Summer vacation reading list: a dozen books to whisk you away

I never go on vacation without a book. Okay, a bag of books. • But sometimes a book is as good as a vacation. The right book — an enthralling novel, a gripping memoir, a fascinating history — can lift us right out of our everyday lives and into other places, times and realities. • Whether you're packing for a fabulous getaway or planning to grab a few hours in your own comfy chair or backyard hammock, here are a dozen new and upcoming books with the power to whisk you away from the quotidian. (Unless otherwise noted, all books are available now.) • So where would you like to go?

BELLE EPOQUE PARIS

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore (William Morrow)

Set in the Paris demimonde in 1890, this rollicking novel follows painters Lucien Lessard (fictional) and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (historical, and often hysterical) as they investigate the murder of their friend and colleague Vincent van Gogh. Wait, didn't van Gogh commit suicide? That isn't the only assumption Moore (Bite Me: A Love Story) upends in this book, which boasts a cast of many other artists, a wonderfully evocative portrait of Paris and just enough touches of the sexily supernatural to intrigue.

MODERN ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE

The Red House by Mark Haddon (Doubleday)

A doctor with a newly acquired wife and problem stepdaughter invites his estranged sister and her family to a weeklong country getaway. Sounds like a recipe for the worst vacation ever, but Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), a master of voice, layers the narrative from eight different points of view, piecing together the puzzle of family in surprising ways. (June 12)

BEAUTIFUL BOTSWANA

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon)

I can hardly think of a more charming escape than spending a few hours with the wise and formidable Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. In this book, she must interpret her dreams about a tall stranger while coping with several cases at once. Smith, who has written a dozen earlier mystery novels about Precious (as well as four other series), has a delightfully light, affectionate touch with his characters and with the culture and landscape of Botswana.

NEW YORK CITY,

1663

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman (Viking)

In the rough Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, at the tip of modern-day Manhattan, orphaned children are disappearing. The settlers blame a mythical being that eats human flesh, although there are more than enough real suspects. Law enforcement barely exists, so the investigation falls to amateurs: a successful young trader (herself an orphan), a dashing British spy, an African giant and a mute 7-year-old. In her fiction debut, Zimmerman (Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance) brings research skills and vivid prose to this historical mystery. (June 19)

A REALLY WEIRD PART OF

TEXAS (NO, REALLY WEIRD)

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson (Amy Einhorn/Putnam)

This is the 20-umpteenth book based on a blog (this year) but, if you have a taste for the bizarre, one worth reading. Lawson recounts her childhood, featuring recreational jumping from roofs and a taxidermist father who says things like "We'll have to take your car. Mine has too much blood in it." She also covers her adult anxiety disorder, her hilariously profane arguments (sometimes via Post-its) with her husband and, in every bloody detail, the epic birth of her daughter. You may feel guilty laughing about some of this stuff, but Lawson's skewed, sardonic voice will have you snorting coffee out your nose anyway.

WASHINGTON

AT ITS WORST

They Eat Puppies, Don't They? by Christopher Buckley (Twelve)

Political satirist Buckley (Thank You for Smoking) cheerfully takes no prisoners in this acerbic novel about Walter "Bird" McIntyre, a weapons system lobbyist coping with an expensive trophy wife in the economic downturn. How to ramp up his income stream? He teams with Angel Templeton, a ruthless Coulter-esque blond at the Institute for Continuing Conflict, to "gin up a little anti-China mojo." Spread a baseless rumor that the Chinese government is trying to poison the cuddly Dalai Lama, and weapons appropriations will skyrocket. What could go wrong?

OFF THE

BEATEN PATH

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf)

At 26, after her mother's death and the disintegration of her marriage, Strayed decided to hike the 1,100 miles from the Mojave Desert to Washington state — alone. In this unflinching memoir, she relates how, with a massive backpack and no long-distance hiking experience, she set out through perilous weather, rattlesnake and bear encounters, beauty and loneliness. Physically and mentally, the walk tore her down and built her back up. Whatever your vacation is like, this will make it look like cake.

MIDDLE-EARTH MEETS SPAGHETTI WESTERN

The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel by Stephen King (Scribner)

Between 1974 and 2004, King (11/22/63) published seven novels in the Dark Tower series, set in the decaying, magical Mid-World and mashing up fantasy, science fiction, horror and Westerns. He returns in this book to his stoic hero, gunslinger Roland Deschain, for a story-within-a-story about the power of story. It's set between books four and five of the series — although this book stands on its own for new readers.

AN ODD EDWARDIAN COUNTRY WEEKEND

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones (Harper)

On an evening in 1912, Emerald Torrington's aristocratic family is preparing for her birthday celebration dinner when a group of survivors from a nearby railway accident shows up at the manor house. This sly story by British novelist Jones (Small Wars) is a little bit like Downton Abbey and a little more like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, but very much for grownups.

INTO YOUR DARK, DARK HEART

Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance edited by Lee Child (Mulholland/Little, Brown)

Few things are more satisfying that fantasies of revenge, and this short story collection gathers 21 of them by some of the top crime fiction writers slinging laptops these days. A suburban homemaker hires a hit man to off her husband in The Consumers by Dennis Lehane (Moonlight Mile); detective Harry Bosch finds a witness who might finally lead him to a long-sought killer in A Fine Mist of Blood by Michael Connelly (The Fifth Witness). Alafair Burke, Karin Slaughter, Child and others also sharpen their knives.

THE TOO-NEAR FUTURE

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson (Doubleday)

Robopocalypse, the 2011 first novel by Wilson (who has a doctoral degree in robotics), scored bestseller status and an upcoming Spielberg film. This one posits a world in which implanted technology gives some humans extraordinary abilities. Cool — until the U.S. Supreme Court declares the "amps" less than human, sending one named Owen on the run and into the heart of a movement that may be revolutionary — or apocalyptic. (Tuesday)

HUNTING FOR LAKE MONSTERS

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown)

This darkly comic thriller is a sequel to Bazell's Beat the Reaper, with mob hit-man-turned-doctor Pietro Brnwa back in action. He's hired by a reclusive billionaire (referred to as Rec Bill) to determine the veracity of a rural legend: a lake monster that's dining on swimmers in Minnesota's remote, idyllic Boundary Waters. It's not the only maneater: On the hunt, Brnwa also has to wrangle his colleague, the sexy but self-destructive paleontologist Violet Hurst, as well as sort out the scam artists from the meth dealers in the little town of Ford.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.

Summer vacation reading list: a dozen books to whisk you away 06/01/12 [Last modified: Sunday, June 3, 2012 2:02am]

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