Cool Summer Reads: Hit the Beach with These Genre Fiction Favorites

Members of the American Library Association (ALA) RUSA-CODES Reading List Council, which annually presents its picks for the best in genre fiction, are pleased to share their top summer reads.

While the hold queues for new books from big names such as James Patterson, David Baldacci, and Liane Moriarty are likely to be long this summer, readers can find other excellent options guaranteed to beat the heat. Members of the American Library Association (ALA) RUSA-CODES Reading List Council, which annually presents its picks for the best in genre fiction, are pleased to share their top summer reads, compiled from novels considered for its 2016 awards (selection time frame runs November to November) as well as new and forthcoming 2016 books and the recent backlist.


Adrenaline junkies anticipating the summer’s two big trilogy finales—Stephen King’s End of Watch (Jun.) and Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors (May)—as well as Laura Lippman’s new stand-alone Wilde Lake (May) can cool their impatience with these Icelandic thrillers.


silenceoftheseaonline.jpg51216Sigurdardóttir, Yrsa. The Silence of the Sea. Minotaur: St. Martins. 2016. 336p. tr. from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. ISBN 9781250051486. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466852341. F
Winner of the 2015 Petrona Award for best Scandinavian crime novel, this modern-day Mary Celeste sea story tells of a yacht that sails into Reykjavik’s harbor; the crew and family members on board are all missing. Lawyer Thóra ­Gudmundsdóttir is asked to investigate on behalf of the surviving relatives. Flashbacks revealing what happened to the vanished family compliment Thora’s investigations and heighten the tension. VERDICT This eerie, suspenseful addition to the “Thóra Gudmundsdóttir” series stands on its own. For fans of Nordic crime fiction and horror writer John Ajvide Lindqvist. (Xpress Reviews, 2/12/16)


Indridason, Arnaldur. Strange Shores: An Inspector Erlender Novel. Minotaur: St. Martins. 2014. 304p. tr. from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. ISBN 9781250000408. $25.99; ISBN 9781250074737. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781466849549. F
While on leave in Iceland’s remote eastern fjords, Erlander is drawn into a complex missing person’s cold case that occurred in conditions strikingly similar to his brother’s disappearance years ago. The dour Erlander’s resolute detection skills and unusual crime-solving methodology are fully engaged as he confronts eerie mysteries and ghosts from the past.
VERDICT This chilling psychological thriller from an award-winning author is a treat for series fans but also works well on its own. (LJ 6/15/14)


From the gritty sword fights of Tim Akers’s The Pagan Night (Jan.) to the bleak and unflinching Dancer’s Lament by Ian C. Esslemont (May), dark and epic fantasy is all about the bildungsroman—engrossing characters maturing in worlds as varied as they are dazzling. Historical fantasy fans also get coming-of-age stories in the fairy-tale-gone-bad of Kat Howard’s Roses and Rot (May) and the fever dream of Paul Kearney’s The Wolf in the Attic (May).


skyborn.jpg51216Dalglish, David. Skyborn. Orbit: Hachette. (Seraphim, Bk. 1). 2015. 464p. ISBN 9780316302685. pap. $16.99; ebk. 9780316302715. Fantasy
Humanity survives on island cities floating high above an ocean world, each protected by a warrior class gifted with mechanical wings and elemental powers. As the civil war among the islands grows deadlier, hot-headed Breanna Skyborn and her thoughtful twin brother, Kael, must uncover the truth behind their parents’ deaths and the history of their world if they are going to prevent their people’s mass eradication. VERDICT Mercedes Lackey fans, steampunk aficionados, and even fantasy newcomers will find this combination of coming-of-age drama, a vivid magic/technology symbiosis, and high-stakes action hard to put down. (LJ 9/15/15)


Lee, Tanith. Louisa the Poisoner. Wildside. 2005. 80p. ISBN 9781592246007. pap. $12.50. Fantasy
In this novella that packs a punch, the impoverished yet well-mannered Louisa sets off to make a fortune using her titular skills given to her by a swamp witch. As the body count rises, the noose begins to tighten around our antiheroine. Part Austenian romance and part pitch-dark fantasy, this classic shows off the late Lee’s considerable talents and inimitable style of cerebral fantasy. VERDICT Readers seeking a delightfully immoral protagonist and gleeful vandalism of traditional tropes will savor this delicious tale.


