Ever find yourself in an ordinary day and yet you feel an unnerving disconnect with others for no obvious reason? David Guterson’s Problems with People: Stories is a collage of individuals who find themselves in such unhinging, if oddly indistinguishable, moments. Reading these 10 tales will make you feel like you are observing a stranger walking into a cold drift of social ineptitude. In “Paradise,” a divorcee, unsure of the future, finds himself in the passenger seat of a Honda Element driven by a silver-haired beauty he met via match.com. A well-meaning man, along with his unshakable cancer-ridden sister, is locked inside a game reserve in South Africa in “Pilanesberg.”
Each story unapologetically illuminates the oscillating and retracting nature of boundaries. These unpredictable lines, which divide cultures and perspectives, often inflict devastating detachment through innocent dealings. In “Krassavitseh,” questions of race and history are raised as a man takes his inquisitive elderly father on a Jewish Tour of Berlin. A benign American in Nepal encounters Maoists blocking roads and an intelligent child with impeccable shoe-cleaning skills in “Politics.” In the poignant story “Hush,” dog walker Vivian Lee finds an unlikely friendship with a stubborn client and his Rottweiler named Bill.
Don’t look for coddling or satisfaction in this collection. The inability to fulfill emotional obligations radiates off the pages. Guterson’s direct prose evokes the feelings of isolation and displacement in contemporary life, but still leaves a faint trace of hope.
The Shetland archipelago in North East Scotland becomes a hotbed of murder in Dead Water by Ann Cleeves. Jerry Markham returns to his hometown to investigate the potential plan to bring green living to the area through tidal energy and windmills. Not everyone in Shetland supports this plan, and soon Jerry is found dead. Inspector Jimmy Perez is still reeling from the murder of his fiancée, so the free-spirited vegan Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is brought in to supervise the investigation. Soon the body of another man is discovered, and answers are not forthcoming. Jimmy may have to put his mourning aside and help Willow solve this baffling case.
Ann Cleeves is a prolific writer, and two of her series have been turned into successful televised programs on the BBC. Dead Water is written in a traditional style and is a solid police procedural complete with red herrings and enough suspects to keep the reader guessing. The chilly, overcast Shetland area provides a great atmosphere for a mystery, and the remote area ensures that the detectives will need to work with brain power rather than with expensive lab equipment or forensics. Jimmy Perez and Sandy Wilson are great recurring characters from the Shetland Island Mysteries series that readers will love to see again. Willow Reeves makes a nice addition to the series and hopefully will return to Shetland again.
The audio edition is read by Kenny Blyth, and readers looking for an authentic Scottish accent to carry them through this novel need look no further. New readers to the series may want to start with the first novel, Raven Black. If you enjoy Ann Cleeves be sure to try another Scottish favorite, Ian Rankin!
Earlier this year, Between the Covers blogger Jeanne told our readers about Archetype, a debut novel by Maryland author M.D. Waters. In that novel, Emma wakes with no memory of her past. She begins to have flashes of memory and soon realizes that neither her doctor nor her loving husband Declan are exactly who they seem to be. She fights to learn the truth, and what she finds is truly shocking.
Prototype is the exciting conclusion to Emma’s story. The novel picks up one year after the end of Archetype. Emma now knows what happened to her, and she finds herself on the run from Declan. If she wants to survive, she must trust Noah, the man who she used to believe was the love of her life, and members of a resistance group that she used to help lead. The action ramps up in Prototype as Emma claims her true identity. This book is a genre-bending hybrid of science fiction, romance, action and psychological suspense.
Waters recently answered some questions for Between the Covers readers. Learn more about this talented writer, what she’s working on now and the music that influenced Emma’s story.
Between the Covers: What inspired you to write Emma’s story?
M.D. Waters: Growing up, my dad was a huge influence on me when it came to what the future could hold. I always had these things in the back of my mind: a planet-wide overpopulation, technology to control what type of child you bring into the world and that Mother Nature will always make it right. So when Emma woke me in the middle of the night, telling me she lived in a world where women were a rare commodity… Well, I immediately thought of all these things my dad believed possible.
BTC: Equality and legal rights, which differ wildly between men and women as well as clones and humans, are an important issue in both books. Have you had much feedback from readers about those issues?
