the editors of BookPage

Every year, the BookPage editors must once again ask the question: What, exactly, does “summer reading” even mean? Here are our definitions, in literary form.

The Season

I devour lighthearted, escapist romances and mysteries during the summer. Basically, if it can hold my attention despite all the distractions of a packed pool or a sunny park, it’s going in my tote bag. However, to keep my brain from snapping in half when I inevitably turn to more challenging books in the fall, I also make sure to reach for a few weightier yet still seasonably appropriate titles. Kristen Richardson’s history of the debutante is my gold standard. Impeccably researched but unabashedly glam and gossipy, The Season describes gorgeous gowns and high society queen bees with the same inquisitive rigor it applies to unpacking the intersections of race and class. In its various permutations, the debutante tradition encapsulates cultural ideas about femininity and its value; depending on the context, it can be regressive or liberating, stifling or affirming. (The chapter on African American debutante balls alone is worth the price of admission.) Make this your afternoon poolside read, and you’ll be the most interesting person at dinner later that night.

—Savanna, Associate Editor

Deacon King Kong

When my yard is alive with bugs and birds, when they’re screaming and singing and zipping through the trees, I want a book that crackles with that kind of electricity, like Deacon King Kong. Set in 1969 Brooklyn, James McBride’s seventh novel opens in the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing projects where, in broad daylight, a 71-year-old alcoholic church deacon known as Sportcoat shoots the ear off a 19-year-old drug dealer. That seemingly gritty opening leads into an affectionate village novel that follows a multitude of characters, including congregants of the Five Ends Baptist Church, a lovelorn police officer and an Italian mobster known as the Elephant. As readers learn the truth about Sportcoat’s actions, they also follow foibles and treasure hunts and slapstick party scenes. No one’s the “bad guy,” not even the mob bosses or dirty cops. The dialogue is some of the best you’ll ever read, and many scenes are gut-bustingly funny. Summer is a joy, and so is this book.

—Cat, Deputy Editor


I am not a great lover of summertime. The heat, the dirt, the bugs—all of it sends me indoors with a glass of lemonade. This makes a book like Group by Christie Tate my perfect summer read. I tore through this book on vacation last year, using every moment alone in the empty, air-conditioned house to fly through a few more chapters while everyone else was outside. Tate’s memoir of the years she spent in an unconventional group therapy setting ranges from salacious to vulnerable to truly touching. All she has to do, her new therapist tells her, is show up to these group sessions and be honest—about everything. Sexuality, food, relationships, family, death—everything. As Tate slowly opens up to her fellow group members, she builds real friendships for the first time and learns to defuse the shame and low self-worth that had kept her from making authentic connections during her first 26 years. Perfect for a weekend trip or plane ride, this book’s got heart, hope and enough juicy confessions to keep you turning the pages at lightning speed.

—Christy, Associate Editor

All That She Carried

Whether I’m traveling across the world on a plane or installed under an umbrella on the beach, summer adventures inspire me to decenter screens and their attendant distractions. This means I have the capacity to focus on books that reward a reader’s careful attention, like Tiya Miles’ National Book Award-winning All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. Miles, a historian and MacArthur Foundation fellowship recipient, uses a single artifact—a simple cotton sack given to a 9-year-old child named Ashley by her mother when Ashley was sold to a different plantation—to offer insight into the often undocumented lives of Black women. As she traces the journey of Ashley’s sack from its origins in 1850s South Carolina through the Great Migration and to its eventual discovery at a Nashville flea market, Miles honors the strength of family ties and finds creative ways to fill gaps in the historical record. This book will make you both think and feel, providing a reading experience to remember.

—Trisha, Publisher

The Diviners

There is nothing I want more in the summer than a big honking series. (Especially if it’s complete. No cliffhanger endings for me!) I want to dive into a fictional world for as long as possible before coming up for air, and Libba Bray’s quartet of novels about supernaturally gifted teens solving mysteries in New York City during the Roaring ’20s fits the bill to a T. The series opener is replete with positutely delicious period vernacular and horrors both imagined (a murderous ghost resurrecting himself with body parts carved from his victims) and all too real (“color lines” at jazz clubs where Black Americans perform on stage but aren’t allowed to enter as customers). The Diviners is exactly the sort of tale I love to stay up into the wee hours of hot summer nights reading—which is good, because in Bray's talented hands, some scenes are so terrifying that I wouldn't be able to turn off the lights anyway.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Any book can be a beach read if you put your mind to it.
Summer reading

June 2022

Your 2022 BookPage summer reading guide

Maybe your perfect summer read is pure escapism, heady fun, nonstop thrills or great big heaps of feelings. Whatever your summer vibe, we’ve got a book for you.

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Dinosaurs are such a large part of our culture—from books, movies and amusement park rides to children’s toys, clothing and even dino-shaped chicken nuggets—that it’s hard to imagine a time before we knew these huge beasts walked the earth millions of years before us.

The backstory to that revelation is thrillingly outlined in a new book by Reuters senior reporter David K. Randall (Dreamland) called The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World. While on an outing to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Randall and his family kept circling back to the captivating, terrifyingly surreal Tyrannosaurus rex exhibit, prompting his son to ask, “Who found these dinosaurs?” This perfectly reasonable inquiry inspired Randall to consider “the human stories behind prehistoric bones.”

In The Monster’s Bones, Randall delves into early fossil discoveries and scientists’ subsequent interpretations of these bones’ origins. As it turns out, industry titans weren’t the only ruthlessly determined men of the Gilded Age. This era also inspired the “bone wars,” literally a race to find the largest and most complete dinosaur skeletons. Housing these displays at museums and universities was a huge status symbol and a way to draw in the public and boost admission.

