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As a rule, I’m what you might call an omnivorous reader. My choices aren’t usually constrained by genre – I’ll read pretty much anything. That said, I do have certain types of book that I generally don’t pick up.

For instance, I don’t often get into jargon-heavy thrillers – the Tom Clancys and Clive Cusslers of the world. Just not my scene. I also tend to steer clear of fiction written by famous people who are not famous for being writers – I’ve been burned by too many vanity novels.

So the idea of a book that COMBINES those two things should be a hard no, right? Maybe so – but every rule has its exceptions.

“The Apollo Murders” (Mulholland Books, $28) is the fiction debut of decorated astronaut Chris Hadfield. It’s an alternate history of sorts, a reimagining of the Apollo 18 mission that is packed full of mystery and Cold War intrigue. It’s a new wrinkle to the space race in a world where it’s no longer about getting to space, but rather about controlling it.

Hadfield taps into his own experiences and vast knowledge base to craft a story that is absolutely overflowing with period-accurate detail while also offering up enough twists and turns to make for an engaging thriller. He blends real-life individuals with fictional creations to tell a tale rendered all the more compelling for its general plausibility.

Published in Tekk

We’ve all heard stories – usually intended to be inspirational in some way, shape or form – about people who have died and come back. People who have suffered some sort of catastrophic accident or health-related incident and briefly passed away, only to, through some combination of quality treatment and pure luck, return.

The thing is, that’s often where the story stops – with the return. But what about what happens next? And what about the other people, the friends and family who, if you’ll pardon me, lived through it?

Those questions and their answers serve as the foundation for Drew Magary’s “The Night the Lights Went Out: A Memoir of Life After Brain Damage” (Harmony, $27). It’s the story of a fateful night a few years ago when the author suffered a massive and still-unexplained brain injury, one that led to his brief (but very real) death, followed by a medically-induced coma. It’s also the story of what happened when he woke up, as well as of the people who were there to witness what happened during that stretch of time before he came back. Not to mention his ongoing efforts toward some kind of recovery.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot of darkness to be explored here. And make no mistake – the shadows run deep in some sections of this book. But here’s the thing – Magary has developed a unique voice over his years of online writing (you can currently find him doing his thing on the excellent collectively-owned website Defector, which you should 100% subscribe to), a voice that is sharp and sly and self-aware and perfectly capable of mining humor and heart from the bleakest of ores.

Published in Livin'
Monday, 11 October 2021 13:31

Word is back – and back online!

BLUE HILL – A highlight of the state’s literary calendar is back – and back online – for another year.

As pandemic concerns continue into the fall, organizers for Blue Hill’s beloved Word literary festival have decided that the annual event will return to the online format introduced last year. The festival's free events and paid workshops will be available via Zoom; the dates for the event are October 21-24.

Preregistration is required for all events. Details and registration links are at www.wordfestival.org.

While it’s a shame that lexophiles and literary lovers will once more have to wait to engage with one another in person, the show must go on. The truth is that there just aren’t that many events in our region that are fully devoted to the written word. And so, while it might not be ideal that Word has moved once more into the virtual realm, the event still presents a wealth of opportunities for people near and far to engage with some of the incredible talents that are participating this year.

Featured speakers will include novelist Susan Choi and journalist Bob Keyes. The event will also feature four notable poets, as well as some of the region's most popular food writers. In addition, Word also will offer local school visits by children's author/illustrator Russ Cox and children’s/young-adult author Anica Mrose Rissi.

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 06 October 2021 12:34

‘Got Warrants?’ warrants your attention

Writers spring from all walks of life. And they can arrive at the vocation via any number of paths. Some follow the academic path, moving through MFA programs designed to help them hone their crafts. Others find the calling later in life, moved to share their stories after having lived them.

Tim Cotton falls into the latter category.

A police officer, Cotton’s talents were first made apparent via the viral spread of the Bangor Police Department Facebook page. His combination of observational humor, wry wit and situational awareness turned the department’s posts into must-read material, with the page’s reach expanding into the hundreds of thousands under Cotton’s watch.

