There's something ominous circling the three characters in David Shafer's debut novel, but quite frankly, I haven't been giving it much attention. I've been far too caught up in Shafer's unrelenting humor—which is wicked and dark, just how I like it—and his spotless characterization. That being said, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also fulfills all the requirements of an outstanding technothriller, with pulsing strains of paranoia and those all-seeing technological powers-that-be.
The story centers around 30-somethings Leila, Leo and Mark. Leo and Mark were friends at Harvard, but Leo is now a bit of a loser, while Mark is a phony self-help guide who works for the Committee, a data collection agency that seeks to privatize all information. Leila is a disillusioned nonprofit worker on the other side of the world. The only thing keeping the Committee from its goal is a secret underground Internet called Dear Diary. With jabs at every political angle, a love story and plenty of cool tech, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pageturner of the highest order.
Read on for an excerpt from Leo's first scene:
There was no one even near Leo when he flew from his bike. His mind cast about for a culprit, for someone to blame other than himself. The bike just ceased its forward motion and he did not. How surprising, how nifty physics was. And as he trebucheted toward a four-inch curb, aware at once that his meeting with it would be physically calamitous, he remembered that he was wearing no helmet, and his surprised turned to fear. A month ago, at a party to which his friend Louis had brought him, Leo had heard (well, overheard) the host claiming that he wasn't afraid of death. That particular claim seemed to Leo to be demonstrably false. So, costumed as Jesus (for this was a Halloween party), Leo had decided to explore the man's reasoning. Not afraid of death, huh? My, that must make you a real psychopath. But he had seen almost immediately that he should not have told the man that he was like a Holocaust denier. "I said like a Holocaust denier. Like," he protested lamely when Louis escorted him out of the party and told him to enjoy the bracing walk home dressed as Jesus.
No, thought Leo, as he landed his right hand, fingertips first, on the cold nubbly of the curb, I am definitely more than a body, but I believe I am less than a soul.
Then, with a fluid agility that hadn't been his in years, Leo tucked his head and vertical body behind the leading edge of his rounded arm. Some latent muscle memory from five months of jujitsu at the McBurney YMA on West Sixty-Third Street from when he was ten? Leo seemed to recall that this YMCA had in fact served the adventurous class of men described in the song. Now, he felt a point beneath his stomach become the axis of his spinning mass, and he knew to use that dragony breath to take the hit when, after about 120 degrees, his trunk met the sidewalk, hard. Next was his hip and ass, which rolled over not just the concrete but also a busted padlock on the scene by chance. Then came his knees and feet, with a thwack. That was followed by his trailing left arm, which lay down gently, and his gloved palm, which landed and sprang back, the way a conguero lands a hand on the taut hide of his drum.
Leo stood up. He was fine. Just fine. Right as rain.
Leo stood up again, this time more carefully. Okay, maybe fine was an overstatement. But ambulatory and intact. A bit exhilarated, actually.
His bike lay twisted in the street behind him, its front tire still clamped in the groove of the new light-rail system tracks they were laying all over town. Only now did he notice the yellow-and-black warming signs that would have made him aware of the hazard his bike had to cross. The graphics depicted pretty much what had just happened: a bicycle with its front wheel caught in the maw of the track, the blockish pictogram rider hurtling over the handlebars. An honest piece of graphic art; a tiny, two-line picture poem, thought Leo, and he started to upbraid himself for his carelessness and lack of attention.
But wait. On one corner—the direction from which he'd come—the warning sign was there, but it was swathed in black plastic, taped up tight.
The thought came like a revelation: This was no accident. They obscured that sign because they want me eliminated.
Some part of him said, No, don't be ridiculous. But then why was only one sign shrouded?
What are you reading today?
Publishers are always on the lookout for the next big thing, which means plenty of choice for fans of new voices. After highlighting four outstanding August debuts in our print issue, it's time to take a look back at the year as a whole. Here are our 12 most notable first novels of the year (so far!).
About the book: A young widow who's always lived in the shadow of her famous husband must take a new tack on life after his unexpected and sudden death. This story of self-discovery is fun, relatable and poignant.
About the author: Radziwill is a star on "The Real Housewives of New York," who honed her writing chops with a best-selling memoir, What Remains, which explores her own widowhood.
Read more: Check out the review from our February issue.
About the book: A family of four leaves their home in Alabama to reach the California coast by the time the Rapture arrives. Teenaged Jess and her older sister, Elise, have plenty of earthly problems to deal with along the way—and they're not as sure as their parents that the end is near.
