Hot this week
If you’re one of the legions of fans who consider the 1995 movie Heat, starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, a masterpiece of its genre (or just super-entertaining), you’ll want to check out the new novel Heat 2. Released today, it’s both prequel and sequel to the film (which wasn’t based on a book), penned by the movie’s writer and director, Michael Mann, 79 — the Hollywood heavyweight behind Miami Vice and many more hits — and Edgar Award-winning author Meg Gardiner, 65. The story includes old and new characters, before and after the events portrayed in Heat. Many critics are giving it the thumbs-up; Library Journal, for one, says the book “manages to create the same immersive experience [as the film] in written form.”
So will we see it onscreen someday? “I’d love to make a Heat 2 movie, definitely,” Mann told Rolling Stone. “But if we do it, we’re going to do it big.”
Book covers get real
One of the top beach reads this summer is Jennifer Weiner’s The Summer Place, whose cover features an illustration of a larger woman (representing Sarah, a middle-aged character) floating in the ocean wearing a floppy hat. Weiner, 52, loves the image. As she wrote in a recent Literary Hub piece, many of her previous books have featured “skinny faceless women” on their covers, even when the characters were described as having fuller figures. That changed with the publication of 2019’s Mrs. Everything, whose cover sported a stylized illustration of two normal-shaped (not model-thin) women.
“It really resonated with readers,” says Lindsay Sagnette, editorial director at Atria Books. “When Jen asked if we could modernize [the covers from] her backlist, the answer from across the company was a resounding YES!” Now Weiner’s older books, including 2001’s Good in Bed (whose protagonist is horrified when her ex-boyfriend publishes an article called “Loving a Larger Woman”), have bigger women on their covers.
Responding to questions about the changes, Weiner emailed, “I spent the first 15 years of my career writing books with plus-size protagonists and being unable to ever get an image on the cover who looked anything like the women on the pages — no matter how often I asked. ... I’m so glad that times have changed.”
Find a longer chat with Jennifer Weiner on Members Only Access.
Could you be ‘America’s Next Great Author’?
Got a great book idea but don’t know how to get it into print? Enter to be a contestant on America’s Next Great Author, a reality show where aspiring authors pitch their plots, competing for the chance to have their book published (once it’s written, of course). Here’s how it will work: This fall 100 of the most promising online applicants will be invited to an event in Newark, New Jersey (yay?), where they’ll pitch their book ideas (all filmed for the show’s pilot episode). Six winners will spend a month together in a yet-to-be-decided location, writing their books.
The show was conceived by married authors Arielle Eckstut, 51, and David Henry Sterry, 65, with poet and Newberry Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander, 53, as the executive producer. Eckstut says the series will have a nice Great British Baking Show vibe, “where you see how heartwarming and exciting it is to watch ordinary people pursuing their dreams.”
The best part? Everybody wins in the end. “We will publish all six books,” she says.
To apply (by Sept. 15), submit a 150-word written bio, a 250-word written pitch and a 75-second video where you introduce yourself and perform your pitch.
In case you missed it...earlier book news
30 years ago today…
In the summer of 1992, from mid-July onward, the number 1 bestseller was Gerald’s Game by Stephen King. I’ve never read it, but the plot sounds a lot like, well, Misery. Jessie Burlingame is at an isolated lakeside cottage with her creepy hubby, Gerry, when he handcuffs her to the bedposts … and won’t set her free. A kinky sex game? Not for long. It quickly turns into a nightmare. The story was made into a 2017 film starring Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood that Variety called “arrestingly and sometimes excruciatingly suspenseful.”
But, alas, it’s not included in our list of the best Stephen King movies of all time.
Might I propose another, possibly better, King book? Out in paperback today is his 2021 release Billy Summers. Extremely entertaining, the rather weighty (544 pages) novel is about a sharpshooting hit man who justifies his profession by only killing “bad guys.” After taking on a high-priced job, he becomes a target himself, and has to flee — but first he ends up saving the life of a young woman seeking a new life and she joins him on the road.
‘Gone Girl’-themed river cruise
You read that right. Avalon Waterways is hosting a cruise next month marking the 10th anniversary of the publication of Gone Girl — the mega-best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, 51, about intramarital treachery that spawned a 2014 film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamond Pike (not to mention countless thrillers with the word “Girl” in their titles). You’d be among 150 other fans joining Flynn on the eight-day, Sept. 15-22 cruise (starting at $3,399) along the Danube from Budapest to Deggendorf, Germany. It’s an undeniably weird theme for a European river cruise, but Flynn actually sounds like a fun travel companion; in a recent tweet plugging the experience, she joked, “I will be selecting both by raffle and by means and opportunity a special passenger to murder!”
