Summer Reading, A to Z

Summer may not literally start until Saturday, but what with the rain and the humidity and the prepare-yourselves-for-hurricane-season warnings, we already know it’s here.

But literarily speaking, there are still some things you need to know about how to survive and even enjoy the season — and to get the best out of your vacation reading (by the pool, by the beach or inside your blessedly air-conditioned living room). Here’s an A-to-Z look at the summer in books.

A is for Time to choose sides. Jeff Bezos’ baby (or bully, depending on your perspective) has been in the news lately for its contract dispute with Hachette Book Group, which publishes such authors as J.K. Rowling, James Patterson and Malcolm Gladwell. Amazon has been delaying shipments of some Hachette books, including Stephen Colbert’s America Again (the Comedy Central host has flipped off the company a few times on his show) and removed the pre-order option for Rowling’s The Silkworm (written under her pen name Robert Galbraith) and other books. It is currently refusing to sell Edan Lepucki’s California (see P for more on that). Do you still want to sign up for the joys of Amazon Prime? Think it over.

B is for Bloomsday: If you can’t be in Dublin on Monday, celebrate the 110th anniversary of the fictional journey of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus — the heroes of James Joyce’s Ulysses — in Coral Gables instead. The party starts at 6 p.m. at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., and will include Irish music and storytelling, a reading from the novel and a bagpiper-led stroll around the block to JohnMartin’s, where drinks will almost assuredly occur. Dress in period costume or your best pub-crawling attire.

C is for Clinton: Hillary, that is. You love her or you hate her. Either way, her new memoir Hard Choices — about her years as the country’s 67th secretary of state — was released last week. Read it to grumble or marvel, whichever your preference.

D is for Diana Gabaldon: Fans of Gabaldon’s Outlander — about a 1940s combat nurse who steps back in time to the 18th century Scottish highlands — have been waiting patiently since 2009 for a new book. Their reward is here: the eighth book in the series, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, a heady blend of historical adventure, romance and science fiction.

E is for espionage: Maybe we’re nervous about the government spying on us or the goings-on under Vladimir Putin, but for some reason spy novels are all the rage these days. On the top of the espionage heap is Alan Furst, whose Midnight in Europe, out now, is set in 1938 Paris on the cusp of World War II. Also out now: David Downing’s Jack of Spies, set in the early days of British espionage. Charles Cumming’s A Colder War, about a disgraced MI6 agent and his return to service, hits the shelves in August.

F is for fantasy: Two major fantasy trilogies come to a close this summer. Deborah Harkness’ conclusion to her witch-and-vampire All Souls trilogy, The Book of Life, arrives July 15; she visits Books & Books in Coral Gables on July 20. Meanwhile, Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, which concludes his series about magician Quentin Coldwater, who can travel to the magical land of Fillory (think Narnia), comes out Aug. 5. Want fantasy now? See G.

G is for “Game of Thrones”: Look, I really hesitate to recommend George R.R. Martin’s time-suck of a series about the ongoing battle to rule Westeros. But it’s summer, you may have some time on your hands, and the HBO series doesn’t return until next spring. Relax on the beach and relive all the stabbings, choppings, poisonings, beheadings, gougings, castrations, cannibalism and disembowelings.

H is for history: So politics of the past is your idea of beach reading? Good news: Two big, fat biographies of presidents who aren’t named Lincoln or Kennedy have recently hit the shelves. Lynne Cheney’s James Madison: A Life Reconsidered and Fred Kaplan’s John Quincy Adams: American Visionary examine the lives and politics of our fourth and sixth presidents, respectively.

I is for “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You”: Can you fall back in love with your spouse? I don’t know, but Courtney Maum asks (and kind of answers) the question with her witty novel about an artist galvanized by the sale of a painting to confront some tough questions about fidelity and marriage. It’s got emotions, humor — and a really great title.

J is for John Waters: The beloved director of such classics as Pink Flamingos, Cry-Baby and Hairspray chronicles his cross-country trip in Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America. Holding a sign that read “I’m Not a Psycho,” the Pope of Trash traveled from his home in Baltimore to San Francisco, met all sorts of people along the way and wrote about the experience. Can’t wait for the movie.

K is for “The Kills”: The Kills requires commitment. It’s a monster of a novel — in fact, it’s four novels. The brainchild of writer, artist and filmmaker Richard House, this massive story of crime and conspiracy was named best book of the year in Great Britain by The Independent, The Guardian and The Spectator.

