It's not summer. We know, we know. It's sort of rude to mention summer when we're not even halfway through the winter months, but we have to tell you that publishing is throwing books at us like it's time to hit the beach and read all afternoon. Perhaps they're looking out for us. If we did take the afternoon off and read—even with that SPF 1,000—we're likely to get a terrible sunburn. These days, we could read all afternoon and well into evening, and not get the slightest burn at all. So, yeah, thanks publishing for sending us beach reads now! 

Naturally, James Patterson is on this list. What? You'd be disappointed otherwise. Now, there's an article in Publishers Weekly this week regarding a recent study on reader engagement, and the study argues that titles give readers useful information about a book's content. Patterson, though, is too punk for that nonsense. This latest thriller is called Unsolved, and the marketing copy says: "If you loved Invisible and The Black Book, you must read Unsolved." 

Frankly, we're not sure anyone knows anything (except James). 

Anyway, hopefully Unsolved isn't the resolution of this latest thriller starring relentless FBI agent, Emmy Dockery. Dockery is called in to solve a series of seemingly unrelated "accidents," and she has to team up with Harrison "Books" Bookman, who doesn't like her. Not because she's his ex-fiancee, but because he suspects everyone. And he's not wrong. Someone is behind these crimes, but he's casting his net a little wide. Hopefully, tiger talent Dockery can focus the investigation a bit before more people die. "Accidentally." 

Meanwhile, bestselling contemporary fiction author Elin Hilderbrand dips her toe in the historical fiction waters by taking us back a whole fifty years. Summer of '69 takes place in that year, which is the year where everything changed: the Kennedys were in the news, man was on the moon, there was that war we shouldn't have been in, and bras were a-burnin'. What are four siblings going to do as they become the people they've been struggling to become their whole lives? Hilderbrand, queen of the summer read, layers in all the drama, intrigue, and family dsyfunctionalism you need to sustain you until the actual summer arrives. 

How about something a little spicier? Well, Sarah Pinborough's got you covered. Her latest novel, Dead to Her, is a twisted psychological thriller set in the überrich strata of gentrified Savannah, where it's all double-crossing, bedroom-hopping, and back-stabbing. Pinborough throws in a little supernatural woo-woo to keep everyone guessing, and then just lets the characters chew the scenery, claw at each other, and try to plot their way out of the seriously messed up machinations they've started. If you've been hungering for something like Moriarity's Little Big Lies, Flynn's Gone Girl, or Hawkins's Girl on a Train, well, we've got you covered. 

And for something a little less Prime Time popcorn drama, we have Andrew Krivak's The Bear, the story of a man and his daughter and all the animals in the world. Set at the end of civilization, The Bear follows the last two people on the planet as they struggle to reconnect with the world around them. They're not part of the human population any more, since it's all gone, but they are part of the natural world. Over the course of the novel, the father teaches his daughter the importance of belonging to something. We're making it sound more didactic than it is, but this is one of those books that is truly lovely in execution. Booklist says it's "an enchantment as if Wendell Berry had reimagined Cormac McCarthy's The Road," and we heartily agree. 

And speaking of commentary we can get behind, Publishers Weekly calls Joshua Hammer's The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird a "vivid tale of obsession and international derring-do." Hammer, whose The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu was a pretty serious page-turner, delivers another volume of historical non-fiction that reads like a crime thriller. 

Back in the day, Arabian princes were into racing falcons, and the market for rare raptor eggs was a very lucrative one. Hammer starts with the relatively recent capture of long-time egg smuggler Jeffrey Lendrum, and then weaves us back and forth across the twentieth century, charting the history of falconry and smuggling. It's a heist novel about birds, for crying out loud. What isn't to love? 

And speaking of things we love, brash and uncompromising Dallas narcotics detective Betty Rhyzyk is back this week in The Burn. Kathleen Kent's first Rhyzyk novel, The Dime, blew onto the scene a few years back, earned Kent an Edgar nomination, and has kept us all waiting for a sequel. Well, here it is, and it's just as propulsive and explosive as the first one. The stakes are higher, of course, because Rhyzyk's carrying some baggage and there is unfinished business out there, waiting to ambush her, but no matter. We're along for the ride. 

Meanwhile, back in the fifteenth century, there's murder and madness in Rome. Alyssa Palombo's The Borgia Confessions drops us into the tempestuous times of Pope Alexander IV, who was born Rodrigo Borgia. It's the Pope's children, though, who are the fifteenth century equivalent of the tawdry soap opera scene-stealers, and The Borgia Confessions revels in all of the jockeying, manipulating, and deception that we come to expect from such a family. Definitely an all-night read. Plan accordingly. 

