Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
Crown • $24 • ISBN 9780385348997
Published January 14, 2014
New York Times Magazine editor Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel, Shovel Ready, follows a garbage man turned assassin-for-hire known simply as Spademan, and he makes for quite an intriguing anti-hero. As one of the few remaining residents in a near-future, post-bomb New York City, Spademan finds himself at a crossroads when he decides not to follow through with the assassination of a wealthy evangelist's young daughter.
Here, Spademan introduces himself in the first pages of this edgy, noir-soaked thriller:
I kill men. I kill women because I don’t discriminate. I don’t kill children because that’s a different kind of psycho.
I do it for money. Sometimes for other forms of payment. But always for the same reason. Because someone asked me to.
And that’s it.
A reporter buddy once told me that in newspapers, when you leave out some important piece of information at the beginning of a story, they call it burying the lede.
So I just want to make sure I don’t bury the lede.
Though it wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve buried.
It might sound hard but it’s all too easy now. This isn’t the same city anymore. Half-asleep and half-emptied-out, especially this time of morning. Light up over the Hudson. The cobblestones. At least I have it to myself.
These buildings used to be warehouses. Now they’re castles. Tribeca, a made-up name for a made-up kingdom. Full of sleeping princes and princesses, holed up on the highest floors. Arms full of tubes. Heads full of who knows. And they’re not about to come down here, not at this hour, on the streets, with the carcasses, with the last of the hoi polloi.
What are you reading this week?
After a nearly 20-year career and millions of books in print, best-selling romance author Brenda Jackson has reached an impressive milestone with the publication of her latest novel, A Madaris Bride for Christmas—her 100th book!
Back in 1994, Jackson's first novel, Tonight and Forever, introduced the Madaris family. Matchmaking matriarch Mama Laverne has helped the Madaris men and women find everlasting love over the years, delighting and entertaining countless readers along the way. In A Madaris Bride for Christmas, Lee Madaris, one of Mama's grandsons and owner of one of the hottest hotels in Vegas, is determined to find a woman on his own, and has his sights set on pastry chef Carly Briggs.
With memorable characters, lots of sizzle and a few twists and turns, A Madaris Bride for Christmas is sure to satisfy fans of the series, hook some news ones and leave all readers looking forward to Jackson's 101st novel.
Karen Joy Fowler's riveting novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves landed in the #6 spot on our list of the Best Books of 2013. Our reviewer described it as, "a masterful account of a woman unraveling a tangle of family history, memory and the complex emotions that arise from the way she was raised." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Fowler has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
I have been on book tour lately, hitting some of the book festivals around the country. The pleasure of a book tour, for me, is the chance to meet new writers combined with considerable time on planes and in airports, time in which to read their books. Since plane travel now involves inevitable delays, cancellations, hours on the tarmac and a myriad of other irritations, a book, a really good book, is a travel necessity.
Among my most recent modes of transportation:
As someone who was there during the '60s, I seldom think anyone gets the period quite right. It is far too easy to fall, one way or another, into caricature. Arcadia, which starts in the sixties but extends into the future, is a gorgeous exception, a perfect illustration of the writers’ maxim that careful use of the particular is the way to evoke the universal. This is a deep and deeply touching book.
Another big and beautiful book, this one about California during the Great Depression. Silver makes a wonderful job of the big canvas—poverty, politics, class, life and death—but it is the little moments of crystalline observation that I loved the most. She has a way of taking a familiar emotion and opening it up, turning it, so that we see it freshly, think about it harder. Wise and inspiring.
And now for something completely different. This is the book I am currently reading. Very suspenseful! Don’t tell me how it ends!
By Jeff VanderMeer
Four women—a psychologist, an anthropologist, a biologist and a surveyor—are sent into Area X, an abandoned, uninhabited terrain from which 11 earlier expeditions have either failed to return or returned completely changed. VanderMeer’s descriptions of this mysterious world and the people traversing it are vivid, lush and increasingly ominous. I am finding this book unsettling and un-put-downable—like an old-fashioned adventure story, only weirder, beautifully written and not at all old-fashioned.
Check out all of our Best Books of 2013 coverage right here!
Kristina McMorris' third novel, The Pieces We Keep, is a gripping tale of love, grief, family and secrets—and an exploration of the intriguing notion that firsthand memories can be shared between different generations. In this guest blog post, McMorris discusses the real-life experiences and stories that inspired her to write the book:
My childhood home was haunted.
It all seemed to come out of nowhere: the TV and lamps started turning on by themselves; my sister’s room gained distinct “cold spots,” similar to ones you might detect in a swimming pool; my mother would be cooking dinner and smell perfume behind her, though nobody else was there; or, I would be alone in the house, and the floor above would suddenly creak with enough footsteps to indicate a party in the making. Later, we learned that our next-door neighbors had also noticed oddities occurring in their own house around the same time.
