Summer Book Preview

By Karen Valby
Updated June 06, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT


It has come to our attention that your children’s novel Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is scheduled to be released on June 21. Frankly, we don’t know how you expect, in today’s competitive publishing environment, to generate much excitement about a book with such an ungainly title. Moreover, we’re concerned that at 896 pages, your volume is rather too hefty. We’d hate to see the book — about some kind of ”boy wizard,” we gather — capsize any inner tubes.

You might find it helpful to thumb through our Summer Books Preview, a tasty little package wherein we spotlight pulpy page-turners, juicy memoirs, some quite classy literature, et cetera. Maybe you could learn a thing or two about selling books. It would be a shame if a writer of your talents languished in obscurity.



Which Franzen-bashing reporter for the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column has written Everyone’s Burning, a coming-of-age story about drink, drugs, and Bayside, Queens? Okay, it’s Ian Spiegelman (Villard, June)…. In the nonfiction hit Home Comforts, Cheryl Mendelson wrote about dusting ceilings and scrubbing floors. Now that the house is in order, she checks out the gentrification of a Manhattan neighborhood in Morningside Heights (Random House, June)…. A first serial in Seventeen. An Anna Quindlen endorsement. Looks like the folks behind Laura Moriarty’s The Center of Everything, about a lonely 10-year-old girl in Kansas, are hoping it’s this summer’s The Lovely Bones. (Naturally, other publishers have similar plans; see our sidebar on page 40.) (Hyperion, July)…. Pity the fool who starts a literary feud with former WWE star Mick Foley (a.k.a. Mankind), who goes to the mat with ”crudity and violence” in the bildungsroman Tietam Brown (Knopf, July)…. In Easter Island, Jennifer Vanderbes’ vaulting historical fiction, English newlyweds undertake a scientific expedition to the Polynesian hot spot. Unfortunately, since it’s 1913, a phalanx of German warships is close behind. (Dial, June)

Big Fat Beach Reads

In The Probable Future — a probable best-seller — Alice Hoffman tracks three generations of women with magical powers, including a 13-year-old who can predict how you’re gonna die (Doubleday, June)…. If it’s called To the Nines, that must mean it’s the next entry in Janet Evanovich’s numbered mystery series starring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, who finds herself in Vegas this time — and not for a quickie wedding, either (St. Martin’s, July)…. The fingerprints of hit thriller writer Greg Iles (Sleep No More) are all over The Footprints of God, a spine tingler about a guy, a girl, a scientific breakthrough, and evil NSA agents (Scribner, August)…. The movie rights have been sold to Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe, but don’t hold that against Family Trust, a high-concept romance (she’s a workaholic, he’s a slouch, they inherit an orphan) by Legally Blonde author Amanda Brown (Dutton, July)…. In Claire Berlinski’s Loose Lips, a CIA novel sure to be more fun than Harlot’s Ghost, a hottie named Selena answers an ad and ends up not only in the agency but also in love (Random House, June)…. Her name is Lucia Sartori, as in sartorial goddess, and the Greenwich Village designer’s assistant is swept up in amore e scandalo in Adriana Trigiani’s period romanzo Lucia, Lucia (Random House, July)…. Nothing interrupts a romantic getaway quite like a plane crash and an uncovered skeleton, but luckily forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan is up for a little sleuthing in Kathy Reichs’ Bare Bones (Scribner, July)…. A fudge salesman comes in for a nose job and finds himself chasing after the title character, a cute but odd surgical intern, in Elinor Lipman’s quirky romantic comedy The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (Random House, June).

Literary Fiction

Like Ian McEwan, Penelope Lively is in possession of a Booker Prize and a knack for intimate portraits, so we’re eager to see what develops in The Photograph, a drama about infidelity (Viking, June)…. The publicists say that Hey Nostradamus!, by Generation X writer Douglas Coupland, is a work of ”black humor,” which is pretty much the only way to sell a ”comedy” about ”school shootings” (Bloomsbury, July)…. Heidi Julavits is now semifamous for an essay decrying the state of book reviewing, so good luck to her if The Effect of Living Backwards — about two combative sisters and one blind hijacker — gets assigned to snarky punks like us (Putnam, June)…. Immigrant Sonja Skordahl becomes a mother, a housewife, a model, a muse, and a modern woman in Larry Watson’s Orchard (Random House, August)…. Literary thriller in Manila? A young woman heads to the Philippines while healing the psychic scars of a holdup in Vendela Vida’s And Now You Can Go (Knopf, August)…. Do you remember the chapter of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon featuring an oversize hunk of fromage? Well, Sheri Holman (The Dress Lodger) just wrote a whole family saga about one, The Mammoth Cheese (Atlantic, August).


We [love] former New York Yankee Paul O’Neill. In Me and My Dad, the plainspoken slugger pays homage to his late father, the man who taught him the game (Morrow, out now)…. Syndicated shock jock Mancow Muller, not known for his sensitivity, was chastened by his father’s death. In Dad, Dames, Demons, and a Dwarf, trying out his earnest side, Muller tells how the loss left him spinning (ReganBooks, June)…. And if the idea of dames and dwarfs makes you frisky, skip straight to the good stuff in former porn princess Traci Lords’ Underneath It All. And by good stuff, we don’t mean Beverly Hills Copulator, we mean her tale of crossover into mainstream Hollywood (HarperEntertainment, July)…. So this Girl Walks Into a Bar. Hooked yet? Strawberry Saroyan dedicates her story ”to all the other girls out there, wandering these same streets.” We don’t know what that means, but it sounds dirty (Random House, July)…. Speaking of fruit, Mark Rotella reports from Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, with his travelogue Stolen Figs (North Point Press, July).


