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Suggestions for Your Summer Reading

Booksellers offer recommendations about thrillers, family sagas and more


Three-day weekends — not to mention summer vacations — always lend themselves to settling in somewhere sunny with a good book. What will you read? Ask your local bookseller for suggestions and check out the following recommendations from staff members at four independent bookstores across the country:

Summer Stories

“We’re right on the beach, and from Memorial Day through Labor Day people always need a good book,” says Amanda Zirn Hudson, manager and buyer at Bethany Beach Books , in business for 28 years in Bethany Beach, Del.

Amanda Zirn Hudson
Amanda Zirn Hudson

What does she recommend? Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, a psychological thriller about a London couple on their honeymoon in Bora Bora, where “everything spins out of control.” Zirn Hudson also likes Rules for Visiting by Jessica Frances Kane, a novel about a university gardener who sets out to reconnect with four old friends.

Boomer alert: Elin Hilderbrand’s historical novel Summer of ’69 recalls what the publisher describes as “the most tumultuous summer of the 20th century.”

An earlier time — 1965 — is celebrated in Renée Rosen’s Park Avenue Summer, now in paperback. Advertised as “‘Mad Men Meets The Devil Wears Prada,” the novel is about an earnest young woman who works for editor Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan magazine.

If you haven’t read Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, a New York Times bestseller from last summer about a young girl growing up in North Carolina, Zirn Hudson says now is the time. “I love this book so, so much,” she says. “The writing is incredible, just luxurious.”

‘I Know It Will Get a Lot of Attention’

Frank Sanchez, a buyer for Green Apple Books, established in San Francisco 52 years ago, praises the writing in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. “This is a first novel by a celebrated young poet, and the language is like nothing I’ve ever read,” Sanchez says. “The book is in the form of a letter to the narrator’s mother, who can’t read. I know it will get a lot of attention.”

Lila Savage’s Say Say Say, due out early in July, also wins Sanchez’s endorsement. The novel follows a hospice worker who helps a family with a loved one facing the end of her life. Sanchez calls the book “a meditation on grief and hopefulness.”

Sanchez also looks forward to nature writer Robert McFarland’s new book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, described as “an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.” And fans of Obi Kaufmann’s California Field Atlas will be drawn to his new book, The State of Water: Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource. Sanchez says it’s “a treatise on communing with nature and sources of water.”

At Square Books, serving Oxford, Miss., for 40 years, buyer Cody Morrison hails Biloxi: A Novel by Mary Miller. “It’s set on the coast, about a 63-year-old curmudgeon estranged from his daughter,” Morrison says. “He becomes the owner of a dog, a misfit like himself, and the dog changes his life.”

“Harper Lee got swept up in the investigation of a series of murders in Alabama and her estate let Cep look through boxes of Lee’s research.”

He also likes The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason. Set in Victorian London, the thriller is “an investigation into a shocking conspiracy” connected to publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. And Morrison recommends Chanelle Benz’s new novel, The Gone Dead, due out in late June. “When a woman inherits a homestead in the Mississippi delta, she discovers nuances of her father’s family relationships,” he says. “It’s a strong novel of place, with plenty of intrigue.”

The Secret Past of a Famous Landscape Architect

Before Frederick Law Olmstead was a landscape architect (the designer of New York’s Central Park, among other notable green spaces), he traveled through the South in the 1850s as a reporter for The New York Times, filing stories under an assumed name. Journalist Tony Horwitz recounts that “intrepid and often hilarious journey” in Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide. Morrison calls it “a fascinating look at the South.”

Kris Kleindinst
Kris Kleindienst

The Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep also makes Morrison’s list. “Harper Lee got swept up in the investigation of a series of murders in Alabama, and her estate let Cep look through boxes of Lee’s research,” he says.

Left Bank Books, Inc. in St. Louis will celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer, and Kris Kleindienst, a co-owner, has worked there for 45 of them. Her recommendations start with the new paperback edition of Abbigail N. Rosewood’s If I Had Two Lives, the story of an immigrant from Vietnam struggling to build a life in New York, which Kleindienst calls an “achingly beautiful” debut novel that “strikes universal notes.”

Though she cautions it’s “a little scandalous,” Kleindienst also is a fan of journalist Lisa Taddeo’s nonfiction chronicle Three Women, featuring intimate looks at their lives, due out July 9. And Kleindienst also likes Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, a widely hailed “sweeping family saga” from last summer, now in paperback.

Shane Mullen, the “staff wrangler, book whisperer, event host, reading group coordinator and Friends coordinator” at Left Bank is looking forward to Joshilyn Jackson’s novel Never Have I Ever, due out the end of July. “It’s a thriller,” he says, “and a diabolically entertaining one.”

Eat, Drink and Be Wary — of Time Travel

Mullen predicts Antoine Laurain’s Vintage 1954 will be the author’s breakout book. “Four people who drink a bottle of 1954 Beaujolais wake up in 1950s Paris, so it’s part romance and part science fiction time travel,” he says.

Shane Mullen
Shane Mullen

Balli Kaur Jaswal, author of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, has a new novel: The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, about three estranged sisters on a road trip in India. Mullen describes it as “a feel-good book.”

Attention, Hamilton fans! While on vacation in 2008, Lin-Manuel Miranda read Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton — and we know where that went. Mullen has a suggestion for the multi-talented genius (and the rest of us): The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple.

“It’s a hunk of a book with incredible reviews from Ron Chernow and Jon Meacham,” Mullen says, “and it is a sure way to delve into the history of a turbulent time in American history.”

By Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia on her blog.

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