And hey, when you’ve got that many people reading what you write, it only makes sense to write a book; Cotton’s “Detective in the Dooryard,” published last year, proved to be something of a hit. And what do you do when you have a hit? Aim for another one.

Cotton’s newest book is “Got Warrants?” (Down East Books, $24.95), a compendium of some of the highlights from the BPD Facebook page’s regular feature of the same name. Said feature is a celebration of the lighter side of policing, offering up humorous observations of some of the illicit nonsense that folks will sometimes get up to.

Published in Buzz

BANGOR – Bangor’s own literary law enforcement officer is at it again.

Lieutenant Tim Cotton of the Bangor Police Department has released a new book, his second. “Got Warrants?” is a follow-up to last year’s “The Detective in the Dooryard,” both published by Down East Books.

Cotton’s introduction to most readers came during his lengthy and wildly popular time at the helm of the Bangor PD’s Facebook page; his combination of wit and wisdom led to the page gathering hundreds of thousands of followers – basically, the population of Bangor tenfold.

So it’s no surprise that someone out there in the publishing world would take notice and see if TC’s unconventional style would work in book form. And judging from the success of “TDITD,” it seems that it does.

It certainly worked well enough to get Cotton back behind the word processor (or typewriter – it wouldn’t shock me to learn that these pages came off the roller of a vintage Underwood) for another go round.

“Got Warrants?” is a collection of items drawn from the BPD Facebook page’s feature of the same name, where Cotton injected a welcome dose of cleverness and clarity into the boilerplate stylings of the standard reportage of the police beat. It’s a mixture that probably shouldn’t work, but it does. You can read our review of the book here.

It works because Cotton brings a consistent collegiality to the proceedings. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor that manages to carry a little bit of snark without ever becoming mean-spirited – no easy feat. He is someone who is passionate about his work and his community – a passion that carries through everything that he writes. There’s nothing disingenuous here; everything comes from a place of honesty. That’s true of the social media offerings and it’s true of the books.

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 29 September 2021 12:20

‘The Baseball 100’ an absolute home run

I love baseball history.

As an athletic late bloomer, my initial love of baseball came from its stories. Now, those stories came in different forms. Some were told through first-hand accounts and memories. Others were told through numbers. Both were fascinating to a clumsy kid who loved the game a bit more than it loved him back.

And yet, as much as I love baseball history … Joe Posnanski loves it more.

Posnanski’s new book is “The Baseball 100” (Avid Reader Press, $40), and it’s exactly what it sounds like – a compendium of essays, a list of the greatest players in the long history of the sport, ranked according to the opinions and whims of one man. The book was born of an ongoing feature at the sports website The Athletic, where the first versions of these essays ran.

It’s a wonderful collection of snapshots, purely distilled amalgams of both kinds of stories – memories and numbers – delivered with the unique aw-shucks humility and elevated dad humor of Joe Posnanski. His reverence for the game, his sheer unadulterated love for it, runs through every one of these 100 pieces. From inner circle Hall of Famers to names that might not be as familiar to the casual fan, Posnanski counts us down through the greatest of all time.

Published in Sports

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion

Storytelling is baked into the human condition. Throughout the centuries, we have told one another stories intended to educate us or entertain us or simply to help us endure. They are the ties that bind us, the threads of the tapestry into which we are all woven.

Stories have power – power that drives us to preserve them, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Anthony Doerr understands that power as well as anyone. His new book is “Cloud Cuckoo Land” (Scribner, $30), a segmented saga of wild ambition and staggering scope, spanning centuries as it follows a varied cast of characters through their trials and triumphs. From 15th century Constantinople to a 22nd century starship – with a few stopovers in mid-20th and early 21st century Idaho – Doerr takes us on a journey driven by the power of story. The stories we are told, yes, but also the stories we tell ourselves.