Randall focuses on the stories of two very different men who participated in this competition: paleontologist and Princeton graduate Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Barnum Brown, a farmer’s son from Kansas who was a skilled fossil hunter. Brown would travel thousands of miles, from the American West to Patagonia, in order to hunt down prize specimens for Osborn’s American Museum of Natural History. Their intertwined story is full of adventure, intrigue and conflict, leading up to Brown’s world-changing discovery of the ferocious T. rex.

Exciting as any action tale, The Monster’s Bones features characters from all walks of life, from cowboys and ranchers to scientists, railroad magnates and university scholars. As with any valuable assets, greed was a big factor driving this race to succeed. However, it also pushed science ahead by leaps and bounds, leading to findings that still inform paleontologists and biologists today.

Exciting as any action tale, The Monster’s Bones shares the human stories behind some of history’s most thrilling fossil discoveries.

On the island of Skyros, trans women are given safe harbor. When Wrath Goddess Sing begins, Achilles is hiding out on this island from those who wish her ill. She was a “wild spider of a boy-girl” when she first arrived but now has a cherished lover and an accepting community. All of that is threatened when Odysseus and Diomedes arrive, searching for the hero they know as the “prince” and “son” of the goddess Athena to help them win back the stolen Helen of Troy. Achilles herself would rather die than be forced to serve as a man in war, but Athena grants her another option: to fight with the body she’s always wanted. Due to her talent in combat, Achilles proves herself in Troy to be a valiant soldier. But the gods have endless secrets and machinations, and Achilles is now at the center of a deadly, divine game.

Author Maya Deane’s prose is lyrical without venturing into purple territory, poignantly guiding readers through Achilles’ internal and external trials. Take this moment, when Achilles contemplates returning to war as a man: “It would be worse than death—the death of her self, the inexorable corrosion of her soul, until even her name was forgotten and nothing was left but the shell of a man she never was.”

Why Maya Deane reimagined Achilles as a trans woman.

Some prior knowledge of the Iliad will maximize the enjoyment of this novel, if only to provide some context for Deane’s beautifully realized Mediterranean landscape and her depiction of the Greek gods as vivid, often malicious beings. Deane’s descriptions of these entities are utterly entrancing: Athena, for instance, has eyes “so unnaturally large [they were] too enormous to turn in their sockets—owl’s eyes.” Her vivid imagination also extends to the Iliad’s cast of complicated, iconic human characters, whom she brings to life with confidence and skill.

Wrath Goddess Sing is a mythic reinvention for the ages that asks questions about topics such as trans identity, passing and the politics of the body.

Wrath Goddess Sing is a mythic reinvention for the ages that follows a trans, female Achilles as she faces down divine machinations.

Readers are treated to two expertly crafted mysteries in Australian author Sulari Gentill’s The Woman in the Library.

Four strangers are sharing a table at the Boston Public Library when they hear a woman’s terrified scream. Winifred “Freddie” Kincaid, Cain McLeod, Marigold Anastas and Whit Metters form a quick friendship while they wait for security guards to figure out what happened. When a woman’s body is later found in the library, the new friends realize they didn’t just hear a scream: They may have overheard a murder. Freddie, Cain, Marigold and Whit set out to discover what happened that afternoon, but they soon realize that their meeting wasn’t random—because one of them is the murderer.

But there’s yet another twist! The characters of Freddie, Cain, Marigold and Whit are just that: characters in a novel being written by an Australian woman named Hannah. She’s corresponding with an American writer named Leo, emailing him the chapters of her mystery novel as she completes them. Leo’s detailed responses follow each chapter, and readers soon realize he is more than an appreciative fan. Leo may be just as dangerous as one of the characters in Hannah’s story.

The author of more than a dozen mysteries, Gentill has created a smart, engaging novel that blurs genre lines. The mystery set within the library is a fresh take on the locked-room mystery, and Leo’s emails to Hannah create an increasingly ominous epistolary thriller, despite the distance between the characters. It’s an inventive and unique approach, elevated by Gentill’s masterful plotting, that will delight suspense fans looking for something bold and new.

Readers are treated to an inventive and expertly crafted mystery-within-a-mystery in Sulari Gentill's The Woman in the Library.

“Those were the good old days” is a phrase people love to say as they wax poetic about bygone eras. It’s understandable to feel nostalgic given our current chaotic landscape, but as The Lunar Housewife points out, it’s not necessarily merited. Caroline Woods’ historical thriller, set in the final days of the Korean War and the onset of the Cold War, spins a tale of big-city intrigue as it follows a promising young waitress-turned-writer and the increasingly disturbing secrets she uncovers. The result is an addictive binge of a read that’s equal parts intelligent introspection and nail-biting suspense.

It's 1953, and Louise Leithauser has come a long way from Ossining, New York. The 25-year-old daughter of a housecleaner is now rubbing elbows with the likes of Truman Capote and Arthur Miller in New York City as a writer for the hip literary magazine Downtown. Louise is writing political pieces for Downtown (under a male pen name, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?), dating the magazine’s handsome co-founder, Joe Martin, and penning a sci-fi romance novel, The Lunar Housewife, in her spare time. She’s also certain her twin brother, Paul, who is missing in action in Korea, will come home any day now. But when Louise overhears a conversation between Joe and his colleague Harry regarding mysterious surveillance and their magazine’s dangerous connections, she begins to wonder if anything in her carefully constructed existence is really what it seems.

Coming off her critically acclaimed debut Fräulein M., Woods takes the reader into the tangled web of American-Soviet relations and the dark secrets underneath the New York literary scene’s sparkling surface. Even Katherine, the protagonist of Louise’s novel-in-progress, isn’t immune. A former World War II pilot who voluntarily defected from the States to go on a groundbreaking mission to the moon, Katherine starts to suspect all is not well on Earth or in space. Both Louise and Katherine live in a world that is run by men, but these smart, capable women are not going down without a fight.

