And here we are, rolling into the second month of 2020. Did you get all your January reading done? No? Did you get all the books into stacks near the bedside, at least? Gold star!

And speaking of gold stars, Nora Roberts hits the big five-oh with her J. D. Robb series. Fifty. We could say that there's no time like the present to start, but yeah, there's some backstory you're probably missing. 

Or you could just jump on-board with Golden in Death, where whip-smart NYPSD Detective Eve Dallas is confronted with a shrewd and calculating villain, who is targeting his victims with a precisely delivered dose of toxic gas. It's a ripped from the headlines sort of story, albeit with all the futuristic flourishes we've come to expect from J. D. Robb. Throw in a dishy billionaire boy-toy (okay, okay, Roarke is more than eye candy; let's not objectify the help), and you've got a sizzling near-future thriller with the right amount of sizzle.

It's a recipe that has been working for twenty-five years, so why fuss with it, right? 

Meanwhile, Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston are back with Crooked River—merely the nineteenth book in the Agent Pendergast series. The first book in this series came out in 1995, by the way, though Pendergast was just a walk-on character—the same year that the first J. D. Robb novel came out.

Did you know that Lee Child didn't start Jack Reacher until 1997? That's right, and the twenty-fifth Reacher book—The Sentinel—is going to be co-authored with Andrew Child. So, it takes four male authors about the same amount of time to write the same number of books as Nora Roberts does under HER PSEUDONYM. 

By the way, there's a 25th anniversary edition of Naked in Death, the very first J. D. Robb book, in case you do want to start at the beginning. We wouldn't mind if you did, of course. 

Anyway, in Crooked River, the 19th Agent Pendergast novel, Child (no relation) and Preston send Pendergast on a wild chase to figure out the cruel mystery of dozens of severed feet that wash ashore on the Florida coast. This one—which works well as a standalone entry into the series, by the way—has lots of bizarre twists and hurtles rather breathlessly toward a truly nail-biting conclusion. 

And speaking of nail-biters, Kelley Armstrong is back with Alone in the Wild, her latest book set in Rockton. Rockton is an off-the-grid place where folks with mysterious backgrounds end up, and they don't care much for strangers and youngsters. Imagine their surprise when the sheriff and his crime-fighting partner find a murdered woman and a bawling babe out in the woods. Who did the grisly deed? Who knows how to change a diaper? Armstrong ably juggles the mundane and the murderous with Alone in the Wild, and teases us with a little more insight into this remote community. Check it out!

And speaking of things worth checking out, Clare Pooley's The Authenticity Project wants you to put down your smart device and reconnect with the world in an old-school way. Julian Jessop, an aged artist who has been lost since the death of his wife nearly fifteen years ago, writes down some of his deepest secrets in a tiny notebook. He leaves it in a coffee shop, where it is found by a woman who is struggling with her own failures and missed opportunities. As the notebook makes its way around the globe, we see these stories unfold, and Pooley ties them all together in a satisfying and illuminating fashion. 

Speaking of mysteries and secrets, Kate Messner's Chirp is out this week. Mia, a young girl with dreams of being a world-class gymnast, moves to Vermont after she breaks her arm. It's a fresh start for the whole family, but there's a plot afoot to drive Grandma's cricket farm out of business. Mia, needing a win, is determined to save Grandma's farm, and she sets out to stop whoever is trying to ruin Grandma's business. 

This one is all the things, by the way. It's a summer picnic tale. It's a slippery mystery with a young sleuth. It's a female-driven narrative. It's a buddy story. it's also marvelously written. This one is a winner in so many categories. 

Speaking of winners, have we mentioned Robert Dugoni recently? No? Well, here we go then. His latest novel, A Cold Trail, follows Seattle-area detective Tracy Crosswhite as she gets pulled into a nasty court case between citizens of Cedar Grove, a sleepy Washington area town where Crosswhite grew up. Buildings get set on fire, cold cases get re-opened, and old wounds are reopened. Dugoni has been building an impressive resume over the last few years, and A Cold Trail is a great addition to his body of work. 

Meanwhile, Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux offer another great addition to DC Comics's growing line of YA graphic novels. Shadow of the Batgirl takes a look at the origin story of Cassandra Cain, a young orphan who has been raised by a criminal mastermind to be a deadly assassin. This isn't a very good plan, because Cain eventually starts to wonder if there's more to life than stabbing and hitting and putting bad guys down. Cain discovers the public library where she learns the difference between good and evil ("You can't hit everyone all the time, Cassie!"). As she discovers herself, she starts to wonder if she really should be the person she's been raised to be. Shadow of the Batgirl is both an excellent introduction to the Batfamily mythology, as well as a great narrative for those who are wondering about their own paths in the world. 

