Summer books: 5 novels you must read--and then ten more.

  • Updated: June 1, 2014 - 8:06 AM

Debut novelists lead the pack in this summer’s hottest fiction picks.

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Minneapolis novelist Charles Baxter, a member of the 2013 National Book Award judging committee for fiction, recommends “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride, which won the National Book Award. “ ‘The Good Lord Bird’ is the funniest book you’ll read this year,” Baxter said, “and its subject — the abolitionist John Brown — manages to be comic and heroic and tragic in about equal measure.”

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“God Is an Astronaut,” by Alyson Foster. (Bloomsbury USA, $26, July 1.)

In this smart novel told in a series of one-sided e-mails, Foster brings to life Jess Frobisher, a perfectly flawed protagonist whose sharp wit is as natural as her green thumb. Jess’ husband works for a space tourism company that recently suffered a public relations nightmare (read: fatal explosion) and their small family is thrown into the public eye.

Jess gradually retreats to her expanding greenhouse to evade her crumbling marriage and the journalists who follow their every move, including her trip to the final frontier.

“The Lobster Kings,” by Alexi Zentner. (W.W. Norton, $26.95, May 27.)

In a twist on the traditional Maine lobsterman story, Zentner (inspired by Shakespeare’s “King Lear”) spins a dark and stormy tale of the Kings family and their cursed past. As descendants of the island’s famous artist, Brumfitt Kings, the Kingses have a history to uphold and to fear.

Cordelia Kings, the oldest of three daughters and the only one to work the lobster boats, stands to inherit her father’s exalted position in the community as well as become the head of their tight family. Her moment comes sooner than she thinks, and she is forced to confront the overwhelming responsibilities of her past in a crescendo worthy of the Bard himself.

“I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” by Courtney Maum. (Touchstone, $25.99, June 10.)

There’s not much to like about confirmed adulterer Richard Haddon at the beginning of “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” and yet by the end of Maum’s debut novel there was nothing I wanted more than for this poor guy to have the two things he realized were most important to him: his family and his art. Maum’s raw honesty about the hard work of long-term relationships, what is said and left unsaid, and her intimate knowledge of Paris make this a bittersweet yet comical read.

“We Are Called to Rise,” by Laura McBride. (Simon & Schuster, $25, June 3.)

Rarely does a novel reach into my soul and leave me sobbing, but “We Are Called to Rise” did just that with its beautifully drawn characters, true-to-life plot and such exquisite writing that it’s hard to believe that this is Laura McBride’s first book.

Divorce, death and the lingering effects of war are part of a larger story set against the backdrop of life in Las Vegas, and despite its serious subjects, McBride’s skillful narrative turns a tragic story into a graceful portrait of our time. Told from multiple points of view, this book will demand your attention from the first page.

“Land of Love and Drowning,” by Tiphanie Yanique. (Riverhead, $27.99, July 10.)

Sisters Eeona and Anette are like oil and water; different in every way yet bound together by their parents’ passionate history and their family’s oppressive secrets.

Eeona’s beauty is so powerful that she often has to cover herself in order to go about her everyday business, while Anette’s red hair is considered her cross to bear. A multigenerational family saga written with authority and an intimate knowledge of the unbreakable ties between people and place.

10 at a glance

“Cutting Teeth,” by Julia Fierro. (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95, May 13.)

Nicole invites her daughter’s playgroup — and their parents — for a weekend at the beach, but she never imagined that the group would be so demanding, so aggressive or so out of control. (The kids weren’t on their best behavior, either.)

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