Whether you’re planning on taking a beach break this summer or just want to unwind with a cheerful read, we’ve got the books that will keep you in a sunny mood all day long. There’s something here for everybody. So kick back, put your feet up and get lost in another world.
The Loney, Andrew Michael Hurley
I’ve long been a fan of Tartarus Press, a small specialty publisher in the U.K. known for its high quality supernatural fiction. The Tartarus edition of The Loney, a first novel, received limited distribution in the U.S., but garnered praise from the likes of Stephen King (“It’s not just good, it’s great. An amazing piece of fiction”). Now a major American house is making this novel widely available. I’m curious to see what the excitement’s about.
Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null
The American West may be our biggest national mythmaker, but for my money, the dark hollows and craggy mountainsides of old Appalachia are equally fascinating—and much eerier. West Virginia native Null’s debut collection of short fiction sticks to the Allegheny region, chronicling more than 200 years of history and the comings and goings of humans and wildlife in a wilderness soon to be lost to mining, fracking, and the choke of burning coal.
Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo
Russo’s ability to capture the humanity and humor of small-town life is what continues to draw me to his work. Getting to hang out again with the characters from Nobody’s Fool, published over two decades ago and turned into a memorable film starring Paul Newman as Donald “Sully” Sullivan, makes this novel my pick. But you don’t need to have read the earlier book, also set in North Bath, N.Y., to appreciate the plot, which features Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Douglas Raymer, now the chief of police.
Voyager: Travel Writings, Russell Banks
In this compilation, the novelist reflects on a career of traveling and writing, eventually uncovering that for him the two practices are inextricably intertwined. Each of the essays introduces a place by first grounding the location—the Everglades, the Caribbean, Scotland, Dakar—in a deep historicism, and then watching the flawed narrator stumble through. In the title essay, as Banks makes a whimsical spiral throughout the islands of the Caribbean while courting his fourth wife, secrets and long-hidden desires come bubbling to the surface.
The Heavenly Table, Donald Ray Pollock
Was Deliverance a little too mellow for you? Give this a try. It’s Pollock’s third book, a psychotic terror ride through an early 20th century hillbilly hellscape that puts the family of a swindled, good-hearted farmer on a collision course with three brothers on a crime spree. If you’ve read Pollock’s earlier stuff you’ll have an idea of the kind of intense darkness he traffics in here. If not, well, buckle up.
Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
Put down your diary, Bridget Jones. Make way for Curtis Sittenfeld, whose amusing if crass new novel Eligible is the latest “modern retelling” of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s beloved Regency romance. This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.
The Girls, Emma Cline
The obsession with 1960s California cults comes to horrifying and electrifying life in this debut novel. While cults usually orbit charismatic men, Cline’s protagonist is teenage Evie, whose attraction to impossible-to-resist cool girls leads to her fate. This coming-of-age story about how the need to be validated can go very wrong hits that sweet spot of literary fiction that’s also compulsively readable.
Problems, Jade Sharma
Jade Sharma’s debut novel, plots the directionless world of Maya, a 31-year-old living with her husband in a windowless railroad apartment in New York City, as she spirals into a debilitating heroin addiction. Think Patrick Bateman circa 2016 except whip-smart and female. Maya’s inner world is raw and repulsive, but astutely rendered by Sharma. The book is simultaneously hard to read and hard to put down.
Shallcross, C.D. Wright
Wright (1949–2016), one of America’s most lauded and revered contemporary poets, died unexpectedly in January, which will make this highly anticipated verse collection that much more heart-wrenching to read. Across five distinct movements she extracts form and language from that which, previously, seemed to have been unspeakable, featuring brief lyrics of quotidian scenes, a fractured distillation of crime reports, meditations on obscurity, and more. It’s a triumph and a tragedy; she will be dearly missed.
One Hundred Twenty-One Days, Michele Audin, trans. from the French by Christiana Hills
This weird little puzzle of a novel is about mathematicians in wartime, and it’s only the second book published in English by a female member of the Oulipo. Audin, a French mathematician, scavenges different forms and styles (a fairy tale, a diary, newspaper clippings) to create a sort of literary mixtape. Perhaps the best comparison is Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth—like that novel, it gives you the rare, head-scratching feeling of not being able to say what exactly makes it so good. Maybe it’s the precision of the details—but you wouldn’t expect any less from a mathematician, would you?
For Kids: Booked, Kwame Alexander
In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel The Crossover, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read. This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match! Watch the exclusive interview with Kwame Alexander June 15 on, only on HEC-TV!