About the author: Miller, who grew up in Mississippi, is currently the John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She published a short story collection, Big World, in 2009.
About the book: Told in the voices of five very different childhood friends, Butler's debut is a paean to small-town Midwestern life and an exploration of how friendships can change over time. Bonus: One of the characters just might be kinda-sorta based on a famous Wisconsin musician who went to high school with Butler.
About the author: A Wisconsin native, Butler attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop and lived in the Twin Cities before moving back home to Fall Creek with his wife, an attorney, and their two children.
Read more: Check out the interview from our March issue.
About the book: Set in a small town in the Ozarks, McHugh's debut follows a young girl whose friend's disappearance stirs up questions—and secrets—relating to her own missing mother.
About the author: McHugh drew inspiration from her own experience of moving with her family to the Ozarks as a teen—where she first discovered that small-town life didn't necessarily mean an idyllic life—as well as from the real-life disappearance of a Missouri teen.
About the book: The story begins four years after then-11-year-old Justin Campbell was kidnapped—on the day that his father, Eric, receives a phone call saying Justin is coming home. Though they're overjoyed, the Campbells soon discover that putting their family back together might be just as painful as having it ripped apart.
About the author: Johnston is the current Director of Creative Writing at Harvard, and he was one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" in 2005.
Read more: Check out the review from our May issue.
About the book: Maud is worried about her best friend, Elizabeth, whom she hasn't seen in what feels like ages. But her daughter, and Elizabeth's son, blame Maud's worry on her increasing dementia. It soon becomes clear to the reader that Elizabeth's disappearance is bringing long-buried memories to the surface of Maud's now-cloudy mind, and the reader is completely involved in this double mystery.
About the author: Healey not only writes books—she knows how to bind them, having completed a book-binding degree in London before getting her MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia.
Read more: Check out the review from our June issue.
About the book: A forgotten American life takes center stage in this compelling debut, which tells the story of Laura Bridgman, a deaf, blind and mute woman who was born in the early 1800s. She was the first person to learn to communicate by finger-spell, a language that was later taught to Helen Keller.
About the author: Elkins is a screenwriter, playwright and essayist who has lived in cities around the globe. She has degrees from Duke, Boston University and Florida State.
About the book: This homage to all things Gothic is the rare book that both feels completely grounded in its period setting and completely relevant to our modern times—and puts a creative twist on the somewhat tired vampire trend.
About the author: British author Owen is currently completing her doctorate in English Literature at Durham University.
About the book: After the apocalypse, a young couple finds all the society they need in each other—until Frida realizes she's pregnant. Their search for civilization leads them to a mysterious settlement that may or may not provide the sanctuary they seek.
About the author: A graduate of Oberlin and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Lepucki has worked as a staff writer for The Millions.
Read more: Check out the review from our July issue.
About the book: Decades of colorful Caribbean history come to life in this engaging first novel, which follows the fortunes of one family after their arrival in the Virgin Islands and includes a touch of magic.
About the author: Yanique is a native of the Virgin Islands and now lives with her family in Brooklyn. She has received a Fulbright scholarship for her writing.
About the book: Research scientist David Leveraux starts to wonder whether the artificial sweetener he's created in his lab—and unleashed on the world—has a dark side.
About the author: Born in Germany to a Norwegian mother and Texan father, Clark has lived in five states and five countries. He is the author of a short story collection, Vladimir's Mustache, and currently teaches writing at Augsburg College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Read more: Check out the review from our August issue.
About the book: Alma thinks she has left her small-town past behind her, but when her troubled younger sister is found dead on the side of the road, she is pulled back to Montana to discover the truth—and care for her orphaned young niece.
About the author: Like her main character, La Seur is a lawyer who left her home state of Montana to practice in the big city.
Agree? Disagree? let us know in the comments!
Related in BookPage: Check out our 2013 list of noteworthy debuts.
Fantasy fans, rejoice: There's a new series in town. Bay Area writer Erika Johansen has made an amibtious debut with Queen of the Tearling, the first in a planned series starring a young princess, Kelsea Glynn, who is attempting to regain her rightful throne from a pretender who wants her dead. Our reviewer writes:
In addition to the host of immediate threats, Johansen sets up a few mysteries that will be resolved over the course of her planned series. Most are common fantasy tropes—who is Kelsea’s father? What exactly is the story of the evil queen?—but Johansen’s world also contains a bigger mystery of setting: When and where, exactly, is the present action taking place? While it feels relatively medieval, there are numerous references to a Crossing, and everything Pre-Crossing sounds like the real world (our world). This suggests the kingdoms of Tear and Mortmesne may have more of a science fiction/post-apocalyptic tinge than is immediately apparent.
