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18 new books to read this summer, from thrillers to family sagas to alternate universes

Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

It’s officially summer. The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and the mercury’s climbing. A whole season of lazy afternoons reading in the park beckons.

And to help you decide what to read, we’ve rounded up 18 of the summer’s best new releases. From the hottest new literary debut to the smartest essays, there’s something for everyone below.

Literary fiction

Springtime: A Ghost Story, Michelle de Kretser

Springtime: A Ghost Story Catapult

Frances takes daily strolls through subtropical Sydney to clear her head. She has a great deal to think about — her work as an art historian, the troublingly opaque past of her boyfriend, who was married when she met him — so it takes her a while to realize that she is the only person who can see the woman in the old-fashioned dress who haunts her walks.

A ghost story set in sunny suburban Australia, Springtime is a small and beautifully crafted book, all shining, perfectly polished sentences. It’s slight enough to finish in one sitting, but restrain yourself: Savor every word of it.

Modern Lovers, Emma Straub

Kitty’s Mustache used to be young and beautiful and famous. That’s the old rock band whose former members populate Emma Straub’s sharply observed third novel, the rock band who had one great hit. Now they’re all in their 40s and graying together in gentrified Brooklyn — minus their most famous member, the lead singer who died at 27.

Straub is at her best when she’s writing about attractively wealthy people who ostensibly love one another but treat each other terribly, and Modern Lovers is no exception. It’s where all her barbed insights sting most sweetly.

Homegoing: A Novel, Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi Knopf

In 18th-century Ghana, two sisters experience enormously different fates. One marries an Englishman and lives out her life in wealth and comfort. The other is sold into slavery and shipped off to America. This wildly ambitious debut novel follows both sisters and their descendants through 300 years of history.

Gyasi’s stunning family saga shows us the scars slavery leaves on eight generations of a family. Sweeping and heart-wrenching, it will stay with you.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, Ramona Ausubel

It’s Martha’s Vineyard in 1976, and old-money married couple Fern and Edgar have just learned that they’ve lost everything. Their estate, inherited from Fern’s parents, has been drained dry. Horrified, they each run separately for the wilderness — leaving their three young children to fend for themselves.

Ausubel’s prose is lush, her characterization precise. But what makes this novel sing is its careful delineation of the beliefs and neuroses of the rich — that there exist, for instance, "high-class" and "low-class" flowers, that there are correct and incorrect shades of white paint — and its suggestion that the abandoned children’s unexpected and unlooked-for freedom might save them.

The House at the Edge of the Night, Catherine Banner

The House at the Edge of the Night Random House

If you can’t make your way to an island off the coast of Italy for the summer, The House at the Edge of the Night is the next best thing. A sweeping multigenerational saga that spans two world wars, it centers on the Esposito family and their bougainvillea-draped cafe on the island of Castellamare.

Rich and immersive, this book will take you away. Read it when you’re stuck in the city on a blistering August day, and dream of Italy.

Multiple Choice, Alejandro Zambra

Every section of this witty and experimental book is structured like a standardized test. To be precise, they’re structured like the Academic Aptitude Exam, the SATs of Chile. You get an anecdote, then a series of reading comprehension questions: Which of the following would be the best title for this this story? Which of the following does the author affirm to be true about multiple choice tests? It’s like taking a test by a test writer gone mad.

Ninety-Nine Stories of God, Joy Williams

The 99 stories that make up this book are very brief pieces of flash fiction, the kind where every single word and comma and apostrophe has been weighed and balanced and found necessary. And the God of the stories, when he appears, is most often gently puzzled by his creation: Why is it that men hate wolves so? And why are definitions so frightfully difficult?

Joy Williams is one of our most elegant and thoughtful writers, and Ninety-Nine Stories of God sees her at the top of her form.

Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson

For August and her friends, growing up in the '70s in New York, there are two Brooklyns. There’s the Brooklyn that belongs just to them, a Brooklyn that exists solely in the present, with no history and no future and nothing but a bunch of little girls roaming the streets and telling stories. And then there’s the other Brooklyn, adult Brooklyn, with threatening men in dark alleys and disappearing mothers.

After winning the 2014 National Book Award for her middle-grade novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson returns with this stunning new novel for adults.

Genre fiction

Emperor of the Eight Islands, Lian Hearn

Emperor of the Eight Islands Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Inspired by medieval Japanese legends, this richly imagined fantasy takes place in a world where gods and monsters walk side by side with men. Two feuding clans war for control of the emperor. A noble young lord is usurped by his scheming uncle. And a mountain sorcerer is preparing a mask for a lost young man.

