Editor’s note: Longtime Arts columnist Kathy Ward, of “In the Stacks,” is on vacation this week. In her absence, here’s a look at new and recently published summer titles.
Summer books aren’t only notorious potboilers or “beach reads.” They can be finely composed and serious. But more often than not, they offer the chance to escape into another world — say, pre-Revolutionary Afghanistan or the crowded streets of Shanghai. Reading about trouble in the frigid woods of the Ukraine can be a fascinating way to block out the sounds of noisy kids lining up at the diving board or feelings that Midwest humidity is heavier than a soaked beach towel.
Although nonfiction examinations of everything from the latest presidential election to the life of actress Ava Gardner will be available, what many readers look for during the languid summer months are something like a literary trip to riding camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Here’s a selection of titles coming this summer. Summaries are taken from publishers’ information and advance reviews. Some “summer” books have already been released; check online booksellers for specific on-sale dates. Titles are listed by month and organized alphabetically by the author’s last name.
MAY AND JUNE
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf). From the author of “Half the Yellow Sun,” a story of two Nigerian teens who fall in love, but are separated after their country comes under a dangerous dictatorship. Years later, the successful adults meet again in the homeland.
“Inferno” by Dan Brown (Doubleday). Harvard scholar Robert Langdon, who has survived “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Lost Symbol,” must now decipher a Dante-inspired riddle.
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow). A middle-aged man returns home and sitting by a pond, remembers a strange encounter from his childhood. Gaiman’s first book for adults since 2005.
“Flora” by Gail Godwin (Bloomsbury). A wry adolescent and her young caretaker deal with heartbreak during the summer of 1945.
“The Black Country” by Alex Grecian (Putnam). Scotland Yard’s new Murder Squad has its hands full with a family missing in the coal-mining midlands in this historical thriller.
“Bad Monkey” by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf). Will Hiaasen ever run out of goofy gatorland-inspiration for his South Florida satires? Apparently, and thankfully, not.
“And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead). What looks to be a summer blockbuster begins with a poor Afghan man who decides to sell one of his children. From the author of “The Kite Runner.”
“The Flinch Factor” by Michael Kahn (Poison Pen). St. Louis sleuth Rachel Gold returns to face a powerful developer, a wacky judge and a corpse found on “Gay Way.”
“Joyland” by Stephen King (Hard Crime). Pulpy paperback about a college student who works as a carny in 1973 and confronts things that will change his life.
“TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann (Random House). From the winner of the National Book Award for “Let the Great World Spin,” this puddle-hopping novel links imagined and real events, such as Frederick Douglass’ trip to Dublin and Sen. George Mitchell” Good Friday peace talks.
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra (Hogarth). Set in 2004 Chechnya, a girl must survive after her father is hauled off and her country disintegrates.
“Red Sparrow” by Jason Matthews (Scribner). A CIA veteran publishes his first novel about a Russian “Sparrow School’ that teaches young women how to use sex to learn secrets.
“The Son” by Philipp Meyer (Ecco). In 19th-century Texas, Comanches raid a homestead, kidnapping a 13-year-old boy who is adopted and nurtured by the chief. After living as an Indian, Eli McCullough goes on to become a ruthless oil man and father.
“Choke Point” by Ridley Pearson (Putnam). The team of Knox and Chu work to shut down a nasty Amsterdam sweatshop that enslaves young girls.
“Red Moon” by Benjamin Percy (Grand Central). Werewolves, an oppressed minority, turn to terrorism while trying to reach equality in this supernatural thriller.
“Circle of Shadows” by Imogen Robertson (Viking). The fourth novel in the historical suspense series The New York Times called “CSI: Georgian England.”
“Big Brother” by Lionel Shriver (HarperCollins). Shriver, who added to parents’ angst with “We Need to Talk About Kevin” now takes a sharp look at Americans’ obsession with food and how it affects families.
“Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld (Riverhead). Twin sisters seem to have sixth senses, and one cashes in on hers as an adult psychic.
“The Child Thief” by Dan Smith (Pegasus Crime). The mutilated bodies of children are found during a cold winter in 1930 in the Ukraine. When another child goes missing, a war veteran must investigate.
“The Silver Star” by Jeannette Walls (Scribner). The author of the great memoir “The Glass Castle” knows negligent mothers from her own life. In her new novel, one leaves her 12- and 15-year-old daughters to fend for themselves, and, they do — even moving across country and finding jobs.