Mary Kubica's startling debut thriller, The Good Girl, has been enjoying plenty of buzz and anticipation ahead of today's release.
Our reviewer has high praise for this "psychological puzzle that will keep readers on their toes" complete with an "especially satisfying" end reveal.
Mia Dennett, a 24-year-old art teacher, comes from a well-groomed family and seems poised to continue climbing Chicago's social ladder—until the day she vanishes without a trace.
Told from alternating points of view and timelines, this mystery is sure to keep you confounded until Kubica finally puts the pieces in order.
Watch the trailer below, but don't say we didn't warn you about the creep-out factor:
What do you think, readers? Interested in reading more? Check out our Q&A with Kubica for The Good Girl.
Celebrated author Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion today, when the final book in the series, The Book of Life, is released in bookstores.
Following a witch named Diana Bishop and her vampire husband, Matthew De Clairmont, and their hunt for an enchanted manuscript whose secrets contain the secrets to the survival of their species, the series has enchanted readers the world over and won Harkness millions of fans. Recently Harkness sat down with BookPage to talk about the release of The Book of Life; we wound up with more material than we could fit in our print interview, but these tidbits were too good to keep to ourselves!
On the appeal of alpha males: “I think there is a level at which [alpha males are] a fantasy that is just about being able to imagine, within the safe parameters of a fictional world and fictional relationship, that you could absolutely give up all control. I think what it really stems from is that so many of us are so very busy and pushed and pulled in so many directions. We're asked to make so many decisions and choices in a day, from what size your coffee is all the way up to putting food on the table and getting your kids to soccer practice in between your job and cooking dinner for six people. So there's this kind of sense that it would be nice if someone just walked in and said, ‘Put down your purse, no questions, we're going to dinner.’ You don't have to discuss it, you don't have to think, it would just be done. I think it's a fantasy, weirdly, of a deep breath.”
On challenging traditional gender assignment for witches and vampires: “I never considered flipping the standard gender assignment of male vampire and female witch because with the character of Diana, I was committed to the idea of a female witch in large part because one of the things I wanted to really explore was there is this general sense that it would be great to be a witch and I've always thought, ‘Really?! You would be unequivocally happy to have strange supernatural powers?’ I don't really think having bizarre supernatural powers would necessarily be a ‘thumbs up’ experience. So, once I had Diana and she was a witch and she was a female then Matthew had to be a vampire.
I do think, though, that Stephen Proctor, Diana's father, has been much more of a presence than Rebecca, because I did want to have a male witch. In much the same way, I wanted to show a female vampire in Isabel and Miriam as two of the other creatures in this world.”
On the importance of publishing her works under her own name: “[As a historian], I study a period where we say Anonymous was a woman and I think that's a double-edged sword, to protect yourself under a pseudonym. The number of cases of academics publishing popular novels rather than scholarly works is small, and most people who do publish fiction publish it pseudonymously. . . . One of the things that I think has been great is that I have seen an increasing number of academics writing under their own names.”
On her favorite book in the All Souls trilogy: “Shadow of Night, because it was on my home turf. It was the world that I knew very well and had the great pleasure and joy to show to other people. It was so much fun to go through all of my research outtakes and know I could use them.
It is really hard to choose among them, because I'm fond of each one for very different reasons. In some ways, nothing will match the sheer pleasure and joy of writing A Discovery of Witches, or the fun of writing Shadow of Night, or the satisfaction of bringing the whole thing into port with The Book of Life.”
On her favorite characters: “I am particularly attached to Philippe. He is my favorite character, because Matthew—for all his growling and moodiness—it’s Philippe who is just basically is master and commander of everything. I find him fascinating because he is this character who watches and waits and maneuvers people around. He's very ruthless but very genial and he's kind of got the alpha male thing down to a science, so much so that you don't really notice that he's running the world and everyone in it. He's sort of the un-Matthew and that was very interesting to me to be able to explore that.
However, the character who is the most fun to write is Gallowglass. No question!”
