In Michelle Richmond’s ‘The Marriage Pact,’ Till Death Do Us Part Jokes Write Themselves

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Marriage is a once-indomitable institution in decline. Books like Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies and Kate Bolick’s Atlantic article of the same name confirm this for us. We’re getting married less, and staying married less often.

So what should we do about it? In Michelle Richmond’s thriller The Marriage Pact, power couples have decided to take the power of marriage back, by any means necessary. Meet the namesake Pact, a secret society intent on developing great marriages. Think of a chic, jetsetting, Scientology-esque group of obsessive mate-pleasers.

But just what makes a successful marriage? When Alice and Jake are invited to join the secret club after their wedding, they’re all in. Every newly-wedded couple can use some help, right? What sounds simple becomes a controlling and torturous power game, as The Pact takes things to another level. Spousal support of all kinds is demanded, and The Pact will be there to enforce the rules when they aren’t followed.

Sure, it sounds cheesy, right? And it is, a bit. The best thrillers are aware of the genre and not afraid to dive on into the deep end. Or they draw themselves on out of it and head away from the genre entirely. But I digress. I judge straight thrillers solely on how well they keep me craving the next page, drawing me forward into the story, not on how well they reinvent the wheel. The Marriage Pact had me falling deeper and deeper through a rabbit hole of exhausting demands with Alice and Jake. The novel’s exploration of society’s expectations of marriage was an interesting and thoughtful twist, like slowing down to peer at emotional wreckage while speeding ahead on a thrill ride.

While this was one thrill ride I thoroughly enjoyed, I was disappointed when it abruptly ended and I was forced to get off. The Marriage Pact‘s ending was the book’s only letdown, as it felt forced, but perhaps left an opening for a follow-up. I didn’t buy the character’s choices in the last few pages, but of course I’ll buy the sequel if there is one. I’m a lover, not a fighter. Pact, I’m here for you, ’till death do us part.

The Marriage Pact (out July 25) on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

This Is Your Brain On Dating: The KaliReads Guide To Dating Books

“I don’t need to read about what should come naturally,” I told my sister, after she insisted I pick up some dating books. I’d been swiping my way through the world of online dating, and my adventures, while always story-worthy, were exhausting. My sister, ever the life guru, suggested I grab some reading material on navigating the down-and-dirty jungle of the online dating world.

Those familiar with the blog know I’m an equal opportunity reader, loving mysteries and chick-lit, literary fiction, medical nonfiction, and everything in between. So why the resistance to dating books? Something in me squirmed at seeking advice about what had once come so naturally.

But it was time to admit there was nothing natural about trying to decide if someone was a potential soulmate or a potential serial killer through four photos and a 250 character bio. I needed to hit the books. Now, perhaps, more than ever.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

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Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise. And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that. Ideally, though, we’re lucky, and we find our soul mate and enjoy that life-changing mother lode of happiness. But a soul mate is a very hard thing to find.
― Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance

Out of all the dating books I read, Ansari’s is the most grounded and practical. If you are looking for strategies on how to snare a man, then scroll down further, as there are other books for you on this list. But if you are looking for a dating state of the union of sorts, taking inventory of our tech-mad modern dating scene, then Ansari’s book is the one for you. Equally suitable for men and women, and a variety of ages, this is the book to read if you are thinking of dipping a toe into the dating pool. Ansari combines practical advice with research, placing himself in the role of the hilarious, super-smart, straight-shooting dating sidekick you didn’t realize you needed until you read Modern Romance.

The Manual: A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date, and Mate—and What Women Can Do to Come Out on Top by Steve Santagati

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I regularly hear women complain about manly-man boyfriends who could stand to be cut down to size every now and then. How can this be done? With the ultimate power move: by using the top four male weaknesses–hair, penis size, career, and height–to keep a man’s ego in line. Any man worth his salt will take this technique in stride, remaining confident enough not to fold while you pick up some relationship power. Women who do this cleverly always come out on top.
– Steve Santagati, The Manual

This book made me laugh. It made me want to cry. Do I mean that in a good way? I have no idea. I wasn’t sure if Steve Santagati was joking when he suggested that I wear little dresses to the hardware store to find a man, but I’ll never know if his suggestions worked as I never tried them out.

