June Authors Forward Interview with Sid Balman Jr. and James Wade

Welcome to our Authors Forward series, where our innovative and talented Books Forward authors interview other great, forward-thinking voices in the industry.

June Authors Forward Interview with Sid Balman Jr. and James Wade

James Wade lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and daughter. He is the author of River, Sing Out, and Beasts of the Earth (winner of the 2023 Spur Award for Best Contemporary Novel) as well as the critically-acclaimed debut novel All Things Left Wild (winner of the MPIBA Reading the West Award for Debut Fiction, and the Spur Award for Best Historical Novel). James’s work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, and his novels have been featured by publications such as PopSugar, BookBub, Deep South Magazine, and the New York Journal of Books. 

Your novels – All Things Left Wild, River, Sing Out, and Beasts of the Earth – seem to share a common theme: the loss of innocence in characters swimming amid a pool of evil. In your view, is that the inevitable dilemma of the human condition? 

I think so. Mostly. Maybe. It’s certainly the dilemma of those humans who have been cursed with awareness and ambiguity both. I think the central characters (Caleb, Jonah and River, and most recently, Harlen) in each book are those types of people. They’re weighed down with guilt, but they’re also weighed down with this longing for inner peace. Their primary struggle is whether or not they can be okay with things not being okay. Ignorance is bliss, and none of these characters are ignorant, so they have a tough time finding solace– not just from the world, but from their own thoughts about it. It’s a great way for readers to connect with the characters and something you do a wonderful job of with the Laws and Zarkans in Seventh Flag, showing readers the tension and anxieties that exist within these families and the world they inhabit. 

Your central character(s) survive this crucible, a happy ending if you will. How do you square this in the nihilistic worlds you create in your novels?

Not to spoil things, but they don’t all survive. Some of the central characters make it. Some don’t. To your point, it speaks to what some folks would consider nihilism or randomness. I think it’s just realism. There’s a desire to create realistic outcomes, which means the main character can’t always survive dangerous situations. However, there’s also the goal of the novels, which in large part is to show how a character is changed by the circumstances they come up against. That’s tougher to do when you kill them off. But even for the ones who do make it through, there’s not always a happy ending waiting on the other side. 

God, or a divine force, is the one character that seems missing from your novels. Of course, writing a novel is an act of pure faith and folly, prima facie evidence that all novelists must have some form of faith. How does your faith, or lack thereof, impact your stories?

I’d argue that there is a God in my novels. Maybe a different God for each one, or maybe not the God most folks are used to seeing, but it’s there. The desert, the river, the Watchmaker. Wise old men and women. Innocent children. Love and grace and the hurt it takes to be human– to be alive.

The truth is I struggle with this world– with all of it, not just its religions and politics. And faith, or lack thereof, is certainly a part of that struggle.  Because I often write about the things I struggle with, it makes sense that faith and religion would make their way into my novels pretty frequently. I’m also a regional author, with all of my novels being set in Texas, and it’s only natural that the dialogue and worldview of many of my rural-Texan characters is centered around God.

I worry that I write too much about that stuff, or maybe use too much biblical allegory. That’s just part of who I am as a writer and as a person. I was raised Southern Baptist. I’ve read the Bible in its entirety several times and still reference it regularly. But because I approach it now in a literary context rather than as holy scripture, I’m able to access the storytelling techniques and beautiful prose without being beholden to a certain viewpoint. And ultimately writing a novel takes faith in yourself more than anything else. If outsourcing that faith to a deity makes you a better writer, then I’m all for it. But in the end, divine intervention or not, you still have to put your ass in the chair and get it done.

Only a ‘real’ Texan like you, as opposed to a Houston transplant from New York or LA gallivanting around Marfa in a shiny new pair of cowboy boots and a crisp Low Crown, could write about their state with such authenticity and gravitas. What is the ‘it’ about Texas that infuses your life and writing?

Texas is the perfect character. It has a little bit of everything, from a terrain or cultural or culinary standpoint. I grew up in East Texas where we’re more culturally aligned with the southeast than we are with the southwest. To think El Paso and Beaumont are in the same state seems ridiculous. Or Marfa and Gun Barrel City. Or Dallas and Fort Davis. So many places in Texas are unlike anywhere else, including the other places in Texas. I’ve worked at newspapers in rural Texas, worked at the State Capitol during the legislative session. I’ve driven across the state to cover high school football, to lobby for water conservation, and even to deliver beauty supply products to rural salons while I was in college (there’s a book in there somewhere). We’re as diverse a state as exists in this union, and no matter how much Texas is talked about, there’s still always more to say. I’ve been asked if I’ll ever write anything set outside of Texas and the answer is always, “why would I?”

Tell us a little about the book you’re incubating, and why your editor wanted a rewrite. An inevitable part of our process, but how does that make you feel. Do you push back, or simply go back to the drawing board? 

I’m working on a prohibition/great depression era novel set in a fictional East Texas town. The basic theme explores what folks will do to survive when put in precarious situations, and how our psyches are shaped by tragedy.

My biggest weakness as a writer is plotting. I like characters and landscape and conversation. If I could sell a novel where two characters sit in the woods and talk to each other about pain and anger and beauty and loss for three hundred pages, I’d do it. But my publisher, rightfully, wants action, pacing, plot, etc. so I tried to give that to them with the first draft. Get all the elements out there and let them decide which ones to develop more and which ones to cut or revise. That’s basically where we’re at now.

As for how edits and revisions make me feel, it’s twofold. First, I have incredibly thick skin. I’m lucky and grateful to be a writer, and I accept criticism as a reality of my very fortunate position. Second, I have to look at it as a business decision. My publisher is paying me. They have to sell the books in order to make any money back. I have to put them in the best position I can for them to succeed, and they let me know when I haven’t done that. That’s the business.