On the greatest unexpected reward to arise from writing these books: “One of the things that I hear a lot and is such an enormous privilege is when people say to me that they read history now or go to museums now or have even started rowing or they want to go back to school to get their BA or MA. People whose love of learning has been piqued, now they're starting to travel when they never did before. To somehow be able to have people read these books and to get all of these things out of them is kind of unimaginable and is the gift that keeps on giving.
It's not probably as important to every author, but as a teacher, this is why I do what I do and to be able to do it on the scale of fiction is very rewarding.”
On her favorite “big books” and long reads: “A series that has [really allowed me to inhabit a world] is an older series by a woman named Dorothy Dunnet. She first wrote the Crawford of Lymon series and then the House of Niccolo series, which was a prequel. I just adored those books!
I also remember buying Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, and it was the only book that I just simply couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it. Also, that was my introduction to Anne Rice, and it just transported me because I didn't really know where I was when I was reading it; I was in L.A., but I wasn't.”
On whether she’d rather be a witch, a vampire or a demon: “Demon, no question! I think I'm most temperamentally like a demon—I'm a little bit like a maniac and I'm a lot disorganized; you can't even walk across the floor of my office right now! I think that really what the demons are in this story is the principle of chaos and creativity—that's what they are alchemically and that's where new things come from—and I think it's way more exciting to be there than to have the weighty responsibility of supernatural and preternatural power. I'll take creativity any day.”
RELATED IN BOOKPAGE
Read our complete interview with Deborah Harkness.
Read about the previous books in the All Souls Trilogy.
British author Stephen Lloyd Jones is making waves with his debut novel, The String Diaries.
Our reviewer, Elizabeth Davis, hails Jones for his winning combination of "a refreshing villain and a thrilling narrative laced with the Gothic: a woman being chased by a tyrannical male of supernatural ability in uninhabited places."
Amidst a literary landscape filled to the brim with zombies, vampires and werewolves, Jones offers an incredibly haunting new menace inspired by Hungarian folklore: The hosszú életek, or "long lived" ones, can take on the appearance and mannerisms of any person at any time.
When Hannah Wilde discovers that the women in her family have been plagued by a particularly twisted hosszú életek named Jakab with an intense romantic obsession, she must rely on her ancestor's string-bound diaries for guidance and survival.
When Jakab takes on the appearances of those she loves most, will Hannah be able to make the right decision? And if it comes down to it, will she be able to run?
Watch the trailer below and prepare your nerves for this engrossing read:
What do you think? Interested in picking up a copy?
Does the phrase "Amish murder mystery" cause you to scratch your head in confusion?
Fans of Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder series know exactly how thrilling this unlikely combination can be: Set in the heart of Ohio's Amish country in the town of Painters Mill, the sixth installment unfolds with the story of a brutal crime in 1976. Now, the Hochstetler farm is abandoned, and only one member of the family is left alive in Painters Mill.
When chief Burkholder is called to investigate an apparent suicide in a dilapidated barn, the death toll begins to climb quickly, and mounting evidence may have ties to the unsolved Hochstetler case.
Chief Burkholder tries to keep her famously level head amidst claims of malicious ghosts from the victims, and her domestic tranquility has vanished: state agent Tomasetti is unable to provide much comfort as he's distracted by one of his wife's killers roaming free.
The Dead Will Tell is featured in our July Meet the Author feature, and you can find it on shelves today!
Check out the trailer below:
What do you think, readers?
Looking for an especially meaty thriller to dive into this summer? Terry Hayes may have just the novel for you with I Am Pilgrim; weighing in at 640 pages, Hayes offers up a page-turner with plenty of muscle. A retired intelligence officer for a U.S. organization far more secret than the CIA, known simply as Pilgrim, has penned a game-changing textbook on criminal investigation that has brought police investigation miles ahead of where it once was. But there's a problem—a particularly ruthless someone seems to have read it a bit too well, and may have committed the perfect unsolvable murder.
Humble, yet tough-as-nails homicide detective Ben Bradley tracks Pilgrim down in the streets of Paris to beg for his help in the investigation, and soon the action takes off at a breathtaking pace. From Moscow to the United Kingdom, from Saudi Arabia to the dusty streets of Afghanistan and back home to the U.S., the manhunt for a brilliant terrorist known as "the Saracen" tests everything Pilgrim has learned in the field.
For almost a decade I was a member of our country's most secret intelligence organization, working so deep in shadow that only a handful of people even knew of our existence. The agency's task was to police our country's intelligence community, to act as the covert world's internal affairs department. To that extent, you might say, we were a throwback to the Middle Ages. We were the ratcatchers.
