Summer reading 2023

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Colleen Cambridge’s Mastering the Art of French Murder is a delightful cozy mystery set in post-World War II Paris with a cast of American expats, including Julia Child.

Tabitha Knight is settling into life in Paris, living with her grandfather and Oncle Rafe. Tabitha spends her days exploring the City of Light, tutoring her fellow Americans in French and learning how to cook from her best friend and neighbor, student chef Julia Child. When a young woman with ties to the Child family is found murdered in their apartment building—killed by a knife from Julia’s kitchen, no less—the police turn their attention to the chef-in-training. The investigation is further complicated when a note written by Tabitha is discovered in the victim’s pocket. To clear both their names, Tabitha sets out to discover who killed the woman and why. 

Cambridge skillfully blends fact with fiction in Mastering the Art of French Murder. Julia Child, along with her husband and sister, really did live in Paris in 1949, but Tabitha and her family are fictional characters. Cambridge captures Julia’s joie de vivre and passion for French cuisine, transporting readers into her kitchen during her early years at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. Cambridge’s Julia whips up several meals during the mystery, each more mouthwatering than the last. 

A figure as iconic as Julia could overshadow the rest of the characters, but Tabitha is a charming protagonist. She’s brave, resourceful and fiercely loyal to her friends and family, and while the former factory worker isn’t a perfect detective, her instincts are sharp. Her charming chemistry with the lead detective, Inspecteur Merveille, is an added bonus that will have readers rooting for their relationship to deepen in future books. 

Mastering the Art of French Murder is a love letter to the sights, sounds and delights of Paris, from the small daily markets to the thriving nightlife. Readers will enjoy navigating the city alongside Tabitha as she untangles the mystery, as well as getting to see a whole new side of the beloved Julia Child.

The charming Mastering the Art of French Murder follows Tabitha Knight—who just so happens to be Julia Child’s best friend—as she unravels a mystery in post-World War II Paris.
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Arcady Dalca is a mage who specializes in shape-shifting, a thief and also the scion of the most infamous family in the city of Vatra. Their grandfather, the Plaguebringer, was widely believed to have caused the Strikes, virulent and deadly diseases that swept the world. But Arcady does not believe their grandfather was capable of such destruction and has embarked on a quest to discover the truth. Part of that quest requires stealing the Plaguebringer’s seal, a dragonstone amulet that allows the wearer to wield magic, and using its power to shape-shift into a new identity. But the spell Arcady casts to claim the seal rips a hole in the Veil separating worlds and lets an invader through: Everen, the last male dragon, failed seer and prince of a dying world. Everen wants to tear the Veil wide open, letting his fellow dragons back into the world that banished them so that they can escape extinction and wreak vengeance on humankind for their betrayal. Everen is trapped in human form, but he can regain his full power if he wins Arcady’s complete trust—and then kills them.

In writing Dragonfall, author L.R. Lam was clearly inspired by fantasy authors like Anne McCaffrey and Robin Hobb, both of whom have written iconic tales starring dragons. But Lam also injects this classic high fantasy quest with a healthy dose of sexual tension. The romance between Arcady and Everen is central to the plot, since the fates of both humans and dragons hinge on their bond. And while all is not well in their relationship by the book’s end, it seems clear that by the planned trilogy’s conclusion, these Veil-crossed lovers will be united, saving the world in the process. 

L.R. Lam knows what fantasy romance needs: dragon shifters.

Lam employs many common tropes of both romance and high fantasy, but their world building is still delightfully imaginative and richly detailed. Despite banishing dragons centuries ago, humans still worship them as gods, with different dragon deities being associated with different kinds of spells. All of the magic in Dragonfall involves asking the world to reshape itself in a specific way, which means that all humans who possess seals have the capacity to manipulate themselves or their environments to fit their needs or desires. Lam delves headlong into the philosophical implications of this, constructing a society built almost entirely around fluidity. This extends from architecture built on a premise of ephemerality, because it can be magically adjusted at any moment, to a concept of gender wholly based on personal preferences, as many people can change their appearances at will. Everen, whose world is one of rigid roles and clearly demarcated boundaries, finds this embrace of inconstancy confounding. But for the genderfluid Arcady, such liberation is the bedrock of existence. Lam’s deep exploration of this fascinating society beautifully balances the somewhat pulpy genre elements.

Grimdark aficionados should steer clear, but Dragonfall will delight fans of well-designed worlds, heroes’ journeys and slow-burning romance. Here there be (sexy) dragons.