Emotionally gripping historical fiction such as Beatriz Williams’s Jazz Age tale of forbidden love, A Certain Age (Jun.), will keep readers engrossed. Also dominating the summer list is fiction about slavery and its aftermath, such as Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (Jun.), which traces a family’s heritage from 18th-century Ghana to 20th-century New York.

McKinney-Whetstone, Diane. Lazaretto. Harper. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780062126962. $26.99;
ebk. ISBN 9780062126986. F
On the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, nurse Sylvia delivers a baby in Philadelphia. The newborn is the child of Meda, a black woman, and her white employer. Though born alive, the baby is pronounced dead by the father. The haunting events of the birth intertwine the lives and communities of Sylvia and Meda. VERDICT Readers of Lalita Tademy will embrace the vibrant characters in McKinney-Whetstone’s unforgettable novel. (LJ 2/15/16)


Perkins-Valdez, Dolen. Wench. Amistad: HarperCollins. 2011. 290p. ISBN 9780061706561. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061966354. F
In the 1850s, Tawawa House, an Ohio resort, became a popular summer destination for Southern slave owners and their enslaved mistresses. Four of the women develop a sisterly bond and confide in one another their deepest desire—freedom. VERDICT Told with guts and grit, Perkins-Valdez’s debut sheds light on the complex history of slavery in the United States. (LJ 12/09)


In spite of the sunshine and heat, it’s still possible to find dark shadows and cold corners. June brings chills with Christopher Buehlman’s latest vampire tale, The Suicide Motor Club, Paul Tremblay’s terrifying tale of a vanished child, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, and Ezekiel Boone’s The Hatching, whose ancient carnivorous spiders will creep out arachnophobes.


Hill, Joe. The Fireman. Morrow. May 2016. 768p. ISBN 9780062200631. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062200655. Horror
Humanity worldwide is afflicted by a condition known as Dragonscale, with victims displaying beautiful black and gold markings that will eventually cause them to burst into flames. Nurse Harper Grayson knows it’s incurable, but she’s also seen infected pregnant women deliver healthy children—which is why she conceals her own markings, determined to give birth before the disease consumes her. As she flees uninfected vigilantes bent on her destruction, she discovers a group of fellow sufferers led by a madman, The Fireman, who can control the fire. VERDICT Horror buffs will take note of this latest offering by the Bram Stoker Award winner. (LJ 2/15/16)


Cutter, Nick. The Deep. Gallery. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781476717739. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476717760. Horror 
Scientists seeking a cure for a deadly plague at the bottom of the Marianas Trench suddenly cut off contact with the surface, asking only for the presence of Luke Nelson, the brother of one of the researchers. What Luke finds in the darkest depths of the sea is unsettling, hostile, and inescapable. VERDICT This menacing, often brutal tale blurs the line between reality and delusion and should appeal to fans of claustrophobic horror in the vein of Stephen King’s The Shining or Adam Nevill’s The House of Small Shadows. (LJ 11/1/14)


Devotees will have plenty to choose for their vacation reads, from Nevada Barr’s latest Anna Pigeon outdoors adventure in Boar Island (May) to Cheryl Hongiford’s series debut, The Darkness Knows (Aug.), set in 1930s Chicago.


