Erica Wright

18 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: March 2019

18 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: March 2019

This month’s book recommendations feature works by Lindsay J. Palmer, Gary Almeter, Anissa Gray, Alex Michaelides, K Chess, Haruki Murakami, and more!

The 50 Best Books of 2018

The 50 Best Books of 2018

Daniel Ford counts down our favorite books of 2018. Read on to find out which novel landed in our top spot!

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: October 2018

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: October 2018

This month’s book recommendations include works by Tana French, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Lou Berney, Evan Fallenberg, Chaya Bhuvaneswar, Erica Wright, and more!

21 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: January 2018

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.


Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur

Daniel Ford: Sean Tuohy once said that he felt like he was eavesdropping on the characters in John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That’s exactly the reading experience I had with Robin MacArthur’s Heart Spring Mountain. Perhaps it was the Vermont setting (after Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation) or the author's sparse, moving prose. Or maybe it had something to do with Vale’s desperate search for her estranged mother Bonnie that made this novel feel so much more personal and haunting. Whatever the reason, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some of the most passionate, emotional, broken, and fiercely independent characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction. MacArthur also earns all the bonus points for mentioning “Helpless,” one of my favorite Neil Young songs.


Daniel: I felt like I was taking a writing course every time I cracked opened Hanif Abdurraqib’s exceptional essay collection They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Abdurraqib uses his poetic sensibilities to deftly comment on everything from music and pop culture to race relations and familial losses. I recently suffered the loss of a relative, and this paragraph in particular put all of my grief in sadness into perspective:

“I’ve started other years at funerals, in hospital rooms, in studio apartments with my phone off entirely. So in spite of the newest realities that we must confront and stay uncomfortable with, I’m hoping that I get to stick around for a while. I am hoping, mostly, that we all get better at wishing on the things we need, even in darkness.”

Yes, Abdurraqib can flat out write. I look forward to following his work going forward.


Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

Daniel: I loved every word of Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake. After a mother tragically drowns, a family slowly becomes unglued. Your heart would ache on every page if not for main heroine Elvis Babbitt’s curiosity and pluck. From the father’s parrot that speaks in their mother’s voice to Elvis’ psychologically fragile sister Lizzie, hell-bent on setting a world record in “rabbit cake” baking, this novel will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.        


The Smart One by Drew Yanno

Sean Tuohy: A sleek and fast thriller that would make Robert Ludlum proud. Screenwriter Drew Yanno's The Smart One is the type of thriller you rarely find on bookshelves. Tightly written, the novel follows a noted author living in semi-retirement who is called by the widow of a small-town doctor. Hidden in her late husband's belongings she has found a list of names. Soon the author finds himself in the crosshairs of deadly men who want the list back. Yanno writes at a clipped pace but doesn’t lose any of the character or story. This is a "strap yourself in" kind of novel.


Dreamland by Sam Quinones

Daniel: Sam Quinones’ exploration into the opioid crisis reads like a thriller. He tracks the epidemic’s rise from a small drug trafficking state in Mexico to Midwestern towns softened by economic distress and doctors overprescribing pain medication. Paired with his testimony to a Senate subcommittee investigating the crisis, Quinones’ narrative not only provides necessary background information for current events, but also offers some possible long-term solutions for struggling communities. Dreamland is essential reading, and a worthy testament to the power and promise of shoe-leather journalism.


Mike Nelson: For almost two decades, Bob Boilen has hosted NPR's "All Songs Considered," a show that serves as a platform for new music (and new musicians) to get to the ears of hungry music lovers. In other words, to get into my ears. In discovering and featuring [typically young] artists, Bob (can I call him Bob?) gets to talk to them, gets to know them, and gets to package their stories up into a great little book. In Your Song Changed My Life, Bob (I'm calling him Bob) talks to 35 different musicians about the songs that inspired them. It's unpredictable, it's enlightening, and it's a fascinating way for me to get my hands on ideas of old music to listen to. This thing spans from Smokey Robinson and Jimmy Page to Leon Bridges and St. Vincent, so even if you don't want to read the whole thing (which is less than 300 pages, so, grow up), you can borrow it from a library or from me I guess, and just pick out the stories you want to know.