Here there be (sexy) dragons: Dragonfall will delight fans of well-designed worlds, heroes’ journeys and slow-burning romance.
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In Happy Place, New York Times bestselling author Emily Henry returns with a tender contemporary romance full of vulnerability, growth and love.

Every year for the last decade, college sweethearts-turned-engaged couple Harriet and Wyn have joined their friends at a cottage in Maine for a weeklong getaway. It’s something they’ve always looked forward to—but not this year. Because Harriet and Wyn broke up six months ago, and they haven’t told their friends yet. Uncertain of how the group will take the news, they don’t want a cloud hanging over their very last trip to the cottage, which is going up for sale.

For a whole week, Harriet and Wyn must play the part of a couple in love to preserve their ruse, including sharing the cozy master bedroom. As the vacation plays out, Harriet and Wyn get over their initial nervousness and fall back into sweet little routines and playful banter as their passion for each other resurfaces. The trip might be just what Harriet and Wyn need to find each other again.

Happy Place feels very much like the Henry that fans have come to adore through rom-coms such as People We Meet on Vacation and Book Lovers, but this time with the added complexity of a larger cast. Harriet and Wyn’s coupledom is one of the foundations of their close-knit friend group, and Henry illustrates the benefits and challenges of being in a relationship that’s also a vital part of a community. Happy Place also makes room to explore one of Henry’s perennial concerns: how women internalize misogyny and societal pressures. Harriet is an overworked surgical resident, and her aversion to causing waves and speaking up about her own wants, needs and limits has pushed her to a breaking point. Her placative nature leads her to stew in her own stress, constantly pushing things down and never relieving her simmering anxiety. In addition to regaining her connection with Wyn, the week at the cottage teaches Harriet that her problems—whether romantic, professional or emotional—don’t have to be shouldered alone.

Harriet and Wyn’s chemistry is effervescent, bubbling up each time they remember how and why they fell in love in the first place. They’re the perfect combination of sweet, sexy and silly, and it’s obvious why everyone (including, eventually and undoubtedly, the reader) is rooting for their happily ever after. Happy Place proves that Henry is a writer with “no skips,” her oeuvre as expertly crafted as a perfect summer playlist.

Emily Henry’s effervescent and tender Happy Place is as expertly crafted as a perfect summer playlist.

In His Majesty’s Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World’s Largest Flying Machine, award-winning author and historian S.C. Gwynne (Rebel Yell) delves into the little-known story behind the 1930 crash of a hydrogen-filled British airship called R101.

R101 was the brainchild of Lord Christopher Birdwood Thomson, who held the rather inflated title of Secretary of State for Air. A baron and peer of the House of Lords, Thomson had been put in charge of the development of British dirigibles. On October 4, 1930, he prepared to make a 5,000-mile journey from England to Karachi, India, in R101, which Gwynne describes as “a giant silver fish floating weightless in the slate-gray seas of the sky.”

At the time, R101 was one of the largest human-made objects on Earth, larger by volume than the Titanic. It’s an apt comparison, because like the ocean liner, the R101 was touted as the pinnacle of technological achievement, luxury and safety. Its press office boasted that the 777-foot-long hydrogen-filled R101 was “the safest aircraft of any kind ever built.” 

Using hydrogen airships to fly long distances and connect England with its far-flung colonies was in part a reaction to the state of airplane travel at the time. Just three years previously, in 1927, a flight from England to India took 12 days and required 20 stops. An ocean liner could make the trip in two weeks. Thomson’s goals for the R101? Four days. 

Gwynne intersperses the story of R101’s short, tragic flight with the history of zeppelin airships more generally, including the use of airships as aerial bombers during World War I and the impact of the August 1921 crash of a British airship called R38. Gwynne’s well-documented account also includes photos of airships, as well as of Thomson. The most fascinating part, of course, is following Lord Thomson as he prepared for this doomed voyage, for which he brought champagne, lots of ministry paperwork and even fancy carpets! R101 took off into a developing severe weather system, flying over London against a stiff wind while people rushed out onto the streets to see this incredible sight. 

R101 has more eerie similarities with the Titanic: It burst into flames shortly after 2 a.m., and newspapers around the world carried news of the disaster. There were only six survivors (all crew members) out of 54 people on board, but the crash of R101 did not entirely end the era of experimentation with hydrogen airships. That would come later, in the aftermath of a crash far better known today: the Hindenburg.

