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Nerdy Special List June 2018

Summer is here so that means packing 5 books for every 1 day of vacation you take, right? Consider stuffing the following titles into your over-the-weight-limit bags!

Jen at Brown Dog Solutions recommends:

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Atria, June 5)

In this emotional sequel to Beartown, Fredrik Backman picks up with the small, struggling city as the citizens try to rebuild their beloved hockey team amid violence, deceit, and hate.

Backman’s complex plot illustrates how the club touches lives in every corner. Using hockey merely as the tool, he tells a story of humanity in all its beauty and foibles. His language is poetic, his approach often humorous, and his understanding of mankind astounding.

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, Us Against You takes Backman to new heights. Readers needn’t have read Beartown first but spoilers are present here.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, June 26)

Antiracist educator and author of the term “white fragility,” Robin DiAngelo succinctly explains white people’s defensive reactions and how they impede necessary discussions about race.

She illustrates how racism is everpresent in our culture and even well-meaning people perpetuate the problem. Being more aware of this fact and open to it is the first step in enacting real change.

DiAngelo is tactful but honest, explaining that the discussions and actions are uncomfortable, but trying to make them otherwise only exacerbates the problems. White Fragility can be eye-opening for those willing to take a close look with DiAngelo.

Rory at Fourth Street Review recommends:

Florida by Lauren Groff (Riverhead, June 5)

I love short stories. Possibly more than novels, which, if you’d asked ten years ago, I would’ve said was impossible.

When I saw the new work from Lauren Groff (author of the phenomenal Fates and Furies) was a collection of short stories set in Florida, I was thrilled. Florida is dark, oppressive, full of dread—an “Eden of dangerous things”—everything I hoped it would be.

Groff captures the gritty essence of the state. The stories are rich in characters, atmosphere, and perils of the natural world. This collection makes a wonderful addition to Groff’s work and a great pick for your summer reading list.

Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review recommends:

On the Java Ridge by Jock Serong (Text Publishing Company, June 12)

Jock Serong’s On the Java Ridge is devastatingly brilliant and the best work I’ve read this year. I cried. Twice. I am not a damn crier.

As two Indonesian-built sailboats head toward Australian waters, the government announces a new policy: no unidentified vessels will be offered maritime assistance. One boat is a charter full of white tourists on a surf trip; the other packed with asylum seekers.

The two boats cross paths to disastrous effect on the eve of federal elections, making the political maneuvering even more gut-wrenching.

Java Ridge is a grueling mix of high-octane action, life-and-death politics, and, at its heart, a haunting portrayal of worldwide refugee crises.

Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live and Love by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (Simon & Schuster. June 5)

Armstrong is becoming perhaps our greatest television historian, following Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted and Seinfeldia. She is now taking on the HBO blockbuster Sex and the City.

Armstrong’s insight is fascinating. This is an in-depth look at how four single women in New York changed the pop culture landscape and countless lives across gender and sexuality spectra. The show caused ripples in ways I never even imagined, and anyone interested in the influence of television will find this book meticulously researched and engagingly written.

PCN recommends:

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, June 5)

A woman walked into a mortuary to plan her own funeral, and hours later was murdered in her home. Wha? Did she know she’d be murdered? Or was it a freak coincidence?

Whatever your guess, it’s likely wrong. In this clever meta novel, the author, using real-life details, makes himself a lead character, a modern-day Watson to a prickly Holmesian (fictional) detective who investigates the woman’s death.

Murder is a mind-sharpening mystery, and fans of Horowitz’s TV and film work (Foyle’s War, Injustice, etc.) will enjoy the Easter eggs.

What are you reading this month?


Nerdy Special List February 2018

It’s Friday before a long holiday weekend for some. And after yet another school shooting.

When I’m heartsick, I turn to books to save me, and they always do.

Here are this month’s recommendations.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

A Forest in the Clouds by John Fowler (Pegasus, February 6)

While in college, John Fowler spent a year as a research assistant for Dian Fossey at the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda. People close to Fowler wanted to know what it was like to work with the great primatologist memorialized in Gorillas in the Mist.

Fowler experienced a dramatically different Fossey from the one the world knew, and struggled with how to respond to those who inquired. Now, decades later, A Forest in the Clouds is his answer.

It engages the reader like a novel, with humor and drama and suspense. The African backdrop, exquisitely woven into the story, adds to the exotic atmosphere with its distinctive climate and breathtaking wildlife. Fowler’s insider story is a new perspective in the world of animal science.

Buy it now from Amazon

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington (PublicAffairs, February 27)

Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington’s story of institutional racism, junk science, and a broken criminal justice system is a difficult one to read, but incredibly important. Their history of Mississippi racism is mortifying, and the ways it still exists today are equally horrifying.

The pair use meticulous research to build their case against Dr. Steven Hayne, a forensic pathologist; and his friend Michael West, a dentist who claimed to be a bite-mark specialist. Hayne and West took advantage of the flaws in the system, and their greed had devastating effects on people like Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, who were wrongly convicted of murder.

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is rich in information presented in a captivating manner. It’s a real-life horror story about a problem that can only be solved through increased understanding and awareness.

Buy it now from Amazon

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press, February 6)

After unexpectedly inheriting a homestead in remote Alaska, Ernt Allbright moves his family to the Kaneq wilderness. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as a POW in Vietnam, Ernt begins to unravel during the long nights in a hostile landscape.

The Great Alone is not his story, however; it’s the story of his resilient daughter Leni and the life she’s able to carve out in the wake of the family wreckage. Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous ’70s, Kristin Hannah has written a riveting novel of survival and brutality. Memorable characters and an unforgettable setting make this bittersweet novel a winter standout.

Buy it now from Amazon

PCN recommends:

Sunburn by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, February 20)

An attractive redhead with sunburned shoulders sitting in a bar in Delaware in the middle of a summer day. A handsome man approaches. They strike up a conversation, the start of something that soon escalates and spins out of control.

Sunburn was inspired by the work of James M. Cain, a master of noir and one of my favorite authors ever, so I approached it with interest but also some skepticism. From the first line, however, it was clear the description is apt. The prose is classic and contemporary at the same time, and even if you know how noir usually ends, Lippman makes Sunburn hard to resist.

Buy it now from Amazon

What’s on your reading list this month?

The affiliate links provide PCN with small commissions if used.


Nerdy Special List January 2018

Hello, how is everyone? You’re all looking wonderful and that outfit totally suits you.

I hid from the internet for about 3 weeks over the holidays because I wanted to reclaim my mind space. Choose what to focus on instead of having social media tell me what I should be thinking or terrified about. It was marvelous being able to hear my own thoughts again. Some may have been ridiculous but, hey, they were mine.

To help fill your mind with wonder and insightful musings, check out these books on this year’s first Nerdy Special List.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

The Wife by Alafair Burke (Harper, January 23)

The Wife centers on a famous man accused of sexual harassment and rape. His wife believes his claims of innocence, but she has skeletons in her closet and fears the attention her husband receives will reveal her secrets to the world.

The suspense is top-notch, the plot twists kept me guessing, and the book had me reading until daybreak. Burke obviously wrote this prior to the #MeToo movement, so once again she proves she has her finger on the pulse of American culture.

Buy from Amazon

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea, 9780545702539, January 2)

The final months of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life are told in a series of poems written by Andrea David Pinkney and a collection of paintings from her husband, Brian Pinkney. As a former teacher, I couldn’t help but think how amazing this would be for kids to perform as a slam poetry reading, and as an avid adult reader, I found myself lost in the beauty and inspiration the language and illustrations create, despite their devastating subject. This is truly a celebration of an extraordinary man and his influence on a nation. [Read Jen’s full, starred review at Shelf Awareness.]

