A short and satisfying summer books preview

Read books and chill.
(Jeff Amlotte / Los Angeles Times)
Books Editor

There are a couple times of year when colleagues start casually stopping by my office to chat about books. It would happen more often if I weren’t on a different floor than many of them — and also, it’s not just casual talk. Come June, they’re looking for something good and fun to read when they finally get to take a break — a vacation, a trip with the family, head to the beach or pool or campground or even the just backyard. Summer is when many of us get a chance to settle in with a book, something that might provide a bit of escape. Here are 16 books to look forward to — and a few that are already out, if you’re ready to get started on your summer reading.


Novelist Anne Tyler — best known for “The Accidental Tourist” — has been publishing moving, bestselling novels for 40 years, and she’s back with “Clock Dance” (Knopf, July), an episodic story of Willa Drake, a woman whose life seems straightforward enough until, in her 60s, she agrees to take care of a stranger’s daughter and dog and gets caught up in their world.


For a literary romance, try “The Verdun Affair” by Nick Dybeck (Counterpoint, June), a historical fiction that begins in 1950 in Los Angeles, where a Hollywood screenwriter runs into someone from his past. Their story stretches back to Europe in the years following the First World War, and the novel unravels a love triangle and its players’ secrets.

On the lighter side, Georgia Clark’s novel “The Bucket List” (Atria, August) is a witty, sexy take on a well-worn theme. After a buttoned-up 25-year-old woman learns she has the BCRA1 gene mutation and should have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer, she comes up with a to-do list of breast adventures, which she sets out to complete. It’s got one of the most head-turning covers of the summer.

But giving Clark’s cover a run for its money is “The Pisces” by Melissa Broder (Hogarth, out now). This acclaimed novel is a engrossing tale of a woman wrestling with her demons — an unfinished PhD, therapy for addiction — who comes to Venice, Calif., and falls in love with a merman. As we saw in “The Shape of Water,” it happens.


Few writers get at the dark corners of the female psyche like Megan Abbott. In her new psychological thriller, “Give Me Your Hand” (Little, Brown, July), two female scientists, who were friends back in high school, compete for the same position working for their mentor in groundbreaking research and become deep rivals.

In “Bearskin” (Ecco, June), the debut novel from James A. McLaughlin, a not-at-all innocent man on the run from a Mexican drug cartel tries to start over with an assumed name and a job at a remote Virginia nature preserve. But when a bear is killed on the grounds, it opens the door to trouble and violence.Los Angeles writer Jessica Knoll (“Luckiest Girl Alive”) uses reality TV as the setting for her new thriller, “The Favorite Sister” (Simon & Schuster, out now). Entrepreneur competitors — all women, two who are sisters — are set up to have camera-ready catfights and the rest. But one ends up dead.



Reality TV is the setting as well for the nonfiction book “Bachelor Nation” (Dutton, out now) by my Times colleague Amy Kaufman. The long-running series that starts with strangers and ends with a happy couple (if all goes as planned) is back for a new season, and Kaufman’s book is a delicious look behind the scenes.

The biggest book I’m suggesting you bring to the beach is “Bruce Lee: A Life” by Matthew Polly (Simon & Schuster, June). Sure, it’s 656 pages, but it’s the first authoritative biography of the martial arts teacher and movie star, who died mysteriously at 32 but whose films, like “Enter the Dragon,” still thrill decades later.


The slimmest book on this list is “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin” by Terrance Hayes (Penguin, June), but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. All of these poems were written by the inventive National Book Award-winning poet and MacArthur fellow during the first 200 days of Donald Trump’s presidency.


Historian Nell Painter was 64 when she stepped down from her job at Princeton to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. She chronicles that experience in her memoir “Old in Art School” (Counterpoint, June), bringing her fierce intelligence to questions not just of age but also race and what it means to be an artist.

Young writer Michael Arceneaux’s coming-of-age essay collection, “I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé” (Atria, July), touches on growing up in Texas, coming out to his mother and embracing his identity.


As a journalist, KJ Dell’Antonia has wide view of parenthood — and an up-close one with four kids of her own. In “How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute” (Avery, August) she shares her knowledge in a breezy style and bite-size format that’s easy to read between toddler meltdowns.

An ambitious Silicon Valley company, a groundbreaking product, billions invested and a founder who was hailed as brilliant: It’s the story of our modern technological age, but for Theranos, it was built on an empty promise. In “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” (Knopf, out now) journalist John Carreyrou gets the inside scoop on the company’s rise and fall.

Nothing lasts forever: In 1930s Shanghai, the no-holds-barred gangster scene was run by an American ex-Navyman and a Jewish man who’d fled Vienna. Their milieu — and its end — comes alive in “City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai” (Picador, July) by Paul French, an Edgar award-winning writer.

Michael Pollan is best known for his groundbreaking writing about food and the environment. But in “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence” (Penguin Press, out now), he seriously researched — and explored — mind-altering substances such as LSD and psilocybin now being used in medicine, turning gonzo journalism on its head.