The top book on this week’s stack of new and interesting things in the bookstore is Crix Sheridan’s The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack, a charming kids’ book that is a delightful scrapbook of a how a bearded lumberjack and a camera-totting Sasquatch spent their weekends together. No one talks about the mouse who tags along or where the Sasquatch got the camera, but hey, that’s backstory that isn’t relevant to this narrative. Plus you gotta have somewhere to go for the sequel, right?
And speaking of sequels, we’ve got Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo, which includes both of her Weird West Wild Hippo novellas (River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow), plus a couple extra stories to round out the whole narrative. We really dug River of Teeth when it came out last year, and we’re delighted to see Gailey’s vision of late 19-century America fleshed out. It’s all based on an absurd idea that was once presented to Congress. Once upon a time, you see, America was suffering from a meat shortage, and some crazy entrepreneur had the idea to import hippos to Louisiana and do some hippo farming. Congress, in a moment of clear lucidity, opted to not purpose that idea, leaving it as rich fodder for imaginative dreamers like Gailey. Like we said, the first novella was a hoot, and we suspect Gailey only upped the fun with the remaining stories.
And speaking of mid-century scandals and overflowing waterways, Al Roker is back this week with Ruthless Tide, an examination of the Johnstown Flood, one of the worst disasters of the Gilded Age, that late nineteenth century era of robber barons and glittery excess. In the case of the Johnstown Flood, all that glitter got washed away, along with about 20,000 homes and more than 2,000 people. It was a terrible tragedy that could have been averted, but there was a taste of greed in the air during that time, along with oh so much wretched excess.
And speaking of tragedies writ large, Monica Hesse’s American Fire is now out in paperback. We may have mentioned it last year, but that was more than sixty dozen weeks ago, and we can barely remember last Tuesday, and so you’ll forgive our lapse, right? It’s not like you don’t keep forgetting where you put your reading glasses, but we’re not going to out you about that to the rest of the world. Nope. We’re all cool here.
Anyway, American Fire is about a string of arsons in a sleepy Virginia town that went on for months. Folks were mystified as to who was behind it, and there were theories that ranged from “that weird neighbor with all the cats” to “government agencies who are putting stuff in the water” to “space aliens, duh.” None of these were true, and when the perpetrator(s) were caught, the subsequent investigation and trial revealed a lot about the slow and terrible decay that is happening in rural America.
And since we’ve mentioned two books with the word “American” in their titles and one that is about America, we should probably go a little farther afield on this next one. How about we check in on our favorite Polish fantasy author, Andrzej Sapkowski? Now, Sapkowski used to have a career in economics, but he dreamed of writing stories about fantasy witch hunters and monsters. One day, that dream turned into a book deal, and now, well, Seasons of Storms, the eighth Witcher novel is this summer’s go-to Fantasy read. In the Season of Swords, Geralt of Rivia finds himself without his signature weapons, in a land filled with all manner of things that want to eat him, and he’s going to have to use every last one of his tricks to survive . . .
And speaking of clever tricks, Claire North’s 84K lands this week. North, who has been writing compelling and engaging speculative fiction for a few years now, gives us something Orwellian and Dickian and frightfully Gonna Happen Tomorrow-ish with 84K. In the future, you see, fines become the currency of the land, and if you can’t pay your fines (£324 for spitting on the sidewalk, for instance), then you get to spend some time away from your life where someone might pick up your debt and put you to work, say, copying and pasting reviews of sports equipment until you’ve worked off your debt (£0.01 per review posted). Naturally, our protagonist is drawn out of their comfortably numb corporate existence into a mysterious world where nothing is as it seems, and if they are ever caught, their debt would have so many zeroes on it that we’d have to come up with a new number for it.
And speaking of strange worlds and technologies, we’ve also got Bethany C. Morrow’s Mem, a compact novel about identity, memory, and humanity. In an alternate 1920s, the glitterati are extracting unpleasant memories. These memories—called “Mems”—exist as a copy of their subject, and it is the very rare Mem who can, in turn, make their own memories. Naturally, the book follows the experience of Elsie (aka Dolores Extract No. 1), who has been living amongst the reals for some time now, where she has been pleasantly making her own memories and passing for human. What follows is something between Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon and Darin Bradley’s Chimpanzee, but with flappers.
Oh, and there is a new Stephen King novel this week. We know. How did we forget this? Well, it wasn’t on the top of the stack, mainly because it’s thick enough to warrant being part of the foundation. Anyway, this time around, King is exploring what happens when we think we know who perpetrated a horrific crime in our community, and what happens when we discover that things can get much worse. This one is called The Outsider, and there’s probably little coincidence that the epigraph is from Colin Wilson. “Thought only gives the world an appearance of order to anyone weak enough to be convinced by its show.” (Taken from “The Country of the Blind,” an early chapter in Wilson’s first book, which isn’t as widely read as it probably should be.)
And, finally, let’s turn to a writer not as widely known and take a look at their new book. Star of the North is the title of a thriller by D. B. John. It follows three characters who are drawn to one of the most secretive and dangerous places on earth—North Korea. As these characters grapple with aspects of their lives that have gone out of control, their stories weave together in a gripping and sophisticated conclusion. Lee Child calls it “extraordinary,” Steve Berry says it “delivers heart-in-your-throat action,” and Andrew Gross says it is “steeped in the intrigue, culture, and family of a closed regime, both terrifyingly and upliftingly emotional.” There you have it: a perfect trifecta. Like a s’mores, laid out on a cedar plank, dusted with cinnamon, and baked with flaming booze.