Summer is the season when readers get to wallow in guilty pleasures with heated beachfront romances, idyllic island adventures and international thrillers in which the hero escapes explosions and/or deadly viruses and saves the world.
Fun, escapist stuff.
There was plenty of that this past summer, but there were also a surprising number of A-list authors with more grounded offerings. Among them were Richard Ford, Toni Morrison, Dean Koontz, Laura Lippman and Dave Eggers.
Now it's time to segue into fall, when titles in general become more serious and larger in scope as publishers present their most prestigious titles by their biggest names. In the $22.5 billion book industry, fall is when half the year's book sales occur; after all, the coming weeks are the walk-up to the holiday gift-giving season.
On bookshelves and online now are titles by a who's who of authors, with more to come. We're talking the likes of Junot Diaz ("This Is How You Lose Her"), Dennis Lehane ("Live by Night"), Salman Rushdie ("Joseph Anton"), J.K. Rowling ("The Casual Vacancy"), Ken Follett ("Winter of the World"), Zadie Smith ("NW"), Mitch Albom ("The Time Keeper"), Michael Chabon ("Telegraph Avenue"), Deepak Chopra ("God"), Joyce Carol Oates ("Black Dahlia & White Rose") . It's a long list.
One upcoming title headed for best-sellerdom is "Mick Jagger" by Philip Norman, a detailed, behind-the-scenes close-up at the life and career of the Rolling Stones' frontman (and expert harmonica player).
It's among an avalanche of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs coming this fall, by and about such notables as Charles Dickens ("Charles Dickens in Love" by Robert Garnett), Galileo Galilei ("Galileo" by J.L. Heilbron), Rachel Carlson ("On a Farther Shore" by William Souder), Michael Douglas ("Michael Douglas" by Marc Eliot), Kenny Rogers ("Luck or Something Like It"), Barbra Streisand ("Hello, Gorgeous"), Pete Town-shend ("Who I Am"), Rod Stewart ("Rod"), Penny Marshall ("My Mother Was Nuts"), Regis Philbin ("How I Got This Way") . Another long list.
No matter what your taste in reading or your choice of how you do it traditional books or electronic books downloadable to e-readers and tablets you'll find a trove of irresistible titles through year's end.
Let's turn the page to a sampling, arranged alphabetically by authors' last names. Some titles are on sale now; for the others, the upcoming publishing dates are noted.
"San Miguel" by T.C. Boyle (Viking, $27.95, 384 pages): This period piece dwells on two families living on the same island off the Southern California coast. The first family occupies it in the 1880s, the second lives there in the 1930s. Profound storytelling and realistic characters by a master.
"The Black Box" by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown, $27.99, 416 pages; Nov. 26): The 18th title in the Harry Bosch police-procedural series finds the LAPD homicide detective investigating a cold case in which a female photojournalist was killed by "random violence" in the L.A. riots. But wait Bosch has proof (maybe) that she was murdered. Connelly is a former journalist and a past president of the Mystery Writers of America. He appeared for the Bee Book Club in 1998.
"The Twelve" by Justin Cronin (Ballantine, $28, 592 pages): In this sequel to the best-selling "The Passage," and book two of a planned trilogy, we find a post-apocalyptic world caving in on itself. Readers join the journeys of three characters a pregnant doctor, a man on the run, and a teen intent on saving her little brother. Heroism and survival in a bleak landscape, with surprises.
"The Malice of Fortune" by Michael Ennis (Doubleday, $26.95, 416 pages): Sixteenth-century Italy is brought to life as "eccentric engineer" Leonardo da Vinci and "obscure diplomat" Niccolo Machiavelli are hired to solve a string of murders. En route across war-torn Italy, they discover truths that will remake civilization.
"The Round House" by Louise Erdrich (Harper, $27.99, 336 pages): Critics are making this title their literary pick. It's the coming-of-age story of an Ojibwe boy living on a North Dakota reservation. His life changes when his mother is brutally attacked but will not divulge any details.
"Peaches for Father Francis" by Joanne Harris (Viking, $26.95, 464 pages): Vianne Rocher returns to the French village where she once ran a chocolate shop, only to find everything has changed and her former arch- enemy is in need of her assistance. Harris' magical novel "Chocolat" was made into the Oscar-nominated movie of the same name, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.
"In Sunlight and in Shadow" by Mark Helprin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 720 pages): In this saga, the veteran novelist ("Winter's Tale") visits post-WW II New York, where an ex-paratrooper falls in love with an actress-heiress. He pursues her across a backdrop of the Broadway theater scene, the homes of the wealthy and the hangouts of mobsters. Flashbacks visit war-ravaged Sicily and London during the blitz.
