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Best Books: What’s Hot for Summer

10 big, buzzy reads that have people talking this season

row of books on shelf with summer ocean scene in background

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These are the books you'll be talking and hearing about all summer long.

The Outsider

Stephen King

The latest heart-pumper from the master of suspense has topped the fiction charts since its May 22 release. It’s about a murdered boy and the tense hunt for whodunit that includes an unlikely suspect: a popular youth baseball coach, teacher and dad. The investigation starts to uncover some scary, supernatural stuff, King-style. Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., is a big fan: “It goes back in some ways to the older Stephen King books that I loved, like Firestarter.”

book cover, text reads: Stephen King, The Outsider, A Novel

Scribner

A Place for Us

Fatima Farheen Mirza

This beautifully written debut, which explores the fraying bonds and complicated relationships between members of an Indian immigrant family in California, is shaping up to be one of the summer's top literary novels. Energetically marketed as the first book from Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint, SJP for Hogarth, it’s also received glowing editorial reviews. (Ron Charles of the Washington Post called it “absolutely gorgeous.”) “I think this is going to be really strong this summer,” says Jeanne Joesten, inventory manager at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich. 

book cover, text reads: A Place For Us, A Novel, Fatima Farheen Mirza

Harper

SJP for Hogarth

I'll Be Gone in the Dark

Michelle McNamara

This true-crime book offers multiple layers of drama: The author, who passed away before it was published (and before knowing how the story would end), relentlessly sought to identify the notorious rapist-murderer who terrorized California women in the 1970s and '80s and confounded law enforcement. McNamara’s husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt, helped finish the manuscript for publication, the perpetrator was caught a few months later, and sales of the book skyrocketed. Booksellers say there’s no real sign that interest is waning.

book cover of i'll be gone in the dark by michelle mcnamara

Harper

Less

Andrew Sean Greer

This novel came out last summer and has been boosted big-time by its winning the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction — a surprise to many in the book biz in part because it’s comical. (Let's face it: Humor often loses awards to melancholy.) Less is the last name of the main character, an author who’s turning 50 and grappling with the fact that the man he loves is getting married to someone else. So he decides to travel around the world on a series of speaking engagements. This leads to all sorts of unexpected and funny moments that Greer describes with wit and warmth. “It’s absolutely wonderful,” Petrocelli says. And it’s now in paperback, which makes it less expensive and easier to carry on your summer travels.

book cover, text reads: Less, Andrew Sean Greer

Little Brown

                                                                                                                                  

 

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan

Another huge nonfiction title this season is Pollan’s latest, about psychedelics and their potential uses to treat PTSD and other disorders. Not the kind of guy to go halfway in his reporting, the author of In Defense of Food includes his personal experiences trying out the stuff. He doesn’t argue for recreational drug use, though — just that we should be open-minded about their apparently profound therapeutic potential. Petrocelli says she’s seeing a lot of older customers buying the book: “All of the people who remember being young in the '60s, they have a historical perspective [on LSD use]. And this new perspective interests them.” 

book cover, text reads: How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan

Penguin Press

The President is Missing

Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Whether readers are simply curious about what fictions our former president can dream up or they are ardent Patterson fans, this thriller — about a president who goes underground to try to save the world from cyberattack — is as hot as they come. About 250,000 copies sold within its first week of release, the strongest first-week sales since 2015's Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. So what if the thick potboiler has been criticized for, among other things, perpetuating the president-as-action-hero cliché? That’s not stopping enthusiasm for this entertaining summer read.

 

book cover, text reads: A Novel By Bill Clinton and James Patterson, The President is Missing

Knopf and Little Brown

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

John Carreyrou

How about a little white-collar true crime? The plot may not sound scintillating — a biotech firm scams investors into funding a useless product — but it reads like a top-notch thriller. Wall Street Journal reporter Carreyrou tells the story behind the California start-up Theranos and its young founder, Elizabeth Holmes, who convinced a shockingly large number of smart people that she’d developed a device that could identify a range of health information from a tiny drop of blood. Spoiler alert: It couldn’t. Booksellers report lots of word-of-mouth enthusiasm for the book, which received even more attention when Holmes was indicted for wire fraud last week. 

book cover, text reads: Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou

Knopf

The Perfect Couple

Elin Hilderbrand

One of the season’s big beachy novels, this book is destined for thousands of readers’ summer-getaway bags. As usual for the best-selling Hilderbrand, it’s set on the idyllic resort island of Nantucket. But this one offers a bit of intrigue: A bride-to-be is found dead in the water on her wedding day, with suspects including her fiancé and his mystery-novelist mother, who has been suffering from writer’s block. (Hmmm …) It is a stand-alone story but includes characters from some of Hilderbrand’s 20 other books, such as 2009’s The Castaways. And her ardent fan base is already snapping up this new (June 19) release. 

book cover, text reads: A Novel, Elin Hilderbrand, The Perfect Couple

Little Brown

Educated

Tara Westover

Nearly every bookseller we spoke with gushed over this riveting memoir, which has been a hit for months. “It’s flying off the shelves,” according to Jan Weissmiller, co-owner of Prairie Lights Books & Cafe in Iowa City. And for good reason: Westover’s story is a doozy. She grew up in the Idaho mountains with paranoid, survivalist parents who didn’t believe in doctors and had no formal education. Yet she managed to teach herself enough to get accepted to and attend Brigham Young University (a culture shock, to put it mildly), and later earn a Ph.D. in history at Cambridge University.  

 

book cover, text reads: Educated, A Memoir, Tara Westover

Random House

Calypso

David Sedaris

Arguably one of our greatest — or at least most successful — storytellers, Sedaris goes a bit deeper than he usually does in this new essay collection, including his thoughts on aging, the loss of his mother to cancer and his relationship with his father — but always with humor. (His publisher is billing it as his “darkest and warmest book yet.”) It's now holding the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best-sellers list. 

For more of the season's must-read books, see our Summer Fiction Preview.

 

book cover, text reads: David Sedaris, Calypso

Little Brown

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