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Originally published Sunday, June 15, 2014 at 8:06 AM

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Summer reading: myth, mystery and athletic triumph

Ready for summer? Here’s a list of paperback titles calling you to the beach or backyard, including the J.K. Rowling mystery “The Cuckoo’s Calling” and the story of Seattle’s triumphant Olympic rowers, “The Boys in the Boat.”

Seattle Times book editor


Lit Life

Summer is almost here, and that meansreaders who prefer their books in paperback will start combing the shelves for that special title that will make a long plane ride short, a beach morning blissful or a backyard afternoon endless.

Here’s a list of a half dozen recently published paperbacks — three fiction, three nonfiction — that may fill that bill. They download well, too:


“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman(Morrow, $14.99). A novella by Gaiman, a ridiculously talented author and artist. A man in his 40s looks back at a series of very odd events that he witnessed when he was 7 and living on a Sussex farm. It’s a fairy tale for grown-ups, an eerie mashup of myth and magic, horror and wonder, humanity and humor.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland Books,$18). By now the reading public knows that Galbraith is a pseudonym for “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who showed her versatility in this suspenseful, character-driven mystery about a British military veteran turned private eye with the delicious name of Cormoran Strike. Strike becomes entangled in the death of a famous model with a lot of secrets, and Rowling, who knows the perils of the celebrity culture, exposes it from the inside out.

“The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin, $17). I did not take to Gilbert’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” but this book is entirely different. Set in the 18th and 19th centuries, it tells the story of Alma Whittaker, a brilliant young botanist whose thirst for knowledge and adventure ably compensate for her gloomy love life. If you love plants, you will love this book. “Flinty, funny and incandescent,” said the New Yorker. Available June 24.


“The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945” by Rick Atkinson (Picador, $20). Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, which covers World War II from the Allied-Axis conflict in Africa to the final campaign, has become must reading for those seriously interested in the epic struggle. The first installment, “An Army at Dawn,” won the Pulitzer Prize for history. “Guns,” Volume 3, covers D-Day and the final, brutal campaign to liberate Europe.

“The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown (Penguin, $17). By now, surely you have heard of this breathtaking true story of the University of Washington’s eight-man varsity crew, which came out of nowhere to vanquish Hitler’s hand-picked team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You haven’t? You’re in for a treat.

“Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II” by Mitchell Zuckoff(HarperPerennial, $15.99). The Arctic disaster book of the summer, at least in paperback. It’s the gripping story of a series of airplane crashes in Greenland during World War II. The first round involved airplanes flying the Snowball Route, the path for American planes being flown to Britain. The second round followed, with planes that crashed during rescue attempts. The third part of the story involves Zuckoff’s modern-day quest to locate the remains of airmen who didn’t make it out.

Sad news: Seattle book people are mourning the loss of Valerie Jean Ryan, a longtime bookseller who passed away on May 29. A Seattle native and graduate of Holy Names and Seattle University, she owned bookstores both in Seattle and Cannon Beach, Ore., her hometown for many years.

Valerie reviewed books for The Seattle Times, and there was never anyone more passionately involved in everything about books. I will miss her humor, our conversations, and even our spirited debates about my editing. One of her last reviews for us ran Feb. 23 and raved about the novel “Lion Heart” by Justin Cartwright, just one of many writers I might never have heard of but for Valerie.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or Gwinn appears every Tuesday on TVW’s “Well Read,” discussing books with host Terry Tazioli (go to for archived episodes). On Twitter @gwinnma.

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