L is for “The Leftovers”: On June 29, HBO debuts its newest series about what happens when millions of people mysteriously vanish from the face of the earth. Read the funny, clever source material, a novel by Tom Perrotta — author of such wicked satire as Election, Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher — and see how the TV version stacks up.

M is for Miami-Dade libraries: Revenue to Miami-Dade County libraries has been cut by more than half in the past few years, leading to reduced hours, layoffs, fewer new titles and fewer programs for children and the community. If you’d like to help advocates who want the budget restored and plan to say so at a July 15 County Commission meeting, visit to see how you can help.

N is for new directions: Writers have to change things up a bit sometimes. James Lee Burke, author of several terrific crime series, offers the standalone Wayfaring Stranger, which traces a young man’s life from a meeting with Bonnie and Clyde to the battlefields of World War II. Graphic artist Ariel Schrag takes on the challenge of the traditional novel with the decidely nontraditional Adam, about a boy trying to pass as transgender to win the lesbian of his dreams (really). Even bestseller Emily Giffin, noted for such fluffy romances as Baby Proof and Something Borrowed, takes a slightly more serious turn with The One & Only, about a woman who has never left her football-crazed Texas hometown — but is reconsidering her options.

O is for “One Plus One”: The prolific JoJo Moyes ( Me Before You, The Girl You Left Behind) returns with a new novel about a harried single mom, her two kids and her unlikely, geeky Prince Charming. Shades of Bridget Jones! If you like it, Moyes’ romance Silver Bay comes out Aug. 26.

P is for post-apocalyptic: Edan Lepucki’s California — the book Amazon doesn’t want to sell you — has gotten plenty of attention anyway (Sherman Alexie recommended it on a recent episode of The Colbert Report). In the novel, a young couple negotiates the difficulties of life in a shack in the middle of nowhere. You know: getting along, having a baby and the end of the world as we know it.

Q is for quality: Not everyone wants to read escapist or lightweight fare just because it’s hot. Literature lovers can grab Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us, due out July 29, or, if they can hold out until Aug. 12, Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Don’t want to wait? Check out Anthony Doerr’s bestselling, epic World War II drama All the Light We Cannot See or An Untamed State, Roxane Gay’s harrowing novel of a kidnapping in Haiti.

R is for “Reading Rainbow”: Remember the PBS show that helped teach kids how to read? Actor LeVar Burton has a kickstarter to bring it back and put it on the Web. The goal is $5 million — at this writing it has reached more than $3.6 million — and you can donate until July 2 at

S is for Stephen King: He’s got a big, fat supernatural thriller coming in the fall. But Stephen King’s June offering, the fast-paced Mr. Mercedes, pits a retired detective against a psychopath who enjoys running over his victims. Their cat-and-mouse game feels as dangerous as driving on the Palmetto at rush hour, only in this case the car is actually moving.

T is for thrillers: Summer is prime time for crime fiction lovers, with plenty of works by old favorites (Ace Atkins, Alafair Burke, Michael Koryta, Jenny Milchman, Karin Slaughter, John Verdon among them) and promising debuts from Julia Dahl ( Invisible City) and Neely Tucker ( The Ways of the Dead).

U is for “Unknown Americans”: Cristina Henriquez’s The Book of Unknown Americans explores the demands of family and community through the bond between two Central American families who come to America seeking — what else? — a better life. Esmeralda Santiago calls it “beautiful,” and that’s good enough for me.

V is for “The Vacationers”: Dysfunction goes to Mallorca in Emma Straub’s new comic novel about the Posts, a family in various states of lunacy and disarray and yet still determined to celebrate a 35th wedding anniversary amid the chaos.

W is for weeping: So you wonder why your teenage daughter keeps going to the movies and returning with a red nose and swollen eyes? Break down and check out John Green’s young-adult weeper The Fault in Our Stars, about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. Read it in the privacy of your own home, where no one will see you cry.

X is for X-ray: Only Andrea Barrett could craft a wonderful story around the wonders of X-ray images. But then, all of the stories in Archangel, just out in paperback, are magical, reimagining science and history in unforgettable ways. She’s one of the few writers who can blend the thirst for scientific knowledge into moving and poignant revelations about the human condition.

Y is for youth: The kids are not all right in a couple of notable novels this season. In Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth, three freshmen must join forces to survive a working-class Catholic school. Things are even worse for the kids in Megan Abbott’s The Fever, in which a mysterious contagion wreaks havoc on a suburban community. And you thought your high school years were bad.

Z is for Zevin: True book lovers — and you know who you are — will fall deeply for Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a sweetly sentimental tale about a bookseller, his adopted daughter and how books and independent bookstores are vital to a community. Reading it may help you make up your mind about A.