The Lunar Housewife will have readers thinking long and hard about how good the “good old days” really were.

The Lunar Housewife is an addictive read that's equal parts intelligent introspection and nail-biting suspense.

The Mutual Friend is a stylized, laugh-out-loud funny social satire with devastating aim.

Like his long-running sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother,” Carter Bays’ debut novel is a New York City-set ensemble comedy with plenty to say about the discontents of modern life and the difficulty of connection, with one character who acts as a pivot around which the story hinges.

Alice Quick, originally named Truth, was one of twin baby girls adopted by two different families in the Midwest shortly after birth. A musical prodigy turned chronic underachiever, Alice feels rudderless and lost. She wants to be a doctor—possibly, maybe—but lacks the energy to follow through. Even registering for the medical school entrance exam is overwhelming.

When Alice’s roommate gets engaged, things go from difficult to worse. Alice is suddenly in need of shelter, and desperation lands her in a basement apartment near Columbia University. Finding housing in a convenient neighborhood seems lucky, but Alice quickly gets caught up in the whirlwind that is her new roommate, the imposing and mercurial Roxy.

Roxy is a tour-de-force character who epitomizes the ephemeral nature of life in 2015 New York City. She has a complicated yet hilarious relationship with reality, and the push-pull of her conversations with Alice is priceless. But Roxy is just one of the wonderful and absurd creations within Bays’ debut.

Like The Bonfire of the Vanities for the era of reality TV and social media, The Mutual Friend is a conflagration of cringe, as Bays paints a slightly heightened and terrifying vision of life in our age of distraction. Similar to Patricia Lockwood’s 2021 novel, No One is Talking About This, Bays’ novel sometimes replicates the thought processes of a brain addled by the overstimulation of the internet and omnipresent media: run-on sentences, a litany of random bits of information hitting the reader from multiple sources and a narrative that bounces from one topic to another with abandon.

More than anything else though, the nearly 500-page novel explores people bumping into one another and deciding if they have what it takes to make it stick. And because the book is poised for laughs and broad humor, its painful, critical sections hit harder. For example, Roxy’s second date with a slightly older man, Bob, whom she met on a Tinder-like service called “Suitoronomy,” goes south when she discovers that he’s the focus of a “DO NOT date this guy” blog post. Exposed, charming, dimpled Bob hits back with misogynistic venom. His response is beyond cringe; it’s repulsive. Yet it’s hard to dismiss Bob as a mere internet creep, as the novel gives him an origin story, too, and his tendency to follow the newest, shiniest thing is reflected throughout the larger story in many ways.

The Mutual Friend dwells at the corner of restless and randomness, displacement and dissatisfaction. The narrative is full of stray thoughts and chance encounters, everything fleeting and devastating. All told, it’s riveting.

The Mutual Friend is a conflagration of cringe, as debut novelist Carter Bays paints a slightly heightened and terrifying vision of life in the age of distraction.

A former college roommate drops into Ava Wong’s seemingly perfect life after 20 years and wreaks havoc in Counterfeit, Kirstin Chen’s lively caper about importing counterfeit high-end handbags from China. Chen’s third novel is a breezy read with unexpected twists, carried along by Ava’s seemingly heartfelt narration as she confesses her involvement to a police detective. Along the way, there are plenty of fascinating details about luxury goods and the shadow industry of fake designer products. (Even readers who aren’t fashion devotees will likely find themselves checking the prices of crocodile Birkin 25s and Hermes Evelynes as the plot thickens.)

Ava, a Chinese American graduate of Stanford University and law school at the University of California, Berkeley, is a corporate lawyer on leave with a toddler son and a surgeon husband. She’s given little thought to former roommate Winnie Fang, who abruptly left college and returned home to China after what appeared to be an SAT scandal. Upon their unexpected reunion, Ava is amazed by Winnie’s transformation from an “awkward, needy . . . fresh off the boat” college freshman into a glamorous, successful businesswoman.

Rather quickly, Winnie inserts herself into Ava’s life. The timing is just right for such an intervention, as Ava is particularly vulnerable: Her mother recently died, her son throws nonstop tantrums, and Ava can’t stand the thought of returning to her legal firm.

Eventually Winnie recruits Ava to join her scheme: buying high-end handbags from luxury stores, returning imported counterfeits to the stores and then selling the real bags on eBay. Winnie maintains that it’s a victimless crime: “Those luxury brands, they’re the villains.” As the women dart back and forth to China and Ava falls in line with Winnie’s ways of thinking (“That level of audacity, daring, nerve—well, it was intoxicating.”), the novel explores questions of status, commerce and how the two are intertwined. As Winnie notes, “A Harvard degree is not so different from a designer handbag. They both signal that you’re part of the club, they open doors.”

Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners and Bury What We Cannot Take, is a versatile, savvy plotter, and Counterfeit readers will be easily drawn into this morally complicated world.

Kirstin Chen is a versatile, savvy plotter, and Counterfeit readers will be easily drawn into this morally complicated world of high-end counterfeit handbags.

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Recent Features

Maybe your perfect summer read is pure escapism, heady fun, nonstop thrills or great big heaps of feelings. Whatever your summer vibe, we’ve got a book for you.

Surprise: We’re nearly halfway through 2022! Time flies when your nose is stuck in a great book. Here are the 22 books that are most likely to have made BookPage readers forget the calendar this year.

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez book cover

22. Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

In Xochitl Gonzalez’s vibrant and raw debut novel, Olga Dies Dreaming, love and family drama crash into politics.

21. Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel is an all-consuming fantasy that is breathtaking both for its beauty and its suspense.

20. Honor by Thrity Umrigar

Thrity Umrigar’s novel offers a well-rounded portrait of India, a place that can be “cosmopolitan, sophisticated, but also resolutely out of step with the world.”

19. Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson’s latest mystery novel is an unpredictable roller coaster that boasts a compelling cast of characters.

18. The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

Funny, moving and composed of sentences that read like small poems, The Swimmers is a remarkable novel from an unparalleled writer.

17. In Love by Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom is known for examining the dynamics of intimacy in her fiction, but she has never gotten closer to the flame than in this memoir of her marriage.

16. Cornbread & Poppy by Matthew Cordell

Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell’s first early reader, the tale of two mice who embark on an expedition up Holler Mountain, will leave young readers hungry for more.

15. The Night Shift by Alex Finlay

Fans of Grady Hendrix and Riley Sager will tear into this sophomore-slump-defying thriller from the author of Every Last Fear.

14. The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.

13. Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian

The enchanting first book in Gigi Pandian’s Secret Staircase mystery series flawlessly balances magic, misdirection and murder.

12. Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman

Scoundrel is the electric story of a killer who managed to fool everyone around him, as told by a superb crime writer.

11. The Appeal by Janice Hallett

The Appeal is a cleverly constructed, meticulously detailed, often hilarious epistolary novel of suspense.

10. A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild

Mystery fans and dog lovers alike will enjoy A Deadly Bone to Pick, the first in a new cozy mystery series featuring former police officer-turned-dog trainer Molly Madison.

9. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

The interlocking plot of Emily St. John Mandel’s sixth novel resolves beautifully, making for a humane and moving time-travel story.

8. The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Olivie Blake marries an extremely pulpy plot with smart and nimble writing in her debut fantasy novel, The Atlas Six.

7. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake marks the launch of a writer to watch, one who masterfully plumbs the unexpected depths of the human heart.

6. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

For readers open to moral complexities, One Italian Summer is a thoughtful, fun escape, blending contemplations of love and loss with a touch of adventure.

5. Overdue by Amanda Oliver

Former librarian Amanda Oliver quickly learned that her job was as much about performing the work of a social worker—without any training—as it was about books.

4. The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

Bestselling author Fiona Davis builds upon the secrets of the Frick Collection in a delightful blend of emotion and adventure.

3. Small World by Jonathan Evison

In Small World, Jonathan Evison underscores a sense of a shared America, that we are all in this nation-building adventure together. That’s a destiny worth manifesting.

2. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn’s track record for delivering captivating historical fiction continues with the remarkable story of the infamous Russian sniper known as Lady Death.

1. Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth is a triumph in its fascinating rendering of a legendary American family.

This list was compiled based on analytics from between Jan. 1 and May 1, 2022.

Discover the titles that BookPage readers have most enjoyed so far this year.

April 19, 2022

Best of the bestsellers

Hundreds of books have hit the bestseller lists so far this year, but which ones deserve the hype? We think these 13 titles earned their places on the list.

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As she has consistently proven in historical novels such as The Alice Network and The Rose Code, Kate Quinn is a master at crafting an intoxicating, well-balanced blend of immersive period details and deft character work. With The Diamond Eye, she returns to the fertile storytelling terrain of World War II for a tale inspired by the extraordinary life of Russian sniper Lyudmila “Mila” Pavlichenko, known as “Lady Death.”

Mila becomes a mother at 15; six years later, amid an impending divorce, she promises her son that she’ll teach him to shoot. In between working on her dissertation at Kiev University and raising Alexei, she finds that she’s brilliant with a rifle. When the Nazis invade the Soviet Union, her elite skill becomes a key asset in the Red Army’s fight to defend the motherland. Mila sets off for war and marches into her own legend.

In each of her novels, Quinn displays an innate awareness of how history can be warped by time and power. In The Diamond Eye, we don’t just follow Mila’s journey into war; we see her actions in sharp contrast to what the Soviet government will later say she’s done. Mila’s perceptions of events are shown in relief to those of the men around her, and even to the perceptions of the American public, thanks to a 1942 press tour hosted by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. That press tour forms the novel’s narrative spine, unfolding in sections that alternate with Mila’s larger wartime odyssey. This structure steadily ratchets up the suspense as it becomes clear that Mila is not as welcome in the U.S. as she was led to believe.

The Diamond Eye is a remarkable combination of immersive wartime storytelling, rich detailing and wonderful pacing. What really makes The Diamond Eye land, though, goes beyond Quinn’s mastery of her chosen genre. This is, first and foremost, an exceptional character piece, a study of a woman who is a killer, a mother, a lover and, above all else, a survivor.

Kate Quinn’s track record for delivering captivating historical fiction continues with the remarkable story of the notorious Russian sniper known as Lady Death.

Serena Drew is returning to Baltimore after a daytrip to meet her boyfriend’s family. As she and her boyfriend wait for their train home, she thinks she spots her cousin Nicholas Garrett. Her boyfriend is incredulous; how can she be unsure whether or not the man is her cousin? But Serena doesn’t come from the sort of family in which first cousins recognize each other in the wild.

Anne Tyler is a master of interpersonal drama and intricate depictions of characters’ lives. Her astute observations have earned her a Pulitzer Prize (Breathing Lessons) and two turns as a Pulitzer finalist (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist), among other accolades. In French Braid, her skilled storytelling once again takes center stage as she reveals the minor family dramas that have resulted in Serena’s inability to positively identify her cousin. Chapter by chapter, Tyler follows a different member of the Garrett family, beginning with a family vacation in 1959 and ending in spring 2020.

