Book of the Week: I Was a Revolutionary – Andrew Malan Milward

This is Milward’s second collection of stories about Kansas. His first, The Agriculture Hall of Fame, won the University of Massachusetts’s Juniper Prize; Stewart O’Nan said of it, “The Kansas of The Agriculture Hall of Fame is brokedown, hardluck country. Andrew Malan Milward’s precarious, paralyzed people are lost in place, and know it, alternately circling and fleeing the center of the center of America. As one says, ‘Out here, everybody’s crazy with looking for something.’”

I’m new to Milward’s work. I finished the manuscript of his new collection, I Was a Revolutionary, six months ago and thought, “Who is this guy?” I found a copy of Agriculture and inhaled it, too. Taken together these two books are a deep meditation on the heart of America—geographically, psychologically and, in this newest collection, historically.

I admire writers who dig in and stay with a place and its people—writers like Ron Rash, Tom Franklin, Frank Bill, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Daniel Woodrell and Donald Ray Pollack. Milward deserves a place on this contemporary story writer’s A-list.

While The Agriculture Hall of Fame looks at lives in modern rural Kanas, this collection takes a breathtakingly interesting leap and looks at Kansas through time. It’s comprised of eight stories that examine a series of incidents in Kansas history. Add them together, think about the title, and you come to understand that Milward has been writing a kind of explanation of America—with Kansas as the bloody crucible that forged our country in all its contradictions.

You can read an early version of the first story in the collection about Quantrill’s Raiders and the Lawrence Massacre in Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope: All-StoryThe Burning of Lawrence.”

I can’t recommend this collection enough.

“The eight stories in Milward’s second collection don’t just use history as a jumping-off point, they also raise questions about the nature of recorded history itself. Each one feels as complete and complex as a novel. Even better, each story is distinct, but benefits from its nearness to the others. The opening story, ‘The Burning of Lawrence,’ examines Quantrill’s Raiders from conventional and meta perspectives, referencing a 1920s song about Quantrill, a 1912 photograph, and the 1999 Ang Lee film Ride with the Devil….The time line moves forward into the 1920s (‘The Americanist’) and the 1950s (‘Hard Feelings’). The centerpiece of the book is ‘A Defense of History,’ which follows the research of a historian called the Assistant, who gathers information about the Populists, a Kansas political party from a century ago, and is confronted with ethical questions when he comes across conflicting original sources….This collection is sharp, shrewd, and consistently thought provoking.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 Spanning a hundred and fifty years in the history of Kansas, the eight vivid and masterfully linked stories in I Was A Revolutionary are a stunning example of the importance of ‘place’ in literature. Without a doubt, Andrew Malan Milward is one of the smartest and most inventive writers working today.”
— Donald Ray Pollock

 I Was a Revolutionary (9780062377319) by Andrew Malan Milward. $24.99 hardcover. 8/18/15 on sale.

Short Take: The Storm of the Century – Al Roker

Yep, that Al Roker. The Today Show host and meteorologist covers the Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900, which remains the deadliest natural disaster ever to hit the United States. Given the increasing severity of weather in 21st century, this is timely revisiting the story (told so memorably in Isaac’s Storm).

The drama of the story and extensive publicity seem likely to ensure a trip to the bestseller list. A first serial appears in American History magazine this week, to be followed by coverage on NPR’s Weekend Edition, The Today Show, The Diane Rehm Show, Brian Kilmeade and Friends, USA Today, the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and Salon. It’s already been in Time magazine’s Summer Reading Preview.

“Focusing on the human experience of the storm, Roker follows survivors before, during, and after the hurricane in order to elucidate what people on Galveston Island encountered as the storm raged through the city. Unlike other books devoted to the subject, such as Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm, Roker’s account investigates the race relations of the time and the impacts of minorities living in Galveston both during the city’s rise and in the aftermath of the disaster. … Roker succeeds in presenting a broad overview of the event, emphasizing the individual experiences of residents. … [A] compelling work.”
   — Library Journal

The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America’s Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 (9780062364654) by Al Roker. $27.99 hardcover. 8/11/15 on sale.