If I feel incredibly strongly about something, I’ll definitely push back, and they’re great about being receptive. But I have such severe imposter syndrome, that I usually don’t feel that strong about my work to begin with. That’s a confidence that I believe will come with time and experience. In my opinion, I’m still learning how to write. There’s no critique I can’t benefit from. Even if I don’t agree with something, it helps to see it through another person’s eyes. 

Ego can be a difficult thing to manage. You have to have a certain amount of ego to write anything in the first place, but then you have to immediately discard it when it comes to feedback and reception. 


Retellings to examine for Sherlock Holmes day

I’m a big fan of all things Sherlock Holmes (the stories, the movies, the shows, the list goes on…), and I’ve recently jumped into reading some retellings of the famous detective’s tales. Which made me wonder just how many are out there? We put together a list of people’s favorites that have us intrigued:

The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas is my personal favorite and starts with A Study In Scarlet Women

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old — a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

The Charlotte Holmes series is a YA take by Brittany Cavallaro and starts with A Study In Charlotte

Jamie Watson has always been intrigued by Charlotte Holmes; after all, their great-great-great-grandfathers are one of the most infamous pairs in history. But the Holmes family has always been odd, and Charlotte is no exception. She’s inherited Sherlock’s volatility and some of his vices — and when Jamie and Charlotte end up at the same Connecticut boarding school, Charlotte makes it clear she’s not looking for friends.But when a student they both have a history with dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Danger is mounting and nowhere is safe — and the only people they can trust are each other.

The Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Or, on the Segregation of the Queen 

In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, 20th-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes’s past.

J. Lawrence Matthews adds to Holmes’ tales with One Must Tell the Bees: Abraham Lincoln and the Final Education of Sherlock Holmes

When those harrowing words ring out during a children’s entertainment in Washington on the evening of April 14, 1865, a quick-thinking young chemist from England named Johnnie Holmes grabs the 12-year-old son of the dying President, races the boy to safety, and soon finds himself enlisted in the most infamous manhunt in history.

One Must Tell the Bees is the untold story of Sherlock Holmes’ journey from the streets of London to the White House of Abraham Lincoln and, in company with a freed slave named after the dead President, their breathtaking pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. It is the very first case of the man who would become known to the world as Sherlock Holmes, and as readers will discover, it will haunt him until his very last.

Lyndsay Faye combines Sherlock with one of history’s most famous killers in Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings 

From the gritty streets of 19th-century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper. As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late. 

Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty

Someone has been murdered in London’s Regent’s Park, and sixteen-year-old Lock has challenged his classmate Mori to solve the crime before he does. His only rule: they must share every clue with each other. Mori reluctantly agrees, but what begins as fun and games quickly becomes sinister. As she gets closer to solving the case — and more and more drawn to Lock — she discovers that the murder is connected to her own past. Now she’s keeping secrets from Lock, her family, and her best friend, secrets with dire consequences. To save herself and loved ones, Mori is prepared to take matters into her own hands. Will Lock be standing by her side when it’s all over? That’s one mystery Mori cannot solve.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.

London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested — the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something — secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

A series focusing on Sherlock’s brother by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Anna Waterhouse starts with Mycroft Holmes

Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take…

May Authors Forward interview with Charles Salzberg and writers group

Welcome to our Authors Forward series, where our innovative and talented Books Forward authors interview other great, forward-thinking voices in the industry.

May Authors Forward interview with Charles Salzberg: The Birth and Extra-Long Life of the Monday Night Zoom Boys

Allow me to begin by outing myself: I actually enjoyed parts of the pandemic lockdown. Not all of it, of course, but enough to make me a little nostalgic for those halcyon days of never leaving my apartment for days at a time. As a freelance writer most of my adult life, I’d been rehearsing for this catastrophe for most but a gift for me. 

For a while, at least, it was “welcome to my world,” for all those non-essential workers who had to stay home. But it didn’t take long for me to change my tune to “Get the hell out of my world,” because suddenly, with everyone else in New York working from home, it wasn’t so special anymore.

But for me the one long-lasting, positive effect of the pandemic lockdown was stumbling into a regular Monday Night Zoom with four other writers: Reed Farrel Coleman (Long Island), Michael Wiley (Jacksonville, Florida), Matt Goldman (Minneapolis, Minnesota and Tom Straw (Connecticut). All are very successful crime writers, but Matt and Tom have also carved out a very impressive career writing for TV, mostly sitcoms like Seinfeld, Night Court, Nurse Jackie, and The New Adventures of Old Christine.

The pandemic is pretty much over now (not that anyone’s giving it the last rites, since I’m sure we’ll be living with it in one form or another for the rest of our lives), but the Monday Night Zoom Boys is still thriving. The only difference is now instead of every Monday night, it’s every other Monday night.

The Zoom has certainly changed my life for the better, but what about the other participants? And what’s behind this staying power? 

To get the Zoom in perspective, I quizzed my fellow Monday Nighters, in an attempt to answer these and other questions. 

How about we begin with general feelings about the Zoom from Reed Farrel Coleman and Matt Goldman, and I think what they have to say pretty much sums up the experience for all of us.

Reed Farrel Coleman: Our Monday night Zoom calls during the pandemic, bring two things immediately to mind: team sports, and family. If you ever listen to retired athletes talk about what they miss most, it’s usually the camaraderie, the sense that no one will ever understand you the way your teammates did because you shared a set of goals and values. Daniel Woodrell is a favorite author of mine and one of his driving themes is the creation of family out of circumstance. Those kinds of families have little to do with blood, but a sense of shared purpose and need. Enter Covid-19. While I was happy to be with my wife and son for the duration, I was deprived of my contact with my peers. Writing is a life full of aloneness if not loneliness. And while my family understands me, they can’t understand the life the way other writers do. Suddenly, no Bouchercon, no LCC, no Thriller Fest, no Sleuthfest … There was no hope for the occasional dinner or drinks with colleagues. Our calls gave me an anchor, something to look forward to besides a weekly masked and gloved trip to Costco. Though I doubt Charles, Mike, Matt, Tom, and I gave it much thought at the time, we were creating a team and a family. It was both a refuge and a forum, a place to understand and to be understood. If and when the calls do end, I will be like one of those retired athletes who understands the experience can never be replicated.  

