Jeff Shaara

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: December 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.

Smothered by M.C. Hall

Daniel Ford: Megan Cassidy delivers an innovative breath of fresh air into the crime fiction/mystery genre with Smothered. Rather than follow a dogged detective or sinister villain, the novel tells the story of a murdered young actress through an online tabloid, court transcripts, police recordings, and an unruly comments section. As more revelations come out, readers will not only question the characters' motivations, but also reconsider their own beliefs about celebrity, crime, familial bonds, race, and the fallibility of institutions we trust. Smothered is a winning narrative sure to put Cassidy’s name on the literary map.

The Demon Crown by James Rollins

Sean Tuohy: They're back! Sigma Force returns in The Demon Crown, the latest entry in James Rollins’ much loved and long-running series. As always, Rollins masterfully spins together cutting-edge science and forgotten history to create a breathtaking adventure. Alexander Graham Bell even makes a special appearance! Listen to my recent interview with the author to find out more about what inspired the latest Sigma adventure.

Daniel: This poetry collection is a furnace. Every word feels like it’s on fire. Essential writing of the highest order. I’ll be re-reading this for months.

The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves by James Han Mattson

Daniel: I read this book months and months ago and I’m still haunted by it. Told from various perspectives, as well as online chats and emails, The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves explores the aftermath of the title character taking the life of a classmate. All the characters in this novel are tragically broken, but not totally devoid of hope. The result is a narrative that deftly examines not only the motivations behind violent crime, but also how one community struggles to both learn and recover.

America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins

Daniel: Needless to say, without any of the women that Gail Collins’ profiles in this book, America would have been as obsolete as a powdered wig. 2017 has seen its share of heroines, and America's Women serves as a pressing reminder of those ladies who have passionately, rebelliously, and stoically shouted down the patriarchal society hell bent on shutting them up. Our staff features some of the smartest and fiercest women you’ll ever met, and I’m grateful every day that their words grace our website. We stand with them, and their badass predecessors, today, tomorrow, and forever.

King Of Spies by Blaine Harden

Sean: Author Blaine Harden dove into murky waters to discover the truth about one of America's most talented and disturbed intelligent officers during the Korean War. Donald Nichols had a seventh-grade education and grew up in the backwaters of Hollywood, Fla. (my hometown), before he joined the Air Force where he honed his hidden talent for gathering intelligence. Nichols quickly developed a giant spy network that helped turn the Korean War in favor of the United States. Working from a hidden base, Nicolas created an empire built on secrets. Harden uses Nichols' bloody rise to the top to explore the conflict and the lasting effect it had on the country.

What We Build Upon the Ruins by Giano Cromley

Daniel: This is a short story collection that I wish I had written. Cromley told me during our recent podcast chat that he had a desire to tell stories from a young age. It shows on every page in What We Build Upon the Ruins. I loved every word of this collection.

Chasing Portraits by Elizabeth Rynecki

Daniel: Chasing Portraits is a personal and visceral read that you won’t soon forget. The book chronicles Elizabeth Rynecki’s emotional quest to find her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather’s paintings that were lost during World War II. His artwork serves as a beautiful and sorrowful time capsule for Jewish communities that were essentially wiped out by the Nazis. How Rynecki was able to harness her emotions and get something coherent and readable on the page, I’ll never know. I very much look forward to seeing the documentary she’s working on! (Tissues will be required.)

The Frozen Hours by Jeff Shaara

Daniel: All of Jeff Shaara’s work brings past conflicts to life in an extremely well-written and poignant way, and The Frozen Hours is no exception. But this book had an added level of passion and intimacy based on Shaara’s experience talking to Korean War vets. It’s a group of Americans that has been clamoring for more people to tell their stories, and Shaara more than succeeds in telling it well. The cold of the war seeps into your bones early, and is only warmed by the valiant (and very human) courage of the author’s expertly crafted characters on both sides of the conflict. Shaara explains more about what went into writing The Frozen Hours during our podcast discussion below.

Double Feature by Owen King

Sean: Owen King creates an exquisite and witty family story in his debut novel. Sam, the son of a famed B-grade actor, is dealing with the aftermath of making his first film. Hiding out with his over-the-top father in a house in upstate New York, Sam must come to terms about their strained relationship. King’s characters feel like they are people who populate your own life. Double Feature smacks of reality and is brimming with humor.

Colorado Boulevard by Phoef Sutton

Daniel: Phoef Sutton’s main character Crush is entertaining and luckless as always, but his supporting cast really steals the show in this novel. You won't find more hapless and bumbling villains outside an Elmore Leonard novel. I loved the portrait of Los Angeles that Sutton explores throughout the book. His gift for dialogue and storytelling are on full display here, and readers will gluttonously devour pages deep into the night.