As Tyler turns her attention to each Garrett, she reveals finely honed character portraits. Daughters Lily and Alice are opposites, and their little brother, David, often goes his own way. Mother Mercy searches for her identity as the kids grow up and leave the house, but father Robin is left confused; he has always been content with his home and family exactly as they were.

Each chapter is as well-crafted as a short story and reveals the heart of its central character. Tyler weaves these individual tales together to build something even greater, and like the braid of the novel’s title, this interpersonal family drama becomes more substantial as its pieces combine.

“That’s how families work, too,” says David, reflecting on the lasting effect of a French braid. “You think you’re free of them, but you’re never really free; the ripples are crimped in forever.” (His wife laughs and asks, “You are finding this out just now?”)

French Braid is a case study of the circumstances and interactions that shape the lives of one family.

Anne Tyler is a master of interpersonal drama, and her skilled storytelling takes center stage in French Braid.

Reeling from loss, a woman takes the trip of a lifetime in One Italian Summer by bestselling author Rebecca Serle (In Five Years).

Thirty-year-old Katy Silver used to have it all: an adoring husband, a comfortable home near her family in Los Angeles and a rock-solid friendship with her mother, Carol. But her mother’s death turned everything upside down. Suddenly nothing makes sense or feels right for Katy, not even her marriage. After the funeral, she wonders, “If your mother is the love of your life, what does that make your husband?” Katy doesn't have an answer, but she knows she needs change.

So Katy leaves all her commitments behind and travels to Positano, Italy—a place her mother spent the summer 30 years ago, and where Carol and Katy had dreamed of visiting together. There, Katy stays at the gorgeous (and very real) Hotel Poseidon, and she immerses herself in the Amalfi Coast.

That may sound capricious, but to Katy these choices are necessary, even if she can’t quite explain why. What Katy doesn’t count on is running into a woman who looks and sounds exactly like Carol would have at 30—and even shares both her mother’s name and profession. Without understanding how it’s possible, Katy gets to know a different side of her mother as a young woman, and One Italian Summer becomes a sumptuous and sensuous feast of a book.

On a deeper level, Serle’s novel is a savvy meditation on the necessity of change and how roles shape what we see of each other. Carol was always stylish, beautiful and strong-willed, but marriage and motherhood made her cautious. The woman whom Katy befriends on the Amalfi Coast is free and adventurous, and this spirit rubs off on Katy.

One Italian Summer isn’t just about wild oats and adventure either—it’s about knowing yourself. Carol made some mistakes along the way: She was almost an idol to her daughter instead of a teacher, and now Katy doesn’t know how to function without her. In Italy, Katy is sunnier and more willing to experiment, even getting to know an older real estate investor who could be a potential love interest, while her marriage hangs in limbo.

For readers open to moral complexities, One Italian Summer is a thoughtful, fun escape, blending contemplations of love and loss with a touch of adventure. It’s also a beautiful tribute to the pleasures of Italian culture.

Read more: Actor Lauren Graham narrates the ‘One Italian Summer’ audiobook.

For readers open to moral complexities, One Italian Summer is a thoughtful, fun escape, blending contemplations of love and loss with a touch of adventure.

Every 10 years, the secretive Alexandrian Society, inheritors of the lost knowledge from its namesake library, recruits six of the most powerful young magic users, or medeians, to join their ranks. The half-dozen potential initiates are brought to the Society’s headquarters, where they study and learn from the greatest compendium of magical knowledge that has ever existed. This year, Caretaker Atlas Blakely has selected a sextet of particularly ambitious young medeians: three physical mediums, who specialize in manipulating external forces and energies for purposes as varied as deflecting bullets and obtaining midnight snacks; and three nascent masters of the mental, emotional and perceptual magics of reading minds and concealing acne. But these newest residents are confronted with even darker secrets than the arcane knowledge they all covet, for they are the linchpins in a conspiracy that could either save the world or utterly destroy it.

For a book with such a melodramatic premise (think “Big Brother,” but half the cast can read their companions’ minds and the other half can conjure actual black holes), Olivie Blake’s The Atlas Six is curiously matter-of-fact, dispensing with on-page relationship drama and coasting through tense fight scenes with brevity. Likewise, instead of providing flowing backstory, Blake communicates personalities through lighthearted conversations and depicts the world outside the Library’s magically warded walls entirely through the scars it left on her protagonists. The Atlas Six is stingy with its exposition, with the lengthiest passages being debates between characters on topics such as the nature of time and the conservation of magical energy. But in Blake’s hands, these tracts are engaging and often very, very funny. This duality—an extremely pulpy plot married with smart and nimble writing—is the core of The Atlas Six’s appeal.

This macabre romp of a magical reality show nevertheless revolves around one weighty question: Is there knowledge that should not be shared? Blake draws heavily on the structures and practices of academia, which in our world is in the midst of a push for greater transparency and democratization of knowledge. Analyzing the costs and benefits of advanced technology or abilities has been central to speculative fiction since its inception. That Blake is using academia as a vehicle for it, adding her agile and cutting voice to the likes of Neal Stephenson and Cixin Liu, feels particularly relevant to the present moment. And if she happens to suggest some legitimately wholesome uses for small wormholes along the way, all the better.

Olivie Blake marries an extremely pulpy plot with smart and nimble writing in her debut fantasy, The Atlas Six.

Several years ago, in Ford’s Theatre Museum in Washington, D.C., I found myself staring at the Deringer pistol that John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. I stood there, transfixed, amazed that this small, surprisingly delicate and decorative weapon could change the course of American history. I felt similarly mesmerized as I devoured the 480 pages of Karen Joy Fowler’s triumph of a historical novel, Booth. I was torn by conflicting urges: to race ahead to see what happens next, or to read slowly and savor Fowler’s exquisite language and fascinating rendering of the various members of this legendary American family.

