The best new books this month chosen by us and other
independent booksellers across the country.

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

By Neal Stephenson

(William Morrow 9780062409164, $35)

"For someone who approaches such serious scientific and technological subjects, Neal Stephenson can be outrageously funny. Combine that with Nicole Galland's storytelling ability and you have a rollicking roller coaster of a novel. The authors mix together magic, witchcraft, time travel, science, and historical figures, both real and imagined, while delightfully skewering bumbling bureaucrats, pretentious academics, a rigid military, and other bastions of the establishment to produce a work that is both thought-provoking and totally entertaining."
--Bill Cusumano, Square Books, Oxford, MS

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick Author Interview

photo: Brady Hall
photo: Eli Dagostino

Booksellers across the U.S. have chosen The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland (William Morrow), an unconventional sci-fi thriller that combines magic, witchcraft, quantum theory, and time travel, as their number-one pick for the July 2017 Indie Next List.

When Melisande Stokes, a linguist, is approached for a special assignment by Tristan Lyons, a military intelligence operator for shadowy government entity D.O.D.O. (short for the Department of Diachronic Operations), their meeting sets off a chain of events that will alter human history. Written by way of mission logs, journal entries, and epic poetry, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. takes readers on an exciting ride across time, from a 10th-century Norman village to Constantinople during the time of the Fourth Crusade to Elizabethan England.

In this collaborative Q&A, Stephenson, author of the sci-fi classics Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and the recent Hugo Award-winning novel Seveneves, and Galland, whose critically acclaimed historical novels include I, Iago and Crossed, discuss working together on the book, the novel's take on government bureaucracy, and what they're working on next.

You worked together on The Mongoliad in the early 2010s. How did you come to collaborate for the first time, and how did you end up working together again?

We came to know each other through our mutual literary agent, Liz Darhansoff. Liz had asked Neal to read Nicole's first novel, The Fool's Tale. He liked what he read and offered a blurb. Several years later, The Mongoliad got underway as a collaborative project written by Neal and six (male) writer friends in Seattle. The decision was made to add a female voice, and Neal thought of Nicole (in Massachusetts), who said yes (via Skype). As The Mongoliad was wrapping up, about four(!) years later, Neal shared the idea for D.O.D.O. with Nicole, and she said "yes!" almost before he had finished asking her if she wanted to work with him on it.

How did you come up with the concept for the book?

The basic premise for the novel--which is as much about quantum theory as it is magic, of course--sprang into Neal's head around Thanksgiving of 2013. It's hard to put a finger on how one "comes up with" a concept, but he knew he was on to something interesting once he had the magic/technology conflict trimmed up. A lot of time travel stories have various logic gaps when you look at them closely. The overlap between magic and quantum theory created a sweet spot in the multiverse, so to speak, and that allowed us to seal up most of those time travel logic gaps.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. contains historical context, scientific concepts like quantum theory, and assorted vernacular from over the centuries. Was there a lot of research involved in writing this book?

We both tend toward research-heavy stories. In this particular case, we were able to somewhat piggyback on previous work each of us had done. For instance, Neal had already tackled some of the philosophical issues raised by quantum theory while writing Anathem, while Nicole suggested setting the "medieval warfare" storyline during the Fourth Crusade because she was already familiar with that conflict from writing her novel Crossed, the subtitle of which is (wait for it!) A Tale of the Fourth Crusade.

Another theme of the book is bureaucratic overreach, in which a shadowy government entity, D.O.D.O., works to bring magic back into the world to exploit for its own ends. Why this satirical framework?

Anyone who has ever had to deal with a large bureaucratic entity, especially one with governmental affiliations, is probably already aware that such entities can spew out regulations and other documentation that is nearly self-parody. We simply took that tendency and pushed it to the logical extreme. Also, we thought it was fun to juxtapose a rigid behemoth of paperwork and jargon (run by a bunch of men) with the mercurial "chaotic neutral" MO of the (female) witches whose power they're trying to control for their own purposes.

Your book consists of a combination of epistolary writing, internal government memos and logs, and even epic poetry. What was it like creating a book with such an unorthodox structure?

It was a lot of fun, and worked well in this context. The break between one document/letter and the next comfortably allows a linear leap in chronology, and/or a lateral leap in storytelling, without the narrative through-line needing to justify why it's leaping about so much. Also, exposition doesn't feel like "bad fiction writing" when it's in a context that justifies a big chunk of exposition (a policy paper on how to treat people who have traveled forward in time, an "after action report" regarding a setting that is new to the reader, etc.). Also, the best thing about such writings is the opportunity to create a variety of different voices, all of whom can tell the same story from different perspectives.

