Well, hello and may your stacks of books be sturdy and unlikely to topple over on you. This week is that week wherein we celebrate the old ways, by whim and by want, and when we greet the pale morning with the lingering hope that there will be something new and shiny for us this week.
(We've been reading lots of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, cry your pardon, and it has gotten under our skin. And we'll be talking about The Drawing of the Three next week, won't we?)
Anyhow, what's on the shelf this week?
Well, there's a sequel that is causing small birds to make noises, yes there is. Apparently, Simon Snow's story is not over. We know. No one is more surprised than he is, apparently. But it's all not happily ever after for dear Simon, and so he has to deal with the awkward truth that the sun does rise on the day after the end of the hero's epic journey. It rises, plain as you can see, and on its smirking face is a simple question: "Now what, hero?"
Well, it involves a road trip, some dragons, probably a vampire or two (they always crop up), and weird things with skunk heads (it's not the heads that you should worry about; it's the shotguns they're carrying that are the real trouble). It's a Rainbow Rowell book, so, you know, things are going to happen.
Also, apparently, it's Christmas. Yes, we know it isn't, and we know Halloween hasn't even come and gone yet, but in publishing land, Christmas shows up this week. How do we know? Well, let's see . . . There's An Alaskan Christmas, Christmas Cake Murder, Christmas Camp, Christmas Cow Bells, The Christmas Shop, The Christmas Sisters, Christmas At White Pines, Christmas from the Heart, Christmas in Paris, Christmas with a Cowboy (which includes a bonus novella that is not—oh, wait, actually, it is a Christmas story too), Coming Home for Christmas . . .
We have to catch our breath. Hang on. Only a dozen or so more on this first page . . .
Oh, hey, what's this? A new Chris Ware book? Well, this is exciting. Ware is a comic book artist, but that's like saying that Dali dabbled in oil painting. Ware has, over the years with Jimmy Corrigan and Building Stories, created incredibly detailed and visually rich narratives that are unique and yet unmistakably Ware-ian in their present. Now, with Rusty Brown, he's charting the lives of students and teachers in a small Midwestern school during the 1970s. Mostly. There's a trip to the future, a sidestep onto Mars, and all sorts of marvelous interstitial goings-on that belie the precociously precise artwork.
Before we get back to the Christmas book list, let's not forget to check in with James Patterson. He didn't have a book out last week, but we neglected to mention the trade paperback release of Liar Liar, the third book in the Harriet Blue series, which was a few weeks ago (though, to be fair, he had TWO other books that week, and so we can be forgiven, we hope). However, this week he is back with the mass market release of Target: Alex Cross, wherein his long-suffering series character is, wait for it, targeted for death.
Scary stuff, isn't it? The way these books seem to plot themselves?
And speaking of an unending stream of ripe-for-the-commute reading, William W. Johnstone (who is still—never mind) has THREE books this week. We don't know which one to mention first, but maybe we'll just stack 'em all up and say, "Yep, bad folks and guns and shooting and hero stuff." You know the drill.
Though we do have to admit that titles don't get much better than Bullets Don't Argue. Did you know this was the name of a 1964 spaghetti western film directed by Mario Caiano? We didn't. In fact, it was produced back-t0-back with Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, but with a better budget because it had a well-known American Western actor in it. Not this new guy that Leone had found somewhere, and whose character isn't even named in that latter film. (Rod Cameron's character in Le Pistole non Discutono was named Pat Garrett, by the way.)
So, Christmas books. Where were we? Oh, yes . . . A Country Christmas (Oooh! That's a Debbie Macomber!), Cowboy Christmas Homecoming (different from A Cowboy FOR Christmas), Cowboy Christmas Redemption (and no, we will not get roped into talking about the finer distinctions between these three books)—
[Ed note: I see what you did there.]
—A Creed Country Christmas (also with bonus novel, which—surprise!—does not have the word Christmas in the title), A Cup of Holiday Fear (tagline: "They're in for a killer Christmas"), Christmas in Winter Valley, A Coldwater Christmas, A Dash of Christmas, Home for Christmas, How the Dukes Stole Christmas (a Christmas anthology!), It's a Christmas Thing, and It Started With Christmas.
