Janet Maslin of the New York Times offers suggestions for navigating the season’s literary waters with a list of 16 books to look out for this summer.
>> “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman (Pamela Dorman/Viking)
This satisfyingly quirky novel by a Scottish author has something that’s become surprisingly valuable for popular fiction: the endorsement of Reese Witherspoon, who is on a winning streak with the books she has optioned for film and television, which include “Wild,” “Gone Girl,” “Big Little Lies,” “The Dry” (a terrific small-town Australian thriller she’s developing) and now this charmer about the misadventures of its socially awkward title character.
Eleanor is a loner for obvious reasons.
“If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, ‘What would a ferret do?’ or ‘How would a salamander respond to this situation?’” Eleanor explains to the reader. “Invariably, I find the right answer.”
>> “Dragon Teeth” by Michael Crichton (Harper/HarperCollins)
A totally unexpected flashback to the days when Crichton was central to the entertainment world. He still is, what with his “Westworld” on television and a sequel to the 2015 spinoff “Jurassic World” due next year.
“Dragon Teeth” combines those two Crichton ideas, dinosaurs and the Wild West, in a single book — and it’s a real one discovered by his widow in his archives, rather than a book written by someone using the Crichton name.
If you like a good Crichton paleo-action story incorporating real historical figures, you’ll like this one. And look closely at the cover: Atop the dino’s giant head, a 19th-century horse and rider trot along.
>> “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes (Crown)
This is the summer book most likely to be read inside the cover of something else. There’s something guilt-inducing about even wanting to know exactly how the Clinton campaign imploded. Its readers are less likely to be vengeful Hillary-haters than baffled voters wondering how things could go so wrong.
“Shattered” promises chapter and verse on that, and it ruefully delivers.
>> “Rich People Problems” by Kevin Kwan (Doubleday)
The Singaporean-born Kwan was relatively unknown when he came along with the uproarious satire “Crazy Rich Asians” four years ago. Who would read his outrageous stories of characters who reeled off the brand names of everything they wore or owned, and constantly tried to one-up one another?
The answer turned out to be everybody. Kwan followed it up with “China Rich Girlfriend” in 2015, and now “Rich People Problems” ends the trilogy. Even if the problems of the wealthy draw fewer fun-seekers than they used to, Kwan deserves to attract another large audience.
>> “The Force” by Don Winslow (William Morrow/HarperCollins)
Winslow, the West Coast star who writes so atmospherically and authoritatively about surfers, drug dealers and horrific drug-related crime, shifts his focus to the South Bronx in his latest book. “The Force” is a stunner of a cop novel, with dialogue, gritty New York setting and moral pincers all in the service of a devastating plot.
Clearly invigorated by the success of his previous novel, “The Cartel” (2015), Winslow weaves a complex story around a detective who wants to stay clean even though he’s already dirty. (Available June 20)
>> “The Chickens—t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives” by Jesse Eisinger (Simon & Schuster)
The title of this nonfiction account of the government’s failure to prosecute white-collar criminals was inspired by former FBI Director and current newsmaker James Comey.
He was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York when he gave a speech to prosecutors working under him, asking how many of them had ever had an acquittal or a hung jury. If they hadn’t, Comey said, they were members of the above-mentioned club: too chicken-hearted to take on the really tough stuff.
This book provides a history of how, in the opinion of its Pulitzer Prize-winning author, the Justice Department has gotten soft. (Available July 11; note: the profanity in the title has been changed here)
>> “The Dinner Party: And Other Stories” by Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown)
Everything comes mordantly alive in the priceless imagination of Ferris, who can describe an onion being diced and think of the other vegetables near it as “bright and doomed.” Here’s a welcome chance to read stories that have appeared in publications from The New Yorker to Prairie Schooner, and his perverse short narratives do not disappoint.
If you’re looking for happy endings, go somewhere else. Ferris’ view of the human condition falls somewhere between Woody Allen’s and Franz Kafka’s. A Ferris story can merrily pave the way from bad to worse.
