I’m as immediate-gratification as the next guy. I hate waiting for much of anything, particularly books. But I’m also, as I explained last year, an advocate for pre-ordering books.

I take my book recommendations seriously, and there are four books out within weeks of each other this summer about which I am inordinately excited, which I know readers will love (I’m lucky enough to have already read three of them).

So here’s the 2012 money-back guarantee: Preorder any one (or all) of these books. When you get it, read it. If you don’t like it, let me know, and I’ll buy you a new book. All I ask is that you donate the one you purchased to a local library or charitable organization. Or give it to a person you think will like it more than you did.

I’m a big fan of supporting independent businesses, too, and if you’re so inclined, it’s important to remember that authors—even the ones who are very successful—are akin to family businesses, too. They create their books with the support of those around them, and their stories travel to readers most often through recommendations, that all-important word-of-mouth. So when you preorder a book, you are supporting the author in an entirely tangible fashion.

I do understand that we’re all on a budget nowadays; none of us has money to burn. So if preordering isn’t practical for you, I hope you’ll request some or all of these titles from your local library. Here are this year’s eligible books, in order of their release:

NEVER TELL by Alafair Burke (June 19) 
Alafair Burke’s NEVER TELL marks the return of NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, following last year’s amazing stand-alone, LONG GONE. Ellie and her partner, JJ Rogan, are called to a palatial apartment where a sixteen year-old girl is dead. Her mother insists she was murdered, but Ellie is certain they’re investigating a suicide. As they learn more about the dead girl and her privileged life, nothing is what it first appears.

I was excited for Ellie’s return—she’s one of my favorite series characters—but I wasn’t expecting the book to be this good. Don’t get me wrong—I was sure I’d enjoy it—but this is easily one of the finest police procedurals I’ve ever read, and I don’t say that lightly. In addition to the cop/crime elements, NEVER TELL recalled for me stories by everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemingway to Mark Twain, all in a storytelling voice that is Burke’s very own.

Preorder NEVER TELL:        
Author’s website: www.alafairburke.com

HEARTBROKEN by Lisa Unger (June 26) 
As much as HEARTBROKEN is the story of three women—each compelling in her own right—it is also about the people and places around them. I wouldn’t call this one crime fiction, although crimes are committed, so much as it is a story of the very nature of humans, how we love and hurt those around us. The story that follows Emily, Kate and Birdie on wildly divergent yet ultimately similar paths is as haunting as any I’ve read.

I have recommended Lisa Unger’s books to many people, and each has thanked me effusively and proceeded to read everything she’s ever written and recommend her to friends and family. She’s just that kind of storyteller; she creates worlds that grab you full-force and don’t let go until long after you’ve turned the last page. If you need another reason to read HEARTBROKEN, another of my favorite characters, Jones Cooper, does make an appearance in the story!

Preorder HEARTBROKEN:          
Author’s website: www.lisaunger.com

ONLY ONE LIFE by Sara Blaedel (August) 
The opening scene in ONLY ONE LIFE takes place on the bank of an inlet beside a forest, near a small town about an hour outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. When detective Louise Rick arrives at the scene, she finds a teenage girl dead, pulled from the water with a paving slab tied around her. This is a high-profile, high-priority case, not least because it looks like it could be an honor killing. As Louise gets to know the victim, though, she quickly realizes that finding this murderer, and understanding the victim’s world, will be anything but simple.

I consider myself fairly well up on the news, but before I read ONLY ONE LIFE, I didn’t know what an honor killing is. If you’re like me: An honor killing is a murder of vengeance committed by male family members against female family members who are believed to have brought dishonor upon the family. Honor killing is most prevalent in Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures. Denmark has had several honor killing cases—one in which nine members of a family were sent to prison—and there have been several in Canada, but if it happens in the US, I’ve never seen it reported. The grace and cultural insight that pervades ONLY ONE LIFE is astounding. And in addition to this, it’s a fantastic, quick moving story, which is much more Ed McBain than Steig Larsson (if you know me, you know just how much of a compliment this is!).

Preorder ONLY ONE LIFE:         
Author’s website: www.sarablaedel.com

CRIMINAL by Karin Slaughter (July 3) 
UPDATE: Since writing this, I have received and devoured a copy of CRIMINAL. Readers know Karin Slaughter is a master, and as such, we don’t really expect her to get ever better, but with this book, she does. It is not just an amazing crime fiction story, but is one of the best works of fiction of any sort that I’ve ever read.

I haven’t yet read CRIMINAL, but I know it belongs on this list because Karin Slaughter never lets her readers down. Here’s the description from the publisher’s catalog:

Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who’s beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom why. The origins of the answer lies forty years earlier, the year Will was born, at a time when Amanda Wagner took her first steps in the boys’ club that is the Atlanta Police Department. Now the case that launched Amanda’s career has suddenly come back to life, and it is intertwined with the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. And they will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed. 

I get excited about every new Karin Slaughter title, but this one has me particularly keyed up because I just adore Will Trent. He’s a hero, for sure, but he has moments of imperfection and flaws that keep him as far from one-dimensional as you can get. His relationship with Amanda is one that I’ve wondered about in previous books, and I can’t wait to get to know her better. I also enjoy books that travel back in a character’s life, when this traveling is in the hands of a master like Karin Slaughter.

Preorder CRIMINAL:         
Author’s website: www.karinslaughter.com

So there you have it. Four books. One summer. Preorder one or all of them. I promise you’ll love each, and that you’ll be a better reader for having met these characters and traveled roads with them.

Parts of this post are subject to my disclosure notes, which you can find here.