Seriously. And we're only halfway through the alphabet, dear readers.
Meanwhile, here's a Booker shortlist novel. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World is a novel written by Elif Shafak, which takes an unflinching look at Istanbul's underworld as it careens through the life of a discarded woman, who—in the ten minutes and thirty-eight seconds that her brain continues to live after death—looks back on the course of her life and the lives of other women like her. We're not going to sugarcoat this one for you, but it's one of those books that will grab ahold of you and not let go. You will find yourself heartbroken and breathless as you reach a conclusion you already know. But it's the telling that matters, isn't it? It's all the life around the end of a life that carries on.
And speaking of carrying on, we also have A Killer Carol, Kisses in the Snow, Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish, Lark! the Herald Angels Sing, Longing for a Cowboy Christmas, Low Country Christmas, Merry Christmas Murder (so cheery, so full of DEATH!), and Puppy Christmas. Because why write just a holiday romance when you can combine it with a touching story about the healing power of owning a puppy?
"There, under the mistletoe and by the twinkling snowflake tree lights, I watched that tiny brown puppy—which knew no more of the world than warmth and love and some fresh kibble—lick his stubble-rusted chin, and oh, dear reader, how I wanted that tongue to be mine and—"
*Ahem* Anyway, you get the point. It's holiday romance season. We have several for you to choose from. (Oh, and one more! The Trouble With Christmas. Which probably had "Cowboy" in the title originally, but wisely decided to distinguish itself a bit more.)
And for something completely different, we offer you Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming, written by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (and translated by Ottilie Mulzet). It's got a bright cover. It's got vaguely military-industrial-esque typography. Here's a litany of words and phrases Kirkus Reviews uses in its review: "challenge," "daunting," "experimental," "trademark interests in philosophy and apocalypse," "not just physical and actual, but also existential," "no end of windmills against which to tilt," and "worth the slog for its wealth of ideas."
Which is to say that there are no scenes where puppies give closure to emotionally damaged people. But what can you expect, it's a mature book by a Man Booker International Prize winner. Emotional closure through puppies is for first year wet-behind-the-ears students who haven't had their hearts pulled out of their chests with rusty kitchen implements, stepped on several times with dirty books, and then shoved back in their chests. By glassy-eyed men who are smoking nasty Eastern European cigarettes.
Oh, what? There is a romantic subplot in Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming? A childhood sweetheart who seeks to be reunited with the worldly and refined boy she once knew . . . ? Oh, it probably doesn't end well.
We need to find some more Christmas holiday romances. Hang on . . .
How about a whip-smart time travel novel that un-forgets a lot of fabulous feminist solidarity as it dodges and weaves through a world where time travel is as ubiquitous as misogyny. Annalee Newitz has been on the cutting edge of fiction and science for awhile now (they were editor-in-chief of io9 for a long while), and The Future of Another Timeline both adopts and excoriates all the time travel tropes. This is a book that pulls back the curtain on history but also shows us the unshakeable faith that humanity can have in itself. It's also funny, which is a very hard trick to do while chasing threads through complicated time-travel narrative.
Also, Leslie S. Klinger is back with another volume of annotations for Howard Philips Lovecraft. Beyond Arkham contains twenty-five stories that are non-Cthulhu Mythos stories, and it also includes an introduction by African-American novelist Victor LaValle, who tackles the dilemma of acknowledging Lovecraft's value in canon as contrasted with the man's racism. LaValle's novella "The Ballad of Black Tom," which revisited one of HPL stories (included in this collection), won the Shirley Jackson Award in 2016, and was nominated for a number of other awards.
And finally, Alice Hoffman returns this week with The World That We Knew, which is both a familiar tale and a strange one. It begins, as these things tend to do, in Berlin. The year is 1941, and a young Jewish woman saves her daughter from the Nazis by giving her over to a clever rabbi's daughter. This daughter creates a golem, who in tasked with keeping the young girl safe. Both girls and the golem escape to Paris, where the Resistance and the war tear them apart. Naturally, things get complicated, but throughout everything, the golem is strong and resolute. The World That We Knew is quintessential Hoffman—filled with heartbreak and love and wonder. All that we really need from a good book now and again, in the end.