Mark is newly married and expecting his first child. As a demolitions technician, he has largely avoided many of the dangers and moral dilemmas usually associated with blowing things up, working from the safety of a lab and planning his future around his growing family. But his plans are frustrated when his promotion is denied and he is instead relocated to the paradoxically named Eden, Texas. Faced with a future of being cash-strapped in the scrublands, he apprehensively takes an offer from his profligate friend Jason to do contractual work for a secret military organization in Quanlom, an anonymous country in Southeast Asia. The Divine by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka is a visceral story of Mark’s descent into the civil war that is tearing the country apart.
Despite the violence implicit in his arrival, Mark remains a sympathetic protagonist, always trying to do the right thing in the face of many terrible choices. Quanlom’s war is a story of multiple narratives of conflict, with the added mystery of strange forces controlled by the rebelling faction’s child soldiers. What might have been a prosaic guts-n-glory plot is tempered with an instilled acknowledgment of the inherent atrocity of war. The premise of the book came about from the authors’ investigation of Apichart Weerawong’s famous photograph of Johnny and Luther Htoo, Burmese child soldiers, and the dazzling artwork does not neglect to reference the traditional art and design of the Southeast Asian setting. Readers may recognize Asaf Hanuka from his biographical graphic novel The Realist released earlier this year.
Congratulations to Marlon James who won the Man Booker Prize last night in London for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican author to win the prestigious award which promotes the finest in fiction and comes with a £50,000 prize. Spanning three decades, the novelist was inspired by the true story of the attempt on the life of reggae star Bob Marley to explore the unsettled world of Jamaican gangs and politics. The Guardian calls the winning novel “an epic, uncompromising novel not for the faint of heart. It brims with shocking gang violence, swearing, graphic sex, drug crime but also, said the judges, a lot of laughs.”
The National Book Award finalists were announced today. The winners will be announced on November 18th.
Young People's Literature
In Hilary Liftin’s fictional tell-all biography, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, a young starlet falls in love with Rob Mars, Hollywood’s biggest star, marries him and begins a seemingly idyllic life among the A-listers. However, cracks quickly appear in Lizzie’s storybook life when Rob’s bizarre cultish group seeks to control their lives including how their twin sons should be raised. As Lizzie struggles to keep her identity, she realizes that the only way out is to make a break from this insular world. The problem is that the group is more powerful than she ever imagined and getting out could cost her everything.
Ostensibly, this is a fictitious biography that Liftin created from tabloid headlines, but the parallels between Lizzie and Rob and Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise are rather obvious. Lizzie began her career as a teenager on a popular TV drama that catapulted her to fame. Rob is very involved in a quasi-religious group that controls its followers through secretive rituals and uses its celebrity adherents to promote itself. Rob is also known for his high-wattage smile, doing all his own stunts and making grand public declarations of his love for Lizzie. While Liftin denies that she was specifically using Holmes and Cruise as her models for Lizzie and Rob, it’s hard to imagine who else she had in mind.
If you’re looking for a light, guilty pleasure read, then Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper definitely fits that bill. It may even shed some light on what a narrow world the rich and famous are forced to live in.
What happens when quirky characters, unique structure and recipes are combined? You get J. Ryan Stradal’s debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. No, it’s not a coffee table book filled with staged photos of luxury Midwest kitchens; rather, it’s the compelling tale of misfit Midwesterner Eva Thorvald, a girl with a “once in a generation palate” who overcomes a tragic childhood to become a nationally renowned top reservationist chef.
Is this a great rags to riches story? Definitely! But it’s Stradal’s uncommon structure that makes this novel outstanding. Nine offbeat Midwesterners in nine separate chapters tell their respective stories. Outcasts in their own lives, each one is connected to Eva. This is a winning move by Stradel. Not only are we presented with Eva’s viewpoint, but we also see how she’s perceived by others and how their actions propelled Eva forward in her career. Eva only speaks to the reader as a middle schooler with a talent for both growing and using habaneros as a weapon. We learn of her early childhood through her father Lars, a good chef but socially awkward man with a passionate hatred for Lutefisk. We discover how she decided to pursue “theme” dinners from Octavia, a twentysomething wife cheating on her husband. Each character is both believable and flawed. They will make you laugh, cringe and reflect, but more importantly, care. You will want to know what happens to them and to Eva. And, as an added bonus, real Midwestern recipes from actual North Dakota Lutheran church members are scattered throughout the story. You may even want to try a few.
If you have been searching for an enjoyable, mind-fulfilling read that you do not want to end, you must read Kitchens of the Great Midwest. And like a favorite meal, be prepared to devour it. It is that good!
Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus introduces us to a world where the gods are among us, but can’t quite cover their bar tab. A tragedy some hundred years ago left most of the Greek gods dead, and now Bacchus, the God of Wine and Revelry, is an old man with the “deadest looking face you’ve ever seen,” and the only hints of his former glory are the two horns that occasionally peek out from under his hat before he falls down drunk at the bar. But when he sees his old rival Theseus being interviewed on live television, he gets a taste for the old days and sets out to settle the score.