The Wanted by Robert Crais

Daniel: A near-perfect thriller. Robert Crais’ no-frills writing and witty dialogue make an intriguing plot even more enjoyable. It all starts with a worried mother whose concerns grow after discovering her son is flashing new clothes and jewelry. Once Elvis Cole starts digging into the case, all hell deliciously breaks loose. Cole and his stoic partner Joe Pike will be making plenty of return appearances on my reading list.


Winter Of The Wolf Moon by Steve Hamilton

Sean: Steve Hamilton never disappoints. The second in the much beloved Alex McKnight series finds the sometimes-PI helping a young woman who believes she’s in danger. When she disappears, he must find her before it’s too late. You feel comfortable in McKnight’s world (despite the suspense) and you’re happy to see familiar faces. The mystery at the core of the story pulls you in, but you stay for the characters.


Neon in Daylight by Hermione Hoby

Daniel: I’m a sucker for a New York story, and this is an exceptional one. I can feel the heat from the summer of 2012 bubble up under Hoby’s intoxicating prose and creep back under my skin. This line in particular hooked me early on:

“It was only now—a master’s degree completed dutifully, pointlessly; a commitment to a Ph.D. made miserable, uncertainly—that she realized the world truly did not give one single shit whether you’d done your homework.”

Amen. Plus, there’s a cat named Joni Mitchell.


Daniel: Plenty of thriller/mystery/crime novels have featured unreliable narrators since Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train debuted. Which is why I went into A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window with some trepidation. However, once I met Anna Fox, a troubled acrophobic woman, and read his outstanding prose, any and all doubts were erased. This book is sensational. Yes, there were suspenseful moments. Yes, you had a red herring or two. But the meat of the book is really about this woman, what she’s dealing with, and how people in general deal with and struggle through loss. It’s a character study wrapped in a good mystery. Pour a glass of wine (or ten), keep an extra light on, and allow your heart to palpitate with every page.


Boys Among Men by Jonathan Abrams

Mike: This is the stage of my life where I'm obsessed with the NBA. And let me tell you something about the NBA. It has the absolute best characters and best stories in sports. Jonathan Abrams took a fascinating angle to tell a great number of stories in his second book, Boys Among Men. Abrams takes a look at all the high schoolers who jumped (or tried to) straight into the NBA from 1995-2005, before a new age minimum was enforced to enter the league. This is not a book about basketball; it's a book about stories. It has triumphs, tragedies, and players needing their friends to bring them trash bags full of clothes at the airport because they're so inexperienced they don't know to pack a bag when you travel. What more do you want?


Celine by Peter Heller

Daniel: When I first read Peter Heller’s debut novel The Dog Stars, I thought there would be no way he was ever going to top it. Heller ended up raising the bar with The Painter in 2015, and then delivered an unforgettable main character last year in Celine. Celine is an older, aristocratic PI who works out of her Brooklyn apartment and has an absurdly good success rate. With the help of her monosyllabic, but highly competent, husband, Celine sets out to track down a damaged young woman’s missing father (who is presumed dead by all accounts). All of that is fine and good, but it’s to Heller’s credit that he takes deep dives into all his characters’ backstories. His prose is a joy to read, and the themes he touches on meld so well with the characters that populate this world. I could read an endless series about Celine and her cohorts. 


Two Kinds Of Truth by Michael Connelly

Sean: Harry Bosch is back! I love when the grizzled Los Angeles detective returns to bookshelves. Bosch finds himself in a tough spot when an old case comes back to haunt him. Connelly knows how to design a fast-paced and heavily detailed story that yanks readers by the collar and takes them on a journey.


Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Daniel: Jen Dixon’s crackling sass is just what you need to survive the winter. She’s a badass kindergarten class mom who really does have a heart of gold. Laurie Gelman’s debut is consistently hilarious while also empathetically touching on universal themes.


Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

Daniel: Clear your sleep schedule. Cancel all other reading. Meg Gardiner’s follow up to UNSUB drops Jan. 30.


Author’s Corner

By Erica Wright, author of All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned (out now from Black Lawrence Press) and The Blue Kingfisher (out Oct. 9, 2018 from Polis Books).

Indictus by Natalie Eilbert

While calling a new poetry release “hotly anticipated” always seems like an inside joke, I have been eagerly waiting for this collection. Eilbert’s lyricism is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, an acknowledgment of the defenses necessary to survive in an increasingly cruel world. Moreover, her poems live in our modern age, never shying away from mentions of technology or even the occasional Applebee’s. In “The Limits of What We Can Do,” which appeared in The New Yorker, she writes, “I like poetry because there are no miracles in it.” Perhaps no miracles, but Eilbert’s poems do possess a beguiling forthrightness and Indictus—which confronts issues of sexual assault—couldn't be more important for our time.

Walk in the Fire by Steph Post

This aptly named sequel to Lightwood burns with a dangerous intensity. Post has created one of the most memorable gothic noir novels in recent memory. In this outing, Judah Canon begins to embrace his family’s criminal obsessions, trying to fill his father’s shoes without putting his loved ones in danger. That plan quickly falls apart in a thriller populated by all manner of malcontents in backwoods Florida, including a snake-loving preacher lady more interested in green than God.

Mama Amazonica by Pascale Petit

This unique and timely collection explores Petit’s traumatic childhood through the lens of ecology. As with all the best fables, pain is transformed, becoming something more manageable. Specifically, the mother here is viewed as a variety of animals and flowers. In her masterful poem “King Vultures” (which we published in Guernica), Petit imagines her life in reverse, beginning with her mother’s death and ending with her own birth. When writes, “The king vultures have followed me in / and someone is zipping up my roof with a scalpel,” it’s hard not to shiver at the raw intensity. In her award-winning collections, Petit creates her own, new mythological.

Bird Odyssey by Barbara Hamby

Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

I’ll resist making a bad “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” joke while mentioning that two of my favorite poets have nonfiction books coming out later this year. Hamby’s Bird Odyssey exposes the writer’s love of travel, taking her readers through Siberia, Memphis, Ithaka, and beyond. In Air Traffic, Pardlo considers his volatile relationship with his father, an air traffic controller who lost his job after participating in a strike. Pre-order thumbs ready, right?

Listen to our most recent podcast with Erica Wright:


#NovelClass

The new #NovelClass spin off launches on Feb. 1!

Dave Pezza will be hosting the podcast’s first live event on Feb. 21 in Providence, R.I. We’ll be discussing Stephen King’s The Shining.

Listen to Dave Pezza's introduction to NovelClass Season 2 on SoundCloud!

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: August 2017

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.

Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

Daniel Ford: “Just one more chapter,” I told myself. “Okay, one more…fine, last one, I need to work in the morning. This is really the last one…”

You’ll find yourself having the same conversation with…yourself while reading Bianca Marais’ sparkling and superbly structured debut novel Hum If You Don't Know the Words. The novel, set in Apartheid-era South Africa, alternates perspectives between Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl leading a comfortable life, and Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman living in a rural village. Robin and Beauty’s worlds intertwine following the Soweto Uprising. Robin’s parents are murdered and Beauty’s daughter Nomsa disappears. Robin is taken in by her hard-drinking, jet-setting aunt, while Beauty relentlessly searches for her missing daughter.

