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Exciting escapes for summer readers

24 books you’ll want to take to the cabin, the beach or your favorite chair this season

By Connie Ogle and Carole E. Barrowman, Connie Ogle and Carole E. Barrowman, Star Tribune
Published: June 15, 2024, 5:32am
5 Photos
&ldquo;Sounds Like a Plan,&rdquo; by Pamela Samuels Young and Dwayne Alexander Smith.
“Sounds Like a Plan,” by Pamela Samuels Young and Dwayne Alexander Smith. (Simon & Schuster) Photo Gallery

From Nigeria to Sweden to seedy L.A., this summer’s literary fiction and mysteries/thrillers provide exciting escapes.

“Big in Sweden” by Sally Franson

(Mariner; out July 2)

American Paulie Johansson never thought about auditioning for reality TV, but when a friend encourages her to try out for a Swedish genealogy competition, she makes a drunken video and is chosen to participate. The winner gets to meet long-lost relatives, an appealing prize because Paulie isn’t close to her own family. But as the cast travels, bickers and learns that Scandinavia may not be the utopia they imagine, Paulie is forced to reconsider her ideas about what’s important. Using “Pippi Longstocking” as a touchstone, Franson has written a sidesplitting yet wistful story about examining priorities.

“Enlightenment” by Sarah Perry

(Mariner; out June 4)

The intersection of faith and science propels Perry’s rich examination of friendship, astronomy and the desire to understand the universe. Thomas Hart and Grace Macaulay, three decades apart in age, have been members of a small religious community in Essex their whole lives. Thomas compartmentalizes his sexuality, indulging only in trysts with men in London; Grace is awkward, demanding and off-putting. Romantic relationships test their odd friendship, but the mystery of a vanished astronomer who may have discovered a comet draws them together. The novel can feel disconcertingly dense at times, but its strange beauty is undeniable.

“Familiaris” by David Wroblewski

(Blackstone; out June 11)

A hefty prequel to “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” this 975-page work of heartland fiction may seem an ambitious choice for summer reading. But don’t let the length deter you. The story is spellbinding, as Edgar’s grandparents, inventive John and practical Mary Sawtelle, fall in love and build a home for themselves and their friends in the Wisconsin woods. There, they breed the majestic, mystical Sawtelle dogs. This warm, big-hearted novel pays tribute to the joys of curiosity and creation and turns out to be surprisingly funny, even as storm clouds gather on the family’s horizon.

“Little Rot” by Akwaeke Emezi

(Riverhead; out June 18)

Nonbinary, Nigerian-born Emezi follows up dreamy romance “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty” with a gritty yet hypnotic novel about a web of loosely connected friends grappling with hidden desires in the dark corners of Lagos. When couple Aima and Kalu break up after returning to Nigeria from the United States, both embark on risky sexual journeys and must deal with the fallout of an exclusive sex party thrown by Kalu’s shady best friend Ahmed. Emezi portrays the African city as a corrupting force — but only because falling from grace is so painfully, exquisitely human.

“Long Island Compromise” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

(Random House; out July 9)

In her savage, hilarious follow-up to “Fleishman Is In Trouble,” Brodesser-Akner takes on capitalism, wealth and generational trauma through a sharp satiric lens. An ugly history has plagued the Jewish-American Fletchers despite their riches: In 1980, businessman Carl Fletcher is kidnapped from his elegant suburban driveway and held for ransom. He is returned safely but he’s emotionally shattered, and his three children are disturbed in ways they don’t understand. When their fortune vanishes decades later, they unravel in spectacular fashion. This is a funny, often raunchy novel, but Brodesser-Akner’s commentary about American affluence resonates.

“Malas” by Marcela Fuentes

(Viking; out June 4)

Two women of different generations discover an indelible bond in this insightful exploration of family, secrets and Tejano culture in a Texas border town. Lulu, a motherless teenage punk singer with an overprotective father and an upcoming quinceañera, first sees mysterious Pilar at her grandmother’s funeral. She doesn’t recognize the older woman among her grandmother’s friends because Pilar is an outcast. Though rumors swirl around Pilar’s past, a wary friendship blossoms. Fuentes builds a complex but loving portrait of a community shaken by loss but shaped by fortitude.

“Old King” by Maxim Loskutoff

(Norton; out June 4)

Our obsession with wilderness and the corrupting influence of civilization are twin themes in this dark, compelling novel, which follows three men staking their claims in 1970s Montana. Duane Oshun is trying to build a life for himself after his failed marriage, while forest ranger Mason Carnegie finds himself seduced by the promise of eco-terrorism. The third is a strange hermit named Ted Kaczynski, who loathes his neighbors and what they call progress — and who is preparing to put a violent agenda into play. Their lives converge in an explosive climax that foreshadows a more dangerous, deadly America.

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“Same As It Ever Was” by Claire Lombardo

(Doubleday; out June 18)

Author of the terrific “The Most Fun We Ever Had,” Lombardo continues her astute and entertaining observations about messy family dynamics and the imprint they leave on us. A chance meeting in the grocery store upends the more or less peaceful existence of middle-age suburban wife and mother Julia Ames. The reminder of past mistakes shakes Julia, survivor of an unorthodox childhood and still at odds with her own mother. Lombardo excavates Julia’s history, her ambivalent feelings about marriage and motherhood, and her issues with her grown children with a keen eye for the complications of modern life.

