Summer is the perfect time to dive into genre fiction, but the hottest titles often have long waiting lists before they even hit library shelves. However, who is to say summer reading has to be hot off the presses? Past and present members of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Reading List Council, which annually presents 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. So join the queue for the big summer books, but while you’re waiting, try these cool summer backlist favorites.
This summer promises to deliver exciting new thrillers from Tom Robb Smith (The Farm), James Lee Burke (Wayfaring Stranger), Daniel Silva (The Heist), Gregg Hurwitz (Don’t Look Back), and a stand-alone from Chelsea Cain (One Kick). While you let these blockbusters cool off, why not try one of these picks?
Burton, Milton T. The Rogues’ Game. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2013. 304p. ebk. ISBN 9781466860636. $7.99. F
A man with no name arrives in a town with no name driving a Lincoln convertible in 1947 West Texas. Accompanied by a beautiful blonde named Della, he opens two checking accounts at the local bank and proceeds to get involved with the local high-stakes poker game. His target is Clifton Robillard, revenge is his game, but our hero plays his cards close to his vest. VERDICT This is the perfect grifter novel, and while the 2005 hardcover is out of print, ebooks are still available. (LJ 4/1/05)
Laukkanen, Owen. Criminal Enterprise. Putnam. 2013. 406p. ISBN 9780399157905. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101609286. F
Carter Tomlin was living the American dream: a successful career, a beautiful wife, and two kids. But after he loses his job and the bills start piling up, Carter impulsively holds up a bank with a simple note. Soon the thrill of robbing banks becomes a drug for Carter and as the money stacks up, the heists become more dangerous and his sense of morality crumbles. VERDICT Fans of Breaking Bad will love this good–man–turned–bad story that has all the pacing of a car careening out of a control and enough stomach-twisting carnage to satisfy adrenaline junkies. (LJ 3/1/13)
Whether you are in line for the latest entry in the popular urban fantasy series by Ilona Andrews (Magic Breaks), the long-awaited latest Outlander novel by Diana Gabaldon (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood), the conclusion of the Magician trilogy from Lev Grossman (The Magician’s Land), or the much-buzzed debut of Erika Johansen (The Queen of the Tearling), don’t forget there are some other great fantasy novels waiting on the shelf
Barker, Emily Croy. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. Pamela Dorman: Viking. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9780670023660. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101585573. Fantasy
Ever wanted to completely escape your life? Nora is a graduate student whose dissertation is stalled and whose boyfriend is getting married—to someone else. On a weekend getaway, Nora wanders off and accidentally slips through a portal into another world. At first it is fairy tale–like, but soon the darker side becomes apparent. How will this modern woman survive in a strange, magical world and will she be able to find her way home? VERDICT This is an intelligent, well-plotted fantasy set in a rich and complex world—a perfect escapist fantasy for a hot summer day. (LJ 7/13)
Morgan, Richard K. The Steel Remains. Del Rey: Ballantine. 2010. ISBN 9780345493040. pap. $13; ebk. ISBN 9780345513441. Fantasy
When fallen mercenary Ringil Eskiath’s estranged mother asks him to track down a missing family member, he uncovers a conspiracy involving the beautiful demon race, the Aldrain. It’s going to take every dirty trick Ringil knows and the help of his colorful friends from his days during the great war to uncover the truth and bring justice to the damned. VERDICT Unforgettable antiheroes revel in equal amounts of backstabbing, bloodshed, and political intrigue to make this a perfect read-alike for fans of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. (LJ 12/08)
Wallowing in a nice thick historical fiction novel can be the perfect summer escape, and many will be putting holds on new titles by Lisa See (China Dolls), Sally Beauman (The Visitors), Jacqueline Winspear (The Care and Management of Lies), and a hot debut by Lauren Owen (The Quick). These two titles below are just as good, and you won’t have to wait as long.
