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32 of 2023’s Hot Summer Novels  

Check out the big thrillers, beach reads and more top fiction to enjoy this season

spinner image a woman on a deck by a pool wearing a sun hat reading a book
Getty Images

For book lovers, it’s difficult to beat summertime, with its warmer days allowing for relaxing reading — at the beach, lounging in your backyard or, for those of us who live in steamier spots, wrapped in air-conditioned comfort. Regardless of where you indulge, you’ll be transported by this season’s new releases, which include stellar historical fiction by Lisa See and James Lee Burke, taut thrillers from Matthew Quirk and Shari Lapena, fantastic short stories by the incomparable Joyce Carol Oates and sunny beach reads from Elin Hilderbrand and Kristan Higgins, among many others.

Fiction by Big-Name Authors

spinner image from left to right book covers lady tans circle of women by lisa see then crook manifesto by colson whitehead then zero sum by joyce carol oates
Scribner / Doubleday / Knopf / Getty

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See (June 6), the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, is an absorbing story set in 15th-century China. The novel follows a wealthy woman, Tan Yunxian, from childhood through the decades as she learns and practices medicine in an era when elite women, with their tiny, painfully bound feet and arranged marriages, had few freedoms.

Another wonderful June release is The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende (June 6), the esteemed Chilean American author of 2013’s The House of the Spirits, among so many great works. Her latest centers on a little girl, Anita Díaz, whose mother disappears after they escape violence in El Salvador for the United States. A remarkable group of people — including an older man who fled Nazi Germany — step in to give her a home.

Zero-Sum: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates (July 18) is a collection of dark, powerful new tales by the masterful literary icon. Many of the characters are rather unhinged (like the troubled protagonist in her recent novel, 48 Clues Into the Disappearance of My Sister). I’m not usually a big fan of short stories but was drawn in by nearly every one here.

Be Mine by Richard Ford (June 13) has the author revisiting Frank Bascombe, the cranky former sportswriter we’ve met in previous novels. Here Frank finds himself caregiver to his son, who’s been diagnosed with ALS, and forced to confront his own mortality (with plenty of wry humor).

In Flags on the Bayou by James Lee Burke (July 11) the Edgar Award winner tells the story of an enslaved woman on the run in Louisiana after she’s been accused of murder, as the Civil War roils the South.

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead (July 18), the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s sequel to 2021’s Harlem Shuffle, is another wild romp, with salesman Ray Carney again trying (and failing) to stay legit in crime-ridden 1970s New York.

Somebody’s Fool by Richard Russo, the third novel in the author’s trilogy that began with Nobody’s Fool, returns to the colorful residents of North Bath in upstate New York, who are mystified and vexed by the discovery of a body in an old hotel and the annexation of their town by a neighbor. (July 25)

Another big upcoming novel has a mysterious dead person at its center: The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (August 8), the author of 2013’s National Book Award winner The Good Lord Bird. McBride’s latest is set in the 1930s, in the fictional town of Chicken Hill, Pennsylvania, where Jewish and Black Americans live side by side. When a skeleton is found at the bottom of a well, the investigation that follows reopens local wounds and uncovers a long-held secret.

Thrillers and Crime Fiction

spinner image from left to right book covers everyone here is lying by shari lapena then drowning by t j newman then the last ranger by peter heller
Pamela Dorman Books / Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster / Knopf / Getty

There’s so much (fictional!) murder and other evil deeds to grip suspense lovers this summer. One of the more buzzed-about is T.J. Newman’s Drowning: The Rescue of Flight 1421 (May 30), whose drama is centered around an airplane crash in the ocean. The book sparked a bidding war among Hollywood bigwigs for movie rights (Warner Brothers won), and Newman’s own story probably helped sell it: She’s a former flight attendant who started writing her first novel, the 2021 bestseller Falling, at work, jotting down scenes on cocktail napkins at 35,000 feet.

In All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Crosby (June 6), the bestselling author of 2021’s Razorblade Tears, a high school history teacher is shot in the fictional Charon County, Virginia, and Titus Crown, the county’s first Black sheriff and a former FBI agent, is tasked with the investigation. The crimes he uncovers, including the gruesome work of a serial killer, are horrifying.

Also look out for Inside Threat by Matthew Quirk (June 13), where Secret Service agent Eric Hill thwarts a presidential assassination and contends with a deadly traitorous plot, and Fearless by M.W. Craven (June 29), which kicks off a new series featuring Ben Koenig, a former head of the U.S. Marshal’s Special Operations Group who’s now in hiding — and in grave danger. The twist: Koenig has a unique condition where he is incapable of feeling fear.

Everyone Here Is Lying by Shari Lapena (July 25), the author of hit thrillers like 2016’s The Couple Next Door (her publisher calls her “the queen of suburban suspense”), is a dark domestic tale about a girl gone missing from her quiet neighborhood and the many possible suspects in her disappearance.

I enjoyed Peter Heller’s 2019 novel The River (he also wrote the 2012 bestseller The Dog Stars), so am looking forward to checking out Heller’s The Last Ranger (August 1), focused on a park ranger at Yellowstone who tries to uncover what sparked violence between a wolf biologist and local hunter.

