Your CAN'T FAIL Summer Fiction List

Summer reads, dock reads, cottage reads, beach books—they can get a bad rap, and sometimes these terms are shorthand for lack of substance. Which isn't remotely fair, because summer reads are some of the most important reads a person ever partakes in. I mean, can you imagine the abject disappointment of  being stranded on a beautiful beach with a novel that wasn't good? Your precious summer vacation might be totally shot. We're here to save you from such a disaster with this selection of smart, gripping, utterly absorbing fiction. Enjoy! 

*****

Hunting Houses, by Fanny Britt

About the book: Tessa is a thirty-seven-year-old real estate agent living in Montreal. She adores her husband and three young sons, but she’s deeply unhappy and questioning the set of choices that have led to her present life.

After a surprising run-in with Francis, her ex-boyfriend and first love, Tessa arranges to see him. During the three days before their meeting, she goes about her daily life—there’s swimming lessons, science projects, and dirty dishes. As the day of her meeting with Francis draws closer she has to decide if she is willing to disrupt her stable, loving family life for an uncertain future with him.

With startling clarity and emotional force, Fanny Britt gives us a complex portrait of a woman and a marriage from the inside out.

Why we're taking notice: Britt is best known in outside Quebec as writer of the award-winning Jane, the Fox, and Me, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (and their Louis Undercover is out this fall!). But Britt is also an award-winning playwright and translator, with more than a dozen plays to her name. The book was acclaimed when first published in Quebec, and now the rest of Canada absolutely should not miss it. 

*

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, by Steve Burrows

About the book: Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune is hoping an overseas birding trip might hold some answers in his fugitive brother’s manslaughter case. But there are people on the tour who seem keen to keep their secrets, and the rainforest can be a dangerous place for those who ask too many questions. 

Back in the U.K., in Jejeune’s absence, Marvin Laraby, his former boss and longtime nemesis has been brought in to investigate the murder of an accountant. He is proving so effective that Superintendent Colleen Shepherd is considering making his replacement of Jejeune a permanent arrangement. 

With the manslaughter case poised to claim another victim, Jejeune learns that an accident back home involving his girlfriend, Lindy Hey, is much more than it seems. Lindy is in imminent danger. And only Jejeune can help her. But to do so, he must sacrifice his working relationship with Shepherd, opening the door for Laraby’s appointment as Saltmarsh’s new DCI. 

When Jejeune discovers the truth about Laraby’s current case, he is faced with a dilemma. He can speak up, knowing it will cost him his job on the north Norfolk coast he loves. Or he can stay silent, and let a killer escape justice. 

As he weighs his alternatives, Domenic Jejeune begins to realize that, sometimes, the wrong choice is the only choice you have.

Why we're taking notice: Who doesn't love a mystery in the summer, a complex story to puzzle out? This is the fourth title in Burrows' Birder Murder Mystery series, which gets better and better with every title. 

*

Glass Beads, by Dawn Dumont

About the book: These short stories interconnect the friendships of four First Nations people—Everett Kaiswatim, Nellie Gordon, Julie Papequash, and Nathan (Taz) Mosquito—as the collection evolves over two decades against the cultural, political, and historical backdrop of the 90s and early 2000s.

These young people are among the first of their families to live off the reserve for most of their adult lives, and must adapt and evolve. In stories like “Stranger Danger,” we watch how shy Julie, though supported by her roomies, is filled with apprehension as she goes on her first white-guy date, while years later in “Two Years Less A Day” we witness her change as her worries and vulnerability are put to the real test when she is unjustly convicted in a violent melee and must serve some jail time. “The House and Things That Can Be Taken” establishes how the move from the city both excites and intimidate reserve youth—respectively, how a young man finds a job or a young woman becomes vulnerable in the bar scene. As well as developing her characters experientially, Dumont carefully contrasts them, as we see in the fragile and uncertain Everett and the culturally strong and independent but reckless Taz.

As the four friends experience family catastrophes, broken friendships, travel to Mexico, and the aftermath of the great tragedy of 9/11, readers are intimately connected with each struggle, whether it is with racism, isolation, finding their cultural identity, or repairing the wounds of their upbringing.

Why we're taking notice: We're not alone in loving this one—Glass Beads has received rave reviews in Quill & Quire and the Globe and Mail, and appears on NOW Magazine's 10 must-read Canadian books for summer list. This third novel by Dumont—who draws on her professional background in both law and comedy in her writing—is her breakout book, and it's a fantastic, absorbing read. 