Buy from Amazon

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates (Picador, January 9)

In August of 1982, Matthew ties Hannah to a tree and shoots her with a BB gun that belongs to his friend Patch. In 2008, Hannah and Patch are married and living in New York City, but a chance encounter with Matthew sends their lives into chaos.

What they knew, how they felt, and what really happened is slowly unveiled in this literary thriller. Alternating between the past and the present, Christopher J. Yates masterfully weaves the tension, mania, and despair of the main characters. Grist Mill Road reveals how anger, passion, history, and love bind us in the most unexpected ways.

Buy from Amazon

From Erin at In Real Life:

A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis (Mulholland, January 2)

When a teenage girl goes missing, FBI Agent Elsa Myers with the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team is called away from her father’s deathbed to find her. As the complex case progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for Elsa to keep her personal and professional lives separate.

A Map of the Dark introduces some of the most interesting characters I’ve met. It’s a fantastic start to what will be a long-lived series, and a perfect blend of a procedural with a character-driven story.

Buy from Amazon

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (Putnam, January 9)

In the summer of 1969, the four Gold siblings track down the elusive Woman on Hester Street, who they’ve heard can tell fortunes. One by one, they secretly learn the date of their death.

From this intriguing beginning, Chloe Benjamin spins a glorious tale of how knowing their expiration date impacts each of the Gold children over the coming decades. Family, faith, fate, destiny, and dreams are all part of their journeys. Benjamin sucked me in from the first page and wouldn’t let go. This is certainly my first best novel of 2018.

Buy from Amazon

Lullaby Road by James Anderson (Crown, January 16)

Second in a trilogy about desert delivery trucker Ben Jones, Road follows the genius of The Never-Open Desert Diner with more character and atmosphere than you can imagine exists in the Utah high desert.

The eccentric route inhabitants and “friends” who pepper Ben’s days are more than enough to keep the pages turning. Throw in the mysteries of a young child in need and a local icon in trouble and Lullaby Road became my second great novel of 2018. If you’re not reading this series, start.

Buy from Amazon

PCN recommends:

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor (Crown, January 9)

In this fantastic, cinematic thriller that reads like Stand by Me crossed with The Goonies, a group of prepubescent friends discover a dead body one summer and are still trying to come to terms with it 30 years later.

As I wrote in my Shelf Awareness review, “Tudor is a master conjurer of thrills, crafting tight scenes that make the skin crawl in a fun way, like [while you’re] walking through a haunted house at a carnival.” She also “observes life with deadpan humor” and “infuses her story with heart and the pang of lost love.” If I had a box of chalk, I’d draw arrows pointing you straight to this book.

Buy from Amazon

What was your first read of 2018? What else are you reading this month?

This post includes affiliate links, which might generate small commissions for me if you click on them…assuming I embedded the right links. The updated affiliate system is slightly confusing and maybe these links send commissions to some guy named Ted in Iowa. 


Nerdy Special List June 2017

School’s out and summer has started, which means lazy days—or in my case, lazier days. I blame it on the heat. And laziness.

But there’s one activity I’ll always do a lot of and that’s reading. The NSL contributors and I enjoy diving into pools of books to find the standouts each month.

Here are our favorites for June.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls’ Escape from Slavery to Union Hero by Cate Lineberry (St. Martin’s Press, June 20)

There are many amazing African-American heroes whom we read and hear about in school, see memorialized around the country, and easily recognize by name. One who isn’t quite as common but easily as exceptional is Robert Smalls, a South Carolina slave who stole a Confederate steamer and sailed it in the Union Navy forces.

Smalls’ goal was to save his family, but he accomplished far more. Following his incredibly dangerous escape, Smalls went on to pilot vessels for the Union, raise funds for a community of freed slaves, own a business, learn to read, provide education for his children, and buy the South Carolina home he grew up in as a slave.

Lineberry’s thorough research and obvious passion make this account of Smalls’ life engaging and fascinating. As Americans, this is a story we should know as well as Fredrick Douglass’ or Harriet Tubman’s.

Unsub by Meg Gardiner (Dutton, June 27)

Caitlin Hendrix grew up surrounded by the case of the serial murderer dubbed The Prophet. Her father was the lead investigator for the Alameda Sheriff’s Department.

The case was never solved but it ended her father’s career as well as his marriage. That didn’t prevent Caitlin from following her father’s career path, though.

Twenty years after The Prophet disappeared, Caitlin is a making a name for herself in the narcotics division when she’s summoned to a murder scene. The victim is found with a Mercury symbol, The Prophet’s calling card.

Whether it was left by the actual killer, back after 20 years, or a copycat is unclear, but Homicide Sergeant Joe Guthrie knows the most important clues of the case are locked in the mind of former detective Mack Hendrix, and the only way to him is through Caitlin.

Based on the notorious unsolved case of San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer, Unsub is a creepy, atmospheric, fast-paced thriller full of plot twists and suspense.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Perennials by Mandy Berman (Random House, June 6)

Is there a better way to welcome summer than with a debut novel about summer camp? I don’t think so.

I never went to summer camp, but I always, always wanted to, so perhaps a bit of my appreciation of Mandy Berman’s Perennials is rooted in envy. Regardless, it’s good.

Rachel and Fiona are campers—and later camp counselors—at Camp Marigold. They come from vastly different backgrounds but are best camp friends.

Told from multiple perspectives over the course of multiple summers, resembling linked short stories more than a novel, Fiona’s and especially Rachel’s stories are fleshed out in this coming-of-age novel. It’s heartfelt and melancholy, awkward and bittersweet. It’s not about action-packed summer hijinks, but rather a meditation on the benefits and burdens of friendship.

Berman is a talented writer, and I look forward to seeing what she writes next. In the meantime, Perennials is the perfect literary kickoff to summer.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow, June 6)

I did not want to read this book. The cover creeped me the hell out and I wanted to throw it on the “get rid of this book” pile as fast as possible. [Ed. note: she offered to send it to me.]

But duty called and I’m glad it did, because it’s a super enjoyable read and not nearly as doll-creepy as I thought it would be.

Sorrel Woodham, dollmaker extraordinaire, has purchased a newspaper ad every year since her daughter Janey disappeared. The ad offers a reward for the return of the doll that was made by Miss Sorrel in Janey’s likeness and taken along with her.

Forty years later, a response to the ad sends three generations of Woodham women on a mission to finally find out what happened to Janey. Ephron is a smart writer who keeps the plot engaging while avoiding the numerous pitfalls that can turn an amateur investigator story into an eye-roller. I tore through this traditional suspense mystery and recommend it as a great summer read.

Ash Falls by Warren Read (Ig Publishing, June 13)

In the beautifully written opening of Ash Falls, convict Ernie Luntz escapes into Washington mountains following the crash of his prison transport vehicle. As word of Ernie’s run for the hills makes its way through his hometown of Ash Falls, Read unexpectedly turns his fantastic novel into something other than a prison escape story (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The reader is treated to interconnected stories from multiple third-person points of view, including that of Ernie’s wife, son, and others impacted by the violence that sent Ernie away in the first place.

Read’s language is beautiful and stark, with many passages that are repeat-read worthy. This debut novel is not to be missed by grit-lit fans.

From PCN:

The Child by Fiona Barton (Berkley, June 27)

An infant’s skeleton is found under the foundation of a building being demolished. The bones have been there for decades. Whose child was it and how did it get there?

Kate, a reporter, jumps on the story. Two other women, Emma and Angela, follow the case closely, with dread and for entirely different reasons, until the three women’s paths converge in an emotional and satisfying way.

Barton (The Widow) makes loss and longing palpable, but she also shows what lies on the other side of grief is joy.

What’s in your reading stack?


Nerdy Special List May 2017–Take 2

OK, let’s try this again. Earlier this post was unfinished but published without my knowledge or permission. While writing it, I experienced technical issues so I saved what I had and asked tech support to look into the problems. When I went to bed, IT reps were still looking into it. 