Matt Goldman: I’ve been a professional writer since I was 24 years old. I wrote television for over thirty years. I made some great friends in that world. Life-long friends. But there is no television writing community on a large scale. I was blown away to discover the mystery writing community. It’s friendly and supportive from top to bottom.  When I attended my first Bouchercon (at age 54) I thought, “I’ve finally found my people.” But I only got to see them once or twice a year. And then after a few conferences, I found my diamond core of friends within the community. Mike, Charles, and Reed. (And soon Tom.) This happened just before the pandemic. Zoom turned that once or twice a year into once a week, and for that I’m so grateful. I think everyone should have a group of friends that is independent of their regular day-to-day life, whether it’s through a writing group or religious organization or sport or hobby or whatever. It adds a beautiful facet to life.

How did the Zoom start and how did you get involved?

Reed: You know, I’m not quite sure how it started, but Mike is the man who facilitated and for that we owe him.

Michael Wiley: Early in the pandemic Reed, Matt and I were Zooming and you (Charles) and Tom were Zooming separately. Reed suggested experimenting with a full-group Zoom, and we never turned back. Now, I like to think of us as a blended family.

Tom Straw: This iteration came as a sort of hand-off. You, Reed, and I had started a twice-monthly Zoom shortly after the pandemic lockdown. Prior to that, we gathered around Mystery Writers of America events, which led to Reed-led French Connection tours of Brooklyn that evolved into Brooklyn pizza tours then occasional steakhouse dinners. Zooming was a way to keep in touch and not go stir crazy. Reed was also cheating on us with another regular video chat with Matt Goldman and Michael Wiley. He suggested we cross streams, and we consolidated into our current party of five.

Did you take part in any other Zoom meet-ups?

Reed: I did for exactly two weeks, but I gave up after that. One of the participants was someone I didn’t much care for, and that person tended to dominate the conversation. It was also highly politicized and focused on the pandemic. The last two things I wanted to hear more about during those early days were politics and the pandemic. It’s testimony to our Zoom Boy meetings that we touched on those things, but never perseverated on them. What was great was that we never seemed to have an agenda.

Mike: Through much of the pandemic, I lived on Zoom. I Zoomed with family and friends. I did book events on Zoom. I taught Zoom workshops and classes. Zoom kept my world turning. But our Zoom group was the best of Zooms.  

Matt: The only other Zoom I participated in was for virtual book events.

Tom: I did Zooms for TV project development with my old colleague Craig Ferguson. Those were between my place in New England and his home in Scotland, so la-dee-dah, an international aspect. Even though the stated purpose of those was work, with Craig, there’s no shortage of laughter and horsing around. Let’s call those productive and fun. I also started semi-regular Zoom across another border with Canadian mystery author Linwood Barclay who was locked down at his home in Toronto. We’re no longer in isolation (at least not by decree) yet continue the rite roughly every two or three weeks because we enjoy our Zooms. As with Michael Wiley and Matt Goldman, Linwood and I have never met in person, so it’s a unique thing to spend regular time together—virtually— feeling as if we have actually met. 

Charles: I’ve been Zooming my writing classes pretty much from the start of the pandemic through the present. I also Zoomed the occasional meeting usually having to do with PrisonWrites, the New York Writers Workshop and MWA-NY (I’m on the board of the first two, and was on the local MWA board. I’ve also done a weekly lunch with my good friend Ross Klavan. For about a month or two there, in the beginning of the pandemic, we Zoomed our lunches. But as soon as the weather allowed for outside dining, we brought back in-person lunches.

Why do you think this particular Zoom worked out so well?

Mike: We freed each other from the nasty uncertainties and ugly politics of the early pandemic, and I like to think we still give each other a place away from the rest of our worlds. We don’t so much avoid the hard stuff – we’ve spent plenty of time on it – but we mostly tell stories, laugh, and talk about what we do more hours out of the day than anything else: writing. In The Decameron, a group flees from the plague to a deserted villa where they tell each other tales. Our Monday night Zooms have sort of been that villa.  

Tom: The beauty of what I’ve nicknamed the Magical Mystery Zoom with You, Reed, Matt, and Mike is how it’s like a gathering of old friends around the dinner table where nobody has to pick up the check. They’re relaxed, unpressured, and freewheeling. Which is remarkable since I never met Mike and Matt. Wait. I’m a big fat liar. On our first Zoom I learned that Matt and I both worked at Castle Rock, back in 1988-1990, as comedy writers under contract to develop TV pilots. However, we don’t remember meeting then. Frankly, I think Matt is bullshitting to keep me in my place, so I won’t consider myself “memorable.” Whatev. 

Matt: I think it works because we all value the same components of the conversation. What are we reading? What are we watching? How is our work going? And for me, who is the least experienced novelist in the group, I’m able to ask career guidance questions. But most of all I think we like each other. We do in real life and that carries over to Zoom. One Zoom topic is when will we see each other in the real world again.

Reed: For one, as I stated above, none of us seemed to come to the meetings with an agenda. We just went with it and were genuinely happy to see one another. In the beginning, it was also an escape from the reality of being trapped in our houses with our families or by ourselves. It satisfied the need for social interaction with friends. And since we all share a profession, it gave us a platform to discuss our works and to share stories only other writers could fully appreciate. And having been on many panels, we all understood when to talk and when to listen. There’s a lot to be said for that.

How did the pandemic affect your writing or reading?

Reed: I made a concerted effort not to include anything about the pandemic in my work. What it did, though, was supply me with additional writing time. I wrote three books in a period when I would have normally done two at most.  One of the great things about our Zoom is our occasional discussions of the process. I’ve picked up some tips from all of you gentlemen and getting a chance to be an early reader on occasion has been a real perk. 

