A Kirkus editor weighs in on his top 20 books of the summer 

Read This Now


Eric Liebetrau is the managing editor and nonfiction editor of Kirkus Reviews, which has provided industry professionals and consumers with book reviews since 1933. A Mt. Pleasant resident, Liebetrau's reviews and features have appeared in a variety of national publications, including People, the Boston Globe, and The New Yorker. After sifting through this summer's releases, he selected his favorite fiction and nonfiction offerings.


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Telegraph Avenue
By Michael Chabon
The beloved author of Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and The Yiddish Policeman's Union is back with another brilliant novel. With characteristic wit and warmth, Chabon dives in to the world of comic-book heroes and vintage vinyl, ably mixing high and low culture to great comic effect. Fortunately for readers, it doesn't seem like the author has a bad book in him.

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By Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster
Cleave follows his breakout novel, Little Bee, with this tale of Olympic speed cyclists. Encompassing passion, rivalries, and intense love affairs, the novel is not only timely, given the Olympics, but a solid demonstration of the plotting and character-development skills of a novelist who continues to improve. For those who enjoyed Little Bee, also check out Cleave's powerful first novel, Incendiary.

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This is How You Lose Her
By Junot Diaz
Following up a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is no easy feat, but the hip Dominican author pulls it off with panache. It may not be as ambitious as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but this story collection is another morally challenging exploration of its characters tough lives in the United States. This is How You Lose Her is both a worthy successor to Oscar Wao and a nice complement to the author's debut collection, Drown.

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A Hologram for the King
By Dave Eggers
The latest from the gifted McSweeney's founder chronicles the travails of a 50-something American salesman adrift in King Abdullah Economic City, a center of commerce in Saudi Arabia. Eggers' abundant chops are on full display, and he carries the emotional gravity of Zeitoun through this tale of personal and professional discovery in a foreign land.

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Gone Girl
By Gillian Flynn
For fans of taut thrillers, look no further than Gillian Flynn. Her latest is the story of a husband's search for his missing wife, an investigation that frequently turns the blame back to him as more and more secrets about their marriage are revealed. With just enough twists and a riveting last few pages, Gone Girl is the perfect beach read this summer.

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Winter of the World
By Ken Follett
Few authors render historical fiction as majestically as Ken Follett. Though he has penned numerous thrillers as well, his sweeping epic Pillars of the Earth really put him on the map, and this second volume in the Century Trilogy is sure to please fans of its predecessor, Fall of Giants. With a host of characters and plenty of conflict, Winter of the World is yet another grand soap opera from a novelist in full command of his material.

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By Richard Ford
After completing the Frank Bascombe trilogy in 2006 with The Lay of the Land, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Ford makes his triumphant return. The story follows Dell Parsons, whose parents committed an ill-planned bank robbery when he was 15. Reflecting on his life 50 years later, Dell proves to be a perceptive narrator who provides illuminating insight on what has transpired in the years since that fateful event.

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The Red House
By Mark Haddon
After his breakout hit, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Haddon experienced a sophomore slump with A Spot of Bother. No matter: The Red House is his best novel yet. Compassionate and wise, his latest follows a brother and sister who, upon the deaths of their parents, come together after years of estrangement. Even though the narrative perspective changes nearly every paragraph, Haddon holds it all together in a wholly enjoyable novel about the secrets within families.

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The Next Best Thing
By Jennifer Weiner
Chick-lit fans rejoice! The mega-bestselling author of Good in Bed and In Her Shoes is back with another juicy story inside the Hollywood machine. Weiner puts her TV-producer credentials to good use in a fast-paced novel about a sitcom writer who lands her first original series, and the many complications that ensue. Though not likely to win any lit awards, it's certain to satisfy scores of hungry readers.

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By Elie Wiesel
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has always demonstrated enormous compassion and humanity. In his haunting latest, memory and storytelling combine beautifully, as the protagonist, held hostage for 80 hours, struggles to understand the motives of his captors. Trenchantly political and deeply philosophical, Hostage shows that the octogenarian author still has remarkable gifts.


