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21 Hot New Novels for Summer

Must-read fiction from Stephen King, Paula Hawkins and more top authors

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Packing your beach bag or just eager to escape into a great story? Check out some of this summer's best books.

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams

Beloved historical-fiction novelist Williams (author of The Summer Wives, among many others) brings us an engrossing story about American twin sisters whose paths diverge during World War II, then come together in dramatic fashion years later. In 1952, Ruth is head of a New York City modeling agency when she's sent an enigmatic postcard from her estranged sister, Iris Digby, who's married to a U.S. diplomat and living in Moscow. Ruth and a British counterintelligence agent set out together, pretending to be a married couple (rather convincingly, ahem) to possibly free Iris and her children from trouble behind the Iron Curtain. (June 1)

Our Woman in Moscow

William Morrow


The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

If anyone ever had any doubts about the quality of Oprah's book picks (we're looking at you, Jonathan Franzen!), this debut novel, which she's just selected, will dispel them. It's a moving, beautifully written story set in the American South just after the Civil War, when enslaved people have been emancipated but are still shackled in many ways by racism, not to mention their traumatic pasts. The book's focus is on a good-hearted older white man, George, who hires two freed brothers to help him farm his land. He and his family draw close to the pair, but the townspeople don't look kindly on the arrangement. Tensions build to a near-apocalyptic climax, and a kind of justice is finally served. (June 15)

The Sweetness of Water

Little, Brown and Company


China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Sahota, whose book The Year of the Runaways was short-listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, weaves together the stories of two members of a family who are separated by decades but share questions about where they belong, and struggles with family obligations. One is Mehar, a young bride in 1929 Punjab who's forced into an arranged marriage and finds herself trapped in a new repressive life and bewildered by this stranger she's married. The other is her great-grandson (unnamed in the book), who, 70 years later, goes to Punjab from his home in Britain to recover from addiction. Sahota, who was raised in Britain by first-generation immigrants from India, has said the story was inspired by his own family's stories. (July 13)

China Room

Viking


Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard

Maynard celebrates all the stages of life of one extraordinary heroine, fiftyish Eleanor, who's looking back at her lonely girlhood with alcoholic parents, at falling in love, marrying and raising her three children — all while grappling with the heart-wreck of her divorce. Set against the backdrop of the cultural upheaval of the 1970s and ‘80s, the story makes you care deeply about Eleanor and her family, and poignantly shows how both joy and sorrow can be passed down through the generations. ( July 13.)

count the ways by joyce maynard

William Morrow


Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah Ferguson

Who knew the Duchess of York could write such a wonderful novel? Her debut effort is an absorbing tale full of colorful Victorian-era detail about the bold young Lady Margaret Montagu Scott, who appalls her traditional father, a Scottish duke, when she refuses to marry an odious man to advance the family's interests. She's cast out but sticks to her principles and goes on to forge a radically different life in New York City. She finds (and loses) love along the way, but the focus here is on her development into an independent woman in an era when that would have been a radical act. (Aug. 3)

Her Heart for a Compass

William Morrow


Billy Summers by Stephen King

This weighty thriller and inevitable best seller from the King of Suspense is a long read at 528 pages but entertaining enough to make it worth the commitment. It's about sharpshooting hit man Billy Summers — though that's just one of his names — who justifies his profession by only killing “bad guys.” But after taking on a high-priced job, he wonders if the person or group orchestrating the hit might be the baddest of all. When he eventually becomes a target himself, he ends up saving the life of a young woman seeking a new life, and they hit the road together. Unlike many of King's classics, there's nothing supernatural here — besides a winking allusion to The Shining. (Aug. 3)

Billy Summers

Scribner


Breathe by Joyce Carol Oates

The prolific and prizewinning Oates’ latest is a heart-wrencher about love, loss and recovery. Gerard and Michaela McManus move from Cambridge to New Mexico only to have Gerard fall ill and then die, leaving Michaela haunted by memories — and perhaps by something else. It's an intense portrait of widowhood (Oates herself lost two husbands, one after 48 years of marriage). Readers might find the sudden switches from third person to second disconcerting, but Oates gets the descriptions of grief and the persistence of love exactly right. And anything by Oates is cause for celebration. (Aug. 3)

Breathe

Ecco


Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Moreno-Garcia (author of last year's Mexican Gothic) returns with a 1970s noir-with-a-heart. Maite is a secretary addicted to romance reading and obsessed with Leonora, her radical neighbor, an art student who seems to live the kind of dangerous life that Maite can only imagine. But just as Leonora vanishes, a rock-'n'-roll-loving, violence-hating criminal named Elvis makes his entrance. Elvis’ orders from his crime bosses are to nab Leonora but instead he discovers Maite, and finds himself deeply drawn to her — and she to him. But can these two lonely souls find out the truth about Leonora? And can their relationship survive? Not if Russian spies, hit men and other nefarious forces can help it. (Aug. 17)

