Pack’s (Evangeline’s Ghost, 2013, etc.) compilation includes the first five stories in a whimsical series about a library where books come to life.
Seventeen-year-old Joanna Charette is addicted to books. She loves reading them, repairing them—even smelling them. As an orphan, she lives alone in a ramshackle apartment and works at Book Services as a delivery girl. Her dreams of owning a beautiful library and handling treasured manuscripts seem impossible, until one day she’s summoned to an address she can’t quite find. Believing herself to be at the right spot, Joanna walks toward an old library called the Library of Illumination. As if destined to do so, she gains entrance and meets the curator, Malcolm Trees. Joanna soon learns that when this library’s enchanted books open, characters suddenly appear. Eventually—after some exploits involving Tarzan and Dr. John Watson—Malcolm is convinced that he’s found his replacement and retires. Joanna moves into the library, hires a teen assistant named Jackson and proceeds to have her own series of increasingly epic adventures. Will she grow into the levelheaded librarian she knows herself to be, or will this fantasy job ruin her real life? Pack cheerfully runs an inventive marathon with this anything-goes premise. The biggest questions readers might ask are addressed in each of the five stories presented here, starting with “Doubloons,” in which Jackson accidentally lets Treasure Island pirates loose. When the book shuts and some gold coins remain behind, the resulting narrative fallout charms and thrills in equal measures. Similarly, stories such as “The Orb” and “Casanova” flaunt Pack’s literary brilliance and her ability to grow the world and characters episodically; watching Jackson woo Joanna will entice audiences just as much as the adventures. Pack also offers a great reminder: As Jackson knocks fairy tales, Joanna replies that they “have a long tradition of entertaining children while teaching them all things are possible—if they’re resourceful.” That goes for adults, too.
Come for the literary sights and sounds, stay for Pack’s miraculously fine-tuned imagination.
An uncommonly clearsighted collection of short fiction.
Though journalist Anderson is a first-time author, her sensitive and startlingly perceptive debut proves she’s on her way to being a master. With the grace of an adept eavesdropper, these 17 short stories slip quietly into the heartbreaks, disappointments and hopes of people living in Maine’s western valleys. Haunted by their choices and responsibilities, Anderson’s characters are working people—bartenders and welders, bakers and jewelry makers, hunters and taxidermists—all in search of meaning. In plainspoken but richly detailed prose, she captures the claustrophobia of small-town life, and in each story, her protagonists seem caught in the moment just before epiphany, looking through windows into what else might be possible. By rooting herself in objects and description, Anderson manages to navigate this interior landscape without veering too far into the sentimental. Of a character visiting a former home where her ex-husband still lives with his new wife, Anderson writes: “When Jeanine sits the groan of the springs is familiar. On one of the pillows is a long brown hair, Diane’s. Jeanine picks the strand up and studies it—no split end—then drops it.” In these small moments, Anderson’s gifts of attention and emotional precision are on shining display. Though the stories here all share a particular world and mood, Anderson also reveals impressive range: Her characters—of different genders, ages and dispositions—each have a distinct voice, and she writes confidently in first-, second- and third-person points of view. Though a few of her flash fiction pieces, such as “Dance Recital for the Men of the American Legion in April,” stand out, some of the shortest stories in the collection can feel anemic, if evocative. Still, Anderson excels at first lines—“Until Nina met Luke, it never occurred to her that people would have sex on a painting”—and there’s not a single story readers will be tempted to skip.
A triumphant, probing debut that promises both literary and mass appeal.
Lawyer, scientist and original Renaissance man Francis Bacon enlists four high-spirited law students to help solve a murder and secure his return to Queen Elizabeth’s favor.
In this debut historical mystery set in 1586, a 25-year-oldBacon is horrified when he stumbles over the body of his former law tutor in a Westminster alleyway. But when his uncle, the powerful courtier Lord Burghley, asks him to investigate the murder, he sees an opportunity to regain the queen’s favor, lost after he dared to suggest the English legal code needed an overhaul. Hoping to restart his stalled career, the ambitious Bacon takes the assignment, but owing to delicate digestion and social awkwardness, he delegates much of the actual investigating to his four pupils: Tom Clarady, a good-hearted mischief-maker whose privateer father is determined to make hima gentleman; the miniature Allen Trumpington, owner of “a tragic wisp of a moustache of which he was perversely proud”; highborn, pompous Stephen Delabere; and the studious, intelligent Benjamin Whitt. At the murder scene, Clarady spies a golden-haired beauty gazing down from a window and falls immediately in love. The possibility that she might have witnessed the murder provides him an excuse to hunt for her, though identifying her does prompt certain concerns: “Had he fallen in love with a strumpet? Again?” Fortunately for Clarady, Clara Goossens only charges for the portraits she paints of noblewomen. Bacon suspects the enemy is close at hand: namely, another lawyerat Gray’s Inn allied with Catholic factions and intent on fomenting political unrest to unseat the queen. Castle’s characters brim with zest and real feeling, whether it’s Bacon dithering on a doorstep and wondering whether anyone has seen him do it or the prickly dynamic between Tom and Stephen, longtime pals from different social classes whose established symbiosis—“sharing Tom’s father’s money and Stephen’s father’s influence”—is starting to fray. Though the plot keeps the pages turning, the characters, major and minor, and the well-wrought historical details will make readers want to linger in the 16th century.
A laugh-out-loud mystery that will delight fans of the genre.
Business history that will satisfy anyone captivated by Silicon Valley.
Maxfield has written an engaging story about ROLM, a Silicon Valley startup that made its mark in the 1970s and ’80s. According to this insider account based on primary sources and interviews, ROLM was a model of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship that future startups sought to emulate long before consumer technology and social media companies captured the high-tech spotlight. ROLM’s innovative use of emerging digital technologies challenged AT&T’s monopoly position in the telephony business by helping companies save millions of dollars and improving office workers’ productivity. Maxfield fleshes out the story with engineering details, financial data, business strategies and management lessons that will appeal to MBAs eager to create their own successes. ROLM’s founders enjoyed extraordinary success in two distinct businesses—selling digital phone systems to businesses and making military grade computer systems for the Department of Defense. In its heyday, ROLM was a great place to work, with corporate perks such as 12-week sabbaticals for all employees—at full pay—after every sixth year of employment. With tennis courts, a gym, two pools, a gourmet cafeteria and landscaped grounds, its campus headquarters in Santa Clara, California, set a high bar for other companies competing for engineering talent during the late 1970s through mid-1980s. It’s easy to identify with the author’s sadness at how this story ends. ROLM was sold to IBM in 1984, and IBM sold ROLM to Siemens in 1988. The author draws from materials collected by the Silicon Valley Historical Association, newspaper and magazine articles, and interviews with the founders and former employees of ROLM to write a corporate history unusual in its candor. Readers don’t need to know the difference between a PBX and a CBX—although they’ll know after reading this book—to appreciate the intense emotions and exuberant personalities Maxfield portrays. A favorite among employees was ROLM executive Leo Chamberlain, known for “Leo-isms” such as being “ ‘up to our ass in alligators,’ a phrase he used whenever the going got tough.” Few authors have Maxfield’s knack for describing both the forest and the trees, which makes her history of ROLM a worthy model for other histories of Silicon Valley companies.