In John Paul Jones, RFK biographer Evan Thomas gives us a fresh new understanding of Led Zeppelin’s bassist, detailing the recording sessions, the tours, the grou — what’s that? Oh, never mind: It’s actually a book about the father of the U.S. Navy (Simon & Schuster, June)…. Martha Ackmann tells the story of a baker’s dozen of female astronauts who didn’t quite make the ’60s space race in The Mercury 13 (Random House, June)…. Believe it or not, Ripley’s creator, the suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), is the subject of Andrew Wilson’s Beautiful Shadow (Bloomsbury, July)…. Take Edward Klein’s self-explanatory The Kennedy Curse to the beach, just maybe not in Hyannisport (St. Martin’s, July)…. From Duck Soup to Vitameatavegamin: In Ball of Fire, Groucho author Stefan Kanfer loves to explore all things Lucy (Knopf, August).

True Stories

If you thought climbing Mount Everest was scary, meet Ron and Dan, the killer Mormon fundamentalists at the center of Into Thin Air author Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, a portrait of religion gone bad (Doubleday, July)…. Novelist Jeffrey Archer (Kane & Abel) says hello from the big house, where he’s serving four years for perjury, in A Prison Diary, sure to be the most-read missive of its kind since MLK Jr.’s ”Letter From Birmingham Jail” (St. Martin’s, August)…. Nightclub impresario Paul ”Skinny” D’Amato is the well-dressed prism through which journalist Jonathan Van Meter assesses ”the rise and fall of Atlantic City” in The Last Good Time (Crown, June)…. Seabiscuit lives! The old whinnying nag races back into bookstores in an ”Illustrated Collector’s Edition”; we suspect the upcoming Tobey Maguire movie has something to do with this (Random House, June)…. NYC fashion writer Christa Worthington escaped to Cape Cod for the quiet life, only to be murdered in 2002. Pushcart Prize winner Maria Flook’s Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod examines the case; Worthington’s family and friends are already angry about what she discovered (Broadway, June)…. Chuck Klosterman’s essays touch on John Cusack movies, basketball rivalries, Saved by the Bell, Luke Skywalker, The Sims, online porn, Spike Lee, and serial killers in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto (Scribner, August)…. Aidan Hartley combs through his family tree and finds nothing less than a modern minihistory of Africa in The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands, an exploration of his British family’s 150 years there (Atlantic Monthly, July).


Before he whipped up ”Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and won Tonys for the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Rupert Holmes was a 24-year-old runt writing tunes for Barbra Streisand in 1970s Hollywood, with a suite at the Hotel Bel-Air and his own office at Warner Bros. Today, the 56-year-old insists his first novel, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES, ”is not about Barbra, but it is about a world that I, totally wide-eyed, was suddenly plunged into and that was fabulous beyond shame.” Fittingly, director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) is already working on an adaptation of Holmes’ jokey murder mystery, which, rich in ’70s detail, investigates a Martin and Lewis-style comedy team. Holmes, a composer-lyricist-playwright-screenwriter-singer-producer, enjoyed adding ”novelist” to that conga line of job titles. ”I’m probably not going to be only a novelist,” says Holmes, who’s furiously at work on a second novel as well as other musicals, plays, and scripts. ”But, boy, being only a novelist would be an awful lot to be.” (Random House, July)


A man tries to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death with the help of the only witness — their dog, Lorelei. So teases the jacket copy of Carolyn Parkhurst’s first novel, THE DOGS OF BABEL. ”I’ve had people say, ‘Sooo, it’s about a dog who solves crimes?”’ laughs the 32-year-old author. ”Or people think it’s a children’s book. Or a lot of times they just look at me like I’m crazy and say, ‘Yeah, good luck with that.”’ Here’s a sweet stroke of fortune: Her novel, which is less about canine linguistics than it is about love and loss and the tailspin of grief, is drawing comparisons to Little, Brown’s blockbuster of last summer, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. ”I can’t really think about that because I’m afraid to jinx it.” Here’s another good-luck charm: She finished the final revisions to her novel and then gave birth to her first child, her now-16-month-old baby boy, that very evening. ”It was almost like my body was saying ‘Okay, you’re done with this now. Now we can move on to the next thing.”’ Next on the list — a 13-city tour. And then, if her luck holds, she’ll move on to the best-seller list. (Little, Brown, June)


Four years ago, Adam Bellow set out to write a short polemic on everybody’s favorite brand of favoritism. ”I had noticed there was a lot of hypocrisy surrounding the issue of nepotism,” he says. ”People condemn it publicly, but it still goes on.” The slim volume emerged as a burly appreciation, IN PRAISE OF NEPOTISM: A NATURAL HISTORY. Nepotism isn’t good or bad, goes its argument: ”It simply is, and since it’s not going away any time soon, we have to bring it out into the open.” To this end, he burrowed into the legacies of Bushes and Baches, Coppolas and Corleones. But what about the Bellows? After all, Adam’s dad, Saul, is a Nobel-winning novelist. ”The only job he managed to get me was at the Strand Book Store [in New York City],” young Bellow says. ”They put me in the basement, where every week or so they’d set off a roach bomb. I’m quite sure it shortened my life by a decade.” (Doubleday, July)