SPF 50 Shades of Good Writing

Put your e-reader in your beach bag—the summer book season is full of hot, familiar hits and free of cheesy S&M romances

Summer is right around the corner, which means bookstore shelves will be crowded with the usual mix of serious fiction and lightweight entertainment. The next few months will bring readers some hotly anticipated sequels, a number of auspicious literary debuts, three new James Patterson novels with a combined print run of more than 2 million copies, and a showdown between Dan Brown and Khaled Hosseini that will make the 2013 best-seller list look a whole lot like 2003.

Without a doubt, two of this year’s biggest blockbusters will be Brown’s Inferno (Doubleday, $30, out now), which brings back Harvard professor Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code (2003) and The Lost Symbol (2009) and Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed (Riverhead, $29, out now). Fans of The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) will flock to this multigenerational, globe-spanning story about a family dynasty and the way the relatives interact with each other.

Ice-Cool Debuts

Elliott Holt’s You Are One of Them (Penguin Press, $27, May 30) is the first novel from a Pushcart Prize–winning writer that’s already generated a lot of positive buzz. Holt’s story is a literary thriller set in ’80s-era Washington, D.C. and present-day Moscow that spotlights the complicated friendship between Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones, two young girls who write peace-seeking letters to Yuri Andropov. Only Jenny gets a response, which fractures the friendship and sets off a chain of events that Sarah struggles to solve a decade later.

In June, Anton DiSclafani makes her literary debut with The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Riverhead, $28, June 4), a coming-of-age novel set in the 1930s. Following a family tragedy, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is sent from her family’s citrus farm in Florida to a boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Smart, Sizzling Fiction

After laboring in semi-obscurity, Lionel Shriver finally made her literary reputation with We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003), her eighth novel. Her latest, Big Brother (Riverhead, $27, June 4), takes on family, marriage and morbid obesity. Pandora loves to cook, but her husband Fletcher watches his calories and exercises religiously. When Pandora’s overweight brother Edison comes to stay, he disrupts their lives in unexpected ways.

Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic (Random House, $27, June 4) deftly weaves together three different trips to Ireland (one, an attempt at nonstop flight from 1919, another featuring Frederick Douglass who visits Dublin to discuss human rights, and a third with Senator George Mitchell, D-Maine, setting out for Belfast in 1998) seen through the eyes of three generations of Irish women.

Guilty Pleasures

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep (a sequel to The Shining) won’t be published until late September, but King enthusiasts can get their hands on Joyland (Hard Case Crime, $13, June 4) sooner. It’s a paperback original set in a North Carolina amusement park in the early 1970s. College student Devin Jones comes to work at the amusement park and gets caught up in an old-fashioned whodunit.

The Kill Room (Grand Central Publishing, $28, June 4) is Jeffrey Deaver’s 10th Lincoln Rhyme novel, the first since The Burning Wire (2010). Rhyme, the quadriplegic ex-cop, and his partner, Amelia Sachs, are hired to investigate the murder of a U.S. citizen, Roberto Moreno, whose death in the Bahamas was sanctioned by the head of a secret government organization. Assistant D.A. Nance Laurel wants justice, and hit man Jacob Swann proves to be a worthy match for Rhyme and Sachs.

Nobody makes felonies funny like Carl Hiaasen. His latest mystery novel, Bad Monkey (Alfred A. Knopf, $27, June 11), features a former detective named Andrew Yancy, recently relieved of his duties at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Yancy works as a restaurant inspector, but if he can solve the crime behind the severed human arm in his freezer, he just might get his old job back. Hiaasen packs Bad Monkey with an amusing cast of Florida eccentrics, including Yancy’s ex-lover, a pair of greedy real estate investors, a monkey with psoriasis and Dragon Queen, a Bahamian voodoo priestess.

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach (Doubleday, $26, July 9) is an intense psychological thriller with an intriguing premise. Leila is a whiz at computers and social networking, but socially awkward and inexperienced when it comes to relationships. After joining Red Pill, a website that offers chat and philosophical discussion, she’s invited by the site’s founder, Adrian, to take on the online identity of Tess, a beautiful and popular—but clinically depressed—woman. Leila jumps at the chance to work closely with Adrian, but doesn’t see the big picture until it’s too late.

Tanning to Tolkien

The Fall of Arthur (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, May 23) is an epic poem from J.R.R. Tolkien that was written nearly 80 years ago and abandoned while Tolkien focused on a little something called The Hobbit. The poem has been edited and annotated by Tolkien’s son Christopher, who also contributed several companion essays.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland Books, $26, June 4) is a tough book to classify. There’s a serial killer, time travel and a headstrong protagonist named Kirby Mazrachi who refuses to die at the hands of killer Harper Curtis. It’s suspenseful, gripping and unforgettable.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, $26, June 18) is the first new book for adults from this master storyteller since 2005’s Anansi Boys. Gaiman fans will undoubtedly embrace this mix of fantasy, horror and good-versus-evil, which begins with a man stealing a family’s car and using the stolen vehicle to commit suicide. Gaiman’s narrator meets the Hempstock family, whose youngest daughter Lettie believes the backyard duck pond is really an ocean. Regular Gaiman readers will likely connect Lettie Hempstock with Daisy Hempstock from Stardust (1999) and Liza Hempstock from The Graveyard Book (2008).

Two Books To Pair with Skinny Margaritas

Identical twins with ESP? Sign me up! In Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland (Random House, $27, June 25), Kate is a full-time mom raising her family in St. Louis; her twin sister, Violet, makes her living as a psychic. Violet senses a major earthquake, but can’t pinpoint a date. When Kate gets a specific premonition, she allows her sister to share the information with the public but doesn’t want to draw any attention to herself. Sittenfeld tells the story in alternating chapters, going back and forth between the twins’ childhood and the coming quake.

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich (William Morrow, $27, July 9) sounds like an instant Chick Lit masterpiece, a comic romance about Holly Brennan, a young overweight woman who used food to deal with her husband’s death. Alone at 32, she starts training with Logan Montgomery to get her body and emotional life back into tip-top shape.

Catch up on your summer reading with more book reviews.