Whether readers want to cool off or heat things up this summer—or learn how to get sticky with some pumpkin paw-paw fritters (read on for explanation)—there's a little bit of everything on the reading menu. Much to booksellers' delight, there are new books from some old friends (Sue Grafton, Richard Russo, John Irving); classic beach reads (some might ask, "Does it get any better than a pink Jacqueline Susann book?"); and yes, a selection of more serious-minded titles as well. PW scanned the lists, talked with a number of booksellers and uncovered a few themes.
"In today's world they want something that grabs their attention from the first page," said Roberta Rubin, owner of the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill. "Summer is an active time. We are looking to get that 1% of their time they might have for reading and give them something that will grab them."
Sometimes that means grabbing one of the usual suspects—that is, authors with a track record; say, for instance, Janet Evanovich or Jacquelyn Mitchard. Evanovich presents her seventh Stephanie Plum adventure in Seven Up (St. Martin's, June); and Mitchard navigates the familial terrain again in A Theory of Relativity (HarperCollins, June). Barbara Theroux, owner of Fact and Fiction in Missoula, Mont., said James Lee Burke has enjoyed growing popularity with her customers, but since this one is set in her home state, the locals are just clamoring for Bitterroot (S&S, June), his third in the Billy Bob Holland series. Ol' reliable John Irving returns with his 10th novel, The Fourth Hand (Random House, July), a story about a journalist whose left hand is eaten by a lion in a deft move away from the ubiquitous Irving bear. This season, Sue Grafton makes it to the 16th letter with P Is for Peril (Putnam, June). Richard Russo's just released Empire Falls (Knopf) is already getting rave reviews and is expect to be a steady summer seller. And Paul Theroux gets back to fiction with Hotel Honolulu (Houghton, May), which takes place at a run-down hotel with offbeat guests.
Booksellers know that some customers want a name that means classic beach read, and yes, there is indeed a "new" Jacqueline Susann. Based on a manuscript Susann completed before her death, author Rae Lawrence brings back Anne Welles and Neely O'Hara, everybody's favorite pill-poppers, in Jacqueline Susann's Shadow of the Dolls (Crown, June). Speaking of guilty pleasures, Jackie Collins is out with what might just be her gazillionth book, Hollywood Wives—The Next Generation (S&S, June).
Perhaps not as well known as Collins or Susann (and in a very different category in terms of both genre and audience), a few authors nonetheless kept coming up when PW spoke with booksellers about summer reads. Ann Patchett, the bestselling author of the slightly kinky Magician's Assistant, is back with Bel Canto (Harper, May), a novel based on the Peruvian embassy hostage crisis of 1996. She wraps the story around one of the embassy's guests, a world-famous opera singer who refuses to be released by her hostages, and remains behind to entertain her guests. "People might say, 'Oh, it's opera, I won't get it,' but Patchett is such a strong, wonderful writer that she's made it all come alive," explained Barbara Theroux. Close on Patchett's heels is Emma Donoghue with one of the most strange yet enticingly titled books on the season's list: Slammerkin (Harcourt, June). Slammerkin is an 18th-century term for a loose dress and a loose woman. "Everybody is talking about this book," said Rubin. The novel is based on a true incident, where a teenage girl killed her mistress for her red ribbon. A down-and-dirty title that is getting a lot of pre-pub buzz is Jeffrey Frank's The Columnist (S&S, June). Frank, the political editor of the New Yorker, penned a faux-memoir by a newspaper columnist of ill repute that will raise a few eyebrows with its thinly veiled Washington references. Speaking of political writers-cum novelists, William F. Buckley Jr.'s 14th novel, Elvis in the Morning (Harcourt, July) is the unlikely story of the friendship between the King of Memphis and a young Army brat who grabs his attention by stealing his records.
This season, a couple of bookseller-discovered authors of previous years are on the lists with much-anticipated new books. Fans of Claire Messud (The Last Life) get not one but two tales in the hotly anticipated The Hunters (Harcourt, Aug.). Also, Lorna Landvik, whom readers might remember from Patty Jane's House of Curl, is back with The Tall Pine Polka (Ballantine, Aug.). Melinda Haynes and Pearl Cleage share the distinction of having had their first novels picked for Oprah's book club and now each has a new novel: Haynes's Chalktown (Hyperion/Theia, May) and Cleage's I Wish I Had a Red Dress (Morrow, July ). Another book Rubin said her staff is excited about this season is a new novel by Joanne Harris, Five Quarters of the Orange (Morrow, June). Can Harris top the previous success of her Chocolat? The plot of Five Quarters sticks to the author's theme in several of her previous books: the struggles of a strong-willed woman in a small French town. "It's also going to drive the sale of her other books, like Blackberry Wine," predicted Rubin Knopf has two novels on the radar this summer: Sarah Bird's The Yokota Officer's Club (June), a hilarious but touching account of a military brat, and Steve Yarbrough's Visible Spirits (May), a moving novel of the Old South. Booksellers think a similar shoo-in for summer success will be Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman (Putnam, July), in which the author tackles what happens in a small Massachusetts town when a dark secret is revealed. Another Rubin recommendation is Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague (Viking, Aug.). Hey, who says a little love and pestilence can ruin a summer vacation?