One reveal after another in this novel just wowed me. Every chapter hooked you right into the next one. I revisited the book while writing my review and my heart got stuck in my throat all over again! Robin and Beauty are at times both incredibly strong and dangerously fragile. The supporting cast helps illuminate the two women’s struggle to realign their lives and provide insights into the segregated and racist world they’re living in. Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a master class in fractured familial drama and should be on the top of your reading list headed into the fall.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Sean Tuohy: The reigning king of detective fiction recently published his 30th book and added a brand new character for the modern era. Renée Ballard is a driven young detective who is exiled to the night shift, known as “the late show” at the LAPD’s Hollywood division. After witnessing a victim take their last breath in the aftermath of a brutal nightclub shooting, Ballard sets out to find the killer, even if it means risking her career. The author meets his high standard, as usual, and mixes together Los Angeles, compelling characters, and a driving plot line. The Late Show further proves why Connelly is the king of crime fiction.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Daniel: The premise of Gin Phillips’ recently published novel Fierce Kingdom is chilling: a mother and son are trapped in a zoo during a mass shooting. While the plot does make your heart race, it’s the relationship between Joan and Lincoln that will keep you flipping pages. Not only does Phillips establish them as characters quickly and efficiently, she also gives them depth typically lacking in this kind of thriller. Lincoln isn’t just an annoying kid who provides comic relief; he has real issues and motivations that test Joan’s ability to keep him safe. The supporting cast could have easily been cardboard cutouts by comparison, but it’s to Phillips’ credit that she burrows deep within the people Joan and Lincoln come in contact with. The situation is terrifying, even considering that these events have become commonplace in the United States. Phillips’ character work distinguishes Fierce Kingdom as a thriller of the highest order.    

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

BookTrib: Part self-help and part inspirational, Of Mess and Moxie (out Aug. 8) is all about inspiring women to embrace struggle and recognize that they’re strong enough to overcome almost anything. Told with a blend of humor and personal stories, Hatmaker offers advice and inspiration, showing readers how to consistently find their inner strength.

Killerjoy by Jon Negroni

Daniel: Jon Negroni can flat out write. He knows how to build a world and suck you right into it. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not the biggest fantasy aficionado, but I couldn’t help but get swept up in Negroni’s characters and narrative. He has a remarkable vision for this project, and if the rest of the series reaches the heights established here, fantasy readers are in for something special. My fellow 50/50 Press writer-in-arms is an author to watch, and Killerjoy should be on your bookshelf ASAP.

A Clean Kill in Tokyo by Barry Eisler

Sean: Zero Sum, the ninth book in John Rain series, was released in June, so I figured I'd swing back and start with the first novel in the long-running book series about the half-American, half-Japanese assassin who makes his kills look natural.

This is a stellar thriller. A fast-paced, but well thought out plot line mixes well with layered characters against the fantastic Tokyo backdrop. Eisler quickly shows the reader that he is a top-notch thriller writer.

The Road to Concord by J.L. Bell

Daniel: J.L. Bell is a Massachusetts writer who runs the terrific history blog, “Boston 1775.” His book, The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, features everything that makes Bell’s site great: accessible writing style, innovative historical storytelling, and a fresh perspective on events that occurred nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. The Road to Concord focuses on how four stolen cannons (that British general Thomas Gage was desperately, and perhaps foolishly, trying to recover) may have helped spark the American Revolution. The narrative features colonial hijinks, high political drama, and Revolutionary War heroes not often discussed alongside Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. The Road to Concord is refreshingly original and structured like a thriller. Learning about what led the British and the colonies to war has never been this much fun.

All the Bayou Stories End With Drowned by Erica Wright

Daniel: During our recent podcast chat, Erica Wright told me it’s likely that people who say they don’t like poetry just haven’t found the right poem yet. Well, let me tell you, the poems you’ll find in her new collection are indeed the right ones. From her fiery, apocalyptic opener to the eponymous entry that inspired the collection, All the Bayou Stories End With Drowned showcases a poet in firm command of her genre. There’s such depth of character and snappy dialogue that you’ll think you’re reading a short story at times. You’ll marvel at how Wright packs so much heart and fury into such a concise structure. I have a whole new appreciation for modern poetry, and will likely seek out other poets thanks to this collection.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

BookTrib: It’s all about discovering new parts of yourself in Perrotta’s novel about a mother and son who are thrust out of their comfort zones in various ways. For the 40-something Eve Fletcher that means a sexual awakening that’s connected to the idea of herself as a MILF. And for her son, Brendan, it means readjusting his expectations as he leaves home for his first year at college.

