Before the fall: 10 books to read right now

A man enjoys reading a book under trees at Capitol Park. Big name book releases are expected this fall.
A man enjoys reading a book under trees at Capitol Park. Big name book releases are expected this fall. Sacramento Bee file

The seasonal earthquake of summer-book releases has slowed to a few aftershocks as publishers turn their attention to their next major task – promoting and releasing their most prestigious titles by A-list authors for the fall season. That’s when half the year’s book sales occur. Which is no surprise, as the coming weeks are the walk-up to the holiday gift-giving season.

At the moment, though, readers are suspended in the literary version of “shoulder season,” the in-between time. Their guilty pleasures of summer – the scorching island romances, the intrigue-filled thrillers set on international stages – are dog-eared memories already donated to libraries or deleted from electronic readers. Now they’re anticipating the likes of “Make Me” by Lee Child, “The Heart Goes Last” by Margaret Atwood, “Avenue of Mysteries” by John Irving, “M Train” by Patti Smith, “Golden Age” by Jane Smiley and “Numero Zero” by Umberto Eco.

In the meantime, this list of recommended read-’em-right-now titles will fill in nicely.


▪ C.J. Box sees himself as “a novelist of the contemporary West” as told through his main protagonist in 15 books, Wyoming game warden-troubleshooter Joe Pickett. “Badlands” departs from the series as a stand-alone set in a small town in North Dakota that’s suddenly awash in fracking-oil riches – and illegal drugs (Minotaur, $27, 288 pages). Detective Cassie Dewell, introduced in a previous Box stand-alone, the horrific “The Highway,” shows up to help figure out who’s instigating a war between drug mobs, but it’s up to a damaged 12-year-old boy to provide the missing clues. Box has appeared for the Bee Book Club.

▪ It’s no coincidence that Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (1818) ends with the monster traversing the Arctic ice and sneaking aboard a ship, and “Zodiac Station” by Tom Harper opens with a mysterious man on the Arctic ice, approaching out of nowhere to board a Coast Guard icebreaker (Harper, $15, 400 pages). The thriller combines a tense murder mystery and sci-fi speculation for a shocking and satisfying ending.

▪ A year after mystery writer Robert B. Parker died in 2010, his publisher announced it would continue with his popular “Spenser” series, to be written by Ace Atkins (he’s since done four). However, it’s the former journalist’s Quinn Colson series that most showcases his chops. In the fifth outing, “The Redeemers,” the former Army Ranger turned small-town Mississippi sheriff has been voted out of office, but that doesn’t slow the action (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27, 384 pages).

▪ Joseph Finder has been called “a master of the modern thriller,” a title he’s earned with 11 novels, including “Suspicion” and “Vanished,” along with two that were made into films – “High Crimes” (with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd) and “Paranoia” (Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford). The hero of “The Fixer” has a problem: Circumstances force him to move into the now-empty fixer-upper home where he grew up. Renovating it, he’s stunned to find millions of dollars in cash stashed in a wall. That’s when his real troubles begin (Dutton, $28, 384 pages).

▪ Rhys Bowen of San Rafael makes frequent “visits” to early 1900s New York City for her 15-title “Molly Murphy” series. Molly has fled Ireland because she accidentally killed a would-be rapist, and solved her first murder case shortly after landing on Ellis Island. Later, she assumes ownership of a detective agency and continues sleuthing even after marrying a police captain – much to his annoyance. “For the Love of Mike” finds Molly juggling a missing-persons case and an undercover job in a garment factory (Minotaur, $16, 336 pages).


▪ When legal-thriller writer Lisa Scottoline appeared for the Bee Book Club, she brought along boxes of Philadelphia-centric Tasty Kakes pastries and tossed them into the audience at random. The crowd loved it. The former trial attorney brings that same sense of humor to “Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?”, a collection of “funny stories and true confessions from my daughter (Francesca Serritella) and me” (St. Martin’s, $22, 304 pages).

▪ On her Twitter home page, Felicia Day describes herself as “actress, New Media geek, gamer, misanthrope.” Add to that “author.” The creator of “The Guild” comedy Web series offers her memoir, “You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost),” which is partly a self-help book for her fans (Touchstone, $25, 272 pages). Sharing a lesson she learned, everybody’s (almost) favorite nerd writes, “You need to be able to be proud of yourself. You are unique and good enough just as you are.”

▪ Tired of his reporting job at the Hartford Courant newspaper, Rinker Buck decided what he needed was a road trip, but one in an 1800s sort of mode. So he hitched a team of mules to a covered wagon, recruited his brother and lit out on the Oregon Trail, the 2,000-mile-long “road” that opened the West to settlement in the 15 years before the Civil War, and doubled the size of our country. He recounts his four-month foray in “The Oregon Trail” (Simon & Schuster, $28, 464 pages).

▪ Art, it is said, is subjective, a maxim proven by the notorious Knoedler art forgery case, in which collectors and investors were bilked out of tens of millions of dollars. The forger turned out to be a guy in Queens, N.Y., who vanished when the bust went down. This is one of the fascinating tales in “The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World” by Anthony M. Amore (Palgrave Macmillan, $26, 272 pages). As head investigator at a Boston art museum, Amore is well-credentialed to recount some of the more daring and outrageously unscrupulous art frauds from the 1800s to the present.

▪ The victims who survived the worst storms of the past decade will never forget their names — Super Typhoon Haiyan, Super Typhoon Megi, Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Katrina. Before them was the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which devastated the Texas port city and killed 10,000 people. “Today” show weather anchor Al Roker tells the story in meteorological and human terms in “The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival and the Epic True Story of America’s Deadliest Natural Disaster” (William Morrow, $30, 320 pages).

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe


One more author remains in this year’s Sacramento Bee Book Club program. Vanessa Diffenbaugh will appear for “We Never Asked For Wings,” the story of a young mother working multiple , whose children are being raised by her parents. Suddenly, she herself must take on the responsibility of full-time parenthood and find a way to elevate her family’s situation (Ballantine, $27, 320 pages). Diffenbaugh’s 2010 debut novel, “The Language of Flowers,” spent 69 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

The events will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I St., Sacramento (doors open at 5:15 p.m.), in partnership with the Sacramento Public Library and Barnes & Noble. Free tickets will become available Sept. 28 at Information: 916-321-1128.

Al Pierleoni

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