Summer books set the stage for your vacations

Published May 20, 2015

For some of us, choosing the right book to read on vacation is almost as important as choosing the right destination.

Publishers know well how many people think of vacation as an opportunity to read — summer always brings a flood of new books, and this year is no exception.

The biggest literary event of the season, of course, will be the publication of Harper Lee's second book ever, Go Set a Watchman, on July 14. I don't know any more about it than you do, since Lee's publisher is not providing advance review copies to critics. Will it be as memorable a novel as To Kill a Mockingbird, or an author's early effort that should have stayed in the desk drawer, or something in between? We'll all find out together.

Other big names have summer books as well. Stephen King drove up the bestseller lists last summer with Mr. Mercedes, a crime thriller that was scary even with no supernatural elements. He brings back its main characters for the sequel Finders Keepers, about a reader obsessed with a reclusive writer, out June 2.

On the same day, beloved and bestselling children's author Judy Blume (Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret) publishes a novel for adults, In the Unlikely Event, a coming-of-age story set in the 1950s. It might not be the best thing to read on vacation, though — it's based on the real-life story of three fatal plane crashes in a single winter in Elizabeth, N.J.

Here are a dozen new and upcoming novels that will help get you in the vacation mood. Each is set in a spot popular with travelers. So if you're bound for Hawaii or Hollywood or Paris, you can dive into a book that takes place there and discover the spirit of the landscape.

And if you're not bound anyplace exotic and exciting, one of these books might be the next best thing: a vacation for the imagination.


Sofrito (Cinco Punto Press, June 23) by Phillippe Diederich, a Haitian writer with an MFA from the creative writing program at the University of South Florida, is about the quest of Frank Delgado, who runs a failing Cuban restaurant in New York City. He travels to Havana to steal a famous chicken recipe from a restaurant there — a recipe that Fidel Castro stole from his family. Sofrito (the Spanish word for the mix of onions, garlic and green peppers that is the base for many Cuban dishes) is a debut described as "a mystery novel for foodies," and it will whet the appetites of the growing number of travelers bound for Cuba.

New York City

Dark City Lights: New York Stories (Three Rooms Press, out now), edited by Lawrence Block, gathers 23 original short stories by fiction writers (including Block, a bestselling mystery novelist), screenwriters, actors and others, all set in the city. They range from thrilling to comic, from a visit to a Garment District shop by Marilyn Monroe to an invasion of Central Park by space aliens. One nicely twisted little tale is by St. Petersburg resident Erin Mitchell: Old Hands is narrated by a former nurse who tells us, "Killing a person has a funny way of getting your life off-track."


Diamond Head (Harper, out now) by Cecily Wong, a native of Oahu, is a debut novel, a sweeping historical saga about several generations of the powerful Leong family. Its patriarch, Frank Leong, moved his shipping business from China to Hawaii at the turn of the 20th century and built a dynasty in the islands. His murder decades later throws the family into turmoil and exposes long-buried secrets, and his only grandchild, 18-year-old Theresa, struggles to decipher how the past will shape her present.

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Dry Bones (Viking, out now) by Craig Johnson is the 13th in the engaging series that inspired the TV show Longmire (new episodes coming soon to Netflix). This time, Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire is contending with the discovery of what might be the largest and most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever found — and the warring interests who want to control it. The Cheyenne rancher on whose property it was found turns up dead, and things get complicated. Longmire also must deal with a family tragedy. As always, the ruggedly beautiful Wyoming landscape plays a major role.


The Dream Lover (Random House, out now) by Elizabeth Berg is a historical novel based on the eventful life of 19th century novelist George Sand. Sand was the pen name of Aurore Dupin, who left her family's French estate for the literary life in Paris. There her friends and lovers included Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix and Victor Hugo. Berg paints lush portraits of the City of Light and many of its most famously artistic denizens.


Circling the Sun (Ballantine Books, July 28) by Paula McLain is another novel of historical fiction, a genre in which McLain saw such success with The Paris Wife. This time the setting is Kenya in the 1920s, and the main character is real-life intrepid aviator Beryl Markham. Not only did Markham set records as a pilot, she was the third member of the love triangle with big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton and author Karen Blixen, a.k.a. Isak Dinesen, made memorable in Dinesen's memoir Out of Africa and the movie based on it. This time, McLain tells the story from Markham's point of view.


The Bangkok Asset (Knopf, Aug. 4) by John Burdett is the sixth novel in his mesmerizing series about Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a detective in the Royal Thai Police Force who struggles to reconcile his Buddhist beliefs with his work in the most corrupt and violent sides of the city. This time Sonchai and his new partner, a young woman who's a tech whiz, must deal with a man of superhuman strength who seems to be controlled by the CIA, a typhoon and a secret camp in Cambodia.


Inspector of the Dead (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown, out now) by David Morrell is a far piece from his debut novel, First Blood, which became the movie Rambo. This fog-wrapped historical thriller set in 1855 is the second in a series that imagines the real-life writer and opium addict Thomas De Quincey as a freelance detective. A killer is targeting London's elite, and Scotland Yard turns to De Quincey for help in a story based on actual attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria.


The Rocks (Riverhead Books, Tuesday) by Peter Nichols is set in a glamorous resort on the Spanish island and makes full use of the lush Mediterranean landscape. The novel tells the story of two overlapping romances in reverse order, starting with a long-estranged couple, Lulu and Gerald, as octogenarians and moving backward to reveal the secrets of their love and separation. The title is the name of the small hotel, sort of a permanent house party, that Lulu has run since the 1950s.

Florida Keys

Under a Dark Summer Sky (Sourcebooks, June 9) by Vanessa Lafaye, who was born in Tallahassee and raised in Tampa, is a historical novel based on the terrible Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which killed more than 400 people in the Florida Keys. Lafaye weaves that event together with the story of Henry, a World War I veteran who returns to his hometown in the Keys after 17 years to find a young woman named Missy who has always longed for him — and racial tensions that threaten them both.


Oh! You Pretty Things (Dutton, out now) by Shanna Mahin is a fast and funny debut novel about Jess Dunne, a Hollywood native and aspiring chef who takes a series of jobs as a personal assistant to the kind of show-biz types who look glamorous to outsiders but to their employees are bizarre pains in the neck. (Coconut water for your dog? Right away!) Mahin is herself a third-generation Hollywood resident and a former personal assistant, so she brings wicked insight to her story.

Sexual Fantasyland

Beauty's Kingdom (Viking, out now) by Anne Rice is a very different kind of fantasy from her Vampire Chronicles. It's the fourth in her series of erotic novels, the first three (The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty's Punishment and Beauty's Release) published back in the 1980s under the nom de plume A.N. Roquelare, and in the long tradition of BDSM couched in lushly flowery prose. If you spent your last vacation with Fifty Shades of Grey, check out Beauty's Kingdom, which has all the sexy stuff plus the bonus of competent writing.

Contact Colette Bancroft at or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.