You don’t have to delve particularly deeply into musician Franz Nicolay’s solo discography before you start to notice a couple of trends. First, Nicolay likes telling stories, and he’s good at telling them. Second, he has a deep and abiding passion for words. The lyrics of the eponymous track of 2012’s “Do the Struggle” (one of the songs that he references early in The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar) reads more like a Kerouacian beat poem than a folk-punk song. By the same token, the finished product of The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar can hardly be described as predictable.
More of a travel memoir than anything else, Nicolay takes great pains to avoid talking about his own music in the book, even going so far as to proclaim early on: “I’ll describe [the shows] once, then you can mentally copy and paste this into the hole I gloss over toward the end of each day.” Instead, he delivers exactly what the title of the book promises, a tour of the punk underground. There’s so little narcissism in this book that it could have just as easily been written by one of the oft-referenced communist revolutionaries rather than a Brooklyn-based songwriter. Throughout the book, Nicolay’s focus is squarely on the countryside, the cities and the people of Eastern Europe. Just as often as he references himself, he also shares the spotlight with his travelling companions and famous authors — from his ethnomusicologist/wife Maria to Dostoyevsky to the Marquis de Custine, a 19th-century French aristocrat who seems particularly close to Nicolay’s heart.
But amidst the (surprising) conversations with young Russian and Ukrainian punks about underground American punk bands like RVIVR or Bridge and Tunnel, and the monotonous nightly shows in unfinished basements, Nicolay and his wife find themselves passing back through Ukraine only months after Vladimir Putin’s invasion and occupation. What follows are not only some of the most touching first-hand accounts of the effects the occupation had on the people of Ukraine, but also some incredibly moving moments of self-discovery for Nicolay himself. This book doesn’t so much progress slowly as it takes its time getting to its destination, and the reader is never left wishing Nicolay would pick up the pace; he’s too good of a storyteller for that. Like his music, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control ultimately draws its strength from Nicolay’s words and rhythm. Evenstanding on their own merits, the facts of his adventure are almost as epic and expansive as the appendices in the back of the book. As far as travelogues go, I’ve never read better. Nicolay’s music can be found here, RVIVR and Bridge and Tunnel here and here.
On the front cover of The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, a quote from a bestselling author is highlighted: “You will not sleep, check your phone, or even breathe once you begin reading…” Skeptical at first, I felt those were pretty high standards to be placed directly in clear view of the reader. However, after finishing the book in less than five hours, I can say with confidence that this one that will have you hooked from the first page.
A tragedy occurs in a Florida beach community, and the town never fully recovers. Six kindergarten children go missing and, 11 years later, five return with no memory of where they have been. Now 16 years of age, mystery surrounds the return of the teens, and many in town question the motives behind this “miracle.”
Altebrando takes the readers into a kaleidoscope of interpreting memory loss through visual cues and a creative use of text. Different points of view guide us through the agonizing process of recovering memories. The words come to life and will take the reader into the minds of the main characters. As the story unfolds, you realize that the town is connected in more ways than you imagined, and that many questions are unanswered.
In the end, what stands out the most are the who and why, which will be gnawing at you throughout the story. If you are looking for a fast-paced teen fiction that will constantly have you on edge, go straight to the BCPL catalog and request this today. The only regret I have after reading this book is that it doesn’t have a sequel.
Spies. Monsters. Super powers. And…bureaucratic humor? In Stiletto, Daniel O’Malley delivers a riveting novel that covers all of the above and more. A follow up to his smash hit The Rook, this novel delves deeper into the world of the Rookery, a covert agency in the English government that employs individuals with unusual abilities to protect their country from threats internal and external.
In this book, the Rookery is looking to make nice with an age old foe. But how do you join two groups, when both have been raised since time immemorial to despise the other? Old wounds are re-opened and loyalties are tested when these organizations are forced to confront very real threats to themselves, their colleagues and to England itself.
While modern fantasy/espionage/horror/office humor is a pretty niche sub-genre, Daniel O’Malley does a great job of making this book accessible to all audiences. Funny and insightful one moment, terrifying and tense the next, O’Malley seamlessly blends genres to keep the reader engaged from start to finish. He also does a great job of mining his premise for unexpected humor — at one point they discuss how a Gorgon was driven from England not by an armed assault, but by a series of increasingly withering tax audits.
