As part of our Best Books of 2014 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
There’s a playful bite to the eight short stories that make up Lorrie Moore’s new collection: They address the banality and bitterness of romance with subversive, mordant humor. In these tales of marriage and divorce, comedy is the coping mechanism for the disappointments of being in (and out) of love. It’s like laughing with a mouthful of food—the reality isn’t pretty, but we’re laughing anyway.
The gorgeous selection of Nature Gift Books are some of my favorites from our December issue's gift guide. The close-ups of marine invertebrates and bugs in Spineless and Bugs Up Close are a perfect blend of "ew!" and "whoaaa." I can think of several hikers who would love to receive a copy of America's Great Hiking Trails, and Landmark transforms the world around us into art—and takes the human impact into account, which I find especially interesting.
Perhaps the best book of the bunch is Earth Is My Witness, a stunning volume that compiles 30 years of work from noted nature photographer Art Wolfe. Check out a few of my favorite images from this dazzling book:
Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), Rio Negro, Amazonas, Brazil
Gemsbok, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
Left: Emperor Penguins, Antarctica
Right: Huli wigman smoking, Papua New Guinea
© Art Wolfe/ Art Wolfe Stock. Rights: All images copyright (c) Art Wolfe. From Earth Is My Witness. Reprinted with permission from Earth Aware Editions.
When there are this many fantastic nature books, it's inevitable that a few excellent options had to be cut from the final list! Here are a few more great Nature Gift Books:
Watching Hadfield do stuff in space makes me feel like I'm 8 years old and glued to "Bill Nye the Science Guy" on my parents' TV. In this new book, Hadfield takes armchair astronauts on an "idealized" orbit of the Internal Space Station. These spectacular photos offer 2,000-mile views of places like Kazakhastan and New Zealand, as well as a whole new perspective on the textures, colors and shapes of our little planet. And of course, Hadfield sprinkles these photos with cool facts, but my favorite moments are when Hadfield points how how landscapes can look like animals, punctuation or even teeth. It's the astronaut's answer to kids lying in the grass and seeing shapes in clouds.
National Geographic has been sharing remarkable stories from around the world since 1888 (wow). This impressive book is a collection of hundreds of images—and the often unexpected stories behind them—that have graced the cover of this publication. It's an illustrated history of not only the magazine but our society. Highlights include the wreckage of the Titanic from December 1985, a chimp grooming Jane Goodall in December 1995, and a bloodied polar bear in May 2006.
Stromberg notes in this book's foreword that many people, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves "horse people," feel a connection with and deep reverence for the horse. Call me biased, as I never grew out of my little girl horse phase, but I think it's impossible to have too many horse coffee table books.
Anthony Horowitz earned the first official endorsement ever from the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, which makes his 2011 thriller The House of Silk the first new Holmes novel in more than a century. In short, he's the real deal, not just for fans of Cumberbatch and RDJ but also readers who loved the original books.
If you placed his new mystery, Moriarty, on the Doyle timeline, it would fall during "The Great Hiatus," when the world believed Holmes was dead. Holmes and Moriarty are gone, vanished together over the Reichenbach Falls—which presents an opening for any successors. Scotland Yard Detective Athelney Jones and his sidekick (and our narrator) Pinkerton Agent Frederick Chase are on the case to catch the newest criminals in the London underworld—in particular, up-and-coming criminal mastermind Clarence Devereaux—and to answer the impossible question: What really happened when Holmes and Moriarty tumbled over the falls?
Speaking of successors, Horowitz seems to have mastered that tricky balance between respecting the original and keeping things fresh. Disguises, fakes, twists, red herrings and violence—the game is afoot!
HoLmES WaS CeRtAiNLY NOt A DIFFiCulT mAn to LiVe WItH. He wAs QuIeT iN HiS WAYs and his hABiTS wErE REgulAr. iT wAs RARE fOR HIm To BE up AfTeR TEN at nighT aND hE hAD INVariABLY breAKfasteD AND GoNE OUT BeFOrE i RoSe in The morNINg. SOMEtImEs He SPeNt hiS DAy At ThE ChEmiCal lABoRatORY, SoMeTimes IN THE dIsSeCting ROoms And oCcAsionaLly iN lOnG WALKs whiCH ApPeAREd TO taKE HIM INtO THE LOwEsT PORTioNs OF thE CITy. nothINg COuld exCEed HiS ENErgY WHeN tHE wORkING FiT WAs upOn HiM.
