We’re suckers for good world-building. Well, okay, we’re suckers for a lot of things, but this week, we’re going to be suckers for world-building. And we’re going to jump right in with a book that slurped us right in. 

Look at that cover! All Chris McGrath high-grain goodness. This cover tells you everything you need to know—well, okay, not everything. But a lot. Dan Stout’s debut novel Titanshade has got cops with attitude. It’s got well-dressed monsters that’ll bite your head off as soon as interrogate you. It’s got a decided love for funk, and no time for disco. It’s got a sprawling corrupt metropolis built on top of a chained god, whose blood and breath keep everyone warm in good old Titanshade. It’s like Richard Morgan and China Miéville collaborated on a very special episode of NYPD Blue. We dug it, and we hope Stout is working hard on a sequel. 

And speaking of sequels, C. J. Box is back this week with another book in the Joe Pickett Super Game Warden series. Pickett, as you may recall, was having some issues with local politics and secret government agencies in the last book, and while that’s all fine and sorted now, life is never about checking fishing licenses and verifying herd counts. Oh no, Super Game Warden Joe Pickett attracts danger, and in Wolf Pack, he’s attracted the wrong sort of danger. 

Well, it’s always the wrong sort of danger. But this time, it’s extra wrong. Like Super Badass Danger Danger danger. The sort of danger that . . . whatever. We’re going to hide in the back during our lunch break and read it anyway. 

Meanwhile, G. Willow Wilson is back with The Bird King. Wilson has been writing the Ms. Marvel comic book these last few years, and we’ve been waiting for her follow-up to Alif the Unseen (which was marvelous), and we’re delighted that it is here. Set on the Iberian peninsula during the Spanish Inquisition, The Bird King follows the harrowing story of Fatima, a sharp-tongued, quick-witted concubine in the royal court at Granada, and her confidant, the mercurial mapmaker Hassan, who has the ability to open doors to places that shouldn’t exist. Naturally, the Inquisition has plans for Hassan, and the pair must travel through a welter of exotic places in an effort to escape the ruthless Inquisitor who is hot on their trail. 

And speaking of harrowing escapes and twisty narratives, Cara Robertson would like us to swing back in time with her and revisit the most notorious murder trial of the 19th century. In The Trial of Lizzie Borden, Robertson re-examines all of the available historical data and crafts a real page-turner of a true crime expose. Just when you think you know who did it, Robertson pulls one more trick out of her sleeve, and upends everything. 

And speaking of thorough re-examinations, Kate Brown’s Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future starts where Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl ends, and examines the long-term effects that a nuclear disaster has on the surrounding environment. Not quite the same sort of page-turner, but Brown’s Manual for Survival is still a gripping read. 

On a lighter note, Deanna Raybourn’s intrepid heroine, Veronica Speedwell, is back this week in A Dangerous Collaboration. Lured by a lepidopteran promise, Speedwell is talked into posing as the fiancé of a family friend at a house party. Naturally, the house in question is located on an Cornish isle, where all is not as it seems, and very quickly, Speedwell and her investigative pal Stoker are dealing with poison guardians, missing brides, and skullduggery of the highest order!

Meanwhile, Birding magazine editor Ted Floyd has written How to Know the Birds: The Art and Adventure of Birding. Now, you’d think that birding is a matter of a full-color checklists, a pair of high-power binoculars, a folding stool, and hours and hours of time. Not so, argues Floyd. Birding is more than just trying to be the person with the most-complete checklist. It’s about paying attention to the natural rhythms of the world around you. Birds come and go, you know, and when and why and how they flit back and forth says a lot about the world around you. Sure, they’re pretty little things and some of them make funny noises, but they’re also a window into how the natural world works.

And speaking of the inner workings of the world around us and birds, British naturalist Tim Dee has written Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene. Yes, it’s a book about gulls, landfills, and what the heck we’re doing to the world in this ‘cene. Trust us. It seems like an odd combination, but when you’re obsessed with gulls, you tend to hang out where they hang out—which is around garbage—and eventually you start to ruminate on what the heck is going on with all this waste. 

At the very least, it’s a book for the grouchy old bird-watcher in your social circles who wants to complain about the vast industrial wasteland that is slowly consuming all of the heretofore natural environments. “Hey, look, grandpa, here’s a book by a guy who is just as much a bummer to hang out with as you!” 

[Ed note: That reminds us: put a copy aside for Mark.]

