The northern hemisphere of the planet is getting more sun. It’s time to head out and find some place cool where you can scuttle away to relax. Whether you’re heading to the beach, the mountains, or the hammock in your backyard, here are some summer reads that will take you to the edges of the galaxy:
Amanda Baldeneaux recommends Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Elevator pitch: How far would you go to stop foreign enemies from producing and using a drug that can turn armies magical—letting them walk through walls, kill people at a glance, and much worse? If you’re Kaz Brekker, you will literally do nothing to stop it unless the price to do so is insanely good. Lucky for him, it is. Kaz assembles a team of five other thieves, killers, and con men to pull of a heist that could save the world from unstoppable killing machines … if they survive long enough to succeed.
Where to Read: Any place comfortable, because once the plan is hatched you’d better be comfortable; you won’t want to put the book down.
Good if: You love the alchemy of Ocean’s 11, magical persons, fantasy kingdoms, and sassy crooks with (maybe?) hearts of gold.
Not so good if: You hate fun.
You might also like: The Grisha Trilogy, Bardugo’s related series that takes place before Six of Crows.
What to Drink: Raise your glass with either barrel-aged whiskey (side of gambling and dagger-throwing optional), or an ice-cold, blood-red sangria.
What to Eat: If you remember to eat while in the thick of this book, you’ll be doing all right.
Thickness Rating: A pretty plus, but once the action picks up you won’t notice your arm getting tired holding it up.
Bonus: Watch on Netlfix when the eight-episode series is released.
C. H. Lips likes Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
Elevator pitch: Fiction Unbound’s timing is perfect—our recommendations for summer reading are posting on the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice. Yikes! I’m already feeling like summer will end too soon. But Australian author Trent Dalton’s quirky and poignant coming-of-age story has taught me how to make the summer last. Eli’s mother and her boyfriend are drug dealers, and his father is an alcoholic who has debilitating panic attacks. As Eli fights thugs and drug bosses to rescue his parents from their terrible life choices, he learns from both his mute, older brother August, and Slim, an ex-con and self-made philosopher, how to manipulate time. Slim’s motto is, “Do your time before it does you.” Time can be slowed or sped up. It can be lived through more than once. It can be used to break into and out of prisons and to uncover the truth. The secret is to notice the details—images and scents and textures that anchor a moment forever in the mind.
Where to Read: On the plane as you head out on that trip down under you’ve always wanted to take.
Good if: You’re in need of a story with a jaunty, indomitable theme of hope.
Not so good if: Dismembered body parts freak you out.
You might also like: Poetry! There’s no better way to practice noticing the details of life. Here are two to get you started: Filling Station by Elizabeth Bishop and The Traveling Onion by Naomi Shihab Nye.
What to Drink: a chilly XXXX brewed in Milton, Brisbane.
What to Eat: Luncheon meat sandwiches with tomato sauce and a can of Golden Circle pineapple slices.
Thickness Rating: Medium, but the humor and intrepid main character will keep you turning the pages.
Lisa Mahoney is reading The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemisin
Elevator pitch: Jemisin never makes choosing sides easy, and she always challenges simple moral choices. What happens when gods as old as the universe who have loved each other for eons grow jealous? God wars, complete with sororicide, filicide, and genocide. Who else suffers? The humans and the “demons,” children of humans and gods or godlings. What can a few superficially ordinary-seeming women do to restrain these gods, these forces of nature old as the universe, and prevent them tearing it apart through vengeance? How can a immortal god escape apathy, and learn to care about more than justice or chaos? What side do we take when we realize that the enemy human monarchic clan ruling with an absolute stranglehold on power and religion might be the better alternative?
Where to Read: Propped against the roots in the shade of a strangely large and healthy tree, say, a baobab or a banyan.
Good if: You want to explore the redemptive power of friendship and suffering.
Not so good if: You’re not into magical powers.
