This week there are fantastic books running as our Books of the Day. We have food, siblings, and surprisingly enough, a doppleganger to a book that ran last week. Read through the list here and be sure to check each one throughout the week!
A Novel in Stories
E.A. Aymar, editor
Sarah M. Chen, editor
Hank Phillippi Ryan, contributor
Rob Brunet, contributor
Angel Luis Colón, contributor
Hilary Davidson, contributor
Mark Edwards, contributor
Gwen Florio, contributor
Elizabeth Heiter, contributor
J.J. Hensley, contributor
Jennifer Hillier, contributor
Shannon Kirk, contributor
Down & Out Books
Softcover $17.95 (286pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon
The Night of the Flood uses an original and intriguing premise as a playground for seasoned crime writers to spin sordid but captivating tales.
A group of strong activist women protesting the first execution of a woman in Pennsylvania in modern times blows up a dam, flooding the fictional town of Everton and ushering in a night of chaotic lawlessness and looting. This “novel in stories” uses this premise; a handful of writers present their unique riffs on the scenario.
They write about truck thieves, looters, lowlifes, thugs, tough guys, kidnappers, and killers who run rampant while the town is partially submerged. The writers think through all the various repercussions of an anthropogenic disaster, such as the sudden ability to make a quick buck ferrying the stranded out of town, property owners hell-bent on defending what’s theirs, and opportunists seeing the perfect chance to strike.
One scenario involves a hit man who pays an unfriendly visit to a local barman, who cleverly sends him to a neighborhood watch meeting where the would-be vigilantes are armed with baseball bats. The narrative does not go as one would expect, a credit to the author’s gift of storytelling.
Almost all of the stories veer off the well-trodden path. They are written by accomplished, acclaimed thriller authors who have contributed to esteemed publications like Thuglit and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The various entries crackle with tension and high stakes.
One quickly warms up to the parade of new characters, who invariably find themselves in danger or at least extremis. Though the stories are not explicitly interrelated, they’re tied together expertly, including with an epilogue that includes a killer, masterful, drop-the-mic twist. While the collection includes various styles and voices, it feels as though it was masterminded by a single ingenious author.
The Night of the Flood shines, showcasing talented writers making the most of an inventive starting point.
JOSEPH S. PETE (February 27, 2018)
Another wacky adventure with Waldo Baron, better know as W.B., arrives with The Wonderful Baron Doppelgänger Device, in which someone has used W.B.‘s parents’ latest invention to assume his identity.
It’s an exciting time for W.B. An old friend, Shorty, is visiting. W.B. has a new friend, B.W., and his favorite day of the year, the annual Pitchfork Fair, is at hand. His aunt Dorcas has been busy baking delicious pies and tarts to enter the fair competition, and his parents’ assistant Rose Blackwood is trying to bake her own entries, but is failing spectacularly.
Things can never just go smoothly for this clumsy, awkward young hero. Rose’s pie explodes at the fair. She is quickly arrested and imprisoned. When W.B. returns home after being kidnapped, his parents chase him off the estate. Now he must prove Rose’s innocence and reclaim his identity.
This is a wonderful installment in a truly delightful series. Charming characters are full of quirks and oddities, including a father who is far more affectionate to animals than he is to people, an aunt who seems to do nothing but bake and complain, and a friend who is the size of a baby, but who possesses incredible strength.
W.B. is completely endearing as he stumbles through his latest adventure, coming up with new ideas (“brain sneezes,” as he calls them). The story is full of clever twists and turns, and W.B.’s antics are always funny.
Amid its enormous fun, the book sneaks in some important life lessons, such as appreciating what you have and taking care of family. It is memorable and appealing, ensuring it a place of honor on any bookshelf.
CATHERINE THURESON (February 27, 2018)
A New Take on Jewish Cooking
Restaurateur Amanda Ruben makes two generations of Ruben women who fell into cooking as a joyous career. Flipping through her tantalizing new cookbook, it’s easy to understand why she was propelled to parlay her recipes, with their simultaneous interest in inheritance and invention, into a way of life.
The book leads off with potential holiday and hosting menus. They keep kashrut restrictions in mind, and grazing is presumed. Recipes are prefaced with a few lines each that contextualize their treats, both within Ruben’s family story and within Jewish gastronomy as a whole. They bring the fun of feasting forward, using apt terms like “sexy” and “knobbly” to describe ingredients, and boasting as warranted: “If cooking is the way to a man’s heart, then our pastrami is a direct injection.”