Binding all of it together? An ancient Greek text titled “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Antonius Diogenes. That tale – also an invention of Doerr’s – serves as this novel’s connective tissue, with excerpts introducing each chapter. That book’s journey within Doerr’s larger tale – lost, then found, then lost again and discovered anew – reflects the transitive nature of story; some live forever, while others disappear.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 22 September 2021 11:18

‘Bewilderment’ explores the stars and the soul

A good book can take us on a journey. Perhaps it is a journey outward, into the wider world and what lies beyond. Or maybe inward, an exploration of psyche and emotion and personal truth. A book that can do both with thought, precision and heart, however? That’s not just a good book – it’s a great one.

“Bewilderment” (W.W. Norton & Company, $27.95), the latest book from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Powers, definitely meets the criteria for the latter. A thoughtful deconstruction of the relationship between fathers and sons set against the backdrop of a troubled time and place that is a slightly skewed reflection of our own, it’s a story that manages to strike the perfect balance between looking out to the stars and into the soul.

Deftly plotted and constructed from the sorts of sentences that only Powers can craft, this is a book that is unafraid to explore the many forms that goodbye can take.

Published in Style

We have a tendency to want to categorize writers, to pigeonhole them. We like to label them by way of their output: sci-fi writers and literary writers and mystery writers and horror writers and romance writers and on and on and on. It’s easy to do and generally accurate – even authors who diversify tend to be primarily identified by one label, so when we get writers that aren’t so readily tagged, we’re not entirely sure what to call them.

Colson Whitehead is an author who defies those sorts of labels. He’s written speculative fiction – sci-fi and horror. He’s written historical fiction. He’s written immersive participatory nonfiction and literary satire. Really, one of the few descriptors shared across his body of work is “excellent.” As far as previous books go, he’s eight-for-eight.

His latest is “Harlem Shuffle” (Doubleday, $28.95), a crime novel of sorts that offers a vivid look at the Harlem of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. It’s got potboiler DNA, packed with capers and unsavory elements, but all of it is informed by the narrative brilliance of the author. The result is a wild ride of a novel, one that focuses on one man’s inner struggle with his past and present, wherein he seeks to do right by his family while also being the man he wants to be.

Any book by Whitehead is an event – the guy’s last two novels each won the Pulitzer Prize (“The Underground Railroad” in 2017; “The Nickel Boys” in 2020) – but this one feels like something of a throwback. It’s plenty sophisticated and carries forward many of the themes Whitehead traditionally explores in his work, but “Harlem Shuffle” is a looser read, content to lean into the narrative and let the story be what it will be.

And what it will be is outstanding.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 07 September 2021 15:05

‘The Actual Star’ burns bright

The power of story is significant, burning brightly across time and space. Our stories are what define us. Our stories turn the everyday now into history, the history into legend and the legend into myth. So much of our understanding of not just who we are, but who we were and who we may yet become, springs from story.

Monica Byrne understands that fundamental truth as well as anyone. Byrne follows up her excellent 2014 debut “The Girl in the Road” with a millenia-spanning triptych that marries past, present and future in a manner that’s not quite like anything you’ve read before.

“The Actual Star” (Harper Voyager, $27.99) is a stunningly realized work of literary fiction. Byrne blends elements of speculative and historical fiction to create a trio of timelines, each a thousand years apart, the individual stories serving to illustrate a fundamental truth of narrative power. The stories we tell, that we pass on, can come to define us in the eyes of those who follow. Flexible and fluid, these tales grow and evolve until they are both of us and not of us.

These stories – set in the years 1012, 2012 and 3012 – unspool as separate pieces that are nevertheless inherently bound up with one another. They are three, even as they are one. The book is intricately, densely plotted; narrative tendrils from each time reach out and entangle themselves with the other two. It could be knotty and difficult to follow; instead, thanks to Byrne’s gifts, it is simply a mesmerizing journey through three very different, yet very connected times.

Published in Style
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