What are each of you working on next?

We're each approaching the homestretch of novels that we wrote separately and solo. We're both so superstitious and shy about revealing what we are currently working on, that not only have we not told the world, we haven't even told each other. Really. Neither of us has any idea what the other one is currently writing. It's fun to guess, though. --Liz Button

More Indie Next List Great Reads

The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense

By Dean Koontz

(Bantam 9780345545992, $28)

"Koontz's new heroine is Jane Stark, a kick-ass-and-take-names FBI agent who is out to discover why her husband took his own life. When she finds out that other people in key positions are also committing suicide, the more mysterious and complicated the circumstances become and the more attention she draws to herself -- and not in a good way. Koontz is a master of suspense, creating sharp twists and turns with originality that will challenge your intellect. The Silent Corner is a gripping, enthralling thriller. I can't wait for the next installment!"
--Robin Allen, Forever Books, St. Joseph, MI

Meddling Kids

By Edgar Cantero

(Doubleday 9780385541992, $26.95)

"I have an abiding fondness for kooky premises executed well, and Edgar Cantero's Meddling Kids is as kooky as they come. In 1977, the tween members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club solved their last case and went their separate ways. Now it's 1990 and the man they sent to jail has been paroled. These former detectives have unfinished business, so one of them resolves to get the gang back together to find out the dark truth behind that final case. Meddling Kids is a pop-culture savvy, uproarious romp but also an action-packed horror-thriller. Highly recommended for fans of Christopher Moore and Ernest Cline, or anyone seeking a little laughter, nostalgia, or escapism."
--Susan Tunis, Bookshop West Portal, San Francisco, CA

The Breakdown

By B.A. Paris

(St. Martin's Press 9781250122469, $25.99)

"After reading Behind Closed Doors I wasn't sure B.A. Paris could match the suspense in another book. I was wrong! In The Breakdown, Cass passes a car on the side of the roadway during torrential rain; she sees a woman inside but not clearly enough to recognize her. The next day, she learns the woman has been murdered. The events throw Cass into deep despair and paranoia, as she begins to suspect that someone is stalking her. B.A. Paris is clearly becoming a master of suspense. Don't miss The Breakdown!"
--Cheryl Kravetz, Murder on the Beach, Delray Beach, FL

Spoonbenders

By Daryl Gregory

(Knopf 9781524731823, $27.95)

"The Amazing Telemachus Family is unlike any other. Patriarch Teddy is a con man whose adult children possess remarkable psychic gifts (telekinesis, lie detection, and clairvoyance), but the loss of their mother leaves the entire family reeling. Though the Telemachus crew's misadventures attract the attention of everyone from the CIA to a scary local crime boss, Teddy and his children are more threatened by their own emotional damage and sketchy past than anything else. Gregory's characters are sharply drawn and lovable, and he tells their story in a way that's wise, warm, and entertaining throughout. With a strong sense of humor and an amazing climax, this is the kind of novel that's an absolute blast to read."
--Erika VanDam, RoscoeBooks, Chicago, IL

Goodbye, Vitamin

By Rachel Khong

(Henry Holt & Company 9781250109163, $26)

"It seems impossible that Khong could tuck so much kindness, honesty, and eclectic humor into one little book! Questioning her life choices in the midst of a major breakup, Ruth, our narrator, returns home to care for her father, an Alzheimer's patient, and gives daily dispatches full of love, rich observations, and clever, unique jokes. Stuffed with rich descriptions of food and cooking and anchored by imperfect-but-tireless familial love, this book goes down as smoothly as a cool glass of water and is as nourishing and thoughtful as it is fun at every turn."
--Annie Harvieux, Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, MN

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

By Roxane Gay

(Harper 9780062362599, $25.99)

"This memoir is about trauma and privilege, self-loathing, and a silent fear kept secret for far too long. It's about our obsession with body weight and body image, what happens when we internalize our pain and become self-destructive, and how very, very large people are treated in humiliating ways. The descriptions of addictive behavior and the journey to want to heal make this book more universal than I expected. When you decide that this is the day you're going to change and you get out of bed and fail, that's pretty normal. You'll have another chance tomorrow -- just remember to like yourself enough to overcome the fear of healing and try again. Highly recommend."
--Todd Miller, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

The Marsh King's Daughter

By Karen Dionne

(G.P. Putnam's Sons 9780735213005, $26)

"After a childhood in the wilds of Northern Michigan, where her rugged, brutal father was the center of her world, Helena has made a new life with a family who doesn't know her past. Now she and her father are hunting each other and Helena must use all the skills he taught her to survive. Fascinating, dark, and disturbing, The Marsh King's Daughter is a psychological thriller most compelling in its rich descriptions of the survivalist training of a very tough little girl."
--Patty Mullins, Oblong Books and Music, Millerton, NY

