Hello dear readers, 

Nominally, we should be talking about Michael Lewis's new book, The Premonition because it's Michael Lewis, and all things considered, he writes a pretty gripping non-fiction book. This one is about the idiots who stood around all shifty-eyed while the COVID-19 virus went whompity-whomp-whomp as well as those clear-eyed types who said "Uh, actually, this might be a thing." And frankly, maybe we'll be ready to read this book in a few more years when even an all-too-facile description like this doesn't send our blood pressure through the roof. 

In short: public service message: The Premonition is out. We're sure it's great. We're going to put our fingers in our ears and go "la la la la," which means this week's newsletter is going to focus on escapism. 

Of course, we'll start with James Patterson, the reigning King of Escapism. What does James have to offer for us this week? He's got two books. Atta boy, James. We knew we could rely on you. 

First up is 21st Birthday, the, uh, twenty-first book in the Women's Murder Club series co-written by Maxine Paetro. This time around the club faces a gruesome piece of evidence, an unexpected suspect, and a terrible secret that threatens the safety of every woman in California. It's the sort of over the top thriller action you've come to expect from a series that is old enough to go to jail for murder. 

Slightly less gruesome is Best Nerds Forever, a middle grade reader for the Jimmy Patterson imprint that is co-written by Chris Grabenstein. This one starts when young Finn McAllister is pushed off the road by a black van and falls to his—oh, wait. What? The kid's dead? 

Oh, he's a ghost. Okay, okay. Right, so Finn—who is dead, but still here—has to figure out why he's not passing on as he should. Naturally, he meets other ghosts and they form a ghost squad who learn all sorts of useful life—er, "death"—lessons. 

And speaking of existential threats, Andy Weir is back this week with Project Hail Mary. Weir sciences the shit out of human resilience stories, and Project Hail Mary follows Ryland Grace who is an amnesiac onboard a mysterious spacecraft that has been tasked with saving all of humanity. This one is very much a thematic sequel to Weir's breakout The Martian, and is exactly the sort of optimistic escapism that we're looking for this week. 

Meanwhile, Alexander McCall Smith is well ahead of the game here with Tiny Tales: Stories of Romance, Ambition, Kindness, and Happiness. McCall Smith, who writes a couple of beloved series, is trying his hand at short fiction here, and the stories in Tiny Tales are whimsical, delightful, and gleefully absurd. Yes, please. 

Oh, look, here's a book about a dog from W. Bruce Cameron. A Dog's Courage is about Bella, who has been happily living with her goofy humans. But when Bella is separated by a raging wildfire during a weekend camping trip, she's got to find her way home. What's this? A pair of baby mountain lion cubs? Naturally, Bella isn't about to leave these furballs behind, and as fire and hungry predators loom, Bella has to call upon all of her canine ingenuity to rescue her new family from certain death. 

It's basically an Andy Weir novel, but with dogs. Come on. We know you get it. 

And here's The Mirror & The Light, the final book in Hilary Mantel's stunning trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith who grew up to be the guy who hid all the bodies for Henry VIII. Look, we know how the story ends (not well), but along with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, you've got a couple thousand pages of artfully constructed historical fiction that will keep your brain occupied for WEEKS. Talk about escapism. 

John Gwynne is starting a new series with The Shadow of the Gods, a Norse-influenced fantasy about a world without gods, but not without monsters. Naturally, folks are on the lookout for relics and rumors that are going to keep them safe, and as you can imagine, some folks have better plans than others. Trolls and frost-spiders are merely a bonus. Gwynne has been banging out some marvelous books recently, and we're excited about this new project. 

Love that cover, by the way. There's no way a two hundred pound idiot with a metal shield is going to stare down a couple thousand tons of angry dragon, but hey, we're here for the escapism, remember? 

And speaking of daring escapes, Victoria Aveyard is back with Realm Breaker, the first book in a new series as well. This one has pirates, spindleblades, and crazy passages between realms. Naturally, some folks want these portals to stay open, some want them closed, and some want to rule EVERYTHING. Our plucky protagonist and her band of rascals are way over their heads in this plot, but that's exactly why we're here, isn't it?