In the morning, I got an email saying it had gone live and out to subscribers, even though I’d never asked the support team to publish it.

So here’s the finished post, including my own rec, if you still want to take a look.


Happy May, everyone! It’s raining as I type this so I’m happy to be inside curled up with a good book. Oh, who am I kidding? Even if the sun was shining, I wouldn’t be outside. It’s too…humany out there.

Luckily, books make great company, and here are the ones we recommend this month. Happy reading!

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (Amulet Books, May 2)

For those old enough to remember the Dustin Hoffman movie Tootsie, Noteworthy may conjure some of those memories.

This delightful young adult novel features Jordan Sun, a scholarship student at a prestigious performing arts boarding school. A junior at Kensington-Blaine, Jordan has never succeeded in securing a role in the school’s musical, so she confronts her advisor—also the show’s director—who tells her her Alto 2 voice isn’t conducive for most female roles in musicals.

Feeling dejected, Jordan thinks, “What have I got to lose?” when an all-school email arrives announcing try-outs for the elite, all-male a capella club on campus. She puts her theater training to work and disguises herself as Julian Zhang to audition. For the first time in her Kensington-Blaine career, Jordan, a.k.a. Julian, discovers a place she’s wanted, but how long can she maintain the charade and who exactly will she be when it’s over?

Noteworthy sings with fun language, sharp dialogue, and the cacophony of high school life. Redgate builds around themes of identity, class, and of course gender roles. This is a novel that exemplifies the high standards being set for young adult literature today. Humorous, complex and engaging, Noteworthy deserves a standing ovation!

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The White Road by Sarah Lotz (Mulholland Books, May 30)

“I met the man who would save my life twice—and ultimately destroy it—on a potholed road in the arse-end of the Welsh countryside.”

With an opening line that foreboding, I was hooked.

Sarah Lotz’s latest novel, The White Road, tells the tale of Simon, once a troubled youth now an adventure seeker, trying to get a spooky website off the ground. The cofounder, Thierry, sends Simon spelunking in search of three bodies left behind in a cave, Cwm Pot.

Guided by the unbalanced Ed, they find the bodies, just as a flash flood traps him with the bones. The intense cold and darkness, along with Ed’s corpse, terrorize Simon, but he makes it out alive with his film footage intact. The footage goes viral, against Simon’s wishes, leaving Thierry wondering how to top it.

He decides on a literal approach, and sends Simon to climb Mt. Everest to film the climbers who perished in the attempt. Once there, Simon realizes he didn’t escape the cave alone, nor is he the only one haunted.

The White Road is about Simon’s ill-fated exploits and the true weight of guilt. Lotz’s prose, though standard, is visceral and compulsory, and she absolutely nails the claustrophobic atmosphere. The beginning and end of the novel are excellent, and though it lags in the middle, it’s worth the journey to complete the whole thing. If you’re looking for a page-turner with an ending that will haunt you, give The White Road a try.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner (Down & Out Books, May 15)

Danny Gardner’s debut is a powerful work of historical crime fiction. Elliot Caprice is a chameleon with no clear space in the world. The son of an interracial couple raised under the wing of a Jewish loan shark, the semi-disgraced Chicago police officer has a history on both sides of the law.

Elliot returns home to Southville, Illinois in 1952 to find his uncle ill and the family farm in peril. Determined to save them both, Elliot takes a straight job, but ends up embroiled in the multi-fronted fight over a powerful businessman’s estate, not to mention his potential murder.

Elliot’s shady background, sense of justice, military and Chicago PD service, and skin color make for a fascinating and combustible mix mined superbly by Gardner. Intimate, violent and intense, with just the right humorous undertones, A Negro and an Ofay is a fast-moving crime novel with a soul.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone, May 16)

Beatrice is very empathetic, and can feel some of what happens to her patients as she performs neurosurgery on them. Beatrice takes a leave of absence to clear up the affairs of her brother after he passes away overseas.

Ben lived in Siena, Italy, doing historical research on the plague. Once Beatrice is in Italy, she reads Ben’s research. Between her empathy and Ben’s project, she finds herself in Siena in 1347, shortly before the arrival of the plague. Ben was researching why Siena had suffered more during the plague than any of its nearby cities, and Beatrice discovers one of the reasons.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved Beatrice, how smart she was, her sense of humor, and how she took care of herself. The descriptions of Italy in the 1300s are wonderful (though going there from the 21st century would be hard). I loved the characters, the setting, and the hows and whys of Beatrice’s time travel.

Highly recommended!!

From PCN:

Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills (Blackstone, May 30)

Reading this is like watching a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie, one with an everyman caught up in engrossing intrigue and on the run from dangerous spies and nefarious characters.

Luke Hamilton (think a young Jimmy Stewart or Joel McCrea) doesn’t know why deadly strangers want him dead. He partners up with a beautiful woman named Piper (picture Veronica Lake or Joan Fontaine) who may be able to help him—or put him in even more danger. They race across Europe, encountering many dead bodies on their quest to find the answer to Luke’s troubles, and to complete Piper’s agenda of avenging a loved one’s death.

The charismatic leads, sparkling dialogue, complex characters, mysterious plot, fast pace, and vivid European locales all add up to one breezy, entertaining adventure. For more info about this novel, check out the Maximum Shelf issue I did on it, which includes an interview with author Mark Mills.

What are you excited about reading this month?


Nerdy Special List April 2017

I’ll be having a birthday soon, which means I’ll have to confront something on my list of fears. This year’s challenge: spring cleaning. [Insert horror scream here.] I think I’ll read a book instead and hope the house elves come in the night to take care of the cleaning.

Here are the April releases we recommend for when you need to avoid doing something else.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman, trans. by Neil Smith (Atria Books, April 25)

I haven’t done a very good job of hiding the fact I love Fredrik Backman’s work. I’ve adored each of his previous three books published in the US, for their individual distinctiveness as well as their commonalities. But Beartown surpasses them all.

This time Backman takes a bit of a darker tone, and has an entire cast of protagonists as opposed to a central main character enhanced with supporting characters.

Beartown is a sleepy little village struggling in the economy. Jobs have left, but the town uses its hockey program as a reason to get up every day. Some residents are players or coaches, some former players and devout fans. This year, the junior team is positioned to go all the way to the championship. This could mean big things for Beartown: a hockey academy, a new arena, population growth. But a fateful night shakes the entire town and more than just the championship dreams could be extinguished.

Even though Backman’s tone is darker and graver than before, he still employs his smart wit and insightful perspective. Dialogue is sparse but sharp and the characters are brilliantly authentic.

One needn’t be a fan of hockey to love this book. Backman uses the sport as a vehicle for his rich themes, but it could have easily been replaced by any other sport…or community focus. Beartown is a universal tale of humanity—its strengths, weaknesses, beauty, and hideousness. Once again, Backman has stolen my heart with his larger-than-life tale of the common man.

Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope (St. Martin’s Press, April 18)

Conservative former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and liberal former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope teamed up on this book to show how efforts to save the planet are not only environmentally productive, they’re economically productive as well.

These two leaders look at the individual parts of climate change and offer solutions to the smaller parts, not one idea for the entire issue. They illustrate how this makes it more manageable as well as profitable. And they emphasize the need—and plausibility—for local governments, businesses, and citizens to take on these tasks instead of waiting for change from the federal government, especially in the current political climate.

The two men alternate chapters, addressing topics such as renewable energy, housing, food, and transportation. They don’t agree on everything, but Climate of Hope is a beautiful example of how progress can be made despite partisan differences.

It’s enlightening, motivating, and accessible, and should be required reading: for the good of the planet, the good of the people, and the good of the economy.