Thus begins one of the most epic shaggy-dog stories ever put to print. Bacchus’ adventures are never what you expect them to be. He’ll set out on a quest, get discouraged, stop somewhere for a drink and then decide to visit the islands instead. It’s less an Odyssey than a pub-crawl through Greek mythology. And at his side is his faithful follower, Simpson, a Greek literature buff whose history lessons fill in the blanks for Bacchus, whose recall isn’t what it used to be (“It’s all a bit of a blur after I invented wine,” says Bacchus, on childhood.) Along the way they get wrapped up in mob rivalries, the search for the skull of Poseidon and a really weird guy named the Eyeball Kid.
Campbell’s detailed artwork and historical knowledge result in a book that’s both highbrow and slapstick, that knows when to be reverent and when to let the drunk god belch. It’s a must read for fans of Alan Moore’s classic From Hell, which Campbell illustrated, or the mythology-dense fiction of Neil Gaiman, whom Campbell also illustrated in The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.
The following titles will be released next week. Select any title to learn more or to request a copy. Be sure to visit our Hot Titles webpage for more exciting upcoming titles.
With the release of its third volume, the conclusion of the series’ first major story arc, now is the perfect time to catch up on Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera’s pulp sci-fi romp Black Science. Grant McKay and the Anarchist League of Scientists seek the infinite possibilities of the multiverse using the taboo science of interdimensional travel, but things go astray when they discover that “the Pillar,” the device they’ve designed to navigate them through other dimensions, has been tampered with, and is now juggling them between seemingly random alternate realities and parallel dimensions.
The inks and colors by Matteo Scalera and Dean White, respectively, are vibrant and full of energy. This spectacular art team transports the reader to fantastical locations: a swampy landscape ravaged by a war between humanoid fish and frogs, a parallel North America where Native Americans have advanced technologically far beyond the rest of the world and a planet inhabited by flying spider-hippos and millipede-like religious fanatics are just a few examples. (It’s exactly as much fun as it sounds.)
As action-packed and outlandish as Black Science is, Rick Remender’s strong sense of pacing keeps the drama focused on the characters. In addition to the threats that the group encounters as it tears through the walls of reality, the members also struggle with more personal troubles like handling the responsibilities of parenthood and dealing with the aftermath of infidelity.
Those who enjoy Black Science may also want to try Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.’s take on Captain America, which is infused with a similar sci-fi flair.
The longlists for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were announced yesterday, and 20 outstanding titles have made each list. Congratulations to Baltimore’s own Anne Tyler, whose A Spool of Blue Thread made the fiction list, while another Baltimore native, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was selected for the nonfiction list with Between the World and Me. It’s been a very good year for Coates, who is also on the National Book Award longlist and was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow on Monday.
The Carnegie committee is a joint project between RUSA, a division of the American Library Association, and Booklist. A shortlist will be announced on October 19, and the winners will be announced on January 10, 2016.
Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin first introduces readers to Ally when she is 31 and struggling to balance her career as a professor with the demands of single motherhood. In addition to her 10-year-old daughter Lizzie, Ally also has to reckon with her interfering and frequently disapproving mother. Needless to say, there is no room for dating, romance or even a casual fling in her life.
But one weekend Ally has her house to herself and finds herself alone with Jake, a 21-year-old former student who has volunteered to make some needed repairs to her home. Their chemistry is palpable and Ally gives in to a steamy weekend of passion. As the weekend draws to a close, Jake wants to pursue a lasting relationship, but Ally sends him packing. Flash forward 10 years and Ally is still single, living in Brooklyn and coping with the recent death of her mother. Lizzie, an aspiring actress, brings home a co-worker for dinner who turns out to be Jake, now a Hollywood mega-star. Ally panics because she has never forgotten him or their magical weekend and Jake’s memories are equally vivid. Their attraction still sizzles and Ally must decide if she is willing to give their relationship a real chance.
Moulin effortlessly weaves between the two time lines and brings a real spark to this star-crossed couple. Jake and Ally are honest and relatable characters whose happily ever after is 10 years in the making. Supporting characters, zany plot lines and zippy dialogue are the perfect complements to this funny, romantic and sexy story.
What appears to be the mundane investigation of a stolen farm tractor becomes a tangle of lies and a conspiracy of fools in Peter Robinson’s In the Dark Places. How is it possible for such a large piece of equipment to disappear so completely? An abandoned airplane hangar, the perfect location to transfer stolen goods, may be the answer, and there is ample evidence a murder has been committed at the site. This leads to the investigation of the sudden disappearance of two young men, one the son of a local farmer.
The missing boy's girlfriend may be the key to finding the missing men. While Detective Annie Cabbot guards the potential witness, Detective Winsome Jackman is working closely with Terry Gilchrist, the witness who found the bloody crime scene, but the recently returned veteran of Afghanistan is far more interested in Winsome than he is in solving the crime. The body count rises when a fateful auto accident high in the Yorkshire hills reaps a grim harvest.
Peter Robinson draws on the brooding atmosphere of the Yorkshire hills setting to examine the theme of isolation — in both the physical surroundings and in the lives of the characters. Taut, suspenseful, with a richly developed storyline and unforgettable characters, In the Dark Places is headed for award territory. Once you have read this novel, you’ll be sure to add Robinson to your must-read list. Readers of Ruth Rendell, Deborah Crombie and P.D. James will be delighted they discovered Robinson’s Inspector Banks.