Tradition is a given, but the book also brings deli techniques home, making it seem easy to oven smoke whitefish yourself or to transform a side of salmon—boned by your fishmonger—into lox. Instructions are brief and approachable. Some dishes require just a few ingredients each, and plenty can be completed the day before, for Shabbat consideration. Recipes pull from new traditions and outside cultures as well; quinoa salad done Ruben’s way includes homemade sriracha. Pomegranates are here; so are Thai flavors.
Colors pop in the book’s luscious, bright photographs, which move between highlighting beautiful seasonal ingredients and featuring tempting final products. Think: fried fish garnished with pine nuts and currants. Blanched asparagus with cheese, challah croutons, and duck eggs. Poached veal with saffron aioli. Accompaniments, like blood orange dressing, are simple and enticing.
Jerusalem meets Joan Nathan in Feasting, a playful, inviting addition to Jewish cooking libraries that is well worth passing down.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (February 27, 2018)
Thirteen-year-old Susan begins Adina Rishe Gewirtz’s Blue Window “because Susan is the one who names things.” One long December evening, during the span between day and night that she calls “blue window time,” her family room window actually glows an opaque cobalt color. Susan and her four siblings investigate, never suspecting that they’ll fall out the other side into the strange world of Ganbihar, where prophecies speak of the five powerful ones who will bring hope of light when the danger grows.
Susan and her twin, Max, are as different and alike as they are from the rest of their siblings—eleven-year-old Nell, eight-year-old Kate, and seven-year-old Jean. But as the oldest, they’re the de facto leaders, even when they find themselves out of their depth in the Domain of Ganbihar.
Surrounded by deformed, animalistic humans who have survived the Destruction and the Change under the leadership of the Genius, none of the siblings knows whether they’ll survive a place where magic seems real, focused intention grants power, and appearances aren’t what they seem.
Each sibling is given a section of the novel to narrate, and as perspectives shift, who these siblings are and who they’re becoming is continually reconfigured. As they learn about the Genius, the Fanatics, the Sleepers, and the Slashers who inhabit this world, each must construct new notions of good and bad, even as Ganbihar offers or denies them power, privilege, safety, and security according to terms they’ve never before known.
A classic portal fantasy, Blue Window reveals the intricacies of individual experience. As each sibling wrestles to understand Ganbihar’s societal ethics and values, divergent realities are created. Ultimately, the five siblings must reconcile these truths and their relationships to each other if they’re going to get home—or even survive.
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (February 27, 2018)
Whiskey and Ribbons is an absorbing delight, illumined by richly described relationships and thoughtful explorations of life’s central questions.
The tale of a young police officer killed in the line of duty, Whiskey and Ribbons is an engrossing, warm, and moving look at family, friendship, loss, and love.
Eamon and Evangeline are a young couple living in Louisville, Kentucky, and expecting their first child when Eamon is shot and killed on the job. Dalton, Eamon’s adopted brother and a close friend of Evangeline’s, moves in to help her cope with this loss and care for her infant son. The point of view alternates between the three adults, moving back and forth in time to before and after Eamon’s death, covering Eamon and Evangeline’s romance, Eamon’s fears about his job, Dalton’s feelings about his adopted family, and more.
Cross-Smith writes each of these characters with depth and makes each one equally engaging. Eamon’s chapters capture his fears for Evangeline should anything happen to him. These sections contrast beautifully and heartrendingly with Evangeline’s descriptions of her grief. Dalton’s own complex romantic relationships provide a contrast to the steadiness of Eamon and Evangeline’s love. Frances and Cassidy, Dalton’s two love interests, come to life as fully realized characters as well, and Dalton’s ambivalent feelings about meeting his biological father provide a satisfying subplot.
The plot is simple and develops slowly; it is not the main source of this novel’s satisfactions. Instead, it’s the novel’s emotional truths, particularly as major life events are grappled with, that hold attention. The novel ponders some of life’s most pressing questions: what makes a family, what parents and children deserve from each other, what makes a good marriage, and, most of all, how to cope with grief and loss.
Leesa Cross-Smith’s Whiskey and Ribbons is an absorbing delight.
REBECCA HUSSEY (February 27, 2018)