Hot Summertime Reads

The holds for anticipated new works by Toni Morrison and Harper Lee may be long this summer, but readers can fill in their waiting time by relaxing with some great genre fiction. Members of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Reading List Council, which annually presents its picks for the best in genre fiction, are pleased to share some of their favorite summer reads. To compile this list, council members drew upon the wealth of past Reading List winners and short-list finalists who have 2015 titles available now or coming soon, and recent backlist titles with buzz that should be on your reading radar. 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.


Two June political thrillers—Jason Matthews’s Palace of Treason and Don Winslow’s The Cartel—start the summer off with a bang. Then cool off with Finders Keepers (Jun.), Stephen King’s spine-tingling sequel to Mr. Mercedes, Finish the season off with Michael Koryta’s Last Words, an August crime thriller about a mysterious murder in an Indiana cave system.

secondlife51515King, Stephen. Mr. Mercedes. Scribner. 2014. 437p. ISBN 9781476754451. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781476754468. F

Start your engines and fasten your seat belts for a wild ride with this hard-boiled thriller about a malevolent hit- and-run driver and the race to stop his madness. Verdict King fans anticipating the sequel will want to reread this, while other readers may enjoy the author’s first take on a classic detective story. (LJ 5/15/14)

Watson, S.J. Second Life. Harper. Jun. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780062060587. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062060600. F

Sisters Kate and Julia are so close that Julia adopted her baby sister’s son Connor, after Kate gave birth at age 16. Kate’s brutal murder leads Julia to uncover the shady acquaintances she never suspected her sister kept and a darkly erotic secret life she finds irresistible even as it starts to destroy her family’s ability to trust her. VERDICT Watson’s second thriller (after the best-selling Before I Go To Sleep) offers an exciting mix of sex, murder, and mystery to please adrenaline junkies. (LJ 5/15/15)


Return to a magical world this summer with the latest series releases or immerse yourself in a new fantasy realm. In demand will be Erika Johansen’s The Invasion of the Tearling (Jun.), the sequel to her impressive first effort, The Queen of the Tearling, and Victor Milan’s medieval/prehistoric mashup The Dinosaur Lords (Jul.).

gracekeepers51515Logan, Kristi. The Gracekeepers. Crown. May 2015. ISBN 9780553446616. $25. ebk. ISBN 9780553446630. Fantasy

In a world mostly covered by water, Callanish lives alone on an island, working as a gracekeeper tending watery graves. North is a performer with a floating circus troupe, until a storm brings the two women together and a chance to change their lives. VERDICT Drawing on Scottish folklore, this haunting debut fantasy is a literary Waterworld that will be in high demand by fans of Erin ­Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

Schwab, V.E. A Darker Shade of Magic. Tor. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780765376459. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466851375. FANTASY

Kell, a rare Traveler, serves as messenger and de facto prince of Red London, carrying correspondence between three parallel Londons and, in his own time, smuggling tourists between cities. When this side business casts Kell out of favor, he must work with Delilah Bard, an ambitious cutpurse from magicless Grey London to save all of the worlds. VERDICT With more depth and substance than a gimmicky concept, this inventive adventure and its colorful eccentric characters provide the perfect summer escape. (LJ 12/15/14)

Historical Fiction

Fans of the genre are in for literary treats from perennial favorite authors. Coming later this summer are Philippa Gregory’s The Taming of the Queen (Aug.), Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun (Jul.; LJ 5/15/15), and Meg Waite Clayton’s The Race for Paris (Aug.). If you can’t abide that long, pack your beach bag with these novels from a Reading List favorite and a promising writer to watch.

jamonthevineBarnett, LaShonda Katrice. Jam on the Vine. Grove. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780802123343. $26.50; ebk. ISBN 9780802191571. F

In this lively and thought-provoking coming-of-age tale inspired by the life of newspaperwoman and activist Ida B. Wells, Ivoe Williams shares Wells’s passion for the printed word as she struggles during the Jim Crow era to establish the first African American press on the eve of 1919’s Red Summer. VERDICT Strong supporting characters and enlightening writing brings history to life in a meaningful work of fiction that should be welcomed by readers of Alice Walker, Lalita Tademy, and Tayari Jones. (LJ 12/15/14)

Barrows, Annie. The Truth According to Us. Dial. Jun. 2015. 512p. ISBN 9780385342940. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812997842. F

Barrows follows up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with a small-town story filled with big characters. In the summer of 1938 Layla Beck’s influential father cuts her off and insists she find work with the New Deal program the Federal Writer’s Project. Layla is sent to pen the history of a remote mill town in West Virginia and takes up lodging with the unconventional Romeyn family, one of whom is keen to help her uncover buried family and town secrets. VERDict A warm family novel of love, history, truth, and hope that is a solid fit for fans of Lee Smith and Paula McLain. (LJ 4/15/15)


For some frighteningly good reading, horror master Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels (May) and newcomer Scott Hawkins’s The Library at Mount Char (Jun.; LJ 5/15/15) will keep fans on edge. Also generating advance buzz is Paul G. Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts (Jun.) and Kevin P. Keating’s The Captive Condition (Jul.). Or, if you dare, venture into the dark side with these titles from Reading List authors.

