Truth is stranger than fiction, and Adrian McKinty’s latest novel The Sun Is God is based on a true mystery surrounding the German nudists known as Cocovores. It is 1906 in Colonial New Guinea and the body of Max Lutzow, who has apparently died of malaria, has been transported to the capital city. An autopsy proves otherwise and the suspicious circumstances of the death have to be investigated. Max was a member of the Cocovores, an extreme group of nudists who worship the sun god Apollo and eat only things that grow from the tops of trees. Will Prior had previously worked for the British military during the Boer War, and seems perfectly suited to solve this unusual crime. Paired with a captain of the German army and a feisty female travel writer, Will heads to the isle of Kabakon to solve the murder.
McKinty is a thoughtful writer and skilled at crafting a really good tale. The characters are solid and he spends enough time fleshing out Will Prior’s background and current circumstances to make him an interesting protagonist. The unusual setting is described in perfect detail and the book will have many a reader peering around for a stray mosquito. The book becomes all the more fascinating when reading the afterword, where the reader discovers that the Cocovores were an actual documented group of people living this lifestyle just after the turn of the century. Although this novel is meant to be a stand-alone, readers who enjoy McKinty’s style may want to pick up his novels featuring Detective Sean Duffy. The first in the Duffy series is called The Cold Cold Ground.
The lives of teenage girls are filled with intense rivalries, frantic friendships, evolving cliques and lots and lots of secrets. Those secrets provide the backdrop for Tana French’s latest psychological thriller The Secret Place. The headmistress of St. Kilda’s School has created the Secret Place – a bulletin board where the girls can indulge their fantasies, spread their rumors, and engage in a little malicious backstabbing. One day, a card is posted with the picture of Chris Harper, a handsome student boarding at a nearby boys school who was bludgeoned to death the previous year, with the caption “I know who killed him.” Sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey, a student at St. Kilda’s and the daughter of the chief of the Dublin Murder Squad, brings the card to ambitious Detective Stephen Moran, who’d like nothing better than a ticket out of the Cold Case Unit and into the prestigious Murder Squad.
The action takes place over the period of one day, with multiple interviews conducted by Moran and Murder Squad Detective Antoinette Conway, a prickly sort, sensitive to any sexist injustice. Moran and Conway slowly learn to trust one another, honing their interview skills as they slide ever deeper into a world of power games and manipulation, jealousy and rivalries. While desperately trying to solve the case, Holly’s father is ever-present, interfering in his position as Conway and Moran’s boss. Then there is the hovering spirit of the victim, who considered his girlfriends to be throwaway commodities, to be dumped upon any indication of neediness. But perhaps he truly found the one he loved, only to find that someone else objected.
Tana French is a master of psychological suspense and has once again produced a riveting page-turner. The teenage girls are authentic and raw; their complex relationships are navigated with a sure hand. The techniques used by the detectives to discover the truth are as varied as the labyrinth of lies and misdirection. Other titles by this Edgar, Anthony and Macavity Award-winning author include In the Woods, Broken Harbor, The Likeness and Faithful Place. Fans of John Verdon, Denise Mina and Stephen Booth are sure to find a deeply satisfying read.
We all have that friend who doesn’t have a filter and says whatever she thinks. Blogger Jen Mann’s new book People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots and Other Suburban Scourges is just like sitting down next to that friend and listening (and laughing) as she tells it like it is. Mann, whose writing style has been called “Erma Bombeck with F Bombs,” takes on modern inconveniences, marriage and motherhood with humor and sarcasm. Mann explains why she covets a minivan (a.k.a. mobile command center), the danger of wearing pajamas in the school pickup line, the complexities of enrolling your kids in summer camp and the challenges of navigating playgroup politics.
Mann’s blog was a small project that she worked on for herself and a few followers until a post called “Over Achieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies” went viral in 2011. This book will bring Mann’s witty and, yes, often profanity-filled observations on life in the suburbs to an even wider audience. Her irreverent, brutally honest essays are a perfect match for readers who enjoy Jenny Lawson and Jen Lancaster’s humorous memoirs. Mann has also edited two humor anthologies called I Just Want to Pee Alone: A Collection of Hilarious Essays about Motherhood and I Just Want to Be Alone: A Collection of Humorous Essays, both of which will be treats for her always-growing fan base.
Brilliant, eccentric, odd, flamboyant and influential are all words that have been used to describe Thomas Dent Mütter, a trailblazing plastic surgeon from Philadelphia. In Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz details the fascinating story of this unique man who made so many critical contributions to modern medicine and whose legacy lives on today.
