There was a bit of a breeze last night, suggesting that there's something in the wind, but that may have merely been the aftermath of cosmic rays or solar flares or something. It certainly didn't stop books from showing up, which is a good thing.
First up this week is a new Dave Robicheaux novel from James Lee Burke. A Private Cathedral
is the twenty-third in the series, and we are continuing impressed that Mr. Burke manages to maintain the high standard of storytelling and craft in this series. They're still bleak as facing a pack of hungry wolves on the darkest night of the year, but Burke still finds that spark of hope that keeps humanity (and Robicheaux) from turning on itself. A Private Cathedral
is sort of a Deep South version of Romeo & Juliet
with a lot more feuding and gunfire. Throw in a supernatural presence (well, more overt of a supernatural presence than normal with Burke), and you've got a Robicheaux novel that will linger a long time after you're done turning the pages.
And speaking of provocative language and fiery characterization, here's Diane Cook's debut novel The New Wilderness
, which acknowledges its dystopian foundation as it heads out the door. The city is more than oppressive; its overdeveloped landscape is killing some of its residents. Eighteen of them agree to participate in an experiment to see if humans can survive without the city. They are sent to the Wilderness State, the last untouched land, where they have to figure out how to survive. Naturally, things get primal and savage and heartbreaking. Sure, it's a metaphor, but, hmmm, it's not as much of a thought experiment as it seems now, is it? Recommended if you're caught up on your Margaret Atwood and Emily St. John Mandel.
And while we're talking literary pyrotechnics and books that will claw their way into your brains, Olga Tokarczuk's Nobel Prize-winning novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
is out in paperback this week. This is the one that starts with a murder, has more murders throughout, and your guide through this landscape is a cranky recluse who loves William Blake's poetry and would rather study astrology than talk to her neighbors. The Guardian
calls it "one of the funniest books of the year," and we suspect The Guardian
's sense of humor may have crossed over to the dark side, though we can't altogether blame it these days.
Meanwhile, here's Brad Ricca's Olive the Lionheart
, the biography of Olive MacLeod, who, in 1910, set off to find her fiancé who has gone missing in Africa. Drawing from MacLeod's own diaries and letters, Ricca charts her brave course across nearly four thousand miles as she searches for her lost naturalist. As a result, we get a remarkable view of early 20th century Africa as European nations make a mess of things on a local level. MacLeod earns her explorer badge from this trip, of course, but she also becomes a rather noted archeologist and photographer as well. Ricca's biography is a fascinating portrayal of a fiercely independent spirit. Well done!
And here's Meg Cabot, delivering another charming entry in her Little Bridge Island series. This time around, we've got librarian Molly Montgomery fleeing a failed engagement and rough-and-ready sheriff John Hartwell returning to his childhood home for a fresh start. Someone leaves a baby in the library, which brings Montgomery and Hartwell together. Naturally, sparks fly and romantic tensions build. The mystery can't be solved until these two put aside their differences and look deeply into one another's eyes. Why can't love be easy?
Marvelous tag line, by the way: "He's by the book. She's read all the books."
Over on the history shelves, we've got Michael Hiltzik's Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America
. It's pretty much what you'd expect from that title, though Hiltzik's lively and accessible style makes this exploration of Gilded Age America very entertaining.
And speaking of entertaining, here's a delightful and inspired novel by Kathleen Rooney. Cheri Ami and Major Whittlesey
is set in World War I, and it revolves around the aforementioned Major, who is in command of the Lost Battalion, a group of soldiers who are being heavily battered by not only German gun emplacements but also by friendly fire from the Allies. The Major, desperate to get a note out about the status of his men, puts his trust in a carrier pigeon. That would be Cheri Ami, who has a story to tell as well.
That's right: one of the viewpoint characters is a pigeon.
You know? When something like this works, it works very, very well.
And here is Scott Russell Sanders's new collection of essays, The Way of Imagination
. Sanders, whose lengthy career spans fiction, non-fiction, children's books, and evocative essays, sets out to explore how our imaginative ability can help us confront climate change, environmental disorder, and the ongoing societal inequalities that are straining civilization. Reading his essays are like having Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Berry, and Edward Abbey over for bourbon and snacks. It's just porch talk, rambling discoursing that flows as the sun spirals toward the horizon and the night birds start to flock. It's the sort of talk that sinks deep in the loam of your brain, where—who knows?—something might grow. Something marvelous.
And finally, that noise you hear this week is Mark wailing about the lack of warehouse stock for the latest Strange Attractor Journal
. The Strange Attractor Journal
is the brain child of Mark Pilkington, and the previous four editions are marvelous collections of exceedingly eclectic materials from the very fringiest areas of esoteric weirdness. It's been what? Almost nine years since Journal Four.
What? Just think how much weirder the world has become in those nine years! Who is keeping track of all this weirdness! Noooooo!
Anyway, we're sure stock will arrive eventually, and folks will simmer down. In the meantime, carry on. Be kind to one another. Get some sun and some sleep. The days are both warmer and shorter, so plan accordingly.
And don't forget that Virtual Book Club is starting up next week. We'll be talking about Christopher Fowler's Full Dark House
. Get yourself onto the private Facebook group for the meeting information
, or drop us an email to get on the book club specific mailing list.
Two weeks after that, we'll be talking about Adam Higginbotham's Midnight in Chernobyl.