The eighth volume of Kieron Gillen’s delightful The Wicked + The Divine is out this week too. You’re probably not caught up either. It’s okay. We can read it together. Just in time for the concluding volume which should be out before the end of the year. It’s all about life and death and reincarnation, as one does in the comics, but zapped through with a heady dose of pop magic, zeitgeist drama, and deep mythology. 

And speaking of things that make you giddy, the third volume of Brian Hart Hoffman’s Bake From Scratch is out this week. Oh, do we need to scroll through the table of contents? Fine. Pineapple and Pecan Hummingbird Cake! Bourbon-Walnut Brown Sugar Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream! Black Cocoa Sandwich Cookies! Apple-Cranberry Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake!

There. Go forth and read. Or bake. Or read while baking. Or bake something and bring it in to distract us while you shop for books. There are so many ways to approach the week. We trust you’ll find a way that works for you. 

Overheard At The Battered Casket »»

QUINCY: Oh, good afternoon, gentlemen. Is that stool taken? 

JASPER: No, no. Go right ahead. 

HORACE: Please, sit down. 

QUINCY: Ah, thank you. Uh, miss? May I have a brandy?

GINGER: What kind of brandy? 

QUINCY: An Armagnac. Something more than ten years old . . . 

GINGER: I have a bottle of Courvoisier with dust on it. Will that do? 

QUINCY: Oh, my. Yes, I guess so. Thank you. 

JASPER: The selection here leaves something to be desired. 

GINGER: You want a refill on that Pig’s Nose? 

JASPER: Neat this time, woman! Don’t be putting ice in my scotch!

GINGER: Whatever. Purist. 

JASPER: Harridan.

GINGER: Love you too! 

HORACE: Another gin and tonic, please. Without all the vitriol, if you don’t mind. 

QUINCY: My. You two must be the local color I was warned about. 

JASPER: You hear that, Horace? We’re infamous. 

HORACE: I’m not sure that’s a good thing in a town this size. 

JASPER: Posh. You know what they say in advertising? 

HORACE: I can only imagine . . . 

JASPER: “The only thing worse than bad press is no press.” 

HORACE: That’s like saying that being bitten my mosquitos is just validation that you’re tasty. 

JASPER: Exactly. 

HORACE: Ginger, dear: could you make that a double? 

JASPER: So what brings you to town, sir? 

QUINCY: Oh, yes. I’m with the Lipton Honoraria Foundation. I’m doing some census work. 

JASPER: LHF? You don’t say? 

QUINCY: Yes. We’re attempting to produce a new monograph on taxonomical organizations. 

HORACE: What sort of organizations? 

QUINCY: Multiplicities. I mean, more than one. 

HORACE: More than one what? 

QUINCY: Well, that’s the foundational element, isn’t it? If you have one goat, how many goats do you have? 

HORACE: Uh, you have one goat? 

QUINCY: And if you have two goats? 

HORACE: A pair? 

QUINCY: More than three? 

HORACE: A herd?

QUINCY: Well, yes, that would work, but there’s a better word to describe a group of goats, isn’t there? 

JASPER: A trip. 

QUINCY: Yes, exactly! A trip of goats. My job is to validate the existing taxonomical standards and gather data about emergent taxonomical usages. For instance, earlier today I collected an “annoyance of otters.” Isn’t that marvelous? 


HORACE: I see. 


JASPER: You’ve been to the bookstore. 

QUINCY: Of course. Any reasonable taxonomy starts with a bookstore. 

JASPER: This one is different. 

QUINCY: How so? 

HORACE: The annoyance, for one. 

QUINCY: Oh, the cats? Trust me. I’ve seen talking cats in bookstores before. 

JASPER: Uh, those aren’t cats. 

QUINCY: Oh, please. I’ve—Oh, thank you, miss. 

GINGER: Sure. Here’s your G & T, Horace. 

HORACE: Thanks, Ginger. 

GINGER: And your glass of Monkey Piss. Room temperature, like you prefer.

JASPER: That’s not how I prefer my monkey piss! 

GINGER: . . . 

JASPER: I—That’s not—can I try that again? 

GINGER: Sure. Knock yourself out. It’s still Monkey Piss, though. That’s what it says on the bottle. We’re out of Pig’s Nose. 

JASPER: That is not what it says on the bottle.

GINGER: Sure it is. See? 

JASPER: That’s a bottle of Pig’s Nose that someone has drawn a picture of a—

QUINCY: Good heavens. Is that—? 

JASPER: Where’s that malignant marmot? 

GINGER: Still out of town, as far as I know. 

JASPER: Exactly! That’s how I know he’s behind this.


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