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Warming Up to June

Zoomer's best June fiction includes a meditation on mortality, a feminist utopia, a reimagined Great Gatsby and a new thriller from Bill Clinton / BY Nathalie Atkinson / June 1st, 2021

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

We kick off our summer reading with this list of our June fiction picks, from Lionel Shriver’s thought-provoking yet playful (yes, playful!) meditation on mortality to a feminist utopia where all is not as it seems, to an other-worldly The Great Gatsby re-imagined as a sexy summer read.

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1The Chosen and the Beautiful Nghi Vo

The copyright on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic expired this year and there have already been several alternate takes on his legendary characters. None are as darkly beautiful as Vo’s queer retelling, in which Jay Gatsby works a beguiling but malevolent enchantment on revellers at his West Egg estate. Fantasy elements mix with the familiar speakeasies and fateful events of that hot, 1922 summer, told from the point of view of Daisy Buchanan’s childhood friend Jordan Baker, a young Vietnamese woman with a gift for magic. It’s sumptuous and sexy, and with prose to rival the original.

2Hot Stew Fiona Mozley

The Booker Prize finalist for her novel, Elmet, returns with a Dickensian novel of social realism set in a Soho brothel in London. The sprawling tale is a critique of capitalism that teems with nearly two dozen main characters – from grubby magicians and drug addicts to lawyers, sex workers and property developers – without ever feeling cluttered thanks to swaggering, cinematic writing.

3The Other Black Girl Zakiya Dalila Harris

“An edgier Devil Wears Prada meets Get Out’” is how one advance review describes this debut by Harris, 28, a former editorial assistant. It’s about Nella and Hazel, two Black women who work at a publishing house, and how one of them hopes to have found an ally in the other. After a bidding war, the novel landed a seven-figure book deal (and is currently being developed as a Hulu series) both for its propulsive and thought-provoking insider view of issues like racial infighting, assimilation, micro-aggressions and gas lighting as well as its depiction of the universal experience of workplace bureaucracy.

4Double Blind Edward St. Aubyn

Surprise! The aristocratic, Booker Prize shortlisted author of the acclaimed Patrick Melrose series (also a miniseries starring Benedict Cumberbatch) has moved past plumbing his semi-autobiographical trauma and pivoted to happiness. This optimistic novel chronicles a transformative year in the life of a group of 30-something friends (all of whom work in or around science, as the title suggests). From rural Sussex to the South of France to Big Sur, there’s nary a tortured alter ego in sight. Instead, “the whole novel is about healing,” St. Aubyn said in a recent interview. “It’s permeated with a sort of faith in regeneration.”

5Malibu Rising Taylor Jenkins Reid

Remember when everyone you knew was reading Daisy Jones and the Six? Prepare to spot the refreshing surfer-blue cover of this follow-up everywhere this summer. Four talented adult siblings have grown up in the shadow of their famous father, the rock star Mick Riva. (Fans of the author will recognize him as the third husband in a previous novel about a fictional classic Hollywood superstar named Evelyn Hugo). Told over the course of one long day and night as the Riva family prepares to host their annual end-of-summer bash in August 1983, there are multiple storylines and flashbacks to their parents’ 1950s heyday in this highly original dissection of family drama, betrayal, and celebrity culture.

6The President’s Daughter James Patterson and Bill Clinton

Matt Keating is an ex-Navy SEAL and former U.S. president. When he loses a second term to his female vice president, a terrorist abducts his teenage daughter Melanie (in retaliation for collateral damage that took the lives of the man’s family; the guy’s been biding his time). Keating’s single-minded mission to get her back is the premise of former President Bill Clinton and super-seller Patterson’s second collaboration (after their global No. 1 bestseller, The President is Missing). It’s not so much a novel as a Liam Neeson revenge movie waiting to happen. (June 7)

7Should We Stay or Should We Go Lionel Shriver

After watching her parents languish with dementia and treating patients in the ruthless decay of aging, a London medical couple in their 60s make a pact to end their lives when wife Kay turns 80. This parallel universe story (a high concept reminiscent of her Sliding Doors-style gem, The Post-Birthday World) uses the intervening decades to posit a series of alternate endings for the couple, including some where one or the other chooses not to comply with their bargain. As she proved in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shriver’s not one to shy away from exploring thorny issues and speaking hard truths aloud — in this case, it’s the aging, illness and care giving as the author explores the possibility of chosen death, cryogenics and assisted living. Brilliant. (June 8)

8The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels India Holton

The title attracted me to this historical romance novel, but the bonkers plot grabbed and more than held my attention. There are pirates, Gothic abbeys, would-be assassins and handsome henchmen in this tale about Cecilia, raised by her aunt in a ragtag group of lady thieves who flit around an alternate-historical Victorian England. She lives by her wits and must join forces with a sworn male foe to save the society. This novel is the reason the word skullduggery was invented. (June 15)

9Dream Girl Laura Lippman

Novelist Gerry, 61, moves to Baltimore to be close to his ailing mother. She dies, but before he can start writing again, he has a serious accident. Confined to his bed for a long, drugged recovery, he requires 24-hour care. It’s in this hallucinogenic dream-state that he lapses into memories of childhood, failed marriages, book tours and even novels. One night, for example, a woman claiming to be the inspiration for his first character telephones him. There’s also a dead woman in his bed. Is it the pain medication, the beginning of dementia or something more nefarious? It’s not summer until the new literary thriller from Edgar winner Lippman arrives and this one is a smart tease laced with nostalgic pop culture references and full of delicious dread. (June 22)


10The Husbands Chandler Baker

The first lady of the feminist thriller (The Whisper Network) is back with the story of a successful lawyer who stumbles upon Dynasty Ranch, a subdivision for professional women. It’s one where the husbands share equally in the domestic duties, or what’s known as “the second shift.” Is it a gender-swapped Stepford Wives, or something even more sinister? The answer proves the adage that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. (June 29)

11The Personal Librarian Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

As J.P. Morgan’s private librarian and head of the Morgan Library for 43 years, Belle Da Costa Greene was one of the early 20th century’s most powerful figures in arts and literature, and guardian of some of the world’s great cultural treasures, from Gutenberg bibles to Michelangelo sketches. She was also a Black woman forced to conceal her identity to achieve her legacy. Although her father was the first Black graduate of Harvard, her divorced mother went to great lengths to craft a white identity so they could navigate the racist society of the time by changing their surname and publicly describing the family as Americans of Portuguese descent. There has only been one full-length biography of the woman who built collections, mentored colleagues and promoted the work of women scholars – not least because, before her death, Greene burned all her private papers. This historical novel pieces together clues from letters and her whirlwind social life to restore her identity. (June 29)


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