When the English Fall

By David Williams

(Algonquin Books 9781616205225, $24.95)

"When the English Fall will have you holding your breath as you await impending tragedy. The story unfolds through the diary of an Amish farmer, whose young daughter has visions of the future--but what she sees does not bode well. She talks of the English falling from the sky. When a solar storm causes destruction to the power grid, the world is left in the dark. While the Amish are not immediately affected, once things start to fall apart, they are not safe from desperation. A thought-provoking read. Well done."
--Maxwell Gregory, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest, IL

The Graybar Hotel: Stories

By Curtis Dawkins

(Scribner 9781501162299, $26)

"Discard the thought that Curtis Dawkins is serving a life sentence and insert the thought that this is an amazing short-story collection by a debut author. In The Graybar Hotel, we glimpse the emotional lives of the inmates of a Kalamazoo prison, who are cut off from the world and in a place where time moves and sounds different than before. One character calls random numbers just so he can hear a voice or any noise for his allotted 15 minutes, anything to connect to the outside world again. The Graybar Hotel reminded me of reading early Denis Johnson, in the way that the writing is so sparse I fell right into the stories and suffered along with the inmates. A captivating read that allowed me a glimpse of the humanity of prison life."
--Jason Kennedy, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

The Windfall

By Diksha Basu

(Crown 9780451498915, $26)

"The Jhas are a fairly normal family in Delhi, but when Mr. Jha sells his company for millions and decides to move himself and his wife to a fancy new neighborhood, he sets in motion changes for not only his wife, but also his son studying in New York and his former and future neighbors--changes that are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and uncomfortable either way. Jam-packed with fun and lovable characters, this novel is both a delicious, gossipy indulgence and a fascinating glimpse into the lives of people very different from one another. Those who loved the drama of The Nest will adore this warm, tender, and very funny debut from a fresh new voice."
--Kelly Morton, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

The Force

By Don Winslow

(William Morrow 9780062664419, $27.99)

"Denny Malone, veteran NYPD detective and leader of the elite Manhattan North Task Force, didn't start out as a dirty cop. Over the years, however, the odd payoff and favor became routine, and a talented and effective cop slid past the point of no return, stealing millions in money and drugs. As Winslow shows us, keeping citizens safe isn't always clean and easy work, but even Malone and his team's corruption is chump change compared to the real players behind the scenes who are busy rebuilding the city after the September 11 attacks. A gutsy and uncompromising look at the dark heartbeat of modern America."
--Patrick Millikin, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, AZ

The Reason You're Alive

By Matthew Quick

(Harper 9780062424303, $25.99)

"David Granger is a 68-year-old, conservative war veteran with a bleeding-heart liberal son, a granddaughter who needs him, and a whole lot of emotional baggage from his time in Vietnam. He is patriotic and brash, and he has no problem expressing his opinion. In our current politically divided culture, where people with different views struggle to understand each other, this story has incredible value. I wanted to dislike this protagonist, whose views are so different from my own, but I couldn't. He was kind and caring and his story pulled at my heart."
--Melanie Locke, Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, CO

South Pole Station

By Ashley Shelby

(Picador 9781250112828, $26)

"Prepare yourself for a frozen and fun adventure in the Antarctic. Cooper Gosling apparently does not have enough cold weather or oddball people in her Minneapolis life, so she heads to the South Pole Station to try to reclaim her career as a painter. Ashley Shelby has collected a wonderful cast of quirky characters in this southernmost ice box and readers are in for a treat when they meet this bunch of scientists, artists, medics, and misfits. Bundle up and enjoy the ride!"
--Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN

Hum If You Don't Know the Words

By Bianca Marais

(G.P. Putnam's Sons 9780399575068, $26)

"Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a marvel. Set in South Africa in 1978, this is the story of Robin, a white child, and Beauty, a black mother, both of whom experience immense loss after the Soweto student uprising. Bianca Marais has written a book about apartheid--a book about tragedy, injustice, grief, and survival--that manages to sparkle with wit, warmth, and charming secondary characters. Readers will love this rare and rewarding gem."
--Emilie Sommer, East City Bookshop, Washington, DC

Drunks: An American History

By Christopher M. Finan

(Beacon Press 9780807001790, $29.95)

"The long and evolving history of alcoholism and corresponding sobriety movements in America is fascinating, for both its colorful characters and its complex interface with religion and the sciences. In Finan's astute, well-researched, and entertaining narrative, this story of sober drunks offers both understanding and insight into a critically important subject whose nature has long been occluded and subsumed in stigma."
--Kenny Brechner, Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers, Farmington, ME

