I like to read fiction with plots that drive forward with cinematic pacing. Not sure why. (But it probably has something to do with having studied filmmaking back in school.) However, I've delved into some historic non-fiction and biography a tad. But none of the boring ones! It's got to fit in with my healthy diet of spy thrillers.
Tim's Staff Picks:
Title: Something in the Water
Remember when everybody was reading Gone Girl at the same time? I'm not sure why that didn't happen with this book, but it should have. It's far better. I actually liked the people in this story. It's a thriller that relentlessly wades into dark ethical waters, but you enjoy every bit of the chilling descent because it's with people you care about. Catherine Steadman's British-accented narrative voice is perfect on the page - somehow fun, but still very chilling. (Listen to the the audiobook version to get the full experience; the author, who's also an actor you've seen on Downton Abbey, performs her book herself, and it's phenomenal.)
Title: Past Tense
I discovered Jack Reacher about 10 years ago and very quickly devoured every title that Child had written up to that point. Now, like a strange autumnal ritual, I await the new thriller each year. The beauty of the series is that you can pretty much start anywhere. The first Reacher story that I ever read was "Persuader," which was a perfect introduction to the spartan, narrative style of Lee Child, but not the first one that Child wrote.
In "Past Tense," Reacher's moral code is once again put to the test. Of course, he'll do what he can to set things right. But this time the mystery has surprising connections to his family tree.
Title: The Ink House
Written and illustrated by a U.K. designer (check out www.RoryDobner.com), this book is a delightful portal into a world where ink is a magical elixir through which creativity, fun, mischief and beauty are unleashed. You are the only human invited to join the gathering of eclectic animal friends as they hold their Annual Ink House Extravaganza while the Artist is away. Hurry inside, the party is about to start...
Title: The Best American Nonrequired Reading Series
Each year I seem to forget how great the "Nonrequired Reading" series is!
Inside, you might find some short fiction, poetry, or essays, but there might also be want-ads, Instagram posts, and police blotter updates. I love that virtually nothing is off limits!
The BEST thing about the series, though? How it comes into being every year. It's edited by San Francisco-area high school writing students who attend "826 Valencia," a creative writing and tutoring center. The student committee meets on Monday nights from 6 to 8pm, and each student brings their reading selections up for debate with the whole group, who then votes on what makes it into the anthology that year.
It's knowing about that process that makes this collection such a treasure to enjoy.
Title: Star of the North
A perfectly balanced book for summer! It's both a fun, escapist thriller and an informed look at the secretive regime. With North Korea in the news almost daily, I was a little nervous at first that I'd be able to relax and enjoy this one. But author D.B. John's narrative voice is so well crafted that you have nothing to worry about. It's a well-written, thrilling, & realistic tale of spycraft and subterfuge!
Title: Skavenger's Hunt
Mysterious clues! A journey with a ragtag team of puzzle-solvers. And TIME-TRAVEL! You'll have a blast with Henry Babbitt as he's led around the world by clues left by eccentric magnate Hunter S. Skavenger. Written by a filmmaker, the novel comes alive with wonderful visuals and cinematic, colorful emotions.
If you liked the mysteries in "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin or the streets of old Paris in "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, then you'll love this one.
Title: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches
Comments:This is one funny book! Imagine your high school writing assignments - the ones where you had to work on your inner monologue by creatively describing true events from your life - but then imagine they were written by an expert comedian and NYT bestselling author. (You possibly know John Hodgman from his tenure as a correspondent on The Daily Show, or his current podcast "Judge John Hodgman," but more likely as a PC from the Mac & PC commercials in the late 2000s.) Hodgman's stories are simply about growing up in Massachusetts, being an only child, or going to school in New York, or speaking at events as a nerd-fandom public figure, but they are the literary equivalent of great stand-up. His comedic timing and absurdity are perfect. And yet his experiences have meaning that can resonate universally. I didn't grow up an only child in MA, and I'm not on TV, but I feel like I can completely relate to his weird observations of the world.
Title: Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy
Did you like "The Day the Crayons Quit" and "The Day the Crayons Came Home?"
Then Roderick and Sleepy are your new best friends. Kinda. If only Sleepy would stop staring at you all freaky looking. And what even is Sleepy...some kind of Moose-Bear?
Through pages and pages of sarcastic, exasperated fun, you and Roderick might just find out why Sleepy really is a Goodnight Buddy.
P.S. Who's ready for a sequel? "Wakey the Good Morning Buddy."
Title: Hug Machine
You gotta just love the Hug Machine!
Is there anything the Hug Machine CAN'T hug?
Will the Hug Machine ever run out of Hug-Energy??
Nothing will stop the Hug Machine!
Title: The Informant
I first heard about this true story on the radio, not as current news, but decades after the case was closed. That's how compelling these true events are!
Reading the details and action as reported by Eichenwald instantly made this book one of my favorites. The FBI's investigation into a massive price-setting scandal in one of America's most influential corporations reads like a fiction thriller. But that's simply the backdrop.
It's really about the person in the middle of it all, the whistleblower working for the company but helping the FBI. His name is Mark, and it's his humanity, and confusion, and courage, and mistakes make the already thrilling plot (secret wiretaps, double-crossings, hidden money, lies & deception) so amazing. As he is pulled deeper into the conspiracy, Mark is at risk of losing sight of his own reality.
(Did you happen to catch the movie version starring Matt Damon? I happened to like it, but even so, the book is better.)
Title: I Am Pilgrim
Comments: Now THIS is a spy thriller! From an author who clearly knows how to pace a story--Hayes is a screenwriter dating back to 1981's action film The Road Warrior--this debut novel is more literary than your average popcorn blockbuster beach-read. With a delightful balance of introspection without authorly wordiness, and action that doesn't jump the shark, this story starts out strong and only builds from there. As you read on, the vignettes of flashbacks that both inform the present plot and deepen our protagonist's history slowly fall away until you're left with only the uncertain future, into which you must daringly charge against all odds with Pilgrim to stop something horrible from happening, or die trying. I simply cannot wait for Hayes' next book, The Year of the Locust - it's been nearly 4 years in the making.
Title: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
I love the magic in the forest, and the rays of light streaking through the trees, and the cozy cabin in the rain.
The illustrations here convey all the rainy, wet, sloppy fun of exploring a forest. I particularly like the squishy mushrooms and snails!
All the beauty of a bored-mood-turned-wonder-wanderer is wrapped up in these pages.
Title: I Am Not a Chair!
Sometimes it's hard to explain exactly why you like something. I picked this up and just started laughing as I merely flipped through it the first time.
It's the personality in Giraffe's face that gets me! With illustrations like this the characters are really alive, and you feel as happy as Giraffe does to make new friends, as annoyed as Giraffe is to be sat upon (repeatedly!), and determined along with Giraffe to speak up. (My favorite expression might just be Giraffe's nonplussed face of silent suffering as a bird stand.) This book's ironic wit is top-notch. The humor ends up being something beautiful. And as fun as the frustration is, the relief - and the twist ending - are totally worth it.
Title: On Tyranny
What can history show us about current affairs? Quite a lot. This focussed look at how tyranny of all types arose in the 1900’s gives us an opportunity to place a context around our own political events in the U.S. today.
Somehow it lowers the blood pressure a little to have a volatile situation discussed in such calm, knowledgeable tones. What I love about Snyder’s conclusions here is his use of historic precedence, like a math formula simply spitting out a known result.
Snyder is not preachy. He’s not a doomsday screamer, but rather a quiet-talker relaying the confident knowledge of others who have come before us. He reminds us of the many writings of those from the past century who lived through similar, and far worse, times.