lastconfession.jpg51216Hodgson, Antonia. The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins. Houghton Harcourt. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780544639683. $27. ebk. ISBN 9780544715943. M
After surviving the adversityof debtor’s prison in the The Devil in the Marshalsea, Thomas Hawkins, amiable scallywag and fallen gentleman, finds himself on the way to the gallows. Narrating his story in a confessional style, Hawkins reveals the espionage, machinations of underground gangs, and gambling debts that leave his life hanging in the balance as he hopes for a royal pardon. ­Verdict Georgian London comes alive in this fast-paced, witty spellbinder that features a locked-room mystery, a bit of romance, and the misadventures of a charmingly roguish dandy. A good bet for fans of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. (LJ 11/15/15)


Morrell. David. Murder as a Fine Art. Mulholland: Little, Brown. 2013. 384p.
ISBN 9780316216784. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316216777. M
Notorious opium addict and memoirist Thomas De Quincy is a suspect in a series of ghastly murders terrorizing 19th-century London. With the assistance of his bright daughter Emily and determined Scotland Yard detectives, De Quincy must stop a killer who bases his crimes on notorious cases. Verdict Winner of the Reading List Award for Best Mystery, this expertly plotted page-turner is packed with tense action and diverting historical minutia. (LJ 12/12)


Summer flings—and more—are on tap. May historical romances from Lisa Kleypas (Marrying Winterborne) and Elizabeth Hoyt (Duke of Sin) will provide poolside escapism, and July brings Alice Clayton’s humorous contemporary Cream of the Crop. In August, Colleen Hoover returns with It Ends with Us, and a Scottish duke meets his match in Sarah ­MacLean’s A Scot in the Dark.


magnateonline.jpg51216Shupe, Joanna. Magnate. Zebra: Kensington. (Knickerbocker Club, Bk 1). 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781420139846. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420139853. Romance
Elizabeth Sloane, a golden girl of Gilded Age New York with a monied pedigree, also has
a shrewd business sense and wants to start her own investment firm. In search of a
backer, Elizabeth approaches Emmett Cavanaugh, a self-made steel magnate who doesn’t care a whit about society’s expectations. He’s happy to back Elizabeth, even if he finds her charms distracting. VERDICT Gilded Age romances have all of the opulence of the ever-popular Regency-era romances without that been-there-done-that feeling. Shupe’s characters are captivating and unorthodox, the descriptions of society life are extravagant, and the love scenes are steamy. (LJ 4/15/16)


Topper, Jessica. Dictatorship of the Dress. Berkley. (Much “I Do” About Nothing, Bk. 1). 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780425276259 pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698168305. Romance
Lainey Hudson is on a mission to deliver her mother’s wedding dress to Hawaii. A flight attendant assumes that Lainey is the bride and sits her in first class—next to Noah Ridgewood, a straight-laced software designer en route to his Vegas bachelor party. The two play up the assumption that they’re the engaged couple, but when weather forces the plane to land in Chicago, they’re stuck with each other longer than expected. VERDICT Topper’s delightful rom-com features laugh-out-loud dialog, surprising twists, and a couple unable to grasp how perfect they are for each other.


Far from dystopian, sf’s near future looks bright with two big debuts—Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants (Apr.) and Fred Strydom’s The Raft (May). Space opera reveals its range with Joe Ziega’s Mechanical Failure (Jun.) and Melinda Snodgrass’s The High Ground (Jul.). Series action takes off with Jamie Sawyer’s The Lazarus War: Origins (Aug.), Liu Cixin’s trilogy finale, Death’s End (Sept.), and The Span of Empire (Sept.) by Eric Flint and David Carrico.


Palmer, Dexter. Version Control. Pantheon. 2016. 495p. ISBN 9780307907592. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907608. SF
Rebecca struggles—with grief, with her work-obsessed physicist husband, with alcoholism, and with the subtle, unshakable sense that the world she lives in is wrong. If past decisions and a single violent tragedy are the history that make Rebecca and Philip who they are, what if something were to happen to that past? VERDICT Complicated, human characters, fascinating ideas, and witty, socially conscious prose make this title engaging fare for any reader and a sure bet for fans of Neal Stephenson and Connie ­Willis. (LJ 1/16)