'Do you really believe,' I said, 'That there is some sort of secret message contained on this page?'
'I not only believe it. I know it to be the case.'
I took the paper and held it up to the light. 'Could it be written in some sort of invisible ink?'
Jones smiled. He took the page back again and laid it between us on the white tablecloth. For the moment, all thoughts of our dinner had been forgotten. 'You may be aware that Mr Sherlock Holmes wrote a monograph on the subject of codes and secret writings,' he began.
'I was not,' I said.
'I have read it, as I have read everything that he has, generously, allowed to come to the public attention. The monograph examines no fewer than one hundred and sixty forms of concealed communication and, more importantly, the methods by which he was able to bring them to light.'
'You will forgive me, Inspector,' I interrupted. 'Whatever the relevance of this letter, it cannot be in code. We both recognize the contents. You said as much yourself. It was written, word for word, by Dr John Watson.'
'That is indeed the case. But there is of course one peculiarity. Why do you think it has been copied in this way? Why has the writer taken such care with his presentation of the text?
What are you reading today?
Celebrities seem to get a free pass to the book world. You've got your Steve Martins, who surprise you with their talent and successfully remake themselves as Renaissance Persons (bonus points for banjo). You've got your Tina Feys and Amy Poehlers, who should write a million more books, please, oh please. You've got your James Francos, who would keep doing what they're doing regardless of what we think of them. You've got your Macaulay Culkins, who we just wish would stop.
And then there's David Duchovny, aka Fox Mulder from "The X-Files," who wrote a cow novel.
Coming in February from FSG, Holy Cow is a "dairy tale," a "cow-based theological odyssey" narrated by Elsie Bovary, a cow who understands texting, wears mascara and uses phrases like "cray cray."
One night, when Elsie and her BFF Mallory sneak out of their pasture, Elsie finds herself drawn to the farmhouse, where the TV—"Box God"—reveals what goes on at a terrible place called an "industrial meat farm." Elsie, along with a Jewish pig and a suave turkey, makes a daring escape and heads to the airport. Their grand adventure will inadvertently unite Israelis and Palestinians.
What do you think, readers? Plan to check out Holy Cow?
The year's best mysteries and thrillers took us from 1970s Atlanta to 1880s London, strung us along with flawed detectives and impenetrable cold cases and left us hungry for more. We picked our Top 10 of the year, but we'd love to hear yours! Browse all our Mystery and Suspense coverage here, and share your 2014 favorite in the comments below.
Slaughter's first standalone novel takes readers to 1970s Atlanta, an era she first explored in 2012's Criminal. Veteran patrol officer Maggie Lawson and her new rookie partner Kate Murphy face harassement, sexism and racism from the boys' club police force—all while searching for a serial killer who is targeting cops. Complex characters, the realistic and retro setting and a gripping plot make Cop Town one of Slaughter's best ever.
Read our interview with Slaughter for Cop Town.
"He-said, she-said" thrillers are so popular these days, but Smith left us spinning with this conspiracy-laden tale. When Daniel visits his aging parents in rural Sweden, he discovers a web of distrust that could upend everything he knows about his own life. We love the fantastic, award-winning historical thrillers of Smith's Child 44 series, but this first-person psychological thriller has taken our admiration to the next level.
Read our review of The Farm.
The Salem witch trials continues to fascinate us hundreds of years later—but it's extra creepy to realize people can still fall prey to hysteria. Inspired by the real-life “mass hysteria” outbreak in Le Roy, New York, in 2012, the new novel from Abbott (Dare Me) got under our skin, especially with those disturbing, slightly erotic depictions of the girls' creepy seizures.
Read an essay by Abbott about the story behind The Fever.
Former Chief Inspector Gamache has retired to Three Pines—but there's no such thing as rest for beloved fictional investigators, is there? He steps in to help his neighbor Clara Morrow, whose husband has disappeared after a year away. His quest takes him far from Three Pines and deep into the mind of the missing husband, a tortured artist who may have gone to extreme lengths to recover who he once was. As always, Penny's brilliantly drawn characters are the book's greatest delight.
Little did we know how badly we wanted a new sleuthing team! Kasasian’s debut mystery delivered while walking a fine line between charming, cozy fun and gruesome, gory crime scenes. Set in 1882 London, the first in a new series introduces 21-year-old March Middleton and her guardian, the celebrated and curmudgeonly P.I. Sidney Grice. It's sharp, witty and packed with unforgettable secondary characters.