Eventually, my parents invited our family’s pastor over for advice. When he arrived and noticed an exotic carved mask, a recent gift from a friend’s travels, he expressed an uneasy feeling and suggested my parents remove it—which they did. Our pastor then blessed the house, room by room, and all the strange happenings came to a stop. Only later did we discover that the mask had been purchased in the notoriously mysterious country of Haiti, and that our house had been built on the edge of what was originally a cemetery.
(Poltergeist memories, anyone?)
Whether our experiences were actually born of the paranormal, or simply dramatic perceptions of logical instances, I couldn’t tell you for sure. What I do know is that, as a result, I grew up with a mind open to possibilities beyond explanation.
Perhaps this was a large part of the reason a particular news segment piqued my interest two years ago. Apparently, as a toddler, the boy in the story suffered from recurrent night terrors about dying in a plane crash. His knowledge of obscure historical facts ultimately convinced his skeptical parents that he’d once been a WWII pilot who perished in battle.
On a personal note, my oldest son had also suffered from night terrors in his toddler years and would even speak of a grandmother who didn’t exist. Could they have been merely the creative ramblings of a youngster? Absolutely. Still, the writer in me began to wonder: What would I have done if he, too, had spouted historical details he couldn’t possibly have known? What if those details were secrets other people wanted to keep buried?
From these questions a novel started to take shape. Completing the premise was a declassified report a friend had shared with me: an astounding case of Nazi saboteurs who were dropped off by U-Boat on the East Coast of America in 1942. As I researched the topic further, I discovered a trail of romance and tragedy, deceptive dealings by J. Edgar Hoover, and a secret military tribunal convened by FDR. It all seemed the elements of a Hollywood film, a fascinating tale I couldn’t resist.
Needless to say, I hope readers feel the same about The Pieces We Keep.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Pieces We Keep? Find out more about McMorris and the book on her website.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena has been compared by many to Jonathan Safran Foer's now-classic debut, Everything Is Illuminated. But the novel it most reminded me of is Nicole Krauss' The History of Love. Both books are sincere (but never sentimental) in their portrayal of the tenuous but all-important connections between people. And both of them have beautiful, tear-jerking conclusions.
Here, the souls in question are brought together in war-torn Chechnya, where 8-year-old Havaa has just seen her father kidnapped by Russian forces. Her neighbor, Akhmed, risks his own safety to hide the girl, bringing her to a hospital he's heard about only through rumors. There, he finds exhausted doctor Sonja Rabina, who is dealing with her own traumatic loss.
Though Marra uses this setup to explore some major questions about life, love and loyalty, his characters are never less than real, and their struggles inspire even as they break your heart. I can't wait to see what Marra does next.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
The brilliance of Adelle Waldman’s debut novel is subtle, not flashy. You might think that a voyeuristic peek into the mind of a 30-something male writer as he navigates the Brooklyn literary and dating scenes would be salacious or titillating, as the “affairs” of the title suggests. Not so. Waldman’s nonjudgmental, unsentimental narrative allows readers to determine for themselves whether Nate is sincere (if oblivious at times) or a fickle cad—or a mixture of both.
The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart
Little, Brown • $26 • ISBN 9780316228114
On sale January 14, 2014
Rachel Urquhart's debut novel takes place in a Shaker community in the 1840s—the place where 15-year-old Polly and her younger brother flee after burning her house down to conceal the murder of her abusive father. But she finds that safety comes at something of a price in this harsh and restrictive community.
"Why must I pretend my brother is not my brother?" she asked. She no longer felt afraid of this stranger. Nothing moved her anymore, not love, not worry, not even sadness. She had become as hard and dry as a winter seed. "Mama said she had business to attend to," Polly said, not intending to speak her doubts out loud. "Perhaps. And yet, how could she have left us in a place where there can be no love?"
The girl let out a sigh. "There is love here, you will see. Brother for brother, sister for sister. But flesh bonds are forged in the fires of carnal sin. Your Ben, like you, was born of a filthy act. Here, that filth will be lifted. You shall see for yourself, if you are willing to renounce your blood ties and confess. Should you refuse, then you do not belong among us."
Romance author Karen Rose Smith makes her cozy mystery debut with Staged to Death, the first Caprice De Luca mystery. Caprice stages houses for high-end home sellers, but when she discovers a body in a client's mansion and starts asking questions, she could be the next victim. In a guest post, Smith shares a bit about Caprice and a few lessons she learns in her first murder mystery:
Caprice De Luca never intended to stage a mansion for murder. But a high-end client with a castle-like estate who has enemies drew a murderer inside. So what should Caprice look out for in future home-stagings with a killer on the loose?