Velvet was the Night

Del Rey


Another Kind of Eden by James Lee Burke

Ah, remember the ‘60s? The peace and love, the hope? Well, Edgar Award-winner Burke turns that stereotype (as well as the romantic image of the American West) on its head in this latest installment in his Holland Family saga. Set in the 1960s, the story has Burke's antihero, aspiring novelist and boxcar rider Aaron Broussard, on the run from his past. After he falls for a young painter, he's drawn into the investigation of a series of murders while encountering an evil that might not be totally human. (Aug. 17)

Another Kind of Eden

Simon & Schuster


The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Penny's 17th book centered on Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is about the dangerous influence of mob mentality — and clearly inspired by current events. Back from his adventures in Paris, Gamache returns to his murder-prone village of Three Pines in Quebec, this time taking on security for a visiting lecturer at an area university. He soon discovers that she has a dangerous agenda, with abhorrent views that begin to infect the community like a virus. After a murder, it's up to Gamache to figure out whodunnit, and how it may be related to the lecturer's deceptions. (Aug. 24)

The Madness of Crowds

Minotaur Books


The Guide by Peter Heller

Heller, author of the novels The Dog Stars and The River, brings us a thriller set in Kingfisher Lodge, a seemingly idyllic Colorado fishing retreat for wealthy anglers, during a viral pandemic. Jack is a young outdoorsman (a character from The River), a new hire who's tasked with guiding a famous singer, Alison K, during her trout-fishing getaway. Jack soon starts to realize that something is very weird about this place. When he and Alison start to investigate what turns out to be a horrible truth, they find themselves in danger. It's a fast-paced read, with a surprising (if a bit implausible) finale. (Aug. 24)

The Guide

Knopf


A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

The author of the mega-bestseller The Girl on the Train has whipped up another killer page-turner, this one about the murder of a young man on a London houseboat. His body is discovered by an eccentric neighbor, Miriam, who gets drawn into the mystery, along with a troubled young woman and the dead man's family. Before it's solved, they must contend with different dark events from long ago (Miriam, for one, was nearly murdered as a girl). Hawkins unspools the clues and drama with the witty skill sure to satisfy fans of her previous hit. (Aug. 31)

A Slow Fire Burning

Riverhead Books

Also notable

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

A feel-good, funny tale from the author of Lily and the Octopus and The EditorThe Guncle follows gay Uncle Patrick, who has to adapt to a new way of life as he hosts niece Maisie and nephew Grant for the summer in the aftermath of a family tragedy. (May 25)

Love and Fury by Samantha Silva

Silva imagines the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, the late 18th-century feminist thinker and mother of the novelist Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein). Wollstonecraft led a fascinating life, which Silva depicts with rich detail. (May 25)

Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

Already a number 1 best seller, this latest from the beach-reads queen is about a novelist on Nantucket (of course) who's killed in a hit-and-run, and looks down upon her family from a place called the Beyond. She's given the power to influence them, and wrestles with how best to do so. (June 1)

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

In Cronin's tender debut (already slated to be adapted for film), a feisty 17-year-old who's facing a tough terminal illness bonds with an 83-year-old patient in a hospital art therapy class. Together the two decide to create 100 paintings depicting a story from each year of their combined lives. (June 1)

Ridgeline by Michael Punke

The author who brought us the 2002 novel The Revenant (turned into a 2015 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio) has a new historical saga, this one featuring fierce tensions between land-hungry settlers and Lakota people, including Crazy Horse, in 1860s Wyoming. (June 1)

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

This historical novel is based on the real-life story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a former enslaved person in the colonial West Indies who became a wealthy landowner and businesswoman. Doll, as she's known, attracts the wrath of powerful men as she defies all conventions. (July 21)

Blind Tiger by Sandra Brown

A thriller set in 1920s Texas, Brown's latest features a ranch hand, Thatcher, who becomes the prime suspect in the possible murder of a woman who's disappeared. A tough young widow joins forces with Thatcher against a tide of corruption and menace in town. (Aug. 3)

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

Inti Flynn, a biologist working with her team to reintroduce wolves into the Scottish Highlands, faces the locals’ fury, while trying to help her twin sister, Aggie, heal from a traumatic past. It's a moving, moody story by the author of the 2020 novel Migrations. (Aug. 3)

In the Country of Others by Leila Slimani

Slimani's first novel since her hit The Perfect Nanny is set during World War II, and focuses on a young Frenchwoman, Mathilde, who moves to Morocco after falling for a Moroccan soldier. The independent Mathilde finds herself constricted in a land with rigid social codes, as conflict erupts. (Aug. 10)


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