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With warmer days, page-turner summer reading beckons

| Monday, May 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
'The Art of Neil Gaiman' by Hayley Campbell
'The Art of Neil Gaiman' by Hayley Campbell
'Cop Town' by Karin Slaughter
'Cop Town' by Karin Slaughter

It's that time of year when swimming pools open and beaches beckon, blockbuster movies arrive in theaters, and vacations and getaways are planned.

For book lovers, summer, which unofficially begins Memorial Day, often marks a subtle shift in their reading material. To paraphrase George Gershwin, “the reading is easy.”

“I think summer reading is all about a fast-paced plot,” says Nancy Martin, a Highland Park resident and author of the Blackbird Sisters and Roxy Abruzo mystery series. “I'm not looking for important metaphors or life-changing issues, but a story that really turns the pages.”

Those stories can range from thrillers to mysteries to romances. Mark Russell, a librarian at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, says patrons naturally turn to lighter reads because “that's what publishers are offering,” and that these books have the same elements as the films with summer release dates.

“What makes a good summer book is the same thing that makes a good summer movie,” Russell says. “It gives you an escape, and it's often a book you take on vacation. It has those same elements (as a movie), over-the-top action or a wonderful romance or exotic locations.”

For her book club, Diane Sheedy of Thornburg may read anything from literary fiction to history to biography. But when summer arrives, she's not averse to “lighter reads.”

“They're a little bit less thought-provoking,” Sheedy says, “a little bit more fun, and they're generally fiction. The authors that seem to do well in the summertime are the Danielle Steel types, or the murder-mystery writers. I don't want to say they're mindless, but they're books you don't have to pay full attention to.”

Books by best-selling authors such as Stephen King and David Baldacci are summer perennials, but, often, a book unexpectedly gains mass appeal. Russell cites Stieg Larsson's “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” (2008) “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2011) by E. L. James, and “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (2012) as books that turned authors into household names.

The popularity of novels by previously unknown writers, however, can cause unexpected problems.

“A lot of times, librarians will have trouble keeping these books in circulation because of the demand,” says Stephanie Flom, executive director of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures and a former librarian.

Avid readers, however, are not content to wait. When a book develops a buzz, many readers will buy it because they want to read it on vacation. Thus, the phenomenon of seeing “a lot of Stephen King when you're walking along a beach,” Flom says. “A lot of people like the thrill and the escape of these kinds of books when they're on vacation. It's really not so scary in their everyday lives.”

Not so long ago, the literary tastes could be measured by casual observation, book covers broadcasting a reader's selection. But the increasing popularity of e-readers (which are great for portability) does pose a problem for anyone who want to “eavesdrop” on what's being read.

“With e-readers, I can't see what everybody's reading,” Martin says. “You used to see six people reading the latest Nicholas Sparks book. Now, you have no idea what's being read.”

Here are some of the highlights for this summer:

Out now

“The Target” (Grand Central Publishing) by David Baldacci. Will Robie, a hitman for hire, is again called on to serve the country in this story that examines the need for national security versus the wisdom of covert action.

Anthony Doerr's “All the Light We Cannot See” (Scribner), is about a blind French girl who meets a German boy who is a member of Hitler Youth during the occupation of Paris in World War II.

“To Rise Again at a Decent Hour” (Little, Brown) by Joshua Ferris, the author of “Then We Came to the End.” A dentist who is a devoted Red Sox fan and nicotine addict discovers someone has opened Twitter and Facebook accounts in his name.

“The Art of Neil Gaiman” by Hayley Campbell, (Harper Design) will undoubtedly please fans of the popular British author. This biography features a look at Gaiman's private archives and an overview of his career.

“Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life” (Ecco) by Tom Robbins, is not an autobiography or memoir. Instead, the author of “Even Cowgirls Gets the Blues” and “Another Roadside Attraction” says this is a “sustained narrative composed of the absolutely true stories I've been telling the women in my life.”

“Fourth of July Creek” (Ecco) is a debut novel by Smith Henderson. Set in western Montana, it's about a social worker who tries to help the child of extremists waiting for the apocalypse.

Coming soon

What would the season be without a new novel from the godfather of summer books? Stephen King's “Mr. Mercedes” (Scribner, June 3) is a mystery set in the Midwest about a retired cop tracking a driver who ran over unemployed people at a job fair.

For his new Civil War novel, “The Smoke at Dawn” (Random House, June 3), Jeff Shaara examines one of the last great battles of the conflict: The push by the Army of the Cumberland to strike a decisive blow to Confederate forces at Chattanooga.

“Shockwave” (Pantheon, June 3), by Andrew Vachss, is the sequel to the author's 2013 release, “Aftershock.” An ex-mercenary and his wife, a former battlefield nurse, search for a killer in an Oregon coastal town beset by corruption and hate groups.

Joanna Rakoff's “My Salinger Year” (Knopf, June 3) is a memoir about the author's year as an assistant to J.D. Salinger's literary agent. One of Rakoff's duties was to answer fan mail via a form letter, but she instead started to write her own replies.

Herman Koch, the author of “The Dinner,” returns with his second English language novel, “Summer House With Swimming Pool” (Crown, June 3). After an incident involving his daughter, a physician exacts revenge on a famous client, only to see his plans unravel when the reason for his actions is put in doubt.

David Guterson, author of “Snow Falling on Cedars,” releases his first collection of short stories, “Problems With People: Stories” (June 3, Knopf). Guterson uses his native Washington state and Berlin, Kathmandu, and South Africa as settings for these tales.

From the director of “Hairspray” comes “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 3). The inimitable Waters hitchhikes from Baltimore to San Francisco, meeting a cross-section of Americans.

Alafair Burke is as good as any living writer at capturing what crime is like in New York City. Her new novel, “All Day and a Night” (Harper, June 10) features a tabloid-worthy murder, a serial killer, legal intrigue and twists and turns that will keep even the most discerning readers guessing.

“Top Secret Twenty One” (Bantam, June 17) is one of the more vanilla titles in the Stephanie Plum series. But fans of author Janet Evanovich relish any book featuring the popular character.

“Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s” (Ballantine, June 17) is a look at the former Beatle trying to escape his past, from the band's breakup to the murder of John Lennon. Author Tom Doyle wrote the book after extensive interviews with McCartney.

“Cop Town” (June 24) by Karin Slaughter. Set in 1974 in Atlanta, Slaughter's novel features a new police officer, Kate Murphy, who has to battle stereotypes while the police force is under attack from a cop killer.

“The Arsonist” (Knopf, June 24) by Sue Miller, the author of “The Senator's Wife.” Set in New England, a town is torn apart when, surprise, an arsonist strikes.

“Peter Pan Must Die” (Crown, July 1) by John Verdon, features a retired NYPD detective, Dave Gurney, who is described as a cross between Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.

For action-thriller-conspiracy theory readers, Lorenzo Carcaterra's “The Wolf” (Ballantine, July 29) features a mob boss waging war on a terrorist organization after his wife and daughter are killed in an attack.

“Lucky Us” (Random House, July 29) by Amy Bloom, author of National Book Award finalist “Come to Me.” Two young women travel from Ohio to Hollywood in a stolen station wagon in the aftermath of World War II.

“A Little Night Murder” (NAL, August 5) by Nancy Martin. The Pittsburgh-based author's new mystery again features the Blackbird Sisters, this time with a theatrical motif.

Haruki Murakami's “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” (Knopf, Aug. 23) sold a million copies in Japan during its first week of sale. This story is about an engineer trying to understand why his college friends abandoned him after graduation.

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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