Gwynne is a consummate storyteller, and his account of R101 is riveting and not to be missed.

S.C. Gwynne is a consummate storyteller, and his account of the 1930 crash of a spectacularly large hydrogen-filled British airship is not to be missed.
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Remember when you were a little kid, and adults seemed to be imbued with powers you couldn’t even imagine? Robby Andersen felt that way when, in 1947, his uncle came to visit with glorious, gory stories of using his flamethrower against the enemy in World War II’s Pacific theater. 

Fast forward about a quarter century, and Robby is illustrating underground “comix” inspired by his uncle’s wartime experiences, starring a sort of super-antihero called Firefall. The comic, published during the thick of the Vietnam War, garners a mixed reaction, as American military personnel were not universally revered. After a flurry of sales and hate letters in response to his creation, Robby and the rest of the world move on to other things.

In the present day, movie director Bill Johnson is casting about for his next film, and when he envisions an adaptation of the union of Robby’s superheroes, Firefall and Knightshade, it’s a marriage made in, well, Lone Butte, California. The fictional Lone Butte is the kind of small town that has come to symbolize the “real America,” a trope that Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks used to great effect in his 1996 directorial and screenwriting debut, That Thing You Do! Much like that film follows the arc of a pop band from college talent-show winners to chart-topping sensation, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece pulls its audience behind the velvet rope and into the production offices and soundstages where magic happens. 

As an army of “talent,” craftspeople and other workers descends on the hamlet of Lone Butte, readers are offered an unparalleled glimpse into the hurry-up-and-wait nature of filmmaking. Hanks lavishes praise on the largely unsung heroes who keep the machine running, from the gaffers to the makeup artists to the myriad of problem-solvers whose names you miss as you exit the theater. In fact, the story is almost as much about the metamorphosis of young Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz from cabbie to associate producer as it is about the main characters’ journeys.

Hanks’ familiarity with the filmmaking process and keen eye for detail make his first novel (with comic book panels illustrated by R. Sikoryak) a joy for anyone who loves the art of cinema. Hanks retains a childlike sense of wonder even as he moves among adults whose powers, like movies themselves, are just illusions that we will ourselves to believe.

Tom Hanks’ familiarity with the filmmaking process and keen eye for detail make this novel a joy for anyone who loves the art of cinema.
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Few delights bring as much comfort as good food, so imagine how cheering a good cup of coffee and a fresh donut would have been to soldiers on the front lines in World War II. But also imagine how women recruited to serve food to soldiers might view the value of their contribution when they see the life-and-death sacrifices those men had to make. That’s one of the animating conflicts in the heartfelt novel Good Night, Irene from Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea.

In October 1943, 25-year-old Irene Woodward leaves New York City to become a “recreation worker” for the American Red Cross. She is escaping her planned marriage to the son of a political family, an arrangement she’d accepted only because her family wanted the connections. Marriage, however, was not for Irene, especially not to a political scion who left bruises on her arm.

Irene volunteers at one of the Red Cross’ Clubmobiles, serving those cups of coffee and donuts. Among the pejoratively named “Donut Dollies”—one of many examples of unabashed sexism the women face—she meets Dorothy Dunford, who has fled Indianapolis for comparable reasons.

Urrea briskly dramatizes the women’s boot camp and eventual passage to Liverpool, England, the first of many stops where they serve refreshments to flirting soldiers. Such respites, however, are tragically brief, which Irene and Dorothy learn when bullets strike the roof of their train. That’s just the first of many direct encounters with the reality of war, and things get considerably grislier as the novel takes its protagonists through major conflicts from the D-Day invasion to the Battle of the Bulge. 

Interspersed among scenes of combat are personal stories involving Irene, Dorothy and the service people they encounter, including an American pilot nicknamed Handyman, with whom Irene falls in love. Although such romantic moments are lackluster, the combat sequences are a thrill to read. Urrea writes memorable descriptions of war that strike the reader with devastating immediacy, such as when soldiers flirt with Irene one moment and die bleeding in the street seconds later. Good Night, Irene is strongest when Urrea shows the toll that war exacts from everyone involved. “It can’t be about killing,” Dorothy says to Irene. “It has to be about living. Saving even one life.” As Urrea reminds us, few things bring as much reassurance as people in wartime who understand the true meaning of valor.

As Luis Alberto Urrea reminds us, few things bring as much reassurance as people in wartime who understand the true meaning of valor.