Santagati offers a glimpse inside the brain of a true bad boy: himself. He’s a woman-whisperer of sorts, and is willing to offer some of his sweet nothings up for our consumption. This book is half mind-games, half-male fantasies. It’s difficult to take seriously at times, but ultimately harmless and easy to read.

Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl–A Woman’s Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship by Sherry Argov

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That’s the big picture, your happiness. And health. You should never care what a man thinks of you—until he demonstrates to you that he cares about making you happy. If he isn’t trying to make you happy, then send him back from “whence” he came because winning him over will have no benefit. At the end of the day, happiness, joy…and yes…your emotional stability…those comprise the only measuring stick you really need to have.
― Sherry Argov, Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl – A Woman’s Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship

If this book had a theme song, it would be “You Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive. This is the ultimate mind game book. There are some aspects of Argov’s advice that I love: don’t bend over backward for your man, keep your own life on track, and make sure your happiness is your first priority.

But despite insistence that you should be number one, most of the advice about self-care is centered around the ultimate goal of finding a man. Instead of leading a busy, happy life, Argov seems to be advocating looking busy and acting happy to bait a man on in. It didn’t work for me. If I want to call someone? I call them. I just lay my cards on the table. If you do the same, then you’ll never be able to follow the rules laid out here. But if you need some boundaries in dating and you’re not sure what that looks like, pick this one up.

It’s Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak Into Happily Ever After by Andi Dorfman

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Do I think I made a mistake in getting engaged? Yes. Obviously, considering it didn’t last. Do I regret it? Yes. I regret the fact that I will never get that first proposal back; that moment won’t go to my husband, but rather will always belong to my ex. But, I’ve never believed in living life free of regrets, it’s too much pressure. In fact, I regret plenty of things: the terrible bangs I had in third grade, the hideous sequined corset I wore to the prom—hell, I regret what I wore last weekend. Regrets are mistakes that we learn from. They don’t dictate the rest of our lives, they’re just little glitches, and impulsive choices we made in the moment. But it’s just that, a moment and the moment eventually passes.
― Andi Dorfman, It’s Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak into Happily Never After

This is an exposé of the Dorfman affair, aka Andi Dorfman getting engaged to Josh Murray on her season of The Bachelorette, and then it all ending after the show. Mixed in with Dorfman’s story about her season on The Bachelorette and her break-up with Josh is her advice on dating, and more importantly, picking yourself up when a relationship, marriage, or series of 3 Bumble dates that had potential just doesn’t work out for you.

I love books like this, and I’m not afraid to show it. Is it well-written? Nah, not really. Is it urgent advice you’ll hear nowhere else? Nope. Is it juicy gossip about Nick Viall’s sexual prowess, mixed with the comeback story of a woman whose break-up was gossip fodder for the entire nation? Yes and yes. Go there and don’t be ashamed for it.

Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood

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We may be hard-pressed to explain to family and friends how someone who is not particularly admirable or even likable can nevertheless arouse in us a thrill of anticipation and an intensity of longing never matched by what we feel for someone nicer or more presentable. It is difficult to articulate that we are enchanted by the dream of calling forth all the positive attributes–the love, caring, attention, integrity, and nobility–we are sure are lying dormant in our lover, waiting to blossom in the warmth of our love.
– Robin Norwood, Women Who Love Too Much

If all of these other books tackle the surface issues of dating: the mating rituals, the call and response preening and courting that finding a good man entail, Women Who Love Too Much goes deeper. It looks at your history, from childhood on, and examines why we date who we date. Why we try to change the people we insist on being with, even when it hasn’t worked out. Why we attach to a certain type of figure, when that type always brings the same sort of heartbreak.

Although not everything in Norwood’s book felt right on for me, Women Who Love Too Much made me realize that dating, for the most part, needed to be an inside job. Most of the dating books, like The Manual or Why Men Love Bitches, that focused on when to call or what to wear, wouldn’t serve me. I needed to tune in to me, and tune out the rest. Then everything would fall into place.

Although I’m usually the book nerdiest, in this genre, I’m totally out of my depth. If none of these dating books sound good to you, this is just the tip of the gigantic dating-book iceberg. I only explored a small handful in what is a huge genre full of all types of books. Gimme some of your faves!