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Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox
By Lois Banner
The fascination with Marilyn Monroe has continued unabated since her death in 1962. Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of her death, Lois Banner's biography provides a sensible, sympathetic appraisal of the famous sex symbol. The author also examines each of the theories about her death, offering no smoking guns but providing enough context for readers to make their own judgments.

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As Texas Goes...: How the Lonestar State Hijacked the American Agenda
By Gail Collins
The New York Times columnist directs her witty insight toward America's second-biggest state, which has shaped a disproportionate amount of the national agenda over the past few decades. With a wealth of damning facts — Texas is first in carbon dioxide emissions, 45th in SAT scores, and 49th in the percentage of low-income people covered by Medicaid — Collins explains why this trend is such a problem. At least Texas gov. Rick Perry's inability to articulate coherent thoughts spared us the nightmare of a Perry presidential administration.

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Life After Death
By Damien Echols
Blue Rider Press
One of the infamous West Memphis Three, the three boys convicted of a vicious triple murder in 1993, Echols was released from prison in 2011. Though his story can be seen in the HBO documentary Paradise Lost, his memoir is a genuine work of art, a moving, sensitive tale of justice gone awry. Echols may have spent nearly half his life behind bars, but he has emerged with a remarkable story expertly told.

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Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America
By Jonathan Kozol
While Mitt Romney may not be concerned about the very poor, thankfully social psychologist and activist Jonathan Kozol is — and has been for nearly 50 years. Five decades after his landmark book, Death at an Early Age, the author returns to the subject of children and poverty. Kozol follows up on the lives of the poor Bronx-based children, mostly black and Latino, he met more than 25 years ago, chronicling their highs and lows over the years in his trademark clear-eyed, compassionate style.

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Barack Obama: The Story
By David Maraniss
Simon & Schuster
As we gear up for what will certainly be a contentious presidential campaign, acclaimed biographer Maraniss offers an exhaustive survey of Obama's intriguing genealogy — birthers, take note: he was in fact born in the United States. Respectful but not hagiographic, the book provides much-needed historical background and perspective on the current president, who will face a tough battle for a second term this fall.

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Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
By D.T. Max
Whether you've actually read his masterpiece, Infinite Jest, or just claim you have, there's no denying the brilliance of the late David Foster Wallace, an ambitious, inventive writer. In this compulsively readable biography, New Yorker staff writer D.T. Max expertly interweaves Wallace's turbulent life story with critical assessments of his novels, short stories, and essay collections. It's a revealing glimpse of the meticulous method behind the madness.

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Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World
By Boris Johnson
Celebrate the Summer Olympics in London with this quirky, highly informative history/tour of the host city, written by the mayor. Johnson, a trained journalist who used to serve as the editor-in-chief of The Spectator, roves through the history of arguably the world's most cosmopolitan city, discussing everyone from Winston Churchill to Keith Richards.

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Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter
By Steven Rinella
Spiegel & Grau
Organic food and local sourcing are all the rage these days, and Rinella is one of the most back-to-the-earth people you're likely to find. In 2010, he hosted The Wild Within on the Travel Channel, and this book, following 2008's American Buffalo, recounts his adventures in the wild hunting big game. It's a paean to the outdoors as well as an engaging memoir about his love for hunting and experiencing nature at its rawest. You can't get more organic than killing it yourself and eating it on the spot.

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Yes, Chef
By Marcus Samuelsson
Random House
You've seen him on Top Chef, Iron Chef, and Chopped. If you're lucky, you've eaten in his award-winning Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster. Samuelsson's memoir introduces us to the man behind the innovative dishes as he chronicles his difficult time in an orphanage in his native Ethiopia, his rise through the restaurant ranks, and his apotheosis as a celebrity chef and his choice as the chef for the White House State Dinner following President Obama's inauguration.

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The Dangerous Animals Club
By Stephen Tobolowsky
Simon & Schuster
Ned! Ned Ryerson! If that snippet of dialogue rings a bell, then you're familiar with Stephen Tobolowsky, the character actor who may be best known for his brief role in the Bill Murray vehicle, Groundhog Day. In this memoir/essay collection, Tobolowsky demonstrates his contemplative side, touching on everything from his childhood to his dozens of roles in a wide variety of films and TV shows.


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