“Someone Like Us” by Dinaw Mengestu

(Knopf; out July 30)

“Things can be, and in fact almost always are, in more than one place at once,” a professor says in Mengestu’s lyrical novel, an idea that resonates with Mamush, the young Ethiopian American narrator, and echoes throughout this exploration of exile, displacement and addiction. Mamush has left his wife, child and shaky marriage in Paris to return to the U.S., where the death of his father figure Samuel sends him on a quest to discover truths about his parents. Mengestu taps eloquently into the grief we all experience but offers an uplifting dose of hope about what belonging truly means.

“The Bright Sword” by Lev Grossman

(Viking; out July 16)

The fantasy epic of the summer features an unexpectedly brilliant twist on one of the most famous stories of all time. “The Bright Sword” is a rousing, imaginative continuation of the King Arthur myth, in which a young would-be knight, Collum, arrives at Camelot ready to battle his way onto the Round Table, only to find King Arthur and most of his court dead. Collum joins the misfits left behind and Merlin’s apprentice Nimue to seek the new king and restore Camelot to its glory. Magic and murder abound in this rollicking adventure, a thrilling addition to Arthurian lore.

“The Coin” by Yasmin Zaher

(Catapult; out July 9)

In this unusual, powerful novel, an unnamed Palestinian woman who has immigrated to New York displays a successful persona to the world. She wears designer clothing and has what seems to be a rewarding job, teaching at a school for underprivileged boys. But, inwardly, she is falling apart. Haunted by her past, she’s cleaning fanatically, reeling from being cut off from her culture and missing a homeland that doesn’t exist. (“I come from a land that is a graveyard,” she thinks.) Her life collapses slowly, and Zaher captures the suffocating pain of isolation and loneliness in a manner that feels chillingly universal.

“The Wedding People” by Alison Espach

(Holt; out July 30)

This engaging rom-com is an entertaining reminder that change isn’t always negative — and often is necessary. Fortysomething academic Phoebe Stone arrives at the glamorous Cornwall Inn in Newport, R.I., planning to die by suicide. Her marriage is over. Her husband left her for a colleague, and she can’t face returning to her teaching position. But thanks to a pushy, insecure bride and her all-too-handsome groom, Phoebe is swept into the maelstrom of the high-end nuptials taking place at the inn. The raucous, dysfunctional wedding party shatters her solitude and self-pity, pushing her toward hope for a brighter future.

“Broiler” by Eli Cranor

(Soho Press; out July 2)

All Edwin Saucedo can think about is his life before he did the stupid bad thing — before he took on Luke Jackson, his manager at a chicken processing plant in Arkansas. Edwin, an undocumented worker, felt his days were a “never ending stream of bloodless, gutless bone and muscle.” Mostly the chickens, but not always. Edwin’s desperation and anger caused “a high speed come apart.” In its aftermath, he wants desperately to get back what he and his wife, Gabby, had before — “a simple life full of pain and heartache.” This gripping, gritty noir is Upton Sinclair on hormones, the Coen brothers deep-fried.

“City of Secrets” by P.J. Tracy

(Minotaur; out Aug. 20)

This accomplished, absorbing police procedural from Minnesota author P.J. Tracy (a pseudonym for Traci Lambrecht) is the fourth featuring L.A. homicide Detective Maggie Nolan and her colleagues. A CEO is found dead inside his car in a “bad part of Culver City” with the window open. The crime scene is “enigmatic, contradictory, and pedestrian at the same time.” During the investigation, Maggie discovers the victim “had dark sexual proclivities” and “bragged about his conquests.” Events get weirder and more deadly when a song circulates on the street “about a woman they call the angel of death,” whom a witness claims to have seen.

“Farewell, Amethystine” by Walter Mosley

(Mulholland; out June 4)

It’s 1970 Los Angeles, and for Easy Rawlins, the “times they are a-changin’.” His detective agency is “out there in the world making sense out of things that are hidden,” pal Mouse is “talking revolution,” and Easy has “committed to the case of the missing ex.” The ex of a client named Amethystine, that is, a forensic accountant with possible ties to racketeering. As Easy gets drawn in deeper, he discovers that the case may connect to his friend Mary Donovan, “who was like a great novel — just one read through was not enough to understand what it means.” This is another masterful mystery from Mosley, worth reading twice.

“The Hollywood Assistant” by May Cobb

(Berkley; out July 9)

Cassidy Foster leaves her job in Austin, Texas, with “a box of Moleskine journals,” three unpublished novels and her “heart in flames.” On her friend Lexie’s insistence, she accepts a position as an assistant to a famous Hollywood dream couple. A film noir fanatic, Cassidy was raised by a mother who imagined she was “Stanwyck, Lake, Tierney, Bacall.” Cobb’s novel is cinematic in its framing, its settings bathed in California sunlight, its characters drenched in champagne and its plot pulsing with desire and double-crosses. It’s a deliciously devious noir, one that would make Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock cheer.