From Erin at In Real Life:

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole (Ecco, April 4)

This is one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read. The story opens with a detective, William Fawkes—or Wolf, as he’s known—with a sketchy past being pulled into a case involving a corpse comprised of stitched-together parts from six different bodies.

Pretty gross, right? Only, it’s not. This character-driven story is told with a respect for the victim that’s almost eerie. It’s not gratuitous. It is descriptive, but gracefully so.

Wolf and his backstory are at the center of the mystery of The Ragdoll (as the corpse is called), but the supporting cast—Wolf’s police colleagues, his TV reporter ex-wife and her colleagues, the victims and their families—makes this tale one to remember. As they each play their part in figuring out who the six victims are and what connects them, the urgency around catching the killer is palpable. Daniel Cole wastes no words; perhaps his former life as a paramedic honed his ability to vividly communicate just enough information.

Ragdoll is the first in a series; Cole’s publishing contract includes three books. If what comes next is anywhere near as good as RAGDOLL, readers are in for a wonderfully wild ride.


From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil by Susan Ewing (Pegasus Books, April 4)

Heads up, shark and adventure nerds! Resurrecting the Shark is the story of the people who came together over the course of about a hundred years to solve the mystery of a 270-million-year-old fish fossil.

Now known as Helicoprion (“spiral saw”), this paleozoic shark has a two-foot-tall whorl of teeth sitting midline in its lower jaw like a circular saw, making Sharknado feel like staid Sunday programming. The fossil became a passion project in geology, taxonomy, paleontology, and the arts, from Australia to Russia to the United Sates.

Resurrecting the Shark is the compelling story of how it was ultimately determined what the fossil was, what it looked like, how it ate, how it lived and where.

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki (W. W. Norton & Company, April 11)

The minimalism movement has become quite popular lately, but Japanese editor Fumio Sasaki’s story of how he found greater happiness by giving up his possessions is more than just another piece of grist for the mill.

Sasaki shares his process (getting rid of just about everything, including his bed) and the emotional transformation that resulted. It’s a very personal journey, but the ideas and concepts are presented in a way that is both motivating and adaptable. Including photos and a list of tips, the book is physically beautiful (and minimal), as well as a fascinating read.

[Editor’s note: I need Fumio Sasaki to come to my apartment.]


From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman (Harper, April 11)

It makes me happy that Ms. Hillerman is continuing her father [Tony]’s series with Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee, and Bernadette Manuelito. I like the marriage of Bernadette and Jim, and I love that Bernadette has a strong lead role in Ms. Hillerman’s books. I also like the respect that Bernadette and Jim have for Joe Leaphorn, and that they consider him a mentor.

In Song of the Lion, a bomb goes off in the parking lot of a high school, bringing another situation to light. How these two situations connect is a darn good story. Recommended!


From PCN:

Cruel is the Night by Karo Hämäläinen, trans. by Owen Witesman (Soho Crime, April 11)

Four friends sit down to dinner one evening in London, but some or all of them might end up dead before the night is over.

As the meal progresses, everyone gets more drunk and their true feelings for each other emerge, resulting in all-out violence. There’s even a sword involved.

Cruel is disturbing and darkly humorous, and fast-paced enough that you can probably devour it in one bite.

What are you reading this month?



Nerdy Special List January 2017

Since almost half the month has passed, I figured I should get this list up. I’ve been moving slowly due to January rains, days that get dark at 1:00 p.m., and my general tendency to be sloth-like. My big win today was changing out of pajama pants.

The one thing I’m not lazy about is talking books. Below are the January releases we recommend you check out.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Fever Swamp: A Journey Through the Strange Neverland of the 2016 Presidential Race by Richard North Patterson (Quercus, January 10)

fever swampThroughout the entirety of the 2016 presidential race—both the primaries and the general election—novelist Richard North Patterson wrote a weekly commentary for Huffington Post. Fever Swamp is a collection of those articles, with additional remarks from Patterson after the November election.

Patterson takes his legal background and the knowledge he’s accumulated writing political thrillers to base his arguments in facts, data, and other tangible evidence. His margin notes and section introductions indicate where his predictions went wrong and why, where he was correct and what that meant, and other insights looking back on arguably the most unprecedented election in American history.

Patterson is unapologetically liberal, he’s thorough and knowledgeable, and Fever Swamp is at times infuriating and at others terrifying, especially when Patterson discusses the Supreme Court. But it’s always enlightening.

It may feel early to scratch the scabs off the wounds created by this election, but we all need to be aware of what is now at stake. Fever Swamp is a good place to start.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey (William Morrow, January 24)

clownfish bluesIf you’ve read Tim Dorsey’s books, you know what to expect from Clownfish Blues and will be glad to hear he’s in top form. If you haven’t yet traveled to Dorsey’s Florida, you’re in for a treat.

In Clownfish, our erstwhile hero, Serge, and his trusty (although he can’t be trusted with much) sidekick Coleman are hard at work reenacting the classic TV show Route 66. Did you know a Florida episode of Route 66 introduced the country to the concept of a bookmobile? Neither did I. I didn’t even know there were Florida episodes. But I digress.

Like all Dorsey’s novels, Clownfish has moments that are laugh-out-loud funny. There is, however, much more than humor. Serge kills people with more style than any protagonist I’ve met.

The complicated plots highlights aspects of Florida life, yes, but also American culture as a whole, including state lotteries (and the people who play—and manipulate—them), undocumented immigrants, the legal system, psychics, and…sign spinning.

I would hate to be the person in a bookstore who has to decide where to shelve Clownfish Blues. Crime? Social commentary? Humor? Whatever you love to read, this will not disappoint.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Burning Bright by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam, January 10)

burning brightAs in real life, there is no shortage of literary military veterans suffering from PTSD. That makes what Nicholas Petrie has done with his protagonist Peter Ash all the more special.

Ash feels very grounded in reality, but also different in a way that’s both refreshing and unsettling. As Burning Bright (second in a series after The Drifter) begins, Ash hasn’t slept in anything but a tent or his truck for two years. Instead, he’s roaming the outdoors planning to get arrested, since being locked in a cell might force him to “get over” his claustrophobia.

While taking shelter in the California redwoods, Ash stumbles upon the nature fortress of investigative journalist Jane Cassidy, who is also trying to outrun forces beyond her control. Jane’s demons are external rather than internal, and take the form of dark-suited men.

It’s clear Jane is being hunted, and the men appear to be connected with her recently deceased mother, a genius tenured professor at Stanford. Unfortunately, Jane has little idea what her mother was working on that could spark such dark interest.

Jane and Ash join forces (he has nothing better to do and Jane is attractive), and her investigative prowess coupled with Ash’s brawn and resourcefulness make for a compelling team. Although the romance and competitive banter get a bit schmaltzy, it’s also obvious neither has connected with another person in a long time.

Petrie focuses on character and action and does both quite well. The pace doesn’t let up and the story turns are engaging. The investigation is fraught with mercenary violence and heady computer technology, but the characters’ talents always feel righteously earned.

Backed by a cadre of appealing secondary characters, Jane and Ash’s chase leads to a place they never expected and a satisfying conclusion worthy of the risks.

From PCN:

Blood and Bone by V.M. Giambanco (Quercus, January 3)

blood and boneWhen I first saw the cover of another edition of this book, it had nasty-looking jagged pieces of glass with blood spatters on them and my reaction was, Nope, not reading that. I’m terrified of graphic violence.

By the time the US version arrived on my doorstep, however, the cover has changed to something innocuous enough for me to pick it up. And I’m glad I did.

This is the third in the Alice Madison series but I was fine starting here. Madison is a Seattle PD detective trying to solve a series of extremely brutal slayings possibly linked to old cases that have already been solved. Or have they?

