Washington Post critics pick the best books for summer reading

June 17, 2011

FICTION

AN ATLAS OF IMPOSSIBLE LONGING , by Anuradha Roy (Free Press; paperback, $14). A single act of pity rattles down generations to break a caste’s rules, test a family’s mettle and throw together two unlikely friends. — Marie Arana

DOC , by Mary Doria Russell (Random House, $26). The Wild West rides back to life in this aggressively researched and wonderfully entertaining story about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in the days before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

— Ron Charles 

AN EVIL EYE , by Jason Goodwin (Farrar Straus Giroux, $26). The discovery of a Russian corpse in a Christian well in the heart of a Muslim land clarifies the muddle of the decaying Ottoman Empire.

— Steve Donoghue

FIELD GRAY , by Philip Kerr (Putnam, $26.95). The author propels Bernie Gunther all across Europe to give us a panoramic look at life before, during and after history’s most terrible war.

— Patrick Anderson

GONE , by Mo Hayder (Atlantic Monthly, $24). The little girls who vanish throughout this tale turn out to be beribboned and pink-sneakered red herrings in a much more sinister game of retribution. — Maureen Corrigan

MY NEW AMERICAN LIFE , by Francine Prose (Harper, $25.99). This story of a fierce-witted Albanian babysitter shimmers with hilarious, if blistering, satire.

— Helen Simonson

THE PARIS WIFE , by Paula McLain (Ballantine, $25). An imaginative homage to Hadley Richardson Hemingway, who helped her young husband, Ernest, become a writer. — Donna Rifkind

THE POISON TREE , by Erin Kelly (Viking, $26.95). A compelling creeper about a forlorn woman’s friendship with two bohemian British siblings. — M.C.

THE PREACHER , by Camilla Lackberg (Pegasus, $25.95). Those seeking a successor to the late Stieg Larsson as the doyen of Scandinavian crime fiction should look to the Swedish author of this gripping thriller. — Dennis Drabelle

PYM , by Mat Johnson (Spiegel & Grau, $24). An outrageously entertaining re­imagination of Edgar Allan Poe’s enigmatic and unsettling novel.

— Michael Dirda

SAINTS AND SINNERS: Stories , by Edna O’Brien (Back Bay; paperback, $13.99). If what you’re looking for is a map of Ireland, the fiction of Edna O’Brien will do just fine. — Jonathan Yardley

SAVE ME , by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s, $27.99). The plot gains sinister force by drawing on today’s preoccupations: school bullying, Facebook pillory and even peanut allergies.

— Katherine A. Powers

THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT , by Louis Bayard (Henry Holt, $25). The search for an ancient letter in a Washington apartment escalates into a trans-Atlantic scramble to uncover much more.

— Kathy Blumenstock

SILVER SPARROW , by Tayari Jones (Algonquin, $19.95). A man has two families in the same town. One knows about the other; the other doesn’t. — Anita Shreve

STATE OF WONDER , by Ann Patchett (Harper, $26.99). Set amid the Amazon’s piranha-infested waters, this is surely the smartest, most exciting novel of the summer. — R.C.

THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR , by Arthur Phillips (Random House, $26). An elaborately structured comic novel in the form of a memoir about a Shakespeare-obsessed, dysfunctional family. — M.D.

WEST OF HERE , by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin, $24.95). A voracious story packed with daring folks who dream of carving lives onto the last frontier: the uncharted interior of the Olympic Peninsula in 1889. — R.C. 

NONFICTION

BOSSYPANTS , by Tina Fey (Little, Brown, $26.99). Just because she’s funny doesn’t mean she’s not fuming.

— Nicole Arthur

BRANCH RICKEY, by Jimmy Breslin (Viking, $19.95). The story of the man who integrated baseball told with Breslin’s inimitable grit and grace.

— Steven Levingston

CHINABERRY SIDEWALKS , by Rodney Crowell (Knopf, $24.95). A memoir of Crowell’s childhood that is wistful and profane, heartbreaking and hilarious, loving and angry, proud and self-lacerating. — J.Y.

CRAZY U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College , by Andrew Ferguson (Simon & Schuster, $25). Ferguson gives parents of high school seniors insight into the wacky science of college admissions. — S.L.

ENDGAME: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall — From America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness , by Frank Brady (Crown, $25.99). A biography worthy of its charismatic subject. — M.D.

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin , by Erik Larson (Crown, $26). Reads like an elegant thriller.

— Philip Kerr

LOST IN SHANGRI-LA: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II , by Mitchell Zuckoff (Harper, $26.99). After their Army plane crashes in New Guinea, the three survivors find themselves trapped in a merciless jungle surrounded by tribes engaged in cannibalistic warfare. — David Grann

THE MAGNETIC NORTH: Notes from the Arctic Circle , by Sara Wheeler (Farrar Straus Giroux, $26). In this smashing book, the author introduces the reader to the aching beauty the Arctic region.

— D.D.

MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything , by Joshua Foer (Penguin Press, $26.95). A formerly absent-minded young man recounts how he became the 2006 U.S. memory champion. — M.A.

NO BIKING IN THE HOUSE WITHOUT A HELMET , by Melissa Fay Greene (Farrar Straus Giroux, $26). A thoughtful story of a couple who expanded their family to embrace five orphans from Bulgaria and Ethi­o­pia. — Suki Casanave

RAWHIDE DOWN: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan , by Del Quentin Wilber (Henry Holt, $27). Although the book ostensibly covers only one day, it actually deals with a larger historical footprint. — David Baldacci

READING MY FATHER , by Alexandra Styron (Scribner, $25). An attempt by the daughter of William Styron to make sense of the discrepancy between her father’s deeply moral novels and his egregious behavior. — Heller McAlpin

STOLEN WORLD: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery , by Jennie Erin Smith (Crown, $25). These reptile traders are stunningly innovative, dizzyingly incompetent and quite sociopathic. — Carolyn See

THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan, by Jeff Greenfield (Putnam, $26.95). A book political junkies will adore.

— Bryan Burrough

MORE: Political Bookworm blog’s best political books for summer and beyond

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