You might also like: Jeminsin’s multi-Hugo award winning trilogy, The Broken Earth Trilogy. It was written later, with Jemisin’s skills more refined, but if you read this blog, you’ve already finished that. If not, read that one first.
What to Drink: Red, red wine.
What to Eat: Hearts.
Thickness Rating: Opus. Long enough for several beach days.
Danyelle C. Overbo recommends The Power by Naomi Alderman
Elevator pitch: In the wake of the “Me Too” movement, what better novel to read than The Power? Set in our world, women all over have begun to develop a new ability to release jolts of electricity through their hands. What does this mean for traditional gender dynamics? How will this new gift/curse change society? Alderman explores it all with engaging characters and incredible insight into the dark corners of our culture.
Where to Read: On a bright, sunny beach where any would-be cat-callers can see the title.
Good if: You love magic realism, feminist theory, or just a good dramatic tale about world-changing issues.
Not so good if: You’re scared of powerful women.
You might also like: My holiday gift guide recommendation: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. Apparently authors named Naomi know their sh*t!
What to Drink: Wine coolers.
What to Eat: Cake by the ocean.
Thickness Rating: Light to medium.
C.S. Peterson is reading Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Elevator pitch: Do you have questions? Author Ted Chiang has questions. But answers? Those are harder to come by. Each precisely crafted tale in this collection takes up one of the great questions of humanity, and then leaves you pondering for days. Do you wonder if free will is real? Dwell on past mistakes and second chances? What if you could watch yourself in a parallel universe where what could have been is. If you hold hands with chaos and nudge the weight of wind on a butterfly’s wing, is the result deterministic? And what about parenting? What about parenting creatures made of code? If you suspend them do they die? What if every moment from every individual on the planet could be subpoenaed and made part of the public record? What would a parrot have to say about the Fermi paradox?
Where to Read: As far away from your phone as possible.
Good if: You think it is high time we start developing policy regarding sentient code.
Not so good if: You are prone to existential angst at the thought of non-linear time and the de-centering of the human race.
What to Drink: Something fresh and crisp, an elixir of contemplation.
What to Eat: A picnic basket packed with treat filled Japanese puzzle boxes in different shapes and sizes.
Thickness Rating: 350 pages, but don’t consume it all in one gulp. Stories range from a nibble of a two page time-travel warning, to a belly-filling novella on the life-cycle of self-aware software.
Mark Springer likes The Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew
Elevator pitch: A comedic webcomic, illustrated with stick figures, that parodies medieval fantasy and the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. It’s all the dragons, magic, and mythical adventure you loved in The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, leavened with a sharp satirical wit and an ever-expanding cast of self-aware characters (both good and evil) that subvert the clichéd fantasy tropes they initially seem to embody. The first dozen episodes are purely D&D satire, but after that the series finds its footing and the characters take center stage.
Where to Read: Any internet-enabled device with a web browser. A bigger screen is a plus, but you can scroll through the comic panels on your phone in a pinch.
Good if: You grew up reading fantasy novels as fast as you could check them out of the library. Bonus points if you channeled those fantasy stories into epic D&D adventures with your friends. Legendary status if you adventured into adulthood.
Not so good if: You like stories that have short arcs, few subplots, and tidy conclusions. And if you don’t at least know what D&D is, this one might be impenetrable.
You might also like: Spending an afternoon at your local Renaissance fair.
What to Drink: Mead and ale are the go-to beverages in medieval fantasy, but you’ll want a Potion of Alertness to help you binge dozens of episodes in a row.
What to Eat: Doritos and pizza were standard fare for the all-day D&D adventuring sessions of my youth; this dietary catastrophe is no longer recommended. Instead, feel free to choose your own culinary adventure to accompany author and illustrator Rich Burlew’s flights of imaginative fancy.
Thickness Rating: Extreme. As of this writing, there are 1,167 episodes and counting, with the main story arc still going strong.