Mike: The pandemic mostly reinforced habits I already had. Before the pandemic, I spent most of my days alone at the computer. During the pandemic, I spent most of my days alone at the computer. But I wrote more and read more. I did re-read plague books early on – The Decameron, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, etc. But we were spending our waking and sleeping hours living out that theme, and it got old, so I went back to the reading whatever books interested me – often ones someone mentioned in our Zoom meetings. Not Zoom itself, but definitely the conversations we’ve had about writing on Zoom.

Tom: My joke when we started Zooming was how the pandemic is making us all sit alone in a room, reading and writing. Exactly like before the pandemic.

Matt: The pandemic didn’t affect my writing much. It provided more writing time. It also could be discouraging—a book launch pushed a year, events were canceled, the publishing business was affected. But my day to day didn’t change too much. 

Charles: I wish I could say the pandemic and being home all the time resulted in writing more, or at least spending more time in front of the computer. But that would be a lie. I don’t measure these things, but if I had to guess I’d say I spent exactly the same amount of time writing (or maybe even less). I’ve always been a streaky writer, in the sense that I don’t have a particular schedule and somehow all that “extra” at home time was mostly filled up with things like reading, listening to true crime podcasts, and streaming all kinds of things. And this is where the Zoom Boys came in handy in the sense of all kinds of recommendations for movies, books, and streaming TV.

What made this Zoom important for you?

Tom: Camaraderie, of course. Remember, these started in lockdown, so at first, they were kinda like prison visits, seeing friends through glass (one or two of us may have even re-enacted a memorable scene from Midnight Express). But the way we roll, there’s always great conversation to go with the good company. We talk about our weeks, we talk about the news, we talk about what we’re watching and reading, there are plenty of anecdotes about life experiences both hilarious and shocking, and just enough about our writing. That’s a key thing for me. It’s not only that I like the dudes in the other four squares, I have deep respect for their writing and sensibilities. Therefore, I learn a lot. Either about craft or the bullshit-and-victories mix we all go through. We’re not a support group, not at all. But that happens on its own, I guess.

Mike: Before we started, I was already close friends with Reed and, increasingly, Matt. I knew you from conventions, and, though I knew of Tom, I hadn’t met him. I count our whole group now as great friends – a huge and unexpected gift from the pandemic. Our Zoom talks have kept me “in touch” with much of what matters to me.  

Matt: I get friendship and colleagues. When we go to a mystery writing convention, there seem to be thousands of mystery writers. And there probably are. But I live in Minneapolis, and although some wonderful authors are here, I don’t see them regularly. And because we’ve become such good friends, I feel like I can discuss anything in our group, whether it’s a book deal, a story problem, or a personal relationship.

Why do you think this particular Zoom works so well?

Tom: A likable, affable lot, these gents. Everyone brings varied experiences and perspectives, but shared values and interests. There’s always something to talk about. And most importantly, mutual respect (unless they’re hiding something from me!). 

Reed: For one, as I stated above, none of us seemed to come to the meetings with an agenda. We just went with it and were genuinely happy to see one another. In the beginning, it was also an escape from the reality of being trapped in our houses with our families or by ourselves. It satisfied the need for social interaction with friends. And since we all share a profession, it gave us a platform to discuss our works and to share stories only other writers could fully appreciate. And having been on many panels, we all understood when to talk and when to listen. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Why are we continuing the Zoom, even though the pandemic is supposedly over?

Mike: We’ve cut back, meeting every couple of weeks instead of every week. But the short answer, for me, is that I really enjoy spending time with you guys. Before we Zoomed, most of us might see each other once or twice a year – far too seldom. Now I get to hang out regularly with people I love to spend time with.

Reed: While there are a hundred reasons, the main ones are that we all really like and respect each other.

Matt: Silver linings came out of the pandemic. One is the normalization of video conferencing. Even the three who live in the New York area live far apart from one another.  Because Zoom now feels normal, it’s as if we’re in the same neighborhood and it’s easy to get together on a regular basis. The pandemic, through zoom, has damned geography. Which is wonderful. It applies to book events, too. When appearing at a bookstore, we can now reach hundreds or even thousands of people instead of tens.

Charles: The Zoom adds a little much needed structure to my life. I’ve been a freelance writer most of my adult life and the upside of that for me was always the flexibility of my schedule. But it also meant that most of my days are spent alone, in my apartment. Teaching always offered an opportunity to actually be among people, interesting people. But that changed with the onset of the pandemic. Not only was there the battle against isolation, but every day was the same day, in the sense that I’d have to remind myself every morning when I woke up, what day it was. That weekly Zoom indicated it was a Monday, and there was no better way to start off the week.


Foodie memoirs to make you feel like you’re in the kitchen with the staff from The Bear

The Bear is back in June, and we couldn’t be more excited for Season 2. Apparently, it is pretty accurate when it comes to what it’s like to work in a kitchen (yikes). For more experience in the food world, check out one of these memoirs.

Tender At the Bone by Ruth Reichl

At an early age, Ruth Reichl discovered that “food could be a way of making sense of the world. If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.” Her deliciously crafted memoir Tender at the Bone is the story of a life defined, determined, and enhanced in equal measure by a passion for food, by unforgettable people, and by the love of tales well told. Beginning with her mother, the notorious food-poisoner known as the Queen of Mold, Reichl introduces us to the fascinating characters who shaped her world and tastes, from the gourmand Monsieur du Croix, who served Reichl her first foie gras, to those at her politically correct table in Berkeley who championed the organic food revolution in the 1970s. Spiced with Reichl’s infectious humor and sprinkled with her favorite recipes, Tender at the Bone is a witty and compelling chronicle of a culinary sensualist’s coming-of-age. 

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Almost two decades ago, the New Yorker published a now infamous article, “Don’t Eat Before You Read This,” by then little-known chef Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain spared no one’s appetite as he revealed what happens behind the kitchen door. The article was a sensation, and the book it spawned, the now classic Kitchen Confidential, became an even bigger sensation, a mega bestseller with over one million copies in print. Frankly confessional, addictively acerbic, and utterly unsparing, Bourdain pulls no punches in this memoir of his years in the restaurant business. Fans will love to return to this deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine.