"Invisible Murder" by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis (Soho Crime, $25, 339 pages): The Danish writing team continues the Nina Borg series, after last year's mega- selling debut, "The Boy in the Suitcase." The Red Cross nurse inadvertently becomes involved in an international crime ring by helping a band of Hungarian gypsies. Tense and twisty.
"The Three Day Affair" by Michael Kardos (Mysterious Press, $24, 256 pages): One bad thing leads to the next in this big-buzz debut mystery, when three well-meaning buddies make accidental bad choices and are caught in a whirlpool of consequences. Think in terms of "A Simple Plan" by Scott Smith (the movie version starred Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda).
"Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone" by Stefan Kiesbye (Penguin, $15, 208 pages): This scary little number is described as "Shirley Jackson meets 'The Twilight Zone.' " The village and manor house on Devil's Moor hold "supernatural horror" for four friends who aren't afraid of confronting the unknown. Maybe they should have been.
"Garment of Shadows" by Laurie R. King (Bantam, $26, 384 pages; Oct. 29): Best-seller King has made a career out of her suspenseful thrillers starring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. In this 12th entry, the two are in Morocco, facing a life-or-death puzzle. Oh, and trying to prevent a war. But wait why has Mary suddenly vanished? King appeared for the Bee Book Club in 2001.
"Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper, $28.99, 448 pages; Nov. 6): Climate change meets Appalachia when a rural housewife discovers "a lake of fire." Is it a miracle or an ecological disaster? Scientists, the clergy, the world's media, con men and the curious flock to the site, changing lives forever and raising issues that lead to turmoil.
"The Prodigal Son" by Colleen McCullough (Simon & Schuster, $26, 320 pages; Nov. 6): The author of "The Thorn Birds" (made into a 1983 TV miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward) is back with a murder mystery involving a deadly toxin stolen from a university lab. Unexplained deaths soon follow.
"Sweet Tooth" by Ian McEwan (Nan Talese, $26.95, 320 pages; Nov. 13): In 1972, jittery British secret service agents recruit Cambridge student and bibliophile Serena Frome to infiltrate and influence the "literary circle" of a brash new writer. Things do not go as planned. Lots of industry talk has preceded this title. McEwan won the National Book Critics Circle Award for "Atonement." The 2007 film version won an Oscar for best original score, and was nominated for six more, including best picture.
"The Cold Cold Ground" by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 340 pages; Nov. 13): McKinty belongs to a crew of much-praised Irish crime novelists that includes John Connolly, Declan Burke and Ken Bruen. This is the first of a trilogy set in 1980s Ireland during the height of "the troubles." Detective Sean Duffy races to stop a serial killer who murders only gay men. Complications arise. "Noir" is one word, "brutal" is another.
"Sutton" by J.R. Moehringer (Hyperion, $27.99, 352 pages): Bank robber Willie Sutton's life of crime is reimagined. The audacious criminal and his gang looted more than 100 banks in the 1920s through the 1950s. Sutton was imprisoned for more than half his adult life.
"Looking for Yesterday" by Marcia Muller (Grand Central Publishing, $25.99, 304 pages; Nov. 6): San Francisco PI Sharon McCone returns in the 31st series entry, this time taking on a murder case no one seems to be able to solve. Muller and her novelist husband, Bill Pronzini (the "Nameless Detective" series), appeared for the Bee Book Club in 2009.
"Dear Life" by Alice Munro (Knopf, $26.95, 336 pages; Nov. 13): The gentle but moving stories in this collection are set in "Munro territory" the towns and countryside around Lake Huron. The author says they are "autobiographical in feeling, though not entirely so in fact." Lyrical prose about emotional characters.
"Phantom" by Jo Nesbo (Knopf, $25.95, 400 pages): The excellent series starring Oslo police detective Harry Hole continues. In the impeccably crafted story, Harry returns from self-imposed exile in Hong Kong to prove that his stepson did not commit a murder. Booted off the police force, he conducts his own out-of-bounds investigation. Twists and turns abound. Nesbo, who is Norwegian, is among the most sizzling novelists in Europe.
"Something Red" by Douglas Nicholas (Aria, $25, 336 pages): In 13th century England, a healer and her entourage are trying to escape the mysterious force that stalks them. This blend of mythology, history and fantasy takes its band of characters through a landscape populated with witches, warriors and shape-shifters.
"Mad River" by John Sandford (Putman, $27.95, 400 pages): The former newspaperman is best known for his "Prey" series, featuring lawman Lucas Davenport, but his six-title Virgil Flowers series holds its own. Flowers, who works for Davenport, tracks three psychotic teens who are on a murder spree. Along the way, he takes on a related murder case. Flowers can be charming, but ruthless, too.
"Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25, 304 pages): We follow former web designer Clay Jannon to his new job at a mysterious San Francisco bookstore, where its few customers seem never to buy anything. Could this be a front? Clay enlists his friends to help uncover the bookstore's secrets. What they find is completely unexpected.