Although the number of people employed by the twenty-six publicly acknowledge–and eight unnamed—US intelligence organizations is classified, it is reasonable to say that over one hundred thousand people came within our orbit. A population that size meant the crimes we investigated ran the gamut-from treason to corruption, murder to rape, drug dealing to theft. The only difference was that some of the perpetrators were the best and brightest of the world.
The group entrusted with this elite and highly classified mission was established by Jack Kennedy in the early months of his administration. After a particularly lurid scandal at the CIA—the details of which still remain secret—he apparently decided members of the intelligence community were as subject to human frailty as the population in general. More so probably.
What are you reading this week?
Are you set for vacation reading this summer? If not, we're here to help! Follow the flowchart below to your ultimate summer read. Click on the graphic for an interactive version that will lead you more information about each book, or download it here.
What are you reading this summer?
Short stories make for perfect reading in the summer. Since each one is a self-contained dose of literature, you barely even need a bookmark—plus, there's no worrying about whether you'll remember what you read on the flight over when you reopen the book on the way back. If you're looking for a bite-sized dose of summer reading, explore our guide to 2014's spring and summer collections.
Readers looking for a voice from a very different world should pick up Hassan Blasim's The Corpse Exhibition (Penguin). Compared to Roberto Bolaño and Borges, this Arabic author sets the stories in his debut collection during the Iraq War—and they're told from the Iraqi perspective. If you want a collection that will test your beliefs and haunt your dreams, this might be your pick.
Another collection that features a distinctive cross-cultural voice is Snow in May (Holt), the first book from author Kseniya Melnik. Melnik was born in Russia and emigrated to Alaska as a teen, and the stories featured here are connected through her hometown of Madagan, a port city in the Far East of Russia that was a stopover on the way to Stalin's gulags. Spanning the later half of the 20th century and geographical locations from Madagan to Fargo, these stories plumb the weight of history and the struggle to reconcile where you come from with where you are now.
Those interested in coming-of-age stories and tricky relationship dynamics will enjoy the linked stories in Polly Dugan's debut collection, So Much a Part of You (Little, Brown). Featuring characters that reappear across decades, the book explores the way that relationships—romantic and otherwise—change over time. When Anne inadvertently dates her best friend's high school boyfriend, the same mistake destroys both relationships. A student's one-night stand changes her college life. And a deathbed revelation spurs forgiveness. Utterly real and insightful.
Inappropriate Behavior by Murray Farish (Milkweed Editions) is a much wider-randing collection, spanning decades and countries in stories linked only by the strange twists each one takes. The delusional narrator of one story is addicted to making lists, stalking a girl called Allison and writing love songs to Jodie Foster. In the title story, parents struggle with the dual burdens of unemployment and a child with behavior issues. Occasionally experimental, always imaginative.
Another edgy collection comes from Scottish author James Kelman, whose novel How Late It Was, How Late won the Booker Prize in 1994. The stories in If it Is Your Life (Other Press) are mostly written with the stream-of-consciousness style and dark humor that Kelman is known for, and they're a bit more outré than his novels. But readers who like to read about lives lived on the edge will be excited for this new collection.
Take a nostalgic trip back to your childhood (at least, if you're a child of the late 80s like me!) with a newly published collection of Lois Duncan's short stories, Written in the Stars (Lizzie Skurnick Books). The author of teen classics like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Duncan has collected 13 tales from her very early career—including a story she published when she was only 13 years old—and includes a brief contemporary commentary on each one. As you might expect of stories that originally appeared in places like Seventeen or American Girl, these are mostly focused on the concerns of youth, but the glimpse they provide into the shaping of a young writer are fascinating.
Another familiar name with a new collection is David Guterson. The author of Snow Falling on Cedars returns with the playfully titled Problems with People (Knopf), which branches out from the author's typical Pacific Northwest territory to encompass most of the U.S. as well as Nepal and Africa. Though diverse in locale, these 10 tales are united by Guterson's strong storytelling voice and will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of his fans.
And we'll end with another collection from a beloved voice: Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck (Dial). Though most of these nine stories have been previously published in some of the best short fiction venues—Granta, The New Yorker—taken together, they demonstrate McCracken's remarkable range as well as her ability to truly understand the her characters and her quirky sense of humor (the title story opens with a 12-year-old girl being brought home by the police from a nitrous oxide party).