*

Sputnik's Children, by Terri Favro

About the book: Cult comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi has been riding the success of her Cold War era–inspired superhero series, Sputnik Chick: Girl with No Past, for more than 25 years. But with the comic book losing fans and Debbie struggling to come up with new plotlines for her badass, mutant-killing heroine, she decides to finally tell Sputnik Chick’s origin story.

Debbie’s never had to make anything up before and she isn’t starting now. Sputnik Chick is based on Debbie’s own life in an alternate timeline called Atomic Mean Time. As a teenager growing up in Shipman’s Corners—a Rust Belt town voted by Popular Science magazine as “most likely to be nuked”—she was recruited by a self-proclaimed time traveller to collapse Atomic Mean Time before an all-out nuclear war grotesquely altered humanity. In trying to save the world, Debbie risked obliterating everyone she’d ever loved—as well as her own past—in the process.

Or so she believes ... Present-day Debbie is addicted to lorazepam and dirty, wet martinis, making her an unreliable narrator, at best. A time-bending novel that delves into the origin story of the Girl with No Past, Sputnik’s Children explores what it was like to come of age in the Atomic Age.

Why we're taking notice: To be this smart, this much fun, and so incredibly well constructed (in terms of prose and plot) is an achievement few books ever manage. Get your hands on this one and prepare to have your mind twisted, your heart broken, and to be utterly thrilled along the way. 

*

A Stranger in the House, by Shari Lapena

About the book: From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Couple Next Door, a new thriller featuring a suspicious accident, a wife who can't account for herself and unsettling questions that threaten to tear a couple apart.

You come home after a long day at work, excited to have dinner with your beautiful wife. But when you walk through the door, you quickly realize that she's not there. In the kitchen, there is a pot on the stove, and vegetables on the counter, abandoned. Her cellphone and her purse are still in the house, in the bedroom, exactly where she keeps them. It looks like she's left in a blind panic. You fear the worst, so you call her friends to see if they know where she is. Then you call the police.

The police tell you that your wife's been in an accident. They found her in the worst part of town, after she lost control of the car while speeding through the streets. But why would she go to that neighbourhood? And why was she driving so fast? Was she running toward something? Or away from something? The police think your wife was up to no good. You refuse to believe it, at first. Then, as the stories and facts don't line up, and your wife can't remember what happened that evening, you start to wonder. You've been married for two years and you thought you knew her better than anyone else in the world...

...but maybe you don't.

Why we're taking notice: We're excited to pick up this follow-up to Lapena's international smash hit, and if it's even an iota as gripping as The Couple the Next Door, we're in for an excellent read. 

*

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, by Suzette Mayr

About the book: Dr. Edith Vane, scholar of English literature, is contentedly ensconced at the University of Inivea. Her dissertation on pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers is about to be published, and her job’s finally safe, if she only can fill out her AAO properly. She’s a little anxious, but a new floral blouse and her therapist's repeated assurance that she is the architect of her own life should fix that. All should be well, really. Except for her broken washing machine, her fickle new girlfriend, her missing friend Coral, her backstabbing fellow professors, a cutthroat new dean – and the fact that the sentient and malevolent Crawley Hall has decided it wants them all out, and the hall and its hellish hares will stop at nothing to get rid of them.

Like an unholy collision of StonerThe Haunting of Hill HouseCharlie Brown, and Alice in Wonderland, this audacious new novel by the Giller Prize–longlisted Suzette Mayr is a satire that takes the hallowed halls of the campus novel in fantastical—and unsettling—directions.

Why we're taking notice: Do you love haunted house books? Do you love campus novels? The two genres embark upon a glorious collision in this rollicking—and sometimes terrifying—novel, which follows Mayr's acclaimed Monoceros

*

Boundary, by Andrée M. Michaud

About the book: In the deep woods of the Maine borderlands, the legend of huntsman Pete Landry is still told around cottage campfires to scare children, a tragic story of love, lust, and madness. During the early summer of 1967, inseparable teenage beauties Sissy Morgan and Zaza Mulligan wander among the vacation cottages in the community of Boundary, drinking and smoking and swearing, attracting the attention of boys and men. First one, and then the other, goes missing, and both are eventually found dead in the forest. Have they been the victims of freak accidents? Or is someone hunting the young women of Boundary? And if there is a hunter, who might be next? The Summer of Love quickly becomes the Summer of Fear, and detective Stan Michaud, already haunted by a case he could not solve, is determined to find out what exactly is happening in Boundary before someone else is found dead.