Short Take: In the Dark Places – Peter Robinson

It’s easy to take a reliable performer like Robinson for granted. Book after book gets raves and a loyal fan base often sends him to the bestseller lists. He’s twenty-some books in this point and Library Journal points out that “the series remains absorbing.” Booklist says he “remains an A+ staple.” Peers who admire his work include Louise Penny:

In the Dark Places is wonderful–a cause for celebration. Brilliantly plotted, beautifully paced, it gathers speed and dread until I could barely stand it. Peter Robinson writes with compassion, with depth, with the assurance of a writer at the top of his game and rewards us with a truly heart-pounding finale. All who adore great writing, and Inspector Banks, will find this a thrilling read.”

“When a war veteran walking his dog discovers blood and bone – but no body – in an abandoned hangar, and a young woman reports her partner missing, Inspector Alan Banks and his team are plunged into a frustrating and complex investigation. Robinson writes classic British character-driven suspense. If you’re a fan of Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin or Ruth Rendell, if you miss Reginald Hill and P.D. James, check out In the Dark Places! “
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

“Robinson is equally adept at making murder on a small scale as compelling as any serial killer hunt, and Banks continues to charm.”
Publishers Weekly

“Robinson’s latest takes a good while to get started but steadily builds to some very frightening revelations and a hold-your breath climax. As usual, the relationships between Banks and his crew and the fascinating way that procedure and forensics are used make for a solid read. Robinson belongs on any P. D. James’ fan’s must read list.”
 – Booklist

In the Dark Places: An Inspector Banks Novel (9780062240545) by Peter Robinson. $25.99 hardcover. 8/11/15 on sale.

Short Take: Orphan #8 – Kim van Alkemade

It’s hard not to think of Morrow’s other commercial historical novel, Orphan Train, when you see the titles and cover of this story. Fans of that ongoing bestseller may also be onboard for this novel based in another incident in American history involving immigrant American children—in this case of the story of Jewish children “treated” with radiation as part of medical research programs. The book turns on one woman’s poignant story and her battle to come to come to terms with her past and the doctor who harmed her.


BOOKSTORES ONLY: This is an August Indie Next Pick. Through October, Morrow is offering bookstores interested in hosting a book group meeting, a Skype, phone call or in-person visit with the author (local PA appearances only). Get in touch with me if you’re interested.


“The story of how Rachel gains agency–psychologically, bodily, and romantically–never feels forced. Her burgeoning feelings for another girl at the home are treated with depth and help the story stand out from others. The premise and lesbian representation make this a solid recommendation for fans of Jodi Picoult and Sarah Waters.”
   — Library Journal

Orphan #8 (9780062338303) by Kim van Alkemade. $14.99 trade paper original. 8/4/15 on sale.

August 2015 Indie Next Picks

Here are Harper’s August 2015 picks. A complete listing of all titles can be found here.

Orphan #8 (9780062338303) by Kim van Alkemade. $14.99 trade paper original. 8/4/15 on sale.


Now in Paperback:

 

 

Book of the Week: Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans

There is something especially beguiling about a certain kind of buddy story. The setup is familiar: an adult, a world-weary outsider often on the con, teams up with a bright, spunky kid in need of rescuing. As examples I think of recent favorite, The Death of Bees. Or Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Or the classic Peter Bogdanovich film Paper Moon.

That movie has perhaps the closest parallel to Crooked Heart which is the story of a ten-year-old boy who is evacuated from London during the Blitz and grieving his beloved godmother. Noel ends up living with Vera Sedge, a dodgy widow on the make. She’s a whirlwind of schemes and crises; he’s a clever kid with a skeptical eye who grounds her. What makes this familiar plot work is Evans’ skill with character. Vera, Noel and the supporting cast are so original that you can’t help but cheer for them and this sweet-hearted story about survival on the home front.

