Try to forget this set-up: A man hunting in North Dakota accidentally shoots and kills his neighbor’s 5-year-old son. He turns to an ancient practice of retribution and decides to give his own son, 5-year-old LaRose, to the grieving parents. Louise Erdrich’s “LaRose” (Harper) is an absorbing story of the boy’s life and his role in the grief, loss and reconciliation of the two families.
In Ali Eteraz’ “Native Believer” (Akashic Books) the narrator, M., a second-generation immigrant and secular Muslim, watches his life disassemble after his boss finds a Quran in his home. It’s a dark comedy set in Philadelphia with pitch-perfect tone.
Kentuckian C.E. Morgan mines her state’s equestrian heritage for “Sport of Kings” (FSG). It’s a story of horse racing and breeding but also one of racism, family and the legacy of slavery. At its center lies an ambitious new farmhand, the powerful Forge family and a thoroughbred named Hellsmouth.
For the foodies out there, there’s “Sweetbitter” (Knopf), the debut novel from former waitress Stephanie Danler. She couples the self-discovery of young adulthood in New York with a culinary awakening that her protagonist finds as a server in a Manhattan restaurant. Food, wine and love triangles ensue.
Thanks to the success of “The Girl on the Train” and “Gone Girl,” we have another round of novels whose titles suggest that the book harbors something universal about young women.
“The Girls” (Penguin) is making the most waves, having earned Emma Cline a reported $2 million advance in 2014. And the 27-year-old’s debut novel delivers. Lonely 14-year-old Evie Boyd falls in with a cadre of older girls in late-’60s Northern California. But it’s a circle led by a charismatic Charles Manson stand-in, and an infamous act of violence looms.
“Girls on Fire” (Harper) takes readers to Pennsylvania in 1991, where the disappearance of a high-school basketball star brings out fears of satanic cults and devil worship. It shares the theme of obsessive female friendship with “The Girls,” but author Robin Wasserman also captures an era of Doc Martens and Kurt Cobain that more readers will remember.
And with “American Girls” (Flatiron Books) Alison Umminger wrote the young-adult version of “The Girls”: Anna, 15, runs away to Los Angeles to live with her half-sister, and there becomes engrossed in a research project about — wait for it — the Manson girls.
Read them all together and you might be left wondering if the girls are all right.
Of course summer wouldn’t be complete without a new romance novel. Midlothian writer Cathy Maxwell has “The Fairest of Them All” (Avon) for your beach-reading pleasures. There are marriage-material dukes, dashing twin brothers, ladies disguised in boys’ clothing, and modern dialogue set in the Austen era.
For all the young and young-at-heart, local young-adult authors are keeping busy. Jaime Reed’s “Keep Me in Mind” (Scholastic) is a tale of amnesia and high-school love told from both teens’ perspectives. It’s Virginia native and Virginia Commonwealth University grad Reed’s first foray into the non-paranormal.
“Traitor Angels” (Balzer and Bray) is Dan Brown-esque historical fiction in which the plucky young daughter of John Milton must unravel the secrets of her father’s poems to save him. She finds herself on a treasure hunt with a mysterious Italian teen, and her thoughts turn un-Puritanical rather quickly. Author Anne Blankman recently moved to Richmond.
In “Burn Baby Burn” (Candlewick Press), Richmond resident Meg Medina sets her story in 1977 New York, a perennial favorite of writers. Blackouts, arson and the Son of Sam are the backdrop to 17-year-old Nora Lopez’ summer of family drama and teen romance.
If you prefer to keep your summer vacation serious, there’s some local nonfiction to help you with that.
Richmond resident Joshua R. LeHuray’s “Virginians Will Dance or Die!” (McFarland and Co.) is on the lighter end of the spectrum, and his account of musical adventures in the pre-Revolutionary capital will make you want to take that tour of the governor’s mansion at Colonial Williamsburg again.
Local publisher Belle Isle Books releases “One Leaf in Time,” a memoir by Northern Neck resident Sylvia Churchill Prince, who grew up in China, and with her family was interred by occupying Japanese forces during World War II.
“When the Fences Come Down” (UNC Press) may not be for the casual summer reader. But Virginia Commonwealth University professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley’s research on school segregation, desegregation and elusive integration in four Southern cities, including Richmond, is a must-read for those paying attention to local public schools.
And if your summer leisure involves the Shenandoah or another national park, take along a copy of Terry Tempest Williams’ “The Hour of Land” (Sarah Crichton Books) It’s a poetic celebration of the National Parks System’s centennial, a collection of essays, part memoir, part ecological history from one of America’s best environmental writers. S