Daniel: Reconstruction and the Gilded Age are tough sells for even the most dedicated history geeks, but Richard White makes these eras come alive in his recently published narrative. Part of Oxford University Press’ stellar American history series, The Republic for Which It Stands also offers plenty of parallels to our own troubled political times. White wouldn’t completely recommend buying into signs for hope during a recent podcast chat, but his book certainly shows we’ve survived Gilded Age thinking before and likely will again.

A must if your love noir. Because of the black main character and the big city historical setting, it’s easy to immediately draw comparisons to Walter Mosley’s iconic Easy Rawlins. But Gardner’s Elliott Caprice is very much his own character—a mixed-race former cop forced to return to his Chicago hometown to battle both the police and organized crime toughs. What’s more is that Gardner’s depiction of race relations and corruption still feel especially relevant today. I’m excited for the next book in the series.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

A must if you love PI novels. Full disclosure, Kristen was my mentee in a contest called Pitch Wars in 2015 so I’ve loved this book for a while now. I knew when I read that final draft of what would become The Last Place You Look that it was the best mystery I’d read in years. The story centers on a bit-of-a-mess bisexual private investigator named Roxane Weary, who looks into a cold case involving a black teen convicted of killing his white girlfriend’s parents the same night the girlfriend goes missing. His sister hires Roxane when she swears she sees the missing woman at a gas station years after the crime. With Sue Grafton wrapping her Kinsey Millhone series, Roxane Weary is more than able to fill that void.

The Plot is Murder by VM Burns

A must if you love cozy mysteries. This debut features all the things I love about the lightweight amateur detective genre—small town setting, interesting cast of characters, lots of mouth-watering food, and an MC with a cool trade—while also featuring something unique to the genre: a book within a book. Samantha Washington is a widow finally following her dreams of opening a mystery bookstore while also writing a historical British mystery of her own. We get to read Samantha’s work in progress so we’re trying to solve two who-dun-its. And it’s a testament to the author that both are really well-written and engaging.

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

A must if you love domestic thrillers. This debut is part thriller, part family drama—all ripped from the headlines. Over a decade ago, Josie Burhman’s father was murdered and her neighbor was convicted of the crime. Case closed? Not quite. The murder gets new attention thanks to a melodramatic podcast that grips the country.  After running from her past for a decade, Josie’s finally forced to confront it—and her estranged twin sister—head on when she returns home after another family tragedy. When we're giddily listening to podcasts, flipping through the pages of magazines, and tweeting our thoughts on the lives of complete strangers like we know them, we never consider how it all must affect the victim's family. This book will have you thinking twice before you listen/watch to the next episode of your favorite true-crime podcast or show.

Listen to our live podcast interview with Kellye Garrett:


In the Season 1 finale of #NovelClass, Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford discuss Chiara Barzini's Things That Happened Before the Earthquake.

6 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: May 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.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Daniel Ford: Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen is set in 1990s Nigeria and tells the heart-wrenching and bloody tale of four brothers whose lives are changed on the banks of a haunted river. Benjamin, the story’s 9-year-old narrator, attempts to makes sense of the changing world around him as his family is torn apart by a madman’s prophecy. The Fishermen begins so lightheartedly—the reader is led to believe that this is another coming-of-age story set in a foreign location—that later events crush you even more. It’s a book that should inspire you to craft your own great art. The best authors light a fire under you, and I can assure you, Obioma will be lighting fires for years to come.        

Also, if you don’t stand up and cheer when the boys’ father delivers a rousing speech encouraging them to be “fishermen” that “will dip their hands in rivers, seas, and oceans of this life and become successful: doctors, pilots, professors, lawyers” then I don’t want to know you.

Wetlands by Charlotte Roche


Robert Hilferty: Wetlands has an honesty and humor that reminds me a lot of Charles Bukowski but without the more problematic shit attached to it. It's full of raw emotion and reckless abandon that reminds me of the poor decisions I made growing up.