While some readers want to escape into exotic places and epochs, the success of the Bridget Jones kind of book indicates that others just want to laugh at the present state of things. Rubin said that if Helen Fielding is going to have a clone this summer, she's betting on Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed (Pocket, May). Theroux was quick to second that prediction. But she cautioned readers not to be fooled by the title—it's not a Cosmo-type how-to. "The reviews have been stellar and it's about a strong female character," explained Theroux. It's a story with a twist that Gloria Gaynor could appreciate: a rather Rubenesque woman dumps her boyfriend when she finds out he's been writing about her weight and moves on.
Move Over, Bridget
But it turns out women aren't alone in their obsession with themselves and with finding the perfect mate. A few titles on the lists this season have men chronicling their neuroses and dating foibles. This month, St. Martin's released The Other Side of Mulholland by Stephen Randall, a tale of Tinseltown and sex and the single guy. Another eagerly awaited guy fiction is by Vanity Fair's James Wolcott. InThe Catsitters (HarperCollins, July), Wolcott turns his writing talents to man's irrepressible search for Ms. Right. For his third novel, Nick Hornby channels his inner woman in How to Be Good (Riverhead, Aug.), in which an urban mom deals with her husband's unexpected spiritual transformation.
Want a smooth and sensitive story from a male author? There are those, too. E. Lynn Harris is back in a big—as in 500,000 first printing—way, with Any Way the Wind Blows (Doubleday, July). Booksellers have watched Harris's popularity grow from title to title and noticed he is being joined by other black male writers who are gaining a mainstream audience. In the field this summer are Omar Tyree, with Just Say No! (S&S, Aug.), and bestselling author Eric Jerome Dickey, with Between Lovers (Penguin, June).
Not content to simply let the boys have their say, Maryann Reid taps into the zeitgeist with Sex and the Single Sister (St. Martin's, June). Reid's book is already being dubbed "the black woman's Sex in the City." A similar title is The Justus Girls by Evelyn "Slim" Lambright (HarperCollins, July). "Slim," a former waitress, bartender and go-go dancer, tells about four African-American women who band together to investigate the death of a friend.
Sex-to-food might not seem the natural segue, even though Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential certainly made writing about food sexy. Now, in the tradition of Like Water for Chocolate and The Debt to Pleasure, first-time novelist Thomas Fox Averill combines food, sex, family and a warm coming-of-age story in The Secrets of the Tsil Café (Putnam/BlueHen, July). Readers might be tempted by the delicious Old World/New World recipes—this is where those sticky paw-paw fritters come in—and will perhaps want Averill to come over and make them. Along similar lines, the Bookstall's Rubin picked Judith Ryan Hendricks's Bread Alone (Morrow, July), which is part novel and part cookbook, as a summer favorite. Another contender in this (can we call it "fluffy food porn?") category, is Katie Fforde, author of Second Thyme Around (St. Martin's, July). Fforde goes behind the scenes of a cooking show and focuses on the people who run it: the host and her ex-husband chef, which in real-life might be a recipe for disaster, but could make for a yummy read.
Nobody forgets their first time, and if these literary virgins (aka first-time novelists) have their way, they'll be remembered, too. Marisa Silver shows the gritty, unglamorous side of L.A. in Babe in Paradise (Norton, July). Who thought breast-feeding could be funny? In Mirabilis, Susann Cokal writes about a wet nurse who feeds her entire village (BlueHen, July). Jenny McPhee shows off her own writing talents (she's the daughter of John McPhee) in The Center of Things (Doubleday, July), a kooky love story about a B-movie goddess and her no. 1 fan, a scrappy reporter with a head for physics. Given the current interest in Cuba—its dictator, its ball players, its music—Ana Menendez's collection of intertwined stories mirroring the decaying beauty of Havana, titled In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd (Atlantic, May), is already receiving piles of praise. There's also pre-pub buzz for Howard Roughan's The Up and Comer (Warner, June), which chronicles the lives of evil, ambitious, yuppie-wannabe New Yorkers, and part of the buzz is that October Films has bought film rights and Michael Douglas is slated to produce. Keeping with this Bright Lights, Big City theme, David Schickler's Kissing in Manhattan (Dell, June) tells the story of one apartment building's nutty residents, including a seductive perfume heiress and a crabby actor. Debra Williams, Barnes & Noble spokesperson, pointed out that Schickler has been getting a lot of attention since he made his fiction debut in the New Yorker.