And Broadway Butterfly by Sara DiVello (August 1), who considers herself a “true crime novelist,” is timed to the 100th anniversary of the real unsolved murder of a Manhattan “It" girl. DiVello’s story is centered around a female crime reporter determined to uncover the truth behind her killing.

Thriller fans can look forward to new installments in their favorite series, too, including Killing Moon by Jo Nesbø, (May 30), bringing back Harry Hole; An Evil Heart by Linda Castillo (July 11), a Kate Burkholder novel; Dead Fall by Brad Thor (July 11), featuring Scott Harvath; and Karin Slaughter’s After That Night (August 22), the next book in her Will Trent series, which has been adapted for TV on ABC starring Ramón Rodríguez as Trent.


Beach Reads

spinner image from left to right the five star weekend by elin hilderbrand then the second ending by michelle hoffman then summer stage by meg mitchell moore
Little, Brown and Company / Ballantine Books / William Morrow / Getty

Every May and June bring a new wave of light, feel-good summery novels that pair perfectly with the feel of sand in your toes.

One is a debut: The Second Ending by Michelle Hoffman (May 30). The humorous story is focused on a former child prodigy, Prudence Childs, 48, a pianist who gets a new chance at happiness as she enters her empty nest years. Once famous enough to play at the White House, Prudence decides to compete in an American Idol-style piano-playing contest show. Among the obstacles she needs to overcome: her ex-husband, who tries to blackmail her by threatening to expose a devastating secret.

For something truly beachy, there’s A Little Ray of Sunshine by Kristan Higgins (June 6). Set on Cape Cod (like so many summer reads!), it features bookstore owner Harlow Smith living a happily quiet life when a teenager shows up, introducing himself as her biological son whom she’d given up for adoption long ago. Harlow’s life is suddenly turned upside down.

Nancy Thayer, known for her Nantucket-set novels, offers All the Days of Summer (May 5). Heather, who’s ready for a recharge after her marriage falls apart, rents a cottage on the island, where her college-age son Ross’s girlfriend, Kailee, lives. The problem: Heather and Kailee don’t get along, but (spoiler alert!) unexpected events bring them closer.

Summer Stage by Meg Mitchell Moore (May 23) is set on Rhode Island’s tiny Block Island, where a theater family collaborates on putting together a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. They all have conflicting ambitions and interpersonal tensions — including adult siblings Amy, a high school English teacher and an aspiring playwright, and her Hollywood star brother Timothy — that complicate the process.

Last but definitely not least, there’s the latest from the queen of the beach read, Elin Hilderbrand, beloved for her own Nantucket novels. The Five-Star Weekend (June 13), which Hilderbrand has said will be her second-to-last Nantucket story, is about Hollis Shaw, grieving her husband who died suddenly in a car accident. At a loss and needing support, she invites four friends, each from a different stage of her life, for what’s meant to be a warm-and-fuzzy weekend together on the island — with her daughter documenting it all on film. The getaway ends up being more tumultuous than she could have ever predicted.

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Other Novels of Note

spinner image from left to right the whispers by ashley audrain then banyan moon by thao thai then the spectacular by fiona davis
Pamela Dorman Books / Mariner Books / Dutton / Getty

I highly recommend The Whispers by Ashley Audrain (June 6), an engrossing story focused on four families in a suburban neighborhood where, yes, darkness lurks beneath the sunny façade. At the center is Whitney Loverly — gorgeous, ambitious and a terrible mother to her son, who ends up in the hospital after falling from his bedroom window. Her best friend, among others, finds this curious.

Crow Mary by Kathleen Grissom (June 6), the author of The Kitchen House (2010), is based on the true story of an Indigenous woman, Crow Mary, who in the 1870s married a white fur trader. The couple moves to Canada, where, caught between two cultures, she faces myriad challenges.

Another likely hit in the historical fiction genre, The Spectacular by Fiona Davis (June 13), is centered around Radio City Music Hall and a Rockette in the 1950s, when (in real life) there was a mysterious bomber terrifying New York. Davis (The Lions of Fifth Avenue) reportedly spoke with many former Rockettes to get the details right.

The First Ladies by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (June 27) also offers a bit of history through a fictional lens, focusing on Depression-era Civil Rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, a prominent Black woman who was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s best friend.

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai (June 27) is a beautiful debut focused on three generations of Vietnamese American women: grandmother Minh, and her daughter and granddaughter, Huong and Ann, who grow estranged. Thai weaves in Minh’s immigration backstory and secrets from her past that come to light while Huong and Ann struggle to find common ground.

A few more I want to squeeze in here:

The Better Half by comedy writers Alli Frank and Asha Youmans (July 1), publishing under actress Mindy Kaling’s imprint, Mindy’s Book Studio, is about a headmistress at a private school who faces some big life changes at age 43.

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (July 18), the author of Mexican Gothic, features two film buffs in Mexico City who get an inside look at the horror movie industry, in a supernatural story Publisher’s Weekly calls a “powerful and chilling thrill ride.”

And Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo (August 1), who won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for The Poet X, is a multigenerational story about a Dominican American family. Among them is a woman named Flor, who has a powerful gift: She can predict the day someone is to die.

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