A great read for fans of urban fantasy, this book has humor, heart and a few good scares in store for its readers. If you enjoy this book, you could also check out The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, another series about English spies defending crown and country from the supernatural while dealing with bureaucratic red tape. Urban fantasy fans might also enjoy Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files; the first book in that series is Storm Front. It follows a modern day private investigator who also happens to be a wizard, mixing dry humor with thrilling action and some terrifying moments.
Let’s be honest, you don’t need to know anything other than the title to decide if you want to read The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment and Party Crashing by Gavin Edwards.
Murray is, of course, the comedian who starred in such classics as Ghostbusters and Caddyshack, and later in critically acclaimed roles in Lost in Translation and Olive Kitteridge. If you’re even the most casual Bill Murray fan, you’ve probably heard a Bill Murray story. Someone sneaks up behind you on the street and covers your eyes…you turn around, and it’s Bill Murray. Or Bill Murray steals your sunglasses at a winery, or shows up at your party and washes the dishes before disappearing into the night. Basically, Bill Murray shows up randomly, does something random and often ends the encounter by whispering in your ear, “No one will ever believe you.”
This book collects these Bill Murray stories, from strangers, from acquaintances, from Bill Murray himself. The first section is a brief history of his upbringing, passions and start in the film business. Next, in “The Ten Principles of Bill,” amusing Bill Murray anecdotes are divided into sections according to which life principle they illustrate (“Invite yourself to the party.” “Surprise is golden. Randomness is lobster.”). Finally, the “Films of Bill Murray” is a chronological listing of his films and, of course, another opportunity to provide more fun stories.
Some of the anecdotes come with an implied “Don’t Try This at Home” warning. We can all strive to be more fun-loving like Bill Murray…but we can never BE Bill Murray. Sure, some of the antics would be amusing no matter who was behind them. Others — like hitting a stranger with a snowball, or walking into a stranger’s house and sitting down to breakfast — would be decidedly less charming if you are not an international film star.
Though this is a lighthearted read, Edwards also retells stories that paint Murray as impetuous, chronically late and difficult to work with. It’s a good reminder that even an epic folk hero like Bill Murray has his imperfections.
Delia Ephron is best-known for her humorous writing and for lighthearted screenplays like You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But her latest novel, Siracusa, displays a decidedly more cynical view of relationships.
Siracusa begins with Lizzie, who thinks a vacation in Italy is just what she and her husband David need to revive their flagging writing careers and their dwindling passion for one another. They’re joined on the trip by another couple — Finn, Lizzie’s fun-loving old flame from college, and his uptight wife Taylor. Dragged along for the fun is Snow, Finn and Taylor’s sullen preteen daughter. If bringing an old boyfriend and his family along for a vacation sounds like a bad idea to you, you’d be right. In fact, few vacation disasters can rival the nightmarish results when this group makes its way to the ancient island of Siracusa.
Each main character takes a turn recounting the trip’s gradual descent into tragedy. Without exception, all of them are breathtakingly self-involved or delusional (or both). Thus none of them can see what the reader sees — the huge disaster heading straight for them.
Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, Siracusa presents readers with difficult to like protagonists who never tell the whole truth. The crumbling city of Siracusa provides an excellent symbolic backdrop for Ephron’s well-written blend of dark domestic drama and deadly suspense.
Emma Straub has a certain knack for writing. Her latest novel, Modern Lovers, doesn’t disappoint. It is fun and engrossing while also offering hefty portions of wit and insight.
Two families living side by side in New York City’s Ditmas Park are spending the summer sorting out their tangled relationships. For Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe, it hardly seems like two decades since they graduated from Oberlin — letting go their rock star aspirations and announcing the end of their band. Now, however, movie producers want to make a biopic about the fourth member of their band who went on to become an icon of their era before joining the 27 Club. The movie can’t be made unless the remaining members sign off on the rights to their lives and the use of a song Elizabeth wrote, which made Lydia a superstar. The prospect has unearthed a lot of buried secrets and strained relationships.
Zoe and Elizabeth have remained best friends. Elizabeth followed Zoe to New York, and when Elizabeth married Andrew, they moved next door to Zoe. The best friends’ kids have even grown up together. Now, however, Zoe’s wife wonders if Elizabeth being so close wasn’t really her just being in the way. Elizabeth no longer knows if it was wise to marry someone she met when she was so young, and Andrew is acting bizarre. To complicate things further, their kids are caught up in a summer romance of their own.