Notes From A Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi

By the time he was 27 years old, Kwame Onwuachi had opened — and closed — one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had sold drugs in New York and been shipped off to rural Nigeria to “learn respect.” He had launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars made from selling candy on the subway and starred on Top Chef. Through it all, Onwuachi’s love of food and cooking remained a constant, even when, as a young chef, he was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the food world can be for people of color. In this inspirational memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age; a powerful, heartfelt, and shockingly honest account of chasing your dreams—even when they don’t turn out as you expected.

Blood Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent 20 hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family — the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson with Veronica Chambers

It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Yes, Chef chronicles Samuelsson’s journey, from his grandmother’s kitchen to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of chasing flavors had only just begun — in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs, and, most important, the opening of Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fulfilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room — a place where presidents rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, and bus drivers. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.

Stir by Jessica Fechtor

At 28, Jessica Fechtor was happily immersed in graduate school and her young marriage, and thinking about starting a family. Then one day, she went for a run and an aneurysm burst in her brain. She nearly died. She lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, and was forced to the sidelines of the life she loved. Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished.

Eat A Peach by David Chang with Gabe Ulla

In 2004, Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in a tiny, stark space in Manhattan’s East Village. Its young chef-owner, David Chang, worked the line, serving ramen and pork buns to a mix of fellow restaurant cooks and confused diners whose idea of ramen was instant noodles in Styrofoam cups. It would have been impossible to know it at the time — and certainly Chang would have bet against himself — but he, who had failed at almost every endeavor in his life, was about to become one of the most influential chefs of his generation, driven by the question, “What if the underground could become the mainstream?” Chang grew up the youngest son of a deeply religious Korean American family in Virginia. Graduating college aimless and depressed, he fled the States for Japan, hoping to find some sense of belonging. While teaching English in a backwater town, he experienced the highs of his first full-blown manic episode, and began to think that the cooking and sharing of food could give him both purpose and agency in his life.

The Making Of A Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman

Just over a decade ago, journalist Michael Ruhlman donned a chef’s jacket and houndstooth-check pants to join the students at the Culinary Institute of America, the country’s oldest and most influential cooking school. But The Making of a Chef is not just about holding a knife or slicing an onion; it’s also about the nature and spirit of being a professional cook and the people who enter the profession. As Ruhlman — now an expert on the fundamentals of cooking — recounts his growing mastery of the skills of his adopted profession, he propels himself and his readers through a score of kitchens and classrooms in search of the elusive, unnameable elements of great food.

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine. From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia. As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep — the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

My Life In France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Although she would later singlehandedly create a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, Julia Child was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching. Julia’s unforgettable story — struggles with the head of the Cordon Bleu, rejections from publishers to whom she sent her now-famous cookbook, a wonderful, nearly 50-year- long marriage that took the Childs across the globe — unfolds with the spirit so key to Julia’s success as a chef and a writer, brilliantly capturing one of America’s most endearing personalities.


Books about nature to read with the arrival of spring

Sure spring *technically* arrived in March, but it’s starting to feel a little more like it now. Flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing and pollen is in the air! All of this lovely weather is making us want to spend more time outside reading about nature. Here are some of the books we’re diving into!

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings — asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass — offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler

Science and conservation journalist Sabrina Imbler discovers that some of the most radical models of family, community, and care can be found in the sea, from gelatinous chains that are both individual organisms and colonies of clones to deep-sea crabs that have no need for the sun, nourished instead by the chemicals and heat throbbing from the core of the Earth. Exploring themes of adaptation, survival, sexuality, and care, and weaving the wonders of marine biology with stories of their own family, relationships, and coming of age, this book is a shimmering, otherworldly debut that attunes us to new visions of our world and its miracles.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, illustrated by Fumi Nakamura

As a child, Nezhukumatathil called many places home: the grounds of a Kansas mental institution, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; the open skies and tall mountains of Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she was transplanted — no matter how awkward the fit or forbidding the landscape — she was able to turn to our world’s fierce and funny creatures for guidance. Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder: It requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world’s gifts.

A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Back in America after 20 years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The trail offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes — and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings. For a start, there’s the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. But this book is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. 

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate–Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

Are trees social beings? In this book, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: Tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration that he has observed in his woodland.

Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald

Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best-loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep. Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

Alexander von Humboldt was the most famous scientist of his age, a visionary German naturalist and polymath whose discoveries forever changed the way we understand the natural world. Among his most revolutionary ideas was a radical conception of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. In this illuminating biography, Andrea Wulf brings Humboldt’s extraordinary life back into focus: his prediction of human-induced climate change; his daring expeditions to the highest peaks of South America and to the anthrax-infected steppes of Siberia; his relationships with iconic figures, including Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson; and the lasting influence of his writings on Darwin, Wordsworth, Goethe, Muir, Thoreau, and many others. Brilliantly researched and stunningly written, the book reveals the myriad ways in which Humboldt’s ideas form the foundation of modern environmentalism — and reminds us why they are as prescient and vital as ever.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Over the past half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

When we think of fungi, we likely think of mushrooms. But mushrooms are only fruiting bodies, analogous to apples on a tree. Most fungi live out of sight, yet make up a massively diverse kingdom of organisms that supports and sustains nearly all living systems. Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways we think, feel, and behave. Merlin Sheldrake shows us the world from a fungal point of view, providing an exhilarating change of perspective. Sheldrake’s vivid exploration takes us from yeast to psychedelics, to the fungi that range for miles underground and are the largest organisms on the planet, to those that link plants together in complex networks known as the “Wood Wide Web,” to those that infiltrate and manipulate insect bodies with devastating precision.

