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Spotlight – Must-Reads

Reviewing and recommending new fiction and nonfiction across all genres.

Wonderland

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

Wonderland by Zoje Stage horror Mulholland Books – July 2020 If the past year has taught me anything? I can’t be afraid of switching things up. Expanding my horizons. Being unafraid to be bold in my decision-making. Holistically speaking, most of the books that I’ve chosen to review for Pipeline are works that are more or less in my wheelhouse, genre-wise. Meaning, I knew going into the read that it was pretty likely that I was going to enjoy them—or at the very least appreciate them. So, in that sense, I’ve been “playing it safe.” To use a gambling analogy—I’ve been betting with the house money instead of my own. With this review, I decided to remedy that. I picked a book that, honestly, I probably wouldn’t have been inclined to buy for myself in any other circumstance: a psychological horror with a supernatural twist—Wonderland by Zoje Stage. I should…

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This Close to Okay

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith lit fiction Grand Central Publishing – February 2021 “I really like the writing. But we need something that’s more elevated. Something that’s high concept. You know what I’m saying, right?” In the last year and a half, I’ve heard this phrase (or variations of it) tumble out the lips of more film/TV executives, literary agents, and publishers than I’d care to admit. No matter how many times I hear it, I always chafe at this vague “development-speak” way of passing on a submission. It feels like the coward’s way out—a generic, one-size-fits-all statement that they can throw out instead of saying how they actually feel. If you actually liked the writing, you wouldn’t be passing on it, would you, you schmuck? Despite my feelings about this fact, the industry professional desire for “high concept” material isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In the entertainment…

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The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict historical fiction Sourcebooks Landmark – December 2020 The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. Try saying that five times fast. As any of my lovely coworkers at Pipeline will tell you, I’m incredibly partial to any material—whether it be in film, TV, theater, or literature—that’s historical. Ask me about any period drama that’s been released in the past ten years in those mediums, and there’s not only a very high chance that I have seen or read it, but also that I have a very strong opinion about its merits. For example, I’ll fight anyone who suggests Mad Men isn’t a perfectly crafted dissection of the fallacies and contradictions of the American dream, gender identity, and societal hierarchy, or that The Knick isn’t the most underrated series of the past century. I’m kidding. Kind of. On the flip side of being such an aficionado,…

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Greenlights

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey nonfiction Crown – October 2020 All-write, All-write, All-write. It’s impossible not to love Matthew McConaughey. From the classic pieces of film and television he’s graced our culture with, his inexorable humanitarian efforts through his Just Keep Livin Foundation, and his larger-than-life, quirkily charming persona, Matthew is a true “one-of-one.” He’s a slice of Americana that cannot—and will not—ever be replicated. When I heard, though, that Matthew was releasing a memoir? I cringed. Celebrity memoirs are seldom well-executed—they often serve as little more than a printed-and-bound laundry list of the person’s accomplishments and good deeds. But, being a tried and true Matthew loyalist (I still love you, Rust Cohle), I wasn’t going to pass on the chance to check it out. I read the entire thing in two hours. I know what you’re thinking—well, you probably just liked it so much because you’re a fan of Matthew…

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The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Winby by Maria Konnikova Nonfiction Penguin – June 2020 The memoir. It’s a genre of nonfiction that, quite honestly, is a bit of a wildcard. When done poorly, memoirs can be superfluous exercises of vanity, incredibly dry reads, and thinly veiled instruments of agenda-pushing. Furthermore, for every insightful, sharply crafted, and timely memoir, there are about a dozen that are. . . well, not. Luckily for us? Not only is The Biggest Bluff firmly in the former category, it is one of the most astute, intellectually challenging, and engrossing works I’ve read in recent memory. The Biggest Bluff follows Maria Konnikova, a Columbia University PhD in Psychology and acclaimed writer, as she dove into the world of professional poker as a method to study human behavior, the role of chance in day-to-day life (and the fallacy that we can control all…

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The Last Flight

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

The Last Flight by Julie Clark Thriller Sourcebooks Landmark – June 2020 Don’t judge a book by its cover.  I know—it’s probably one of the most overused old chestnuts to ever exist in the English language. Or any language for that matter. There are times, though, that if the shoe fits? You have to wear it. See what I did there? I have to admit, the cover of The Last Flight didn’t initially jump out to me. It looked like the front flap to a paint-by-numbers “airport novel”—the kind you see in a newsstand kiosk right next to your departing terminal gate, read on your flight, and then never think about again. The somewhat generic title didn’t help with this line of thinking, either. But, the plot synopsis was intriguing, and the reviews were sparkling, so I had to see for myself. After all, we have a rule at Pipeline: if you…

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The Nickel Boys

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead literary Doubleday – July 2019 Inspired by a true story. Nowadays, we see this phrase, or variations on it, in plentiful amounts across the spectrum of film, TV, books, and theater. Oftentimes, this language is implemented for more of a superficial reason—producers or creatives looking to protect themselves against a potential lawsuit—and other times it’s used to tip off the audience that there is a deeper, larger story lurking beneath the surface of the fictional piece they are about to consume. The Nickel Boys, without a doubt, falls into the latter category. And it is one of the most vital works of fiction of the last decade. Colson Whitehead’s haunting, powerful, and altogether wrenching novel is inspired by the story of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. Dozier was a “reform school” responsible for the widespread abuse and murder of countless young…

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The Glass Hotel

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel literary Knopf – March 2020 Since I started writing reviews for Book Pipeline, I’ve examined novels and works of nonfiction that I feel have crossover potential: The Silent Patient, The Churchgoer, and She Said. These books—two novels and a piece of nonfiction, respectively—are all incredibly well-written, engaging creations easy to imagine being adapted to film or television. In fact, two of them already have been put in development by major Hollywood production companies/studios. When I picked up The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, the author of illustrious works like Station Eleven, I assumed I was in for a similar reading journey. What I got instead was something entirely different—The Glass Hotel makes no attempt to be conducive for film/TV adaptation. Instead, this rich, haunting, utterly absorbing, and deeply thought-provoking literary novel focuses on telling its story in a way that…

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She Said

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey nonfiction Penguin – September 2019 Investigative journalism. The backbone of free, democratic society. A powerful counterbalance that ensures all voices are heard and represented. It is a high-powered surgical instrument—a vital implement that lays bare the rampant corruption, pervasive wrongdoing, and criminal hierarchical structures that corrode the well-being of society. When it comes to the Pulitzer Prize winning work of New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey? They are not just journalists. They are luminaries who uncovered the epidemic-like, decades-long sexual abuse perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein, and in doing so, spearheaded the culturally defining #MeToo movement. Their words had a seismic impact on the entire world, leading to a shift in global conversation surrounding sexual assault, gender inequality, and pervasive sexist practices. In other words, Kantor and Twohey are modern-day superheroes. In She Said, a work of nonfiction released in…

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The Churchgoer

By Spotlight - Must-Reads

The Churchgoer by Patrick Coleman literary / crime Harper Perennial – July 2019 Slow-burn, atmospheric, literary noir—a subgenre of crime fiction that’s rich with history in the publishing world. Some of the finest writers to ever dip their quills into ink—Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, and Patricia Highsmith, for example—were masters of literary noir, preeminent in pushing the subgenre to the forefront of the book industry. A prospective work of the genre must not only adhere to the classic plot structure of crime drama, but also serve as a deep psychological probe into the minds of its morally ambiguous, oftentimes self-destructive characters. Said work also can’t skimp on ambience. In order to be considered literary noir, the backdrop and tone of the story should be vivid, dripping in subtext and intrigue at every turn, and serve as practically its own character. It is a high bar, and is one that many…

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