Madison is no-nonsense and so is the prose: after a long day at a murder scene, Madison picks up food on the way home but then doesn’t eat it. And that’s all that’s said about her emotional state that night. By holding back, Giambanco helps Blood and Bone resonate more.

Which books are you exciting about reading this month?



Nerdy Special List November 2016

Though some publications have already put out their best of 2016 lists, this year isn’t over yet so we’ll just tell you about our favorite books this month.

Except for Erin, who has a special recommendation. Because of that, she’ll have the final position this time.

We hope you’ll add at least one of these titles to your TBR stack.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran (Harper Perennial, November 29)

moranifestoMoranifesto is a collection of articles Moran published first in London’s The Times. The book is divided into four sections, with exclusive content opening each division. Each article then has a brief introduction explaining how it ties into the whole manifesto.

The articles are intelligent, witty, and diverse. She covers entertainingly silly subjects such as listening to a song over and over, then switches directions to discuss political topics like abortion and poverty.

Those familiar with her work will recognize her strong feminist perspective. Moran is well informed and knows how to interject just the right amount of levity at the right time.

She’s also very capable of wielding her sarcasm like a sword. Moranifesto made me want to subscribe to The Times just so I could spend more time with this amazing writer and woman. This is the perfect book for strong women and the men who are smart enough to appreciate them.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman (Atria, November 1)

andeverymorningThe old adage about good things coming in small packages applies to Fredrik Backman’s novella. It folds an amazingly beautiful story with huge themes into a wee little volume of goodness, complete with delightful color illustrations.

But it also comes with a warning label: Crying guaranteed.

And Every Morning started out as simply a way for Backman to come to terms with something in his life. He hadn’t intended to publish the scribbles he was making to free complicated emotions from his mind.

Lucky for us that changed. The novella tells the tale of an old man, his son, and his grandson. The old man is suffering from dementia and his memory shrinks every day.

Backman opens the book with a letter to readers that says, “This is a story about memories and about letting go. It’s a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy.”

And Every Morning is a single-sitting read but one to reread. Just keep the Kleenex close.

[Ed. note: Read Jen’s full review of this novella here.]

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Inherit the Bones by Emily Littlejohn (Minotaur, November 1)

inherit-the-bonesIf you can get past the clown (it’s a dead one, if that helps), Inherit the Bones is a super debut mystery featuring Deputy Gemma Monroe and an impressively diverse cast of supporting characters.

When the identity of the clown is discovered, the small town of Cedar Valley, Colorado, is forced to face dark secrets that have been hidden for decades.

The clown is just the newest in a long line of tragedies, including the disappearance of two boys, the discovery of a woman’s body on a riverbank, and the seemingly accidental slip-and-fall death of the mayor’s son.

Along with a partner she doesn’t fully trust and a freshly minted recruit, a very pregnant Gemma must mine the town’s past crimes in order to solve its most recent. Any good that comes from taking a shovel to buried secrets in a small town is always coupled with more violence, and Littlejohn keeps the anticipation high by weaving the past and present together in fine fashion.

Littlejohn has created numerous characters with the depth to make them intriguing while never distracting from the action. Her beautiful writing always keeps the story moving forward, and despite increasingly numerous subplots, the author deftly pulls them all together. She has a great start to a new series on her hands.

Niagara Motel by Ashley Little (Arsenal Pulp Press, November 15)

niagara-motelNiagara Motel is proof that writing in the voice of a child can be sublimely captivating. Readers will fall madly in love with Tucker Malone, who is more wise and world weary than any eleven-year-old should be.

Tucker never knew his father, whom he firmly believes is Sam Malone from the television sitcom Cheers, but Gina, his narcoleptic stripper mother, has tried to make a good life for him despite their dreary circumstances.

When tragedy separates them, Tucker is sent to a youth home where he meets older, pregnant Meredith, and the two strike up an unlikely yet lovely friendship.

After Meredith agrees to accompany Tucker to California to look for his father (Sam wasn’t at the Cheers bar in Boston, so the next likely place to find him is on set in Hollywood, right?), what transpires next is one of the most oddly inventive road trips ever.

Yes, ever. It’s so good and weird it’s almost distracting, but Little’s characters and writing are strong enough to keep the story on track.

Smart and funny, Niagara Motel is, at its heart, the story of Tucker Malone and his journey to find meaning and friendship. Go in blind, keep Google at the ready, and be prepared to get sucked in by this charming, heartfelt story.

From PCN:

Keigo Higashino’s Under the Midnight Sun, trans. by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder (Minotaur, November 8)

under-midnight-sunIt wasn’t until I was about a third into this 500+-page book that I realized almost everything I believed about certain characters was wrong. And it was a chilling realization.

I had to reevaluate the information I had from a different angle with a sense of dread.

Higashino, Edgar Award nominated for The Devotion of Suspect X, has created a Japanese Les Miserables, with a dogged detective who chases someone he believes has gotten away with murder for almost 20 years.

The story starts in 1973 with the body of a man found in an abandoned building. He’s been stabbed multiple times and the police have no suspects.

Over the next two decades, we follow what happens to the man’s young son and a little girl whose mother might’ve had a tangential connection to the dead man. Life is hard, and sometimes they have to do ugly things to survive.

And there’s Detective Sasagaki, who refuses to give up on that cold murder case.

The power of this novel lies in challenging the way we judge others when we don’t know the whole story. It asks us to see that even people who commit horrific acts are capable of great courage, and sometimes they do the former because of the latter.

I vacillated between fearing and loathing and being in awe of the two lead characters, and in the end, I couldn’t help but feel compassion for them.

From Erin at In Real Life:

My love of reading (and my nerdiness) comes in large part from my dad, and as I write this, he’s hours from taking what will be his last breath.

Erin's dad, Christmas '92, with BREAKING BLUE on table

Erin’s dad, Christmas ’92, with BREAKING BLUE on table

Dad recommended a lot of books over the years, including Breaking Blue by Timothy Egan, which he gave me for Christmas 24 years ago. It remains one of my “desert island” books.

So here’s my recommendation this month, with love to my dad, and thanks to PCN for letting me recommend a book that’s not new, but might be new to you.

I’m not a big reader of nonfiction, but when narrative nonfiction is done well, it takes my breath away. Breaking Blue is such a book.

Set in Spokane, Washington, in 1935 (and 1955 and 1989), it concerns a police department that defines institutional corruption in the most graphic ways possible.

When a town marshal is murdered, there’s not much of an investigation and no one is arrested for the crime. By 1989, it was the longest unsolved murder in the United States.

Enter a Spokane cop who, in the course of doing research for his master’s degree, finds an apparent deathbed confession to the murder from 1955. His subsequent investigation of the 1935 crime, and into his fellow police officers, is terrifying and tragic.

Breaking Blue is a genuine page-turner. When my dad gave it to me, I read it on the train back to Chicago from Spokane. I was lucky that Chicago was the last stop, because I was so engrossed in the story, I would have missed any earlier one.

Timothy Egan has won a lot of awards for his reporting and storytelling, including a Pulitzer Prize, and he deserves every one of them. In Breaking Blue, he unravels a gripping cop-vs.-cop tale, replete with fascinating history, nuanced atmosphere, and sociological insight.

This is one of those stories that prove truth indeed is often stranger than–and just as fascinating as–fiction.

Erin with her dad

Erin with her dad


Nerdy Special List October 2016

Need something to take your mind off all the ugliness in the news these days? How about checking out the books on this month’s Nerdy Special List? Our contributors have diverse and excellent taste so I hope one of these titles will spark your interest. Happy reading!

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some by Chris Edwards (Greenleaf, October 4)

ballsChris Edwards knew at the age of 5 that he’d been born the wrong gender. Every step of growing up only reinforced that understanding, leaving him depressed and suicidal.

Balls is the amazing, courageous and even humorous story of his 30+-year journey through the loneliness and isolation, the discovery of gender dysphoria and an amazing therapist, as well as the grueling ups and downs of 28 surgeries.

