One of the things that is always difficult about writing—whether it be a store newsletter or anything, really—is knowing how and where to start. Sure, we could blather on about the weather (which we’ve done a couple hundred—well, not that many—times), or we could launch right into book talk, but that’s sort of rude, isn’t it? It’s like showing up at your house, barreling as you open the door, and then sprawling all over the couch.
We do that less often than talking about the weather, right?
Anyway, now that we’ve gotten past the awkward part, let’s talk about lunch.
We’ve highlighted a number of great cookbooks over the past few years, and we’ve taken home a few of them ourselves. What we’ve discovered while trying out a wide variety of recipes is that we like adventurous cuisine, we’re not as keen on the six hours of driving all over the South Sound to procure all the necessary ingredients. Which is why we’re delighted with Eric Greenspan’s The Great Grilled Cheese Book. And yes, you can get lost in the tasty combinations Greenspan offers (Taleggio on raisin-walnut bread!), but you can also revel in the pure simplicity of melted cheese and two pieces of bread.
And since it will probably be after lunch when you get this newsletter, we can slid right into Misty Kalkofen and Kirsten Amann’s Drinking Like Ladies: 75 Modern Cocktails From The World’s Leading Female Bartenders; Includes Toasts to Extraordinary Women in History. And once again, the subtitle alone says it all. Kalkofen and Amann are legendary bartenders in their own right, and their selection of cocktails and historical anecdotes is both marvelous and refreshing.
And now that we’ve had some grub and a cocktail, let’s read something sensational. Something called A Deal with the Devil. Now, here's the premise: Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken wandered into a story about a mail order con involving a psychic and a $200 million cash grab. They put together their story for CNN, who ran it on their website back in 2016, and now the pair is reporting on what they’ve learned since then. Naturally, the story of mail-fraud psychic Maria Duval gets weirder and darker . . .
And speaking of long-form investigative research, how about a true story of Arthur Conan Doyle playing Sherlock? Now, as you know, Arthur Conan Doyle invented the Detective’s Detective, thereby inventing both the caustic know-it-all protagonist and the modern detective novel. But he was also a keen study of many disciplines, and around the turn of the 20th century, he found himself getting caught up in a sensational murder trial. So caught up, in fact, that, over the next two decades, he sleuthed his way through the transcripts, interviews, statements, and outright fabrications of the case, ultimately demonstrating that the man the police had put in jail was actually innocent. Margalit Fox’s book, Conan Doyle for the Defense, reads like a breathless Edwardian murder mystery, but it’s all true!
And speaking of mystery stories, intrepid English spy Maggie Hope is back this week in Susan Ella MacNeal’s The Prisoner in the Castle. Things have not gone well for Maggie during WWII and she’s currently imprisoned in a dank Scottish castle, along with a bunch of other people the British government would like to keep quiet. In fact, when one of the prisoners drops dead during an after-dinner aperitif (it’s a British incarceration, after all, not some French penal colony on an island off the coast of Guiana), Maggie realizes that none of them are expected to see the end of the war. She has to escape before her secrets are lost forever . . .
And speaking of things lost forever, we have Peng Shepherd’s evocative and mesmerizing debut, The Book of M. Set in the near future, The Book of M begins with the loss of shadows. As each of us lose our shadows, we also loose our memories, and the novel follows Max and Ory, who struggle to find another across a fragmented and unrecognizable landscape. We’re reminded of Station Eleven and Oryx and Crake, which means we’re going to gobble this one up as soon as possible.
And speaking of gobbling books up, the latest Longmire novel, The Western Star, is out in paperback this week. Now that the TV show has wrapped up, this is how you get your Longmire fix, and if The Western Star is out in paperback, that means Depth of Winter must be coming soon. Oooh, we can feel that summer is almost over.
But we can surely squeeze in a few more lazy summer blockbuster reads, can’t we? How about Agent in Place, the next installment of Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series? Lee Child loves it; it says so right on the cover. Kirkus Reviews says that “somehow, Greaney cranks out winner after another.” [As if this were a bad thing.] Providence Journal is so overcome they get all alliterative in their praise: “Exquisite in its execution” and “relentlessly riveting.” There’s probably another review somewhere which is just explosion sound effects, which is all you really need to know, right?
And speaking of informed decisions, David Gordon’s new book The Bouncer has some rather quirky things going for it: 1) Joe, the titular protagonist, has a classified military background and likes to read Dostoevsky when he’s not working as a bouncer at ‘Queens’ finest gentleman’s club’; 2) An old Catholic school pal of Joe’s, who happens to like wearing women’s clothing when he’s not being a Mob boss; 3) a couple of rich-kid terrorists who are after a vial of perfume with deadly characteristics; and 4) a crack-shot FBI agent who is dying to get away from her dead-end desk job. Naturally, things get complicated.
And speaking of things getting complicated, Nick Petrie is back with Light It Up, the next book in the Peter Ash series. Petrie’s Ash isn’t quite ready to knock Jack Reacher out of the title spot of Quintessential Bad Ass, but Petrie looks to Robert B. Parker a bit with Light It Up as he brings together a couple of favorite characters from the previous books into something that looks suspiciously like a dream team. As we liked June (from Burning Bright) and Louis (from The Drifter), we’re delighted by these changes.
And finally, since we’ve been talking about reading non-stop for awhile now, how about a book on reading? A while back Maryanne Wolf wrote a book called Proust and the Squid, which reveled in some ideas about how we read and what reading does to our brains. Now, in Reader, Come Home, Wolf tackles the impact of the digital age on the reading brain. We’re not going to spoil anything when we say that Wolf has some concerns about the preponderance of screens in the modern world. But Wolf isn’t merely soapboxing about how screens are sucking our souls; rather, she’s interested in how we’re going to move forward and still retain this critical need for deep reading.
Amen to that.