, and Michelle Young.