MW: I have, yes, and everyone takes away very different things. Lots of positive thought provoking, but also some negatives, which surprises me. Lots of assumptions on my “plan,” which doesn’t exist. I see those issues as very normal and very possible, and didn’t even think about the actual rights issues it addressed when I wrote the books. We already live in a world where equality is a matter of perspective, and many of us are blind to the truth. Will it always be that way? I don’t know. I’d love to think we’re progressing to complete equality, but we’re human and subject to nature and/or nurture.
BTC: You share a lot of music on your blog. If Emma had a theme song, what would it be?
MW: “Lost in Paradise” by Evanescence. I swear there was a point when I listened to it on repeat for days. But I’d also choose “Tear the World Down” by We Are the Fallen. I felt a lot of Emma’s strength in Prototype in that one.
BTC: The books are a great blend of action, science fiction, romance and suspense. Let’s pretend that you just got the call that Archetype and Prototype are being made into a movie, and you have free rein with the casting. Tell us about your dream cast.
MW: Jennifer Lawrence, Stephen Amell (Declan) and Charlie Hunnam (Noah). (Triple crosses fingers!)
BTC: Will you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Where do you write? Do you write every day? Who is your first reader?
MW: My process is crazy. I go in these really long spurts of sleeplessness and coffee hazes. Then I binge watch television for days after because I broke my brain. I have a “library” in my house with my books and desktop, but I move around to different areas with my laptop too. Change of scenery always helps. My first readers? Charissa Weaks and Jodi Henry. I have a handful of people who read for me, but these two are always there to read short paragraphs to entire chapters on a whim. I couldn’t do this without them.
BTC: What can readers expect from you next?
MW: More of the same. I’m working on a spinoff of Archetype and Prototype, but also a Young Adult sci-fi [novel] that’s set in a world with its own set of issues.
BTC: As a reader, what book are you most excited to get your hands on right now?
MW: How much time do we have? Currently, I’m ready to get my hands on The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey. His writing really shook loose the voice in the Young Adult [novel] I’m working on, plus The 5th Wave was seriously kick-ass. So, um, gimme.
Maddy Freed is a struggling young actress living in Brooklyn with her director boyfriend Dan in The Actress by Amy Sohn. Dan’s film starring Maddy is selected as an entrant at the prestigious Mile’s End Film Festival and, following its premiere, both of their lives are changed forever.
Maddy earns critical acclaim and wins an acting prize at the festival, but she also captures the attention of the sexy and single Hollywood heartthrob Steven Weller. Weller is 40-something and trying to reinvent his career. He is immediately captivated by Maddy, and she finds herself whisked away to Venice to Steven’s palazzo — ostensibly to audition for the most sought-after role in Hollywood. But the chemistry between them is palpable, and Maddy soon finds herself enchanted by this Hollywood A-lister.
Their whirlwind affair is passionate and intense, and when the couple ties the knot, the tabloid wags are shocked. The rumors swirling around Steven and his sexuality have dogged him for years, and the speculation doesn’t let up after the wedding. Maddy is head-over-heels in love with her husband and refuses to consider the hateful gossip. But when her career outpaces his, and Steven’s absences are longer and more frequent, she finds herself wondering if she really knows the man she married.
Sohn delivers a stylish, salacious and sizzling summer story set in glamorous and scandalous Tinseltown. Ruthless actors, scheming agents and the pervasive press all play supporting parts in this page-turner about one young actress coming to terms with her own ambition and deciding what role she will play in life.
Joshua Ferris’ third novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is the most interesting story in which the narrator and protagonist is a dentist. It’s the chronicle of Dr. Paul C. O’Rourke, who offers oral care at his practice in New York City. Perhaps as a result of excelling in dentistry, Paul’s social life is nonexistent; he is a middle-aged, single atheist with no children, no pets and no contacts in his smartphone. The extent of his online presence is a scattering of posts on various baseball forums. His idea of “getting out” is staying in and watching the Red Sox game while simultaneously recording it on VHS.