Done in One by Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas


DF: Any story that involves a S.W.A.T. sniper is going to have a thrilling plot, however, not all of them are going to have the big ole thumping heart beating on every page of Done in One (the novel was inspired by Jan Thomas’ real-life experiences). We first meet Jake Denton (“Fuckin’Denton”) on the hunt with his father. The lessons he learns are put to the test throughout the book, particularly when it comes to his equally badass wife Jill, a former medic (and aspiring author!) who is her husband’s first-response support team. But Jill isn’t some weepy female caricature. She’s whip smart, tough, demanding, compassionate, and honest. Jill has her tender moments for sure, but she proves over and over again that she’s very much Jake’s equal. Done in One is actually one of those novels that’s a character study wrapped in a thriller, which makes it so much more than a good beach read. Important questions are raised and dealt with and the authors humanize and reveal fresh insights into a world that is currently grossly misunderstood in today’s culture.

The Fateful Lightning by Jeff Shaara

DF: I recently read James Swanson’s excellent Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse, so I was primed for another good Civil War read. Author Jeff Shaara  (who I interviewed last June and will be speaking to again next week) didn’t disappoint with The Fateful Lightning, the final book in his series about the Civil War’s western front. The novel begins in November 1864 following William Tecumseh Sherman’s victory in Atlanta and covers the red-headed, cigar-smoking General’s famed “March to the Sea.” Shaara tells the tale from multiple perspectives on both sides of the conflict, humanizing these legendary figures with such skill that I’m convinced the author was close friends with them in another life. The Fateful Lightning is available for sale June 2, 2015 and would make the perfect Father's Day gift.

My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd

Alex Tzelnic: In February 2015, The New Yorker published an article on the tragic death of Eric Harrouna U.S. Army veteran turned mercenary and informant. The piece mentioned the 1999 book My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd. "That is a hell of a title," I thought. I largely forgot about the book until April, when I was perusing the shelves of a friend and came across a weathered and torn copy. "That is one of my favorite books," he told me. "Borrow it. Read it. Pass it around." Sometimes the literary gods drop subtle hints, and sometimes they drop a book in your lap and give you clear instructions. I read it.

My War Gone By, I Miss It So is a visceral and gruesome travelogue. Travelogue might be a confusing categorizationit is technically war journalism, as the book covers the conflicts in Bosnia and Chechnya during the 1990s. But war books are full of reportage, and though they ask why, it is usually a practical why: why did this conflict begin, what happened, and what does it mean? Loyd's why is more existential. As in a travelogue, he considers the question Kerouac wrote in his journals before flinging himself on the journey that became On the Road: "The night before travel is like the night before death. Why must I always travel from here to there, as it mattered where one is?"

Indeed, many of Loyd's nights are the night before death (though not his own), and the answer is complicated; his military heritage, his strained relationship with his father, and his addiction to heroin all play a part in his attraction to war. In taking this more personal tack, Loyd not only provides a compelling narrative about the horrors that unfolded in these wars, but examines why it is that people seek out darkness and brutality, and what can be learned from plumbing the depths.

Lloyd's lessons aren't easythey are haunting, conveyed with prose that is savage and scintillating. And his book doesn't just stay with you, it tears a hole and climbs in. Borrow it. Read it. Pass it around. But don't say I didn't warn you.

The Right Hand by Derek Haas

Sean Tuohy: The Right Hand is slim, but it packs a punch! It’s a spy thriller that doesn’t slow down until the last page. The novel features Austin Clay, the CIA’s secret weapon, as he tries to locate a missing deep cover agent in Russia. Author and screenwriter Derek Haas shoves in as much action as he can in between twist and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat. My biggest compliment is that in contrast to the current literary world’s overabundance of dark and brooding characters and edgy storylines, this book is fun, enjoyable, and hard to put down.


5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: August 2014

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew will review or preview books they’ve read or want to read. This new 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.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Daniel Ford: I’ll admit I’m a little late to the party on this book. But I’m swiftly making up for lost time. During my recent trip to New York City, multiple people demanded I read this novel. I made my way to Strand Book Store, bought a cheap copy, and have been devouring it ever since.

John Kennedy Toole won a posthumous Pulitzer for the book after his mother found a publisher for it years after he committed suicide. It’s been said on numerous reviews I’ve read that Toole had more great work in him, which I completely agree with. His dialogue and comedic timing are so good that you won’t want to put this book down.

The best part is that Nick Offerman is reportedly going to play the role of Ignatius J. Reilly in a stage production of the book. I don’t know if he has the obesity to pull it off, but I’m pretty sure he will nail Reilly’s bursts of outrage.

Sean Tuohy: I like history. I like fiction. However, I didn’t like the two mixed together until now. I heard Daniel’s podcast interview with Jeff Shaara and then I was given the novel. I fell in love after the first three pages. Shaara painted a vivid portrait of the early years of the Civil War and gave me a better understanding of the men who fought it. The novel also reminded me of how young our nation was at the time and how close we came to losing it all. It’s a wonderful tale that you will be reading deep into the night.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Daniel: I was a huge fan of Joshua Ferris’ debut novel, And Then We Came to the End, because his writing style was a refreshing change of pace and perfectly blended humor and drama. I read it in a few days and recommended it to everyone I knew.