"Back to Blood" by Tom Wolfe (Little, Brown, $30, 720 pages; Tuesday): The much-celebrated author takes on the city of Miami, showing it through characters who have joined the immigrant melting pot that has so acutely defined South Florida for decades. The novel reads like a wonderful piece of journalism that only Tom Wolfe could have written funny, scathing, insightful.
"The Lawgiver" by Herman Wouk (Simon & Schuster, $25.99, 240 pages; Nov. 13): At age 97, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author ("The Winds of War," "The Caine Mutiny") has the applause of the publishing industry for this bitingly funny tale about a movie company making a film on the life of Moses.
"Cross Roads" by William Paul Young (FaithWords, $24.95, 304 pages; Nov. 13): The author of the phenomenal best-seller "The Shack" is back with another spiritually evocative morality tale. When a medical episode strikes down an ego-driven businessman sending him to the hospital in a comatose state he wakes up in an other-dimensional world where he must confront his earthly actions, good and bad.
"Encyclopedia Paranoiaca" by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf (Simon & Schuster, $25, 400 pages; Nov. 20): What we think is healthful and harmless may well be deadly or at least harmful, say the humorists. They've compiled a long list of everyday foods (cherries, carrots), clothing (skinny jeans, flip-flops) and items (drinking straws) that we can now worry about like never before. Thanks, guys.
"Bruce" by Peter A. Carlin (Touchstone, $28, 512 pages; Oct. 30): If you thought you knew The Boss, think again. This detailed biography of Bruce Springsteen is founded on "unfettered access to the artist, his family and band members." It includes the last in-depth interview with the late Clarence Clemons, tenor saxophonist for the E Street Band.
"Round About the Earth" by Joyce E. Chaplin (Simon & Schuster, $35, 560 pages, Oct. 30): A fascinating look at mankind's 500-year history of circumnavigating the globe by sea, bicycle, aircraft, foot and via space orbit. With maps and illustrations, and biographies of bigger-than-life adventurers.
"Black Fire" by Robert Graysmith (Crown, $26, 288 pages; Oct. 30): The journalist delved deep into archival material to find the connection between Mark Twain and a heroic San Francisco firefighter named Tom Sawyer, who became the model for one of Twain's most beloved characters. Along the way, Graysmith "visits" the Barbary Coast and investigates the series of arsons that nearly took down the Gold Rush-era city by the bay.
"The John Lennon Letters" by John Lennon, edited by Hunter Davies (Little, Brown, $29.99, 400 pages): Here's a collection of 300 letters and postcards (and notes to self) written by the iconic songwriter-musician and sent to well, just about everybody friends, family, heads of government, total strangers. The correspondence was edited and annotated by Beatles biographer Davies.
"Custer" by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster, $35, 256 page; Nov. 6): The foremost chronicler of the American West adds new perspective to our understanding of the frontier experience with this coffee- table-format biography of George Custer. The Army general and his soldiers in the 7th Cavalry Regiment perished in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a.k.a. Custer's Last Stand, in Montana Territory. In McMurtry's words, the battle "closed the great narrative of American settlement." Said his editor: "Larry has been fascinated with Custer his entire life, so this has been a passion project for him." With 150 rarely seen color photos and artworks.
"Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" by Jon Meacham (Random House, $35, 800 pages; Nov. 13): As both politician and president, Jefferson's genius lay in his dual roles of thinking philosopher and effective politician, writes biographer Meacham. One of America's greatest leaders is investigated like never before by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author (for "American Lion," his 2008 biography of Andrew Jackson).
"Mick Jagger" by Philip Norman (Ecco, $34.99, 640 pages): Rock biographer Norman (Elton John, Buddy Holly, John Lennon) takes on the enigmatic front man for the inimitable Rolling Stones, and goes a long way in unraveling the paradox that is Jagger. Juicy stuff.
"Mao: The Real Story" by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine (Simon & Schuster, $35, 784 pages): Mao Zedong is undoubtedly one of the major players of the 20th century, bringing China onto the world stage but at a huge cost of life. The Bamboo Curtain is pulled aside to reveal new details of his political maneuvering and personal life.
"Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic" by David Quammen (W.W. Norton, $28.95, 592 pages): "Spillover" is the term used for diseases that originate in wild animals (bats, monkeys, birds) and are transmitted to humans. Quammen traveled the world tracking spillover diseases, and poses a disturbing question: When will the next pandemic strike? Don't plan on any sleep for a while.
"Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin (Crown, $26, 288 pages): The author of the best-selling "The Happiness Project" dedicated a year to reassessing her family's possessions and interpersonal relationships, determined to make her home a more satisfying place, one of "greater simplicity, comfort and love." With a step-by-step guide.