Find a community of readers — or what to read next
It’s not always easy to find or start a great in-person book club — if you’re like me, your friends may profess to be too busy to read regularly. While you won’t get the same kind of intimate camaraderie (or wine drinking) online, you will be able to connect with fellow book lovers and, perhaps the best part, find some great ideas for your TBR (to be read) list by joining a virtual book club. AARP’s The Girlfriend Facebook-based book club is a natural favorite of mine, but two others that also tend to choose books I love are headed by celebs: Jenna Bush Hager and Reese Witherspoon. Among the current picks of Reese’s Book Club current picks is Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen, described further down in this column, and Jenna’s 2022 novels have included the wonderful Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, about two adult siblings who learn some incredible secrets about their mother’s past after she passes away.
Check out our list of 7 online book clubs you can join now.
More new releases
David Baldacci, one of the most prolific thriller writers on the planet, has a No. 1 best seller. The 6:20 Man, the author’s first standalone novel in more than a decade, zipped to the top of the list last week. Fans are giving it the thumbs-up (“a fast paced clever thriller with an excellent central protagonist,” one tweeted). The gist of the story: Travis Devine is an entry-level analyst at a high-powered investment firm who takes the 6:20 train into New York City every morning. After his coworker Sara (also his ex-girlfriend) is found dead in an office storage room, Travis, a former soldier with some dark secrets, gets caught up in a world of corruption and finds himself marked for murder.
Check out this sample from the audiobook version, narrated by three different voice artists (Zachary Webber, Christine Lakin and Mela Lee).
If Baldacci isn’t your cup of tea, try this: The Force of Such Beauty by novelist Barbara Bourland. Don’t be turned off by what sounds like a silly plot: A young woman marries a handsome prince from a tiny European kingdom and becomes a princess only to find it’s no fairy tale. It’s actually a smart, absorbing novel, with a heroine, Caroline, who’s naïve but strong-willed. A former Olympic-level marathon runner from South Africa, she’s seduced by her lavish life until the fantasy fractures and becomes a nightmare.
Audiobooks are booming
Listen up! Audiobook sales are growing like crazy and it’s not because we distract ourselves from other tasks while listening to a satisfying self-help book or romance read. Rather, industry insiders say that audiobook fans are now looking to relax. Says Mary Beth Roche, publisher at Macmillan Audio, “We’re seeing an increasing trend where people are using audiobooks just to unwind at the end of the day.”
Amanda D’Acierno, president and publisher at Penguin Random House Audio, agrees that while many still listen while driving and folding laundry, “people now want to connect with their eyes closed, as a way to calm down.”
Audiobook sales hit $1.6 billion last year, with revenue up by 25 percent over 2020, according to the Audio Publishers Association. Among the hot listens this month: John Grisham’s Sparring Partners, a collection of three novellas, each read by a different narrator: actors Ethan Hawke, Jeff Daniels and January LaVoy (One Life to Live).
A book club by any other name …
The six members of my book club have always called our (roughly) monthly gatherings “book club,” even though we stopped discussing books years ago when our kids were small and reading motivation plummeted, but our friendship grew. Turns out many real book clubs are more imaginative. After surveying its readers about their clubs’ names, BookBrowse.com listed some of the best. Among them: Luscious Loquacious Ladies, Women Who Talk at the Same Time, Shelf Righteous Book Club, Inglorious Bookworms and my favorite, The Wine Club With a Book Problem.
Inspired, we asked members of AARP’s The Girlfriend Book Club (it’s free to join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/girlfriendbookclub) for their personal clubs’ names, and heard some more fun ones, including Giggle Buddies (“because we end up laughing more than we discuss the book”), Bad Girls Book Club (“half the members don’t show up and half of them don’t read the book”), Between the Sheets, Sip and Flip, Wines and Spines, and — a popular one — Reading Between the Wines.
Do you have one to share? Put it in the comment section below.
Paul Hollywood shares his favorites
It’s too hot to bake, so Paul Hollywood’s new book might be better enjoyed as inspiration while sipping a tall, icy lemonade. The incredibly popular Great British Baking Show’s cohost and judge is tough; for the contestants, getting a handshake from the handsome taster with the piercing blue eyes is like winning an Oscar in the other Hollywood. Now you can bake like him (or at least try). Out now is Bake: My Best Ever Recipes for the Classics, in which he shares his own recipes for Victoria sandwiches, sausage rolls, sourdough bread and more.
