And now we talk about books. 

(You all read the newsletter about our updated event calendar, yes? No? You should. You can find it in the archive, if you haven't. Or your inbox, probably sandwiched between someone trying to sell you watches or stock in a company that claims to have a corner on the Slip-n-Slide market.)

Anyway, this week's books. Strap in. 

The second book of actor Neil Patrick Harris's The Magic Misfits is out in paperback. Here's the daft thing about NPH. Not only is he charming and funny and a marvelous actor who does not flinch from poking fun at himself, but he's also an accomplished magician, writer, and artist. Seriously. He does his own cover art. And probably wrote all the words. And probably designed all the puzzles in the book. Seriously. 

Now that we think about it, we sort of dislike him. But only in a mildly jealous at his time-management skills sort of way. Not for any truly shallow reasons like . . . anyway, we're sure the book is very entertaining. 

Oh look, one of those new DC Zoom books. Now, when DC first announced they were going to do a middle grade imprint, we scratched our heads a bit. How were they going to translate things like "The rain on my chest is a baptism—I'm born again" to middle grade readers? Or "You've got rights. Lots of rights. Sometimes I count them just to make myself feel crazy." Well, as it turns out, Michael Northrop and Gustavo Duarte have managed to bridge that gap admirably with Dear Justice League, a marvelously charming and delightful graphic novel that is a series of vignettes wherein the Justice League members attempt to answer fan mail from kids. And they really lean into it. We love it. 

And speaking of kindness and compassion, Onjali Q. Raúf's debut is out this week. The Boy at the Back of the Class is the story of Ahmet, a Syrian refugee, who shows up on the third Tuesday of the school year and sits at the back of class. Everyone is curious because, you know, new kid, but everyone is also, as you know, sort of standoffish because "new kid." However, not everyone is a jerk, and The Boy at the Back of the Class is a timely and heartwarming reminder that the world really only works because we stand together and not apart. 

And speaking of standing together, here's Amelinda Bérubé's Here There Are Monsters, which is the story of two sisters: one of which is snatched away from home by stick-and-bone monsters, and the other vows to get her back. Sounds like a warm family tale, yes? However, Bérubé has been steeping in old-school fairy tales and the tale of Skye's quest to rescue Deirdre descends into some dark and atmospheric places. Bring candles, a thick spool of thread, and your favorite sweater, because this journey is not for the faint of heart. 

Oh, and speaking of spooky stories, the marketing copy on James Patterson's The Inn claims that James (with able assistance from Candice Fox) is attempting to outdo The Murder House, The Beach House, AND Honeymoon with this newest thriller. It's The Shining meets Hotel California meets, uh, a half-dozen of Patterson's other books! 

We can't imagine how pitch meetings actually work anymore for his books. Does he just show up with a catered lunch and say, "You know, I saw a copy of Stephen King's book The Shining in an airport lounge the other day, and I got to thinking about how he played in that literary rock-and-roll band for awhile. Wasn't that a hoot? Reminded me of that song about the hotel—you know, from the eighties? Motel Sixty-Six or something like that. By that band with all those guys who went off and did solo albums? Something like that. Anyway, who wants lunch?" And the publisher rep just says, "Uh . . . so . . . August?" And James says, "Sure. August is fine. Whatever." The rep persists: "So . . . what should we call it?" "Call what?" says James, who is trying to decide between the roast beef and a ham on rye. "The book. What should we call the book? Hotel California?" "Too many letters," says James. "Besides, what was that lyric . . . ? 'You can check out'—No, call it 'Check-in.' Still too many letters. Call it 'In.'" 

And there's a copy-editor in the back of the room who sticks up their hand and points out, in a tremulous voice, that you can't actually use a preposition for a book title. Whereupon, Patterson—having decided that he'll definitely have the ham on rye—merely says, "So put another 'n' on it. Do I have to do everything around here?" 

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes, talking about Edward Posnett's Strange Harvests: the Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects wherein Posnett disappears into the world in pursuit of the histories, traditions, myths, and wild-ass stories behind the commodification of specific objects in the natural world. It's the sort of book that is probably the result of Posnett's mother asking: "Modern financial trends and historical trade practices? Why'd you go and study all that for? What are you going to do for a real job?" 

Posnett, we suspect, called Michael Lewis and asked for advice. Lewis probably said: "Go write a book. That'll show them. It's what I did, and look where it got me." 

And speaking of Michael Lewis, do we really have to wait until December for the paperback edition of The Fifth Risk? <sigh> Okay. We'll curb our enthusiasm for a few more months. 

However, what we can send you home with this week is Nathan Makaryk's Nottingham, which purports to swizzle up that old fireside medieval adventure classic into something much more satisfying than last year's doomed on arrival big-screen version of Robin Hood. Is the sheriff a tyrant or merely a misunderstood public servant? Is Robin a hero of the people or a guerrilla fighter who wandered away from a war more than a thousand miles away. Is Marion the fetching damsel in search of distress or is she the clever mastermind at the center of this web of lies and deception? Who knows. Well, Makaryk has some ideas, and one of co-executive producers and writers of HBO's Game of Thrones calls it "the most pleasurable reading experience I've had since first discovering George R. R. Martin." Which, frankly, is a blurb that almost eats its own tail.  

