Some of this summer’s most interesting books will pull at your heartstrings and pull you across time and space — from Beijing today to 1930s Manhattan to planet Earth in the year 2044. And that’s just for starters. Here are nine of the August 2011 titles that are drawing the most enthusiastic thumbs-up from the editors at Amazon.com. – Monitor Staff
1. “The Magician King,” by Lev Grossman
A follow-up to “The Magicians,” Grossman’s runaway hit of 2009, “The Magician King” is a grown-up tale for adult “Harry Potter” fans. Quentin and Julia are now the king and queen of Fillory, a magical kingdom, but a spell of boredom and thirst for adventure backfires and the two are dumped back in the real world with Quentin’s parents. The duo must use every magical trick in the book to escape the doldrums of real life in this epic fantasy novel.
2. “The Submission,” by Amy Waldman
In “The Submission,” novelist Amy Waldman takes us to the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as a jury convenes to reveal the identity of the anonymous winner of a design contest for a memorial for the victims. The architect turns out to a be Muslim, sparking a conflict that rages across the nation and forces Americans to question their perspectives on grief, art, Islam and forgiveness.
3. “Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future,” by Tom Scocca
With China as a rising global power, its capital city and cultural center, Beijing, is poised to become a cosmopolitan city to rival New York and London. In “Beijing Welcomes You,” New York Observer columnist Tom Scocca talks to everyone from the scientists working on changing the weather to the architects constructing the new metropolis to create a portrait of the city as it is now, and as it will be in the future.
4. “The Family Fang,” by Kevin Wilson
Growing up with a pair of performance artists as parents is hard. But Buster and Annie managed to survive and finally to escape their parents’ antics. When their young adult lives come tumbling down, however, they have no chance but to return home — only to find themselves in the midst of their parents’ biggest performance art piece yet when they disappear from an interstate rest stop. In “The Family Fang,” debut novelist Kevin Wilson keeps the reader guessing as to how Buster and Annie will deal with their mom and dad’s “Royal Tenenbaums”-esque antics — and whether the Fangs will ever decide to put the art away and focus on family.
5. “Rules of Civility,” by Amor Towles
Debut novel “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles offers a snapshot look at one year in the life of Katey Kontent, an aspiring 1930s socialite. Working her way up from secretary to magazine protégé through a serious of flirtations and chance encounters, Katey provides a Gatsby-esqe window into the darker currents running under the shiny, beautiful lives of the rich and famous.
6. “Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science,” by Marjorie Caroline Malley
“Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science” is a book is for anyone who’s ever been intrigued by this illusive field of research — PhD in science not required. Scientist and educator Marjorie C. Malley presents the history of radioactivity in this fascinating and snappy overview, dwelling on the philosophical issues associated with the field as well as the applications of radioactivity to a broad range of scientific issues.
7. “The Leftovers,” by Tom Perrotta
In a post-“Rapture”-esque world, novelist Tom Perrotta imagines how the lives of the citizens of the fictional Mapleton would go on after many of their friends and family vanished in an event called the “Sudden Departure.” Some join cults, some rebel and still others try to repair the torn fabric of their community in “The Leftovers,” a startling examination of love and loss.
8. “Ready Player One,” by Ernest Cline
In his wild and wacky debut novel “Ready Player One,” “Fanboys” screenwriter Ernest Cline peers into the dystopic future to imagine Earth in 2044 as a depressing place, with most of its citizens spending their days hooked into OASIS, a virtual world with endless possibilities and tens of thousands of planets to explore. Nothing seems likely to change much until Wade Watts discovers the first of a series of puzzlers hidden in the game by its creator, leading to a lottery ticket of sorts that promises prestige and power. Soon thousands of players are hot on his tail, and ready to extend their power struggle into the real world.
9. “Girls in White Dresses,” by Jennifer Close
Isabella, Mary and Lauren feel like all their friends are getting married. They spend weekend after weekend at bridal showers and weddings, all the while struggling with the messes that are their own lives — including demanding bosses and ridiculous boyfriends. While everyone else in “Girls in White Dresses” seems to have the perfect job and the perfect boyfriend, these three are just coming to terms with what it means to be an adult in this wry and hilarious novel.