Read our review of The Mangle Street Murders.
After a five-year hiatus following a near-fatal car accident that resulted in the amputation of part of his right leg, Iles is back, and he brought Penn Cage back, too. Natchez Burning kicked off a new trilogy starring the Southern lawyer and former prosecutor. It's pure Southern noir gold: a little "Breaking Bad," a little "True Detective" and a whole lotta Faulkner. So good.
Ellroy kicks off his second L.A. Quartet—which is actually sort of a prequel to the first Quartet—with this ambitious historical thriller, set on the American homefront of World War II. The plot itself is pretty straightforward—L.A. cops investigate a Japanese-American family's murder that occurred the night before the bombing of Pearl Harbor—but this subversive novel goes beyond its central whodunit. Emotions are running high on the precipice of war, and it's all conveyed brilliantly through alternating character perspectives and Ellroy's classic, punched-up writing style.
Read our review of Perfidia.
Mosley’s impressive 13th Easy Rawlins mystery is packed with all those goodies you'd want in a story set in L.A. during the height of the Vietnam War: hippies, drugs, radical politics, revolutionaries, etc. Because Rawlins is black, L.A. cops think he'll be able to deal with black ex-boxer Uhuru Nolica, who has kidnapped the daughter of a weapons manufacturer. With equal parts social commentary and suspenseful entertainment, Rose Gold stands out as one of the best installments in this excellent series.
Read our review of Rose Gold.
You could call it a classic police procedural, but that wouldn't quite cut it. Sure, you've got your down-and-out detective Frank Parrish, recovering from his partner’s death, wrestling with his father’s legacy and investigating the murders of some petty criminals—but that's just the beginning. Frank's personal demons run bottom-of-the-ocean deep, and the crimes he's investigating are worse than you can imagine. The history of Mob corruption in 1980s NYC is alone worth the price of admission.
The secrets of teenage girls have never been as disturbing as in the newest Dublin Murder Squad mystery. Sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey, a student at a posh girls' school in Ireland, finds a note that reads "I know who killed him," referring to the cold-case murder of a former student at the boys' school next door. Alternating between the voices of the present-day detectives and the teenage schoolgirls pre-murder, this novel is nearly impossible to put down—a cliche, sure, but still true.
Readers, what were your favorite mysteries of 2014? Share in the comments, or vote in our survey for the chance to win 10 great books.
Talk about a killer collaboration! MWA Grand Master Mary Higgins Clark and best-selling author Alafair Burke have teamed up for the brand new Under Suspicion series, starring characters from Clark's I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
The series centers on "Under Suspicion," a cold case reality TV show. With the help of lawyer and "Under Suspicion" host Alex Buckley, TV producer Laurie Moran takes on the 20-year-old "Cinderella Murder." The body of UCLA theater student Susan Dempsey was found in L.A.'s Lauren Canyon Park, after she missed her father's birthday party to audition for a movie. The Buckley-Moran slething duo is in hot pursuit of some new evidence, and their adventures together will surely satisfy Clark fans.
Rosemary Dempsey was Laurie's reason for moving The Cinderella Murder to the top of her list for the show's next installment.
The network had been pressuring here to feature a case from the Midwest: the unsolved murder of a child beauty pageant contestant inside her family's home. The case had already been the subject of countless books and television shows over the past two decades. Laurie kept telling her boss, Brett Young, that there was nothing new for Under Suspicion to add.
"Who cares?" Brett had argued. "Every time we have an excuse to play those adorable pageant videos, our ratings skyrocket."
Laurie was not about the exploit the death of a child to bolster her network's ratings. Starting her research from scratch, she stumbled onto a true-crime blog featuring a "where are they now?" post about the Cinderella case. The blogger appeared to have simply Googled the various people involved in the case: Susan's boyfriend was a working actor, her research partner had gone on to find dot-com success, Frank Parker was... Frank Parker.
The blog post quoted only one source: Rosemary Dempsey, whose phone number was still listed, "just in case anyone ever needs to tell me something about my daughter's death." Rosemary told the blogger that she was willing to do anything to find out the truth about her daughter's murder. She also said that she was convinced that the stress caused by Susan's death contributed to her husband's stroke.
