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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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16 paperbacks to round out your summer reading – including ‘Hamilton’

The Seattle Times

You have a couple of weeks left to do your summer reading. Don’t panic – here are 16 titles, from literary fiction to crime fiction to prizewinning nonfiction, that will fill your days into Labor Day and after.

Literary fiction

“Last Bus to Wisdom” by Ivan Doig (Riverhead, $16). Seattle writer Ivan Doig’s last novel, published after he died in April 2015, is the poignant, wise and funny story of a bright, young orphaned boy whose life is turned upside down when he has to leave the care of his doting grandmother. In a Seattle Times review, Tim McNulty called it “a deeply humane coming-of-age tale.” Available now.

“Purity” by Jonathan Franzen (Picador, $17). Franzen exasperates a lot of people with his weirdness – in some ways he seems to be not of the 21st century. Is that so bad? “Purity,” his latest novel, is about a young woman named Pip (!) who falls under the spell of a guru-like figure. Said novelist Colm Toibin in a New York Times review: “’Purity’ is a novel of plenitude and panorama. Sometimes, there is too much sprawl, but it can suggest a sort of openness and can have a strange, insistent way of pulling us in, holding our attention.”

“Legends of the Fall” by Jim Harrison (Grove Press, $16). Jim Harrison became my favorite author when I picked up this book and read the title story straight through, many years ago. Set during World War I, it’s the short but epic tale of three Montana brothers who are undone by the relentless advance of the modern world. In this reissue, two other stories, “Revenge” and “The Man Who Gave Up His Name,” complete the volume. Harrison died in March, and I am still sad about it.

“The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books, $15). This talented author has just published a new Alaska-set novel, “To the Bright Edge of the World.” Check out “The Snow Child,” her earlier novel and a Pulitzer finalist. It’s about a lonely couple hacking out an existence in the Alaska wilderness. Then a child emerges from the woods and fills the void. Where did she come from?

“The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories” by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $16).A National Book Critics Circle finalist in fiction, this set of interlocking stories follows an ensemble of Russians who live first under the brutal thumb of the Communist regime, then through the tragic purgatory of post-Soviet Russia. “Each story is a gem in itself,” said the New York Times review. This book is this fall’s Spokane is Reading selection. Marra will be in Spokane on Oct. 27.

“Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $16). This fantastical book tells the story of an epic struggle between dark and light forces to control humanity. Fortunately, we have the jinn Dunia on our side. Readers new to Rushdie will be surprised at his way with playfulness and humor, and his gift for making things up.

“The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War” by William T. Vollmann (Penguin, $35). Vollmann, America’s wild man of fiction, writes long (in this case, 1,356 pages), deeply researched, lyrical and occasionally head-scratching novels. He outdoes himself with this account of the epic struggle of the Nez Perce Indians to defend their homeland in the late 19th century. Vollmann’s shifting perspectives and sheer wordiness are not for everyone, but I fell under the spell of this book.

Crime fiction

“Thin Air” by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur, $15.99). Thanks to the success of PBS’ “Vera,” British writer Cleeves’ absorbing mysteries are finally making it across the pond.

Cleeves has two series going – the Vera Stanhope books and another featuring Jimmy Perez, homeboy detective and single parent in the Shetland Islands. “Thin Air” follows a group of university friends who get together for a Shetland wedding. After one leaves the festivities to follow what appears to be the ghost of a young girl, Perez investigates her disappearance. (These books are the basis for the BBC’s “Shetland” TV series, well worth checking out.)

“Home by Nightfall” by Charles Finch (Minotaur, $11.99). Here’s the latest in this author’s satisfying Victorian-era series featuring Charles Lenox, a highborn Londoner who just can’t be satisfied with the good life – he has to solve crimes. In this installment Lenox, who decamps to Sussex to console his grieving brother after the loss of his wife, investigates both some off-kilter happenings in Sussex and the disappearance of a famous pianist in London.

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead, $16). This thriller sold umpty-jillion copies in hardback, but if you haven’t made a run at it, “Hitchcockian” is the term universally applied. A young woman commuting on an English train sees something she shouldn’t, and then things really get interesting. “’The Girl on the Train’ has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since ‘Gone Girl,’” said the New York Times. (The movie comes out Oct. 7.)

“The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories” by Ian Rankin (Back Bay Books. $16.99). These stories should be complete catnip for fans of author Rankin’s finest creation, Edinburgh’s Detective Inspector John Rebus. The stories, 31 in all, have been published over several years and showcase the many sides of this hard-drinking, profane and incorruptible cop. Perfect for the backyard or the bus, though you may forget your stop.


“Hamilton” by Ron Chernow (Penguin, $20). Miracles do happen – critically acclaimed biography inspires blockbuster musical! Chernow’s biography of one of our most intriguing founding fathers won a bushel basket of prizes, then settled into a modest next life in paperback. Then the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, read Chernow’s book and found inspiration, You can, too!

“Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition” by Nisid Hajari (Mariner, $15.95). A searing account of the historic cataclysm set off when India was liberated from British rule and Pakistan became a separate country. As the British rushed to leave, all hell broke loose and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs died in waves of horrific violence. This book “will help readers understand the issues surrounding the subcontinental schism and why the two nations have since been in a state of perpetual hostility,” said a Seattle Times review.

“Negroland: A Memoir” by Margo Jefferson (Vintage, $16). I am still thinking about this honest and vividly written book by Jefferson, an acclaimed journalist. It tells her story of her upbringing in upper-crust black Chicago, part of the “Talented Tenth” that thought of itself as a third race between blacks and whites. It won this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award for memoir. At booksellers Aug. 23.

“Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime” by Val McDermid (Grove Press, $16). Crime-fiction fans know Scottish writer McDermid for her gritty and entertaining mysteries. Here she takes a turn through the history of forensics, from its primitive beginnings to its current day high-tech techniques. “McDermid, a former newspaper journalist and bureau chief, has her reporter hat on this time. The result is clear-eyed, vigorous, unpretentious and mesmerizing,” said a Seattle Times review.

“Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa” by James Neff (Back Bay Books, $17.99). This taut work of investigative history by Neff, former investigations editor at the Seattle Times, now with the Philadelphia Inquirer, tells the story of the visceral hatred between Kennedy and Hoffa, and digs deep into the strategies they used to attempt to destroy each other. “The result is as riveting as any courtroom thriller, except this is real,” said the Seattle Times review.

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