And speaking of awkward situations, in Mary Kay Andrews's The Newcomer, Letty Carnahan showed up at her sister's New York townhouse to find her sibling dead, her niece justifiably upset, and a page from a travel magazine that her sister left for her. Letty grabs the kid, the clue, a helpful "go-bag" of cash and precious jewelry, and her sister's Mercedes and hits the road. Naturally, things get more complicated as the killer pursues Letty and as the police start asking all sorts of questions . . . 

And no discussion of escapism is complete without talking about fly fishing. In The Optimist: A Case for the Fly Fishing Life, David Coggins notes that the sport hasn't changed much since Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler in 1653, and it's a bit of a stretch to think that he's got anything to add to the canon. But—much like the sport he's here to talk about—there's a persistent optimism to the angler. While we have no illusions about fly fishing, we're always happy to indulge in someone else's obsession, especially one as marvelously rendered as Coggins's. 

And finally, you might want to keep an eye on the store's Instagram feed these next few weeks. As you may recall from last week's newsletter, Sera and the otters have scootered off on a road trip. To our surprise and delight, Sera is sending post cards to the store. 

Overheard At The Old Barn »»

PHFEIPHFER: Hmm hmmm hmmm. 

ROLLO: Uh, hello? 


ROLLO: Can I help you? 

PHFEIPHFER: Oh, hello, little fellow. Are you part of the new crew? 

ROLLO: I suppose I am. 

PHFEIPHFER: Jolly. I see there's been some redecorating. 

ROLLO: I wouldn't call it that, but yes, I suppose there has. 

PHFEIPHFER: There used to be an old couch over there. You know where that went?

ROLLO: I don't recall any couch.

PHFEIPHFER: No, no. You're a careful one, aren't you?

ROLLO: What do you mean? 

PHFEIPHFER: You're not in charge. I can tell that. Not much else, though. 

ROLLO: Well, you are a fox, after all. One should be careful around foxes. 

PHFEIPHFER: That's a smear campaign mounted by the poultry industry, I'll have you know. 

ROLLO: Regardless, I am a wee and prudent hedgehog. 

PHFEIPHFER: Fair enough. So, where's the boss? 

ROLLO: Colby? 

PHFEIPHFER: Ah, yes. Colby. That's the fellow. Where's he at? 

ROLLO: He's, uh, in a meeting. 

PHFEIPHFER: Taking a nap, is he? Smart fellow. I'd be doing the same if you hadn't gotten rid of my favorite couch. 

ROLLO: Uh, it was moldy. 

PHFEIPHFER: Nonsense, lad. That was a naturally occurring cushioning material. Supports your lumbar. 

ROLLO: It smelled bad. 

PHFEIPHFER: Well, the air circulation in this place is terrible. Fetidity can linger. 

ROLLO: That's not a word. 

PHFEIPHFER: Sure it is. 

ROLLO: . . . 


ROLLO: . . . 

PHFEIPHFER: I can see by the outraged quiverence of your whiskers that you are a trained professional. 

ROLLO: . . . !

PHFEIPHFER: It's all right, son. I'm a professional too. I'm allowed to maligner. It's part of the folksy charm of the Leisure Desk. 

ROLLO: The Leisure Desk? 

PHFEIPHFER: Yes, at the Gazette. The community newspaper. 

ROLLO: The Gazette?  

PHFEIPHFER: Yes, the Stuck Valley Gazette. What do you think all that heavy equipment downstairs is for? 

ROLLO: Making pancakes? 

PHFEIPHFER: Ho ho! Wouldn't that be lovely? But, no. 

ROLLO: It's for . . . printing words on paper? 

PHFEIPHFER: That's right. 

ROLLO: I . . . I . . . 

PHFEIPHFER: What's the matter, little fellow? 

ROLLO: This is a story factory? 

PHFEIPHFER: You know what? I suppose it is. 


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