Even though the lights are off in half the county, we’re still putting all sorts of new books on the shelves. Why? Because it’s 2019, dear readers, and that means we’ve reset the clock, turned back time, and flipped over a new leaf. And there are a whole bunch of new books clamoring for your pristine attention this week. You’re in the first week of a whatever challenge you’ve accepted, and these books want to get in front of you first. 

They’re all crowding up behind us. It’s like a room full of lemmings all desperate to get out and go bounding around. Let’s get out of the way and let them run. Go, little books, go!

Let’s start off with Holly Black’s The Wicked King, which is a follow-on to last year’s The Cruel Prince. As you can imagine, this is a leveling up book, where the stakes are higher, the relationships more toxic, and the threat of invasion from the Queen of the Undersea is that much more imminent. If you thought you had trouble putting The Cruel Prince down, The Wicked King is going to be stapled to your hand. 

And speaking of breathless reads, James Lee Burke is back with New Iberia Blues, which finds aging detective Dave Robicheaux once again deep in the Louisiana swamps, wrestling with personal demons and psychopathic killers. Burke is a master of atmosphere and pacing, and while this is the twenty-second Robicheaux novel, Kirkus Reviews points out that “the sentences are brand new, and the powerful emotional charge they carry feels piercingly new as well.” 

And speaking of being drenched with atmosphere, we also have Emma Rous’s debut novel, The Au Pair. The description of this book reads like a serious binge-worthy late-night scandal fest. “Within hours of the birth of the twins, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the mysterious couple who drew a young and innocent nanny into their secretive inner circle. Now, twenty-five years later, when Seraphine discovers a family picture that shows her mother holding only one child, she plunges into a nightmarish world of lies, treachery, and lots of dead bodies. You’ve never seen a family history like this.” 

And speaking of waking up with night sweats and wondering if a killer whale is stalking you in your dreams, we have Doctors Kelly and Eisenberg on hand with Am I Dying?, their helpful guide to telling the difference between “Oh, crap, I think that potato salad was out too long before I ate it,” and “My guts are liquifying, so I really don’t have time to circle the hospital parking lot for an hour, looking for a convenient parking spot.” Am I Dying? categorizes symptoms and their likely reason into “chill out” and “freak out” buckets, and we’re delighted to read that Kelly & Eisenberg exude calm throughout the discussion about varying levels of concern one should have about, say, constipation. 

And speaking of working through the blockage, here is Marianne Powers’s self help self-help book. In Help Me!, Powers recounts her efforts at following one self-help book every month for a year. Naturally, there are hijinks, embarrassing moments, poignant insights, and thorough hilarity along the way. This is great for those of us who secretly know we need some help, but can’t a) figure out which guru to grovel toward, and b) secretly also know that the best help is giving yourself permission to get your own sh*t together. Powers is not aiming to be a self-help helper, but she’s certainly providing help through her own self-help selfie helping. 

We think we could have made that last sentence more complicated. 

How much help could a self-help helper help, if a self-help helper could help their self? 

Better? No? Whatever. You get what we’re trying to say. That’s what we like about you. 

And speaking of complicated things, here is The First Conspiracy, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. Apparently, matters were tense and fraught with all sorts of backstabbing, double-dealing, triple-dealing!, and manipulation going on during the lead-up to the American Revolution. Chief among the targets of the British Empire was that classic do-gooder George Washington, who was stirring up ragtag bands of scrappy freedom fighters and making hell for the British Navy. Naturally, the British came up with a plan, and with the same awareness of human nature, George put together a couple of secret teams: the Life Guard, who were—no surprise—tasked with protecting his person; and, the Committee of Intestine Enemies. Of course, the CIE (precursor to the CIA, natch) found turncoats within the Life Guards, and then matters got a bit high concept for everyone, ending in George doing a dramatic live television reading of the Declaration of Independence while standing on the steps of Freedom Cathedral, thereby galvanizing the poor folk of this beleaguered nation into action against those monarchist oppressors. 

More or less. We may have embellished a point or two. Thankfully, Meltzer and Mensch are more historically inclined than we are, and they keep the story tight to the truth (well, the “truth” as we know it). Regardless, it’s a crackling read. 

And while we’re hitting the historical thrillers, how about Eric Rutkow’s The Longest Line on the Map? The Pan-American Highway System was originally intended to run from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska all the way to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. It sounds simple: run a road straight from the top to the bottom of the world. However, the reality is that road crosses a whole bunch of national borders, as well as some pretty serious terrain. Rutkow draws on archival sources and a bunch of oral histories to put together a rather fascinating road trip. 

And speaking of making complicated connections across vast distances, this week’s Swedish tear-jerker is The Red Address Book. Nonagenarian Doris is spending her final days, reminiscing to her grandniece Jenny, about all the names in her little address book that she has had since she was thirteen. That’s the historically maudlin “I was there when X happened” part of the story, but author Sofia Lundberg manages to lift the overarching story into something a little more heartfelt and noteworthy by the end. 