The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Tova Bailey shares an inspiring and intimate story of her encounter with a Neohelix albolabris — a common woodland snail. While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a result, she discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this mysterious creature brings and comes to a greater understanding of her own place in the world. Intrigued by the snail’s molluscan anatomy, cryptic defenses, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, offering a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small animal. This book is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence, while providing an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment.

Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds by Joy Adamson

Joy Adamson’s story of a lion cub in transition between the captivity in which she is raised and the fearsome wild to which she is returned captures the abilities of both humans and animals to cross the seemingly unbridgeable gap between their radically different worlds. Especially now, at a time when the sanctity of the wild and its inhabitants is increasingly threatened by human development and natural disaster, Adamson’s remarkable tale is an idyll, and a model, to return to again and again.

Gorillas In the Mist by Dian Fossey

Fossey’s extraordinary efforts to ensure the future of the rain forest and its remaining mountain gorillas are captured in her own words and in candid photographs of this fascinating endangered species. As only she could, Fossey combined her personal adventure story with groundbreaking scientific reporting in an unforgettable portrait of one of our closest primate relatives.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

For over 40 years, generations of readers have been thrilled by Herriot’s marvelous tales, deep love of life, and extraordinary storytelling abilities. For decades, Herriot roamed the remote, beautiful Yorkshire Dales, treating every patient that came his way from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen, loving eye. In the book, we meet the young Herriot as he takes up his calling and discovers that the realities of veterinary practice in rural Yorkshire are very different from the sterile setting of veterinary school. Some visits are heart-wrenchingly difficult, such as one to an old man in the village whose very ill dog is his only friend and companion; some are lighthearted and fun, such as Herriot’s periodic visits to the overfed and pampered Pekinese Tricki Woo who throws parties and has his own stationery; and yet others are inspirational and enlightening, such as Herriot’s recollections of poor farmers who will scrape their meager earnings together to be able to get proper care for their working animals. 

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach

What’s to be done about a jaywalking moose? A bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? Three hundred years ago, animals that broke the law would be assigned legal representation and put on trial. These days, as New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology. Roach tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and danger tree faller blasters. Intrepid as ever, she travels from leopard-terrorized hamlets in the Indian Himalaya to St. Peter’s Square in the early hours before the pope arrives for Easter Mass, when vandal gulls swoop in to destroy the elaborate floral display. She taste-tests rat bait, learns how to install a vulture effigy, and gets mugged by a macaque.


Nostalgic books that bring you back to your childhood

How good does the movie version of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret look? We are so glad they’re taking so much care making one of my childhood favorite books into a great movie! 

The Books Forward staff put together some of our other favorite books we loved growing up if you want to dive into more nostalgia.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

The first book to make me cry?! This story about a boy growing up in the Ozarks with his two hunting dogs moved me and scarred me as a little kid. Is this why I’m a dog person?

The Face On the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney: I remember not being able to put this down until I discovered the mystery behind who Janie Johnson really was. And I still can recaall exactly what the plotline is today, which I think is pretty impressive!

The Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Alice was around the same age as me, and taught me all kinds of things about crushes, friendships and growing up. I have vivid memories of rushing to the library after finishing one of the books to check the next one out.

— Ellen Whitfield, vice president

The Cheetah Girls by Deborah Gregory

What can I say, I was heavily influenced by the hit 2003 Disney film, and I’m glad I was. I got to live out the wild metropolitan life of a New York city high schooler from the comfort of my Louisiana bedroom. I literally wore cheetah print and tried to get my closest friends to form our own version of the group with 9-year-olds. I always looked forward to the glossary at the end of each book defining all the lingo. Also, I’m still not over them completely erasing Aqua’s twin sister in the film franchise, but that’s another story.

— Jenn Vance, marketing director

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

I loved reading Harriet the Spy (and the movie was great, too). I listened to the audiobook for the first time as an adult a couple years ago, and the story still holds up as one of my favorites!

Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

If you could live forever, would you? This is definitely the book that made me fall in love with reading! I was enthralled by the story’s fantasy elements, the youthful star-crossed romance, and the vivid descriptions of nature. This one is bittersweet, thought-provoking, and so well-crafted that it connects with readers of all ages!

— Jackie Karneth, senior publicist

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

I grew up in the golden age of vampire media and boy was I lucky. The way that Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy had a literal chokehold on me. I could not look away. I absolutely inhaled these books. Edward Cullen WHOMST? For me it was always about vampire daddy Dimitri Belikov.

The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

Nothing serves middle school angst quite like the The Mediator series by Meg Cabot. MOVE OVER PRINCESS DIARIES, because the number one Meg series in this lil tween’s heart goes out to this ghost-hunting baddie!! I actually faked sick to stay home and read these books when I was in sixth grade so you can say I, like our main character here, was a bit of a rebel.

— Layne Mandros, publicist

Smile: A Graphic Novel by Raina Telgemeir

I loved it because I could relate to fitting in a new middle school (after having moved around so much as a kid) and the struggles of growing up and becoming a teenager but in a fun and humorous way!

— Emily Kulkarni, intern

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Despereaux holds a lot of firsts for me: first book I enjoyed reading in class, first book I ever reread, and first book I ever sobbed to. This story follows Despereaux, a valiant mouse who sets out on a quest to save his beautiful Princess Pea. Kate DiCamillo writes a touching story about hope and destiny that has stuck with me year after year. 

— Rachel Lachney, intern


Guest post: A self-published author’s brush with Hollywood

As a self-published author, convincing people to buy your book is no easy feat. It’s hard to get noticed by anyone, let alone by an agent or a producer in Hollywood. But with a stroke of random luck, that’s exactly what happened to me.

I published Jay the Great (my modern retelling of The Great Gatsby) in January of 2021, to coincide with the original novel’s release into the public domain. Several other writers had the same idea as me, and it seemed my book was destined to be quickly forgotten. Over the next three months, I sold less than 10 copies and lost the will to do any sort of marketing.

