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Summer must-reads: Family secrets, sci-fi and buried history

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Summer reading recommendations.
Summer reading recommendations.
Courtesy of publishers

The sun is out! The only thing to do is post up in a shady spot and disappear into good a book.

MPR News host Kerri Miller joined MPR's Stephanie Curtis and Tracy Mumford to share their favorites — so far — for their summer reading lists.

Summer must-reads

'The Best Bad Things' by Katrina Carrasco

"I haven't read a novel like this in I don't know how long ... It features this fascinating female character. She's a woman in a 19th century Northwestern frontier town. She dresses like a man or a woman, as needs be. She gets hooked up with the organized crime element of the town. She's investigating, but she's also trying to profit from the opium trade." — Kerri Miller

 'Inland' by Téa Obreht

Téa Obreht has kept everyone waiting since her 2011 debut, "The Tiger's Wife," which was widely celebrated. Her new novel is a kind of ghost-story-meets-Western, inspired by a trip Obreht took to Arizona.

'The Other Americans' by Laila Lalami

"It's about the hit-and-run death of a Moroccan immigrant in the California desert and the way that his family reels back and rewinds the tape about his arrival in America. ... It takes you from the moment of the crime back through the origin story of the family in America." — Kerri Miller

 'The Testaments' by Margaret Atwood

The long-awaited follow-up to "The Handmaid's Tale" arrives in early September, finally offering some answers about the fate of Offred.

 'Consent' by Donna Freitas

"Consent" is an unnerving memoir about Donna Freitas' experience with a professor who became obsessed with her.

"He became enamored of her and would not let it go. He was in his 60s, she was in her 20s. ... He starts writing her letters every day, he starts calling her family and getting to know her mother ... It is harrowing. It's just a great book." — Stephanie Curtis

 'Recursion' by Blake Crouch

The sci-fi master of head games returns with another one. Blake Crouch's new novel follows a detective who is called to the edge of a building where a woman is going to jump. She tells him: "I have false memory syndrome."

"People are suddenly waking up and remembering another life that has run parallel to the one that they're living, and one is in all color, and one is faded, in black and white, but they both feel real. Suddenly people have memories of a spouse or career that they never had ... It ends up that it is something that's happening because of a neuroscientist named Helena, who has invented kind of a time machine ... I ignored my family so I could just get through the book, I wanted to know what was happening." — Stephanie Curtis

 'The Nickel Boys' by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead's latest revisits the brutal reform schools for young black men that existed in the Jim Crow-era South. 

The novel is "an imagining of what it would be like to survive in that. It's about a survivor and what his life is like, and how he pieces together a life in 1970s and 1980s New York, while trying to hide his past, and he doesn't want to deal with it, because he doesn't want to tell this story. He wants to be a new person. It is brief, it is harrowing." — Stephanie Curtis

'Underland: A Deep Time Journey' by Robert Macfarlane

The legendary nature writer winds through caves, ice caps, catacombs and more in his latest.

"It will make you want to tour the world and see new places. It is just beautiful." — Stephanie Curtis

'Orange World and Other Stories' by Karen Russell  

The celebrated short story writer returns with her newest collection, and it promises to be weird in all the best ways. Just as a sample, you can try Bog Girl, where a man falls in love with the 2,000-year-old woman discovered preserved in a peat bog.

'The Tenth Muse' by Catherine Chung

Mathematics meet tangled family histories in Catherine Chung's intimate, staggering story. It follows a woman focused on solving an unsolvable mathematical hypothesis, while uncovering the secrets of her own parents.

'Furious Hours' by Casey Cep

Harper Lee played a role researching Truman Capote's true crime classic "In Cold Blood." (Not that he gave her credit.) And in Casey Cep's new book, we see how she tried to pursue a true crime story of her own. She returned to Alabama from New York to unravel the story of a preacher who appeared to be killing his family members for the insurance money. Then, the preacher himself was killed. "Furious Hours" dives into the crime, but also the year Lee spent researching the story — though she never ended up writing a book on it.

'Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board' by Vince Houghton

Vince Houghton is the historian at the International Spy Museum, and in "Nuking the Moon," he lays out some of the most bizarre plans that military and intelligence services around the world have cooked up — and thankfully not put into action. Those plans include, yes, nuking the moon. That was the Air Force's idea back in the 1950s, to bomb the moon as a show of strength. There's also plans to use cats as spies, bats as spies, and to build tunnels where you probably shouldn't. Considering that Norway recently found beluga whales wearing Russian-made harnesses, possibly indicating the whales were being trained for missions, the plans in these books are not as unrealistic as you might hope.

Later this summer, MPR's book crew will regroup to assess their summer reading and add new books to the list.

What's on your summer reading list?