- Orange World and Other Stories, by Karen Russell
Short story collections get a bad rap, but they’re ideal for summer reading: You can begin and finish an entire satisfying story, and then go off and play frisbee. The only danger with Karen Russell, though, is you might not be able to read just one. The author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Russell is a master of the weird and ever-so-slightly off.
- Biloxi, by Mary Miller
I don’t know what it is about this time of year that makes me want to read books that take place in the South, but Mary Miller’s Mississippi-set Biloxi is exactly what I hope for in a summer read. The story is about a 63-year-old man named Louis who, in an attempt to avoid his ex-wife’s car after sighting it on his way to pick up his diabetes medication, takes a wrong turn and ends up impulsively adopting a not “very bright” border collie named Layla. The collie helps cheer Louis up—more specifically, it helps him stop thinking about his ex-wife, his own loneliness, or the guns he has in his bedroom. As a reading experience, it is charming and breezy and—I will reassure you from the start—the dog doesn’t die.
- Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips
Before Disappearing Earth, I knew very little about Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula outside of the board game Risk. This far eastern province, though, serves as the site of the simmering debut novel from Julia Phillips. Following the year-by-year aftermath of the disappearance of two young girls from the beach one summer, this is both a mystery and a gorgeous portrait of a region of Russia that American readers don’t typically get to visit in literature. Phillips studied on the peninsula during her two-year Fulbright grant in 2011 and 2012, and her writing is deeply informed by the smells, tastes, and sensations of this remote and captivating region of the world.
- Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok
The disappearance of a sibling is the real-life inspiration for author Jean Kwok’s novel, which centers on what happens after Sylvie goes missing from Amsterdam. Sylvie’s sister, Amy, resolves to find out what happened. Kwok, like her protagonist, comes from an immigrant family and had one of her brothers vanish in 2009 after he said he’d be coming for Thanksgiving and never arrived. And Kwok, like Amy, took it upon herself to find out what happened to him. While Searching for Sylvie Lee is fiction inspired by real circumstances, it is no less thrilling for it!