Logan, Michael. World War Moo: An Apocalypse Cow Novel. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2015. 320p. ISBN: 9781250061652. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466867697. Horror

worldwarmoo51515The bungled bioweapon that unleashed bloodthirsty zombie cows in the UK has spread to humans and has infected the entire British Isles. Nervous nations consider military options and the oddball group of survivors from Apocalypse Cow are called back into action, including teenager Geldof and his mom, who may have found a way to fight off the infection via meditation, combat yoga, and sex. Verdict Logan’s verbal pyrotechnics combines gory action sequences and offbeat characters. Perfect for connoisseurs of all things zombie and readers who enjoy a bit of dark humor mixed with their horror. (LJ 5/15/15)

Nevill, Adam. The House of Small Shadows. St. Martin’s. 2014. 374p. ISBN 9781250041272. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466837386. Horror

Catherine, an antiques appraiser with a haunted past, is summoned to the crumbling Victorian home of acclaimed taxidermist and doll collector M.H. Mason. Awaiting her are the haunted relics of a twisted genius who created grisly tableaux, his malevolent ancient niece, and chilling threats to her sanity. ­Verdict Creepy, chilling, and intense, this gothic fever dream and hauntedhouse story will keep you awake at night. (LJ 7/14)


Suspense novels always make popular beach reading, and July and August bring a slew of great titles from heavy hitters such as Sarah Paretsky’s Brush Back, J.A. Jance’s Dance of the Bones, and Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home. Pick your poison with some lighter series fare from these Reading List authors.

scentsandsensibility51515Quinn, Spencer. Scents and Sensibility: A Chet and Bernie Mystery. Atria. Jul. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781476703428. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476703442. M

PI Bernie Little and his canine companion Chet are back to their old tricks as they investigate cactus smuggling, a kidnapping, a bizarre desert festival, and a dangerous criminal who threatens to do them harm. VERDICT A perfect treat for fans of Chet and Bernie who are begging (and maybe drooling) for the eighth installment of their humorous and enjoyable investigations. [See Prepub Alert, 2/1/15.]

Weaver, Ashley. Murder at the Brightwell. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2014. 325p. ISBN 9781250046369. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466846531. M

A 1932 seaside holiday at the posh Brightwell Hotel is the scene of a ghastly murder. Amory Ames, at a turning point in her own life, solves the crime and finds misplaced love, while keeping her poise and elegance intact. Verdict This 2015 Reading List winner and Edgar Award nominee is a charming romp for admirers of traditional golden age mysteries and fans of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence, Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, and Rhys Bowen’s Lady Georgie. (LJ 9/15/14)


Readers of love stories will embrace a season packed with fresh works by favorite authors, highlighted by the long-awaited latest installment in Lisa Kleypas’s fourth “Travis Family” title, Brown-Eyed Girl (Aug.). Loyal fans will also hasten to put holds on Mary Balogh’s Only a Promise (Jun.), Tessa Dare’s When a Scot Ties the Knot (Aug.), Julie James’s Suddenly One Summer (Jun.), and Lauren Willig’s The Lure of the Moonflower (Aug.). Avoid the wait and still beat the heat with one of these picks instead.

crazythingcalledlove51515Guhrke, Laura Lee. How To Lose a Duke in Ten Days. Avon. (American Heiress in London, Bk. 2). 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062118196. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062118202. Romance

Five years after her in-name-only marriage to the Duke of Margrave, Edie, now a strong and confident woman, finds herself and her marriage at a crossroads. Verdict The heroine’s traumatic backstory informs but doesn’t eclipse the charms of this well-developed romance. (LJ 4/15/14)

O’Keefe, Molly. Crazy Thing Called Love. Bantam. (Crooked Creek Ranch, Bk. 3). 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780345533692. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780345533708. romance

Forced to work with sexy hockey superstar Billy Wilkins, who is also her ex-husband, Dallas TV morning show host Madelyn Cornish considers one more shot at making things right. VERDICT This 2014 RITA Award winner takes the reader on an emotional roller-coaster ride featuring complex, believable characters.