Over the course of his career, Dominic Smith has demonstrated that his favorite playground as a writer is the past. With his sixth novel, Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t break from his successful formula but instead perfects what he did so well with his award-winning 2016 book, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, delivering a charming and captivating multigenerational family drama that beautifully blends the past with the present. 

Smith whisks readers away to Valetto, Italy: a fictional, crumbling town that floats like an island in the clouds among the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside. Although the setting sounds like something out of a fairy tale, Valetto has been in steady decline, with earthquakes and other natural disasters having driven away most of its inhabitants. 

Hugh Fisher spent most of his childhood summers in Valetto, but when he returns decades later (now a historian and a grieving widower) to visit his aunts and celebrate his grandmother’s 100th birthday, the town has but 10 permanent residents—plus one unexpected new addition. The stone cottage that Hugh’s late mother bequeathed him has been claimed by an inscrutable woman named Elisa Tomassi, who insists that Hugh’s grandfather promised her family the cottage as a show of gratitude for sheltering him while he fought in World War II. As Hugh attempts to validate Elisa’s claims, his forays into the past uncover a terrible secret involving both his and Elisa’s mothers. It’s a bombshell that, once detonated, reverberates across generations and will have consequences that are felt far beyond the walls of Valetto.

With Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts. The writing is both accessible and evocative, the pace leisurely yet suspenseful, the characters and plot are intriguing, and the themes of grief, generational trauma and resilience are well considered. Smith has the authorial confidence to resist the urge to overcomplicate his novel, delivering a straightforward narrative with a nostalgic tone and classic style that cleverly match the subject material and setting. The result is a richly rewarding book that is imbued with a sense of timelessness. It’s an outright pleasure to read, an excellent choice for both armchair travelers looking to vicariously experience Italy’s dolce vita, and for lovers of impeccably crafted literary fiction.

With Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts.
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Starting with its title, My Murder, Katie Williams sets up her second novel after Tell the Machine Goodnight with a handful of classic crime fiction questions: Whose murder? And who knows what? But readers will discover a subversive twist within.

Lou, the young mother and wife who narrates the novel, is back from the dead. As part of a government project, she and other victims of a serial killer have been resurrected with cloning technology and placed back into their homes, marriages and jobs. Yet things don’t quite fit for Lou: She can’t remember the days surrounding her murder, can’t connect with her child in the same way and feels distant from her husband. Lou’s confusion and curiosity guide the reader’s experience; she’s figuring things out just as we are, and the revelations of certain details, intentionally paced by Williams, are fresh and surprising. As Lou investigates unexplained moments from her previous life, it’s apparent that she won’t find peace until she makes some sense of them.

My Murder engages with a violent subject without gore, and probes how technology infuses our days and engages our attention, often without our awareness. The plot is certainly rich and appealing, but Williams’ layered considerations are even more compelling and yet never heavy-handed. What happened to Lou? Is she who she was? What makes humans who they are, and how does technology impact these definitions? With a singular voice and a winning narrative that will stay with you for days, My Murder speaks to the construction of the self and the filters we apply. It’s about what it means to survive, to be reborn and, ultimately, to live.

With a singular voice and a winning narrative that will stay with you for days, My Murder speaks to the construction of the self.
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Alex has found herself alone, without a home and penniless on the wealthy East End of Long Island. She walks along aimlessly in the hot sun, everything she owns in a small bag. When a couple pedal past her on their beach cruisers, Alex wonders idly about their story: “What sort of day lay ahead of them? Some easy waste of the afternoon. What possible worries would they have?”

It wasn’t always like this for Alex. Just a week earlier, she was the summer houseguest of Simon, who showered Alex with expensive jewelry, luxurious clothes and a buttery soft purse. All Alex had to do in return was pretend to be a demure young woman contemplating grad school and conceal her true identity: a desperate escort hiding from an unhinged ex from whom she stole a significant amount of money and drugs. 

But as much as she tried to be a perfect guest, “every once in a while, Alex took one of Simon’s painkillers to stitch the looser hours together.” When she drinks too much at a party and jumps in the pool with the host’s much younger husband, Simon tells her it’s time for her to go. For the rest of this eerily heartbreaking novel, we follow Alex as she finds ways to survive until she can earn Simon’s forgiveness. 