Many readers will begin Booth with the basic knowledge that John Wilkes Booth came from a famous theatrical family, but it’s unlikely that they’ll know just how celebrated and fascinating the Booths were, or that their lives were full of drama well before John Wilkes picked up that pistol. Think of Louisa May Alcott and her storied New England upbringing, and then pivot to something darker.

Fowler has previously written several short stories about the Booths and explains in an author’s note that she decided to write about them in novel form “during one of our American spates of horrific mass shootings.” She wondered about “their own culpability, all the if-onlys” and “what happens to love when the person you love is a monster.”

The Booths’ lives play out on their 150 acres of farmland in Bel Air, Maryland, in a mixture of 19th-century horror and family drama. John Wilkes was born in 1838, the ninth of 10 children, four of whom would die before reaching adulthood. They faced poverty, hunger and disease while patriarch Junius Booth, a famous Shakespearian actor, was on tour much of the year. He was an alcoholic with deep, dark secrets, which Fowler hints at with one simple sentence early on: “A secret family moves into the secret cabin.”

The story is told primarily by three of John Wilkes’ siblings—Rosalie, Edwin and Asia—all of whom are equally fascinating and well voiced. Early scenes narrated by Rosalie are particularly powerful and memorable. Fowler includes short passages about Lincoln and his family, ratcheting up the tension of what’s to come. With a master’s touch, she also incorporates vital depictions of racism through the lives of an enslaved family that works on the Booth farm, and shows how the issue of enslavement divides the Booth family through the years.

Like the very best historical novels, Booth is a literary feast, offering much more than a riveting story and richly drawn characters. It offers a wealth of commentary about not only our past but also where we are today, and where we may be headed.

Karen Joy Fowler discusses the literary and political inspiration behind ‘Booth,’ her wholly original American history novel.

Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth is a triumph in its fascinating rendering of a legendary American family.

Amy Bloom is known for examining the dynamics of intimate relationships in her fiction (White Houses, Lucky Us), yet never has she gotten closer to the flame than in this memoir of her marriage. In Love begins, as Blooms puts it, with a “not quite normal” trip to Zurich. She traveled there with her husband, Brian, in January 2020, but the plan was for her to return without him. This is because her husband was pursuing a medically assisted suicide following his diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In the compressed, gripping pages that follow, scenes alternate between the couple’s grim journey and the strenuous months that led up to it. “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees,” Brian commented within days of his diagnosis. Because he was already experiencing mild dementia, it fell to Bloom, who had always been strong and resourceful, to figure out the logistics of what came next. The window of opportunity was small: A key criterion of an accompanied suicide is that the patient should be capable of making an independent and firm decision. With pressure mounting, Bloom explored options on the dark web, wept with friends and therapists, and received deep, unshakable support from the people she loves, including her sister, who gave her $30,000 to cover the next few months’ costs. (Medically assisted suicide is not inexpensive.)

Bloom, in turn, was steadfastly present to Brian, though the couple’s emotional connection, she makes clear, flickered unevenly. The mundane was still inescapable. Words spoken hastily were regretted for months afterward. Suffering simply hurts, but Bloom shares the details without flinching. “Please write about this,” Brian exhorted her.

Just as Bloom found comfort in watching videos made by families navigating this impossible situation, In Love now offers comfort to those who follow in her footsteps. People who are disturbed by the way death in the United States seems increasingly impersonal, or passionate about giving the people they love agency to do what they want to do, will strongly connect to this book—but so will anyone interested in deep stories of human connection.

Amy Bloom is known for examining the dynamics of intimacy in her fiction, but she has never gotten closer to the flame than in this memoir of her marriage.

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Recent Features

The editors of BookPage highlight their favorite books that are riding the bestseller lists this year.

Author Mary Laura Philpott has crafted another witty, heartfelt memoir-in-essays with Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives. To celebrate its release, we asked Philpott a few questions about her favorite bookstores and libraries, both real and imagined. (Spoiler alert: Her method for organizing her own bookshelves is every bit as charming as you’d imagine.)

What are your bookstore rituals? For example, where do you go first in a store?
I go right to that front table to check out new fiction and nonfiction. I’m also a sucker for a good display. It’s fun to see what booksellers are showcasing on a given day.

Do you visit bookstores differently after having worked for Parnassus in Nashville?
I pay more attention to the shelf-talkers—the little cards on which booksellers write up their favorite reads. That’s partly because I often know the people writing them! But I also know now how hard booksellers work every day, and I know it takes extra time to come up with a concise blurb that somehow conveys what they love about a book. Same goes for librarians. A lot of librarians and booksellers are really good writers!

Read our starred review of ‘Bomb Shelter’ by Mary Laura Philpott.

Tell us about your favorite library from when you were a child.
I went to an elementary school for a few years that held chapel services in the mornings, and for the littlest kids the services were conducted in the library. We sat cross-legged on the floor in rows. It was my favorite room of the school, but it drove me crazy to be expected to concentrate on singing hymns when all the books were RIGHT THERE.  

While writing your books, has there ever been a librarian or bookseller who was especially helpful?
Oh my goodness, so many! The first thing that comes to mind is actually from an airport bookstore. I can’t even remember what city I was in, but I had just gotten off a plane and checked my email. A newspaper editor had asked if I could write about a book, but the deadline was going to be tight. I knew if I could get the book in my hands before I got on my connecting flight, I could use my airborne time wisely and start working on it. So I dashed into a Hudson Booksellers shop and explained all this in a breathless and verbose and probably nonsensical way. The staffer knew exactly the book I was talking about. She also helped me find a new travel charger for my phone, because I realized I’d left mine in a hotel. I love airport bookstores!