And speaking of plans, we neglected to mention Michael Zapata's The Lost Book of Adana Moreau last week. What were we thinking? We did, after all, rave over and over about Tim Wirkus's The Infinite Future, and Zapata's book has more than a little whiff of that same marvelous place where Wirkus went. Do we care? No! Are we excited about this sort of speculative what-if?, lost did-it-ever-exist manuscript chase, regeneration and rejuvenation of time, history, and reality? Why yes, we are! And so should you!

And finally, Sarah Gailey is back with Upright Women Wanted, a neo-western adventure story set in the Southwest. Young Esther Augustus is in trouble for consorting with radicals, and her father tries to save her with an arranged marriage. Esther's not having any of that, and she stows away on a wagon train that is heading west. Now, this wagon train is run by the Librarians, who are folks who distribute state approved literature to the territories, but as Esther soon discovers, the Librarians are also delivering "packages," which is to say, "undesirables." Naturally, everyone isn't who they appear to be, and agendas aren't what is printed on the label, and Gailey—in her persistent and delightful way—upends everything while telling a delightfully engaging yarn. Highly recommended. 

Overheard At The Store »»

HOLIPOT: Question Sixty-Eight. When a customer inquires about your—

PODGE: Oh, hey, Colby. Whatcha working on? 

COLBY: No—damnit. You just—

HOLIPOT: Warning. An out-of-variance response tone has been registered. Please refresh the compliance baseline response with fifteen—

COLBY: Loud farting noises! Loud farting noises!

HOLIPOT: Standardized compliance baseline response restore. Part Eight: The Fundamentals of Pleasant Customer Interactions. Question Sixty-Eight. 

COLBY: Pause, please. 

HOLIPOT: Do you wish to pause this session of the Autonomous Employees Hand-Selling System compliance intake interview? 


HOLIPOT: Pausing. This compliance intake interview will begin again in forty-five—forty-four—seconds. 

PODGE: Wow. What's that?

COLBY: The synthetic voice of our doom. 

PODGE: Really? 

COLBY: No, it's a stupid online test I got suckered into taking. 

PODGE: I like tests. Can I help? 

COLBY: No. For crying out loud. Do you and Hodge do this on purpose?

PODGE: Do what? 

COLBY: You two share a brain. Why don't you—

PODGE: We do not share a brain. We are merely co-equals in our love for literature. 

COLBY: Oh, for fu—

HOLIPOT: This compliance intake interview will resume in twenty-six seconds. 

COLBY: Get out of my way, river skipper. I need to see the sky and breathe fresh air. I've been breathing too much desperation and despondency. It's making me light-headed. 

PODGE: Okay. Okay. I'm out of the way. 

HOLIPOT: This compliance intake interview will resume in eighteen seconds. 

PODGE: . . . 

HOLIPOT: This compliance intake interview will resume in twelve seconds.

PODGE: Uh, Colby . . . 

HOLIPOT: This compliance intake interview will resume in seven seconds.

PODGE: Is he . . . ?

HOLIPOT: This compliance intake interview will resume in four seconds.

PODGE: Oh, dear. 

HOLIPOT: This compliance intake interview will resume in three seconds. Two. One. 

HOLIPOT: This session of the Autonomous Employees Hand-Selling System compliance intake interview will now resume. Thank you for your compliance. Please speak the passphrase to re-initialize your standardized compliance baseline response. 

PODGE: Uh . . . I am a little teapot, short and stout? 

HOLIPOT: . . . That response is incorrect.  Please speak the passphrase to re-initiate your standardized compliance baseline response. 

PODGE: Oh . . . I am a grumpy marmot and I hate everyone? 

HOLIPOT: . . . That response is incorrect.  Please speak the passphrase to re-initiate your standardized compliance baseline response. This is your final attempt. 

PODGE: Shoot. Um . . . Pickles! Dolphins! Mass market paperbacks are going to save publishing!

HOLIPOT: . . . 

PODGE: I think—

HOLIPOT: That response is incorrect. Restarting the Autonomous Employees Hand-Selling System compliance intake interview. Please provide a passphrase to initialize the standardized compliance baseline response. 

PODGE: Uh . . . 

COLBY: Why are you still standing here, marshmallow brain? 

PODGE: Colby . . . 

HOLIPOT: Please provide a passphrase to initialize the standardized compliance baseline response.

COLBY: Choke on the desiccated tears of unpublished writers, you gibbering electronic representation of capitalist sorrow. 

HOLIPOT: Standardized compliance baseline response initiated. We shall now begin the compliance intake interview. 

COLBY: What? Wait. 

HOLIPOT: Part One: The Core Elements of a Successful Transaction. 

COLBY: No. No. No. I did this already. 

HOLIPOT: Question One . . .

COLBY: Podge! What did you do!


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