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

Daniel: I’ve been tweeting out how much I love Souad Mekhennet’s I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad for a month. Mekhennet, an Arab-German journalist for The Washington Post, gives an honest and passionate account of her upbringing and journalism career. While her background gave her opportunities to discover stories that may have gone otherwise unnoticed, she also had to hurdle plenty of discrimination (both racist and sexist) in order to get those stories told. This memoir also provides a different perspective on Sept. 11, the War on Terror, and the fight against ISIS, one that’s much more nuanced than the current daily headlines. Mekhennet puts a very human face on both sides of this seemingly endless conflict, and her tenacity keeps her asking that all-important question: why? I Was Told To Come Alone should be required reading at journalism schools. All schools, actually. Read this book.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Daniel: This novel is going to unsettle your senses from the get-go. Set in the Ozark Mountains, The Weight of Blood features a shadowy, absent mother, a ritualized murder, and a young woman coming of age in a secluded area with an alcoholic father. McHugh writes atmosphere so well, and the Ozarks provide the perfect tableau for this kind of storytelling. Secrets abound in this novel, and you’ll be white-knuckling it long into the night (yeah, you’re not going to sleep, don’t even try).   

Author’s Corner

By Bianca Marais, author of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

While on tour two weeks ago, I visited the fabulous Copperfield's Books in Healdsburg for an event. They were kind enough to allow me to pick a book in the store as a gift from them, and so I did what I always do: I asked a bookseller for a recommendation.

Emily suggested Into the Forest, saying that the author was local and that it was one of her favourite books, and so naturally, that’s the one I chose. I’m so glad I did, because I absolutely devoured the book that tells that story of two sisters, Eva and Nell, whose worlds are turned upside down when sickness and anarchy rage across the United States as it’s on the brink of collapse. The description appealed to me because I so thoroughly enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was also a favourite of Katie Smith’s, another wonderful bookseller at the store.

Hegland is a masterful storyteller who has written a page-turner that is both lyrical and challenges everything you think you know about society.

A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass

I’ve been a fan of Julia Glass’s since her Three Junes won the National Book Award in 2002. I’ve read all of her books multiple times and was very excited to hear that she had a new one coming out in July called A House Among the Trees. I was planning to buy, it but was given it as a gift by another fabulous bookstore that I visited while on tour, Towne Center Books. And it wasn’t just any copy; it was an autographed copy which made it even more special!

I’m halfway through it and absolutely loving it. Glass has a way of immersing you in her books so that you feel as though you’ve known the characters your whole life. In this, her fifth novel, she tells the story of the unusual bond between a world-famous writer and his assistant. I can’t wait to finish this but I’m trying to read it slowly to savour it.

A Distant View of Everything by Alexander McCall Smith

I haven’t gotten to this one yet, which is another book in the Isabel Dalhousie series that takes place in Edinburgh, but I love everything Alexander McCall Smith writes. I’ve become even a bigger fan of his since my 12-year-old goddaughter, Anya, who lives in Edinburgh, recently went to home to give him my book in the hopes that he might blurb it.

When she knocked on his door, instead of his being annoyed at the intrusion, he invited her (and her mother who was hiding behind the bushes around the corner) inside, offered them tea and even gave them a few autographed copies of his books. He then sent me a lovely email when he didn’t have time to blurb the book before the deadline.

Two for the Road

Two books that I also haven’t gotten to yet, but that I’ve heard amazing things about, are The Elephants in my Backyard by Rajiv Surendra and Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar. I’ve bought them both and am looking forward to diving in shortly.