I didn’t know about his second novel, The Unnamed, until I found a used paperback copy at Raven Used Books in Boston. It’s an expertly crafted tale about a man struggling with a rare disease that forces him to keep walking. His relationship with his wife and daughter falls apart and gets put back together several times during the novel and your heart aches the entire time you’re reading it. The book isn’t devoid of hope, which is why you’ll be glad you powered through the book in a couple days. However long it takes you to read, it’ll stay with you for quite some time and for good reason.

I would read this over his recent work,To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. While I enjoyed spending time reading his style, I wasn’t particularly in love with the story or the main character. Ferris will be hard-pressed to top The Unnamed or And Then We Came to the End, but I’m eager to see him try.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Dave Pezza: Alrighty, this is a quick review for the aforementioned book because Daniel won’t let me borrow any more seasons of the television series “Community” until this review is in his hands. So here we go.

Stephan King is, in short, awesome. Sean and Daniel spent an entire podcast talking about him. He is the master of the macabre and thane of thrills. Let’s put it this way, King is a machine. And this particular machine manufactures creative masterpieces of suspense and weird like no other! King has published GunsJoylandGhost Brothers of Darkland CountryDoctor Sleep (the long awaited sequel to The Shining), and Mr. Mercedes in the last two years alone. Admittedly, I haven’t read much King. I've previously read the first 200 pages or so of The Stand and The Cycle of the Werewolf (a really cool illustrated collection of short stories following werewolf attacks in a snowy New England town). So I approached Mr. Mercedes from a mostly King-ignorant perspective.

Having said that, I highly recommend this book. King does everything right to convert his down-to-earth, blunt, blue-collar style to the detective novel format. His lead detective, retired detective Bill Hodges, is a quintessential King workaholic with a haunted past. He’s supported by the young and black Jerome, who is Ivy League bound and perpetually explaining technology to Hodges, and the curt, but charming and promiscuous Janey, Hodges love interest and overall doll! The gang teams up to stop Brady—a troubled man with mommy issues who floored a V-12 Mercedes into a crowded parking lot and walked away scot-free—from committing a new act of mass destruction.

I flew through this thriller and now I’m hungry for more King quirks, creepiness, and crudities wrapped up in literary stylings of legend.

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by David Eggers

Dave: Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is Eggers’ second publication since A Hologram for the King, his 2012 novel named as a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. I’m a fan of Eggers. I read What is the What, his novelization of the story of one of Lost Boys of Sudan, in college. I wasn’t’ particularly taken, but after reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a few years later, I began to admire Eggers’ frank, but hopeful, style of writing. A Heartbreaking Work…, Eggers’ memoir about the death of both of his parents and his raising of his younger brother, is astonishingly bleak and soul regenerating. Your Fathers…is not nearly as cut and dry. Eggers’ latest work got a scathing review in the New York Times Book Review. I felt unfairly so. However, when you publish a book composed entirely in dialogue through your own publishing company, you really don’t have to give a shit about critics. Eggers managed to complete this new work entirely in dialogue between the main character and several of his captives. Thomas, Eggers’ 30-something main character, kidnaps a series of people and chains them up in an abandoned military base in California to converse with them. Thomas believes that he can find the answers to his qualms about the current American culture by talking to these men and women, who include an astronaut, a congressman, and a police officer. The ensuing conversations compose the bulk of the 212-page novel.

These conversations, unfortunately, vary in relevancy and success. Some I found confusing, vague, and trite. Others were gripping, enlightening, and honest glimpses of social progressive dialogue. Overall, I suggest giving it an honest read. Eggers makes an attempt here, with some success, to remind us of how and how not to discuss social issues. We avoid many of the issues Eggers brings about in Your Fathers…, and short of being chloroformed, chained, and threatened with electrocution, many of us would be unwilling to earnestly discuss the issues Thomas poses to his captives.

Your Fathers…is a cry for help. You can hear him yell through the pages, “Get off Facebook, Twitter, and whatever and have a real, honest conversation with someone about real issues, especially with those that disagree with you.” Is the defunding of the space shuttle really low point in our nation’s grandeur? Is police brutality and hyper-aggressiveness a national concern?

Eggers may not have the right answers here, but at least he is asking, and, thankfully, he is doing it in format where clicking “like” isn’t a legitimate response.