Benaron, Naomi. Running the Rift. Algonquin. 2011 365p. ISBN 9781616200428. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616201876. F
Jean Patrick Nkuba has a dream: he wants to be the first Rwandan to win an Olympic gold medal. Unfortunately, he has to survive a civil war and genocide to get there. Any book about Rwanda has to mention the 1994 conflict that claimed over 800,000 lives, but this Bellwether Prize–winning debut novel is primarily about a boy with a dream. VERDICT This marvelous and lyrical book celebrates the inimitable spirit of humanity. (LJ 8/11)
Giffith, Nicola. Hild. Farrar. 2013. 546p. ISBN 9780374280871. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374711016. F
This is the epic coming-of-age story of Hilda of Whitby, considered to be one of the patron saints of learning and culture. Set in seventh-century Britain, the beautifully written tale brings light to the everyday world of the Dark Ages while exploring a treacherous time. Richly detailed and centered on the friendship of women, Griffith’s tale is fraught with mysticism, battles, and political peril. The use of medieval English helps transport readers into another place and time. VERDICT The author’s meticulous research, worldbuilding, and passion for history shine in this vast and vastly entertaining book that should appeal to fans of Hilary Mantel and T.H. White. (LJ 8/13)
Nothing cools you off in summer like the chills of a good horror novel. Savvy library users are already putting requests in for the new Stephen King (Mr. Mercedes; see review, p. 72) and the latest in Richard Kadrey’s “Sandman Slim” series (The Getaway God), but if you don’t want to wait for your horror fix, try these.
Carey, Mike. The Devil You Know. Grand Central. 2008. 513p. ISBN . pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780446197175. Horror
Freelance necromancer Felix (known as Fix) Castor sees dead people. In an alternate London dead people—zombies, ghouls, loup-garous and vampires—abound. Fix can bind them using his tin whistle. But when he binds a demon to his best friend, Fix’s life is never the same. Now broke, he has to take on a new job, exorcising a ghost from an archive. The longer he works on the exorcism, the more he realizes he has to solve the murder that created this ghost. VERDICT Bleak, saturnine, and wry with shades of horror and dark urban fantasy thrown in, this series debut is a very noir mystery.
Barron, Laird. The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Other Stories. Night Shade: Skyhorse. 2013. 276p. ISBN 9781597804677. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597804684. Horror
Rendered in haunting, elegant prose, the nine interlinked tales in Barron’s latest collection are intricate gems of cosmic horror that gleam with menace. Set in the eerie environs of Olympia, WA, each story presents an intimate character study of a deeply flawed yet strangely sympathetic protagonist whose (mis)adventures instill a mounting sense of dread in the reader before culminating in a shocking, often gruesome denouement. VERDICT Intricate, subtly interconnected tales of terror will delight fans of H.P. Lovecraft.
For some readers a good mystery and a hammock are the perfect recipe for summer relaxation. The upcoming publishing season promises some big names such as Kathy Reichs (Bones Never Lie), Karin Slaughter (Cop Town), Charles Todd (An Unwilling Accomplice), Marcia Muller (The Night Searchers), or Martha Grimes (Vertigo 42). Don’t want to wait? Try one of these.
Grabenstein. Chris. Tilt-a-Whirl. Carroll & Graf. 2005. 322p. ISBN 9780786717811. OP, but still available on Amazon and B&N. Price varies. M
Danny thought spending the season as a summer cop in the quiet tourist town of Sea Haven would be a great way to make a little beer money and meet some beach bunnies. But when a billionaire developer is found dead on the Tilt-a-Whirl and his blood-covered daughter runs right into Danny, he must confront the sordid side of Sea Haven head-on. Luckily, Danny has the help of his partner John Ceepak, an Iraqi war veteran whose personal code of honor and stiff morality hides a shrewd analytical mind. VERDICT Grabenstein’s Anthony Award–winning debut is a gripping mystery that is like any unforgettable vacation—nice weather, unexpected twists, and colorful characters you’ll want to revisit many times. [For the author’s ebook edition go to chrisgrabenstein.com/adults/tilt.php.—Ed.] (LJ 9/15/05)
LaPlante, Alice. Turn of Mind. Atlantic Monthly. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780802119773. $24; pap. ISBN 9780802145901. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780802195562. M
Amanda O’Toole has been murdered and four of her fingers were surgically removed. The police suspect the victim’s best friend, Dr. Jennifer White, but Jennifer is suffering from Alzheimer’s and has no idea whether or not she committed the murder. Most of the time she doesn’t even realize her friend is dead. VERDICT This is an ingenious mystery with a highly unreliable narrator. Full of twists and turns, it will keep fans of Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl guessing right up to the end. (LJ 3/1/11)
Kicking back with an emotionally satisfying romance is a great way to unwind, and there are some great new ones by favorite authors—Jude Deveraux (For All Time), Mary Balogh (The Escape), Loretta Chase (Vixen in Velvet), and Nalini Singh (Shield of Winter) coming out this summer. But romance fans can’t get enough of their favorite genre, so make sure these older titles are available.
