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From IndieReader: The List Where Indies Count

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Until July by Aurora Rose Reynolds

This article was originally published by IndieReader. Every Thursday we will publish an article from IndieReader that we think might be of interest to our readers.


Ever wonder what the top-selling Indie books are? Here is The List Where Indies Count, compiled by IndieReader, and it's the only best seller list where self-published books are the only ones that matter. Titles are compiled on Sunday, culled from The New York Times, USA Today and Amazon best seller lists.

We sense a genre trend.


11. Until July by Aurora Rose Reynolds

This is a standalone and a spin off of the New York Times best selling “Until” Series.

  • #7 New York Times Best Seller List, eFiction
  • #33 USA Today Best Seller List



22. Virtuous by M.S. Force

Quantum Trilogy Book 1

  • #14 New York Times Best Seller List, eFiction
  • #34 USA Today Best Seller List



 33. Dare to Hold by Carly Phillips

Kindergarten teacher Meg Thompson’s life changes dramatically when Scott Dare walks into it; sixth in series

  • #16 New York Times Best Seller List, eFiction
  • #37 USA Today Best Seller List



44. Club Luxe Box Set by Olivia Noble

Contains the books “The Private Room,” “Secrets Exposed” and “Deadly Lust”

  • #18 New York Times Best Seller List


To see the rest of The List Where Indies Count, go to IndieReader.

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Best in Mysteries: The 2015 Edgar Award Winners

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Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Sara Nelson was on hand at the Edgar Awards last night and calls out the highlights of the ceremony:

Please forgive the irresistible clichés: Attendance at last night’s Edgar Awards was pretty much a roundup of the usual suspects: Stephen King, James Ellroy, Karin Slaughter, and the publishers and agents who’ve helped them become who they are, and all were all dressed to kill at the Grand Hyatt Ballroom in New York. Still, the event was not without surprises. First of all, who knew that Brad Meltzer—past president of the Mystery Writers of America—was so self-deprecatingly funny? (Oops. We mean: “President Brad Meltzer,” as he called himself repeatedly with tongue in cheek.) Some other highlights: Grand Master James Ellroy’s speech, which was either out-there nuts or savvily constructed to make sure it would be remembered. And the one delivered by the other Grand Master, the beloved Lois Duncan, who told the crowd that it was her 81st birthday and that she owed her career to three men: her longtime husband, her agent, and whatever young and handsome guy was going to come help the frail, diminutive author off the stage. (“President Meltzer” appeared immediately to do the honors.) Also of note was Karin Slaughter’s winsome acceptance of the best short story award on behalf of her friend Gillian Flynn; a class act, always. But the star of the evening—again, no surprise—was Stephen King, who not only awarded a prize to Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case Crime (through which the prolific King has published) but accepted the best novel prize (for Mr. Mercedes) with his own particular mixture of humility and pride. His advice to all the writers and would-be’s in the room: Don’t chicken out of your best ideas just because you’ve never done them before! As phenomenally successful as he is, King said he almost abandoned the idea for Mr. Mercedes (which has become the basis of a trilogy) as he walked along a Maine road during his daily constitutional. If Stephen King still has those doubts and pushes past them…well, what’s our excuse? —Sara Nelson

And the winners of the 2015 Edgar Awards are:

Best Novel

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)

Mr. Mercedes 


Best First Novel by an American Author

Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman (W.W. Norton)

Dry Bones in the Valley

Best Paperback Original

The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani (Penguin Random House – Penguin Books)

Secret History of Las Vegas

Best Fact Crime

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William Mann (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)


Best Critical/Biography

Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe by J.W. Ocker (W.W. Norton – Countryman Press)


Best Short Story

"What Do You Do?" – from Rogues by Gillian Flynn (Penguin Random House Publishing –Bantam Books)



Best Juvenile

Greenglass House by Kate Milford  (Clarion Books – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

Greenhouse Glass

Best Young Adult

The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin Young Readers)

The Art of Secrets

Congratulations to all the authors who were nominated for the Edgar Award. Thank you for continuing to write compelling works that keep us up at night.

Looking for more amazing mystery novels? See our list of 100 Mysteries and Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime.

