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12 Summer Reads for 2013

Our favorite books to dive into this season — and one to avoid

A stack of books against an orange background.

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Woman reading book in hammock, Summer Book Recommendations (Henry Arden/Cultura RF/Getty Images)

Our editors pick their favorite books to read this summer. Find them online and in bookstores before heading for the hammock. — Henry Arden

Book publishers sure find us lovable: Why else would they flood our offices with all these "advance reading copies" of their upcoming titles?

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We can't read them all, of course, but we have been turning pages just as fast as our carpally challenged fingers will let us to find the novels and nonfiction we think you'll enjoy this summer.

We call our proudest finds "watercooler cool reads"; they're the ones we talk up when we run down the block for coffee.

After listening to the 119th spontaneous review from a caffeinating colleague, I asked my coworkers (and a few select book world friends) to put a lid on it — that is, to cap their cappuccinos, return to their keyboards and capture their thoughts about any favorite new work, so long as it feels like play. Our fevered scribbles follow. Unless otherwise specified, the books are currently available online and in bookstores.

Joyland by Stephen King, Summer Book Recommendations (Courtesy Titan)

Joyland by Stephen King

Looking for a valentine to 1973? You'll find it in King's new ghost story/mystery novel, where the characters in a beachside amusement park smoke Winstons, drink Cold Duck and listen to the Doors. Oh, and chase phantoms, of course: The park's Horror House is haunted, and it's up to novice carny barker Devin Jones to free more than a few trapped spirits. After savoring all that King stuffs into Joyland — dialogue, action, coming-of-age epiphanies and at least two ghosts — pause to admire everything The Master wisely leaves out: You'll meet not a single wasted word as you zip through these pages. (June 4) — Allan Fallow

Night Film by Marisha Pessl, Summer Book Recommendations (Courtesy Random House Publishing Group)

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This fiendishly inventive novel should be the Blair Witch Project of the book-publishing world this summer. It's a sort of literary scavenger hunt retracing the efforts of Scott McGrath, a journalist disgraced by an on-air rant, to get at the truth behind the suicide of the brilliant and disturbed Ashley Cordova at age 24. Ashley's father, Stanislas, is a cult-movie director whose "night films" (such as Thumbscrew and La Douleur), shown only in underground screenings, are "so horrifying, audience members are known to pass out in terror." The 35-year-old Pessl's innovative use of multimedia to tell this creepy tale deepens her renown as a stylistic show-woman. (Aug. 20) — AF

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus, Summer Book Recommendations (Courtesy St. Martin's Press)

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Publishing insiders call the dragon-tatted genre "Scandi-noir," and a few pages into this thriller you may find yourself cynically ticking off its predictable elements: Isolated northern European village? Check. Teen girls who vanished more than a decade ago, plus dysfunctional characters who know each other wa-a-y too well? Check and check. Young, curious, black-clad, punked-out, over-pierced woman? Check times 5! Stick with it, though: This international best seller features an engaging pair of detectives wrestling demons of their own, and a twisty-turny plot that keeps you guessing what befell those teens until just pages from the end. — Carol Kaufmann

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert Believe It Or Not! Ripley by Neal Thompson, Summer Book Recommendations (Courtesy Crown Publishing Group)

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brillant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley by Neal Thompson 

And the award for most fascinating biography of the summer goes to … this tale that returns America's greatest showman to the spotlight. The gawky, stuttering, bucktoothed Ripley got his start at 18 in 1908, when Life magazine recognized his genius as an editorial cartoonist. He then wrote a sports column that detailed amazing feats of athleticism, but turned to factoids when he ran low on material. The items in Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" newspaper feature were designed either to rile the public (uh, Lindbergh was not the first to fly the Atlantic?) or revolt it; the man who could dislocate his jaw and "swallow" his own nose comes to mind. Thompson's breakneck pace lets you polish off this jaunty bio in a single weekend. — John Wilwol

Hothouse by Boris Kachka, Summer Book Recommendations (Courtesy Simon & Schuster)

Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival Art at America's Most Celebrated House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux by Boris Kachka

Farrar, Straus & Giroux is the Versailles of American publishing: It's been home to Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag and Jonathan Franzen. But every palace has its intrigue, as Kachka shows us in this lively, witty account of the financial struggles and fragile egos that stalked FSG as it pursued literary greatness. The extramarital (and often intramural) affairs conducted by publisher Roger Straus in the 1960s and '70s were legendary — his wife called the company a "sexual sewer" — but the entire office apparently would have made Don Draper blush. Kachka dishes up these cold cases piping hot, but his research reveals an equally fascinating business story: How do you balance fine art and filthy lucre? (Aug. 6) — Mark Athitakis

The Son by Philipp Meyer, Summer Book Recommendations (Courtesy Harper Collins Publishers)

The Son
by Philipp Meyer

Stretching from pre-Civil War cowboys to post-9/11 immigrants, this follow-up to Meyer's American Rust is a Great American Novel of the type John Dos Passos once wrote. The first part is a spectacular captivity narrative about a white boy adopted into the Comanche band that killed his family. The second follows the long shadow of an act of shocking violence against a Mexican family. The third brings us into the present day as lived by one of the world's wealthiest women. This 200-year cycle of theft and murder shreds any golden myths we may cherish of civilized advancement. It's also historical fiction at its most stirring. — Ron Charles

Next page: More page-turners for summer reading. »

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