Well, the countdown to Zero Hour has begun around here, which means that it is high time that we started offering recommendations for those hard to gift people in your life.
For instance, what do you get that family member who has every Stephen King book ever written (including Elevation, which was released just long enough ago that it falls outside the “stop buying books for yourself or no one will be able to get you anything this year” zone)? How about a first edition hardcover? No way, you say, do you know what those are going for?
We do, but we also know that the shiny new edition of Pet Sematary, which came out this week, has these magical words on the copyright page: “First Scribner Hardcover edition: December 2018.” That’s right. It’s a first edition. But, you know, not the first publication.
And if you’re going that route, you might as well get The Sun Dog, which is also out this week in its first standalone publication. Remember, lovely readers. When your book snob friends get all fussy about “first” editions, you can buy them these and protest innocently about the distinction between “editions” and “publications.”
Because, you know, semantics.
Hi, welcome to the A Good Book newsletter, where instead of festive holiday pictures of snowflakes melting in hot chocolate and delightfully sexy-looking people smooching under the mistletoe, we have pictures of zombie cats and very angry dogs. Happy Holidays!
Anyway, let’s try something a little lighter. Um . . . [Flicks through stack of books next to desk] “Unnamed narrator finds herself targeted by a high-ranking dissident. . .” No. “Protagonist barely knows the world that existed before the Doom sickened and killed billions.” No. No. “An alternately charming and horrifying exploration of what it means to be human . . .” Ah, no. “The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of . . .” Seriously?
What is it with books at the end of the year? Do publishers wait to put out all the really dark stuff until the days are short or something? Clearly, we need a vacation. If only we could get away . . .
. . . in a tiny teardrop trailer!
We feel like we’re on The Price Is Right. “Get away from your dreary and mundane existence in this fabulous new tiny camper, which you can assemble from scratch using plans provided in by Matt Berger's instant DIY classic, The Handmade Teardrop Trailer. This easy-to-read instruction manual includes dreamy carpentry options, sumptuous designs for windows and vents, and totally uncomplicated wiring diagrams to ensure that you have both light and heat while you whisk yourself away from all the comforts and terrors of civilization. All of this can be yours . . .”
We’d be happy to put together a Make Your Own Teardrop work group if y’all wanted to build a fleet of these and make a caravan plan.
Meanwhile, Christopher Fowler takes his curmudgeonly detectives Bryant and May back in time to the Swinging Sixties in the latest Peculiar Crimes Unit novel. If you haven’t started on the adventures of Bryant and May, Hall of Mirrors might be a good place to tuck in, as it takes place when the pair are less wrinkled and less inclined to get caught up in really weird mysteries. Mostly Agatha Christie in style, Hall of Mirrors has, according to Kirkus Reviews, “more fully fleshed-out suspects, clues, red herrings, twists, and honest mystery and detection than in the last three whodunits you read.”
And speaking of marvelous mysteries, Klinger & King are back with their fourth anthology of stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes. For the Sake of the Game has fourteen tales that are both deeply inspired and wildly inspirational. The list of authors reads like a very wonderfully odd cast of characters, and the stories are a menu even a surrealist would find appealing. Anthologies can be odd things, but this one looks like has something for everyone and everything for someone.
And speaking of something for even the most jaded bibliophile, here is the Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, because, you know, mid-nineteenth century history with footnotes. What's not to love? Ooh, and some reviews say the footnotes are almost too rigorous. Pfft. That’s just not possible.
And speaking of rigorous historical analysis, how about Iain Ballantyne’s The Deadly Deep, the definitive history of submarine warfare? It’s almost as thick as Elizabeth Samet’s annotated edition of Grant’s memoirs, plus it’s about submarines. Wow. Hard to pick a favorite.
Though, we should point out that John F. Marszalek edited and annotated an edition of Grant’s memoirs last year, so there are competing choices on the first one. But how long has it been since a good history of sub warfare has been written?
It’s okay. We’ll wait while you do the math . . .
And speaking of the interesting history of warfare, Myke Cole has done something surprising. Well, probably not surprising if you’ve ever hung out with him at a hotel bar and listened to him natter on about stuff that makes him all big-eyed and swoony. But if you’ve just followed his writing career, you’d be going from undead Navy SEAL super soldier books (the Shadow Ops series) to military order fantasy books (the Sacred Throne series) to TV show hottie (as a cyber analyst on CBS’s Hunted) to a deep dive into historical battles between those two quintessential infantry formations: the phalanx and the legion.
We know. Our heads hurt too.
Fortunately, Cole is well aware of how we’re coming to his earnest bit of academic writing, and so he peppers his authoritative examination of six key battles with a light touch, rendering what could be a really dry history lesson into an exciting exploration of the history of martial combat.
And speaking of exciting explorations, Diane Setterfield is back this week. That’s right, the author of The Thirteenth Tale has a new book out. Once Upon a River weaves and wallows along the shores of the mighty Thames, during a time period when superstitions run high and there is still a hint of miracles in the air. A mysterious stranger shows up one night at a village inn with a drowned child in his arms. Who is this person? Who was the girl child? And before many answers can be found, the girl wakes up, setting off a long series of complicated tangling and untangling of relationships, up and down this moody river.
And speaking of clever mysteries, Murphy’s Law, the first book Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy Mysteries is out again. Young Molly flees a murder rap in Ireland, but before she can even get to New York, there’s another mysterious death. Is this girl cursed, or does she have a nose for trouble? Hard to say, and if you aren’t familiar with Bowen’s dashing early-twentieth century heroine, you are in for a treat.
And speaking of treating yourself, Jen Sincero has a fabulously blue stocking stuffer for all the badasses in your life. You Are A Badass Every Day is the title of this new book of badassery, and—hang on, let’s check—oh, it’s more than just big type proclaiming “Yep, still a badass; ask again tomorrow” on every page. Filled with short little pep talks that you can read in an instant while you’re off pretending to fix your hair or are thinking about huffing into a paper bag, You Are A Badass Every Day is your little pocket “can-do!” friend, who will always be there to pep talk you up and help you get through the day.
And that, dear readers, are this week's suggestions for lovely holiday reads.
Oh, and those books we blew past earlier? Okay, okay. We won’t leave you hanging about what they are.
“In Northern Ireland during the troubles of the 1970s, an unnamed narrator finds herself targeted by a high-ranking dissident known as Milkman.” Anna Burns' debut, Milkman, won the Booker Prize a few months ago, by the way.
"They look like an everyday family living an ordinary life. But beyond the edges of this peaceful farm, unimaginable forces of light and dark have been unleashed. Fallon Swift, approaching her thirteenth birthday, barely knows the world that existed before--the city where her parents lived, now in ruins and reclaimed by nature since the Doom sickened and killed billions. Traveling anywhere is a danger, as vicious gangs of Raiders and fanatics called Purity Warriors search for their next victim. Those like Fallon, in possession of gifts, are hunted--and the time is coming when her true nature, her identity as The One, can no longer be hidden.” Nora Roberts continues her dystopian SF series with Of Blood and Bone.
“The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y begins in 1979 . . .” Also the last case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, as Sue Grafton died about a year ago, before finishing her alphabet series. Y is for Yesterday is out now in paperback.
“An alternately charming and horrifying exploration of what it means to be human and how far we'll go in pursuit of personal and societal 'perfection.’” Blurb written by Kiersten White for Arwen Elys Dayton’s collection of linked stories called Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. In case you were wondering what happens when tomorrow’s kids learn how to do DNA editing during science class.