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Sara Says: Their Parents Might have Messed Them Up But We Loved Them Anyway

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Dangerous When Wet by Jamie Brickhouse

As the great man said, all unhappy families are not exactly alike – but neither are the thousands of Dangerous When Wetbooks written about such families created equal  (The same holds true for stories about families that aren’t exactly unhappy, but just, as they say, “have issues.”) As writing teachers tell aspiring memoirists every day, it’s not the life that counts, it’s how you recount the life. Luckily for us readers, there are lots of people who write humorously, honestly and well about their families of  less-than-perfect origin. My favorites:

Dangerous When Wet by Jamie Brickhouse: Texan Brickhouse had a mother almost everyone described – and lovingly – as a tornado. She might have knocked him down, but he (eventually) picked himself back up again

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: The opening scene in which the decked-out author espies her homeless mother picking through garbage on a New York street might be one of my strongest memoir memories. 

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs: The modern classic. Way better than the movie version.

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff: The book that last year’s movie Boyhood most made me think of:  this is the multi-layered story of a boy raised by his mother, separately from his brother [see below] when his parents divorced.

Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father by Geoffrey Wolff: The other Wolff brother’s story (see above); a compassionate and stunning story about the complications of fathers and sons. 

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy: Technically a novel, this early Conroy story – like most of his others – is achingly autobiographical. 

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr: This tale of a hardscrabble youth arguably started the modern memoir craze.  It’s heartbreaking and hilarious, all at once.

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"How I Flew to the Hawk to Escape a Searing Grief."--Helen Macdonald on "H Is for Hawk"

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H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Boasting one of the best book jackets we've seen this year, Helen Macdonald's much lauded memoir, H H Is for HawkIs for Hawk, describes the unusual way she grieved the loss of her father. Ms. Macdonald recently took time out of her busy book tour schedule to answer a handful of our questions.

I loved H Is for Hawk, had me in thrall from the first page, and since it was released in Great Britain first its reputation preceded it. But had someone told me about it ahead of time...A woman copes with the loss of her father by training a goshawk...I might have thought, not sure this book's for me...Why do you think there has been such a resounding response, despite a certain niche factor?

HM: The reaction has been a wonderful surprise! I’m thrilled that so many people have responded to it so strongly. As to why? Some have told me they picked up the book because of Chris Wormell’s wonderful cover and then found themselves bewitched by the magnetically strange, exquisitely beautiful goshawk inside. Hawks are awesome creatures and they are fascinating to write - and read - about. But H Is for Hawk is not just about hawks; it’s about how I flew to the hawk to escape a searing grief. I’ve heard it said that it’s a book for anyone who’s ever wanted to run away from their life or escape difficult circumstances. I guess all of us, at one time or another, have felt like that; and everyone goes through times of loss and loneliness. And ultimately this is a book about love: love for a wild creature, for my dad, for the natural world, and compassion for the writer TH White. I like to think that people have responded so strongly to the book because it is full of love, despite the episodes of darkness in its pages.

The process of training of a hawk is utterly immersive--you learn to be completely attuned to their body language, you talked about feeling empathy with Mabel, getting inside her head...Has this heightened awareness with an animal impacted how you interact with and understand humans?

Helen MacdonaldHM: I have this wonderful mental image of me waving raw steak at people to encourage them to come over and say hello! But in all seriousness, yes. Training a hawk is always a lesson in patience and empathy, in paying careful attention to the needs of another living being. But the greatest lesson Mabel taught me was not that I should be more patient with people. For a long time I saw my hawk as me: something solitary, fierce and feral. Of course, she was not. She was nothing like me. But even so, we had this extraordinary bond, and shared our separate lives. When you’re young it’s easy to assume the people you interact with think just like you do. And oddly enough, my years with the hawk strengthened my realization of the deep importance of rejoicing in the differences between people.

Mabel, your "protecting spirit" at such a critical time in your life, died in late 2013 from an airborne fungus. What was it like to grieve her?