Paul is seemingly content with his complacency, until his office manager discovers someone has made an official website for their practice—complete with staff bios and photos—without their consent. Days later, Paul and his staff are befuddled as someone creates multiple social media accounts in Paul’s name and begins proselytizing. This peculiar case of identity theft is more than slander; the culprit possesses intimate knowledge of Paul, and gradually reveals his secrets through a series of anonymous emails. Annoyed by the harassment, Paul responds to the emails in an attempt to discern the thief’s identity and motive.
What he discovers leads him to a series of introspective questions so existential that he begins to wonder who he really is. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour portrays a man who possesses no true self-identity, and insists on blaming the past and lying to himself to cope with his shortcomings. Ferris develops O’Rourke’s personality through an ongoing series of fantastic soliloquies disguised as the ramblings of an emotionally distraught dentist. Paul finds the unsettling truth to be that an identity thief posting on a faux-Facebook actually knows him better than he thinks he knows himself, and as he meanders between the past and present wondering how he has arrived at this point in his life, a beautifully reconciling narrative forms in his wake.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia is a tale of suspense set in a withering old hotel and featuring some of the most delightful characters to grace the pages of a work of fiction this year. The novel literally starts off with a bang, and once the reader enters the hotel, they better be prepared to stay.
In 1982, room 712, a young girl witnesses a horrible murder-suicide that will affect her for the rest of her life. Fast forward to 1997. The Bellweather Hotel hosts a statewide high school music festival which attracts some rather curious characters. Rabbit Hatmaker, a bassoon player, and his sister Alice, destined for stardom, arrive with their gun-toting chaperone, Natalie. There they encounter Viola, the stern and horrible program coordinator, and the foul-mouthed Scottish conductor, Fisher Brodie. When Alice returns to her room to discover her roommate has committed suicide, she immediately goes for help. But the body disappears, and it soon becomes apparent that 712 is an unlucky room, and that the past may be haunting the present.
There are several things to love about Racculia’s novel. All of the characters in Bellweather Rhapsody are complex and interesting with a very detailed backstories. She weaves their stories together, and as the characters bump into one another, the sparks begin to fly. The Bellweather Hotel is described in such detail that the rooms of the hotel become almost characters in their own right. Readers who enjoy novels with a strong sense of place will not be disappointed. Embedded in the story are several mysteries that keep the reader involved. The characters become intertwined with one another leading to an ultimately satisfying conclusion. Racculia captures the intensity of a musical competition where no matter the circumstances, the show must go on. This summer, make it a point to check into the Bellweather, a visit you won’t soon forget.
Two novels highlight the beauty of the beach and celebrate the power of female friendship. Enjoy perfect summer escapes with Anne Rivers Siddons’ The Girls of August and Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer.
Siddons introduces readers to Maddy, Rachel, Barbara and Melinda when they are in their 20s, newly married and seeing their husbands through medical school. As the four become fast friends, they make a pact to spend one week together in August at a beach house. Though their lives change, the women keep this promise and travel to different beach houses over the years to reconnect. That is, until Melinda dies in a car accident and the August ritual is abandoned. Years later, Melinda’s husband remarries Baby, a 20-something who tries to resurrect the annual trip. The four end up at Baby’s remote family home on a barrier island off the South Carolina coast where jealousy simmers, secrets are revealed and friendship is tested. Siddons once again delivers an emotionally satisfying Southern summer tale with well-drawn women dealing with real, explosive issues.
Looking for a different beach? Travel north with Nancy Thayer to beautiful Nantucket. This lush setting is where Maggie and Emily meet as children and develop an unlikely, but strong, summer friendship. Emily is from a moneyed family whose mother wants nothing to do with the islanders. Maggie is the daughter of a local seamstress struggling to make ends meet. As the two get older, real life gets in the way and the girls drift apart. Emily wants more from life than simply being the wife of a successful husband while Maggie works hard, saves her money and longs for a passionate romance. It seems unlikely their paths will cross again until one wealthy Wall Street broker begins wooing both women. This engaging novel has romance and drama, but its centerpiece is the beauty and strength of lasting friendship.
Teacher, blog and forum editor, roleplaying game designer and writer Jeremy P. Bushnell’s debut novel The Weirdness is the perfect amalgamation of his mediums of creativity. Only someone who has spent their life marinating in nerd culture would be able to devise a plot and cast as imaginative and unique as Bushnell has in The Weirdness.