Let’s Get Mad, People – This Is Rage, The Podcast

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If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you may remember my review of a hilarious, satirical, and whip-smart book called This Is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness by Ken Goldstein. If you haven’t read the review, go back and check it out.

I totally forgot about this book, which flew largely under the radar, until recently. It is back again, adapted as a podcast, which works beautifully with its content. It tells a complicated and multi-webbed story of a Silicon Valley kidnapping, a corporate takeover, and a shock jock radio host broadcasting through the entire mess. As some of the story is told in radio broadcasts, it translates perfectly into podcast form, coming to life in a new way perfectly suited to the medium.

This is a great listen, but is it as good as the book? Is the movie ever as good as the book? Something is always lost in translation, especially as this is a longer novel with a bunch of quick, clever jokes.As with movie adaptations, something here feels a bit simplified for consumption. You will enjoy this podcast, but you know I’m a book lover first and foremost. Read the book, and listen to the podcast.

There are three episodes out now, each one ending on a hilarious, just-this-side-of-plausible cliffhanger. I will stay tuned, and if you are looking for something new to add to your morning commute, consider This Is Rage.

This Is Rage Podcast Page on Itunes.com

This is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Ken Goldstein’s This is Rage page (with an excerpt from the book)

Charlie Jane Anders’ ‘All The Birds In The Sky’ Is The Harry Potter For Adults You’ve Been Waiting For

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And at the last, a war between magic and science that would leave the world in ashes. At the center of all this were a man and a woman, who were still children now.
― Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky

“I am unflappable,” Laurence told the bus driver. Who shrugged, as if he’d thought so too, once upon a time, until someone had flapped him.
― Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky

You know this story, you’ve heard it before a thousand times. In Charlie Jane Anders’ first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, boy meets girl. Both are outcasts, loners looking for companionship. A connection is formed. But one is a witch, and one is a mad scientist who will someday build a doomsday machine… Wait, what?!?

This is a story you’ve heard before, a thousand times, running headlong into another story you’ve heard before, a thousand times, and devouring it whole. It is coming-of-age, it is falling-into-and-out-of-love, it is science fiction and fantasy and end of the world dystopia. It is all of this smooshed into a delicious sandwich of clever one-liners that never become old, beautifully written moments that dance on that borderline of cheesiness, tropes re-built from the top down. Everything you know about science fiction and fantasy is there, from the very first lines. It is all inside out, it is upside down, and it is endlessly creative.

Patricia Delfine talked to a bird and a tree when she was a small child. Laurence Armstead built a watch allowing him to time travel two seconds into the future. They are both oddities in their school and in the world, one finding solace in nature, and the other with keyboards and screens. They have a brief and fierce adolescent friendship, drawn together by their peculiar talents before they are torn apart by those same gifts.

Fast forward, and Delfine and Armstead run into each other as adults in a near-future San Francisco. The world isn’t a pretty place, and Delfine and Armstead aren’t the prettiest people. He has become a megalomaniac engineer, with millions of dollars behind him, and she has become an aggrandizing witch, using her powers to play with people as she sees fit. Can they come together to save a world that is falling apart?

I can’t speak highly enough of Charlie Jane Anders. If you haven’t read her Hugo-award winning novelette “Six Months, Three Days,” I recommend taking a break from social media to read it. Anders was a co-editor of the science fiction blog i09, and much can be read into All the Birds in the Sky regarding not only society’s struggle between technology and the environment, but also the genre struggle between science fiction and fantasy. It can be a challenge to make a novel this layered and eager also fun and funny to read, but Anders executes this brilliantly. She makes it look easy.

I’ve heard Anders speak on panels twice, and each time she was insightful. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

All the Birds in the Sky on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Uncover A Wrongful Conviction in ‘The Life We Bury’ by Allen Eskens

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College student Joe Talbert has a lot going on. His mom is a mess of mental illness and alcoholism, and he often finds himself as the primary caretaker for his autistic little brother. Despite his familial challenges, he’s finally made it into college. His English assignment is to find a stranger, interview him, and write a biography of his or her life. How difficult could this really be?