Before the term “transgender” existed, before Chaz Bono and Caitlyn Jenner, Edwards dared to pursue the life he was intended to lead. Balls is told with eloquence, grace, sharp wit and brutal honesty. This is currently my favorite book of 2016.

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris, trans. by Sam Taylor (Penguin Press, October 25)

you-will-not-hateIn November of 2015, French journalist Antoine Leiris lost his wife to a terrorist act. She was attending a rock concert at Bataclan Theater in Paris. You Will Not Have My Hate is partly his story of the days following the attack and partly his manifesto to the world.

He and his son will find happiness in her name, and they will deprive the terrorists of their hate and fear. A short book you will likely read in one sitting, You Will Not Have My Hate packs colossal impact into every single page. Leiris contrasts the hideousness of the crime with writing that sings a moving tribute to his wife.

The translation doesn’t seem to have lost an ounce of the emotion Leiris poured into this inspiring memoir. With so much hate in the world now, this book is a shining beacon of hope for us all.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Hogarth, October 11)

hag-seedThe Hogarth Shakespeare project launched in late 2015, with prominent authors retelling and reimagining the works of Shakespeare.

With authors such as Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, and Gillian Flynn participating, I couldn’t help but be excited about these novels. Yet despite Atwood’s contribution being the fourth installment, it’s the first one I’ve read!

Hag-Seed, Atwood’s take on The Tempest, is the perfect blend of humor and heart. Felix (as Prospero) is the artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, or he was, until he was maneuvered out of his position by his scheming assistant, Tony.

After a self-imposed exile, complete with a dilapidated shack, he takes on a new position at The Fletcher County Correctional Institute for nonviolent offenders. Here he teaches inmates about Shakespeare, changing their lives—and his—in the process.

I won’t say how it wraps up, but I loved it. While I had very little doubt about Atwood being an excellent choice for such a project, I am very happy my suspicions were confirmed. Hag-Seed is witty, wonderful, and tongue in cheek. I’d highly recommend it to most anyone.

From Erin at In Real Life:

IQ by Joe Ide (Mulholland, October 11)

iqA debut novel that shows great promise is a thing of beauty, and IQ is such a novel.

IQ is Isaiah Quintabe, a young man living in Los Angeles who is brilliantly clever, incredibly observant, and works as an unlicensed private investigator.

Sound familiar? It should. In many ways, IQ feels like a return to any one of a number of favorite PI stories. Isaiah is something of a neighborhood Robin Hood, helping those who have nowhere to go in exchange for whatever they can pay him. He’s the young man we’d all like our daughters to date, but his history is clouded and dark.

This is very much a “start of a series” book, combining Isaiah’s history, the how-he-got-here tale with a new case involving a self-absorbed rapper who’s on someone’s murder list. IQ is refreshing for its moderate violence and a cast of characters as varied as the world around us. You’ll want to meet IQ.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Annie Year by Stephanie Wilbur Ash (The Unnamed Press, October 11)

the-annie-yearWhen the new vocational-agriculture teacher arrives in Tandy Caide’s small Midwestern town, her staid life as a CPA takes a careening turn.

With his ponytail, man clogs, freshly-mown-ditch scent and multicolored beaded belt, the Vo-Ag teacher lights a fire in the semi-uptight Tandy, causing ramifications across town, including with Tandy’s former lover and the daughter of Tandy’s estranged best friend.

Ash’s raucous debut will have readers cringing and laughing as the first-person narrative takes them through Tandy’s awkward journey of redemption and self-discovery.

Soul-baring and heartfelt, Tandy’s story is both relatable and foreign, and always entertaining. The humor alone makes it a winner, and this reader is still laughing over the town diner’s nickname.

The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street, October 4)

heavens-my-fallAllen Eskens is a monster. In The Heavens May Fall, he takes two supporting characters from his prior novels, turns each into a hero protagonist, and then puts them on opposite sides of a high-profile murder case.

Law professor Boady Sanden agrees to return to the courtroom to represent his former law partner, who’s accused of murdering his wife. Boady is certain Ben is innocent.

Boady’s best friend, Detective Max Rupert, is just as sure Ben is a stone-cold killer. Each man is determined to see his view of justice served, even if the heavens may fall as a result.

The fact that one of these good men has to be wrong is an ingenious means of sucking readers in and holding them captive, and Eskens executes it brilliantly.

With short chapters from alternating perspectives, Eskens’s straightforward yet scintillating prose keeps the action moving at a perfect pace, and his legal acumen keeps courtroom scenes intriguing. This is a friendship-testing murder mystery well worth diving into.

From PCN:

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta (Mulholland, October 11)

tell-the-truthI was going to recommend Joe Ide’s IQ—it’s heartbreaking and hilarious, with lead characters I can’t wait to read more about—but Erin selected it above, so I’m going with Truth, not that it’s second best. The two books are equally excellent.

Bish Ortley has just been suspended from the Met Police when he gets a call saying a bomb went off on a bus containing his daughter. She turns out to be OK, but Bish sees something disturbing on the passenger list: the name of the granddaughter of a man who bombed a supermarket years earlier. And the girl disappears. Was she the target, or the bomber?

No blurb I write can do justice to the complexity and emotional depth of YA author Marchetta’s first novel for adults. The story deals with familial loyalty, the danger of racial profiling, and the sacrifices made out of love. Bish reminded me of a British Harry Bosch—relentless in seeking out truth and making sure everybody counts.

What are you excited about reading this month?


Nerdy Special List September 2016

I’ve seen many fall-books list in the last couple of weeks, but they all seem to have the same five books on them. Well, WE’RE RECOMMENDING ALL DIFFERENT BOOKS.

(I’m not punchy, just hungry. And tired of seeing the same five books on lists.)

Here’s what we really liked and want you to read this month.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Darktown by Thomas Mullen (September 13, 37 Ink/Atria)

darktownBlending historical fiction with a police procedural, Thomas Mullen has imagined the lives of the first eight black officers on the Atlanta, Georgia, police force in 1948. The realism tears at the readers’ hearts while the suspense keeps them glued to the plot. It’s a magnificent work of art.

When a young black woman is found brutally murdered and left in a pile of trash, partners Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith decide they are going to find the murderer. They know the white detectives won’t make any effort, but Boggs and Smith could lose their jobs for pursuing the case.

As part of the black officers unit, they don’t have a patrol car, can’t arrest a white suspect, and aren’t even allowed in the main police department; they’re relegated to the basement of the YMCA.

But not long before she was killed, Boggs and Smith had seen the woman in the car of a drunk, white man who hit her. They feel an obligation to find out exactly what happened, no matter what it costs them.

Mullen doesn’t soft play the racism or bigotry of the era, and his despicable antagonists are as complexly drawn as the conflicted protagonists. Mullen has been quoted as saying he’d like to revisit these characters, and that’s the only consolation to turning the last page in Darktown.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi (September 6, Penguin Press)

red-bandannaImagine losing a child in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and not knowing how or exactly where. Then imagine reading a post-attack article in which survivors describe the courage of the man who saved their lives—a man wearing a red bandanna tied around his face, a bandanna just like your son carried with him every day since he was a boy.

The story of Welles Crowther, that bandanna-wearing young man, is shared by Tom Rinaldi in The Red Bandanna. Emotional but not overwrought, Rinaldi’s writing strikes just the right tone in setting out just who Welles was and the upbringing that turned him into a man who, when faced with a raging inferno, went back up instead of out to safety.

After the first half of background, buckle up for a stirring reenactment of the events of Welles’s final moments, and the impact he had on those he left behind.

When President Obama spoke at the dedication of the memorial museum in 2014, he only mentioned one name: Welles Crowther. Rinaldi’s recounting of the story is well worth a read and one to which we should bear witness.