>> “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays” by Samantha Irby (Vintage)
The second book of essays from this frank and madly funny blogger includes pieces titled “You Don’t Have to Be Grateful for Sex,” “I’m in Love and It’s Boring,” “A Case for Remaining Indoors” and “The Real Housewives of Kalamazoo.” Her opening essay alone is enough to make this collection a winner.
It starts with a fake application to become a “Bachelorette” contestant and then details how the show would be different if she were on it, including the wardrobes. (“I don’t wear evening gowns and booty shorts every day. I wear daytime pajamas and orthopedic shoes, and lately I have become a big fan of the ‘grandpa cardigan.’”)
A sidesplitting polemicist for the most awful situations.
>> “Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz (Harper/HarperCollins)
Take a perfect faux version of an Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot book. Call the detective in it Atticus Pund. Make Pund’s creator a writer named Alan Conway. Write a full mid-20th-century book starring Pund called “Magpie Murders.” Then wrap this fake novel in a “real” present-day one in which Conway dies, and you have the mystery lovers’ buffet that is Horowitz’s latest novel.
“Magpie Murders” is a double puzzle for puzzle fans, who don’t often get the classicism they want from contemporary thrillers.
>> “No One Is Coming to Save Us” by Stephanie Powell Watts (Ecco/HarperCollins)
Set in North Carolina, Watts’ book envisions a backwoods African-American version of “The Great Gatsby.” The circumstances of her characters are vastly unlike Fitzgerald’s, and those differences are what make this novel so moving. No frivolity or superficiality here.
JJ Ferguson, the dreamer who returns home to woo his now-married sweetheart by building a big house, is positively pragmatic by Gatsby standards.
>> “Things That Happened Before the Earthquake” by Chiara Barzini (Doubleday)
An Italian teenage girl shows up in 1990s Southern California in this culturally astute, strong-voiced novel. Barzini, truly a writer to watch, positions herself astride both American and Sicilian cultures, and packs this visceral book with strong sensations from both. The novel and its heroine, Eugenia, are deeply seductive. (Available Aug. 15)
>> “Every Night I Dream of Hell” by Malcolm Mackay (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown)
Mackay’s hard-boiled books set in Scotland aren’t well known in the United States, but there’s a reason those who know them love them. His Glasgow Trilogy is classic, and this new book brings forth Nate Colgan, an earlier Mackay character, to narrate. The subject is organized crime, but it’s the author’s blunt eloquence that matters.
Don’t pick up a Mackay book unless you’ve got spare time. They’re habit-forming.
>> “The Changeling” by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)
Written as a self-proclaimed “fairy tale” in a punchy, inviting style, LaValle’s haunting tale weaves a mesmerizing web around fatherhood, racism, horrific anxieties and even “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And the backdrop for this rich phantasmagoria? The boroughs of New York. (Available June 13)
>> “The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home” by Sally Mott Freeman (Simon & Schuster)
The subtitle of Mott’s first foray into highly dramatic history says it all. Her book is liable to break the hearts of “Unbroken” fans, and it’s all true. Happy Father’s Day. You’re welcome.
>> “The Destroyers” by Christopher Bollen (Harper/HarperCollins)
Beautiful people visiting glamorous places, being wicked enough to bring Patricia Highsmith to mind. It just isn’t summer without this kind of globe-trotting glamour to read about, especially when most of it is set in the Aegean. Bollen is stylish enough to know what sells, and happy to write sentences like: “Marisela single-handedly rendered my cherished porn sites irrelevant.”
Escapism, as calculating as it gets. (Available June 27)
>> “The Leavers” by Lisa Ko (Algonquin Books)
This wrenching and all-too-topical debut novel picks up the life of an 11-year-old American-born boy on the day his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, disappears. As with the recent film “Lion,” he has adoptive white parents in his life and a missing mother on his mind.
Ko uses the voices of both the boy and his birth mother to tell a story that unfolds in graceful, realistic fashion and defies expectations.