Crooked Heart has received a starred review from Library Journal and the author will be on NPR next weekend. Fans include writers like Nick Hornby, Margot Livesey and Paula Hawkins.

[A] dark comedy with heart, set in London during World War II. After the death of his beloved godmother Mattie, a former suffragette whose keen intellect had begun to buckle under dementia just as the Blitz commenced, 10-year-old Noel Bostock is evacuated to a suburb of London. He is placed with Vera Sedge, a middle-aged widow who has designs on using Noel, who limps, to elicit sympathy for her small-time con….Noel’s precociousness, combined with the distrust of authority instilled in him by Mattie, makes him a difficult child for many adults to like [but Vera and Noel] find a connection. Evans…is especially adept at capturing Noel’s appealing blend of sophisticated bravado and naive fragility—all without lapsing into sentimentality. Most valuable, though, is the tragicomic portrayal of the petty betrayals and profound losses that characterized ordinary people’s everyday wartime experiences.”
Publishers Weekly

“Glorious. I loved every line of this book.”
— Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train

“At the crooked heart of this lovely novel is an odd-couple relationship reminiscent of Moses and Addie in the film Paper Moon, between an odd, clever, and lonely boy and a dodgy, desperate woman. Their reliance on each other is credible, touching and funny.”
— Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and About a Boy

Crooked Heart explores the Blitz during World War II from two utterly inventive perspectives…. A charming, slanted counterpoint to Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.”
— Library Journal (starred review)

Evans tidily unfolds a satisfying plot…. But it’s the over-arching development of the lost little boy and the harried woman’s affection and admiration for one another that really tugs the reader’s own heart crooked…. There’s great galloping joy in it.”
— The Independent

“Cherishable…. Engaging and comic, Evans’ U.S. debut takes a different slant on Britain during World War II….Aided by spot-on dialogue and low-key charm, Evans does a noticeably good job of spanning a wide range of emotional notes, from genuine sadness to absurd humor.”
— Kirkus Reviews

Crooked Heart (9780062364838) by Lissa Evans. $24.99 hardcover. 7/28/15 on sale.

Short Takes: Three Supernatural Thrill Rides

Zombies. Zombies on the Mexican border. It might sound like a bridge too far but in Mansbach’s hands, Dead Run, the first book in this sly, violent series felt like watching a Tarantino or Robert Rodriquez movie. Reviewers called it “surreal…ambitiously plotted…full throttle…first-rate entertainment based on a fascinating cultural mashup.”

The Devil’s Bag Man continues the saga of protagonist Jess Galvan, now inhabited by the soul of a savage, five-hundred-year-old Aztec priest. It’s action packed terror for the dog days of summer. J Entertainment Weekly featured it in its Summer Books Preview and advance reviews are great.

[R]arely has a writer demonstrated he’s having as much fun as Mansbach clearly is with this demented series combining contemporary crime action, Mexican mythology, irreverent comedy, and straight-up horror….Jess is living out in the desert with a head full of angry Aztec god. On the plus side, he’s been imbued with inhuman strength and endurance, but on the minus side, he’s having a hell of a time keeping Cucuy at bay. ‘Two souls, one body. The math was a bitch,’ …. Like great pulp fiction or midnight movies, the book’s profane, hyperactive, and gloriously violent style will repel more sensitive readers and make those who revel in Tarantino scripts, Breaking Bad, or zombie flicks giddy with anticipation.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“Mansbach skillfully keeps the characterization and language of ancient priests and gods distinct from the modern idiom, so when Mexican prisons, cross-border cartels, modern police investigations, and fatherly concern finally come together with magically beating hearts and armies of undead virgins, the effect of worlds colliding is devastatingly effective….”
Publishers Weekly

“[A]n adrenaline-pumping bang teeming with vivid, violent imagery. Imagine an Indiana Jones–style story, starring the Hulk and directed by Robert Rodriquez; surely satisfying for readers craving a bloody supernatural jolt.”
Booklist

The Devil’s Bag Man (9780062199683) by Adam Mansbach. $24.99 hardcover. 7/21/15 on sale.

