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All is not light and frothy on summer reading list

by Jane Henderson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

1 June 2011

In the Garden of Beasts 

For all of its glorious sunshine, summertime takes readers to a lot of dark places.

Writers prove that many new books go beyond light beach material.

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, “A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, came out last June. That same month saw a big dystopian/science fiction thriller by an English professor. Justin Cronin, author of “The Passage,” doesn’t like to stereotype summer reading.

“Espionage fiction is my go-to genre that’s diverting, but my summer reading isn’t that different,” says Cronin.

In July, John Dalton will follow his literary debut, “Heaven Lake,” by delving into a creepy and dangerous Ozark summer camp.

“I did figure Scribner would want to market it in the summer because it’s set in a summer camp,” says Dalton, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. But “some of the best books of the year” are released then, he says, so he doesn’t mind.

“The Inverted Forest,” which shares a title with a J.D. Salinger story, tells a tale of suspense and intricate characters.

“I wanted to write a literary novel that didn’t bore the reader,” Dalton says. “There’s always something interesting going on.”

That said, there is a reason summer books have their reputation for fun: Fewer seem to be about foreign diplomacy and more are geared toward robots (or dragons) trying to take over the world.

This season’s new books go both to the bright beach and into shadowy woods. Here is a selection of upcoming titles (publication dates are subject to change). Information is taken from publishers and Internet sources.

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Favorite series:

—Jeffrey Deaver’s “Carte Blanche” (Simon and Schuster/ June 14). Deaver’s own books do well, but now he’s stepped in to contribute to a legacy spy series — that of James Bond.

—Paul Doiron’s “Trespasser” (Minotaur/June). A Maine game warden is drawn into the case of a brutalized woman that seems to echo a previous killing. Is the wrong man in jail?

—Janet Evanovich’s “Smokin’ Seventeen” (Bantam/June 21). Stephanie Plum still hasn’t solved her guy problems, but the mystery she must solve is why corpses are showing up in a construction lot.

—Tess Gerritsen’s “The Silent Girl” (Ballantine/July 5). Rizzoli and Isles solve a chilling murder in Boston’s Chinatown.

—John Hart’s “Iron House” (Thomas Dunne/July 12). A hit man tries to get away from New York, but he finds plenty of bad guys in his home state of North Carolina.

—David Ignatius’ “Bloodmoney” (Norton/June 6). A CIA-type group tries to buy off enemies in Pakistan, but it isn’t quite working as U.S. spies are getting bumped off anyway.

—John Sandford’s “Buried Prey” (Putnam/May). Long-missing girls are finally found when a house is demolished. Maybe Lucas Davenport should compare notes with Stephanie Plum.

—James Rollins’ “The Devil Colony” (William Morrow/June 21). A skull marked with a five-pointed star and a sickle-shape moon sends a covert investigator toward secrets about the founding of America.

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History:

—Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts” (Crown/May). Already a best-seller, Larson’s story concerns prewar Germany and a U.S. ambassador who decides he must get his family home.

—Charles Mann’s “1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created” (Knopf/August). The author of “1491” details the exchange of flora and fauna between America and Europe.

—Howard Markel’s “An Anatomy of Addiction” (Pantheon/July). Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, and William Halsted, a pathfinding surgeon, were cocaine addicts who struggled to stop using what had been considered a wonder drug, medical historian Markel says.

—Richard White’s “Railroaded” (Norton, Tuesday). Railroad barons bribed Congress and left chaos in their wake in this lively history of the 19th-century transcontinental railroads. Publishers Weekly calls it witty and astute.

—Julie Winch’s “The Clamorgans” (Hill and Wang/May). The history of the Clamorgan family, from Frenchman Jacques Clamorgan, who bought land in St. Louis before the Louisiana Purchase, to his mixed-race descendants, some of whom passed as white.

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Here and now:

—Simon Baron-Cohen’s “The Science of Evil” (Basic/June). British autism researcher argues that there should be a new psychological diagnosis: “empathy disorder.”

—Pamela Haag’s “Marriage Confidential” (Harper/June). Today’s marriages are more like friendships than loving unions, Haag says, with focus on the needs of children.

—Peter Tomsen’s “The Wars of Afghanistan” (PublicAffairs/July). Tomsen recounts the recent history of Afghanistan and recommends how America should handle its future with the conflict-ridden country.

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Fantasy, horror & science fiction:

—Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Hit List” (Berkley, June 7). Can vampire hunter Anita Blake still be alive after 20 books? You bet, but hit men are headed for St. Louis.

—George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons” (Bantam/July 12). The Seven Kingdoms still aren’t getting along in the 1,000-page fifth volume in the “A Song of Fire and Ice” series.