Dr. Mütter began his career as a surgeon and teacher at Jefferson College of Medicine in the middle of the 19th century at a time when anesthesia was not used during surgery and sterilization was haphazard at best. Mütter was determined to remedy those situations while focusing on using his talents to aid the physically deformed. As an innovator of plastic surgery techniques, he was also an expert on burns and cleft palates. Detailed accounts of actual surgeries performed by Mütter are peppered throughout the book and add to the compelling narrative. A character outside the operating room, Mütter wore colorful silk suits and cavalierly added an umlaut to his name. He was bitterly disliked by rivals who eschewed his ideas, but beloved by students who welcomed his interactive approach to lectures.
Sadly, the charismatic and talented Mütter died at 48, but through his speeches and lectures Aptowicz is able to reveal the complexity of Mütter’s character, his compassion and the lasting impact he had on the medical profession. In his lifetime, Mütter amassed a personal collection of almost 2,000 unique medical items, including models, illustrations and preserved anomalies. Among the objects he collected were skulls from around the world. Mütter donated his entire collection of medical curiosities to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and The Mütter Museum opened in 1863. The Museum now boasts a collection of more than 25,000 items which includes sections of Albert Einstein’s brain and the tumor from Grover Cleveland’s jaw.
Promising young voices in modern literary fiction are hard to come by, which makes Justin Taylor a man who deserves more recognition. In his newest collection Flings: Stories, Taylor confronts the awkward truths of adult life in stories centered around people who share a collective desire to be genuinely good, despite their misguided tendencies.
Both the titular story “Flings” and its continuation “After Ellen” follow people who are ensnared in the directionless, bleak traps of uncertainty that riddle our mid-20s. As friends, they live hollow lives in which they careen through dead-end jobs and relationships while waiting for what they perceive to be their real adult lives to begin. In the meantime, they’re left celebrating their miseries with compassion in their own beautifully tragic ways.
The more light-hearted "Sungold” stars Brian, a 30-something manager and bookkeeper at an organic pizza place. After nearly suffering heatstroke while wearing a questionably shaped purple mushroom costume in front of the restaurant, he gets busted cooking the books by a girl who happens to be there looking for a job. Her name is Appolinaria Pavlovna Sungold (seriously), and she knows what's up; she promises her silence in exchange for regular shift hours and a percentage of Brian's stolen funds. Brian hires her on the spot as both an act of self-preservation and an act of defiance towards the store owner, who only hires attractive college girls who enjoy fashioning the collars of their tie-dyed uniforms into deep, dangerous Vs.
Taylor’s prose is brilliant, humorous and unwavering. His characters are marvels; both uniquely individual and equally empathetic, and united by their searches for things to fill the voids in their lives.
Caitlin Doughty grew up in Hawai’i, and early on became “functionally morbid” with death. As a girl, she witnessed a shocking accident at a shopping mall, which cemented her desire to better understand the afterlife, which she parlayed into her college study of medieval death rituals. In her book debut Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Doughty brings this difficult but universal subject to light. Despite the dark and sometimes gory content, she conversationally illuminates her year at Westwind Cremation and Burial in Oakland, California, and what she has accomplished since. If you never before knew the methods (and secrets) of “dignified” body disposal, you will after reading this exceptional book.
Doughty sprinkles her text with plenty of food for thought, whether it be historical and cultural tidbits about death, body disposal and mourning in cultures throughout time and worldwide, or when she gives her strong opinions about what we in America are doing right and wrong when it comes to handling our mortality. She daydreamed that one day she would open a funeral practice called “La Belle Mort,” which would take the unnatural aspects out of the process, but instead make for an open discussion about death and the hereafter. A chapter focusing on women’s roles in mortality culture includes a passage reminding the reader that “every time a woman gives birth, she is creating not only a life, but also a death.”
The author discusses corpses of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the stillborn to the elderly, the suicides and the drug overdoses, those who died surrounded by loved ones and those who died alone. Host of her own YouTube series, Ask a Mortician, Doughty also discusses how unfortunate it is that so few people know the law with regard to their loved ones’ corpses, nor do they have a plan of action. A timeless memoir, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is both eye-opening and could start important topical discussions that too few of us are having.
Lines between dream and the reality of an isolated existence become hazy in acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s newest novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A Novel.
In high school, Tsukuru was included in a tight-knit group of friends. Although they were inseparable, spending their free time volunteering and studying together, Tsukuru felt deficient in their presence. Ao, Aka, Kuro and Shiro are each shown with a distinctly vibrant essence. In comparison, Tsukuru felt colorless, yet satisfied to be a part of such a special assemblage. This circle remained unbroken until Tsukuru was ejected from the group during his second year of college. At first, he thinks his friends must be missing his messages but after countless awkward brushoffs from their families, the banishment is clear.
