It might not be spring officially, but if we were to guess from the noise the birds are making and the flood of books coming out, we are definitely done with winter. All that groaning and cracking you hear is the sound of shelves straining under the weight of new books. Exciting!
We'll start with the obvious correlation. C. J. Box is back with Dark Sky, the 21st Joe Pickett novel, wherein Pickett—Wyoming's most beleaguered game warden—is co-opted by the state's governor to babysit a Silicon Valley CEO on his "special hunting trip." Naturally, when you go out into the wide wilderness with nothing but your wits and a world-weary state employee, things don't go as expected. Turns out, there's a couple of dudes who aren't keen on the impact this CEO's social media site has had on their families, and they're looking to settle up—frontier style.
Now, it's not a metaphor or a thinly disguised commentary on today's political and cultural landscape. The CEO's back story is merely character motivation to get the blood flowing, as it were. Don't read too much into it.
Anyway, Box is one of those modern thriller writers who has clearly found his niche and his pace, and we can always depend on him to deliver a gripping read.
And speaking of having a firm grip on your amygdala, Kazuo Ishiguro explores the deep reaches of human compassion with Klara, an Artificial Friend in a world that is teetering on the brink of full-dress dystopianism. Klara and the Sun is Ishiguro's return to the sentiments of Never Let Me Go, and once again, he demonstrates how much we've lost sight of our own humanity in our fervent servility to the shiny.
Meanwhile, Hard Case Crime has coaxed another pulpy half-mystery / half-ghost story out of Stephen King. It's less than a million pages, which means you can read it in less time than it takes for the bar-tailed godwit to fly from New Zealand to the west coast of North America (nine days, in case you were wondering). In Later, King sticks with the "I've got a touch of something special" trope that he uses so well. Our precious narrator is Jamie Conklin, a 13-year old who can see folks's insides on their outsides (but not all the time). Naturally, a police detective steers him toward helping her solve a killer's long-running string of public bombings. Sure, it looks like a crime thriller, but come on, the kid can see dead things. You know this one is going to keep you up at night. Plan accordingly.
Meanwhile, Viet Thanh Nguyen is back with The Committed, the sequel to 2015's The Sympathizer (which won him both the Pulitzer Prize and the Carnegie Medal). Our narrator is still unreliable as all get out, and he's still involved in lots of criminal activity. And Nguyen is still as charming and erudite and socially acerbic as before. This time, however, most of the action takes place in Paris, which means more crêpes, impressionist paintings, and existential philosophy. Oh, but let's not forget the French coined the term for this sort of crime thriller.
And speaking of noir, how about a delightful coffee table book about film? Ronald Bergan has produced a marvelous guide to the world of movies for DK. The Film Book arranges itself in broad categories—directors, genres, history, and terminology. Within those distinctions, there is a wealth of marvelous information. While wandering past this book, we've lost track of what we were supposed to be doing a half-dozen times already.
And speaking of distractions, Dee Dee Chainey has been hanging out on #FolkloreThursday for a few years now, and her first collection of the stories she's heard centers around water stories. Treasury of Folklore: Seas & Rivers is a delightful book that is filled with soooo many stories of superstitions, myths, lies, tall tales, and cultural narratives around water. It's a perfect bathtub read, in fact.
Meanwhile, here is Sarah Penner's debut novel, The Lost Apothecary. It's one of those two timelines maybe they'll merge into one story sort of historical novels. With a dash of magic, of course. One timeline follows Nella, who is an apothecary in 18th century London. Nella dabbles a little with poisons, and when one of her customers uses a vial of the darker stuff to kill her abusive husband, she's forced to flee for her life. In the current day, a woman named Caroline comes to London to process a deep betrayal in her life. While mudlarking along the Thames, Caroline finds a vial stamped with Nella's mark, which, of course, leads to mystery and suspense. And some self-discovery. This one is for fans of Susanna Kearsley and Kate Morton.
And speaking of secrets long buried, here is Chris Whitaker's We Begin at the End, a stunning thriller about a small town on the California coast which reluctantly sees the return of a prodigal son. Thirty years ago, Vincent King went to jail for killing a child. Now, thirty years on, he's out and returning home, where Walker, his bestie from back in the day, is now the chief of police. Naturally, there's a girl who they both loved, and when another body shows up, old animosities and jealousies swirl to the surface. Whitaker has been around for awhile, but We Begin at the End is one of those books which shows a writer elevating their game.
And speaking of writers knowing what they are doing, historical fiction writer Lauren Willig's latest is Band of Sisters. Willig takes us back to World War I with a group of independently spirited women who form the Smith College Relief Unit and go off to help the war effort. The circle of sisters is brightly characterized, and there's all sorts of drama (both internal and external) that keeps the story tight and engaging.
Oh, heck, while we're dancing up and down the historical timeline, let's not forget to mention the latest Veronica Speedwell novel by Deanna Raybourn. An Unexpected Peril is the sixth volume to feature Victorian lepidopterologist and amateur busybody Veronica Speedwell and her dashing companion, the Hon. Revelstoke Templeton-Vane. This time around, they're caught up in the mysterious disappearance of a national treasure and the revelation that the death of an intrepid mountaineer wasn't as accidental as it first appears.
And speaking of intrepid investigators who tend to poke their noses where they shouldn't, here's Erika Engelhaupt's Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science. Engelhaupt, who writes for National Geographic, is inquisitive in the same vein as Mary Roach, and in Gory Details, she interviews lots of folks who are experts in areas that no one should really be an expert in, inasmuch as cocktail party conversations with these folks tend to break up quickly when someone asks, "So, what kind of interesting thing did you do today?" You have no idea how deep your morbid curiosity goes until you start reading Gory Details.
And while we're on the topic of finding yourself, here's Luvvie Ajayi Jones's Professional Troublemaker: the Fear-Fighter Manual. Ajayi Jones is here to tell you to trust yourself, and with a great deal of frank talk and hilariously dry wit, she presents a well-structured guidebook that will aid you in your efforts to fight your worst enemy: your own damn self. If you need a push, Ajayi Jones is happy to help.
And finally, while we're on the topic of spiritual guidance, Anne Lamott has some thoughts. Dust, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage is her latest memoir / self-help book. In it, Lamott comes to grips with being both judgmental and worried in this modern age, as well as getting older. She's perpetually questioning the world around, her own choices, and her faith—questions we all have, frankly—and while her answers might not be truly revelatory, they are honest and frank. She's a marvelous writer and thinker, which makes these conclusions insightful commentary on how to find hope, kindness, and courage in a world that seems increasingly bereft of all three.