1. When Caprice says de-clutter, her client had better listen. Caprice wanted Ted Winslow to de-clutter his sword room and stow away valuable collectibles. But he didn't. The murder weapon originated in the sword room!
2. Caprice should avoid listening in on clients' phone calls. After all, she learned Ted wanted to kill someone himself. A client's enemy could become her enemy.
3. The storage shed where Caprice stores furniture and accessories for stagings might not have enough security. Especially when the killer possesses the security code to get in.
4. The elaborate open houses that Caprice plans for each home staging are an open invitation to friends, relatives and prospective buyers. Her sister Nikki, a caterer, colludes with her on the themes, sometimes creating a feast. But any one of the guests could be the killer.
5. When Caprice stages a mansion, any room could be a crime scene. Especially when she catches wind of an illicit affair in one of the rooms! Staging a house gives Caprice intimate knowledge of her client's comings and goings, relationships and foibles. But . . . the murderer might suspect that she knows a fact vital to the investigation and come after her.
6. Caprice's identifiable restored yellow Camaro, as well as her psychedelically-decorated business van, are nearly impossible to miss. To investigate incognito, she needs to borrow a car from someone in her large Italian family—maybe her sister Nikki's nondescript car, her lawyer brother's sedan or her younger sister Bella's family van.
7. When a killer is skulking about, a funeral can be a terrific place to find clues. Funerals seem to bring out everyone's emotions. Family and colleagues can let important information slip.
8. Since Caprice becomes familiar with every room in a house she is staging, she quickly notices if anything is out of place. That knowledge could be a magnet for danger.
9. A mansion with a Camelot staging theme quickly goes from romantic to realistic when a murder happens on the property. After a murder occurs and the home loses value, the owner might have to forgo profit for an expedient sale. Murder sometimes definitely devalues a home's "star" quality.
10. Caprice has learned the valuable lesson that someone should have her back, whether she's staging houses, taking in stray dogs and cats or tracking down a killer. But will she choose Dr. Seth Randolph or her brother's law partner, Grant Weatherford, as her backup?
Caprice has learned all this, but her curiosity still leads her into trouble. Enjoy solving the mystery with Caprice, cook along with her, see her find homes for the stray animals she protects, be a part of the De Luca family . . . in Staged to Death, available in December 2013, and Deadly Decor, set for release in June 2014.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Staged to Death comes out today!
In her Darkest London series, Kristen Callihan has concocted a winning blend of history, the paranormal and sizzling romance that's seriously swoon-worthy. Set in Victorian London, the latest book in the series, Shadowdance (out today!), follows Mary Chase, of the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, as she teams up with loner Jack Talent to solve a murder. Neither wants to be working with the other, but lurking beneath their rivalry is an undeniable attraction that swells with each of their many heated exchanges.
As part of its Get Hooked on Historicals campaign, Callihan's publisher, Forever Romance, challenged five of its authors with the same task: Write a scene featuring a dishonored heiress with a complicated family situation as she meets her handsome rake in a cloakroom. Here is Callihan's scintillating scene:
Fur was creeping up her nose. Min pressed her body further into the silks and satins surrounding her and tried not to sneeze. Bloody inconvenient, this. There were far better places for this sort of thing. She’d be having words with Timmons when she was done here.
Which was likely to be later rather than sooner, given that the inane babble drifting through her hiding place would not let up.
“Lord Elsmere went this way. I am certain of it.” This from Miss Whetherby, husband hunter of the highest caliber.
“Let us try the ballroom once more,” said her sister, Miss Jane. “Men cannot play cards all night long.”
Min rather thought men could, and would, but gave a mental wave of encouragement toward the sisters all the same. They bustled off, arguing now over whether the diamonds around Mrs. Standish’s throat were real or paste.
Min sagged against the cloaks. Finally. Her eyes had barely fluttered closed when an arm snagged about her waist, drawing her close to a hard male body.
Suppressing a squeak, she slapped a hand against a solid chest even as she grasped the handle of the knife hidden in the voluminous folds of her altered evening gown. But she halted when a familiar voice drifted down.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” Eyes the color of strong coffee smiled down at her.
“Surely not Miss Wilhelmina Post, London’s most notorious vixen, hiding out in the cloak room.”
Glaring, Min gave his chest a good shove, and he let her go, falling back in to the deep recesses of the closet with her. The man ought to look ridiculous surrounded by cloaks, but lean, long, and with the sleeve of a fur coat draped over his dark hair, Lionel August Cavanaugh was still elegant.