The overall tone of the blog post, filled with tawdry innuendo, left Laurie feeling sick. The author hinted, with no factual support, that Susan's desire to be a star might have made her willing to do anything to land a plumb role with an emerging talent like Parker. She speculated, again with no proof, that a consensual liason may have "gone wrong."
What are you reading today?
Scholastic will publish Brian Selznick's next novel on September 15, 2015. In the vein of his Caldecott Medal-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which was adapted into Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award–winning movie Hugo, one of the only movies I've ever enjoyed watching in 3D) and Wonderstruck, The Marvels combines two seemingly unrelated stories—one told in words, the other in pictures.
A preview from the publisher:
The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries. How the picture and word stories intersect will leave readers marveling over Selznick’s storytelling skill.
Read more here. Sounds like classic Selznick, and I couldn't be more excited! Readers, what do you think?
Style books make a major statement in our November issue. At one point I may have started weeping over the sheer brilliance of some of the editorials in W: Stories. And I plan on giving copies of Women in Clothes to all of my girlfriends—I don't even care if they read it. I just want them to have it. Check out my reviews of all five fashion books here.
Tilda Swinton in W magazine, August 2011. From W: Stories, reprinted with permission.
But it was so hard to narrow down the season's best fashion gift books to only five, so below is an extended list:
This new memoir from the mother of the jersey wrap dress examines her entire life—not just the fashion elements. She's honest, independent and ages so well it's almost unbelievable. Talk about an inspiring gift.
Supermodel and "Queen of Pose" Rocha, dressed in a plain white leotard, collaborated with world-renowned photographer Sebring to produce 1,000 absolutely stunning black-and-white images. Each pose was shot from 100 angles using Sebring's 360-degree camera rig, and the companion eBook allows readers to explore every shot from all angles. Truly remarkable and totally mesmerizing.
She might not be a household name in the way, say, Coco Chanel is, but she should be. Schiapparelli was Chanel's rival in the 20th century—and was more famous at the time. As the "Queen of Fashion," she encouraged women to be different, used unexpected fabrics and collaborated with Salvador Dalí. Her perfume came in a shocking bottle in the shape of a bust, inspired by the body of Mae West. I don't know much about her, but I love her already.
Maybe you've got a stylish guy in your life, or maybe you've always been inspired by Annie Hall. Either way, this book is a must for fans of classic, bespoke tailoring. The legendary Gieves & Hawkes, located on Savile Row in London, has outfitted elegant gents for more than two centuries. This gorgeous book traces the rich history of tailoring, drawing from Gieves & Hawkes’ archives of client ledgers and photographs.
Colby Marshall is a writer by day and a ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, as well as a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. She kicks off her new FBI profiler series, starring Dr. Jenna Ramey, with Color Blind. The FBI has detained a mass murderer, but his partner is still on the loose, so Jenna has been called in to put a stop to any future murders.
Marshall and her heroine share a rather unusual trait—they both have synesthesia, a neurological condition that triggers color associations with people, places and things. We wanted to know—and apparently, everbody Marshall meets wants to know, too—how much of her own experiences contributed to Color Blind. Her answer may surprise you.
As an author, I won’t deny that I love answering questions, even if only so for a minute I can pretend I’m the latest runaway best-selling author letting loose in an exclusive interview for People magazine. Some questions readers ask surprise me. Others come up over and over again.
And while frequent-flier questions aren’t always the same types of things I’d ask an author—I’d rather hear what earned her the most time-outs as a kid than where her ideas come from (mostly because I’m pretty sure we all snag ideas the same way, from that guy on the corner selling them out of his van)—I guess I can understand the curiosity of a reader, a bookstore patron . . . or a stranger I’ve cornered at a party who I’m pretending is my number one fan. If you don’t enjoy or make a bad habit out of telling stories, I guess the details surrounding how we think up imaginary people, make them have sex and then kill them could be interesting, whether in a fascinated way or a the-more-you-know-the-better-you-can-hide-from-the-lunatics way.
Yet, one question used to surprise me every time, no matter how often it cropped up. It’s been put to me by the neighbor dying to sneak a gossip-gathering peak inside my garage door, by the glove-snapping gynecologist only talking to distract me from the forthcoming, oh-so-cold evil, by my mother’s hairdresser in between not-so-subtle hints that I could use a few highlights, and by my devious nemesis of a mailman, who I’m convinced starred in at least one Nightmare on Elm Street sequel before he was featured on "America’s Most Wanted" when I was 8. But I digress . . .