In Allen Eskens’ The Life We Bury, what starts as a simple college assignment turns out to be a full-blown investigation into a crime committed decades ago, and an exploration of a dying man’s haunting memories. Talbert, through a series of events that sounds much more believable in the book, chooses to interview a chronically ill convict released to a local retirement home. As he interviews the convicted killer, questions about the case and the man’s past arise.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint why this thriller wasn’t too memorable to me. It was solid all around. The characters were quirky, charming, and lovable. The side plot of Talbert’s budding romance with his neighbor was delightful. Allen Eskens is clearly a talented author, he can build up a tale that keeps a reader curious and entertained.

I think part of the problem, for me, was the amount of setup required to get the thrill on here. The plot required a lot of explanation at every turn, and none of it felt easy or natural to me. Why go to an old folks home? Why is the inmate there? Why this? Why that? Those who read the blog know I’m not a fan of the bells or whistles as much as I am a simple, well-crafted story, well-written. While I loved the characters, I didn’t love the way the story was built.

However, if you love charming, off-beat folks coming together to solve mysteries (think Peter Clines or Harlen Coben), then give this one a go. And this was Eskens’ debut novel, so definitely keep an eye on what is to come from him.

Scare Slowly, Then All At Once: Andrew Michael Hurley’s ‘The Loney’

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IF IT HAD another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney— that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. It was our week of penitence and prayer in which we would make our confessions, visit Saint Anne’s shrine, and look for God in the emerging springtime, that, when it came, was hardly a spring at all; nothing so vibrant and effusive. It was more the soggy afterbirth of winter.

Dull and featureless it may have looked, but the Loney was a dangerous place. A wild and useless length of English coastline. A dead mouth of a bay that filled and emptied twice a day and made Coldbarrow— a desolate spit of land a mile off the coast— into an island. The tides could come in quicker than a horse could run and every year a few people drowned. Unlucky fishermen were blown off course and ran aground. Opportunist cocklepickers, ignorant of what they were dealing with, drove their trucks onto the sands at low tide and washed up weeks later with green faces and skin like lint.

The Loney, Andrew Michael Hurley

Everyone’s favorite YA romance taught us that falling in love is like falling asleep–you can do it slowly, then all at once. But you can do other things like that too. You can be scared slowly, then all at once. You can wade with a gothic novel through a thick and brambly slow-paced novel of hints and foreboding, and then find yourself, all at once, in the midst of something unspeakable, terrifying, and absolutely evil.

Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney is that sort of book, a trap that feels almost lazily set in its own preciseness, a book that will have you wondering where its slow crawl down a gloomy beach with a desperate family is leading. The pace is nearly nonexistent, the book is drowning in its own paranoia.

I think this book is making waves (most notably Sarah Perry’s Guardian review, claiming it a gothic masterpiece) because we don’t write or read thrillers this way anymore. We so often want them quick and dirty, easily consumable. We don’t want their sentences suffocating, their paces slow, their plots unclear and totally unnavigable. And yet, here is The Loney, a painful, detailed, drudging, and really, crystalline book. And it works.

The Loney on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Lavie Tidhar Imagines A Future City Both Strange and Familiar In ‘Central Station’

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Space was full of questions, life was a sentence always ending in an ellipsis or a question mark. You couldn’t answer everything. You could only believe there were answers at all.
― Lavie Tidhar, Central Station

A robot built for battle, and cast aside at the war’s end, an eerie vision of this country’s homeless veteran problem… A gamer girl who spends much of her time encapsulated in a pod battling in virtual worlds, conflicted because she loves a robot at a time where the Catholic church forbids human/robot love… A gifted child, manufactured like a science experiment, but still undeniably human… And his best friend, who seems to shimmer in and out of the physical world and into the virtual one, where so much of the future takes place… Others, sentient machines who live amongst humans, sometimes pairing with them to create superhuman-like oracles… A vampire who feeds on data from the Conversation, an ever-humming networked buzz of connection.

All of these characters weave in and out of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, a complex and elaborate vision of a future directly extrapolated from our present. Close your eyes, take two deep breaths forward into technology’s advancement, and you are there–with the towering, bustling space port of Central Station bursting through the atmosphere above you, its height creating its own miniature weather systems.

Central Station is Tel Aviv, or was Tel Aviv, but is now a bustling space port, a cultural mecca where creatures human and other have met, bounced off of each other, merged, fought, loved, and formed some sort of life together. Those looking for a plot-driven novel will only find hints of one here, but those seeking a world built from scratch will appreciate the strong foundations and smart implications of this future vision.