And speaking of wondering who you really are, last year's charming fictionalized bio of an iconic 1970s rock and roll band is now out in paperback. Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones & The Six wants to trick you into thinking its a searing expose masquerading as a memoir, but it's actually a clever and heartfelt album about history—both real and imagined. You'll end up trying to find concert footage on YouTube, and be all the more moved by the novel when you realize there isn't any. 

Conversely, Adam Higginbotham's Midnight In Chernobyl is all too terrifyingly true. We said nice things about this book a year ago when it came out in hardback, and it's finally out in paperback. We'll be reading this for book club in June, by the way, and so you have lots of time to read all about the intense and fascinating events of April 26th, 1986, as well as the subsequent aftermath of the nuclear reactor disaster at Chernobyl. 

And finally, illustrator Emily Winfield Martin delivers a delightfully quirky book with The Imaginaries. Martin, who has done a number of charmingly illustrated books for youngsters, delivers a book that lies somewhere between enigmatic mystery play and artfully-designed curiosity sparker. Each page of The Imaginaries has a picture and a scrap of a note. How well these two things go together is entirely up to you, and we have found ourselves getting lost in the possibilities of Martin's prose and art more than once over the last few days. 

Overheard At The Store »»

HOLIPOT: Thank you for your previous responses to this section of the Autonomous Employees Hand-Selling Systems's compliance intake interview. We will begin the next section in thirty seconds. Please plan accordingly. 

COLBY: Is this over yet?

HOLIPOT: You have just completed part seven of forty-two. 

COLBY: Forty-two? I'll be a dried up corpse by the time I'm done!

HODGE: Hello, Colby. What are you up to this fine afternoon? 

COLBY: I'm taking some damn compliance test. 

HODGE: Oooh! A training seminar. I like training seminars. Can I sit in with you? 

COLBY: Sit in? How about you take over for awhile? 

HOLIPOT: This system has registered an out-of-variance response tone. Please refresh the compliance baseline response within fifteen seconds. Failure to do so will terminate this session of the AEHSS compliance intake interview. You will have to start over—

COLBY: Oh, suck on a rock, you imperious bit-cruncher. 

HOLIPOT: Standardized compliance baseline response restored. We shall now begin part eight of the AEHSS compliance intake interview. 

HODGE: So, what? I can't—

COLBY: Shhhhh! It can hear you. 

HODGE: What can hear me? 

HOLIPOT: Part Eight: The Fundamentals of Pleasant Customer Interaction.  

HODGE: Ooh, I like customers. 

HOLIPOT: Warning. An out-of-variance response tone has been registered. Please refresh the compliance baseline response with fifteen—

COLBY: I was merely passing gas, you officious talky box, in the vain hope that I could poison the air in this room and thereby expire. 

HOLIPOT: Standardized compliance baseline response restored. Part Eight: The Fundamentals of Pleasant Customer Interactions. 

HODGE <whispering>: What if I whisper? 

COLBY <whisperign>: Don't. Don't even breathe. 

HODGE: <whispering> But I have to breathe. Otherwise, everything will go dark and— 

COLBY <whispering>: Shoo, you water rat. Don't screw this up—

HOLIPOT: Warning. An out-of-variance response tone has been registered. Please refresh the compliance baseline—

COLBY: It's just me! I'm the only one here! Stop listening so intently. 

HOLIPOT: Standardized compliance baseline response restored. 

COLBY: Get on with it already!

HOLIPOT: When a customer enters your establishment, your initial interaction should be: a) ignore them; b) greet them cheerfully; c) sneer at them and insist they tell you why they've intruded on your domain; or d) run away and hide. 

HODGE: <whispering> I know this one!

COLBY: Zip it!

HOLIPOT: "Zip it" is not an appropriate response. Would you like me to list the possible choices again? 

HODGE <squeaking> I know it!

COLBY: Hang on. Give me a second. 

HODGE: <squeaking like a tea kettle>

COLBY: It's, uh, oh, which one is it? 

HOLIPOT: Please respond within fifteen seconds. 

COLBY: Hang on! Hang on!

HODGE: <stil squeaking> 

COLBY: Uh, C. The answer is "C." 


HOLIPOT: . . . 

COLBY: No, it's, uh, it's—

HOLIPOT: Incorrect. 

HODGE: Beee! The answer is "B." 

HOLIPOT: We shall now watch a video of proper initial customer interaction. This video is eighty-three minutes long. It may be paused once for forty-eight seconds.  

HODGE: You're going to be taking this test forever. 

COLBY: I'll never see the open sky again. 


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