And speaking of heartfelt and noteworthy, we have Wilma Melville’s and Paul Lobo’s Hero Dogs, tales of strays, rejects, and rescue animals that became America’s greatest disaster search partners. That’s right. Super-duper helper dogs. Rising up from their downtrodden existences. Transforming into selfless beasts. Becoming critical to search and rescue efforts in hurricane zones, disaster locations, and earthquake impacts. Sure, they slobber a bit, but are you going to care when they’ve found you under a half-ton of rubble? 

Meanwhile, we’ve got Kiersten White’s Slayer, which is a new entry into the Buffyverse—you know that cult movie, groundbreaking TV show, and hit comic series Buffyverse. It makes a novel sort of an obvious next play, don’t you think? Anyway, this time around the Slayer is Nina Jamison-Smythe, who has just come into her powers when all the magic in the world goes away. Naturally, this makes Nina a target, and then hijinks ensue. White, whose The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein demonstrated that she can do good YA horror, hits the ground running with Slayer, and we expect this series will only get hotter. 

And speaking of hot properties, Karen McManus is back with Two Can Keep a Secret, which is the story of a pair of siblings who get shuffled off to a remote Vermont community, where things went awry once before and where they’re going to go awry once again. Filled with twists and herrings and twisted herrings, Two Can Keep a Secret is a deliciously spooky late-night thriller snack. 

And speaking of detectives out of their depths, Jess Montgomery’s debut The Widows is based on the true-life story of Ohio’s first female sheriff. Set in 1924, it follows the story of Lily Ross and Marvena Whitcomb who both discover that the recently deceased Daniel Ross (husband to Lily, and something else to Marvena) was not what he appeared to be. Thus setting the stage for a powerful tale of reconciliation and justice. 

And finally, Lincoln Pierce is branching out from Big Nate books with Max and the Midknights. Max and a group of interesting friends are tasked with rescuing the Kingdom of Byjovia from a nasty villain, and this graphic novel follows their adventures as they get tangled up in all sorts of trouble, save the kingdom, and grow as people. It’s very heartwarming. But there are sword fights, dragon riding, and some well-timed gender reversals that elevate this story to an irresistible level. 

Overheard At The Store »»

NADIA: You two have been a great help, but maybe now that the holidays are over, we should consider moving you off the floor and into the back room or something. 

HODGE: Oh, my. That’s . . . that’s disappointing. Are we that rude to look at? 

NADIA: No, you’re fine. Well, you are fine. The other is a bit . . . 

PODGE: What? What? Energetic? Enthusiastic? 

NADIA: I was thinking more like a toy poodle whacked out on polycarbonate off-gassing from a chew toy. 

PODGE: What? No. That’s more like this!

NADIA: That’s . . . don’t do that in front of the customers. Please. 

PODGE: Ow. I think I hurt myself. 

HODGE: He is excitable.

NADIA: Well, and that’s why I was thinking maybe you two could go do some corner work for us. 

HODGE: Corner work? 

NADIA: You know . . . stand on the street corner with signs that say “Bookstore!” With a pointy arrow. Maybe over by the highway so that folks coming down the hill will actually slow down and visit. Instead of driving sixty minutes to the city to not find parking and then never get to an actual bookstore. 

HODGE: Oh, I see. You need some visibility marketing. 

PODGE: We could get a hot air balloon and float overhead. Toss out leaflets, like they did back when they needed to get all of the animals out of the forest because of the sponge migration. 

NADIA: Does he even hear himself? 

HODGE: Sometimes the light gets too much and it makes parts of his brain get a little electric. 

NADIA: Well, it’s winter now, and there’s no sun anywhere, so I don’t think that’ll be a problem for when you’re out . . . what was it? Doing some “visual marketing.” 

HODGE: Do we have to stand near the highway? 

NADIA: Well, I don’t want you going door-to-door, so . . . 

HODGE: <Sigh> Fine. 

PODGE: Can we wear colorful hats? 

NADIA: You should. 

PODGE: Ones that say “Booksnob”?

NADIA: Maybe just “Booklover.” 

PODGE: Everyone’s a booklover. 

HODGE: And a critic as well. 

NADIA: Well, I’m sure you two will figure it out. And no making faces at dogs in cars. I don’t need to hear about traffic accidents. 

PODGE: We need to come up with a shimmy. 

HODGE: A what? 

PODGE: A shimmy. You know, that serpentine thing that otters do that no one else can do. We can hypnotize them. “Boooook stoooore. There’s a booook stoooore nearby. You want to goooo tooo the boook stoore.” 

NADIA: I . . . I am in the bookstore, and I feel compelled to come here. That, um, yeah. That might work. 

PODGE: Come on, Hodge. Let’s go undulate for books!


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