Straub has imagined a wonderful cast of characters. Though she isn’t shy about showing off their flaws, it is hard not to end up liking them, warts and all, and become totally swept up in their lives. I couldn’t put down this story about love and friendship in our modern age.
Fans will also enjoy her previous book, The Vacationers, and One Day by David Nicholls.
Jill Kargman, creator and star of Bravo’s Odd Mom Out, has been called the Edith Wharton of contemporary Manhattan, specifically the Upper East Side. She’s a best-selling novelist with a sharp wit that is evident in her newest book of humorous essays, Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave: Observations, Rants and Other Uplifting Thoughts About Life. From bothersome behaviors to musings that keep her awake at night, Kargman puts it all on the table in her own unique, uproarious delivery. Get to know Jill as she answers questions about her latest book, the demands of television and life on the Upper East Side.
Between the Covers: Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave is absolutely hilarious and one of my favorite books of the year. How difficult is it to get your snarky voice on the page?
Jill Kargman: I basically just write like I talk! My dad told me to do that ages ago so it's really like breathing to me.
BTC: This book, complete with your doodles, seems almost like a diary or journal. How did it come about?
JK: I actually had a template from my last nonfiction book, Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut so I essentially redid that format but with new anecdotes, lists and rants.
BTC: The title is perfect and I believe your daughter is responsible for it. How else did your family influence this book?
JK: Yes! Ivy came up with it ’cause she thought flowers, which die quickly, are depressing in graveyards so she is going to sprinkle glitter on my grave because it's hard to clean up. My brother, mom, dad, husband and other two kids Sadie and Fletch plus my former sister-in-law forever friend Drew. Everyone in my life is part of my humor and my five bridesmaids 15 years ago are still my sisters.
BTC: I think the reason I love Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave is the many common irks we share, including the thunderous applause for certain dead celebrities at awards ceremony’s death roll calls which makes my blood boil! Sharing what’s in your head helps some of your readers know we aren’t alone, but how do the people/groups you are making fun of, especially the Upper East Siders, react to you and your writing?
JK: They weirdly don't care and always think it's other people — which it is, since no one thinks she's a bad mom or spends too much or hears herself when she does a humble brag. ("Ugh the traffic to Teterboro was a nightmare!")
BTC: Describe your writing process. Do you write every day? Do you have a go-to snack or beverage while writing?
JK: I have a huge iced coffee and work out and shower, then get an omelet, then work. I usually have two main meals a day so I'll work ’til my kids get home so like four hours — I can't be funny after that!
BTC: You finished college (Yale no less!) in three years, started your first job as a writer at age 20 at Interview magazine and had your first novel published at 27. To achieve such success at such a young age must have been a heady experience. How did your career and life experiences during your 20s shape your writing today?
JK: I was miz at Interview — the worst two years — I was basically a secretary BUT I got to write a ton of little articles and some features so it was all worth it but at the time I had NO idea how it would pay off. But each job was such a stepping stone including being berated by [jerks] because it built a crocodile skin and [lots] of appreciation for the people I love and observational skills.
BTC: Your hit Bravo show, Odd Mom Out, is now in its second season and it’s even better than the first. What is it like being the creator, producer and star of a hit television show and how has it impacted your life as a writer, wife and mom?
JK: I LOVE IT! It's been the most fun I've ever had. When my kids were little (I had three kids in five years) I thought I was losing my mind and needed to be alone and write my books which was like therapy. But now they're older so writing Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave was actually isolating so I was so psyched to get back into the writers room for Odd Mom Out where we laugh all day as a group.
BTC: Favorite episode?
JK: The ODD Couple, episode 205.
BTC: Our readers love reading! Can you share what you are reading now?
JK: The September issue of Vogue.
BTC: Favorite book of the year?
JK: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
BTC: Favorite book as a child?
JK: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.
BTC: Any memories of hijinks in libraries?
JK: Uh....you don't want to know. Rated X. The stacks at Yale are legendary. ;)
BTC: You have so much on your plate, but what can we expect next?
JK: I'm doing a show at The Carlyle in January of 2017 called “Stairway to Cabaret,” which is heavy metal covers at the piano with standup. Come up to NYC and say hi!!!