HM: I cried my eyes out. She was only six: far too young. But when she died what I felt was a deep sadness, not a prolonged and wretched grief. I’d worked out by then that as you get older, life fills with memories of people and things you’ve loved that have gone. And watching Mabel hunt in the year following my father’s passing had already changed how I saw death. I’d never wanted to ever think about it. But suddenly it was there, the great and awful mystery, not just in the fact of my father’s passing, but visible in the open air as the hawk caught her own food. When Mabel died I was more reconciled to death’s inevitability. I still miss her dreadfully, though!

Rumor has it that you have plans to write fiction--is this true and, and if so, have you started to work out what the book will be about?

HM: I’d love to write fiction some day, though the next book will be non-fiction, like H Is for Hawk. I’ve been so busy traveling this year, doing book events and meeting readers and booksellers that planning it is still in very early stages.

Judging by the evocative prose in H Is for Hawk no one will be surprised to know that you are a poet as well, and we are nearing the end of National Poetry Month. What are a few of your favorite poets/poems?

I have so many! Some off the top of my head: Coleridge, Donne, Wordsworth, Dickinson, O’Hara, R.F. Langley, and Barbara Guest. Two favorite poems: A Nocturnal upon St. Lucie’s Day by John Donne and Frost at Midnight by Coleridge.

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5 'Hidden' Truths about Women’s Critical Roles in the War in Afghanistan by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

AshleyLast week, Ashley's War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon was published, and the reception has been positive and immediate. The book is about a groundbreaking pilot program designed to put female American warriors alongside Special Ops soldiers in Afghanistan. Among those women was Ashley White, who was killed in action-- and Lemmon's book uses firsthand reporting to tell the story of Ashley and of the team in which she served.

The book has received blurbs from a wide variety of readers, from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg ("unforgettable") to Senator John McCain ("remarkable").

Here, the author outlines some hidden truths about women's role in Afghanistan.


5 “Hidden” Truths about Women’s Critical Roles in the War in Afghanistan

by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of Ashley's War

Women have broken a great deal of ground in Afghanistan since the end of Taliban rule in 2001. Much of this work has happened hidden from the headlines.  Below is a look at five roles women have played in Afghanistan that have had a big impact, even if they remain little-known:

1)    Cultural Support Team (CST) Members: In Ashley’s War, I had the opportunity to learn and write about the teams of female soldiers recruited to serve on the battlefield alongside special operations. Recruited as CST members in 2010 and deployed in 2011, while the combat ban remained in place, these teams placed women on the front lines alongside elite members of special operations forces, including Special Forces and the 75th Ranger Regiment. Ashley’s War shares the story of a group of female soldiers who served alongside the Rangers on night missions in Afghanistan on a deployment that would change each of these soldiers forever and connect them to each other—and to the special operations teams with whom they served—for the rest of their lives. “Female Soldiers – Become a Part of History”, read the recruiting poster. And they did.

2)    Afghan National Security Forces: Afghan women have been recruited to serve in the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army. Their path has not been easy, but they have been forging it—often, as I have seen firsthand, in the face of disapproval from family members deeply concerned about their security. One woman I interviewed a few years ago told me of how she would wear regular clothes to her police post, then change into her uniform so that members of her extended family wouldn’t know what she did each day. But she loved the work and loved earning an income. One of the best-known women in the Afghan military is Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, who a few years ago became the “first female pilot to serve in the Afghan military since the fall of the Taliban government.”

3)    Governors and Lawmakers:

In 2005, Afghanistan named its first female governor, Habiba Sarobi, in the northern province of Bamiyan. She became the country’s first-ever female vice presidential candidate in the most recent Afghan elections.  More than 250 women ran for provincial council seats in the country’s latest voting and women now have 28 percent of the seats in the Afghan parliament with the backing of quotas put in place after the end of Taliban rule. A photo gallery here captures their place and their power.

4)    Female Engagement Teams: Created by the Marines in 2010, these teams of female Marines, trained at Camp Pendleton, California, were part of a pilot program to send all-women “engagement teams out with all-male infantry patrols” in southern Afghanistan. Their goal was to build relationships with women who were culturally off-limits to the men with whom they served. The teams were judged a success by many as the soldiers worked to understand the needs of and help get services to Afghan women in some of the most insurgent-heavy parts of Afghanistan while gathering valuable, on-the-ground intel for the Marines. These “FETs” became the predecessor to the Army’s engagement teams, which eventually became the Cultural Support Teams that led the soldiers of Ashley’s War onto the battlefield.