One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist: Stories by Dustin M. Hoffman (September 1, University of Nebraska Press)

100-knuckled-fistDustin M. Hoffman has an extraordinary voice. To be more accurate, Hoffman has many voices, as evidenced by the sixteen distinct stories in his debut collection, One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist.

Each piece is an ode to the blue-collar worker, a cross section of some of society’s most forgotten and invisible individuals: painters, hardscapers, commission salesmen, and ice-cream truck drivers (to name a few), along with the homeless and the unemployed, each trying to make their way under the pressures their lives and the world exert on them.

The stories in this collection are wonderful and weird and gross and gritty and ingenious. Some made me say, “What the hell?” Others made me silent with awe. To a one they kept me glued to the page.

Although the blue-collar theme is carried throughout, each work is idiosyncratic in its own special way. I highly recommend this collection, winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (September 6, William Morrow)

hidden-figuresThis book is about black women being hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, precursor to NASA) during WWII to do computations as new airplanes were being designed to win the war.

Most of these women had had the opportunity to go to college and studied math. Many selected teaching as a profession as they could get jobs teaching in the then-segregated schools. Several started working at NACA as a summer job, but they stayed on as they made more money there than teaching.

The women we learn the most about are fascinated with math, and the ways they could use math to solve aeronautical problems so that airplanes, and eventually spaceships, could fly higher, faster, and more safely.

These women were very much like the women of today. They worked long days, were married, did the shopping, cooking, went to church, participated in their communities, raised children, and challenged them to follow in the women’s footsteps. They also participated in the civil rights movement, both in the workplace and out in their communities.

I admire these women so much, and the math they were capable of doing, and then how it impacted America’s progress with aeronautics during WWII, and then later with the moon landing.

[Ed. note: The movie adaptation of this book will be released on December 25, 2016.]

From PCN:

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (September 20, Minotaur)

daisy-in-chainsLast year, one of my top three favorite books was Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies. She’s one of those authors who, well, if I’m eating a pizza after being lost in the woods for a week and someone says, “This Bolton book for your pizza,” I’d hand over the pizza even if a slice was halfway to my mouth.

Bolton’s latest, Daisy in Chains, has that creepy atmosphere she’s so good at creating, and a strong female protagonist who intimidates or rubs everyone the wrong way—another welcome staple of the author’s work.

In this standalone, Maggie Rose is an attorney who specializes in overturning convictions, even of the vilest criminals. She’s trying to decide if she should take on the appeal of surgeon Hamish Wolfe, convicted serial killer of women. He’s charming and all, and keeps proclaiming his innocence (don’t they all?) but she doesn’t know if she can trust him. She embarks on her own investigation and of course it leads her to some pretty dark places.

Bolton’s prose has a mesmerizing quality, and unlike Maggie’s reaction to Hamish, I surrendered to Daisy in Chains.


Nerdy Special List August 2016

Happy Friday, everyone! At least, I think it’s Friday. I’ve locked myself in the den this entire week because it’s too hot to go outside, and—wait, wasn’t I wearing these same shorts yester…anyway, my point is, sometimes the days of summer blend together.

I do know it’s August, though, which means it’s time for this month’s Nerdy Special List. Here are the new releases we recommend.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Repo Madness by W. Bruce Cameron (Forge, August 23)

repo-madnessRuddy McCann, the former high school football star turned repo man, returns in W. Bruce Cameron’s humorous second book of the series. The voice of dead realtor Alan Lottner is gone, and McCann discovers he’s lonely without the meddlesome spirit intruding on his thoughts.

So as the book opens, he’s visiting mediums to try to reconnect with Lottner. While visiting one of these mediums, a stranger approaches McCann and shares information that shakes the very foundation of his existence.

The stranger bolts before McCann is able to learn who she is or how she came upon this information, leaving him stunned and full of questions. He knows he has to find the woman and uncover the truth.

Cameron takes McCann through a whirlwind adventure complete with quirky characters, murder-for-hire, and a love triangle. There’s no shortage of laughs, and the plot is full of satisfying surprises.

Readers don’t need to read the first book (The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man) to understand this new installment, but if you’re considering reading both, definitely start with book 1. Going back after having read the second novel will spoil some of the fun twists of the first. I’m hopeful we’ll see more of this series in the future because I have a bad case of Repo Madness.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (Thomas Dunne Books, August 9)

all the ugly...Wayvonna Quinn was born in the back of a stranger’s car while her parents hitchhiked across Texas. Eight years later, her circumstances have improved, but barely.

Now living in a dilapidated farmhouse, Wavy’s trying to parent her infant brother. Her father runs a meth lab on the property and her mother barely functions. To say her life is difficult is an understatement. She is poor, abused, and afraid.

Then she meets Kellen. Kellen changes her life, they take care of each other—and care for each other, in a world that doesn’t want them. Aside from Wavy’s brother, Kellen is the only wonderful thing in her life. But when tragedy upends and exposes Wavy’s family, her life looks ugly to the outside.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is an unexpectedly touching novel. Filled with tragedy and told effortlessly from multiple narrators, Bryn Greenwood’s novel is one that will stick with me for a long time. It’s a story that challenges the way you view the world.

As Wavy falls in love with Kellen, a man who is much too old for her, the novel needs to be read with empathy and understanding. Greenwood does not romanticize the relationship; she is not sentimental about Wavy and Kellen. Instead she presents their brutal, hard-won existence with an honest, straightforward appeal that is, well, very appealing. I sincerely hope readers give this one a chance. It’s not an easy book to read, but it is worth it.

From Erin at In Real Life:

A Time of Torment by John Connolly (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, August 2)

time of tormentI make no secret of my adoration of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series. Whether you’re already a fan or the series is new to you, A Time of Torment is at once terrifying and comforting, a story that will, trite as this is, keep you up all night and stay with you long after.

Connolly’s plots are nothing if not complex, and this one is no exception. It begins with a man who might or might not be a hero, having been recently released from prison, and the story proceeds to bring readers on a journey to a fictional town where evil is the primary currency.

Our uncompromising hero, Charlie Parker, is compelled to battle the malevolence that inhabits the hearts of some of the most fascinating bad guys ever written, and he’s aided by sidekicks who get more interesting with each book. Connolly’s prose is so vivid that it’s hard to remember at times this book is fiction, because it feels as if you’ve been dropped into this world, and your only hope for survival is Mr. Parker himself.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris (St. Martin’s Press, August 9)

behind closed doorsGrace can’t believe her luck. Until she met Jack Angel, her relationships all fell apart over her devotion to her 17-year-old sister, Millie, who has Down syndrome. Not only does Jack have movie-star good looks and charisma to burn, he’s crazy about both Grace and Millie.

After a whirlwind courtship, Grace and Jack are married and living the “perfect” life. But no one can see what’s going on behind the closed doors of the dream house Jack built for Grace and Millie, and Grace begins to fear it wasn’t luck that brought Jack into their lives.

Along alternating timelines, Grace and Jack’s past and present unfold, winding together and building anticipation for a final confrontation. Paris does a good job explaining her characters’ decisions, as irrational as they may be, which helps keep the narrative on track. Behind Closed Doors is a steam train of a psychological thriller that may keep you up into the wee hours.

From PCN:

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (Random House, August 16)

last days of nightLet me start by saying I don’t read much historical fiction or many books about science. And this is a historical novel about science. Why in the world did I even look at it, you ask?

Mainly because it’s written by Graham Moore, who wrote The Sherlockian (read my review here) and the screenplay for The Imitation Game, both of which I enjoyed (you might remember he won the Oscar for the latter). And I’m so glad I picked this up. Because it’s FANTASTIC.