Thanks for doing this! I love Baltimore! XOJK
In the year 2052, a comet is approaching the Earth, which has inspired a suicide cult called Heaven’s Gate to begin sacrificing animals. The cult believes that killing animals will help them achieve a “level above human.” Because of this, animals around the entire world face mass extinction. In Bill Broun’s Night of the Animals, one man named Cuthbert Handley believes he must free the animals of the London Zoo, one of the last remaining havens for animals, to save the animals themselves and all of humanity. Cuthbert is an indigent man in his 90s with a serious heart condition, an addiction to a hallucinogenic drug and a curious gift called the Wonderments, that allows him to communicate with animals.
During his mission to free the animals, Cuthbert experiences a variety of mixed emotions and thoughts, from wondering if he actually possesses the Wonderments to wondering if he’s just crazy and hallucinating, to hoping that he is just doing the right thing. Cuthbert’s struggle to deal with the consequences — good or bad — of his decisions leads to some in-depth pondering and philosophical discussions with some interesting animals. Will Cuthbert be successful in his mission? Will the night of the animals be everything he hoped?
Though the story revolves around the single night of Cuthbert’s mission, Broun takes us through Cuthbert’s life and what led him to this event. We learn that Cuthbert’s entire life has been difficult, from the disappearance of his older brother to being accepted by his parents to his present time, where he struggles more than ever. Cuthbert’s character is strongly developed and completely charming.
The dystopian world and science fiction details of Night of the Animals only highlight and emphasize the important aspects of the plot, Cuthbert’s struggle with humanity and the fate of the world. This detail-rich story draws you in, and will have you questioning everything until the end. You simply won’t want to put this exciting and adventurous book down.
Steven Rowley’s new book, Lily and the Octopus, is a dog book you must read. Even if you don’t like dogs — or if you love them so much you can’t bear to read another book about one — you must read this book. At its core, this is really a story about love, loss...and fighting an evil octopus.
Ted and Lily are sitting on the couch discussing cute boys like they do every Thursday when Ted notices the giant octopus on Lily’s small, furry head. Thus begins the epic battle between Ted and this sarcastic, sadistic sea creature that is trying to take his beloved dachshund from him.
Through flashbacks, we get to experience Lily choosing Ted 12 years before and how she changed his life. We also learn more about Ted’s recent breakup and his life before Lily. Rowley deftly weaves this background information into the narrative so that, with each flashback, these people become more real and more relatable to us.
There is a perfect balance to this story. Readers will crack up laughing and ugly cry in the same chapter. In either instance, the emotions in this book never feel fake or forced, and that is probably because it is largely based on the author’s own experience. Just before writing this book, Rowley lost his beloved doggy companion of 12 years, and he has distilled that experience on paper with honesty and understanding.
Mild spoiler alert: In case you haven't already guessed, the octopus is not actually an octopus, which means the plot veers into magical realism from time to time. While the octopus is actually a tumor, and Lily (probably) can’t really play board games, Ted’s imaginative perception of the situation is pitch perfect and captures what it feels like to fight for someone you love.
I read and listened to Lily and the Octopus because I couldn’t put it down, not even while driving or doing dishes, and I highly recommend listening to this one. Michael Urie does such an amazing job narrating all the characters, it really brought the story to life just a little bit more.
What would you do to help your suffering child? For most parents, the answer is probably “damn near anything.” Carolyn Parkhurst’s new novel, Harmony, follows a family’s tumble down a rabbit hole in search of an elusive fix for their autistic child.
The Hammond parents have reached the end of their collective rope. Their tween daughter Tilly falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, and socially inept behaviors which were confounding when she was little are frightening with adolescence looming. After being asked to leave yet again another school, Tilly’s parents seek help from an unorthodox source: a man whose charisma and promises lead the family down the primrose path to Camp Harmony. An internet shaman for the neurodevelopmentally challenged, Scott Bean promises salvation, if not outright cures, to desperate parents willing to fork over their assets and live the communal lifestyle at Bean’s utopian retreat in the backwoods of New Hampshire. Is Bean a savior, just another exploitative quack, or something else entirely?
Harmony offers the reader three points of view: younger sister Iris, who loves Tilly but is struggling to find her place in a family focused on its weakest link; mother Alexandra, whose relentless examination of Tilly’s issues propels the family to the camp; and, occasionally, Tilly’s own poignant and imaginative voice which reminds us that behind labels lie unique human beings who actually aren’t so different after all. As Parkhurst writes, we are “exceptional and ordinary, all at the same time.”