Walton, Jo. My Real Children. Tor. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780765332653. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9780765332684. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466800793. SF
Dementia obscures some memories and reveals others for octogenarian Patricia Cowan. Two lives, two families diverge from a single choice. Which life should she have lived, and which did she really experience? VERDICT Readers of character-driven speculative fiction will appreciate the importance Walton places on personal moments of consequence as well as on those that change the wider world. (LJ 4/15/15)

Women’s Fiction

Sometimes a girl just needs time with her gal pals, and this summer some of the genre’s most beloved authors—Anne Tyler, Terry McMillian, Dorthea Benton Frank, and Emily Giffin—return to explore the joys and sorrows of being a woman in today’s world.


oppositeofeveryone.jpg51216Jackson, Joshilyn. The Opposite of Everyone. Morrow. 2016. 295p. ISBN 9780062105684. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062105707. F
Born blue and named Kali Jai for the Hindu goddess, Paula Vauss is estranged from her mother and has worked diligently to overcome her transient childhood. When her monthly check to her mom (to pay off her karmic debt) is returned with a puzzling note, Paula is forced to examine her troubled past. VERDICT Jackson’s fans will find much to love and new readers will delight in compelling plot twists, unforgettable characters, and strong storytelling. (LJ 1/16)


Diffenbaugh, Vanessa. The Language of Flowers. Ballantine. 2011. 334p. ISBN 9780345525543. $26; pap. ISBN 9780345525550. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780345525567. F
An expert in the 19th-century language of flowers, Victoria is also a deeply troubled young woman who has just been emancipated from the foster care system. This first novel explores Victoria’s struggle to make her way in the world and the mysteries of loving and of being loved. VERDICT While at times heartbreaking, the tone is ultimately hopeful, and readers will never look at a flower bouquet in the same way again. (LJ 6/1/11)


Finally, here are books that are worthy of mention yet defy convention. Blending traditions of multiple genres can create something fresh and unexpected out of the familiar. March brought Lindsay Faye’s Jane Steele, a reinterpretation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, which will appeal to historical fiction and crime fiction fans. Coming this June (finally!) is Reading List winner Daniel O’Malley’s long-awaited Stiletto, the sequel to The Rook. O’Malley cleverly spans fantasy, action and adventure, thriller, and the supernatural.


undergroundairlines.jpg41416Winters, Ben. Underground Airlines. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Jul. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780316261241. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316261234. F
In an alternative 21st-century America, the Civil War never happened, and slavery remains legal in four states. Victor, a man who escaped his enslavement only to be recaptured and set to tracking other fugitive slaves, faces internal and external conflicts as he grapples with his own unfree condition, his conflicted identity under the many aliases his undercover work demands, and his place in a racially segregated country where even the free states aren’t free.  VERDICT Winters examines systems of privilege in a society where slavery persists to shed light on those same systems at work in our own “free and equal” culture. Complex characters and detective-story suspense make this book hard to put down and impossible to forget. (LJ 4/15/16)


Taylor, Jodi. Just One Damned Thing After Another: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. Night Shade. (Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Bk 1). Jun. 2016. 348p. ISBN 9781597808682. pap.  $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9781681468822. Fantasy
Narrator Max describes the quirky comings and goings of her instructors and fellow trainees at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. Sharing her wry observations of these “historians” (read: eccentrics of the first water), Max illuminates their travels as they “investigate major historical events in contemporary time.” Disaster follows. VERDICT Told with sardonic wit, this spin on time-traveling researchers should have fans of Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book and, well basically anyone, in stitches. Readers who loathe waiting to find out what happens next will be glad to know that in the UK, where the series first launched in 2013, Taylor has already published up to seven volumes. (LJ 5/15/16)

Reading List Council members are Meagan Daym, Nanette Wargo Donohue, Amy Gornikiewicz, Emily Hamstra, Lauren Kage, Jared Mills, and Ann Chambers Theis, with assistance from Alicia Ahlvers (past chair of The Reading List)

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