I loved Lavie Tidhar’s Osama, and sometimes I wonder if Tidhar is trying to see just how unpopular he can become. He is a talented writer who doesn’t seem to make his projects more digestible for a mainstream audience, which is fine, but I would love to see him make it big with something more easily to consume one day. I also need to find a copy of his Man Lies Dreaming next, which like Osama, sounds almost a bit too meta and brilliant for its own good. But Tidhar is one of the few authors who can take these big, uncomfortable ideas and story tropes and pull something brilliant and beautiful and fresh out of them.

My last post was on Berkeley’s Bay Area Book Festival, and this book received a shoutout from the authors on the Subversive Speculative Science Fiction Panel. If you are looking for something simple, look elsewhere. If you want something to make your mind and heart expand and ache, you’ve found your author.

Central Station on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Oh, A Bay Area Book-Festin’ I Did Go

This last weekend I was totally excited to fly out of a record-breaking desert heatwave in Arizona, and attend the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, California. Big names and small presses came together, shutting down the streets of Downtown Berkeley and gathering around the world’s largest free library. It was a book lover’s dream.

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Lacuna, the world’s largest free library/sculpture.

I went into the festival getting a bit of a cold, which I assume the dramatic climate change didn’t help, and was pretty bummed to feel like I was dying through such an incredible experience. I toughed it out though, and attended every panel I planned on, except one, crashing early in the first evening with a nasty cough.

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Saul Williams and the Black Spirituals

The festival started off with a performance by poet, musician, and slam-master Saul Williams featuring local spoken-word artist Chinaka Hodge avant-garde jazz musicians Black Spirituals. As this had been sold out for months, I wasn’t sure I was going to get in, but I scored a ticket at the last minute.

I caught the end of Hodge’s performance, which was breathtaking and made me regret walking in late. Williams jammed with the Black Spirituals, free-associating poetry out of his new collection as they jammed on the drums and a bass plugged into several synthesizers. One of the best, and worst, things about Saul Williams is his multi-faceted performance ability. You don’t know which Saul you will get when you show up to see him. As someone who loves the fast-flowing percussive alliteration of spoken word, this more chilled out performance wasn’t my favorite.

That’s okay though, I still love Saul, and found a new name to look out for in Chinaka Hodge. I picked up two books as I walked out of the performance: Saul Williams’ new collection, US(a.) and Chinaka Hodge’s Dated Emcees.

 

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Subversive Speculative Fiction with Charlie Jane Anders, Joanna Sinisalo, Carter Scholz, and Jewelle Gomez. Ayize Jama-Everett came in a bit late, so isn’t pictured here.

For the actual festival, I went real big and packed my lineup. One of the best panels I heard was the first I attended, Subversive Speculative Fiction, hosted by the always brilliant Charlie Jane Anders.

Although I hadn’t heard of many of the authors speaking, I had jotted down each of their books by the end of the talk and I’m looking forward to reading their work. Most notably Johanna Sinisalo and Ayize Jama-Everett were both hilarious while questioning the status quo of science fiction in simple but profound ways.

 

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Jane Ciabattaria hosting a panel with Dana Spiotta and Jonathan Lethem.

Another of the greatest panels I saw featured Jonathan Lethem and Dana Spiotta nerding out about society, technology, and writing like two old friends staying up way too late and analyzing the world in all the most interesting ways. This is the sort of stuff I love to hear, the strange ways smart people think. From Spiotta researching the sound and touch of 1970’s telephone technology, to Lethem’s thoughts on the way the simultaneous experience has devolved through technology like Netflix, this was all the stuff I love to think about. Lethem has been one of my favorite authors for quite a while now, and although I haven’t checked out Spiotta’s work, I am definitely going to do so in the future.

There was quite a bit more. Most notably, a panel with Adam Johnson, and another with the editors of the Voice of Witness books, which amplify the voices of those subject to human rights abuses around the world. Powerful stuff.

If you didn’t make it to Berkeley for this year’s Bay Area Book Festival, start planning now to make it out next year (it will be June 3rd and 4th, 2017).