“Man in the Water” by David Housewright

(Minotaur; out June 25)

There’s a dead man in the water in the marina in Stillwater, Minn. And he didn’t even like boats. Unofficial private investigator Rushmore McKenzie’s wife, Nina, discovers the body “gripping the dock’s ladder in a strange way.” The man has a dubious past, an estranged ex-wife, a maybe-she’s-sad-maybe-she’s-not current wife, and a daughter, Naveah, none of whom will benefit from the man’s death if the coroner rules it suicide. As is often true with McKenzie’s cases, “(t)his whole damn thing feels off.” You’ll revel in the familiarity of settings around the Twin Cities and love the characters in McKenzie’s circle.

“Middle of the Night” by Riley Sager

(Dutton; out June 18)

Ethan Marsh feels as if he’s caught between adulthood and adolescence, haunted even now by a childhood tragedy. While backyard camping, his best friend Billy was ripped from their tent and never seen again. When Ethan moves back to his family’s home in Hemlock Circle after his parents retire, his severe insomnia and nightmares worsen. To exacerbate matters, strange things are happening in the woods behind Hemlock Circle, where the shuttered buildings of the Hawthorne Institute, once a “private institute doing unknown research,” loom. Sager’s thriller is packed with the author’s trademark psychological suspense and one big “Oh my!” moment.

“One Big Happy Family” by Jamie Day

(St. Martin’s; out July 16)

Charley Kelley lives close to the edge. She’s a live-in chambermaid at the Precipice Hotel, overlooking the ocean in Maine. Raised by her grandmother after her mom’s overdose, Charley now supports her Nana, who lives in a memory care unit. To survive, Charley pilfers from hotel guests. She’s no saint. She just does “what needs to be done.” After the hotel’s lecherous owner dies, his three entitled daughters and their families descend on the hotel with all their baggage (Louis Vuittons and lots of secrets). Murder checks in, too. Day’s well-crafted mystery is highly entertaining, with a sharp “Knives Out” vibe.

“Peking Duck and Cover” by Vivien Chien

(Minotaur; out July 23)

You’ll eat up Chien’s latest in her delightful “Noodle Shop” series. Lana Lee has a “knack for solving crimes,” especially those involving the eccentric patrons and quirky neighbors of her family’s restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House in Cleveland. The festivities for the Lunar New Year are all set at Asia Village, a “mecca” of restaurants and shops. The Hong Family Dance Troupe is about to perform a traditional lion costume dance in a special performance for the community. Instead, murder steals the show. Chien’s novel is perfect for those craving a mystery with just a pinch of spice.

“Sounds Like A Plan” by Pamela Samuels Young and Dwayne Alexander Smith

(Atria; out July 9)

This sexy, banter-filled mystery is so much fun you’ll lust after a sequel. Jackson Jones and Mackenzie Cunningham are successful private investigators in Los Angeles. He’s from Compton and was an “honest LAPD cop who snitched on his partner.” Now he has clients “wealthy enough to have POTUS on speed dial.” Mackenzie grew up in privilege, but in “cultural isolation.” She has a “quick wit and a black belt in Krav Maga.” Hired separately to find a missing person with connections to a congressional race, they quickly realize they’re “mixed up in something big” with the case — and each other.

“Trouble in Queenstown” by Delia Pitts

(Minotaur; out July 16)

At 15, Evander “Vandy” Myrick debated “which side of the law” she wanted to be on. She decided “both.” After years of that, she returns to Queenstown, N.J., her hometown, her “(l)and of skinned knees, Jheri curls … science contests and track meets,” where she operates a successful detective agency. When a job for the nephew of the mayor of Queenstown takes a sharp left turn, Vandy’s “hunch engine goes into overdrive” and the story flies. Pitts’ prose strikes a sophisticated balance between elegance and energy, with a description of Queens-town as a blend of “American Revolutionary severity and antebellum frippery” coming only pages after a cracking bar brawl.

“What You Leave Behind” by Wanda M. Morris

(William Morrow; out June 18)

After the “ugly destruction” of her marriage and her mother’s death, Deena Woods, once a litigator in Atlanta, returns to Brunswick, Ga., “to carve out a new and better Deena.” While she’s “braiding the pieces of (her) life back together,” working a dead-end job and living at home with her father and his second wife, Deena uncovers a land conspiracy involving the stolen legacies of Black families in rural communities. Deena digs for some measure of justice for the crimes committed against these families, despite the dangers to her own. In Deena, Morris has created a courageous and compelling character.

“You’re Safe Here” by Leslie Stephens

(Gallery/Scout Press; out June 25)

In a world where the air is unbreathable; where culture is homogenized, publicized and critiqued; where everyone has an avatar; where earthquakes have liquefied California cities; where tech tycoons wield absolute power, if you seek peace and quiet, you rent an AI pod that’s set adrift in the Pacific. This terrific dystopian thriller has a touching love story, nesting inside a satirical shell. The narrative cuts between pregnant Maggie in her WellPod and Noa, a high-level programmer at WellCorp trying to save Maggie from an encroaching deadly storm and a dangerous “long term plan” that’s being kept from the world.