White chauffer; black NBA star; white girlfriend; black posse; white antagonist; black disposition. There’s a theme present in Chris Leslie-Hynan’s intelligent, unsettling and highly entertaining debut novel Ride Around Shining. Leslie-Hynan complicates things between his main characters to the point where each regretted action will have readers rubbernecking as etherealized commentaries on class, race, and modern-day social hierarchy veil the wreckage. Readers who enjoy literary fiction or complex relationships between main characters should definitely check this one out.
Ride Around Shining follows Jess; a youngish, over-educated, middle-middle class white guy; who revels unknowingly in the twisted gratification of subservience; so much so, that he makes a living delivering carryout in his adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, where he frequently transports Thai food to budding Trail Blazers small forward and regular customer Calyph West. With his ongoing display of pragmatic indifference and a couple of lies behind his driving chops, Jess manages to establish himself as Calyph’s personal driver.
Initially, Jess is content with the mask of aloofness he dons whenever he is summoned to get the baller and his girlfriend Antonia to their various destinations, but as he spends his days shuttling the mixed-race couple around the city, he begins behaving erratically in a subconscious bid for their attention. At a house party celebrating Calyph’s contract extension, Jess aids the machinations of fate and inflicts his employer with a knee injury that benches him for the entire upcoming season. Motivated by a discomforting mixture of guilt and manic desire, Jess vies to stick with Calyph during his recovery, though it becomes apparent to everyone that Jess has a lot more going on under the hood than Calyph’s car does.
Local award-winning author and BCPL card holder Dan Fesperman has come out with a new thriller available on August 12, and gave Between the Covers the inside scoop. In his latest psychological military thriller Unmanned, Fesperman explores the domain of drone warfare.
Darwin Cole served his country as an accomplished pilot until he was sequestered to operate drones. As a pilot Cole found himself slightly removed from the tangible repercussions of war and was surprised to learn that the opposite is true with manning a drone. It’s this aspect that tears him apart when a crucial mission goes amiss and innocent people die, but who can be blamed for the error when the truth is camouflaged? Cole teams up with unlikely allies to find out what actually happened on that infamous day.
Read on to find out more about Dan Fesperman and his latest novel.
Between the Covers: Drone technology plays a major role in Unmanned. I imagine you did a lot of research on the subject. How much of what is in the book is the military actually using? What is your personal opinion about how drones are used by the military?
Dan Fesperman: Well, all of the military drones I mention – Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk – they’re out there and flying. As for the experimental drones that pop up later in the book – the ones the size of insects, flying in swarms; the ultra-fast models; the ones with huge wingspans – I do know that drones like those have been tested by the military. If anything, I’ve probably underestimated their capabilities, if only because the technology is advancing at such a dizzying rate. I don’t object, per se, to the use of drones in warfare. Hey, in some cases they actually reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, and there’s no doubt that their reconnaissance capabilities have saved plenty of soldiers’ lives. But it does make me a little queasy to think that we might be embracing certain applications of drone technology without fully thinking them through, which is always a dangerous proposition. Also, the more that you turn combat into a remote-control exercise, the more you tend to dehumanize it, for both predator and prey.
BTC: There is a large focus on the military and government agencies; did you work with any military personnel for authenticity?
DF: I interviewed several Air Force pilots, sensors and other officers associated with drone squadrons out at Creech Air Force Base, near Las Vegas. One pilot-sensor team was particularly helpful, especially in describing what an eerie job it could be, peering down at a small village for hours and even days on end, and then, possibly, having to target one of the houses. They established a degree of intimacy and familiarity with these places which soldiers almost never do. It personalized their potential targets even as the technological nature of the relationship – they were 7,000 miles and nine time zones apart! – made the relationship oddly impersonal. As for the intelligence side, I’ve talked with plenty of ex-CIA people in the course of my research for other projects, so I already had a feel for the way those jobs work.
BTC: Cole and Barbara are struggling with some of the things they saw while working in war-torn countries. Did your own travels in similar situations prompt you to include this aspect in the novel?