It’s a David vs. Goliath story of Paul Cravath, 26 and fresh out of Columbia Law, being hired by George Westinghouse to defend him in a lawsuit—make that 312 lawsuits—claiming Westinghouse’s lightbulbs infringe upon an existing patent.

The opponent? Thomas Edison, who claims he invented the lightbulb and will crush anyone who tries to say otherwise.

Paul soon learns Edison’s threats aren’t idle, and all the young lawyer’s clever legal maneuverings may not be enough for him to win in court—or even survive the fight.

The synopsis doesn’t do this book justice, because in Moore’s hands, this fact-based account comes alive. Moore transports you to a time when the world was on the brink of awe-inspiring discoveries. He entertains while making you feel smarter, and that’s sexy.

News has just surfaced that Eddie Redmayne will star as Paul in the movie adaption, which is a great choice despite Redmayne being in his thirties. I can’t wait to see who gets to play the inventor Nikola Tesla (a singular character who figures prominently) and everyone else in the story.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?


Nerdy Special List July 2016

Hope you all have been enjoying summer! People usually go somewhere around this time for vacation, and this year they are all coming to stay with me. I’ve been hosting family and friends, and though their visits create total cleaning panic, it’s the only way I can be motivated to clean.

Before I go back to stuffing crap into closets scrubbing the kitchen sink, I present you with this month’s reading recommendations. It’s a varied list as usual; hope at least one selection sparks your interest!

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry (Tyndale House Publishers, July 1)

jesse-woodsChris Fabry’s lyrical writing style makes this charming story of three young outcasts growing up in t1970s Dogwood, West Virginia, moving and memorable.

Matt Plumley is the new kid in town. Besides being the preacher’s son, Matt is overweight. The first people he meets in Dogwood are Dickie Darrel Lee Hancock, a mixed-race boy, and Jesse Woods, a dirt-poor, fatherless tomboy. Matt’s parents aren’t so thrilled with his new friends, but Matt sees the best in them and finds acceptance in their eyes. The three-way friendship bonds the young teens until a fateful night in 1972.

The Promise of Jesse Woods is a beautiful novel with sharply drawn characters, rich in authenticity and passion. The atmosphere of the period echoes the beautiful simplicities as well as the ugly complexities. With the engrossing magic of exceptional storytelling, Fabry will envelop readers in a time gone by wrapped in themes that transcend time. Stunning.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday, July 12)

heavenly tableDespite only having two published books, Donald Ray Pollock is one of my favorite contemporary authors. For over a year, I’ve been looking forward to the release of his new novel, The Heavenly Table. I was not disappointed, though I can’t quite say that his sophomore novel is better than his debut (The Devil All the Time is in a league of its own).

Following the Jewett brothers—Cane, Cob, and Chimney—-Table takes place in 1917 southern Ohio. After the sudden death of their father, the three brothers become outlaws in the tradition of (the fictional) Bloody Bill Bucket. Before they know it, they are a legendary gang of thieves, rapists, and murderers with a huge bounty on their heads, though the legends are far more preposterous than their true crimes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Eula and Ellsworth Fiddler, a naïve farming couple barely scraping by. An assortment of other characters fill the novel, from outhouse inspector and manhood wrangler Jasper Cone to the Roman military enthusiast Lieutenant Bovard.

Both perverse and violent, this novel is not without humor and heart. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with southern Gothic goodness; just don’t expect any good. In Pollock’s distinctive prose, the reader is taken for a wild, gritty ride that cannot be easily forgotten.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Revolver by Duane Swierzynski (Mulholland Books, July 19)

revolverDuane Swierzynski never fails to surprise readers. His latest novel is his finest work to date, and is a story readers will be well advised to start without any preconceptions.

Revolver is an intricate police procedural involving the murder of two Philadelphia police officers 50 years ago. It is told in three time periods (1965, 1995, and 2015), and Swierzynski weaves these narratives together with beautiful and graceful skill.

The 1965 murders haunt the Walczak family across generations, and each contributes to the story as it unfolds. As much as the family is central to the story, though, this is a tale about Philadelphia, a love story (of sorts) to a city whose history is, in so many ways, part and parcel of the whole of the United States.

Revolver is populated with a range of fascinating characters, including Stan, one of the victims of the 1965 murder; his son Jimmy and Jimmy’s siblings; and Stan’s granddaughter, Audrey. They are as different as most family members are, and each is fascinating in his or her own right.

Revolver will absolutely be on my Best of 2016 list.

From Julie at Girls Just Reading:

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen (Washington Square Press, July 5)

perfect neighborsThe Perfect Neighbors is a peek into the lives of those we live around and see daily but may not really know. It is about the facades we put on for the public vs. how we really are behind closed doors. It’s about how we all have secrets that we might not want to share, things that are private in our heart of hearts.

We are introduced to four women—three close friends and one newcomer. Each has something they are hiding from the others mainly because they are ashamed of their behavior but don’t know how to let go of it. What Pekkanen added to this was a mystery surrounding one of the couples.

I loved how Pekkanen kept you on the hook and laid out breadcrumbs for you to eat up. I liked how each storyline developes and is resolved. I have a been a huge fan of Pekkanen for years due to her realistic plots and ability to write characters we all can relate to.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Trap by Melanie Raabe (Grand Central, July 5)

the trapBestselling author Linda Conrads hasn’t stepped outside her house in eleven years. Twelve years ago she discovered her sister stabbed to death, and her eyes met those of the murderer as he fled. When the investigation ultimately goes cold, Linda retreats from the world.

More than a decade later, Linda sees the man again on a television newscast. Determined to bring him to justice yet unable to leave home, she decides to lure the man into an elaborate trap she designs by writing a book mirroring her sister’s murder. Linda hasn’t given an interview in years, but she plans to break her silence and give one to the journalist she’s certain killed her sister and who knows she saw him leave the scene.

Alternating between Linda’s first-person narrative and the chapters of her book within the book,The Trap is a fun, engaging read that flows despite getting a bit bogged down by repetition in Linda’s head as she obsesses over the murder and her plans to solve it. At times the story felt like a twisted game of cat-and-mouse, at others a game taking place only in the head of a really unstable cat.

Part of what made the book enjoyable was wondering who to believe and when, and despite one loose thread that nagged at me, Raabe brought the story to a satisfying conclusion.The Trap is an entertaining summer read with a unique premise that doesn’t feel too heavy despite the subject matter.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen (Doubleday, July 12)

nine womenThe one dress is more a style of a dress, not one dress worn by nine women. This is not The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

The book starts with a fashion show. A little black dress is featured and becomes the dress of the season. People shopping at Bloomingdale’s enter and exit the book’s stage, trying on the dress, purchasing it, returning it. The dress is perfect for some but not for others, and occasionally the book seems to ask: Which person deserves to wear this dress?

The book is also about the relationships the women have—with each other and the people they meet and let go—not just romantic partners but also friends and coworkers.

I loved this book, for the New York that exists in it, for the adventures people have in it, and for the endings. It’s a perfect light book for summer. Enjoy!

From PCN:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout Press, July 19)

woman in cabin 10My recommendation this month was going to be Revolver, but since Erin eloquently covered it above, I’ll go with another July release I enjoyed.

In Ruth Ware’s follow-up to 2015’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist covering the maiden voyage of an exclusive cruise ship with only ten cabins. On her first day aboard, she meets a woman in the cabin next door, but later that night, Lo hears a scream and a splash—and the woman is gone. Leaving behind a bloody smear.

No one on the ship seems to know who the missing woman is, and the head of security insists the cabin next door to Lo’s has always been empty. Lo decides to investigate, even after mysterious messages tell her to stop. Of course she doesn’t, until it’s too late.

Lo is frustrating at times, repeatedly making foolish choices, but Ware’s propulsive writing locks you up and won’t let you out until the end of the journey.


Which books are you reading this month?

(See previous NSLs here.)