Outdoor concerts, movies in the park and a festival for everything from ribs to blues to craft beer. Summer in Chicago is so action-packed, it's easy to forget that the season is also about slowing down and enjoying some R&R. Our thinking: Why face the crowds to hear yet another cover band or wait in a long line for an overpriced pretzel, when you could carve out some solitude and read?
We rounded up some just-released and forthcoming books that offer the same benefits as a summer outing: entertainment, discovery and a much-needed escape. Whether it's a light read, a chilling mystery or an absorbing debut novel, the following selections prove that you don't have to leave your armchair — or beach chair — to get away from it all.
As spine-tingling as a night stroll through Graceland Cemetery
Rife with political symbolism, this genre-bending thriller imagines an alternate world where humans and werewolves (or lycans) coexist — albeit not peacefully. For centuries the lycans have been treated as second-class citizens, until a growing number of them initiate an uprising. Terrifying and tense.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
June 4, Mulholland, 384 pages, $26
If you like your crime fiction with a side of history and some paranormal activity, then you'll want to pick up this much-buzzed-about novel of a time-traveling serial killer from Depression-era Chicago. Then you'll want to put it down for a sec, because it's utterly chilling, but you won't be able to. The carefully plotted page-turner holds you in its icy grip.
King sets his latest thriller in a small-town amusement park. (How's that for summery?) There, a college-kid-turned-carny must confront a horrific murder. (How's that for scary?) This is the writer's second book for the pulp-style crime imprint.
After taking a raft out on the bay with a friend, a semi-conscious 15-year-old girl is found washed up in the weeds along the waterfront in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Pochoda ("The Art of Disappearing") uses this event and resulting investigation to explore community members' hopes, fears and biases. The novel is buoyed by well-fleshed-out characters and eerie atmosphere.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Aug 20, Random House, 624 pages, $28
Pessl's first book since the wildly popular "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" is a psychological suspense thriller. An investigative journalist examines the apparent suicide of a young woman whom he discovers is the daughter of a cult-horror film director: the reclusive (and brilliantly named) Stanislas Cordova.
As funny as the Just for Laughs festival
I'll Seize the Day Tomorrow by Jonathan Goldstein
Available now, Pintail, 256 pages, $16
Deadpan, but heartfelt musings from the host of the CBC radio show "WireTap" on everything from the much-maligned McRib to toy poodles to his thoughts on turning 40 sans wife/kid/cars/house.
You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me by Nathan Rabin
June 11, Scribner, 272 pages, $16
The memoirist and former head writer for The A.V. Club spent time exploring two of the music world's most despised subcultures: Juggalos (the Faygo-drinking, face-paint–wearing fans of Insane Clown Posse) and Phish-heads (the hippie-dippie groupies of jam band, Phish). Poised to hate what he might learn about these communities, Rabin — spoiler alert! — ends up learning some things about himself in the process.
If you'd rather not dive into something too deep, pick this debut novel. As teenagers, friends promised each other they'd never leave their lakeside town, and yet one took off for Hollywood. Years later, she finds her way home to make peace with her past.
No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey
June 13, Amy Einhorn, 288 pages, $25.95
Lucy Lovett, a middle-aged woman living large in London, finds herself thrown off her game when her husband loses his job and they're forced to relocate to New York City. This rocky transition leads to new friendships and a new lease on life.
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
July 16, Ballantine, 304 pages, $26
You can probably guess this novel is about family. The follow-up to "The Wednesday Sisters" follows three daughters who grapple with dreams and doubts from a cottage in England's idyllic Lake District.
As lively (or dysfunction-filled) as a family reunion
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Available now, Riverhead, 416 pages, $28.95
Families, and how the choices family members make affect one another, informs Hosseini's latest novel. The perfect book to discuss at your next get-together with mom, dad, cousins or in-laws.
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
June 4, Harper, 384 pages, $26.99
The author of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" revisits complicated family relationships, but instead of deadly violence, this time, she takes on the topic of obesity. Shriver doesn't specialize in light reads.
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
June 11, Knopf, 400 pages, $26.95
Spanning nearly a century and chronicling four distinct marriages, this novel is the latest relationship saga from the best-selling author of "Commencement" and "Maine."
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
June 18, Soho Press, 312 pages, $25
Poised to raise a family but unable to, a married couple's relationship becomes defined by lack. The wife — once able to sing objects into being (her vocals were that good) — now sings down the stars. A deeply affecting, wildly inventive fable on parenthood and loss.
Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
June 25, Random House, 416 pages, $27
The author of "American Wife" and "Prep" returns with a story about twin sisters with innate psychic abilities. One sister learns how to maximize her talents and help others; the other chooses to suppress her talents. Until …
As transporting as a flight out of O'Hare
Love Is Power, or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett
Available now, Graywolf Press, 176 pages, $15
A nervy and engrossing collection of stories set in present-day Nigeria. Barrett has a distinctive voice and vividly captures the restless energy of Lagos, one of the world's fastest-growing cities.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Available now, Hogarth, 400 pages, $26
Set in violence-plagued Chechnya — recently the subject of much media attention following the Boston Marathon bombings — this intricate book recounts heartbreaking events: wars, beatings, torture and other trauma. Even while braiding together stories of strife, Marra manages to leaven the intensity with humor. The result is a first novel that no one can really believe is a first novel.
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt
Available now, Penguin, 304 pages, $26.95
Holt's debut novel follows a Washington, D.C.-based college grad's quest to reunite with her childhood friend in Moscow — a friend she'd been estranged from, then presumed was dead. The novel probes Cold War rhetoric, long-kept secrets, identity and abandonment.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
June 4, Riverhead, 400 pages, $27.95
Sex. Money. Class. Horses. DiSclafani's debut is a secret-strewn, Depression-era novel that trots out a lot of themes. After a family tragedy in which she played a role, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is banished to an equestrienne boarding school nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
June 4, Random House, 305 pages, $27
The National Book Award–winning author of "Let the Great World Spin" crafts an ocean-spanning epic that also leaps through time. Not everyone could so smoothly navigate such an intricate plot. See page 10 for more.
Byzantium by Ben Stroud
July 23, Graywolf Press, 192 pages, $15
There's a lot of jumping from one time period/place to another in this year's summer releases, and Stroud's imaginative story collection is no exception, leap-frogging from Berlin to Havana to ancient cities and fallen empires.
All the Land to Hold Us by Rick Bass
Aug. 13, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 336 pages, $25
Continuing his fascination with huge, harsh landscapes, Bass places his fourth novel in a small Texas town and populates it with salt miners, football players, a one-legged treasure-hunter — you know, all the usual Lone Star State suspects.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
Aug. 27, Knopf, 256 pages, $25.95
The latest from the gifted storyteller ("Krik?Krak!") is the wrenching tale of Claire — a young girl kidnapped from a small seaside town in Haiti — and the townspeople who go looking for her.
As informative as a day at the museum
The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko
Available now, Scribner, 432 pages, $30
Fedarko, a part-time river guide, tells the amazing story of the fastest boat ride ever down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1983. Hint: It was made possible by massive, El Niño–caused snowmelt.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 448 pages, $27
Comprised of individual stories — including a factory worker in the Rust Belt, a billionaire in Silicon Valley and a Washington insider — Packer's narrative offers a wholly original (if disturbing) portrait of the state of American democracy.
Chicago By Day and Night: The Pleasure-Seeker's Guide to the Paris of America edited by Paul Durica and Bill Savage
Available now, Northwestern University Press, 304 pages, $16.95
Originally created for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and distributed to visitors who sought fun — both respectable and reckless — in the Windy City, this unofficial guide (with new annotations by the editors) is an entertaining read.
Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm
Available now, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pages, $27
Swimming with inspired essays on writers, painters, photographers and critics, this inspired collection is the perfect accompaniment to a lazy day at the beach.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
June 4, Viking, 432 pages, $28.95
Another Depression-era story (a summer theme?), this true story is an uplifting read that will appeal to fans of Laura Hillenbrand and Erik Larson. The members of the 1936 men's crew team at the University of Washington weren't raised to be elite athletes; these working-class boys worked for it.
As mesmerizing as the fireworks finale at Navy Pier (a.k.a. our favorites)
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Available now, Knopf, 496 pages, $26.95
The latest novel by the award-winning author of "Half of a Yellow Sun" is a powerful love story that spans three continents — Nigeria, England and the United States — and tackles race, identity, politics and community. Sound ambitious? It is. Also dazzling.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
June 18, William Morrow, 192 pages, $25.99
Gaiman's much-hyped new novel (his first book for adults since 2005's "Anasi Boys") mines childhood experiences and myths. An anonymous narrator returns to his hometown of Sussex, England, and finds himself inexplicably drawn to a farmhouse and near where he grew up. This stirs up memories of terrifying confrontations with evil he had at age 7.
Don't Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter
July 2, FSG Originals, 192 pages, $14
The word "unflinching" makes its way into many a back-cover blurb, but few writers are as unflinching as Hunter. "At breakfast my kid practices his ABCs and barfs into his cereal bowl just before Q" begins one story in her fearless, fiercely original collection. Her stories move along at a fast clip and end before you want them to. Just like Chicago summer.
Laura Pearson is a Chicago-based journalist specializing in arts and culture reporting.