It is that time of the year. The time when, with images of white beaches and umbrella’d drinks firmly in mind, we want to surround ourselves with things that will help us relax. To let our minds rest. To take us away. Like good, highly readable books. But with scads of new books being released every week, not to mention myriad “Best Summer Books” and “Best Beach Reads” lists being published everday, it’s overwhelming (i.e., not relaxing) to know where to being.
So instead of giving my suggestions on what you should be reading (like Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, Max Barry’s Lexicon, David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, or Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings), I compiled many of the Best Of lists already out there. The following are the 10 books most commonly recommended by top U.S. newspapers, magazines and websites. All are currently available for purchase, unless otherwise noted.
I’m also including the one book that you should probably avoid. (You’re welcome.)
[Oh, and for some great Philly-centric picks, check out Philadelphia Weekly’s Summer reading 2013.]
The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan
Synopsis: Four couples struggle with what it means to be in a marriage while one young female copywriter works on a new ad line for the De Beers diamond campaign, which will become the iconic, “A diamond is forever.”
Why you should pick it up: Combining Sullivan’s gifts as a writer — her two previous novels, Commencement and Maine, were bestsellers, and Maine was named a Time Magazine Best Book of the Year — with a Mad Men-like storyline, it’s no wonder everyone is talking about this book.
Recommended by: Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, LA Times, Marie Claire, NY Daily News, NY Times, Parade, People, and Real Simple
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
Synopsis: A man returns to his childhood home in Sussex, England, where 40 years earlier, a young girl swore she would protect him from the darkness unleashed by a man’s suicide.
Why you should pick it up: It has been eight years since the supernaturally imaginative, multi-award winning Gaiman has released an adult novel. (Not that I’m complaining; his 2008 The Graveyard Book is still one of my faves.)
Recommended by: Amazon, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, LA Times, Newsday, NPR, Parade, and Reading Room
The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes
Synopsis: After surviving an attack by a serial killer, Kirby must track down the murderer — a man who steps in and out of time — before he kills again.
Why you should pick it up: This inventive, original and sometimes violent thriller may be this year’s Gone Girl.
Recommended by: Barnes & Noble, Chicago Tribune, Hollywood Reporter, LA Times, Newsday, NPR, NY Times, Real Simple, and Salon
Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld [Available June 25th]
Synopsis: Identical twin sisters are born with psychic abilities, including being able to see the future. When, as adults, one sister predicts a destructive earthquake, the other sister must deal with the consequences, and whether the prediction might be correct.
Why you should pick it up: Expect another beautifully written bestseller from Sittenfeld, the monstrously talented author of Prep and American Wife.
Recommended by: Amazon, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, LA Times, Marie Claire, Newsday, People, Publishers Weekly, and Reading Room
Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
Synopsis: Rachel decides to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Benjamin and his family. What she couldn’t have expected was the extravagance, the wealth, and the fact that Benjamin’s mother doesn’t approve of the relationship.
Why you should pick it up: Like Revenge Wears Prada, everyone needs a fluffy, exaggerated comic novel in their beach bag. So pack this one—if only for scenes like the one where a mother tells her kids to clean their plates because “there are children starving in America.”
Recommended by: Barnes & Noble, Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, LA Times, Newsday, NY Daily News, and NY Times
Night Film, Marisha Pessl [Available August 20th]
Synopsis: A journalist suspects that the apparent suicide of a young woman might be tied to her father, a reclusive horror-film director. But can the journalist prove his case, or will he lose the last of his already damaged credibility?
Why you should pick it up: This buzzy new noir from Pessl—bestselling author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics—is being described by Kirkus reviews as “Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King meet Guillermo del Toro…”
Recommended by: Amazon, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, LA Times, Newsday, and USA Today
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton DiSclafani
Synopsis: 1930, the Great Depression. After a family tragedy, a young girl, Thea, is sent away to an equestrienne boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There, she must find her way in this new world and deal with what led her there.
Why you should pick it up: Though much praise has already been given to the writing, this book will ultimately appeal to lovers of historical fiction and coming-of-age stories.
Recommended by: Chicago Tribune, Hollywood Reporter, Marie Claire, NPR, People, Reading Room, and USA Today
TransAtlantic, Colum McCann
Synopsis: Four generation of women observe Frederick Douglas lecturing in Ireland in 1845; Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown attempting to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1919; and Senator George Mitchell helping with peace talks in 1998.
Why you should pick it up: As proven with his last novel, 2009’s Let the Great World Spin (winner of the U.S. National Book Award), McCann as a unique gift of effectively combining fiction set against the backdrop of important historical events.
Recommended by: Chicago Tribune, Esquire, O, Parade, People, Real Simple, and USA Today
And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
Synopsis: A multigenerational look at how families become closer and fall apart.
Why you should pick it up: If you were a fan of Hosseini’s literary juggernauts The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid, you’ve probably already read this one.
Recommended by: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chicago Tribune, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, and Parade
Joyland, Stephen King
Synopsis: Trying to get over his ex, college student Devin accepts a job at the amusement park Joyland. A promising employee, Devin learns of a horrible murder that happened mere summers before. And that the ghost of the dead girl may still haunt the Funhouse.
Why you should pick it up: There have been two great, classic King novels this year. The first, NOS4A2 (which was actually written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill), feels like It or Pet Sematary: over-the-top and scary as hell. With Joyland, King gives us another beautifully written story about an adolescent growing up amidst dark happenings. (More akin, many have noted, to his short story “The Body”, the basis for the movie Stand by Me.) It is quiet and absolutely haunting.
Recommended by: Chicago Tribune, Hollywood Reporter, LA Times, Men’s Health, NY Times, and USA Today
And Your “Do Not Read” List:
Inferno, Dan Brown
Synopsis: The usual Brown novel: a symbologist (Robert Langdon), a sexy, brilliant, younger woman (a beautiful doctor), random painter/sculptor/poet/writer scavenger hunt (works influenced by Dante’s Inferno), vague science-y stuff that can destroy the Earth (a biological plague), a race against the clock, and chapters that end with sentences like “and then the thing happened that changed everything”, though the reader won’t actually learn what that thing is for another three chapters.
Why you shouldn’t pick it up: It is time for Dan Brown to retire the Robert Langdon series. Like The Hangover II, you can’t just repeat the same story in a different, grander location and pretend like it’s new. Also, I think we can all agree that The Lost Symbol was pretty bad, but here the writing is even worse. My favorite? Even when Langdon and the hottie associate are running for their lives, Tour Guide Dan Brown never stops. “The farther they progressed into the tunnel, the more Langdon was reminded of just how ambitious an architectural feat this passageway had been.”