DF: Yes. Those kinds of places – Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Middle East – always leave you with vivid and sometimes haunting memories. They pop up later in your dreams, and at unexpected moments. And while I’ve never experienced anything quite as traumatic as what Barb endured, I got enough of a taste of it, as did many of my colleagues, to be able to write about it with some authenticity.
BTC: You picked Maryland as the setting for a large portion of the book. Is this because you reside in Maryland or because of its proximity to D.C.?
DF: Both, really. And it was fun, for a change, to write from a few settings on my home turf. In writing and researching my other books, I’d often worked hard to establish enough comfort with a foreign setting to be able to write about it with any authority. In the Baltimore and Maryland scenes, that came easier.
BTC: Was it a difficult transition to go from journalist to novelist?
DF: Not really. The hardest part was getting used to the idea that you’re in command of this world you’ve created, instead of being chained to the “facts” gleaned from interviews and observations. You have to grow accustomed to the idea of that, instead of checking and double-checking your notebook. You can control even the smallest of details. If you’re setting your book in an actual time and place you still want to be true to the spirit of that time and place, but the characters belong to you. In journalism it never works that way.
BTC: Several of your books are award winners in the area of crime writing and thrillers. Have you ever considered writing in a different genre?
DF: The bounds of those genres have been stretched so far and wide by now that I’ve never felt the least bit restricted or confined. You can pretty much write about any era, in any location, with any assortment of characters. And when you get right down to it, genre or non-genre, any fiction is going to concern itself mostly with conflict and personality, identity and betrayal. My only rule of thumb is to try and write the kind of book that I’d like to read.
BTC: What book would you recommend to a reader who just finished Unmanned and loved it?
DF: Odd as it might sound, the first work of a kindred spirit that comes to mind is a wonderful German film from 2006, The Lives of Others. Essentially it’s a spy film about an extended and careful surveillance of a single suspect, but what it’s really about is how that sort of invasive and prying work affects those who do it for a living. It’s beautifully and artfully crafted, with some brilliant writing. Of my own books, I’d recommend The Warlord’s Son, mostly because its setting in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region gives you a much more intimate look at the insular little worlds that all those drone pilots can only watch from afar.
On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned his office following a speech to the nation the previous evening. The exposure of White House involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal was at the root of his resignation, and three new books take readers back to this tumultuous time in American history and examine the events, the people and the lasting impact.
Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter’s The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 carefully examines the final tapes which were released last August. Nichter and Brinkley share the information gleaned in a readable narrative offering readers a better understanding of one of the most controversial presidencies in history. From the burgeoning relationship with China, to the SALT I agreement with Russia along with glimpses of the encroaching shadow of Watergate, Nixon’s complex portrait as a political genius marred by hubris and paranoia is well-drawn.
Former White House Counsel John Dean was in the middle of these events, and in The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It he uses personal transcripts from meetings and conversations along with documents from the National Archives and the Nixon Library to track the extent of Nixon’s knowledge and the timeline. Dean provides portraits of key players and highlights critical mistakes which led to the scandal. Dean’s first-person insight is compelling, and he also answers questions surrounding those 18 ½ minutes of missing tape.
Rick Perlstein sheds light on the lasting impact of the Nixon White House in The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. The United States was in the midst of turbulent political, economic and social upheaval during the 1970s and, following Nixon’s resignation, appeared on a path toward a more centrist global view. But when Ronald Reagan almost snared the Republican nomination for president from incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, pundits were stunned. Perlstein’s carefully researched and impeccably written account is an engaging chronicle of the times and their political aftermath.
Check out BCPL’s Tumblr for the Richard Nixon Library’s playlist of online Watergate tapes, videos, photos and documents relating to the resignation.
Ask any fan of author Diana Gabaldon how they feel this summer, and the answer will almost certainly echo the Clan Fraser motto, “Je suis prest,” which means “I am ready.” Starz is bringing Gabaldon’s internationally bestselling Outlander novels to life with a new television series premiering August 9, and this sneak peak proves that it was worth the wait.