Find Hollywood talking all about baking and sharing three recipes from the book on Members Only Access.
People behaving badly
Let’s face it: Bad guys are far more interesting than good guys. That’s why New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe focuses so much on the former. Keefe, author of the gripping Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, has a new book that’s already a New York Times best seller. Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks includes 12 of his magazine pieces, such as the stunning story of an audacious counterfeiter who created $150,000 vintage wines said to be from Thomas Jefferson’s cellars, and authorities’ frustrating search for the elusive drug kingpin El Chapo, head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico and “a master of escape.”
“One thing that I think about a lot is just that the villain in the story never thinks that he’s the villain in the story,” Keefe said recently at a packed bookstore talk in Washington, D.C. “He thinks he’s the hero of the story.”
Here are three more killer reads for you true crime fans.
Less weighty, but also about people behaving badly, is the new best-selling novel Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen (July 5). A perfect book for your beach bag, it’s a clever caper (with TV rights already sold) featuring two Asian American women who start a wildly lucrative business selling counterfeit luxury handbags. As the tale is told from each character’s point of view, you’ll wonder, Which version is authentic, and which is a fake?
The inside story on how a book is made
Readers who like to get into writers’ brains will love a new eight-episode podcast debuting Aug. 3. Called Book Exploder, it gives readers a chance to hear top authors explain the stories behind their writing.
The podcast, which will feature author Susan Orlean interviewing compadres like Celeste Ng (about Little Fires Everywhere) and Michael Cunningham (on The Hours) about significant passages in their books, is the brain child of Hrishikesh Hirway, who already has a successful and super-entertaining podcast about music, Song Exploder, where he dissects songs with their creators. “Just like Song Exploder,” Hirway explains in his newsletter, Book Exploder “is about the choices and decisions that go into creating something, as told by the author.”
New episodes will be available every other Wednesday.
The title alone is enough to inspire a smile: This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch: The Joy of Loving Something — Anything — Like Your Life Depended on It (May 31). But the book itself is hilarious, as well as wise. The author, Australian humor blogger Tabitha Carvan, describes how she developed a slightly silly, lustful obsession with the Sherlock actor at midlife — but, true to the title, came to realize that the happiness she derived from it was less about the object of her fixation and more about the joy of rediscovering the youthful passions and pleasures that can fizzle out through years of adult responsibilities. It’s about learning, or relearning, as she puts it, “to feel good without also feeling bad.”
My big question for Carvan, though: What does Cumberbatch think about (not) being the subject of her book? “Benedict Cumberbatch has at least seen the book!” she wrote in an email. Turns out a fellow fan, @Sazzzzy on Twitter, met him at an event in Britain, asked him to sign her copy, and tweeted the results. “His response was typically Cumberbatchian,” Carvan noted, “while for me, it was kind of like a dream come true combined with my worst nightmare!”
In case you can’t read Cumberbatch’s scrawl in the photo, he wrote, “Um… Okay… First time I’ve seen this…Um… Can I borrow it after you?... Weird arse meta-moment here… Um… Benedict Cumberbatch.”
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Entertainment fans can look forward to a particularly tall stack of celebrity memoirs coming out this October, but the biggest, most surprising of all may be the posthumous book from acting legend Paul Newman — who’s having a moment. There’s Ethan Hawke’s new six-part documentary about him and Joanne Woodward (read more), The Last Movie Stars, and this fall we'll have The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, edited by David Rosenthal. The project began 20 years before the actor’s death, when Newman asked his close friend screenwriter Stewart Stern to create an oral history of his life, says Peter Gethers, the book’s editor at Knopf. Stern interviewed Newman’s friends and family members, along with Newman himself, while Newman also wrote many pages of his own memories.
His family eventually wrote a book proposal, based on over 10,000 pages of transcripts. “The material was extraordinary,” and Knopf snapped it up in a heated auction, Gethers says.
What surprised Gethers most about the memoir/biography? “What a brilliant writer he was, how extraordinarily honest and insightful he was, how insecure he was.”
Also coming in October: Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder by Trekkie William Shatner, 90, writing with Joshua Brandon; Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me by Ralph Macchio; and Geena Davis’ Dying of Politeness. And on Nov. 1, we’ll get books from Bono (Surrender) and Friends star Matthew Perry, who gets frank about his battles with addiction in Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. (Read our interview with Jennifer Grey, the Dirty Dancing actress whose memoir Out of the Corner hit shelves this spring.)
Please share your own favorite new (or old) books, upcoming releases you’re excited about, or anything book related in the comments section.
Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2022. It's been updated to reflect new information.