Author Emma Cline’s bestselling, award-winning debut novel, The Girls, was based loosely on the story of the Manson family murders, and she followed it up with a popular story collection, Daddy. The Guest is a worthy and unforgettable next step for Cline, whose style is spare yet beautiful. And while her main character is deeply flawed, Cline treats Alex with a gentleness that makes her situation all the more striking.

On its surface, The Guest is about a lost soul, a drifter who has no plan and no safety net. But this deeply felt novel also raises provocative questions about how our society treats young women. How can Alex be virtually invisible, wandering through a wealthy beach town without garnering a single second glance? She is like a ghost—never settled, never seen.

The Guest is a worthy and unforgettable next step for Emma Cline, whose style is spare yet beautiful.
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The women of the Marlow Murder Club are back in business in Death Comes to Marlow, the delightful second installment of Robert Thorogood’s cozy mystery series.

Life is returning to normal for Judith Potts. She became something of a local celebrity after she and her friends Becks and Suzie helped solve a series of murders in their quiet town of Marlow, England. But now the 78-year-old woman is back to her usual routine: setting crossword puzzles for the local paper, swimming nude in the nearby Thames during the day and enjoying a glass of scotch (or two) at night. When Sir Peter Bailey, a wealthy Marlow resident, offers Judith a last-minute invitation to his pre-wedding festivities, something about the gesture makes Judith uneasy. Convinced something foul will occur, she attends the party but is still shocked when Sir Peter himself is killed. Local police believe his death was an accident—after all, Sir Peter was alone in a locked room when a heavy piece of furniture fell on him. When Judith, Suzie and Becks launch their own investigation, however, they find that just about everyone close to the aristocrat may have had a motive to kill him. But how did the perpetrator pull off such a seemingly impossible murder?

Judith is a charming protagonist; she’s witty, warm and bulldozes her way into a police investigation with ease. Becks, the vicar’s rule-following wife, and Suzie, a free-spirited dog walker turned local radio personality, may be unlikely companions for Judith, but their friendships are rooted in respect. The ways the trio challenge and complement one another are not only highlights of the book but also the things that help them successfully solve the mystery.

In Death Comes to Marlow, Thorogood expertly crafts a locked-room mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s well-plotted stories. Readers will enjoy piecing together this engaging puzzle alongside members of the Marlow Murder Club.

This engaging cozy mystery is an homage to Agatha Christie with a trio of warmhearted friendships at its core.
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Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney, amateur sleuths and the children of two of Jane Austen’s most beloved couples, return to solve another mystery together in The Late Mrs. Willoughby by Claudia Gray. 

Jonathan Darcy is attempting to fit in at a house party thrown by his former schoolmate and bully, Mr. Willoughby. Jonathan’s idiosyncrasies and difficulty with social situations made him an easy target at school, so he’s not exactly thrilled to see Willoughby again. However, he’s desperate to prove to his parents, Pride and Prejudice’s iconic Lizzy and Darcy, that he can make and maintain friendships. 

Willoughby is newly wed, although the marriage is already strained. His wife, Sofia, has realized her husband only married her for her fortune, and she is suffering from the simultaneous insults of his illegitimate child with a nearby village woman and his still-burning infatuation with his neighbor, Marianne Brandon.

Juliet, the daughter of Catherine and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey, is visiting Marianne, having befriended her during the first installment in the series, The Murder of Mr. Wickham. Marianne is still traumatized by the events of that book, but she’s doing her best to reenter society, even if that means attending a dinner party with her much loathed former beau and his new wife. Unfortunately, it’s at this very dinner that Mrs. Willoughby dies of poisoning, right in front of Juliet and Jonathan. 

Jonathan and Juliet once again set out to find the killer. Jonathan’s analytical mind and Juliet’s facility for observing and understanding others make them a powerful crime-busting pair, despite being confined by the social strictures of their time. They quickly realize that Mrs. Willoughby may not have been the intended victim, given that her husband has no shortage of enemies.

Gray firmly establishes that Jonathan is autistic in The Late Mrs. Willoughby, having hinted at such in The Murder of Mr. Wickham. While Juliet does not always understand his quirks, her easy acceptance of them is heartwarming. This also allows romance to begin slowly blossoming between the pair, which will thrill fans who picked up on Jonathan and Juliet’s chemistry in the first book.

The familiar conventions of Austen’s world, cameos from beloved characters and a potential new romance will make The Late Mrs. Willoughby a sure hit for historical mystery fans.

