Summer books bring fantasy, romance, mystery and more

Published May 23, 2013

Summertime, and the reading is easy.

For many of us, vacation is a golden chance to get into a good book, and publishers make sure to provide us with a new crop of them every summer.

Avid readers will already know about the high-profile releases of the season, like Dan Brown's Inferno and Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed, both published this month, and James Lee Burke's Light of the World, coming in July.

But here are some engaging summer reads you might not have heard about, all suitable for tucking into your carryon or beach tote or loading into your e-reader.

Most are already available. A few, as noted, will be published in upcoming months.

Fantasy plus

If genre-bending fantasy is your favorite literary dish, these three novels offer two supernatural immigrants in turn-of-the-20th century New York, a war against terrorist werewolves and a time-traveling serial killer. (Zombies, you say? Please, they're so last year.)

The Golem and the Jinni (Harper) by Helene Wecker is an evocative, suspenseful debut novel that laces historical fiction, set in 1899 Manhattan, with the relationship between a golem, a creature of clay brought to life by Kabbalistic magic, and a jinni, newly released from the copper flask in which he was imprisoned centuries ago.

Red Moon (Grand Central) by Benjamin Percy layers a political thriller with supernatural horror in a powerfully written alternative history in which the United States brutally oppresses people afflicted with a disease that turns them into "lycans." They are forced to live in restricted areas and take drugs to control their shape-shifting — until they decide to strike back.

The Shining Girls (Mulholland/Little, Brown) by Lauren Beukes combines hardboiled thriller, cyberpunk and the paranormal in the compelling story of a serial killer who finds a key that lets him travel through time — only to be hunted by a young woman who is the only victim to survive his attacks. You'll never see My Little Pony toys the same way again. (June)

The lives of others

Is an engrossing biography your idea of a great beach read? Then how about a book on royal enigma Anne Boleyn, uber capitalist Henry Ford or Marguerite Alibert, a Parisian courtesan who followed up a steamy affair with a future king of England by murdering her wealthy Egyptian husband?

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Susan Bordo examines both the life of Henry VIII's second queen and her remarkable afterlife in high and low culture — she has been depicted as a cold-blooded schemer and a romantic victim, a mean girl and a protofeminist and more — and aims to reclaim her real story from myth and propaganda.

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I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford (Scribner) by Richard Snow engagingly chronicles Ford's remarkable life — born the same year as Gettysburg, he lived to see atomic bombs fall on Japan — as well as his enormous influence on American society as the progenitor of such world-changing phenomena as the automobile, mass production and consumerism.

The Woman Before Wallis: Prince Edward, the Parisian Courtesan, and the Perfect Murder (Picador) by Andrew Rose is the titillating true tale of a scandal involving the future Edward VIII (later the Duke of Windsor) before he ever hooked up with that Simpson woman. During World War I, the naive young prince had a wild affair with the sophisticated Marguerite Alibert; this book, based on newly uncovered documents, reveals what happened later when she was on trial for killing her husband and threatened to expose Edward's wartime conduct.

Mystery tour

Double the pleasure of a well-written mystery by choosing one that takes you to another place — like the narrow streets of Amsterdam, the rugged mountains of Wyoming or, in one globe-trotting case, from China to Denmark to New York and London.

Choke Point (Putnam) by Ridley Pearson is the second in this prolific and versatile writer's Risk Agent series, this one sending American freelance investigator John Knox and Chinese forensic accountant Grace Chu to the immigrant neighborhoods of Amsterdam on an urgent and dangerous mission to uncover the exploitation and enslavement of children. (June)

A Serpent's Tooth (Viking) by Craig Johnson is the ninth in an addictive series (now also an A&E TV series) about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. Johnson does a first-rate job with Western settings and culture. In this entry, Longmire, with the help of his friend Henry Standing Bear and deputy (and squeeze) Victoria Moretti, gets involved in the case of a Mormon "lost boy" ejected by a secretive and heavily armed polygamist cult. (June)

The Wild Beasts of Wuhan (Picador) by Ian Hamilton is the second in a lively series about Ava Lee, a sexy forensic financial investigator (they're apparently the new trend in thrillers) whose Chinese power broker client has been bilked out of $100 million in an art forgery scam. That sends her on a perilous quest into the dark side of opulent art auction houses around the world.

History with heart

These historical novels open fictional windows into pre-Revolutionary America, World War II and its aftermath, and 19th century Nantucket — all with a dash of romance.

Benjamin Franklin's Bastard (William Morrow) by Sally Cabot is based on the story of William Franklin, son of one of the randy Ben's lovers and raised by another one (who became Ben's common-law wife). It explores their complex family relationships and how they were torn apart when the father fought for revolution while the son remained a loyalist.

Motherland (Simon & Schuster) by William Nicholson follows a love triangle involving a young Army driver and the two soldiers who love her in a sweeping story that moves through wartime England, Nazi-occupied France, India after the war and Jamaica as it moves toward independence.

The Movement of Stars (Riverhead) by Amy Brill is set in the decades before the Civil War and focuses on Hannah Price, a young woman raised in an insular Quaker community on Nantucket. She is trying to discover a comet, something unheard of for a woman of her time, and her life becomes even more complicated when she meets a dark-skinned young whaler. The novel is based on the life of Maria Mitchell, the first female professional astronomer in America.

Savory stories

Weaving food into the fiction makes these novels even more delicious.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Eli Brown is a gender-bending twist on the Scheherazade story, with a famed chef named Owen Wedgwood kidnapped in 1819 by a ruthless red-haired pirate, Mad Hannah Mabbott. He can stay alive, she promises, as long as he can tickle her palate — no easy task when your kitchen supplies are weevil-infested cornmeal and salted horse, and your captor is being pursued by the British Navy. (June)

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café (Little, Brown) by Mary Simses recounts the adventures of Ellen Branford, a Manhattan lawyer who travels to a tiny town in Maine to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish: deliver a letter to the man Grandma once loved. But once there Ellen falls in the bay, almost drowns, is rescued by a handsome carpenter, begins to realize her grandmother had a secret past — and discovers the town is a mother lode of tasty baked goods. (July)

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jessica Soffer is about Victoria, a widowed Iraqi Jewish immigrant now retired from running a restaurant, and Lorca, a girl who is desperately trying to get the attention of her mother, a distracted chef. Lorca signs up for cooking lessons from Victoria to try to impress her mom, but finds a new bond with the older woman as they turn out baklava and pistachio cookies together.

Funny girls

These novels bring humor and warmth to contemporary stories about women coping with family, career and romance.

Elizabeth the First Wife (Prospect Park Books) by Lian Dolan is modern romance with a Shakespearean twist: Happily divorced English professor Elizabeth Lancaster takes a job at a summer Shakespeare festival where her ex, an action movie star, has an unlikely starring role in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The book also includes pages from a Shakespeare-themed relationship guide Elizabeth is writing ("Comparison chart: Romeo/Hamlet/Edward Cullen").

Gorgeous (Scholastic) by Paul Rudnick is a YA novel, but Rudnick (screenwriter, playwright and frequent New Yorker contributor) is a treat for readers of any age. After her mom dies, 18-year-old Becky is summoned from her trailer park home by top fashion designer Tom Kelly, whose dresses magically transform her into Rebecca, "the most beautiful woman who ever lived" — with all the unexpected problems and hilarity that entails.

The Smart One (Alfred A. Knopf) by Jennifer Close turns on the adult phase of sibling rivalry, as Weezy Coffey, whose parents gave her the title sobriquet while her sister was "the pretty one," now tries to cope with having all three of her adult children move in with her after career and romantic flameouts.