“More of an open YES to every opportunity I get to see a beautiful library or shop I haven’t seen before.”

Do you have a favorite library from literature?
I can’t stop thinking about the virtual library in Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. One of the plotlines involves a teenage girl all alone on a spaceship; the idea is that she was part of a mission to populate a distant planet after Earth became uninhabitable, but somehow she ended up as the only one alive on the vessel. She has a headset she can put on to enter a library where she can find any book ever written, plus video archives of human history. There’s more to the story about the importance of reading and the evolving life of literature from generation to generation, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Everyone should read this book; it’s a big, strange, amazing masterpiece.

Do you have a “bucket list” of bookstores and libraries you’d love to visit but haven’t yet?
Not a list, per se—more of an open YES to every opportunity I get to see a beautiful library or shop I haven’t seen before. Thankfully my children are used to this by now, so no one balks when we’re on vacation and I make everybody detour into a book spot.

How is your own personal library organized?
Not alphabetically or by genre or color. I shelve books together that have something thematic in common or that I feel would be friends. For example, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is next to Karen Thompson Walker’s books, which are next to Ling Ma’s Severance. All the end-of-the-world gals have their own little neighborhood.

“I love any bookstore animal. Give me bookstore lizards, bookstore chickens, bookstore goats!”

What’s the last thing you bought at your local bookstore?
I marked the publication date of Taylor Harris’ memoir, This Boy We Made, on my calendar and went to buy it the day it came out.

Bookstore cats or bookstore dogs?
I’m more likely to pet a bookstore dog than a bookstore cat because I’m allergic to cats, but I like the cats just as much. I love any bookstore animal. Give me bookstore lizards, bookstore chickens, bookstore goats!

What is your ideal bookstore-browsing snack?
Oh, I can’t eat in a bookstore—I’m too nervous about spilling things, and I need my hands free for making book piles—but I love a hot beverage once I’m home and settled on the sofa with my new reads.

Author headshot of Mary Laura Philpott by Heidi Ross.

Read more: Philpott reads her own audiobook with a Southern lilt, at times laughing or on the verge of tears.

The bestselling author of I Miss You When I Blink reflects on her life among the stacks.
Maud Newton

Maud Newton, author of Ancestor Trouble
Random House | March 29

Maud Newton made a name for herself back in 2002 as one of the very first book bloggers, drawing a large audience with her blend of cultural criticism and personal writing about her family tree. Now her first book, Ancestor Trouble, will develop those early musings into their fullest forms, using the lens of Newton’s family (including her Confederate heritage-obsessed father and a grandfather who got married 13 times) to examine the wider world of genetics, intergenerational trauma and family secrets, both buried and spilled. Her approach is sweeping, even exhaustive, but Newton is a master at taking a complex, far-reaching topic and making it magnificently intimate.

M.E. Hilliard

M.E. Hilliard, author of Shadow in the Glass
Crooked Lane | April 5

A working librarian who grew up on the Connecticut coast, M.E. Hilliard brings her professional and personal expertise to bear in the Greer Hogan mysteries, the rare cozy series that can be legitimately described as “edgy.” The standard elements are all there—a beautiful small-town setting in New England, a clever and resourceful heroine—but there’s a pleasing strain of darkness running through the proceedings. Hilliard’s debut, The Unkindness of Ravens, won rave reviews across the board, and Shadow in the Glass is bound to lure even more readers to her chilly, ceaselessly clever take on the classic cozy. 

Bonnie Garmus

Bonnie Garmus, author of Lessons in Chemistry
Doubleday | April 5

California-born, London-based author Bonnie Garmus’ first novel, Lessons in Chemistry, made waves when it sold in a 16-publisher auction, and now Brie Larson is set to star in and executive produce the Apple TV+ series adaptation. That’s a whole lot of hype, but the great news is that Garmus’ novel delivers on its promises in depicting the ups and downs in the life of chemist and cooking show host Elizabeth Zott. Plus, Garmus seems like someone we’d like to be friends with: copywriter, creative director, open-water swimmer, rower and mother with a background in tech and science and a real knack for naming dogs. (The dog in Lessons in Chemistry is named Six-Thirty, and the author’s own is named 99.)

Kris Ripper

Kris Ripper, author of Book Boyfriend
Carina Adores | April 26

The extremely prolific Kris Ripper became one of the genre’s rising stars with The Love Study series, a charming, nuanced look at modern love that boasted an enviable and highly entertaining friend group. Ripper’s next book, Book Boyfriend, offers a charmingly meta wrinkle to the always popular subgenre of romances set in the literary world. PK is a writer who has been in love with his best friend, Art, for years. He pours all of his feelings into his work, creating a novel in which a fictionalized version of himself is the perfect partner (aka a “book boyfriend,” a romance term used to refer to characters that readers would love to date in real life). 

Shelby Van Pelt

Shelby Van Pelt, author of Remarkably Bright Creatures
Ecco | May 3

First-time novelist and Pacific Northwest native Shelby Van Pelt arrives with the year’s most anticipated animal narrator: Marcellus, an Ove-style curmudgeon that just so happens to be a highly observant giant Pacific octopus living in an aquarium. Van Pelt has combined My Octopus Teacher with a drama involving an elderly woman’s search for her missing son, resulting in a novel that aims for the book club sweet spot.

Putsata Reang

Putsata Reang, author of Ma and Me
MCD | May 17

When journalist Putsata Reang was less than a year old, she spent 23 days on a crowded boat with her mother as refugees fleeing Cambodia. Sanctuary was eventually offered in the Philippines, where Reang’s mother rushed her sick baby to a military doctor, who saved Reang’s life. This is the debt Reang owes her mother—and this is the reason Reang felt her mother’s disappointment so acutely when Reang came out as a lesbian and her mother severed the relationship. Ma and Me is an important new entry in the growing body of American refugee and immigrant literature, shining a light on the experiences of queer people whose families have survived the trauma of war. 