Outlander, the first book in the series, opens in 1946 as Claire is traveling with her husband Frank in the Scottish highlands. When she walks through a stone circle, she inexplicably finds herself transported to 1743. In a world completely unlike her own, Claire finds herself dealing with intrigue and political maneuvering that she barely understands, and the stakes are high. To avoid being turned over to English soldiers as a presumed spy, she marries Scottish outlaw Jamie Fraser and is soon torn between her love for Frank and her blossoming love for Jamie.
Although Jamie is widely regarded as one of the most swoon-worthy heroes in historical romance, this genre-bending series isn’t just for romance readers. With time travel, detailed history, adventure and intrigue, these rich novels will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Outlander is a complex series that weaves back and forth through time, so reading the books in order is a must. If you’re new to the series, start reading now! These books are quite long, but they are impossible to put down. The audiobooks, narrated by Davina Porter, are also an excellent way to enjoy this not-to-be-missed series.
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, the long-awaited eighth book in the series, was just published, and Gabaldon recently discussed the new book, the future of the series and her excitement about the upcoming TV show in this Goodreads interview.
Did you know that BCPL has a wide range of e-books available to download 24 hours a day? Many popular titles are available in both print and e-book, but there are some titles that are only published as e-books. These fun new romances are available exclusively in e-book.
In Allison Parr’s Imaginary Lines, Tamar Rosenfeld fell in love with Abraham Krasner on the dance floor at his bar mitzvah, but she kept her crush a secret through their teenage years. She finally confessed her feelings to him when they were in college...and it didn’t go well. She ignored him for several years, hoping her humiliation would fade. (It hasn’t.) When she moves to New York City for a new job as a sports reporter, Tamar finds herself at odds with Abe, who is now a linebacker for the New York Leopards. Tamar doesn’t count on Abe’s sudden insistence that they are meant to be together. This is a great sports romance that will also appeal to fans of the new adult genre. Abe seems laid back, but his quiet strength will sweep readers away along with Tamar. Parr, who has written two previous novels about Abe’s teammates, is a strong new voice in contemporary romance.
Maryland author Christi Barth transports readers to the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York in Up to Me. Ella Mayhew’s entire life has revolved around her family’s resort. It’s entirely out of character when she finds herself falling for Gray Locke, a guest at Mayhew Manor. But Gray has a secret that could spell disaster for their budding romance — he is really there to assess the business as an investment for a company that wants to buy it out. Add to the mix a cast of quirky locals, all of whom are deeply invested in Ella’s happiness, and you have a funny, sweet romance that’s the perfect companion for a lazy summer afternoon.
Find out more about BCPL’s e-book collection here. If you need help getting started, visit one of our branches where our staff will be happy to assist you!
When the name Abigail Adams is mentioned it generally conjures up an image of an iconic American figure, primarily known as the wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams. However, before she assumed either of these roles, she was a daughter and sister in a very extraordinary family. In Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters, Diane Jacobs introduces the reader to the woman who became the icon and the family relationships that shaped her.
Born the middle of three daughters to William and Elizabeth Quincy Smith of Braintree, Massachusetts, Abigail and her sisters Mary and Elizabeth were clever girls who managed to supplement their limited formal home education by reading any book they could get their hands on. Often using excerpts from the lifelong correspondence between the three sisters, Jacobs has meticulously pieced together the lives of these women in great detail. In an era where women had few legal rights and very few career options outside of wife and mother, Abigail, Mary and Elizabeth aspired to make their voices heard outside their family circle. While Abigail seems to have achieved the most success, her sisters were able to make their marks during the Revolutionary War era and beyond.
For those who either think they know the story of Abigail Adams or have enjoyed such books as David McCullough’s biography John Adams or are interested in early American history, this book is a must read. Jacobs is not only a thorough scholar but she has a delightful and engaging narrative style.