With cameos from beloved Jane Austen characters and a potential new romance, The Late Mrs. Willoughby is sure to be a hit for historical mystery fans.

Jamie Loftus is a comedian, podcaster, animator, Emmy-nominated TV writer and performance artist. She’s joined MENSA as a joke, has seen Shrek the Musical 10-plus times and, in 2017, ate a copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Now, with the release of Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs, the prolific creator and debut author takes readers on a cross-country road trip that is by turns eye-opening and gut-clenching, hilarious and poignant, scatological and existential.

In the summer of 2021—aka “Hot Dog Summer”—Loftus, her boyfriend and their dog and cat left their home in Los Angeles and set off to eat and critique a ton of hot dogs. Along the way, she interrogates our national affection for the iconic tubed meat, noting that hot dogs are “high culture, they’re low culture, they’re sports food and they’re hangover food and they’re deeply American for reasons that few people can explain.”   

Loftus digs into those mixed messages with sharp wit and righteous anger. After all, hot dogs are served at festive events but have long been made in places rife with animal abuse and worker exploitation. And while they’re the gleaming centerpiece of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, she explains that the celebrated competition is actually tainted by “jingoistic marketing” and entrenched sexism.

As for the hot dogs themselves, dozens of vendors are duly visited, sampled and reported on—from Costco and Home Depot to independent hot dog joints and even a few ballparks. She traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, “to get diarrhea at ten in the morning at all costs” and therefore ordered a hot dog topped with onion rings and Spaghetti-Os. In Baltimore, she “deep-throat[ed] a Maryland hot dog swaddled in deep-fried bologna,” and in Chicago, she reveled in a filet mignon steak dog. All this while pursuing with alacrity the answer to an urgent question: “Are the people on the Wienermobile fucking?”

Raw Dog is a wonderfully weird and wild mashup of history, social commentary, personal revelation and food journalism. The author’s passion for her work shines through as she makes a compelling case for more informed hot dog consumption while maintaining her love for the quintessential cookout food.

Comedian Jamie Loftus takes readers on a hot dog-sampling road trip that is by turns eye-opening and gut-clenching, hilarious and poignant, scatological and existential.

Geniuses seem to inhabit a world apart from mere mortals like us. But they don’t, as the irreverent and entertaining Edison’s Ghosts makes clear. Debut author and science writer Katie Spalding has mined history, biography and psychology to turn the cult of genius on its head, shining a sassy light on the idiosyncrasies of some of history’s greatest minds. People traditionally held up as geniuses, she demonstrates, still fit under the heading of “everyone is an idiot.” Although, “Maybe it’s just the apparent contrast between what we expect from these figures and what we get.”

Take Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example, whom Spalding compares to a modern child star with an extremely pushy stage dad. After a childhood under his father’s thumb, Mozart turned out to be “kind of a handful.” Spalding unearths unusual bits of trivia about the musical prodigy, including the fact that Mozart apparently never outgrew a juvenile sense of bathroom humor, and that he believed babies should be fed on water. (Only two of his six children survived to adulthood.)

As for the title essay, “Thomas Edison’s Lesser-Known Invention: Dial-a-Ghost,” it turns out the prolific inventor had a formidable PR presence. “Basically, you can think of Edison as a sort of proto-Elon Musk,” Spalding writes. But unlike the Tesla, the rubber never met the road on Edison’s “Spirit Phone” for communicating with the dead. That didn’t keep Edison from claiming that the device would operate solely by scientific methods, however. And while he was ridiculed during his life for this idea, and biographers later claimed he couldn’t have been serious, Spalding unearthed a French version of a book of Edison’s writings that includes actual sketches for his design. 

Edison’s Ghosts can certainly be read from front to back, but you may find yourself so intrigued by some of the chapter titles that you decide to skip around. For what burgeoning philosopher can resist plunging right into “Confucius Was an Ugly Nerd With Low Self-Esteem”? Likewise, biology enthusiasts will hardly be able to resist turning first to “Charles Darwin: Glutton; Worm Dad; Murderer?”

Spalding includes chapters (and hilarious footnotes) about many other historical figures, including Leonardo da Vinci, Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Conan Doyle and Sigmund Freud. While the essays are tongue-in-cheek, they’re also well researched, informative and absolutely fun. Edison’s Ghosts will delight any science or history lover with a sense of humor.

Edison’s Ghosts will delight any science or history lover as it illuminates all the stupid things that famously smart people have done throughout history.

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