Science Fiction

Broaden your horizons this summer with tales of space colonization—Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora (Jul.), Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves (May), and James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games (Jun.)—and the far future. Patrick Swenson’s conspiracy-filled The Ultra Thin Man (Aug.) is space opera noir and Michael Swanwick’s Chasing the Phoenix (Aug.) gives us posttechnological adventure in a China ruled once again by warlords. But don’t neglect the following novels by Reading List–recommended writers.

thewaterknife21715Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Water Knife. May 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780385352871. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352895. sF

Angel Velasquez “cuts” water in the drought-ravaged Southwest. As wealth and corruption increasingly determine who can drink, he is sent to Phoenix to investigate a possible new water source. There he finds a journalist, a refugee, and a murderous plot to control an entire river. VERDICT Organized crime, a bleakly realistic take on apocalypse, and three original character perspectives make this near-future thriller a compelling read. (LJ 2/15/15)

Kress, Nancy. Yesterday’s Kin. Tachyon. 2014. 192p. ISBN 9781616961756; ebk. ISBN 9781616961763. sf

Aliens make first contact to warn Earth of an approaching disaster, offering to collaborate with human scientists on a cure before the spore cloud arrives. Suspicion and xenophobia war with desperation to avert the plague. Geneticist Marianne Jenner’s family takes opposing sides, and she must confront the factions’ hold on her children. Verdict This quick read examines humans’ less noble tendencies, incorporating hard science and believably flawed characters. (LJ 8/14)

Women’s Fiction

Whether dealing with family relationships in a moving and engrossing way as do Lisa Jewell (The Third Wife, Jun.; LJ 5/15/15) and Margaret Dilloway (Sisters of Heart and Snow), or taking a sharp look at the long-term dynamics between men and women (Jennifer Weiner’s Who Do You Love, Aug.), these books will surely pop up at every beach and pool. Discerning readers will also enjoy earlier works by these authors.

careandhandlingofroses51515Dilloway, Margaret. The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns. Putnam. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780425260975. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101588871. F

An unconventional protagonist drives this story of feisty, 36-year-old Gal Garner, a science teacher and rose breeder with kidney disease, who is suddenly left to care for her teenage niece. ­Verdict Gal’s emotional journey combined with vivid descriptions of the hardships of dialysis and the fascinating world of rose breeding make this a riveting read. (LJ 6/1/12)

Jewell, Lisa. The House We Grew Up In. Atria. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781476702995. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781476703015. F

Through an email trail, Lorelei’s adult children painstakingly unravel the progress of her dysfunctional illness with humor and love, while taking stock of its heartbreaking effects on the entire family. Verdict An insightful, dramatic look at the condition of hoarding. (LJ 5/15/14)

Wild cards

These are books by Reading List authors that we strongly believe readers will want (or wish to revisit) but could not shoehorn into any one genre. Their high-concept plots, likable characters, readable styles, and blending of multiple narrative conventions make these titles easy to recommend yet hard to categorize.

Cline, Ernest. Armada. Crown. Jul. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780804137256. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780804137263. sf

High schooler and gamer Zack’s world is rocked when the aliens from his favorite video game actually invade Earth. Wondering at the eerie similarity of this attack to the books and movies he loved as a kid, Zack, along with other game aficionados, gears up to defend the planet. VERDICT Expect huge demand for this coming-of-age gamer kid adventure after the author’s big splash with Ready Player One, but with pop culture references, action, and a relatable main character the appeal for all ages was already there.

areax121514VanderMeer, Jeff. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. Farrar. 2014. 608p. ISBN 9780374261177. $35. sf

Decades of expeditions have sought an explanation for or defense against the mysterious border into the more mysterious Area X. An enigmatic biologist may come closer than anyone to understanding this no-man’s land, if not impeded by the well-meaning spy running the disintegrating agency tasked with exploring it. VERDICT First published as separate titles (Annihilation, LJ 1/14; Authority, LJ 5/15/14; Acceptance, LJ 8/14), this trilogy blends elements of government conspiracy, spy thriller, and sf with introspective, complex characters to make it an all-audiences win. (LJ 12/15/14)

Reading List Council members are Alicia Ahlvers, Phillip Ballo, Lauren Kage, Megan McArdle, Janet Schneider, Valerie Morgan Taylor, and Ann Chambers Theis

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  1. Sarah Thring says:

    Please clarify the title for the new Annie Barrows novel. It seems to have 2 so far.