The Waking Land

By Callie Bates

(Del Rey 9780425284025, $27)

"In a debut as fresh as it is creative, we're welcomed into the land of Eren, where a firm but kind king holds sway over the life of the kidnapped daughter of a rebel bent on installing a new and different man to the throne. It is a land where magick has been outlawed, and where Elanna is a joke to the other young folk at the palace, largely due to her love of gardening and of the plant life of this lush country. Even though King Antoine dotes on her, nothing can be done to help her when he is struck down, a victim of poison. When all eyes turn toward her and her tutor, Elanna is forced to defend herself in the only way she can. But is it too late?"
--Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, WA

Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys Into Race, Motherhood, and History

By Camille T. Dungy

(W.W. Norton & Company 9780393253757, $25.95)

"I approached Dungy's book with the same feelings I had when starting Maggie Nelson's Argonauts. I had very little in common with the writers of these two books or the experiences related in them, yet with each I found myself drawn in by the acute intelligence of the writing and pulled along by the sheer compulsion of a story well told. Not only is Dungy a more than capable storyteller, she writes like the poet she is, and, like all poets, she leads us across a boundary, expanding our worlds."
--Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books on the Park, San Francisco, CA

A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause: Essays

By Shawn Wen

(Sarabande Books 9781941411483, $15.95, trade paper)

"Shawn Wen's A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause is a loving tribute to a most untranslatable figure: Marcel Marceau, the mime who defined his art for the 20th century. A connoisseur of silence who could out-talk Studs Terkel, Marceau presented contradictions that can make him hard to grasp, but these nimble essays rise to the task beautifully. You don't need to know anything about miming, or Marceau, to appreciate Wen's lyrical and innovative take on biography."
--Travis Smith, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

Made for Love

By Alissa Nutting

(Ecco 9780062280558, $26.99)

"I don't think I've gotten this much sheer pleasure from a book in a long while. Made for Love is freaking off-the-wall bonkers in the best way. We follow Hazel, a woman on the edge who recently escaped from her top-of-the-tech-world psycho of a husband (whom, she fears, desires to place a chip in her brain so that they may 'meld' consciousnesses), as she battles through hyper-surveillance for a life off the grid. Along the way, she meets a truly delightful cast of characters, gets into some absurd hijinks, and works through the piles of garbage the world has tossed her way. Ditch the jet skis--this is all the summer fun you're going to need."
--Molly Moore, BookPeople, Austin, TX

Dinner With Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship

By Isabel Vincent

(Algonquin Books 9781616206949, $14.95)

"Dinner With Edward is the charming story of the author's friendship with her friend's widower father. Vincent does a wonderful job evoking the sensuous details of the meals they shared, but this is more than just a foodie memoir: it is an exploration of the nature of friendship, aging, loss, and how we define our identities as the world changes around us. Despite the sadness of some of its topics, Dinner With Edward is ultimately a warm, feel-good story."
--Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

The Fate of the Tearling

By Erika Johansen

(Harper Paperbacks 9780062290441, $15.99)

"Johansen has created an incredibly intense, intriguing, and completely captivating conclusion for her Tearling trilogy, that is sure to please all readers awaiting Queen Kelsea's fate. Rash, reckless, and filled with rage, Kelsea has surrendered to the Red Queen while unwittingly unleashing the Orphan, a threat so evil that both soon find themselves fighting together for their own survival. Will Kelsea unravel the mystery of her magical sapphires and save the Tear kingdom from ultimate destruction? Or, is she destined for an early demise thereby sealing the fate of the Tearling?"
--Kristin Bates, McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

Goodnight, Beautiful Women

By Anna Noyes

(Grove Press 9780802126795, $16)

"These interconnected stories set in Maine and around the Northeast coast announce a startling new writer of strong literary fiction. Noyes' women yearn, stumble, get back up, make terrible mistakes, strive, keep dark secrets, take off, come back again, and fumble toward love. An extraordinarily raw voice that will remind readers of Rebecca Lee and Elizabeth Strout."
--Melanie Fleishman, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks

By Terry Tempest Williams

(Picador 9781250132147, $18)

"Terry Tempest Williams' latest book, published for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, is personal, political, and profound. Her examination of 12 national parks is much more than a guide to the history and landscape of those places. It is a guide to the heart and soul of the entire National Park system, whose depth is exceeded only by its beauty."
--Chuck Robinson, Village Books, Bellingham, WA

If I Forget You

By Thomas Christopher Greene

(Picador 9781250112415, $16)