Heyer, Georgette. Frederica. Sourcebooks Casablanca. 2009. 448p. ISBN 9781402214769. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9781402230233. Romance
Frederica Meriville, considering herself far too old at the advanced age of 24 to ever wed, wants nothing more than for her beautiful younger sister to make a good match. To that end, she heads to London where she convinces her very distant relation, Lord Alverstoke, to take an interest in her family. But Alverstoke finds his interest fixed on the witty and lovely Frederica. VERDICT This is one of the most charming of all of Heyer’s delightful Regency romances; the mood is particularly summery with hot-air balloon launches, mischievous younger brothers, and a rambunctious hound of mixed pedigree.
Dare, Tessa. Romancing the Duke. Avon. (Castles Ever After, Bk. 1). 2014. 370p. ISBN 9780062240194. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062240163. Romance
Isolde (Izzy) Goodnight is a self-proclaimed ugly duckling even though she is beloved as a charming character in her father’s famous storybooks. Left destitute after her father’s death, Izzy is surprised by her godfather’s unexpected bequest of Gostley Castle. Unfortunately, the castle is a wreck inhabited by the rakish Ransom, Duke of Rothbury. Wounded and almost blind, Ransom has secluded himself in the castle and refuses to accept Izzy’s claim of ownership. The road to passionately happily-ever-after is never easy, but of course Izzy and Ransom’s true love prevails. VERDICT A perfect start to a new series, this spicy Regency lovefest offers an appealing story, witty dialog, and an engagingly quirky cast of characters. (LJ 2/15/14)
Science fiction can be both intellectually challenging and fantastically escapist. Sf fans will have their choice of both types with summer releases from John Scalzi (Lock In), Orson Scott Card (Earth Awakens), and M.D. Waters (Archetype). Rocket past those long waiting lists by picking up one of these great alternatives.
Bach, Rachel. Fortune’s Pawn. Orbit: Hachette. 2013. 340p. ISBN 9780316221115. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316221092. SF
Determined to join the ranks of the elite Devastators, ambitious mercenary Deviana “Devi” Morris applies for a job as a security guard aboard the Glorious Fool, an aging space freighter with an intergalactic reputation for danger. Successful service will launch Devi to the pinnacle of an already stellar career—if she doesn’t get herself killed in the process. However, not long after she signs on, Devi realizes her new captain and crew are not what they seem. Will she survive long enough to discover what’s really going on? VERDICT A fast-paced, action-packed sf series opener starring a tough and resourceful space-faring heroine. (LJ 9/15/13)
Roberts, Adam. Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer. Gollanz. 2013. 374p. ISBN 9780575127623. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9780575127647. $14.95. SF
The tropes of Golden Age mysteries and sf are referenced in this British Science Fiction Award (BSFA) award winner for best novel. Jack Glass is a celebrated and infamous murderer whose crimes unfold across space in three connected stories. Jack’s guilt is clearly established, but the stories are surprising “howdunits” raising universal questions. VERDICT This is genre-bending, entertaining, slyly thought-provoking, occasionally bloody, and intellectually challenging space opera.
Readers will be filling their beach tote bags this summer with new titles from the fantastic Rainbow Rowell (Landline), Stephanie Evanovich (The Sweet Spot), Jojo Moyes (One Plus One), and Jean Kwok (Mambo in Chinatown). But you can skip the holds if you’re willing to try these great backlist options.
Scotch, Allison Winn. The Theory of Opposites. Camellia. 2013. 312p. ISBN 9780989499002. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9780989499019. F
Are our lives controlled by fate or do we have free will? Willa’s father became famous for writing a book arguing that it’s all fate—there is no such thing as free will or coincidence. Willa has lived very happily believing that until her husband calls for a two-month break from their marriage, an old flame reappears, and her best friend pushes Willa to refute her father’s book. VERDICT This is an entertaining and appealing tale of a woman creating her own fate, and actress-producer Jennifer Garner has purchased the film rights to it. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 10/18/13)
Ratner, Vaddey. In the Shadow of the Banyan. S. & S. 2013. 332p. ISBN 9781451657715. pap. $14.95. F
Poetic, evocative, and beautifully written, this is a novel written in lieu of a memoir because the author was too young to remember details regarding her traumatic past. Raami awakens to find the world has completely changed. She is no longer a daughter of privilege but a hated undesirable, forced to flee with her mother after her father is killed. She crosses a landscape of poverty, surviving on bugs and grass in the killing fields of Cambodia. But Raami remains a child of empathy amid the carnage and brutality, seeking reconciliation with her past. VERDICT Gorgeous, lush, and so tragic. (LJ 4/15/12)
Reading List Council members are Viccy Kemp, Megan M. McArdle, Jared Mills, Vicki Nesting, Gillian Speace, and Ann Chambers Theis