Billy Ridgeway is growing too complacent with his life; all he has to show for himself as a self-proclaimed “writer” is a couple of short stories and a novel vomited forth at the tail end of a post-college-dropout bender of forced artistry. While his former peers are paying mortgages and spawning children, he’s stalled making sandwiches for eight hours a day at a Greek deli.
Of course, this all changes one morning when Billy awakens to a suave-looking dude he doesn’t know sitting on his couch. Introducing himself as “Lucifer Morningstar,” the dude offers Billy some coffee, and with it an only slightly nefarious proposal that would launch his writing career. In a rare bout of good judgment, Billy declines and tries to go about his day; unfortunately for him, Lucifer is a supernaturally persistent guy, and he’s about to make things weird—like, warlocks and sex-wolves and plots to take over the world weird.
Bushnell’s novel is a swirl of contemporary geek humor and sci-fi, blended with a unique, refreshing writing style. He uses unconventional means—absurd similes, unexpected question marks, hypothetical maybes—to create an amusing feeling of doubt and disbelief in his narrative voice, which allows his characters to act with as much hyperbole as the reader wants to perceive. The Weirdness has to be read to be believed, and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys contemporary, surreal fiction.
By now, the secret is out: J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, has a new mystery series for adults written under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith. Last year saw the publication of The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book featuring British private detective Cormoran Strike, and it made a splash when it was “leaked” that Galbraith was actually Rowling. Just released is the second Galbraith book, The Silkworm.
Cormoran Strike is an unusual man. The illegitimate and estranged son of a rock star, a former military special investigations officer and missing a leg thanks to an encounter with an IED, The Silkworm opens with Strike’s star on the rise. After unraveling the suspicious circumstances surrounding a supermodel’s death in The Cuckoo’s Calling, the hoi polloi are flocking to Strike’s detective agency, which is finally turning a profit. Mousy and odd, his new client Leonora engages Strike to locate her husband, Owen Quine, a has-been author desperate for a bestseller. While Quine may be missing, his latest novel is not. Unauthorized copies of his Bombyx Mori are popping up all over London, and since the perverted story disgustingly skewers a number of barely disguised book world luminaries, Quine’s enemies are becoming legion. Strike and his secretary/assistant Robin pick up the case, finding themselves at odds with the local police.
Rowling’s writing style is straightforward as she moves these plot-driven whodunit stories along at a steady clip, and her characters are likeable and well-drawn. Readers will return to this entertaining series to find out if Strike maintains a clean break from a long-term but toxic relationship, or if Robin attains her goal to move beyond office secretary to become a detective herself in spite of her stuffed shirt fiancé’s objections.
Ah, summer. That time of year when the fridge is covered in cream-colored envelopes with fancy fonts. It’s wedding season, and if you’re spending all your time buying gifts from registries and listening to a bridal march for what feels like the 100th time this summer, why not take a break from all those taffeta bridesmaids dresses and have yourself a little vacation to southeastern France in Ellen Sussman’s new book A Wedding in Provence?
Olivia and Brody are excited to spend their wedding weekend at a charming B&B owned by their friends in Provence. In their 50s, they are optimistic at their second chance at a loving marriage. Their family and friends are in attendance, ready to celebrate with them. However, even in this idyllic setting, old family jealousies and new problems threaten to overturn the joy of their wedding weekend. Olivia’s daughters, Nell and Carly, are coming from two disastrously different romantic situations: Carly’s longtime boyfriend has decided to skip the wedding altogether, and Nell, mourning the loss of her dead boyfriend, picks up her seatmate on the plane to attend the wedding with her.
Carly and Nell are not the only ones with secrets to keep. Emily and Sebastien, the owners of the B&B, are weathering a difficult time in their marriage, Brody’s father has just left his mother after 55 years, and then there’s wild card best man Jake, who seems harmless, but has his own hidden agenda.
Fans of romances with an edge and of Sussman’s other novels, such as French Lessons or The Paradise Guest House, will find this novel a summer soap opera to read while waiting for the bridal party to have their photos taken and cocktail hour to begin.