"Twenty years ago, Margo and Henry fell in love, lost each other to a fierce misunderstanding, and went their separate ways--to marriages, children, and a second-best kind of happiness. Now, a chance encounter holds out hope for reconciliation and the joy of true love. Greene tells this story by jumping back and forth in time and between narrators, while readers wonder 'will they or won't they?' Read this one for the story and the superb style. One of the best books I have read this year."
--Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, WA

Marrow Island

By Alexis M. Smith

(Mariner Books 9781328710345, $14.99)

"After an earthquake destroyed the oil refinery on Marrow Island and killed her father, Lucie Bowen left. Twenty years later, she returns to the Puget Sound and discovers her friend Kate is now living on this toxic island with members of 'The Colony.' Set in the Pacific Northwest, Marrow Island is a mystery/thriller that encompasses communal living, natural and man-made disasters, and what can happen when we tinker with the ecosystem and try to play a larger role."
--Tracy Taylor, The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

Miss Jane

By Brad Watson

(W.W. Norton & Company 9780393354386, $15.95)

"At first, I was uncomfortable reading about the life Jane Chisolm has to lead due to a genital birth defect and assumed that I would be sad for her throughout the book, but this is so beautifully written and unsentimental in its depiction of Jane's quiet strength and courageous acceptance of her life that I fell in love with her quite quickly. While all the supporting characters have their own peculiarities, they are tender and endearing to Jane and that helped me to understand how she endured and was loved so fully. Everyone should read this extraordinary book and feel, as I did, the joy of this remarkable woman."
--Nancy Banks, City Stacks Books and Coffee, Denver, CO

News of the World

By Paulette Jiles

(William Morrow Paperbacks 9780062409218, $15.99)

"This short, powerful novel is historical fiction at its best! Captain Kidd, a 72-year-old war veteran and professional news reader, has been tasked with returning Johanna, a 10-year-old white girl kidnapped by the Kiowa when she was six and recently ransomed, to relatives living near San Antonio. The Captain knows the journey will not be easy but believes it is his duty to do the right thing, despite the dangers that lie ahead. What he doesn't expect is the strength of the bond that develops between him and Johanna, one so powerful that it defines the choice he makes at journey's end. Beautifully descriptive prose drives the narrative through the harsh and unforgiving landscape of the West during the late 1800s."
--Adrian Newell, Warwick's, La Jolla, CA

Nicotine

By Nell Zink

(Ecco 9780062441713, $15.99)

"Zink excels at feel-good novels that, far from being sappy, are incredibly smart and laugh-out-loud funny. When recent college graduate Penny Baker inherits her hippie father's childhood house, she expects to find an abandoned ruin. Instead, she finds a house renovated and inhabited by squatters and falls desperately in love with one of them, something that does not go over well with her family. This deceptively simple premise allows Zink to return to some of her favorite themes of family and identity, as well as love, activism, and materialism, through the lives of unforgettable characters and hilarious situations. This book is a riot!"
--Pierre Camy, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI

Pond

By Claire-Louise Bennett

(Riverhead Books 9780399575907, $16)

"A brilliant and captivating debut, Bennett's Pond is a strange, beautifully layered work of fiction, from its quirky and contemplative narrator's interior life to the vivid and charming descriptions of rural Irish life. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this book is its warm invitation to celebrate solitude. Bennett writes as if in a lush, landscaped dream, each story chapter going forward, circling back, and ending in the middle of the protagonist's musings upon her everyday experiences. Pond is utterly original, by turns hilarious and poignant, a refreshing and simply delightful read."
--Angela Spring, Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

Smoke

By Dan Vyleta

(Anchor 9781101910405, $16.95)

"Imagine a world where every dark thought you possessed was revealed by a wisp of smoke. And what if a portion of society could hide their darkness, while others were forever stained by their sins? Set in an alternative England, this tale reveals what really lies behind this sinful soot through the eyes of three teenagers who begin to question all they have been told. Smoke is a brilliant combination of fantasy and historical fiction, where layers of mystery and glimmers of truth will keep readers feverishly turning pages until the very end."
--Luisa Smith, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep

By Joanna Cannon

(Scribner 9781501121906, $16)

"Best friends Grace and Tilly spend England's sweltering summer of 1976 sleuthing for clues to uncover the reason for their neighbor's disappearance. They go from house to house, neighbor to neighbor, investigating as only guileless little girls can do. While they're at it, they also look for god in the most unusual places. As the mystery of the neighborhood is slowly revealed, so are the many secrets behind every door on the avenue. If you loved A Man Called Ove, you will love The Trouble With Goats and Sheep. Funny, quirky and profound!"
--Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO