Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

From My Shelf

Imagining (and Re-Imagining) Sherlock Holmes

There are just 56 short stories and four novels in the original Sherlock Holmes canon--a wealth of excellent, engrossing literature on the one hand, and not nearly enough to sustain a lifetime of Holmesian entertainment on the other. So it is perhaps not surprising that authors have repeatedly taken up the character of Sherlock in new and intriguing ways.

In The Whole Art of Detection, Lyndsay Faye captures the style, tone and approach that made the original Doyle stories so enduringly captivating across 15 short stories. (Her novel Dust and Shadow also features Holmes, imagining how he might have approached the Jack the Ripper mystery.) Sherry Thomas takes the reimagining a bit further in A Study in Scarlet Women, the first in a new series of novels in which Holmes is actually Miss Charlotte Holmes, a less-than-traditional Victorian woman assisted in her escapades by Mrs. Watson--widow of Mr. John Watson.

Across two anthologies, Sherlock experts and enthusiasts Laurie King and Leslie S. Klinger have collected and edited stories loosely inspired by the classic detective and his Good Doctor. Both A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes feature dozens of authors, all writing in different styles. What makes these collections such fun to read is their diversity. Over the course of a few hundred pages, readers are treated to Sherlock in the 21st century, a story written as a series of Facebook posts, an imagining of a long-lived Sherlock serving at Dunkirk in 1940.

For those looking for their next Holmesian "fix," these books all offer impressively imaginative--yet consistently true-to-character--tales of Sherlock, Watson and their many capers together. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

The Writer's Life

Ian Hamilton: Writing Down the Voices

photo: Iden Ford

Canadian author Ian Hamilton started his career as a journalist and published a nonfiction book in 1968 titled The Children's Crusade. More than 40 years later, he published his first Ava Lee novel, The Water Rat of Wanchai, about a forensic accountant; it won Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award for best first crime novel. House of Anansi Press recently published the eighth Ava Lee installment, The Princeling of Nanjing, in which Ava goes up against a corrupt governor and his powerful family.

What inspired you to write from the point of view of a Chinese-Canadian woman, someone who runs with members of organized crime?

The idea for Ava Lee came to me spontaneously, when two days out of hospital after major surgery and still heavily medicated, I sat down to write. But there were some things in play in my subconscious.
First, the character of Ava Lee is an amalgamation of my respect for strong women, my longtime interest in Chinese culture and history, and my business background. Second, she was a rejection of what I thought had become a boring stereotype in the crime/mystery/thriller genre, namely the middle-aged male detective, filled with angst, who has issues with authority, is divorced or widowed, has a drinking or drug problem, and insists on foisting his musical tastes on readers.

Her involvement with members of organized crime is incidental. When the first novel begins, she's in the debt-collection business and on the side of the greater good. The fact that her occupation as a forensic accountant brings her into contact with Triads is just part of a less than traditional, definitely non-mainstream job. She isn't judgmental about what people do for a living. She's more concerned about why they do what they do and what kind of people they are. Friendship and family are sacrosanct, and as long as people are true to her, she'll always be loyal to them.

How do you slip into her voice and keep it authentic?

I don't know where the voice came from. It was just there, and fortunately it's never left, although that's not absolute. I have an outstanding editor who pulls me back when I start to wander, which I occasionally do. And I'm careful about what I read. Nonfiction is no threat to her inner voice, but I'm deadly afraid of adopting someone else's voice and so I've avoided reading good fiction ever since Ava came into my life.

Wow. That's quite a sacrifice! Speaking of keeping her authentic, movie rights for the series have been sold and a Water Rat of Wanchai script has been written. Recent movies, namely Dr. Strange and Ghost in the Shell, have turned protagonists who are Asian in the source material into white characters. How do you feel about that?

When we sold the film and television rights, I understood that changes to the storyline would be inevitable, but there were three things I insisted should be left intact. One: Ava's sexuality [Ed. note: she's gay]. Two: her Chinese-Canadian heritage. Three: the complexity and strength of her family life. So far, so good. Although I have to add that my bias about casting would go beyond hiring a Caucasian actress to play her. I would also object to Asian actors who aren't Chinese.

The novels include subtle social commentary and glimpses into foreign cultures. What would you like most for readers to take away from the books?

Although my books are set in many foreign countries, I try not to write travelogues or lecture on cultural mores. I only write about places I've been to, and the insights I provide are typically based on things I noticed when I was there, things that obviously stuck with me. Potholes in Georgetown, Guyana. A multidenominational mosque/temple in Surabaya, Indonesia. Foul air in Beijing. The French Concession in Shanghai. Victoria Park in Hong Kong. A dogfish factory in northern Denmark. Vignettes that help illuminate the culture. And what do I want people to take away from these details? [That] we're all a bit different and we're all exactly the same.

When you sat down to write the first book, you had no plot or outline. Do you still write that way?

The short answer is no. The long answer is I do partially. I was halfway through the first novel when the idea came to me for the second. Halfway through the second, I had plot ideas for books three and four. Halfway through the third, I discovered I knew exactly how book six was going to end. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get from book three to book six, but there was a story arc.

Luckily, Ava's arc hasn't stopped developing yet. Ideas keep coming at me and her life keeps changing and growing. There are times I feel like I'm her typist rather than her creator. The latest example was when I was writing the 12th book in the series, The Goddess of Yantai. Ava comes into contact with a deeply flawed, ruined Chinese film director named Lau Lau. He's an important character in the book, but one that was just meant to pass through it. Instead, Ava finds herself quite fascinated by him, and begins to think about helping him resurrect his career. That was never my intention, but it became hers, and now he's going to play a big part in at least one more book.

In what other ways has Ava surprised you over the years?

Ava has matured and grown in ways I couldn't have imagined. In the early books, she's a bit of a lone wolf, comfortable about operating on her own with only Uncle's distant presence as a safety net. Her approach to her family and her love life is similarly singular.

But as the books progress, she becomes enmeshed in a constantly expanding circle of friends, family and lovers. Instead of acting solo, she more often finds herself as part of a team. She still leads, but the context of what she's tackling is broader, and she needs to bring others along with her.

You've said you're not afraid to try anything. What's one of the best things you've taken a leap of faith on, and the worst?

I'm sorry if it sounds trite, but sitting down to write the first Ava Lee book was absolutely the best thing I've ever done. I did it with no notion of ever being published, or of going beyond a single book. All I wanted to do was prove to myself that I could write one book, one good story. Everything that's happened since is remarkable.

The worst thing? I bought a fish plant in Trinidad that turned out to be a financial disaster. I still cringe when I think about it. But, forever the optimist, one day I might be able to turn it into a good story.  

What would you still like to try someday?

What would I still like to try? My options are a bit limited by my age (71), but I'd like to get to 20 Ava Lees, maybe take a crack at a different series, and write a screenplay. And I'd like to play in the main event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Before the Fall

by Noah Hawley

Scott Burroughs is feeling fortunate when he arrives at the Martha's Vineyard airport just in time to catch a private jet. A friend, Maggie Bateman, has invited Scott to join her and her family on their flight back to New York City where Scott--a struggling painter--has meetings scheduled for a potential art show.

Maggie is married to David Bateman, a television news executive. They have two children and a bodyguard, who are also on the plane, along with another couple, Ben and Sarah Kipling. For the Batemans and the Kiplings, the company jet is commonplace. Still, Maggie expresses some concern about the weather. So when Maggie's nine-year-old daughter, Rachel, tells her mother, "It'll be fine, Mom.... It's not like they need to see to fly a plane," the stage is set for something not fine to happen. And Noah Hawley (The Good Father) doesn't disappoint. Two short chapters later, the plush jet has crashed spectacularly into the Atlantic and Scott is swimming for safety with four-year-old JJ Bateman clinging to him--the only two survivors.

"A plane crash is not simply the sum total of time line + mechanical elements + human elements. It is an incalculable tragedy, one that shows us the ultimate finiteness of human control over the universe, and the humbling power of collective death."

Hawley's skill as a screenwriter has undoubtedly spilled over into his novel writing. The breathtaking post-crash scene he crafts directs readers' imaginations in constructing a chilling scene of chaos, panic and frenzy.

"The waves are quilted with froth, not the hard triangles of children's drawings, but fractals of water, tiny waves stacking into larger ones. Out in the open water they come at [Scott] from all directions, like a pack of wolves testing his defenses. The dying fire animates them, gives them faces of sinister intent."

Then Hawley builds a psychological stage for his protagonist--"the data stream of memory is clogged with indecipherable fragments, pictures with no order, and right now [Scott] has no time to clarify anything."

Scott may not have been so lucky in his transportation choice, but his childhood interest in swimming serves him well. Against the odds, in the dead of night, he and the child make their way miles through the cold Atlantic water, reaching shore only to discover that the nightmarish odyssey Hawley has in store for them has only just begun.

As the title insinuates, Before the Fall focuses largely on the lives of all the plane's passengers prior to the fateful night. The plot alternates between backstories, the present fallout from the crash, and art. Theories about why the jet went down circulate; David Bateman's news station ignites a conspiracy theory; and Scott is dragged through the mud of a media circus because the subjects of his paintings are disasters: car collisions, train wrecks... plane crashes.

The various layers and directions of this rich plot reflect a complex story that doesn't follow a neat path. Hawley experiments with timeline or, as Scott contemplates, "what if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?"

Hawley's creative approach enables him to flesh out his dynamic characters and strong themes. Scott and JJ develop a special bond through their shared experience; both desperately desire to hide from a world that is determined to shine a spotlight on them. JJ's lack of speech--he stops talking after the crash--is as telling a characteristic as Scott's prickly wit. Both defense mechanisms are protecting the fragile innocence underneath.

The theme of what constitutes a hero is reflected in this relationship as well. Scott regularly reminds JJ that he is Scott's hero. But when the crash inspector refers to Scott as a hero for saving JJ, Scott responds doubtfully, "So because I was on the high school swim team I'm some kind of hero?" Hawley adds a more sinister and elitist twist to this theme through the highly narcissistic news anchor from David Bateman's Fox-like partisan news station--a venal amalgam of the worst of tabloid journalists. In reference to Scott he says,

"He's a fraud, I'm saying. A nobody. Muscling his way into the spotlight, playing the humble knight, when the actual heroes, the great men, are dead at the bottom of the deep blue bullsh#t. And if that's what we call a hero in two thousand fifteen, then, buddy, we're f*#ked." 

Hawley thickens this unsavory stew with Ben Kipling's impending indictment for money laundering, government surveillance that leads to outlandishly false assumptions, and income inequality that drives desperate people to desperate measures.

Profound and often humorous dialogue complements the intricate workings of a psychologically insightful examination of tragedy; the story continually builds in suspense, populated by authentic characters treading the waters of life. Before the Fall is Hawley at his best. --Jen Forbus

Grand Central Publishing, $15.99, paperback, 416p., 9781455561797

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

Noah Hawley: Claiming His Identity

photo: Leah Muse

Noah Hawley is an Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Award-winning author, screenwriter and producer. He has published four novels and penned the script for the feature film Lies and Alibis. He created, executive produced and served as showrunner for ABC's My Generation and The Unusuals and was a writer and producer on the hit series Bones. Hawley created and is executive producer, writer and showrunner on FX's award-winning series Fargo. His novel Before the Fall is now out in paperback.

You decided to give up music and try your hand at writing.

Well, writing music is also writing, but in popular music the target audience is around 14 years old. I found myself attracted to telling more complex stories for adult audiences. I had always dabbled. Both my mother and grandmother were writers. Neither had a college education, so I just assumed one claimed the identity of being a writer by declaring oneself a writer. Which I did.

What drew you to crime and thrillers?

Like a lot of young men, I started as a literary snob. But then, as even Don DeLillo has written, "all plots lead deathward." What happened to me is I started writing a novel about a professor of conspiracies whose wife is killed, and realized that for the story to earn a novel there needed to be an actual conspiracy, which required planning and plot. And then I realized how much harder it is to be a literary novelist who writes books that have a dramatic story drive. That said, in later years I had to figure out how to give these books "plot" without becoming a slave to it, otherwise in your last act your characters become agents of the plot, pulled in by its gravitational force. Instead, I found my way to writing what I call "emotional thrillers" where the most important drive in the last act is to resolve a character mystery or problem, rather than save the world.

You've written feature film scripts, television scripts, novels and music. How do the mediums compare?

Each medium is unique. For the most part, a feature film is the most linear. The clock works against you. There is less room for diversion or distraction, less room to explore character. TV, at least the 10-hour movie version I've been lucky enough to make, is a medium of exploration. You need a strong central story, but you can improvise around it, experiment with structure. A novel is similar. It is the most flexible of the mediums, because the reader does half the work, imaginations engaged. Much of the time we spend in books we spend inside a character's mind. Time can be compressed or unpacked.

Writing for television is a demanding job; where do you fit in the time to write novels?

Well, before I had kids, I was definitely a morning guy. I liked to roll out of bed and get started before I felt like my real life intruded. Now that I have kids, I don't really have that luxury. But writing for TV has trained me to write whenever, wherever, because obviously when you're running a show and they say, "Okay, from four to six you can rewrite episode five," that's when you rewrite episode five. So it's good. I wrote my last book in a restaurant, basically, on my off hours. It's a business, and it's a skill--so it's not about waiting for the muse to strike. It's about getting it done.

The idea of "hero" comes up subtly and from different perspectives throughout Before the Fall. How does Noah Hawley--son, brother, father, husband--define a hero?

There is the moral spectrum where you have a very good character on one end and a very bad character on the other. Then in the middle, there's someone who is on the fence--a sort of ordinary person who shows us that they're capable of even greater evil than the villain, on some level. That's the interesting moral dynamic, to take a character that's sort of a combination of those two people to see, well, what if we turn this paradigm into a relationship with a give and take, you know. Would they still come out? Will they do the right thing or the wrong thing? Where will they all come out? --Jen Forbus

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss, the world's first permanent museum dedicated to the life and work of Theodore Geisel, has opened in Springfield, Mass., Travel + Leisure reported.


Quirk Books showcased the rhyme and reason of "classic literature as limericks."


Pop quiz: "Can you pick the authors based on the 'B' characters?Mental Floss asked.


"Here's what the first Harry Potter Book looks like around the world," Huffington Post noted.

Book Review


House of Names

by Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín (Nora Webster) is one of fiction's greatest artists of humiliation and heartache. In The Master, he portrays a Henry James smarting from the failure of his play Guy Domville and struggling to hide his homosexuality. In Brooklyn, a young Irish woman immigrates to the U.S. in the 1950s and contends with a difficult employer and a marriage she tries to keep secret. Now, in House of Names, Tóibín turns to the myth of Agamemnon, the king who commanded forces in the Trojan War, and his wife, Clytemnestra, who was instrumental in her husband's murder.

Clytemnestra had a good reason for bearing her husband and the gods a grudge. In his zeal to win the war, Agamemnon struck a deal with the deities, who said, "Kill the innocent girl in return for a change in the wind." The girl in question is the couple's older daughter, Iphigenia. When Agamemnon allows her to be killed, the gods guarantee his victory. Now, a furious Clytemnestra wants revenge, and she recruits a prisoner who is also her lover to assist. Tóibín tells the story from the perspective of three characters: Clytemnestra; Orestes, her son, who in Tóibín's rendering grapples with feelings for his friend Leander; and her younger daughter, Electra, who along with her brother seeks retribution when she learns of their mother's scheme. If Orestes is a less engaging guide than his mother and sister, House of Names is nonetheless a memorable work about repression, human failings and the allure of vengeance. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: Colm Tóibín reimagines the Greek myth of Agamemnon, the king who sacrificed his daughter to win the Trojan War, and his bereaved wife, Clytemnestra.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9781501140211

States of Motion

by Laura Hulthen Thomas

University of Michigan creative writing teacher Laura Hulthen Thomas's debut short story collection, States of Motion, is set in southeastern Michigan in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Great Recession. These eight stories offer a portrait gallery of lives touched by some of the forces that triggered a political earthquake in the United States.