Then one day, I woke up to an email from a New York agency asking me if the film and television rights for my book were still available. I thought I was being catfished or scammed at first, but the sender’s email address looked legitimate. I figured it couldn’t hurt to send a reply back, so I wrote and said that yes, for the moment, the screen rights were still available (as if there might be a bidding war soon).

After a few more emails back and forth, the agency said they were eager to pursue an on-screen adaptation on my behalf. I was flattered, though still confused about how they had even stumbled upon Jay the Great. It started to make more sense a month later, when I was told that a Warner Brothers production company had made an offer to buy the rights to my book. Evidently they had been scouring the internet for Gatsby source material and fell in love with my retelling of the classic novel.

Soon I received a check for selling them the exclusive option rights. It wasn’t a life-changing amount of money by any stretch, but still a lot more than I had ever made selling my own books on Amazon. I got to meet with the producers over Zoom (if you are a fan of the show Supernatural, you’d be jealous) and talk to them about how the book came to be. They were upfront about wanting to hire professional screenwriters to work on the project, and honestly I was relieved to hear that, since I had never tried to write a TV pilot myself. All I asked was to be kept in the loop about how the project was progressing, and the producers were kind enough to do so.

For a full year, I couldn’t tell anyone about this exciting news. Warner Brothers seemed eager to get started on the project, but I learned quickly that things move slowly in Hollywood. The producers introduced me to the pair of writers they found to work on the pilot and I had the chance to review their outline for the first season of a Gatsby TV show. I gave them some notes and then went back to the waiting game.

By the summer of 2022, I was told that the writers were ready to make their pitch to some of the top streaming services in Hollywood — a list which included Netflix, Amazon, and HBO. I started checking my inbox compulsively, eager to hear how the meetings had gone. Then finally I got an update, but not the one I was hoping for.

The head of the production company wrote and said that the pitches went well, the studios loved the premise of my book, and yet none of them had made an offer to buy the show. Just like that, my option deal expired and the project was officially dead. Everyone involved was moving on.

Looking back on the whole experience, I obviously would have wished for a different outcome. Maybe it was just bad timing. Or maybe my streak of good luck was bound to run out. Either way, it was still encouraging to know that my writing had potential. Because as a self-published author, it’s rare to feel validation from something you wrote. And you never know when that feeling will come or go.

Benjamin Frost was born and raised in New England and graduated from Boston University with a degree in communications. Since then, he’s lived all across the globe, including a stint in Melbourne, Australia. He is the co-creator of bookdigits.com, a book review website, and has self-published several novels including JAY THE GREAT, a modern retelling of The Great Gatsby. His new book is NUMBER ONE IS GONE, a mystery set in the tennis world.

9 Books Guardians of the Galaxy characters would read

Another Guardians movie means guaranteed fun with a side of chaos from your favorite spacefaring crew. We put together a list of books we think each character should read to celebrate the new Marvel movie!

Peter should read A Big Ship At the Edge of the Universe by Alex White 

Because it involves a crew of ragtag outcasts

A washed-up treasure hunter, a hotshot racer, and a deadly secret society. They’re all on a race against time to hunt down the greatest warship ever built. Some think the ship is lost forever, some think it’s been destroyed, and some think it’s only a legend, but one thing’s for certain: whoever finds it will hold the fate of the universe in their hands. And treasure that valuable can never stay hidden for long

Gamora should read A Pale Light In the Black by K.B. Wagers 

Because Max is also running away from her family and has to work with a team she didn’t choose

For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re looking forward to some payback–until an unexpected personnel change leaves them reeling. Their best swordsman has been transferred, and a new lieutenant has been assigned in his place. Maxine Carmichael is trying to carve a place in the world on her own—away from the pressure and influence of her powerful family. The last thing she wants is to cause trouble at her command on Jupiter Station. With her new team in turmoil, Max must overcome her self-doubt and win their trust if she’s going to succeed. Failing is not an option—and would only prove her parents right. But Max and the team must learn to work together quickly. A routine mission to retrieve a missing ship has suddenly turned dangerous, and now their lives are on the line. Someone is targeting members of Zuma’s Ghost, a mysterious opponent willing to kill to safeguard a secret that could shake society to its core . . . a secret that could lead to their deaths and kill thousands more unless Max and her new team stop them.

Drax should read Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie 

Because it’s about a character who is single-minded in her quest for revenge

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren—a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.

Rocket should read Dance With the Devil by Kit Rocha 

Because Dani is also a genetically modified soldier who will stop at nothing to take down the bad guys

Tobias Richter, the fearsome VP of Security of the TechCorps is dead. The puppetmaster is gone and the organization is scrambling to maintain control by ruthlessly limiting Atlanta’s access to resources, hoping to quell rebellion. Our band of mercenary librarians have decided that the time for revolution has come. Maya uses her wealth of secrets to weaken the TechCorps from within. Dani strikes from the shadows, picking off the chain of command one ambush at a time. And Nina is organizing their community—not just to survive, but to fight back. When Maya needs to make contact with a sympathetic insider, Dani and Rafe are the only ones with the skill-set and experience to infiltrate the highest levels of the TechCorps. They’ll go deep undercover in the decadent, luxury-soaked penthouses on the Hill. Bringing Dani face-to-face with the man who turned her into a killer. And forcing Rafe to decide how far he’ll go to protect both of his families—the one he was born to, and the one he made for himself.

Groot should read The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien 

Because trees get to be heroes on an epic quest

Frodo and his Companions of the Ring have been beset by danger during their quest to prevent the Ruling Ring from falling into the hands of the Dark Lord by destroying it in the Cracks of Doom. They have lost the wizard, Gandalf, in a battle in the Mines of Moria. And Boromir, seduced by the power of the Ring, tried to seize it by force. While Frodo and Sam made their escape, the rest of the company was attacked by Orcs. Now they continue the journey alone down the great River Anduin—alone, that is, save for the mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go.