Bay Area Book Festival

A Man Survives In Noah Hawley’s ‘Before the Fall’

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First, let’s talk names. When I refer to Before the Fall here, I’m not referring to the 2004 German film or the manga series Attack on the Titan: Before the Fall. I’m not referring to the 2008 or 2015 movies of the same name, or the several less notable novels and short stories which also share the title. And don’t even get me started on things named After the Fall. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the thriller released at the end of this month by Noah Hawley, the guy who created the acclaimed TV series Fargo. Don’t let its forgettable name confuse you–this is a book to read.

Those who follow the blog know I’m not a fan of hype. Books with big hype never live up to their marketing promises, and reading them often leaves me deflated, once again angry at publishers for fearlessly over-promising me the moon in print. But Noah Hawley’s fifth novel, about a plane crash, about a man and a boy alone in an ocean at night, and the events leading up to that crash and just following it, is one of those rare reads living up to its hype.

So (spoiler alert? If you wanted to go in cold, this is a surprise in the first chapter, I think, and I’m sorry) this book is about a plane crash. It is about a man swimming with a boy on his back, plunging underneath a gigantic wave. But this isn’t no-frills thriller, a page-turner that leaves you hungry like bad Chinese food eaten too fast on a Friday night. This is a book about Jack LaLanne’s tailor-made sweatsuits, and paintings that you will never see that take your breath away, and a kidnapping. This is a book about corrupt men and innocent, beautiful women. As fast as you’ll want to chomp this down, it will leave you feeling full.

A private plane, a nine-seat OSPRY 45XR, takes off from Martha’s Vineyard, bound for New York. An extra passenger is onboard, in addition to the usual outlandishly wealthy businessmen and their families. A painter named Scott, who planned on taking the ferry into the city but was invited along at the last minute, has barely caught the flight. One minute, he is in the sky, mildly unnerved by the ridiculous luxury of private plane travel.

And then, the next moment, it seems, he’s in the sea.

We love survival stories. We gathered in theaters to watch men freeze to death on Everest, and to see a man cut off his own arm in 127 Hours. Before the Fall is more than a survival story, though. It is a story about how we live after survival. About how we consume each other, and things, for our own needs. What gets us through? And what doesn’t? Don’t forget this is a thriller, albeit a fleshy one. The question pounding through the book with false stops and starts is why the plane crashed. Told from the perspectives of those involved in the crash, and those investigating it in its aftermath, Hawley crystallizes life through laser-sharp details before zooming out for big picture stuff. A less talented author would have created just another thriller, choppy and imprecise. But Before the Fall is a full, wide-open story with big wings. Just be ready for those wings to fall off, and everything to come crashing down.

Before the Fall (out May 21st) on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Gregory Boyle Brings Boundless Compassion In ‘Tattoos on the Heart’

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No daylight to separate us. Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.
― Gregory J. Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Some books are not about the stuff of life, but about life itself. Being here on this planet for a brief moment in time, really seeing each other, and then disappearing. Some books are not about the stuff of life, but how to live it. Gregory J. Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion is one of those books.

Boyle, or simply G as he is called by those who know him best, is a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries. Homeboy built itself up out of the Dolores Mission in a small area of Los Angeles considered the gang capital of the world. G and Ray Stark, a successful movie producer, bought an old bakery, found an old tortilla machine, and decided to bring rival gang members together in what would be called The Homeboy Bakery.

After a young man arrived with a tattoo of “Fuck the World” across his forehead, asking for assistance in finding a job, they realized they also needed to provide ex-gang members with tattoo removal services.

Homeboy Industries has grown into a thriving resource for ex-gang members seeking employment, tattoo removal, and huge amount of other resources. They offer ex-gang members employment through cafes, a printing company, a bakery, and other avenues.

Tattoos on the Heart is not only G’s story, but the story of the homies. G’s couldn’t tell his story without theirs, as they are totally intertwined. They call him in the middle of the night for a ride home from prison. They shoot up his neighborhood in the afternoon, and he chases them down. These are his kids, and every step of the way he loves them. They live, and they die, under his compassionate guidance.

It is hard to understand how a book can be so funny and so sad all at once. But this is a hilarious, heart-breaking book. It is religious, with G offering teachings from a variety of faiths and spiritual leaders, but never zealous. This is a book about God, but don’t let that scare you. It is also a book about boys with tattoos and baggy pants trying to learn how to be men in a world that has largely forgotten them. It is brief (just over 200 pages), moving, and powerful.

Tattoos on the Heart on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org