#NovelClass

Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin. Also read author Julie Buntin's review in June's "Books That Should Be On Your Radar."

5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: October 2015

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.

By Daniel Ford

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

I’ve read Richard Russo, Joyce Carol Oates (okay, at least I tried), Jonathan Franzen, and Wally Lamb throughout my life, so I know a thing or two about dysfunctional literary families. However, the family in Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres might be the most screwed up one I’ve ever encountered in fiction. The book starts innocently enough: A father nearing the end of his working days decides to split up his Midwestern farm among his three daughters. What a nice guy! Well, in true Shakespearean fashion, things go horribly wrong. The father loses his grip on reality, his daughters reveal all manner of dark family secrets, and there’s not a man in the book that isn’t a complete asshole or grossly incompetent. There were moments I put the book down and couldn’t believe what I had just read. And Smiley doesn’t hit you over the head with each revelation. No, her style borders on nonchalant, so you constantly feel like your caught in the middle of the storm without any advanced warning. Smiley also gives the reader somewhat of an unreliable narrator, which makes the book’s plot all the more harrowing and surprising. I guarantee you’ll be done with this tale in a matter of days because the sick individual inside you will want to find out what happens next.

Academy Gothic by James Tate Hill

Tate Cowlishaw may be legally blind, incredibly snarky, and unlucky in love, but hot damn he’s a pretty good investigator. So what if he’s an incompetent, indifferent academic employed at a school in such dire straits that it has to house its teacher’s offices in a drained swimming pool? When the dean of Parshall College dies suspiciously, Cowlishaw follows a dangerous (and often hilarious) trail of clues to find out the truth. As I said in the introduction to my recent interview with the author, fans of noir and dark comedy will find something to devour within every page of this debut. Hill told me that future Cowlishaw adventures would depend on readers’ reactions to his witty hero. Well, don’t just suggest he write more, demand it by buying the book and spreading the word.

The Granite Moth by Erica Wright

The Granite Moth, Erica Wright’s sequel to her debut novel The Red Chameleon, has an explosive beginning. A bomb goes off at a Halloween parade in New York City, upending the lives of the The Pink Parrot’s performers. Good thing the nightclub has a guardian private investor in Kathleen Stone. The emotionally damaged PI, along with her drag queen friends Dolly and Big Momma, tracks down the perpetrators of the crime while trying to stay on the good sides of her two police officer love interests. The Red Chameleon set the tone of Stone’s world, but The Granite Moth digs deeper into her character and why she’s hell bent on bringing mob boss Salvatore Magrelli to justice. As with all good noir, the plot matters much less than what’s going on in Stone’s head and how her job interferes with every relationship she has in her life. There’s plenty of Wright’s trademark wit and sharp dialogue in this sequel, but the book is at its best when exploring Stone’s dark inner demons. The book comes out Nov. 16, so plan your late fall reading accordingly.   

Oh, and if you’re thinking that Tate Cowlishaw and Kathleen Stone would make the perfect crime-fighting duo, you’re not alone. I’ve already told Wright and Hill that if there isn’t a crossover at some point in the future, I will no longer speak to either of them.

Swag by Elmore Leonard

Every time I finish an Elmore Leonard tale I think, “That’s my favorite Elmore Leonard novel.” It happened with Pronto, Rum Punch, and Riding the Rap. I read Out of Sight at the end of September and thought no other Leonard could possibly surpass it. Well, shit, Swag did and it just might be the best crime fiction novel ever written. Car thief Ernest “Stick” Stickley Jr. and oily car salesman Frank Ryan start a lucrative armed robbery trade and hilarity ensues. The sweet spot of the novel comes in the middle when the guys are enjoying a massive party at their hotel that eventually comes back to haunt them. Their characters are revealed in stark black and white and both begin to accept the fate they are headed for. There are twists and turns as the novel reaches its climax, but you feel like you already know how these two idiot criminals end up. The dialogue is pitch perfect (including the novel’s brilliant final line), and the 1970s Detroit setting casts a gray urban pale to the thievery and debauchery. This novel is screaming out to be made into a three-act play and I’d pay top dollar to see it. I’m sure I’ll love the next Elmore Leonard yarn just as much, but for now Swag is at the top of my list.