Not having the faintest clue as to why, Tsukuru thrusts himself into an existential depression which wears down both body and spirit. Plagued by fear of actually being a nonentity, he is reduced to an inert husk. In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, we are taken on an enigmatic journey as an older Tsukuru sets out to discover the truth behind his exile. He soon encounters ghosts from the past, new acquaintances and lovers in an oscillating series of hallucination, memory and restless fantasy. Only Murakami, a master of magical realism, could conjure such pensive yet uneasy visions.
Oliver Harris’ ne’er do well detective Nick Belsey is in trouble again in the novel Deep Shelter. A random encounter with a speeding perpetrator leads Nick to an abandoned bomb shelter. Finding some crates of champagne as well as some heavy duty medically prescribed drugs, Nick thinks this might be the perfect party spot to take a female companion. When he does just this, the lights are extinguished and Nick’s date is kidnapped, apparently dragged away into a warren of tunnels that could go anywhere. Nick soon finds himself in the uncomfortable position of prime suspect and quite possibly in the middle of an extensive government cover-up that leads back as far as the Cold War. With little help and almost no resources, Nick races against the clock to try and recover the woman he lost.
Nick Belsey was introduced in Harris’ previous novel, Hollow Man. He is a likable character and a good investigator, albeit one that makes very bad decisions. Harris handles the element of suspense well, and Deep Shelter starts quickly and moves at a fast pace. The setting is also amazing and Nick travels from the busy streets of London to mysterious locations deep underground, hoping to find a discarded clue that might lead him in the right direction. The writing is solid; Harris has degrees in creative writing as well as English and Shakespeare studies, so readers who enjoy good descriptions and a sharp writing style will not be disappointed. Readers who enjoy this novel may want to try Stuart MacBride or Mark Billingham.
This book will make you a better writer. It will also make you a better collaborator. It will probably make you better at just about any endeavor that involves getting people excited about an idea. Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels is a book about becoming a comics industry professional by one of the comics industry’s biggest names. Brian Michael Bendis has written the most popular characters at Marvel in many of their most epic appearances, alongside many touted professionals in the industry.
That last point is the most important. This may be Bendis' project, but it's rarely Bendis' voice alone. The first chapter may be Writing 101 advice, but that stops quickly. Most of the book consists of Bendis interviewing other writers he's worked with on how to put books together, generate ideas and then act on them. From there, he launches into working with artists, from how he tries to bring out their best work to how to get the best collaborative results. What really sells this is that Bendis got 14 artists from the industry to give their side of the collaboration. What gets an artist excited? What's the right level of direction? When does the writer need to back off and let the artist do their job?
The end result is that it becomes clear that there are any number of ways to successfully work together. A springboard is set up for aspiring artists and writers to find their own methods. Bendis pulls a hat trick twice. He doesn't stop with artists. There's an entire section devoted to working with editors. The most valuable section may be Bendis' interview of his wife, who handles the business side of his art. This book could make a successful artist out of a starving one and that's priceless.
Most home cooks are now acquainted with at least one family member or friend who is vegetarian, or may be vegetarian themselves. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of over 20 cookbooks, have now published Vegetarian Dinner Parties: 150 Meatless Meals Good Enough to Serve to Company. In an extensive, chatty and humor-filled introduction, the pair discuss the value of dinner parties and the fallacy that these gatherings are in the midst of a comeback — it is their assertion that they’ve never gone away. They also admit to being “lapsed vegetarians,” but encourage the use of vegetables and fruits as the stars of any meal course. As they learned upon putting together this book, many of the recipes could easily be turned vegan, and over 40 percent of the dishes are fully vegan. The men also give suggestions for easy tablescapes and music to enhance any dinner party.
The authors describe the importance of prep work, and divide the book into seven courses that “follow the arc of a dinner party:” cocktails and nibbles, small plates, soups and salads, pastas, large plates and desserts. But they caution that there is no need to have all or even most of these courses depending on the guests, the hosts, the kitchen and time. Among the recipes themselves, there are helpful hints that indicate what part of the process can be done ahead of time, what can be skipped if time and/or ability is limited and what potential garnish and beverage would go best with each dish. Additionally, a suggestion is made as to how, within a full dinner party, the recipe would best complement other recipes in the book.
Weinstein and Scarbrough’s take on vegetarian cooking is very 21st century in its outlook. As they worked to perfect the recipes, they quickly realized that there is no need to hide fruits and vegetables with heavy creamy sauces or cheese, or to relegate these ingredients to sidekicks for a historic protein. Instead, the fresh, bright elements shine through as the brilliant features of the party.