While Thomas's characters have risen from the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, in most cases something--job loss, divorce or another personal crisis--has stalled their ascent. Emblematic of that stagnation are the protagonists of "Adult Crowding" and "An Uneven Recovery." In the first, Jerrell, a construction manager turned driving instructor by the economic downturn, struggles with the burden of a mother in the latter stages of dementia. In the other, after her husband's architectural clients disappear and she loses her job as a bookkeeper for a real estate developer, Gina Arnold agrees to tend to her next-door neighbors' two elderly cats while their owners leave on vacation.

In an impressive demonstration of technique, Thomas seamlessly links "The Warding Charm" and "Lab Will Care," the stories that bookend the collection. The opener, somewhat opaque in isolation, alludes to childhood sexual abuse in the life of its protagonist, Emily. It's not until the final story that the depth of that violation is made clear when she faces her abuser.

There's nothing flashy or startling about Laura Hulthen Thomas's short fiction, but her sturdily constructed stories will appeal to a wide group of thoughtful readers. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Laura Hulthen Thomas's debut short story collection portrays a group of Michigan residents whose lives have been stunted by economic hardship.

Wayne State University Press, $18.99, paperback, 328p., 9780814343142

How to Be Human

by Paula Cocozza

With How to Be Human, Paula Cocozza, feature writer at the Guardian, has written an engaging first novel about a woman falling in love with a fox.

In the suburbs of London, Mary is struggling to pull her life back together after a break-up with her fiancé, Mark. Although he was controlling and Mary is glad to be on her own, she feels adrift. She is bored with her job, has let her house and garden go untended and has no close friends or family.

When Mary comes home one day to find a fox sitting in her back garden, her dull routine is broken. The animal entrances her with its stare, and so their relationship begins. Mary becomes obsessed with "her fox" and works to get closer to him; meanwhile her neighbors are terrified that the beast will harm their young children and want to get rid of it.

As the fox wars in the neighborhood escalate, Mary grows to see him as the perfect partner. Incredibly, the fox seems to return some of her affection, bringing her gifts and spending time in both her garden and her house.

Does Mary's fox really care for her, or is she losing her mind? It's up to the reader to decide in this quirky but captivating portrayal of modern life, where a wild animal teaches a woman what it means to be human. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog

Discover: A woman in suburban London falls in love with the fox in her garden as she heals from a broken engagement.

Metropolitan Books, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9781250129253

Mystery & Thriller

A Negro and an Ofay: The Tales of Elliot Caprice

by Danny Gardner

Screenwriter Danny Gardner is also a professional comedian, but his debut novel is no joke. Gardner's powerful themes, though, are infused with the right humorous undertones, rendering A Negro and an Ofay historical crime fiction at its hardboiled best.

Son of an interracial couple and able to pass for white, Elliot Caprice was left with his black uncle and taken under the wing of a Jewish loan shark in his hometown of Southville, Ill. Elliot's self-doubt and shady background combine with his military and Chicago police department service to leave him with a foot on both sides of the line, and no safe space to reside.

Returning home from the city in semi-disgrace in 1952, he finds his uncle lying ill in a flophouse and the family farm in foreclosure. Determined to keep the property, Elliot takes a job as a process-server. When a local widow offers him a large, one-time payday on the side, he ends up embroiled in the multi-faceted fight over a powerful businessman's estate.

Elliot's story is told from his perspective and focuses mostly on men--blends of friend, foe, hero and villain--yet women are really at the heart of the matter, beginning with Elliot's mother and what her departure meant for her son. Raw and intimate, violent and intense, Gardner's dialogue buzzes with authenticity. A fast-moving crime novel with a soul, Gardner's coming-out party is a dead-bang winner. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A cop with history on both sides of the law gets mixed up with multiple nefarious elements while trying to save his family's property.

