Valdosta Daily Times

May 19, 2013

Cool Summer Reads

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

- — They don’t have the ad budgets or the hype of summer movies. They lack the radio airplay of summer music.

But summer books have a lot to offer.

Today, The Times presents a sampling of titles, a couple already arrived, others being released in the coming weeks, that should prove cool reads for hot summer days.

A DELICATE TRUTH, John LeCarre, already available. Pushing 80, some might think spymaster John LeCarre would be missing a step or two these days. Such thinkers would be wrong. The author of Cold War-era classics like “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People” has lost nothing to either time or the world’s changing geopolitics. After all, more than Russians or terrorists, LeCarre barters in the timeless meat of moral ambiguities, especially from the people and agencies assigned to oversee the free world’s handling of Soviet-era dominance or explosive terrorism. “A Delicate Truth,” LeCarre’s latest novel, continues his explorations into situational ethics. Here, a British minister orders a raid on a site believed to be hiding a known terrorist. Despite their in-the-field judgment against this order, the operatives attack and make a horrible mistake that will haunt them as more becomes known of the ill-fated operation years later. LeCarre’s spy novels are not about James Bond stunts and explosions but rather about the subtle complexities of determining when right is wrong and wrong is right.

INFERNO, Dan Brown, already available. Author Dan Brown is back and so is his Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon. Brown had an international sensation with “The Da Vinci Code” and blockbusting bestsellers with two other Langdon books, “Angels & Demons” and “The Lost Symbol.” While he likely will never recapture the success, controversy and phenomenon of “The Da Vinci Code,” Brown continues casting a spell with a likable character who delves into ancient and arcane mysteries. This time, Brown’s Langdon enters the circles of hell as he unravels an historical mystery surrounding Dante’s “Inferno.”

JOYLAND, Stephen King, June 4. He said he was finished writing books. He said he was done. After writing dozens of suspense and horror books, many classics, often publishing what seemed like at least a dozen thick novels per year, who could blame Stephen King for retiring? Only he didn’t retire, did he? With only one book every year or so now, it may seem like he’s retired, but he hasn’t as “Under the Dome” and “11/22/63” attest. Now, in a few weeks, King returns with a murder mystery set in a 1973 Southern carnival, all under the cover of what looks like one of the gaudy, lurid, sensationalistic true crime magazines of the mid-20th century. Behind that cover? Well, did we mention the carnival is haunted by a murderer?

NOS4A2, Joe Hill, already available. And if you like Stephen King, see what his kid can do with the frightening and the gothic. Yes, this is Stephen King’s son and the bad apple does not fall far from the gnarled tree. With “Heart-Shaped Box,” Hill created a taut frightener featuring an aging heavy-metal rock star who finds far more horrors at home than he ever did in his stage show. In “Horns,” a young man not only awakens to discover horns growing from his head but a growing malice in his heart — who makes you do bad if you’re the one becoming the devil? Hill’s “20th Century Ghosts” is a rollercoaster ride of funny, scary and always interesting short stories. With “NOS4A2,” which the cover displays as a license plate, Hill tells the story of a girl who can teleport who meets a man who can magically whisk children away to Christmasland; only she is able to escape his nightmarish wonderland. Until many years later, the grown woman runs across him again. Want another hint, maybe, sound out the letters-numbers on the license plate ...

TRANSATLANTIC, Colum McCann, June 4. In “Let the Great World Spin,” Colum McCann wove a wonderful spell by interconnecting the tapestry of several lives and several stories into one powerful New York novel. Winner of the National Book Award, “Let the Great World Spin” remains a masterpiece of beautiful sentences and emotionally charged story telling. With “TransAtlantic,” McCann settles into Ireland then shakes the mix with three stories: Two pilots set course for the first transatlantic journey from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919; abolitionist Frederick Douglass visits Ireland in the pre-American Civil War years of 1845-46; in 1998, U.S. Sen. George Mitchell flies to Belfast to talk peace. “TransAtlantic” sounds like as much of a highwire act as “Let the Great World Spin,” hopefully McCann can maintain again such a marvelous balance.

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, Neil Gaiman, June 18. Yes, Neil Gaiman has been busy. He’s written numerous short stories, some comics, a Dr. Who television script, great children’s books such as “The Graveyard Book,” movie adaptations of his books such as “Coraline,” but it’s been nearly seven years since “Anansi Boys,” the publication of his last book for adults until now ... In “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” Gaiman tells the story of a middle-aged man who encounters unexpected memories of three generations of females by the pond of his childhood home. A master of fantasy and an astute observer of history and cultures, Gaiman’s masterwork remains “American Gods,” but one can hope that this new novel might come close.

REVOLUTIONARY SUMMER, Joseph J. Ellis, June 4. From “Founding Brothers” to “His Excellency George Washington” to “First Family: Abigail and John Adams” to “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson,” Joseph J. Ellis is a man who, with authority, can say you want a revolution ... Ellis’ scholarly and readable books on the American Revolution have earned him the Pulitzer Prize and other awards. With “Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence,” Ellis takes readers on a journey to the summer of 1776, when the Continental Congress debated independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Brits sent an armada to destroy the brewing American rebellion, and the Continental Army was on the run. A story that involves Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Ben Franklin and more, Ellis fans should have a summer read to remember.

ELSEWHERE: A MEMOIR, Richard Russo, July 30. Richard Russo’s novels “Empire Falls,” “The Bridge of Sighs,” have earned him a Pulitzer Prize. This summer, he switches gears from fiction to memoir with “Elsewhere.” A man of vivid prose, readers can hopefully expect the same from Russo’s memoir. One may also find the details, the threads, from his own life that explain the trajectories of his dually heartfelt and tough-minded novels.

THE ENGLISH GIRL, Daniel Silva, July 16. If you’ve never read one of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon novels then you’re missing one of the smartest and entertaining spy thrillers available. Like clockwork, each summer, Silva releases a new Gabriel Allon book. It is the type of series that longtime Silva readers enjoy for the familiarity with the style and recurring characters but newcomers can feel welcome stepping into any of the titles. And there’s always the intrigue of the brooding, brilliant Gabriel Allon, a member of the Israeli intelligence organization as well as a world-class restorer of masterpiece paintings. He takes assignments of state stealth from the Israeli government while also taking assignments from patrons such as the Vatican to restore ancient canvases. All the while trying to maintain a personal life built on the fiery tragedy of his past when duty to country intruded upon his responsibilities as a husband and father. As for “The English Girl,” longtime readers know what to expect; newcomers will find a great new series with plenty of back titles to also enjoy and likely a new adventure next summer.

THE FALL OF ARTHUR, J.R.R. Tolkien, May 23. Considering he’s been dead for decades, J.R.R. Tolkien continues being quite the prolific author. Of course, he’s received a great deal of posthumous help from his son, Christopher, as well as the enormous popularity and success of the movie adaptations of his books, “The Lord of the Rings,” and now “The Hobbit.” In the past few years, through Christopher, several previously unpublished works, such “The Children of Hurin,” have been printed. Now, comes “The Fall of Arthur,” which is the godfather of fantasy’s take on the King Arthur legend, and as the title suggests, Tolkien focuses on Arthur’s last days.