In the light of a super blue blood moon, it seems only fitting that we launch ourselves into the second month of 2018 with some equally over-the-top fiction.
This week’s heroic Hail Mary! for that medal is Tim Dorsey’s The Pope of Palm Beach, the latest in Dorsey’s series about Serge A. Storms, a likable rogue who roams about Florida with his perpetually baked sidekick Coleman in an effort to see all the sights. On the one hand, Dorsey is great for the tourist industry; on the other, Serge tends to stumble upon bountiful bundles of bizarre bad guys who apparently flourish in Florida. In The Pope of Palm Beach, Serge and Coleman are attempting to source legends about a hometown hero of theirs—the crazy but wet-hot surfer dude, Darby. Why? Well, it’s not all that important as to the why, really. Just know that hijinks and hilarity ensue.
Hot on Dorsey’s heels is Gregg Hurwitz, who is back with Hellbent, the third in the Orphan X series. Evan Smoak, trained as an off-the-books government assassin since the age of twelve, must go into hiding when Smoak’s mentor (and father figure, naturally) is killed and the Orphan program is taken over by a very bad man. Hurwitz doesn’t have the same sense of humor as Dorsey, but Hellbent makes up for that lack of characteristic charm by tripling down on tough guy posturing and ludicrously entertaining set pieces.
No, seriously. When Smoak’s mentor is captured by bad guys, they take him up in a helicopter where they threaten to throw him out (without a parachute) if he doesn’t tell them what they want to know. Smoak’s mentor laughs and says: “You guys are stuck in this chopper with me. Bad idea.” And then he uses his teeth to snatch the ripcord on a thug’s parachute. During the ensuing chaos of a parachute blowing out a helicopter door, he leaps out of the other door. Without a chute. Because they’re not getting anything out of him. No, sir. He gets to choose the way he dies. Not these two-bit rent-a-thugs.
If you think that is bad-ass, well, you haven’t met the villain, who one-ups that insanity in the next chapter. And we haven’t even gotten to the scene where Evan makes himself lunch!
In the slightly less over-the-top department, we have Meg Gardiner’s second UNSUB novel, Into the Black Nowhere. This series, staring intrepid FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix, roams around the serial killer du jour landscape, doing things that we’ve probably seen before (and, in fact, Gardiner notes that she was inspired by a real-life serial killer who doesn’t need to be named). What sets Gardiner’s books apart is her clever plotting and excellent pacing. Stephen King is a fan, actually, and Gardiner endeared herself to us way back when she set her first novel in China Lake, a speck of a town which a couple of our staff are quite familiar with.
And speaking of familiar things and thrillers, The Thirst, Jo Nesbø’s latest Harry Hole novel, is out in paperback this week. Now you, too, can wipe away the memory of that really terrible film adaptation of Nesbø’s The Snowman with the real deal. Hole is, of course, haunted by damn near everything, and in The Thirst, some of those haunts come back to bite him.
And speaking of things in paperback, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is out now. This book won enough prizes last year that the cover is all obscured with stickers, but it’s one of those books that leans heavily into the metaphorical and fantastic to temper its tone, and in doing so becomes something quite remarkable and yet still quite grounded in its historical setting. In much the same way that Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a mirror on Swift’s England, so too is Whitehead’s Antebellum South a mirror held up to America—past and present. We like books that challenge what we think we know about who we were and are, and The Underground Railroad certainly accepts that challenge.
And speaking of unsettling and dramatic glimpses into other cultures and peoples, Dave Eggers returns with The Monk of Mokha, a lightly fictionalized retelling of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a SF-based doorman, who learns of the secret history of coffee in his home country of Yemen. Determined to return to his native homeland and launch a business there, Alkhanshali arrives in Yemen just as Saudi bombs start falling, and what follows is a harrowing and compassionate tale of one man’s attempts to find himself and his place in the world.
And speaking of finding oneself, Jojo Moyes, author of those bestselling pronoun-heavy books, returns with Still Me, yet another adventure in the rollicking life of Louisa Clark. This time around, Clark is in New York City, intent on putting her past behind her, but as she skips between various layers of society, her past and her secrets start to catch up to her. Ultimately, Clark has to reconcile who she thinks she is and who she wants to be.
These sorts of choices are never easy, and maybe we should take a break and tackle something less rife with drama and tears. Like making sauces. Susan Volland is here to help with Mastering Sauces: The Home Cook’s Guide to New Techniques for Fresh Flavors. Volland keeps the tension low with such simple—and yet elegant—fair as the “Endlessly Adaptable Stir-Fry Sauce” and the “Apple and Onion Redeye Gravy.” Don’t get worried about the endless lists and instructions. Volland is teaching us how to mix and match our slurries and our juses! We’ll be able to cover any kitchen disaster in no time with a single-ingredient reduction or a lemongrass and lime leaf extract infusion.
[No doubt Evan Smoak knows how to make a lemongrass and lime leaf extract infusion for his Wagyu Beef with Cucumber and Honeydew recipe. Served with a single estate hand-bottled reserve shiraz, of course.]
And thus fortified, we can brave the dark and spooky titular forest in Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, a book about a young woman who must face the terrifying truth behind her grandmother’s literary legacy. “Stay away from the Hazel Wood,” our protagonist is warned, and yet, into the wood she must go if she is to find the source of the persistent foul luck that haunts her family.
And with that, we shall wrap up this week’s installment of fresh books on the tables in the store. Come by for a visit. Feel free to move some of these around and make your own display. Take a few home as well. They’ll look nice on your shelves, too. And remember all those warnings you’ve been told over the years: “Stay off the moors,” “The empire never ended,” “Beware the Ides of March,” and “Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?”