Down & Out Books, $17.95, paperback, 280p., 9781943402670

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Empire's Ghost

by Isabelle Steiger

The Empire's Ghost introduces readers to a chaotic, politically charged world. Imperator Elgar is poised to invade one of several neighboring countries in an attempt to control all the lands of the fallen empire of Elesthene. Prince Kelken of Reglay is thrust into power in a weak state with little idea of how to rule. Lady Margraine, marquise of Esthrades, has a head full of books and no military experience with which to stand up to Elgar's advances. Far-off Issamira has been thrown into heritage chaos with the disappearance of the nation's prince. Amid all of this, a group of kindhearted thieves, a touch too far afield of the law, are forced to make an impossible decision: serve the despised Imperator and live--or refuse and watch their friends die.

In The Empire's Ghost, Steiger has succeeded in crafting a fantasy novel at once familiar and refreshing in its refusal to adhere to any one trope of the genre. Female characters are more than mere pawns to be married to other nations; friendships and loyalties lie in a grey area, open to contextual interpretation; politics are at once a driving force of the plot yet far removed from the day-to-day life of citizens. Most impressively, Steiger succeeds in managing a multitude of characters and complexities in a way that, though overwhelming at times, is never sloppy or confusing. The cliffhanger ending may leave some frustrated, but fans of smart worldbuilding and complex political fantasies will be eager for the next installment in Steiger's planned series. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A debut fantasy novel features powerful female characters, detailed worldbuilding and a complex narrative that will leave fans hungry for more.

Thomas Dunne, $25.99, hardcover, 432p., 9781250088482


October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

by China Miéville

Russia has become front-page news since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and October: The Story of the Russian Revolution provides insight into how that country's modern political machine came to be. China Miéville pushes through the sludge of history to reveal the absurdities and truths undertaken in revolution. From a partisan, leftist perspective, he retells the events leading up to the 1917 October Revolution, beginning with the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and ending with a violent seizure of power by the Bolsheviks from a flailing provisional government.

Miéville points to Russia's embrace of serfdom until 1861, long after Western Europe's abandonment of the practice, as an impetus behind the revolutionary uprisings. Political infighting and philosophical differences among workers' unions and business groups divided the country further, and socialists were reluctant to dictate policy. Meanwhile, the status quo of coalition government and its continued participation in World War I led to mass food shortages, increasing crime and growing discontent among the poorer classes. This in turn precipitated the seizure of power by the far leftist Bolsheviks, whose own power struggles threatened to unravel already sensitive political agendas.

It is as if Miéville is on the field providing a prescient play-by-play report of 1917 that has echoes in the present day, so demonstrable is the fear and descent into anarchy. Russia floundered through nine months of indecision, fear and terror in hopes of an idealized social democracy that never came to be, and in October, those events continue to inform modern Russian--and global--politics. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: China Miéville's retelling of the October Revolution in Russia provides an insightful look at the unintended consequences of revolution masked as idealism.

Verso, $26.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781784782771

Social Science

Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century

by Chuck Klosterman

A range of articles by popular journalist and critic Chuck Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) make an entertaining whole in Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century.

A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Esquire and others, Klosterman represents a type of creative journalism that mixes literary personality with cultural critique. The cheeky nod to "history" really revolves around Klosterman's two greatest interests: music and sports. He wittily unravels these interests to find moments of cultural and historical significance, which he does in interviews with rock legends like Jimmy Page and sports figures like Kobe Bryant. But his commentary is never limited to music and sports; it extends to film, television, literature and psychology, and to the philosophical underpinnings of contemporary life.

While Klosterman at times exhibits the smugness of a rock critic, he does so with an endearing self-awareness. His wit, combined with his fascination with paradox and contradiction, distinguishes him as a major talent. He knows intuitively how to capture the fullness of his subjects--whether Taylor Swift or Jonathan Franzen--rendering indelible portraits of individuals colored by the contingencies of fame. At his zany best, Klosterman unmasks the pretensions of high culture and finds genuine insight in unlikely places. It's how he uses Tim Tebow to explore the nature of faith. It's how he connects the popularity of zombie movies to the overwhelming demands of 21st-century modernity.

Brainy and funny, and always vibrant, Chuck Klosterman X provides quintessential writings of a great commentator. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: This collection of articles and profiles delightfully showcases Chuck Klosterman's distinct brand of humor and depth.

