8 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: June 2016

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Dark Horse by Rory Flynn

Sean Tuohy: Boston super cop Eddy Harkness is back in the second part of Rory Flynn's on-going New England-based crime series. After Beantown is hit by a hurricane, Eddy finds himself trying to discover the source behind a new, powerful street drug, while at the same time trying to keep the city from destroying itself from class warfare. As always, Flynn makes Boston as big of character in the book as he does Harkness. Dark Horse is a beautiful farewell letter to Dirty Old Boston and welcomes, somewhat begrudgingly, a modern city. As the city transforms, so does Harkness. He goes from a lone cop with nothing to live for to becoming a family man (although Eddy still finds himself battling his inner demons along with the heavy hitters on the street). Dark Horse is not only a great continuation of the Eddy Harkness series, but also cements Flynn’s legacy as the Voice of Boston.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Stephanie Schaefer: I wanted to love Jojo Moyes’s much-talked-about novel, Me Before You. It was marketed as a romance, which I thought would be the perfect beach read for my recent trip to Miami. Luckily, I had the Florida sunshine to make up for lack of warm and fuzzy feelings the book left me with. Although I didn’t know the ending of the novel before I dove into it, I knew that it was going to be a tear-jerker (although I assumed that it would be sad in an uplifting way, kind of like The Notebook, and not sad in a “this is the most depressing thing I’ve ever read, I need to watch an episode of ‘Friends’ just so I can smile again” way.) I may be a sucker for happy endings, I can also appreciate drama when done correctly. There were moments of the book—interactions between the protagonist Louisa Clarke and Will Trayner, the disabled man which she cares for—that I did thoroughly enjoy, but ultimately the [spoiler alert] controversial ending was difficult for me to wrap my head around. Nevertheless, the novel was still a page-turner and I’m interested to see how it will come to life (maybe an ironic choice of words) on the big screen.

The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

Daniel Ford: Imagine if George RR Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series had a sense of humor and characters (both good and evil) you didn't hate rooting for. What if instead of a bleak travelogue and mind-numbing palace intrigue you had a mystical Middle Kingdom burrowed within Ireland and shadowy Vatican magic hunters.

You don't have to imagine it because Mark Tompkins's novel, The Last Days of Magic, exists! My tolerance for fantasy is pretty low, but this novel never lost my interest. The characters are memorable (even the ones that don't make it to the end), and the story contains charming magical twists on humanity's Dark Ages.

My favorite character was Ty, a hulking, misunderstood creature bond to a man conflicted by emerging magical powers. I won't give away his fate, but his part in the tale made me fully believe in the world Tompkins built. He's an author to watch for sure.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Sean: The world is burning in Joe Hill's latest terrifying tale. A young, pregnant school nurse watches in horror as a new virus spreads across the world, causing people to burst into flames. She eventually finds herself living with a strange community of survivors, and must find the mystical Fireman to help give birth to her child. Hill presents readers with a out-of-this-world story, but fills it with grounded characters that give the impression you've met them before. The Fireman is a solid read that will make you burn through the pages.

Diary Of An Oxygen Thief by Anonymous

Hassel Velasco: This book is an "autobiographical" recollection by an anonymous source that shares his experiences with alcoholism, low self-esteem, and the pain associated with the pleasure he received by emotionally abusing woman. A tough read at times, it highlights the horrible things we do to others, and the horrible things we allow other people to do to us.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan

Adam Vitcavage: This isn't technically a book, but all Writer's Bone readers should read it. Paper Girls is an ongoing comic series that just released its sixth issue; however, the first five are collected in a trade paperback edition. So, I'm going to count it as a book. Written by Brian K. Vaughan (aka, the genius who brought the world “Y: The Last Man,” “Ex Machina,” Runaways, Saga, and so much more), the series is a coming-of-age story about four preteens who work as paper girls in the late 1980s. Since it's a comic you should be aware that there is a wrinkle. It turns out the story is more like “Super 8” than anything else. And that’s a good thing.

Our main character, Erin, is shy, but kick-ass. She worries about fitting in, like most kids that age, but doesn’t let it consume her. Erin meets three other paper girls who are better developed than a lot of characters in traditional literature. There’s Mac, MacKenzie, “the first paper boy around here who wasn’t a…you know.” She smokes, is known to the cops, and has trouble in her family. She’s the leader and seemingly has the most to lose. Filling out the ranks are Tiffany and KJ. They’re a dynamic duo who have interesting characteristics but are clearly being lined up to be developed further down the road.

What is most appealing is Vaughan’s ability to balance the coming-of-age development alongside the sci-fi plot without giving too much to either side. It would be easy to forget that they’re 12-year-old girls when (slight spoiler) some kinds of aliens are in the picture. But in the midst of all of the havoc, the writing still holds a sense of earnest to it.

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathanial Philbrick

Daniel: Benedict Arnold was a scumbag. There's no denying it, and Nathanial Philbrick doesn't make any excuses for the nation's most famous turncoat in his new book Valiant Ambition.

As a history nerd, I've always been more interested in the why rather than the how. Philbrick's narrative does an excellent job of explaining the particulars of Arnold's treachery, as well as place the event in its proper context. The Continental Army endures one low point after another after Washington orders the retreat from New York City, and American independence was far more precarious than it was a sure thing. Arnold could have easily been hailed a hero (by some) had the British won the war. He was an undeniable war hero who had given everything short of his life to the glorious cause. However, an inept, backstabbing Continental Congress (sound familiar?) and a deteriorating military situation caused the immensely arrogant Arnold to embrace treason. Even a final meeting with Washington couldn't sway him from his chosen path (you have to admire his cojones, if nothing else).

Like Philbrick's Mayflower and Bunker Hill, Valiant Ambition crafts classic historical events into relevant, readable nonfiction. The pages fly by, and the tale will have you drooling for the final leg of the series.

Daniel: Being from New England, I think I’m genetically pre-conditioned to love the Adamses. The family, for the most part, is smart, relentlessly educated, and politically engaged. I devoured David McCullough’s John Adams and Joseph J. Ellis’s First Family, and learned to love John Quincy Adams while reading Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought. One would think that would be enough of the Adamses for one man, right?

Wrong. Louisa Thomas’s biography of John Quincy Adams’s wife Louisa Adams not only paints the famous first family in a different light, but also adds a new, earthy chapter that stands triumphantly next to all other entries.

Despite frequently being overcome by illness, Louisa, our only foreign born First Lady, continuously demonstrates she’s flintier than she appears. She suffers humiliation after her father flees England penniless, bounces around Europe and Russia with Quincy Adams, endures miscarriage after miscarriage, has to bury several of her children, and must adapt to the United States while serving as a pristine example of republican virtue. The nascent country was very much an experiment rather than an established fact at this point, and its growing pains have a unique look and feel coming from the prism of Louisa’s worldview.

Thomas’s warm style keeps the pages moving, especially during Louisa’s harrowing journey from Russia to Paris in the midst of Napoleon’s return from Elba. If you don’t fall in love with Mrs. Adams after that tale then there’s really no hope for you. Louisa is a shining example of how popular history should be written. Be sure to throw it in your beach bag this summer! 

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