"The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe (Knopf, $25, 352 pages): The author and his mother gave each other strength and hope through reading and discussing books, after they learned she has only months to live. The most moving memoir of the year.
"Kurt Vonnegut: Letters," edited by Dan Wakefield (Delacorte, $35, 464 pages; Oct. 30): Fans of the extraordinary author, who died in 2007, will relish this collection of letters composed over 60 years. Most have never been published.
"The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix" by James D. Watson (Simon & Schuster, $30, 352 pages): This updated and expanded edition of the 1968 memoir "The Double Helix" marks the 50th anniversary of scientists Watson and Frances Crick winning the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for "discovering the structure of DNA" 1953. Much of the drama comes from their race to discovery against other global scientists.
"The Fun Stuff" by James Wood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, 352 pages; Oct. 30): The critic and essayist spotlighted the literary world in "How Fiction Works," his explanation of the "machinery of story-telling" (2009). This collection of 23 essays examines the practitioners of the modern novel, employing what critics say is his "encyclopedic, passionate understanding of the literary canon."
"Waging Heavy Peace" by Neil Young (Blue Rider, $30, 512 page): The creative legend tells all in witty, candid style, from his start with Buffalo Springfield, to the rocky years with Crosby, Stills and Nash, to the present days.
The Lost Ones
$25.95, 352 pages
The mystery genre overflows with series titles by A-list novelists whose main characters live charmed lives in the action-filled universes.
Last year, former crime reporter-turned-novelist (11 titles) Ace Atkins began a new series with an unlikely hero down-home tough guy Quinn Colson. His rough-and-tumble ways growing up in the hill country of Mississippi earned him a "you best get outta town, boy" enlistment in the military as soon as he came of age. The Army was a haven that likely saved him from doing prison time.
In book one, "The Ranger," Colson returns to his hometown in Tibbehah County after 10 years as an Army Ranger, including bloody tours of duty in Afghanistan. He's returned to attend the funeral of his uncle, who was the county sheriff. Cause of death: suicide. Colson's suspicion: murder.
While pursuing that line, Colson discovers that criminals and crooked politicians are on a romp. The book closes with Colson cleaning up the town (sort of), being honorably discharged from the Army, and liking the idea of running for sheriff.
In the more grounded sequel, "The Lost Ones," Sheriff Colson must save an old friend-turned-gunrunner from a Mexican cartel, while hunting down the psychotic operators of a baby-trafficking ring. Amid this sordidness, a refreshing bit of romance enters the drama.
With humor, understatement, action, insight and dead-on dialogue, Atkins brings together a cast of emotionally charged, realistic characters in a rural setting that's way under the radar of most Americans. Mississippi? Really? Most definitely.
P.S.: After author Robert B. Parker's death in 2010, his publisher announced the continuation of the mystery novelist's super-popular Spenser and Jessie Stone series. Atkins was chosen to continue the adventures of Boston PI Spenser, publishing "Lullaby" in May.
The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs
With an introduction by Malcolm Gladwell
$45, 416 pages (on sale Oct. 30)
When it comes to wit, candor, well-reasoned criticism and opinion, poetry, fiction and long-form journalism (let's not forget the great cartoons), no magazine can match the New Yorker.
It's been around since 1925, and in that time has published works by most of the world's biggest writers, on topics ranging from memoir to reportage, essays to humor.
You don't have to be a dog-lover to appreciate this canine-centric collection of archival articles, short stories, poems, humor, cartoons and reproductions of New Yorker covers.
The book is organized into four sections "Good Dogs," "Bad Dogs," "Top Dogs" and "Underdogs," and features a long list of multitalented writers. Among them are James Thurber, E.B. White, Anne Sexton, John Updike, Susan Orleans, John Cheever, Jules Feiffer, Cathleen Schine, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Jonathan Lethem, Alexandra Fuller the list goes on.
As for the cartoons scattered throughout the text, one in particular caught our eye. Scene: Apparently, a man relaxing in a chair in his living room, newspaper in hand, has been interrupted by his dog. The dog sits next to him, looking at the man with a scowl. The man looks down at the dog, agitation on his face. Caption, man to dog: "Yes, you're my best friend, and no, I'm not lending you $40,000."
In his introduction, author and New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell asks, "Have you wondered why you bought (this book)? (Maybe) you see the subject of man's affection for dogs as a way of examining all sorts of broader issues. (Or) is it a case of a simple thing revealing a great many complex truths?"
Easy answers: Yes and yes.
ON THE WEB
For more fall reading suggestions, visit these websites:
www.newyorker.com (New Yorker magazine)
www.nybooks.com (New York Review of Books)
www.npr.org (National Public Radio)
www.thedailybeast.com (Daily Beast)