This is an interesting week for books. It's not the last week of the month (which is when all the mass market paperbacks show up), and it's not the first week of the month (when the shiny new releases show up), and it's not the end of the quarter (when books get dumped, to much gnashing of teeth and rending of hair by authors everywhere). No, this week is the week no one notices, which means it's a combination of Things That Get Put Out Every Year To No Fanfare Whatsoever and Things That Are Going To Light The World on Fire Because They're So Awesome But No One is Quite Sure In What Way.
Which means that we've got the 2020 Old Farmer's Gardening Almanac—er, Calendar. Clockwork, dear readers. Like death, taxes, and a new James Patterson book, these things are omnipresent and eternal.
Not to be upstaged by the farmers of America, Sierra Club has released their 2020 Wilderness Calendar as well.
(Both of whom, we'd like to remind you have—in fact—been upstaged by Hot Guys and Baby Animals, whose 2020 Calendar dropped a few weeks ago.)
We're glossing a bit here, of course, because this week is actually ALL THE [REDACTED] CALENDARS FOR NEXT YEAR BECAUSE THIS YEAR IS A WASH ALREDY. *Ahem* Anyway . . .
David Baldacci is back this week, but he's showing up with a book set in 1949. Sure, One Good Deed is a fresh start of a potentially new series character, but it's curious that he's turned to post-WWII America for his setting. It's almost like Baldacci is testing an idea that what we want to read is stories set in a time when villainy was easier to spot, heroism is much more cut-and-dried, and the lack of ubiquitous technology makes for stories that are more "human" in character—if you will—than endless scenes of people talking to screens.
We are curious if this is the tip of a trend. Naturally, we'll be keeping an eye out and will report as we discern more. In the meantime, new Baldacci!
And speaking of exciting new things, Fonda Lee's Jade War is out this week. Presumably the real reason this week is quiet in new book release land is because everyone is getting out of the way of Lee's follow-up to the World Fantasy Award winning Jade City. Readily mixing a deeply realized fantasy setting with classic crime family tropes, Lee continues the story of the Kaul family and their conflict with the Mountain Clan for control of the island of Kekon. There's political intrigue, seriously stylish action sequences, and a bevy of characters to die for. Jade War takes the bar that Lee set with Jade City and jacks things up a couple of notches.
And speaking of titles with the word "Jade" in them as well as fantastic world-building, Silva Moreno-Garcia is back with another stand-alone novel. Gods of Jade and Shadow is set in Mexico during the 1920s, as the country transitions from revolutionary fervor to Jazz Age fever. Casiopea, beleaguered and neglected granddaughter of a hard-nosed clan patriarch, opens a chest she shouldn't and releases the Mayan death god. Naturally, things go awry from there. Moreno-Garcia has a deft touch as she mixes history, fantasy, and mythology to create a marvelous and harrowing tale of self-discovery and re-creation.
That's re-creation. Not recreation. Because if we said "recreation," and then said "Hey, don't forget the spooky nightmares and the death cult rituals and the missing body parts," you'd never want to take a road trip with us. And that would make us sad.
Hang on. Cats of Instagram! Whew. All better now.
Let's move on to something thrilling. How about Michele Campbell's A Stranger on a Beach? Okay, let's see what the flap copy says. Right. So, we have Caroline, who has an expensive beach house that was built to host lavish parties, but that's not going to happen anytime soon because, apparently, her husband is a [REDACTED]. She sees a stranger on the beach, and that's all very, uh, right off the front cover of the book, right?
Anyway, when she finally does throw a party, this guy shows up again—as the hired bartender! That's not weird. Meanwhile, her husband is still being an [REDACTED], and when they have a very public fight, she runs off with the bartender aka A Stranger On the Beach.
Naturally, this new dude turns out to be the worst sort of stalker / psychopath / hired hand. And guess who gets blamed when her [REDACTED] husband turns up dead? That's right. Caroline. And stalker / stranger / fling she shouldn't have had guy is no where to be found.
It's all the thrillers all at once. Beach reading, because, you know, the title, right?
And speaking of summer beach reads, here's The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal. It's a story about pie and family and beer, as well as long-standing family feuds, heartache, and learning how to forgive and forget with family because, at the end of the day—when all the pie and beer are gone—that's what you're stuck with.
Wait. Did we just ruin the whole book? Probably not. Stradal's Kitchens of the Great Midwest was a hot summer read a few years ago, and we expect that The Lager Queen of Minnesota isn't going to mess with a good recipe that works.
And speaking of good recipes, Laura Lippman, who has been writing thrillers for awhile now, does something a little different with Lady in the Lake. It's your standard "plucky heroine who walks away from a crap life to start anew and gets caught up in an investigation she has no grounds to be looking into" trope, but Lippman adds some extra spice to the mix with the ghost of the murdered woman talking directly to the audience and a strange Greek Chorus-like element that haunts the reader as well. There are some marvelously strange ingredients that only fiction can pull off, and we're delighted to see someone trying something new.
And speaking of new things, we need to warn you that the following is going to go deep in the weeds.
Ready? Okay, so back in the day, George Orwell wrote a book called 1984, which was about, um, last week—no, no, it was about a totalitarian state with talking rats (no, wait, that's Mrs. Frisby Goes To Watership Down). ANYWAY, a filmmaker named Michael Radford set out to make a film of George's book, but he wanted a suitably "totalitarian"-esque cinematic feel to the film. Well, he turned to Roger Deakins (who knows a thing or two about lighting and widescreen cinematic), who, in turn, turned to Japanese cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa for a technique that is known as "silver-tinting"—which is nearly black and white pictures with the barest hint of color.
We know all this because it's lovingly detailed in one of the extras on Criterion's new edition of Radford's 1984, which came out this week on Blu-Ray and DVD. Normally, we don't go into movie talk here, but this is all relevant backstory so that when we say the following, you'll know what we mean:
Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch have just released Grimoire Noir, a gloomy but arresting graphic novel about Bucky Orson who lives in a town filled with witches. When things get weird, Bucky has to turn detective in a story that is delightfully silver-tinted in its mood and slow-burning in its narrative tension.
Whew. I think we sprained something in that last one. We're going to go put some ice on our heads, and we'll be back next week with all the books that are going to squeeze themselves into July or else!