“Revenge Wears Prada” by Lauren Weisberger (Simon & Schuster). Years after she quit working for dragon lady Miranda Priestly, Andy has started a bridal magazine and is engaged herself. But everything doesn’t seem right to the heroine of “The Devil Wears Prada.”
“The Enigma of China” by Qiu Xiaolong (Minotaur). Chief Inspector Chen investigates the hanging death of a Shanghai city official — did he really commit suicide?
“The Center Holds” by Jonathan Alter (Simon & Schuster). A campaign study of President Barack Obama’s fight for a second term.
“The Guns at Last Light” by Rick Atkinson (Holt). The master of narrative military history ends his Liberation Trilogy with this admired account of the 1944-45 fighting in Western Europe.
“Mickey and Willie” by Allen Barra (Crown). The similarities and secret lives of New York baseball icons Mantle and Mays.
“Here Is Where” by Andrew Carroll (Random House). Carroll explores America’s unmarked historic sites and forgotten events.
“Hitchhiking With Larry David” by Paul Samuel Dolman (Gotham). Memoir by an aging writer who spent a summer on Martha’s Vineyard and meets a fair number of notables by sticking his thumb out for rides.
“The Astronaut Wives Club” by Lily Koppel (Grand Central). Maybe their experiences weren’t as thrilling as those of John Glenn and other Mercury Seven heroes, but the astronauts’ wives also became instant celebrities and fashion icons during the early days of the space program.
“The Tao of Martha” by Jen Lancaster (NAL). Can hapless humor writer learn to arrange a perfect charcuterie platter a la Martha Stewart?
“Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World” by Adam LeBor (PublicAffairs). The story of the Bank for International Settlements, where bankers from around the world have met since 1930.
“Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography From Grantham to the Falklands” by Charles Moore (Knopf). This biography is even-handed but “not likely to sway either detractors or admirers one way or another,” Kirkus Reviews predicts.
“The Unwinding” by George Packer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Disturbing look at how the United States has declined over the last 50 years.
“The Highway” by C.J. Box (Minotaur). Two girls, and even their car, disappear on a remote country road.
“Light of the World” by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster). A serial killer escapes prison and heads toward Montana, which just happens to be the summer vacation spot of New Orleans’ Dave Robicheaux.
“Affliction” by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley). Micah’s father seems to be dying from a new, strange “zombie disease” that challenges stalwart vampire hunter Anita Blake.
“Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger” by Beth Harbison (St. Martin’s). Humorous chick lit from the author of “When in Doubt, Add Butter.”
“The Last Word” by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster). Izzy Spellman’s professional life is never easy, but she didn’t help it by staging a hostile takeover of the family business. We learn what happens next in the latest episode of the humorous mystery series.
“Kiss Me First” by Lottie Moggach (Doubleday). Psychological thriller by a new British author finds danger when a young woman falls under the influence of an online charmer.
“Visitation Street” by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco). On a summer evening, two Brooklyn teens set sail on a raft, but only one makes it back to shore.
“The English Girl“ by Daniel Silva (Harper). Gabriel Allon must find out what happened to a young woman who disappears on the island of Corsica.
“Unseen” by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte). Popular thriller writer sends her detective, Will Trent, undercover as a motorcycle-riding ex-con.
“Byzantium” by Ben Stroud (Graywolf). Collection of stories set in various locales, including ancient Constantinople and slave-era Havana.
“Ava Gardner” by Peter Evans (Simon & Schuster). Revealing book based on conversations the author had with the actress before she died. Gardner, who married Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra, also counted Howard Hughes among her lovers.
“Her Best-Kept Secret” by Gabrielle Glaser (Simon & Schuster). Are women drinking more to cope with the stresses of motherhood and jobs? Glaser says more are downing bottles of wine at an alarming rate and entering treatment centers.
“Archangel” by Andrea Barrett (Norton). New collection from the admired story writer.
“The Girl You Left Behind” by Jojo Moyes (Viking). A mystery and love story revolve around a World War I soldier’s portrait of his young wife, Sophie, who is desperate to see her husband. Decades later, the portrait resurfaces when a husband gives it to his wife.
“Night Film” by Marisha Pessl (Random House). Has it really been seven years since Pessl’s “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”? Her new novel is billed as a literary thriller that involves a reclusive cult-film director father and the suspicious suicide of his daughter.
“Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson (Doubleday). Title seems to say it all in this new look at adventurer T.E. Lawrence.
“Collision 2012” by Dan Balz (Viking). The Washington Post’s chief political correspondent puts the latest presidential election in context.