A story of deep psychological power and unbearable suspense, Andrée A. Michaud’s award-winning Boundary is an utterly gripping read about a community divided by suspicion and driven together by primal terror.

Why we're taking notice: Because it's wonderful, deep and literary, winner of the Governor General's Award in its original French. And it's also set in a cottage—with screen door slams and beach sand grit—and filled with rich psychological insight.

*

Our Little Secret, by Roz Nay

About the book: For fans of In a Dark, Dark Wood and All the Missing Girls comes Our Little Secret, a compulsive and thrilling debut about a missing woman, a tangled love triangle, the secrets we keep and the secrets we share.

The detective wants to know what happened to Saskia, as if I could just skip to the ending and all would be well. But stories begin at the beginning and some secrets have to be earned. 

Angela is being held in a police interrogation room. Her ex’s wife has gone missing and Detective Novak is sure Angela knows something, despite her claim that she’s not involved.

At Novak’s prodding, Angela tells a story going back ten years, explaining how she met and fell in love with her high school friend HP. But as her past unfolds, she reveals a disconcerting love triangle and a dark, tangled web of betrayals. Is Angela a scorned ex-lover with criminal intent? Or a pawn in someone else’s revenge scheme? Who is she protecting? And why?

Twisty and suspenseful, Our Little Secret is an intense cat-and-mouse game and a riveting thriller about the lies we tell others—and ourselves.

Why we're taking notice: We're taking the word of Marissa Stapley in her latest books column, "Heading to a cottage this weekend and need a guaranteed good read? Bring this book. Trust me: you’re likely to read it in one breathless sitting. When you return to reality, it will be well past midnight and everyone else will have gone to bed." 

*

Be Ready for the Lightning, by Grace O'Connell

About the book: On the surface, Veda's life in Vancouver seems to be going just fine—at nearly thirty, she has a good job, lifelong friends, and a close bond with her brother, Conrad. But Conrad's violent behavior, a problem since he was a teen, is getting more and more serious, and Veda's ongoing commitment to watch out for him is pushing her to a breaking point.  

When Veda is injured as a bystander during one of Conrad's many fights, she knows it's time to leave Vancouver for a fresh start. She heads to New York, staying in the Manhattan apartment of old friends Al and Marie. Exploring the city, she swings between feeling hopeful and lost—until one day the bus she's on is hijacked by a sweet-faced gun-toting man named Peter. He instructs Veda and the other passengers to spray paint the bus windows black, and what ensues is a gripping and unpredictable hostage situation, the outcome of which will make Veda question everything she knows about herself and the nature of fear.

Told with powerful immediacy and warmth, at once unsettling and engrossing, Be Ready for the Lightning is a story of violence, its attractions and repulsions; of love, loyalty and friendship; and of a young woman finding an unexpected kind of bravery.

Why we're taking notice: For several reasons, not least among them this tweet by Margaret Atwood: "Gripping, twisty novel! Killer ‘Peter Pan,’ hijacked bus, complex loves, more!” Sold.

*

Glass Houses, by Louise Penny 

About the Book: When a mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day, Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are at first curious. Then wary. Through rain and sleet, the figure stands unmoving, staring ahead.

From the moment its shadow falls over the village, Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Surete du Québec, suspects the creature has deep roots and a dark purpose. Yet he does nothing. What can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized.

But when the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to discover if a debt has been paid or levied.

Months later, on a steamy July day as the trial for the accused begins in Montréal, Chief Superintendent Gamache continues to struggle with actions he set in motion that bitter November, from which there is no going back. More than the accused is on trial. Gamache’s own conscience is standing in judgment.

In her latest utterly gripping book, number-one New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny shatters the conventions of the crime novel to explore what Gandhi called the court of conscience. A court that supersedes all others.

Why We're Taking Notice: Before you get too excited, we must warn you that Glass Houses isn't released until the end of August. BUT this means you get to spend the whole summer looking forward to it, and now your Labour Day Weekend read is all locked up. 

*

The Only Child, by Andrew Pyper

About the book: The #1 internationally bestselling author Andrew Pyper returns with a thrilling new novel about one woman’s search for a killer and the stunning secret that binds them to each other.