The Captive Condition by Kevin Keating

During a recent podcast with Sean Tuohy, I stupidly said Kevin Keating’s The Captive Condition wasn’t capturing my attention like I thought it would. Like a dopey, over-critical writer, I whined that the novel showcased some of the grating traits inherent to novels written by an academic. Well, throw all that criticism out the window because he expertly ties everything together in the second half. Every character receives a fate that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. The haunted town of Normandy Falls, where Edmund Campion chooses to earn his degree, is right below the Hellmouth in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on the list of places I’d never want to visit. At least other horror tales feature a monster or zombie the main character can slaughter. The Captive Condition contains a deeper, primordial evil that isn’t easy to shake, even after you finish the novel. I recommend finding out for certain that noise you hear outside isn’t someone pounding the final nail into your doorframe, trapping you inside with Keating’s demons forever.

Listen to our podcast interview with Kevin Keating after he scares the bejesus out of you:

5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: April 2015

By Daniel Ford

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.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter

I haven’t learned so much while reading a fictional novel in quite some time. I, sadly, don’t know much about India in general, and even less about its history, which is one of the reasons M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine was such an enjoyable and educational experience. Set in 1837, the novel follows William Avery, a young soldier with the East India Company, and Jeremiah Blake, a disillusioned, bitter former officer, as they track down a missing writer. During their investigation, the pair runs into both historical and fictional characters that showcase the clash of cultures between England and India during this time period. The Thuggee cult also plays a mysterious role that will keep readers guessing until the end. Tiger fights, caravans on dusty roads, ladies of high society, and plenty of swashbuckling make The Strangler Vine the perfect blend of history and fun.  

What I love the most about this novel is that the relationship between Avery and Blake evolves from mutual suspicion and disgust into begrudging respect. However, the change doesn’t feel forced or unnatural. They don’t become two different people at the end, but their worldview has changed just enough to support a potential partnership.  Carter told me during our interview that there was a bit of her in Avery—“keen, clueless, blurting things about before thinking about them”—and that his voice was easier to write than Blake’s. I fully anticipate Carter will have no trouble finding either voice in future novels and I very much look forward to what trouble the pair gets into next in the sequel The Infidel Stain (to be released in Spring 2016).

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

While I was reading Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek, I took to Twitter in order to decide if I should be drunk or really drunk during the experience. Henderson set me straight.

Fourth of July Creek reminded me a lot of certain scenes during “American Hustle.” Whenever Henderson shed a light on social worker Pete Snow’s personal life, the prose swayed a little looser, drunker, and, occasionally, more violent. Here was a guy that makes a living helping families in rural Montana in the 1980s, but can’t maintain his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter (who eventually runs away, adding even more depth to one of the central themes of the novel: freedom). Between trying to gain the trust of a young boy and his disturbed father Jeremiah Pearl, Snow falls for a damaged woman who lies to him about sleeping with multiple men, gets his ass kicked on more than one occasion, and crosses the FBI agent who takes an interest in Pearl’s case because of the old man’s ranting and preparations for the end of times. Henderson employs an innovative structure, shifting perspectives from Snow to his missing daughter by interjecting a social worker-type interview with the young, impressionable teenager. Every character, including secondary characters such as Ten Mile’s judge, Snow’s brother, and assorted Montana town folk, are fully formed and invigorate this mediation on American ideals. Many of the reviews of the novel talk about the confidence in which Henderson writes, and they couldn’t be more right. There’s a controlled bravado that singes each page and keeps you turning pages long after you should have gone to bed.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, the lines that forced me to pour some bourbon into a heavy glass were:

“Think of getting old. Think of being only thirty-one yourself and having gotten so much already dead fucking wrong.”