Want an Irish version of The Sopranos? This June, Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishes The Rackets by construction worker turned Harvard grad turned Esquire writer Thomas Kelly, a novel about love, fate and union politics in New York City. So what is it about the Irish? Booksellers say, Why ask? John Connolly, a 31-year-old Irish crime writer, is already a big hit in England with Dark Hollow, which Simon & Schuster brings to these shores in July. Connolly uses his gift o' gab to propel his gory thriller set in the backwoods of Maine. The Irish-born Claire Keegan has bundled a collection of her stories about betrayal and fragile relationships in Antarctica (Atlantic, July).
Sticking to the facts
In the nonfiction area, Theroux said she expects big things from Harry Truman biographer David McCullough, whose latest, a portrait of John Adams, was just released by S&S. As with fiction, it seems that a known author is a good bet for a successful summer sell.
"They like to have the book that is in the know," said Rubin about her customers. "They want the next Stephen Ambrose or the new writer like Stephen Ambrose."
So, from Stephen Ambrose comes The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany (S&S, Aug.), and it is expected to fly off the shelves. It is no coincidence that several strong history and biography titles are landing right before Father's Day. Dan Rather follows in the footsteps of his network anchor buddies with his own book, The American Dream (Morrow, June). While Tom Brokaw cornered the veterans' market, Rather criss-crossed America talking to ordinary people about their dreams. And the venerable Walter Cronkite has written a travelogue focusing on history and beauty called Around America: A Tour of Our Magnificent Coastline (Norton, Aug.). From Philip Gourevitch, who wrote We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, there's A Cold Case (FSG, July), the true account of an unsolved Manhattan homicide, and the cop and the killer whose lives become intertwined for 30 years. Bestselling author Michael Lewis returns with Next: The Invisible Revolution (Norton, July), in which he investigates how the Internet has changed the way we work and think. Rene Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy profile the author of the cult classic Confederacy of Dunces in Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Louisiana State Univ. Press, May), and Simon Winchester goes from madness to maps with his latest, The Map That Changed the World (Harper, Aug.), following up on his bestselling The Professor and the Madman.
If a recognized author helps sell a book, how about a proven sub-genre—like the unending real-life adventure story? The book being billed as the season's The Perfect Storm is The Proving Ground (Little Brown, May) by Wall St. Journal reporter G. Bruce Knecht. The Proving Ground is about the worst disaster in ocean-racing history, the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race. Thirty years earlier, nine men raced to circle the globe in sailboats; that's the adventure told in A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols (Harper, June).
There are two new books about shark attacks, which, on second thought, might not make the best beach reads: Michael Capuzzo's Close to Shore (Broadway, May) and Richard Fernicola's Twelve Days of Terror (Lyons Press, June). For those who want to cool off without getting wet, Claire Rudolf Murphy and Jane G. Haigh tackle Gold Rush Dogs (Alaska Northwest Books, May), about man's best friend in cold Alaska.
On the lighter side of nonfiction, Laura Fraser writes about her own affair to remember in An Italian Affair (Pantheon, June)—think Frances Mayes meets, oh, Jackie Collins. The dapper, perennially partying Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne unleashes a collection of his writings inCrimes, Trials and Punishment (Crown, June), rehashing the trials of Claus Von Bulow, O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers. Crown's hoping for a guaranteed juicy read with Suzanne Finstad's Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood (June)
If there's still room in the beach bag for a few unusual things, there's If the Shoe Fits: The Adventures of a Reluctant Boatfrau by Rae Ellen Lee (Sheridan House, June). The author's husband convinced her it would be "fun" to live on a boat, giving her lots of fodder for a book. Barry Hannah writes about madness, murder and sin in what might be this season's most oddly titled book, Yonder Stands Your Orphan (Atlantic, June). Hollis Griffin of Grove describes Hannah's book as "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll that's pulpy but literary." The book stars a depraved killer named Man Mortimer, a Conway Twitty lookalike who descends upon a tiny lake community and wreaks havoc.
Those vacationing at the lake are forewarned.