In her grandmother’s time, when Empire waists ruled, Cavanaugh would have been deemed a rake. Now, when one had to contend with bustles and waist-synching corsets, he was merely labeled trouble.
“My exploits are merely a prelude to your circus act, Cavanaugh.”
He chuckled, a dark rumble of sound. “Well you’ve got me there, sweets.” He moved a bit closer, bringing with him the warm scent of vetiver and linen. “Pray tell, what are you doing in the cloak room?” White teeth flashed in the dim. “No, let me guess. You had an assignation with a rather dashing overcoat, but were thwarted by an overprotective opera mantle.”
With pronounced deliberation, he plucked an ostrich feather from her hair and held it aloft.
She ignored it. “Excellent deduction, Cavanaugh. Your talents are being underutilized.”
His eyes narrowed, yet the corners of his lips twitched. “Yes, aren’t they just?”
They grinned at precisely the same moment, and then Cavanaugh gave her arm a friendly bump with his. “It is good to see you again, Min.” His tone was softer now. “When they told me you’d be my contact, I was most pleased.”
Pleasure warmed her cheeks. “It is good to see you too, Leo.”
Though she’d not had much contact with Cavanaugh over the last year, he’d been Tony’s closest and oldest friend. Cavanaugh had been witness to all the major moments of her life. Including her downfall.
The memory, and that of her brother’s loss, had her swallowing down a lump of regret. “Well, let us proceed. Eventually the attendant will return.”
“I paid him to keep guard.” Cavanaugh’s eyes twinkled. “Bloke fully supports meetings with fallen heiresses.”
The moniker ought to sting, but didn’t. Some things were worth more than respectability. Her loss of good standing was not really a sacrifice at all. Because she and her brethren were all that stood between humanity and monsters that crept about in dark corridors.
As if he were thinking along similar lines, Cavanaugh leaned in, and his warm breath touched her ear. “The demon is using Delacorte’s identity.”
Delacorte was announcing his betrothal to Lady Sarah Smithe at this ball. If they acted fast, perhaps they could find the real Delacorte and save him.
Cavanaugh moved closer. “I’m going now. Be sure to leave appropriately mussed.”
He moved to buss her check the precise moment she turned to do the same to him. Their lips met instead. It was the slightest of touches, a small exchange of breath, but Min felt the shock down to her toes, and her heart stilled.
Slowly, Cavanaugh drew back. The familiar insouciant expression he usually wore wasn’t there. No, this was far more worrisome. He appeared shocked, thoughtful, intent. Gently, he reached out and snared a coil of her hair with his finger. The auburn lock gleamed bright against his white gloves. How strange, all these years and she didn’t even know what his skin felt like upon her own. Dark eyes stared down at her. When he spoke, his voice was rough and thick. “Take care of yourself, Min.”
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine comes in at an impressive #9 on our list of the Best Books of 2013. Teddy Wayne's hilarious and heartbreaking second novel follows Jonny, an 11-year-old pop sensation (think Bieber fever), as he tours across the country. Our reviewer calls the book an "original, poignant and captivating coming-of-age story." (Check out our full review and our interview with Wayne about the book.)
We were curious about the books Wayne has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share:
THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P.
By Adelle Waldman
No, I didn’t just choose this because the title is a clear allusion to The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (joking). Rather, it’s an incisively observed portrait of the deterioration of a short-term relationship, and secondarily of the status-obsessed literary scene of Brooklyn. Waldman’s prose is comic without going for punch lines and graceful without straining for lyricism—the book goes down so easily, yet ends up saying so much about how we choose whom we mate with.
By Amity Gaige
I was on a panel with Amity at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, since both our novels have loose correspondences with public figures. Hers is inspired by Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German man who claimed his name was Clark Rockefeller, married an American woman, had a child and divorced, then abducted his daughter. Gaige’s fictional Erik Schroder, meanwhile, assumes the name Eric Kennedy and goes through a similar arc. The novel is a sort of nonsexual Lolita as the antiheroic Schroder/Kennedy narrates his road trip with his daughter in Gaige’s pearlescent prose. It’s a moving, profoundly intelligent story.
I was also on a panel with Jennifer at the Texas Book Festival, and the topic was the same as the one with Amity: Cartwheel is (tenuously) based on the Amanda Knox trial. Set in Argentina, American Lily Hayes has been accused of murdering her junior-year-abroad roommate. DuBois has fashioned the rare page-turner that combines deep insight and stellar writing, switching perspectives deftly among the various characters. Cartwheel is whip-smart, with not a wasted sentence, and utterly plausible—you can imagine being any of the people in it, from the prickly Lily, to her pained father, to the lawyer charging her, to her wealthy, desultory, orphaned boyfriend.
Check out all of our Best Books of 2013 coverage right here!