—Dan Simmons’ “Flashback” (Little, Brown/July). The U.S. has reduced its nuclear arsenal, and Muslim terrorists attack Israel. The present is depressing, so Americans take drugs to relive the past instead of preparing for the future.

—Daniel H. Wilson’s “Robopocalypse” (Doubleday/June 7). In Frankenstein-meets-Jurassic Park, robots decide they want to be in charge. The novel has been optioned by director Steven Spielberg.

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Sisters and girlfriends:

—Cathy Holton’s “Summer in the South” (Ballantine/May). A Chicago gal, taking a chance to escape and write a novel, travels to Tennessee to stay with two aristocratic, elderly sisters.

—Lisa See’s “Dreams of Joy” (Random House/May). See continues the story of sisters Pearl and May from “Shanghai Girls,” with Pearl’s daughter Joy running away to find her birth father.

—Ann Brashares’ “Sisterhood Everlasting” (Random House/June). The sisters of the traveling pants are in their late 20s now, and Brashares gears the newest in the series for adult readers. The author will be in town June 28.

—Jennifer Weiner’s “Then Came You” (Atria/July 12). A decade after her debut novel “Good in Bed,” the popular author offers a story of four women and a baby. An older woman, who has a stepdaughter, can’t get pregnant, so a college student donates an egg and a surrogate mother carries it.

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Literary leanings:

—David Anthony’s “Something for Nothing” (Algonquin/June 7). Satirical debut novel about a businessman who has bought a few too many things (like a Tahoe cabin and a racehorse). He takes the “I’ll just sell drugs for a while” route, which, as we know from “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds,” is not usually an easy way out.

—Stefan Merrill Block’s “The Storm at the Door” (Random House/June 21). Block, praised for his debut novel “The Story of Forgetting,” again finds inspiration in his family’s past in a wrenching 1960s-era story about a depressed father who is sent to a mental —hospital.

—Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Once Upon a River” (Norton/July). An impoverished teen, abandoned by her mother, leaves her Michigan home with a gun and struggles to survive on her own.

—Kate Christensen’s “The Astral” (Doubleday/June 14). Brooklyn poet Harry Quirk’s name alone seems to signal the novel’s focus on a group of oddball characters he deals with after his suspicious wife kicks him to the curb.

—John Dalton’s “The Inverted Forest” (Scribner/July). Summer camp counselors are unprepared when they find out that their first campers will be disabled adults, wards of Missouri. The second novel by the author of “Heaven Lake.”

—Keith Donohue’s “Centuries of June” (Crown/Tuesday). The author of “The Stolen Child” uses ghost tales, history and dreams in a story told by a shooting victim (and the suspects) as his life passes before his eyes.

—Ron Hansen’s “A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion” (Scribner/June). Erotic tension marks a 1920s love affair that leads to the murder of a woman’s husband. Like Hansen’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” this new novel is based on a real-life scandal.

—Bobbie Ann Mason’s “The Girl in the Blue Beret” (Random House/June). A World War II airman is shot down over France and hides in safe houses. He returns years later to find some of the people who helped him survive.

—Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder” (Harper/June 7). A scientist for a drug company journeys to the Amazon to find a rogue researcher whose experiments suggest she may have drunk something from Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz.

—Scott Phillips’ “The Adjustment” (Counterpoint/August). In 1950s Kansas, not every resident feels the postwar boom. Phillips offers a noir novel of blackmail and murder.

—Sapphire’s “The Kid” (Penguin/July 5). If you felt for Precious, the sexually abused teen heroine of “Push,” you’ll find it tough to learn about her orphaned son Abdul Jones.

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Bios and memoirs:

—Jaycee Dugard’s “A Stolen Life” (Simon & Schuster/July). Held captive for 18 years, Dugard tells the story of her kidnapping at age 11, bearing two children during captivity and her life with her abductors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido.

—Steve Friedman’s “Lost on Treasure Island” (Arcade/June). The former St. Louisan heads to Manhattan’s bright lights and a job at GQ magazine and recounts in a self-deprecating memoir about crushing on celebrities and looking for dates at 12-step meetings.

—Eva Gabrielsson’s “‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me” (Seven Stories/June). The longtime companion of the Swedish journalist gets personal about the author of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

—Mark Seal’s “The Man in the Rockefeller Suit” (Viking/ June 2). A German youth comes to America and passes himself off as Clark Rockefeller, gaining entrance to country clubs and financial institutions, even fooling his Harvard-educated wife into thinking she really married up.

—Miles J. Unger’s “Machiavelli” (Simon and Schuster/June 14). The ruthless political strategist has been misunderstood, according prepublication information.

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