Though, to be fair, Nottingham is a novelized version of Makaryk's stage play about Robin Hood, and his bio says he likes dogs and scotch, so we're totally down for giving him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, we're in the mood for a decent redo of the Sherwood Forest Fracas. 

And speaking of being all moody and what-not, Lisa Congdon has a guide to harnessing that inner wildness. Find Your Artistic Voice not only has a picture of a tiger on the front, but it also has a whole bunch of insightful commentary and ideas about how to discover, shape, and realize that unique voice that is you. Sure, being an artist is like putting on a stork suit and a tall hat covered with plastic fruit, but that doesn't mean you can't own it. Congdon has some clever advice and useful insight into conquering the fear of the unknown that every artist has to face every day. Be strong, stork bird! Find your voice. 

But don't go crazy, as evidenced by the last half hour we just lost sorting through the differences between the four corporate entities that show up on the copyright page of recent Tom Clancy novels. We didn't settle anything, in case you're curious, but you're certainly welcome to come down and try to untangle it with us. 

[Ed note: Please don't encourage the lads.]

And speaking of distinct voices, Maria Doria Russell is back this week with The Women of Copper County, which is a stylized fictionalization of life during am early 20th century mining strike in Calumet, Michigan. Anna Klobuchar Clements was a 25-year old miner's wife who led a lengthy strike against the mine's owners for the unsafe conditions and practices that were widowing many of the women in the town. This is, by the way, one of the first unionized strikes in America, and Anna Clements is seen by some as an "American Joan of Arc." The Women of Copper County is filled with Russell's strong penchant for historical details and narrative grace. 

And, with that, we will wrap up this week's selection of reading material. If you are inclined to believe some of those infographics you can find on the Internet, we have passed the geographical offset of summer, which means that not only are the days getting shorter, but they will be getting cooler. More time for reading, we say. And more time for games, too, which is good, because—hooey!—do we have a stack. 

This is the first part of our first shipment. We also have a number of demo games that we'd be happy to let you paw through and read the instructions. Our next game night is August 18th, and we'll definitely be playing all the games at once—along with some D & D for those that like things a little more abstract. 

Overheard At The Store »»

COLBY: What's up, Podge? 

PODGE: I found this squawk box back behind one of the bookcases. There is fruit in it, but I can't get to it. 

COLBY: That's a cellphone. 

PODGE: A what?

COLBY: An electronic device that lets you talk to people. 

PODGE: What's wrong with using your voice? 

COLBY: Uh . . . nothing. Never mind. Shouldn't you—


COLBY: What—what are doing? 

PODGE: I just want the fruit, and every time I try to get it, some strange creature tries to lure me away with a crafty dance. But I am no fool. I know it wants the fruit for itself. 

COLBY: That's—that's a game, Podge. 

PODGE: A what? I thought you said it was a "phone." GET AWAY FROM THE FRUIT, ZOOMBAT!

COLBY: It's—oh, how can I explain this?

PODGE: Explain how to get the fruit, mangy marsupial. 

COLBY: Oh? You're going to be like that, are you?

PODGE: No, I—I didn't mean that. It's just—I am very angry about the fruit. I just want the fruit. 

COLBY: I don't think you can have the fruit. 

PODGE: Why . . . why not? 

COLBY: The fruit isn't for you. 

PODGE: Why isn't the fruit for me? 

COLBY: That's not how the game works. 

PODGE: Well, the game is clearly broken then. 

COLBY: And yet . . . 


COLBY: . . . here you are . . . 

PODGE: I'M GOING TO—oh, what's this? Who—Who's this? 

COLBY: That's, uh, that's your character. 

PODGE: My character doesn't look like that. It's much silkier. 

COLBY: No, your in-game character. Your pretend person. 

PODGE: I get a pretend person? 

COLBY: You do. 

PODGE: That's fun. Can I make them give me the fruit? 


PODGE: Oh. Stupid pretend person. Look! Hats! I like hats! Wait—I can dress them up?

COLBY: It would appear so. 

PODGE: Haha! I will make you wear silly clothes since you don't give me the fruit!

COLBY: That'll show them.

PODGE: It will, won't it?  Oh—what's this? I have to give this stupid pretend person a name? Hmmm. How about "GIVEMETHEFRUITNOWYOUSILLY—" Oh, too long. "WHYDOYOUKEEPTHEFRUIT—" Still too long. Fine. "PodgeLikesBooks." There. WHAT? Now I have to pick a color?!  I just want the fruit!

COLBY: You're never going to get the fruit. 

PODGE: I will get the fruit! I will! I will! 


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