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Farnsworth is the author of the cult-favorite President’s Vampire series and this new book finds us back in the land of high-concept historical horror with a tale of Spanish conquistadors who drink from the Fountain of Youth and become immortal. Bad immortals. When an ancient adversary sworn to revenge destroys the Fountain, the conquistadors turn to modern science to replicate the waters of eternal life. Carnage, plot twists galore and lot of witty dialogue ensue. Of his last book, the Washington Post said, “Farnsworth summons his talents as a scriptwriter and journalist to spin a complex and unnervingly realistic tale . . . The supernatural elements here are dazzlingly clever.” That’s certainly true for this new book, too.

In 1537, Simón de Oliveras y Seixas and five of his closest soldiers claim the fountain of youth in the Florida swamps after slaughtering the members of the Water Clan of the Uzita, who guard ‘The Water.’ Nearly 500 years later, Simon Oliver III, as Simón now calls himself, heads Conquest Biotech, a firm best known for its anti-aging pharmaceuticals, and his fellow Spanish conquistadors run the board. With the fountain’s water supply dwindling, Simon hires scientific genius David Robinton to find its secret. Meanwhile, Simon and his cohorts remain locked in a centuries-old war with Shako, the daughter of the Uzita chief and the massacre’s only survivor. Each man is obsessed with living forever, yet exhausted from the lies and hiding they’ve done for centuries and bored by life’s pleasures.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A fantastical witch’s brew of Spanish conquistadors, biotechnology, and hubris . . . with cinematic pacing and colorful action scenes, Farnsworth blends a unique premise into fun summer reading . . . entertainingly explores the border where science fantasy meets reality.”
— Kirkus Reviews

The Eternal World (9780062282927) by Christopher Farnsworth. $25.99 hardcover. 8/4/15 on sale.

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Just a heads up for Kadrey’s legion of fans that the seventh installment is here. If you are not familiar with this dark, comic urban fantasy series, William Gibson pretty much nails it:

The best B movie I’ve read in at least twenty years. An addictively satisfying, deeply amusing, dirty-ass masterpiece, Sandman Slim swerves hell-bent through our culture’s impacted gridlock of genres, sideswiping so many, so brilliantly, so constantly, that it’s like watching Sergio Leone and Clive Barker co-direct from a script by Jim Thompson and S. Clay Wilson: an LA noir spaghetti western grudge-war apocalypse, fought with magic, shotguns, occult artifacts, and (at one point) the broken wooden handle of a toilet plunger. Sweet.” [I never get tired of that blurb!]

Seven books in you might think the premise is getting a little long in the tooth–but not according to Cory Doctorow: “Kadrey’s done amazing work keeping one of literature’s great anti-heroes in adventures this long, and Killing Pretty proves that he isn’t slowing down.”

After you’ve saved the universe and defeated the old gods, what do you do for an encore? In the case of James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, Death finds you – but only because you’re the only one who can help him out. Someone wants to take over for Death, and has bound him to a body that they then tried to kill. Meanwhile, Stark is starting to realize that his standard approach to problems – that is, killing things and making people angry – is putting everyone he cares about in danger. Kadrey is a master of nonstop pacing, surreal violence and off-the-wall humor, and Sandman Slim’s latest adventure is his best yet. Highly recommended!”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

“Urban fantasy fans who place a premium on humor are most likely to enjoy Kadrey’s seventh Sandman Slim novel. Slim, aka James Stark, is one of the nephilim—half human, half angel—who’s working as a PI in Los Angeles….Kadrey gives him another daunting challenge: someone dragged Death into a human body and cut out his heart, killing him, and Stark’s boss, Julie Sola, wants him to find out whodunit. Julie hopes that finding Death’s killer will restore some normalcy, as after the assault ‘no one is dying anywhere’….plenty of over-the-top entertainment.”
Publishers Weekly

Killing Pretty: A Sandman Slim Novel (9780062373106) by Richard Kadrey. $25.99 hardcover. 7/28/15 on sale.