Author Christopher Beha explores the unrealistic nature of reality television and the unintentional consequences of releasing a sex tape in his new novel Arts & Entertainments. Handsome Eddie Hartley hung his dreams on becoming a famous actor after he left high school but didn't have the talent to back it up. Now, working as a drama teacher in the same Catholic high school he attended, he is desperately trying to make ends meet. His wife longs to have a baby, but their only hope lies in an expensive in vitro fertilization procedure that Eddie can ill afford. But when a sleazy media producer comes to him looking for dirt on a now famous ex-girlfriend, Eddie realizes that the old sex tape on his hard drive could be the answer to his prayers.
Arts & Entertainments is a contemporary look at today’s media-obsessed culture, and anyone who likes to keep up with the Kardashians will quickly take to this novel. Eddie is a sympathetic anti-hero, not looking for fame but trying to make a quick buck and, although his decisions are rash and never in his best interest, we can’t help but care about him. Eddie’s struggle is monumental. What he had hoped to gain is suddenly lost and he's back at square one. But Eddie never gives up hope and, even at his worst, the reader will continue to cheer him on. Arts & Entertainments is a modern character study that is full of heart and belongs on everyone’s summer reading list.
Jacqueline Winspear, highly respected author of the Maisie Dobbs series, has created a standalone novel based on an unusual premise: the importance of food in a war effort. The Care and Management of Lies is a story of two young British women, Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since early school days, who take very different paths in life. By mid-summer 1914, Kezia can think of nothing else but her imminent marriage to Thea’s brother Tom, who runs the family farm. Thea chooses a life of independence and has embraced the women’s suffrage movement and the peace protestors. While Kezia’s life is ordered and traditional, Thea’s is chaotic and fraught with peril. Kezia embraces her life as a farmer’s wife with rare creativity; while Thea avoids possible prison by responding to a friend’s overtures to join the Ambulance Corps in France.
As the war spirals into an entrenched stalemate, Tom reluctantly leaves home to serve his country. Kezia is determined that he not miss a single meal while he is absent. Each evening, she carefully plans her menu of uncommonly original recipes, sets Tom’s place at the table and writes letters filled with descriptions of her creations. While lovingly prepared, these meals are only a product of Kezia’s imagination. Soldier and civilian alike suffer from the blockade that prevents the island nation from successfully feeding its people and army.
Winspear has successfully woven a story of civilians and soldiers, friends and enemies, want and plenty. This is one of many works commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the War to End All Wars. Fans of Anne Perry’s World War I series and Charles Todd’s works featuring Bess Crawford as a World War I nurse will surely enjoy this original perspective on the subject.
Marina Keegan was an aspiring essayist, playwright and author of short fiction whose talents were burgeoning before she was killed in a car crash in 2012. She was most renowned for her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which was featured in Yale’s 2012 commencement activities. Through the efforts of her family and friends, Keegan’s works have been assembled as a book, also titled The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection which deserves as much celebration as Keegan herself.
Keegan’s fiction is grounded and believable, populated with disarming characters yearning to divulge their intimacies to readers. In “Cold Pastoral,” a girl laments the death of a boyfriend she only recently began dating, and is racked with guilt as she witnesses his ex suffering more than she is. “Challenger Deep,” which portrays a small crew trapped in an unpowered submarine stuck at the bottom of an oceanic trench, is Keegan’s most unsettling, imaginative and beautiful tale.
Keegan’s essays gleam with scholarly poise as she acknowledges the complexities of approaching adulthood with a teenage candor. “Against the Grain” is a reflection on growing up with Celiac’s disease, and the embarrassing safety extremes her mother went to out of love. “Song for the Special” is a gentle reminder of humanity’s diminutive existence in the vast universe we inhabit.
What makes The Opposite of Loneliness so wondrous is not its posthumous publication; each piece is brimming with a nearly unattainable blend of worldly presence and youthful hyperbole. It’s so depressing that Keegan’s talents were stifled at such a young age. This collection resonates in reverie of the marvels that would have been.