Emperor is the first book in a quartet, but don’t worry about having to wait for the next one: All four installments will be out this year, with the last one launching in September.

Underground Airlines, Ben H. Winters

It’s 2016 in an America where the Civil War never happened. Slavery is still legal in four states.

Victor has been free since he was 14 years old. And now he’s a bounty hunter, tracking down runaway slaves for the US Marshals Service and working to infiltrate the abolitionist group known as the Underground Airlines.

This is a smart and compelling thriller, set in an alternate reality that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to our own.


The Dragon Behind the Glass, Emily Voigt

Dragon Behind the Glass Scribner

The Asian arowana, or dragon fish, is the most expensive aquarium fish in the world; each one sells for as much as $150,000. They’re also illegal to own in the US — the arowana is endangered — but there is, of course, a thriving black market. People have reportedly been murdered for their pet arowanas.

In The Dragon Behind the Glass, journalist Emily Voigt goes on the hunt to see one in the wild. Her search takes her everywhere from fish conventions to tropical wildernesses. You may never before have devoted much thought to the colorful world of illegal luxury fish trading. But just wait until Voigt gets her hooks into you.

The View From the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman

Beloved genre writer Neil Gaiman, the author of American Gods and the Sandman graphic novels, among others, turns the spotlight on his often-neglected nonfiction. This collection of 60 essays boasts a vast range of work, from pleasantly inconsequential bits of fluff like his account of a night in London for Time Out London (nothing happens, but it doesn’t happen ever so charmingly) to thoughtful and thorough literary criticism to a harrowing first-person account of a Syrian refugee camp. Reading it feels like staying up all night talking about absolutely everything with your smartest friend.

Stik, Stik

Forget Banksy. The next hot London street artist is Stik, whose stick-figure graffiti tells the story of London’s East End neighborhood in the face of gentrification. Stik was homeless when he started painting, squatting in vacant East End buildings with a group of activists who helped him get back on his feet. Now he’s a full-time artist, and Stik gives his artfully naive graffiti the full coffee table book treatment.

Known and Strange Things, Teju Cole

Known and Strange Things Random House Trade Paperbacks

Teju Cole is a professional art historian, but this book of essays has a scope that extends far beyond the visual arts. Cole’s influences and interests are immensely wide, so it’s hardly surprising that on page one, the author quotes Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, a Yoruba tongue-twister from his childhood, and Lucian Freud’s favorite joke. And that’s just the beginning. Wielding his prose with surgical precision, he examines politics, history, and culture; Virginia Wolf, Palestine, and Boko Haram.

I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This: A Memoir, Nadja Spiegelman

Nadja Spiegelman’s most famous parent is Art Spiegelman, who won the Pulitzer in 1992 for his own memoir, Maus. But this memoir focuses mostly on her relationship with her mother, Françoise Mouly, who’s been the brilliant art director at the New Yorker for the past two decades.

As a child, Spiegelman believed her mother was a fairy — but after college, she began to learn about her mother’s relationship with her own parents, in a haunting tale punctuated by the phrase, "Which is not to say that she was an abused child."

Young adult

You Know Me Well, Nina LaCour and David Levithan

You Know Me Well St. Martin's Griffin

Mark and Katie sit next to each other every day in calculus, but they don’t know each other at all. They’ve never even spoken. But they find themselves out together on the first night of Pride — and then they get to know each other very well indeed.

David Levithan, co-author of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Nina LaCour, author of Hold Still, are YA royalty. As they come together to tell this story in alternate chapters, the results are funny, honest, and at times heartbreaking.

The Inside of Out, Jenn Marie Thorne

Daisy’s been pretty sure for a while that her best friend Hannah is gay, so when Hannah finally comes out, Daisy is all ready to be the most supportive friend and ally a teenage lesbian could ask for. But she’s not prepared for some of the results. First, Hannah’s new girlfriend? She’s Daisy’s worst enemy. And second, Hannah might not actually want Daisy to make a big public deal over what a good pal she is.

This sweet-natured deconstruction of the straight savior narrative is smart, funny, and revealing. It’s a perfect primer for the post–Faking It era on when to let someone else be the hero of their own story.

The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi

Maya’s horoscope promises a terrifying fate: She is destined to be the wife of death and destruction. She’d like to spend her life in quiet retirement with her books, but as princess of the fictional nation of Bharata, she has a duty, one that leads her to a political marriage with the shadowy king of Akaran. And Akaran has secrets of its own.

The Star-Touched Queen is a swooningly romantic love story with the structure of Hades and Persephone, inflected with Indian mythology.


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