Nebula should read The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He 

Because it has a complicated sister relationship at the heart of the story

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay, and it’s up to Cee to cross the ocean and find her. In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara lives in an eco-city built for people who protected the planet?and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return. Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But nevertheless, she decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

Yondu should read The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes 

Because it involves a crew made up of members that no one else wanted

It’s the edge of the universe. Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it. The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military. At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer–genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather’s genetic facility for “reasons.” She knows they’re humanity’s last chance.

Kraglin should read The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez 

Because it features lonely characters who find unexpected family connections

A ship captain, unfettered from time. A mute child, burdened with unimaginable power. A millennia-old woman, haunted by lifetimes of mistakes. In this captivating debut of connection across space and time, these outsiders will find in each other the things they lack: a place of love and belonging. A safe haven. A new beginning. But the past hungers for them, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

Mantis should read Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler 

Because it features a character who is an extraordinary empath

When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions. Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores.


Celebrate National Pet Day with these animal sidekicks

What’s better than an animal sidekick to add a little flair to your favorite book? While some of these “animals” might object to being celebrated on National Pet Day, we are just glad to have them around.

Mephi (starts out like a cross between a kitten and an otter) from The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands. Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic. Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Pan (shape-shifting daemon) from The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steall — including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world. Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want. But what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other…

Ghost (direwolf) from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing: his most trusted advisor dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself. 

DoomSlug (taynix – similar to a slug) from Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father’s–a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa’s chances of attending flight school at slim to none. No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.

Nailah (ryder – similar to a lion) from Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Nana (cat) from The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

With simple yet descriptive prose, this novel gives voice to Nana the cat and his owner, Satoru, as they take to the road on a journey with no other purpose than to visit three of Satoru’s longtime friends. Or so Nana is led to believe… With his crooked tail — a sign of good fortune — and adventurous spirit, Nana is the perfect companion for the man who took him in as a stray. And as they travel in a silver van across Japan, with its ever-changing scenery and seasons, they will learn the true meaning of courage and gratitude, of loyalty and love.

Six Thirty (dog) from Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with — of all things — her mind. True chemistry results. But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Enzo (dog) from The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side.

Ganesha (baby elephant) from The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries. The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs…

Kamazotz (giant bat) from Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it–and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City — and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

April Authors Forward interview with Matt Cost and Dr. BJ Magnani

April Authors Forward interview with Matt Cost and Dr. BJ Magnani, PhD, MD, FCAP

Welcome to our Authors Forward series, where our innovative and talented Books Forward authors interview other great, forward-thinking voices in the industry.

Matt Cost interviews Dr. BJ Magnani on her popular thriller series. Her novels, The Queen of All Poisons, The Power of Poison, and A Message in Poison, are extensions of the original, more scientific, short story collection, Lily Robinson and the Art of Secret Poisoning.

“Hidden under a cloak of legitimacy, I have been pressed to deliver extraordinary service for my country. It has been a successful ruse. A premium blend of dark deception with just an aroma of truth.”-  Dr. Lily Robinson

 BJ Magnani’s fascination with toxicology led her to a career in pathology and laboratory medicine. She is currently Professor of Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Emerita at Tufts University School of Medicine and writes the Dr. Lily Robinson series about a poison-savvy physician recruited by the U.S. government as an assassin.

Give us some background on Lily Robinson and the poison series. What are they about? 

Beginning in 2009, I wrote a series of short stories under the nom de plume Lily Robinson for the “Clinical Chemist”  section of the scientific journal Clinical Chemistry. The stories were designed to have entertainment and educational value, featuring a fictional character who used poisons to kill, challenging the reader to guess the poison. In the next issue of the journal, in Recollections, the toxin was revealed, and the reader was treated to a tutorial on the subject. This was Lily Robinson’s start; from there, I’ve continued her story in three novels. 

My books are inspired by events in the news that could create catastrophic problems for the world if set into motion—mass poisonings, threatening missile launches, and control of geopolitical resources. I find these scenarios much scarier than traditional horror stories because they are in the realm of global possibilities.

How has your career in medicine shaped your writing of the Lily Robinson series?

You write what you know. I’m a clinical chemist (pathologist) with an expertise in toxicology. I’ve always been fascinated with poisons and have used many as part of my work. When doctors write fiction, technical jargon is part of the prose, and descriptions of medical situations are based on authenticity. Dr. Lily Robinson’s medical cases are real, and although her assassinations are pure fiction, the toxins she uses are not. My knowledge of medicine gives Lily nuance. 

What can you tell us about your main character, Dr. Lily Robinson?

Driven by guilt over losing her daughter, Lily became entrapped in the government’s plan to use her knowledge of toxins and poisons to eliminate world terrorists. She rationalizes her dual existence with the mantra “the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” How else could she justify defying the Hippocratic oath? 

I admire Lily’s fierce independence and brilliance, but I also understand that for her to survive emotionally with her choices, she hides behind her clinical cloak. It’s a barrier between her and her deepest emotions.

If The Queen of All Poisons were made into a movie, who would you want to play Lily Robinson? And other major characters?

I would ask Natalie Portman to portray the complex Dr. Robinson. Natalie Portman and I graduated from the same high school!

Lily’s lover, John Paul or JP, is a seasoned French operative who’s cool under pressure and the love of Lily’s life. Their chemistry is passionate, and the actor Vincent Cassel would reunite him with his costar, Portman, from Black Swan.

Lily’s enigmatic colleague Dr. John Chi Leigh (“chemistry runs in John Chi’s DNA, forming a double helix with a backbone of genius and base pairs of deception and cunning”) is the part for Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. 

Finally, Mads Mikkelsen would be cast as the arch-villain Grigory Markovic whose twisted mind challenges Lily at every turn.

Tell us about what you are working on right now. 

I’m working on the fourth book in the Dr. Lily Robinson series. As with all the novels, the action takes place worldwide, and in this story—Australia, Belgium, and South Africa. The plot features sea snakes, climate change, and cloaking devices. There’s also more about Lily’s relationship with her daughter’s father, and the enigmatic assassin Pixie Dust.