Local author and news commentator Michael Olesker knows his Baltimore as well as anyone. For a quarter-century, the former News American and Baltimore Sun columnist has captured the changing pulse of the flawed hometown he loves, illuminating countless important issues along the way. Olesker's latest book, Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age, is a nostalgic-yet-edgy look back at a time of relative innocence for Baltimore and the country. Join him as he discusses this latest work on Tuesday, August 5 at 7 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The program, the third in the “Dundalk Dialogs” author speaker series, will include a book talk, signing and light refreshments. Recently, the author answered questions for Between the Covers about his new book.
Between the Covers: You have been a longtime chronicler of Baltimore’s history. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Michael Olesker: I’ve always felt that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a real dividing line in American politics and culture, as well as the real dividing line between the 1950s and ’60s. We recall the ’50s as an innocent time. We recall the ’60s as a time of social chaos: assassinations, wars, riots, terrific upheaval, some good, some bad, much of it quite difficult. But a lot of the ’60s changes were bubbling just beneath the surface in the ’50s. Several years ago, with the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaching, it occurred to me that quite a few Baltimoreans had a profound effect on the nation’s history, and they’d come of age here in the ’50s. Having grown up here in that era, I’ve always felt a real connection to that time.
BTC: You tell the stories of many of Charm City’s personalities, including Nancy Pelosi, Thurgood Marshall and Barry Levinson, coming of age before the complicated 1960s changed the way people looked at themselves and their country. Why were these stories important to share?
MO: As a product of the Baltimore City public school system, I always felt we were taught the Great Man theory of history. That is, presidents and prime ministers and kings change the world. But I think a lot of great change comes from the ground up. Nancy Pelosi’s father was mayor, but her mother ran an army of political women in a time when women were still political non-entities. That was a profound lesson. Thurgood Marshall was the product of a segregated school system and couldn’t get into the University of Maryland Law School because of his skin color. That was a profound motivator as he went on to change the nation’s schools. Barry Levinson was a kid soaking up movie and TV culture and knew that it didn’t reflect the world as he knew it. That was a great motivator for him.
BTC: What made you begin and end with the Kennedy assassination?
MO: My previous book, The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the Fifties, was a 50th anniversary look back at the legendary 1958 Colts who won pro football’s “greatest game ever played.” The response to it was so overwhelmingly heartfelt that the Hopkins Press folks suggested the 50th anniversary of Dallas was another real emotional hook for many people. I wanted to profile not only those people who went on to change the country but the Baltimore of that era — the working class town, the sixth biggest city in the country, the city of neighborhoods and people sitting on front stoops to catch up on the world — but a town on the verge of so many profound changes.
BTC: Why did you decide to write in the present tense?
MO: In my mind, the past never entirely goes away — it still flutters around us, still moves the world in ways we don’t always notice. I felt, from the very first sentence I wrote, that the ’50s were still alive and that, by writing in the present tense, I’d give my narrative a greater sense of immediacy.
BTC: You write that, for newspapers, the Kennedy assassination signaled the “opening moment of long decades of coughing and wheezing their way out of existence.” You have lived through a lot of changes. Where do you see the news gathering business in 10 or 20 years?
MO: We’re currently in a shaking-out period where even the brightest people haven’t figured out where journalism is heading. What’s become clear to me — from years at newspapers, from years on nightly TV news and from years teaching at one of our local colleges — is that a lot of people don’t have the attention span they once had, nor the patience for long-form reading. They want instant gratification, easily digestible bites of information, and then they move on to the next amusement. Millions of us now live moment-to-moment lifestyles but don’t know the history of the last 10 minutes, much less 10 years. I hope my book is a chance for people to see, in an entertaining way, how we began to get where we are.
BTC: Do you think there is any charm left in Charm City?
MO: Absolutely. I think the city’s best years are still ahead of it. Are we losing some of our inimitable “Bawlamer” uniqueness? Sure. But change is always inevitable. What’s shocked all of us is the speed of all this change.