That two-part question asked at every family reunion and inside every white-walled church fellowship hall is: Do I write about myself, and do I get my characters from those who fill real-life roles in the crazy one-woman show that is my life?
Until recently, this question routinely set off a seemingly pre-programmed string of thoughts through my head. Is this a more common practice than I realized? Could all of my favorite authors who have entertained and wowed me with their ability to weave mesmerizing fiction (read: big fat lies) out of nothingness be, in reality, regurgitating personas they see every day onto their books’ pages? Are they using their manuscripts like public journals, only ones they’re willing to turn toward the people close to them to serve as honest-but-sort-of-fictionalized-even-if-most-of-it’s-true mirrors?
My second thought always hit like clockwork: If all authors do this, then damn. After the things Thomas Harris has seen, he’s bound to be a vegetarian by now. And I bet R.L. Stine wishes his parents would’ve moved him to a town where he could’ve taken piano lessons from a teacher without a creepy hand fetish . . . and maybe lived on a cul-de-sac with fewer shadowy homeless men carrying cursed cameras.
But with my newest book, I’ve gained some perspective. A few years ago, I found myself writing about an FBI forensic psychiatrist—something I, a 5’1”, indoor, glitter-heel-wearing blonde girl, am not—and giving her a little bit of something I am. I gave her a brain quirk. Made her a graphemeàcolor synesthete. A neurological phenomenon that causes a person to associate colors with everything from letters to days of the week and even people and emotions, graphemeàcolor synesthesia doesn’t have many practical uses in my own life, unless you count the time I filled awkward silences at my spouse’s company Christmas party by entertaining acquaintances with the colors my brain links to two particularly unpopular high school foreign language teachers with whom everyone in the group happened to share an F-filled history. But for Jenna, it’s useful. It can’t do her job for her—a flying-off-buildings kind of superpower, it ain’t (sadly)—but the subtle flashes of color in her head can illuminate important details and fine-tune theories as she sifts through clues she already has.
On paper, Dr. Jenna Ramey does lots of things I don’t: I like movies with explosions, but she actually shoots at bad guys. I research abnormal pathologies for stories, but she’s a trained expert at getting inside the minds of those relevant to her case. I dream of reaching the cereal box on the top shelf; she stores dishes on all three levels in her kitchen cabinets. But she and I are alike in a big way that helps her life and career run smoother. That little bit of me I used from real-life guarantees she—and I—can save fictional lives in a way no other FBI agent can. At least, none in Jenna’s world.
Maybe in the past I’ve taken the idea of authors pulling personas from their Rolodexes too literally. (Do you know anybody who still owns a Rolodex?) After all, your main character’s partner-in-crime doesn’t have to be an exact replica of your own best pal right down to her neverending coffee mug collection and penchant for breaking the news that the joke you thought was so hilarious five minutes ago only made you laugh because one Fuzzy Navel was affecting you way more than a single wine cooler ought to be. If an author does her job, a character trait can be inspired by someone’s quirks or killer fashion sense and still shape an entirely imagined character. That way, the front-of-the-book disclaimer that says any resemblance of the story’s characters to real-life people is unintentional can hold stronger legal teeth than semantics and a prayer.
Heck, an author can even pay homage to a pal if he likes. As long as he doesn’t blab about his bud’s embarrassing fourth nipple removal (while changing only one letter of her first name), coloring stories with distinctive habits and idiosyncrasies can be just what a book character needs to transform her from so flat she might as well be a paper doll to someone . . . well, someone readers might want to meet. Maybe even hang out with for a while.
Next time I run into another author, I think I’ll ask if he uses people in his real life in his writing. Who knows? I might find out something plucked from reality is that thing I love most about a favorite character.
Thanks, Colby! Readers, Color Blind is out today.
National Geographic's Guide to the World's Supernatural Places isn't as "spine-chilling" as its subtitle suggests ("More Than 250 Spine-Chilling Destinations Around the Globe"), and it's far more likely to educate than to spook. But it's a fun book, to be sure, and would make great Halloween reading for those who are bigger fans of conspiracy theories, myths, legends and world history than of horror fiction.
It's somewhere between a travel guide and an encylopedia of the weird. With strange and suprising stories like these, the book will appeal to a wider audience than your seance-conducters and UFO-spotters:
Anyone up for a roadtrip of UFO hotspots throughout the U.S.? Anyone?