Blue Rider Press, $27, hardcover, 464p., 9780399184154

Essays & Criticism

A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bebout

by Marilyn R. Schuster, editor

In 1981, prolific lesbian novelist Jane Rule (Desert of the Heart) and the Body Politic magazine editor Rick Bebout began a 26-year correspondence and strong friendship. Marilyn R. Schuster (Marguerite Duras Revisited) compiles the first 14 years, succinctly editing 385 letters from 2,800 pages down to 619. In her foreword, Margaret Atwood writes, "The letters collected here are in the old tradition of literary and political correspondence: two thoughtful, engaged people dancing together on paper." Both Rule and Bebout are fiercely intelligent, thoughtful, opinionated and perceptive writers, and A Queer Love Story offers their fascinating personal experiences and thoughts on contemporary LGBT history, culture, identities and civil rights.

Rule (1931-2007) ruminates on commitment vs. sexual fidelity, the writing process, gay politics, mortality and her 46-year relationship with Helen Sonthoff. "Helen doesn't give basic meaning to my life," she writes, "because that meaning is my own responsibility, she's at the same time central to my life, and, if I'm ever faced with having to live it without her, it will take me a long time to figure out how to do it and whether it's worth it." Bebout (1950-2009) grapples with keeping his magazine afloat, loneliness, activism, censorship, his ambivalence toward "coupledom" and his 1988 HIV diagnosis: "Yes, it's bad news, but bad news that, for the moment, has given me a sense of clarity and resolve."

This voluminous and essential collection offers delights on every page: beautifully crafted sentences and astute opinions on racism, health care, same-sex marriage, violence and publishing. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: The 14 years of personal letters between Jane Rule and Rick Bebout offer brilliantly written eyewitness accounts of LGBT history and culture in the 1980s and '90s. 

Univ. of British Columbia Press, $49.95, hardcover, 650p., 9780774835435

Performing Arts

In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs

by Andrew Blauner, editor

The Beatles performed together for only a decade, but for those touched by their ubiquitous presence on the radio in the early '60s and everywhere else after that, they live forever. Among their steadfast fans are writers and critics who still have Beatles songs permanently stuck on replay in their minds. Anthologist and unashamed Beatlemaniac Andrew Blauner (Central Park; Our Boston) has collected the memories of 27 of them for In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs.

Many of these writers are grandparents sharing their Beatles love with grandchildren. Several are too young to have been "screamers" themselves, and so got their Beatles jones from their parents. Novelist Jane Smiley's gateway song was "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Linguist Ben Zimmer fell hard for "I Am the Walrus," unsurprisingly putting it in a literary context: "It would be nice to think of 'I Am the Walrus,' Finnegans Wake, and Carroll's Alice stories forming a kind of wordplay-laden intertextual triangle." Perhaps the final word goes to cartoonist Roz Chast, whose short paean to "She Loves You" tells of how it promised "a possible future... more interesting than my lonely and borderline-grim childhood with its homework and tests and mean girls and stupid boys and parents who worried about everything and got angry over nothing." Who wouldn't love the Beatles when this was the alternative--or when the other hits of the day were "Take Good Care of My Baby" or "It's My Party?" Now more than ever, "we all live in a yellow submarine." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Blauner's mix of novelists, critics and journalists provides a tasty stew of Beatles love as they dip into memories of that one song that got them hooked.

Blue Rider Press, $23, hardcover, 320p., 9780735210691


The Nightlife

by Elise Paschen

It's hard to make old forms feel fresh. While most contemporary poets seem to have done away with formal constraints altogether, others still push boundaries, creating meta-textual pieces on how one reads, or making the words' placement on the page act out the poem's meaning. Chicago poet Elise Paschen does both in The Nightlife, a collection mostly focused on death, love and how both seep into our conscious and subconscious lives.

She begins with her most daring formal experiment, "Closing House," which places two parallel narratives side by side on the page until they combine into a devastating final line. It invites the reader to experience a disaster from both near and far, to push the narratives together until they are one. While it would be fine to see Paschen continue in the vein of "Closing House," she has different experiments to perform.