Damn you, Smith Henderson (just kidding, but, seriously)!  

One More Thing: Stores and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

I shouldn’t have been surprised that B.J. Novak, best known for his work on the U.S. version of “The Office,” would produce such deft, subtle, and hilarious short stories that are found in his One More Thing: Stores and Other Stories. I expected the sharp humor and spot-on observations about everyday life, but what I didn’t anticipate was the amount of heart and outright skill featured in each story. I picked up this collection in Dave Pezza’s writing cave in Rhode Island during our Bob Dylan concert weekend, and read the first story about the hare taking revenge on the slow, addled turtle that famously beat him years before. I resolved to purchase my own copy after reading the line: “slow and steady wins the race, till truth and talent claim their place.” Um, hell yes!

One of my favorite stories, “No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg,” is such a funny and insightful mediation on death that I wasn’t prepared for the absolutely laugh-out-loud final scene. I was lost in my own thoughts about dying, and then the main character’s Nana *spoiler alert* admits she’d rather blow Frank Sinatra than spend time with her beloved grandson. That’s…good stuff. Other stories include the guy who returned a sex doll who falls in love with him, how to land a date through Missed Connections, and the reason why carrot cake has the best frosting. I don’t want to damn this book by saying it’s a great beach read, but I can’t imagine a better place to laugh in public without people thinking you’re crazy (everyone on a public beach is crazier than you are). I’m sure Novak has other projects on his docket, including perhaps another well-reviewed children’s book, but I’d love to see how he’d handle a complete novel.

The Red Chameleon by Erica Wright

Erica Wright’s debut crime novel is making the rounds at Writer’s Bone and earning rave reviews. Wright’s brassy private investigator Kathleen Stone's identities are as hard to keep up with as her multiple boyfriends (complete badasses in their own rights). Stone blends into the background, but not perfectly, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed the novel so much. She may have been a great police officer and even better undercover agent, but Stone is still finding her way in her new profession. She gets made often by her male counterparts, her secretary, and her drag queen friend. The plot moves at a quick pace, like many good crime novels, but Wright takes enough time to flesh out Stone’s personality, habits, and demons. Wright’s prose is also crackling with dark humor and sarcasm that matches its New York City setting. During our interview, Wright mentioned that she was like a “fainting goat” when it came to all the positive reviews the novel has garnered since its publication. I’d advise her to get used to it, because it sounds like Kathleen Stone is a heroine readers are going to demand stick around as long as she can find a decent wig.

Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade

You may have noticed from this list that I went on a run of crime/historical/brassy/masculine books in April. Reading Kirstin Valdez Quade’s Night at the Fiestas to finish up the month has proved to be the perfect tonic to realign my fiction priorities. Set mainly in New Mexico and the Southwest, Quade’s collection of short stories prove that she is more than worthy of being selected as a 5 under 35 honoree by the National Book Foundation. Without revealing too much of my interview with Quade (which will go live sometime in May), I can tell you that the author sought to write about “family and the little betrayals that can occur between parents and children, brothers and sisters.” That’s what gives the collection its power, themes that readers of all cultures can identify with. Readers will put themselves in a teenage girl’s shoes when she finds a sack of money on a bus driven by her father in “Night at the Fiestas,” feel the internal rage a young man has for his degenerate father in “The Guesthouse,” or the desperation and fear that surround a mother living in a trailer in “Mojave Rats.” The New York Times Book Review threw around words like “legitimate masterpiece,” “haunting,” and “beautiful” in its review, and those adjectives couldn’t be more apt (the reviewer also admitting to weeping several times while reading the novel). Much like Novak’s short stories, Quade’s tales will stick with you long after you finally put the book down on your nightstand deep into the night.  

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