What if you learned your father wasn’t who you thought he was? What if you learned you carried secrets deep within your blood? 
Dr. Lily Dominick has seen her share of bizarre cases as a forensic psychiatrist working with some of New York’s most dangerous psychotic criminals. But nothing can prepare Lily for her newest patient.
Client 46874-A is nameless. He insists that he is not human, and believes that he was not born, but created over two hundred years ago. As Lily listens to this man describe the twisted crime he’s committed, she can’t shake the feeling that he’s come for her—especially once he reveals something she would have thought impossible: He knew her mother.
Lily was only six years old when her mother was violently killed in what investigators concluded was a bear attack. But even though she was there, even though she saw it, Lily has never been certain of what really happened that night. Now, this stranger may hold the answers to the questions she’s buried deep within herself all her life. That’s when he escapes.
To discover the truth—behind her client, her mother’s death, herself—Lily must embark on a journey to find him that will threaten her career, her sanity, and ultimately her life.
Fusing relentless suspense with surprising emotion, The Only Child is a psychological thriller about family, identity and monstrosity that will keep you up until its last unforgettable revelation.

Why we're taking notice: Oh, it's such a ride! Back through centuries, across continents, and (most irresistibly!) through literature, weaving together a collective origin story for Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, and Dracula that's stranger—and more terrifying—than fiction.   

*

Son of a Trickster, by Eden Robinson

About the book: Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)—and now she's dead.

Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him—even when he's not stoned.

You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Why we're taking notice: There's a point where this gorgeous coming-of-age novel morphs into a Stephen King book, and becomes everything. And oh my gosh, how brilliant that it's the first instalment in a trilogy. 

*

After the Bloom, by Leslie Shimotakahara

About the book: Lily Takemitsu goes missing from her home in Toronto one luminous summer morning in the mid-1980s. Her daughter, Rita, knows her mother has a history of dissociation and memory problems, which have led her to wander off before. But never has she stayed away so long. Unconvinced the police are taking the case seriously, Rita begins to carry out her own investigation. In the course of searching for her mom, she is forced to confront a labyrinth of secrets surrounding the family’s internment at a camp in the California desert during the Second World War, their postwar immigration to Toronto, and the father she has never known. 

Epic in scope, intimate in style, After the Bloom blurs between the present and the ever-present past, beautifully depicting one family’s struggle to face the darker side of its history and find some form of redemption.

Why we're taking notice: From the rather ecstatic review in the National Post by Terra Arnone: "I tore through After the Bloom, speed as it were in a story prone to languish, Shimotakahara writing mystery in long words but clipped phrases, an addictive acrobatic syntax that keeps you dogged enough to endure." 

*

ED: Hello from the rest of the team at 49thShelf.com! We are chiming in here to nominate Kerry Clare's own book, Mitzi Bytes, for this great summer fiction list because Mitzi is PERFECT for a summer evening—it's a fast, excellent, super-fun read. The Toronto Star says "Entertaining, engaging and timely, Mitzi Bytes is a pleasure to read from start to finish. It heralds the arrival of a fantastic, fun new novelist on the Canadian scene.”

Kerry has prohibited us from yelling about how good her book is because she's 49th's editor but too bad. Here's what it's about: 

Back at the beginning of the new millennium, when the Internet was still unknown territory, Sarah started an anonymous blog documenting her return to the dating scene after a devastating divorce. The blog was funny, brutally honest and sometimes outrageous. Readers loved it. Through her blog persona, “Mitzi Bytes,” Sarah not only found her feet again, but she found her voice. 

Fifteen years later, Sarah is happily remarried with children and she’s still blogging, but nobody IRL (in real life)—not even her husband or best friends—knows about Mitzi. None of them knows that Sarah has been mining their deepest feelings and confessions and sharing these stories with the world. Which means that Sarah is in serious trouble when threatening emails arrive from the mysterious Jane Q. Guess what, the first one says. You’re officially found out.

As she tries to find out Jane Q’s identity before her secret online self is revealed to everyone, Sarah starts to discover that her loved ones have secrets of their own, and that stronger forces than she imagined are conspiring to turn her world upside down. 

A grown-up Harriet the Spy for the digital age, Mitzi Bytes examines the bonds of family and friendship, and the truths we dare tell about ourselves—and others.

July 17, 2017
Books mentioned in this post
The Only Child

The Only Child

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
comments powered by Disqus

X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...