With the late winter rains finally arriving, and the early spring blossoming of so many trees and flowers, it feels like another season is upon us here in California. A new season of wonderful spring books are sprouting up every day at our store, too. From W.S. Merwin to Kem Nunn, Lorrie Moore to Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Kolbert to Walter Kirn, the new titles are flying onto the shelves, perching there poised and singing out, and then flying home with you to be enjoyed and read.
Here are a few sightings of interesting new books, a small sample of the rich range waiting at the bookstore. See you soon!
John & all Dieselfolk
Having been a huge fan of Amy Greene's Bloodroot, I couldn't wait to pick up her latest novel, Long Man. With just a few characters, Greene spins a somewhat dark tale based on a true account of the loss of a town when a dam is built on the local river they call Long Man in 1936. As the deadline draws near for the inhabitants to move out, a little girl turns up missing. The story is built around those who search for her and the effect her disappearance has on their lives. The girl's parents, the sheriff, a sometimes-local drifter, a maternal aunt, and the little girl's dog all play a role in this tense and haunting narrative. This novel will stay with you for a long time. -- Linda Grana
If you don't know what the Dyatlov Incident is, which I did not, it's an event that has baffled historians for 50 years. In 1958, 10 very experienced hikers (Russian university students, eight men, two women) tackled a notoriously difficult trail in the Ural Mountains. Nine never came back. Their bodies were found but the circumstances were highly unusual, causing all sorts of conspiracy, UFO, and supernatural theories. The temperature was below zero, yet each hiker was found dead a mile away from their neatly organized tent. No shoes. Most with no warm outer garments. Several of the hikers had brutal injuries. Forensic testing showed high levels of radiation on their clothing. Their tent had several cuts -- made from the inside. A final photograph found in their camera shows a mysterious orb of light. With no living witnesses (the one survivor turned back days before the incident) investigators were baffled. Why would trained hikers leave the safety of their tent in the dead of night, under-dressed, and wander a mile from camp? Dead Mountain is a true adventure thriller that reads like a mystery, told from three perspectives: the original hikers via their journals, the search and rescue team who located the remains in 1959, and the author's actual re-enactment of the hike in 2012 and his extensive research including an interview with the only original survivor. The author is a documentary filmmaker who, determined to unravel the clues, takes a winter hike into the same mountains. His research leads him to sort through the classic explanations -- avalanche, attack by the local Mansi people, high winds, armed men, weapons testing, and even aliens. Punctuated with primary source documents, readers will be enthralled by the final conclusion, which scientists now agree solves the mystery. -- Riley
The Testament of Mary, a novel by Colm Tóibín -- and the shortest ever to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize -- begins after the death of Jesus. Mary is living in a house in Ephesus that she is said to have occupied until her death. Tóibín advances the retrospective plot with questions the disciples ask her to help inform their gospels. Tóibín casts Mary as a protective mother who watched her son become involved with and lead a group of men she deemed misfit. Mary adored her son, and as she remembers the days prior to his crucifixion, the reader shares her devastation as she begins to realize what will happen to him.
What is most wonderful about Tóibín's point of view is that it does not deify Mary. She comes across as entirely human, not wildly fond of her son's "followers" and skeptical about his claims of being the son of God. One of my favorite scenes was when the water was changed to wine; Mary wonders if the extra barrels brought in at the end were in fact already wine. Who were these people crowding around, propagandizing her son, making him an object of both adoration and derision?
The novel's universal depiction of love, loss, and motherhood make it succeed. It would lend itself well to book club discussion as people have varied preconceived ideas about Mary. There is no mention, for instance, of virgin birth, but a realistic focus on what it means to love and let go of an adult son. The writing is so fine and subtle that it sings! I also have to recommend the audio version, which is read by Meryl Streep, who does a spectacular job of capturing the nuances of Mary's observations and moods. -- Mia Wigmore
This book reads like a pleasant yet erudite conversation with your favorite philosophy professor. Luc Ferry writes that, more than just legends and clichés, the tales of Greek mythology are the foundation of Western philosophy and that they have real relevance today. Their most important legacy is the vision of how to achieve a good and meaningful life, finding one's correct place in a harmonious cosmos. The stories of the creation of cosmic order and of the gods and heroes are retold in a fresh and enjoyable manner, and the case is made for making sure that they continue to be told to our kids. -- Rod Froke
A near-future, police procedural thriller that ties together a solitary detective, two snarky and half-crazed CSU techs, the high-powered Wall Street elite, and a prolific serial killer who sometimes believes he's living in New York City as it was before Europeans arrived. Ellis does a wonderful job contrasting the pervasive technology we live with day-to-day with the pastoral landscape his survivalist madman often inhabits. Alternately tragic, funny, and tense, Gun Machine is a real page-turner, sure to please thriller enthusiasts, as well as fans of Ellis' Transmetropolitan. -- Will Kaufman
Beautiful architecture featuring warm, inviting spaces crafted from natural materials of wood, stone, timber, and brick alone make this book a desirable part of your library. The fact that it's the first monograph of the renowned Bay Area architecture firm of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger raises it to a must-have for design lovers. Most of the projects featured are in Napa Valley and include both residences and wineries. The firm's goal is to follow the California farm building vernacular, keeping things simple and in harmony with the land. Considering that the land is Napa Valley, it doesn't get any better than this. -- Alan Dishman
Until recently, Laila and her family lived in a palace in an unnamed middle eastern country. Her father was king and although they lived under threat from violent rebel factions, Laila believed her father was a good man in a difficult situation. A few weeks ago he was shot dead in a coup and Laila was taken to America by the CIA. Now she lives in a small apartment in Washington, D.C., with her hysterical mother and younger brother, "the king of nowhere." Laila has to make adjustments to her worldview, not just to fit in at the local high school, but also to make sense of the father she loved and the tyrant she now knows he was. Her mother is intent on taking back the country, making deals with the CIA and rebel factions back home. But this all occurs in the background as Laila recreates herself as a Western teenager. She learns to drive, makes out with a boy, and goes to a school dance. But Laila knows she wants to go home and after spying on her mother, she thinks she may know how. This is a taut and clever story about the innocent and not so innocent families behind the news reports. Laila's perspective not only shifts, but actually stretches to accommodate all the different people she needs to be. The ending is very satisfying and surprisingly hopeful. The Tyrant's Daughter is an interesting and different coming of age novel, with fascinating insights into international relations. -- Clare Doornbos