Kirstin Chen

Kirstin Chen, author of Counterfeit
William Morrow | June 7

Award-winning author Kirstin Chen’s first two novels, Soy Sauce for Beginners and Bury What We Cannot Take, received several “best books” nods and plenty of critical love, but her third novel, Counterfeit, is her first from a traditional publisher, which means that a whole new section of the reading public will finally get the chance to discover her. To tell the story of two Asian American women who band together in a counterfeit handbag scheme, Chen undertook a research trip to Guangdong, China, to witness the industry of luxury brand “superfakes.” It’s a juicy premise, so of course TV rights have already been sold, with Chen set to executive produce. Born and raised in Singapore, Chen currently lives in San Francisco, and she teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco and in Ashland University’s Low-Residency MFA Program.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Woman of Light
One World | June 7

No doubt about it, Colorado-based author Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s star is rising. Her 2019 short story collection, Sabrina & Corina, won an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Bingham Prize and the Story Prize, which means that her first novel, Woman of Light, is really exciting in a “if you know, you know” sort of way. It’s a multigenerational epic set in the American West from 1890 to 1935, following an Indigenous Chicano family throughout five generations. Fajardo-Anstine earned her MFA from the University of Wyoming and is the 2022/2023 Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at Texas State University.

Nekesa Afia

Nekesa Afia, author of Harlem Sunset
Berkley | June 28

It's hard to write a good historical mystery. Authors must manage all the spinning plates of a good whodunit (premise, red herrings, pacing of clues, etc.), while also wrestling with the knotty questions of historical fiction. Can they evoke the feeling of an era while still making it accessible to modern readers, and successfully highlight both the fun and glamour and the inequalities and issues of the day? In her roaring '20s historical mystery debut, Dead Dead Girls, Nekesa Afia succeeded at all of the above and introduced a complicated, perfectly crafted sleuth to boot. No surprise the book became a word-of-mouth hit. We expect that Harlem Sunset will introduce even more readers to Afia and her fashionable heroine, Louise Lovie Lloyd.

CJ Hauser

CJ Hauser, author of The Crane Wife
Doubleday | July 12

Novelist CJ Hauser (Family of Origin, The From-Aways) struck it big in 2019 with her Paris Review essay “The Crane Wife,” which has since been read by over a million people. Now her debut work of nonfiction will take the eponymous viral essay—about traveling to Texas to study whooping cranes 10 days after calling off her wedding—and enlarge its scope with 17 additional pieces that explore how to cultivate an unconventional life, from robot conventions, to weddings, to John Belushi’s grave. As a fiction writer, Hauser’s work is smart, surprising and irresistibly weird—and now, as an essayist, perhaps doubly so.

Isaac Fitzgerald

Isaac Fitzgerald, author of Dirtbag, Massachusetts
Bloomsbury | July 19

Isaac Fitzgerald has been a man about book-town for years: He’s the founding editor of Buzzfeed Books, a bestselling children’s book author, an essayist, a co-author of art books about tattoos and a frequent “Today” show guest. Dirtbag, Massachusetts marks his grand entry into one of the few book-town neighborhoods where he hasn’t yet set up shop: prose books for adults. Fitzgerald’s memoir-in-essays will chart his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Boston and rural Massachusetts and the choppy waters of his West Coast adulthood, learning to navigate the pitfalls of masculinity, body image, class and family strife. There will be tough stops along this journey—including discussions of violence, homelessness and trauma—but we suspect Fitzgerald’s signature tenderness, humor and generosity will carry readers gently the whole way.

Alexandra Rowland

Alexandra Rowland, author of A Taste of Gold and Iron
Tordotcom | August 30

Fantasy romance is absolutely huge right now, to the point that it can be hard to stand out among the flood of gorgeously crafted tales of star-crossed lovers or rival princes. But standing out has not been a problem for Alexandra Rowland. Their Conspiracy of Truths duology was funny, moving and profound in equal measure, thematically ambitious but still deeply rooted in the personal experiences of its characters. We expect even more from A Taste of Gold and Iron, a standalone fantasy romance set in a world inspired by the Ottoman Empire. This tale of a prince and his bodyguard falling in love while untangling a plot that threatens their kingdom and promises to be a feast that satisfies both emotionally and intellectually.

Maya Phillips

Maya Phillips, author of Nerd
Atria | October 11

Poet and New York Times critic at large Maya Phillips will breathe new life into the ever-popular subject of fandom in her prose debut, Nerd: Adventures in Fandom From This Universe to the Multiverse. Growing up in the 1990s, Phillips cut her teeth on narrative greats such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, “Doctor Who” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” As she teases apart how these franchises and others formed her identity, worldview and media appetites, her experiences as a Black woman and chops as a professional film and TV critic elevate each essay above the typical fandom fray. Nerd will lend weight to a sometimes-flighty sector of cultural criticism and establish Phillips as a true contender.

Newton author photo by Maximus Clarke. Garmus author photo by Serena Bolton. Van Pelt author photo by Karen Forsythe. Reang photo by Kim Oanh Nguyen. Chen photo by Sarah Deragon. Fajardo-Anstine photo by Estevan Ruiz. Afia photo by FizCo Photography. Hauser photo by Shannon Taggart. Fitzgerald photo by Maddie McGarvey. Rowland by Charles Darrel. Phillips photo by Brian Goldfarb.

From debuts to breakout books, this year promises to be a big one for these 13 authors. Keep them on your radar!

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