Other works, like "The Tree Agreement," make subtle shifts in an otherwise typical structure. For instance, the poem rhymes "hack" and "backyard," forcing the reader to accept both assonance and dissonance at once (much like the argument over a tree that the poem depicts). Here Paschen nods to dream logic, and many of the other poems fully embrace it. Objects both fit together and don't; ideas make sense and can't. The poems that focus on the dreams of the surrealist painters Juan Miró and Salvador Dalí make this connection explicit. The Nightlife ultimately leaves the reader feeling dreamy herself, a notable success for the collection. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The Nightlife's poems beautifully straddle the line between dreams and waking.

Red Hen Press, $16.95, paperback, 80p., 9781597090278

Children's & Young Adult

Rules for Thieves

by Alexandra Ott

Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco has spent most of her life in an orphanage in a city called Azeland. Belligerent and sarcastic, she sabotages every effort the sisters make to find her an adoptive home. Although she's close to aging out, she decides one day, "why wait when you can run?" She manages to evade the sisters in her scramble up and over the orphanage wall, but is struck by a magical curse when a law enforcement officer known as a protector tries to catch her in the city. She is saved from another protector by a boy named Beck, who turns out to be a member of the legendary Thieves Guild. Alli learns that her only hope to survive the curse is to go to the very expensive Healing Springs, and her only chance to get the money for the cure is by joining the rule-heavy Thieves Guild. ("Stealing is necessary to survive." "Don't draw attention to yourself, and you won't get caught.") But one unspoken rule may end up being the hardest one to abide by, even for tough-girl Alli: "Don't think too much about who the marks [targets] are. Looking at what they carry, not who they are, makes it easier to ignore the lurch in my stomach that might, maybe, be guilt."

Alexandra Ott's funny, thrilling debut, Rules for Thieves, will have readers flipping pages from the very first scene. Alli is a lovable, whip-smart protagonist. The growing bond between her and Beck as they wisecrack their way through their dangerous Guild task will make the surprising conclusion all the more heartbreaking even as it leaves her with a sense of hope she's never experienced. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A 12-year-old runaway orphan teams up with a member of the fabled Thieves Guild to raise money for a cure for her magical curse.

Aladdin/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781481472746

Words in Deep Blue

by Cath Crowley

At heart, Words in Deep Blue is about connections--those made and those missed--as every character desperately seeks something. It is also a love letter to the power of words and story.

The plot is complex: two families face a newly uncertain future for which they are completely unprepared. Henry, 18, his sister, George, 17, and their parents own and occupy Howling Books, a secondhand bookshop in Gracetown, Australia. After 20 years, though, the parents are splitting up, and their mom wants to sell the shop. Henry is in love with a girl who has just broken up with him for the nth time. George, after losing contact with a mystery pen pal, has simply stopped believing in love: "[O]ur family is sh*t at love."

Three years earlier, Henry's best friend, Rachel, her brother, Cal, and their mother moved to the coast to help care for their grandmother. Ten months ago Cal accidentally drowned; grief-stricken, Rachel decides to move back to Gracetown, but she can't bear to tell her old friends about Cal's death. Meanwhile, her longtime secret love for Henry is reawakened when she winds up working at the bookstore alongside him.

Alternating between Rachel and Henry's voices, with occasional flashbacks and "found" letters interspersed between chapters, the novel unravels the intrigue, mystery and tragic loves in the lives of its protagonists. What happens between the teens is something geometrically greater than a love triangle and readers will hang on every clever, funny, heartbreaking word. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this gorgeous YA novel, Australian teens face love, death, change and the power of words both spoken and unspoken.

Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 14-up, 9781101937648


Author Buzz

Every Time We Say Goodbye

by Natalie Jenner

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Email with the subject line "Every Time Was Say Goodbye Sweeps" for a chance to win one of five copies.

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AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
May 14, 2024


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Happily Ever Maybe
(A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella)

by Carrie Ann Ryan

Dear Reader,

What happens in a bodyguard romance when both characters are a bodyguard?

All the heat and action!

I love writing workplace romances because things get tricky. And when a one night stand ends up burning up the pages, things get... explosive.

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AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Happily Ever Maybe (A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella) by Carrie Ann Ryan

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
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