Now that we’re done scaring all the pets in the neighborhood for another year, let’s spend the next week or two doing quieter activities. All the poodles, schnauzers, and tiny schnauzoodles will appreciate our efforts. So, what qualifies as quieter? Well, reading, of course!
And let’s dive right in with this week’s debut novel. The Ruin by Irish-Australian author Dervla McTiernan is a crime novel about missing persons and old family secrets. Think Gillian Flynn collaborating with Ian Rankin. McTiernan plays out the clues with a deft hand, slowly sucking us into the lives of the characters caught in a twenty year old case. This is one of those debut novels that arrives with fully-formed characters, and all sorts of interesting history that we’re looking forward to seeing how McTiernan develops as the series progresses.
And speaking of new series, S. M. Stirling is back this week with The Black Chamber, an espionage novel set in an alternate timeline where Teddy Roosevelt beats Woodrow Wilson to the Presidency. And just in time too, for there’s a dastardly plan afoot in Germany to bring about a new world order. Stirling’s prose is crisp, and he evokes the era with great verisimilitude and panache. His protagonist, one Senior Field Officer Luz O’Malley Aróstegui, is ass-kicking heroine of the first order, and we’re looking forward to the hijinks Stirling has in mind for his version of the early modern period.
And speaking of awesome heroines, S. A. Chakroborty’s The City of Brass is out in paperback this week. Chakroborty’s Cairo is steeped in living mythology and when Nahri, a con woman of some skill, accidentally summons an equally wily djinn, hijinks ensue. Nahri and Dara—her new djinn pal—must escape Cairo and find their way across a mystical and dangerous landscape to Daevabad, the elusive city of brass where they hope to extricate themselves from the curse, hijinks, and bad things that are pursuing them. Excellent stuff, and if you enjoyed N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (we read the first book in book club a while back), you might enjoy Chakroborty’s novel as well.
And speaking of interesting worldbuilding, how about Craig Childs’s Atlas of a Lost World? Childs has been writing about the disappearance of civilizations for some time now (including our own), but Atlas of a Lost World has him looking back to prehistory and investigating the last heady days of the Ice Age, when plants were huge and critters were huger. The early peoples had a lot to contend with, and Childs deftly examines their early encounters and efforts at survival.
And speaking of things we don’t see much anymore, rock star paleontologist Steve Brusatte offers The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World. Brusatte, who has been naming dinosaurs and doing groundbreaking fieldwork (literally), takes us on a much more scientifically grounded tour of the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the downer that was the Cretaceous. It’s a book that runs a bit counter to what we’ve all been watching these last few weeks (*cough* Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s $1B USD take so far this summer *cough*), but there’s less screaming and gunfire in Brusatte’s version.
And speaking of correcting the record, Ben Goldfarb would like us to set aside the terrible narrative about beavers that has been foisted on us by fur trappers from several centuries ago. The fur trade, as you may recall, did quite well with beaver pelts, much to the dismay of beavers everywhere, and since then, our incisorly incensed friends have been trying to overcome the bad rap foisted on them. [They’re also number two on the large rodent index, which is also eternally vexing.] Regardless, beavers play an important part in the natural ecological system. They have well-defined jobs, as it were, and in Eager: the Surprising and Secret Life of Beavers, and Why They Matter, Goldfarb charts the surprisingly secret and fascinating ways that beavers help us overcome flooding, wildfire, extinction events, and climate change.
Imagine how much better the dinosaurs would have been off if they had been better beaver keepers.
And speaking of making things out of wood, the new edition of The Art of the Catapult, William Gurstelle’s new book on catapult constructing, is bursting with all sorts of charts and diagrams. What sort of diagrams, you ask? Well, the sort that are useful when you’re building an backyard onager; or when you’re figuring out if you’ve got enough space to lay out that monster of rock-flingers, the English trebuchet; or, if you prefer the more direct approach, how to build a series of ballistae to protect your castle from hordes of zombies. Or dinosaurs, whichever is more likely to show up.
[Ah! And if you had a cadre of trained beavers bringing you wood, imagine how quickly you could reload said ballistae. Ah-hah!]
But seriously. The Art of the Catapult includes building instructions. Do we need to say any more?
And speaking of building things with your hands, we have two options here: one for the practical, and one for the creative. Rebecca Spooner’s Journal Me Organized is a great guide to sorting out your life: how to make charts, graphs, lists, and doodle boxes. As well as getting your sh*t together and actually doing stuff. We’re all for this sort of planning. It’s just the doing part that always throws us. Spooner, we suspect, knows that once you plan something six ways to sideways, the doing part will be easy. We hope so, and we’ll report back once we’ve tried a few things.
On the other hand, we have Angelo Peluso’s An Angler’s Guide to Smart Baits: Tips and Tactics on Fishing Twenty-First Century Artificials. Which is one of those titles that could have done with a little judicious rewriting, aka “How to Trick Fish Into Biting Stuff That Isn’t Food.” Now, all we know about fly fishing, we’ve learned from Keith McCafferty (more on him in a minute), so you’ll have to take our knowledge of this subject with a grain of salt. Apparently, fish are pretty smart, and to get them to bite down on a hook requires tricking them by tossing a piece of fluff or something shiny or making duck calls or something.
That’s where Peluso’s book comes in. Apparently, fishing in the 21st century is a lot different than fishing in prior centuries, and what we need these days is a whole bunch of artificials. [Ed note: Mark’s dad is rolling his eyes really hard right now. Of course, that man could get fish to climb up on the bank and eat nightcrawlers from his hands, but that’s another story for another time.]
Anyway, if you need some guidance on modern baits, Peluso is your man.
However, if you’d prefer to read about someone else fishing and want to luxuriate in the wild and wooly names of fly fishing lures, we can heartily recommend Keith McCafferty’s Sean Stranahan mysteries. Think of it as fly fishing noir, sort of like you’ve gone floating with James Lee Burke, James Crumley, and C. J. Box, and they’re making up stories as they lazily stripe Girdle Bugs, Woolly Buggers, and Sparkle Duns across the river. The seventh book in the series, Death in Eden, came out this week, which means—that’s right, dear readers—there are SIX other books in the series that are hot and fresh and waiting for you on the shelves.
We have to admit that we read the first two last week while hunkered down inside mosquito-proof netting next to the Yellowstone River, and we can attest that—minus the mosquitos—the verisimilitude is there. Of course, McCafferty lives in the Big Sky, and knows a thing or two about fly fishing. Fortunately, he’s also got a good ear for dialogue and a lovely batch of characters who grow more delightful with every book.