5)    Military Police Platoon Leaders and much more: Female service members have served in all manner of roles in the U.S. military since the war in Afghanistan began, usually with little fanfare or attention. TIME Magazine shared the story of a female lieutenant military police platoon leader who battled to win over the Marines with whom she was serving in a very hot part of eastern Afghanistan. After she called for fire and helped to save her pinned-down Marine platoon, “from that point forward, they thought she was the greatest thing on Earth.”

-- Gayle Tzemach Lemmon


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Oh, Baby!

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Underwater Babies by Seth Casteel

Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel

UnderwaterBabiesCover225If you thought Seth Casteel's Underwater Dogs and Underwater Puppies were cute (and they are!) take a look at these photos from his new book, Underwater Babies.





Michael G.




Warren M.




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They Had It Coming: Social Media and the Age of Shame

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So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

ShamedAuthor Jon Ronson knows a thing or two about public shaming. When a trio of "academics" hijacked his persona for an infomorph—basically an automated Twitter feed that spewed inane comments about food in his name—he took the fight to the internet, where the virtual hordes soon compelled the spambot authors to cease and desist. The experience hatched a thought: Once upon a time, if you wanted to participate in a good, old-fashioned public humiliation, you actually had to show up. But as with most everything else, the internet has made condemnation an exercise in crowdsourcing, with today’s angry mobs trading stockades and scarlet As for social media and its inherent anonymity.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is Ronson's tour through a not-necessarily-brave new world where faceless commenters wield the power to destroy lives and careers, where the punishments often outweigh the crimes, and where there is no self-control and (ironically) no consequences. On one hand, part of what makes this book (again, ironically) so fun to read is a certain schadenfreude; it’s fun to read about others' misfortunes, especially if we think they "had it coming." Jonah Lehrer, whose admitted plagiarism and falsifications probably earned him his fall, stalks these pages. But so does Justine Sacco, whose ill-conceived tweet probably didn’t merit hers; as it turns out, the internet doesn’t always differentiate the misdemeanors from the felonies. But the best reason to read this is Ronson's style, which is funny and brisk, yet informative and never condescending. Shamed is not a scholarly book, nor is it a workbook about navigating ignominy. It's an entertaining investigation into a growing--and often disturbing--demimonde of uncharitable impulses run amok.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a selection for's Best Books of the Month for April 2015. We asked Ronson for his thoughts on the book and social media's role in the changing role of shame in public discourse.

When did you realize that public shaming would make an interesting topic for a book?

It began to dawn on me that we’d drifted into a new way of being. We were turning social media into a stage for constant artificial high dramas, where people were either magnificent heroes or sickening villains.

We’d pile in on someone – for some tiny transgression - and then happily carry on with our day. I suddenly realized that I had no idea whether our villains-of-the-day were okay or in ruins. I assumed they were okay, but what if they weren’t?

So I realized I needed to write an empathetic, humanist, funny, scary, tense, page-turner of a book that makes the reader feel what it feels like to be one of the transgressors.

You present modern shaming—with its technology based tools – as a kind of modern analog for communal techniques that once upheld the mores of society (and might occasionally be described as mob rule). Is this renaissance a good thing?

When the transgression is serious it’s a good thing. It’s wonderful that social media gives a voice to voiceless people. Together we fight injustice. But we’ve started to find it hard to differentiate between serious transgressions and unserious transgressions. We’re tearing people apart for lesser and lesser crimes. It’s robbing us of our empathy. It’s making us cold and hard. This book is a call for people to remember empathy.

Has social media changed human behavior, or has social media evolved to meet the impulses of humans?

I think the former. Social media is changing human behavior. Twitter is like a mutual approval machine.

My friend, the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis put it beautifully to me:

“What you get is a kind of mutual grooming. One person sends on information that they know others will respond to in accepted ways. And then, in return, those others will like the person who gave them that piece of information. So information becomes a currency through which you buy friends and become accepted into the system. That makes it very difficult for bits of information that challenge the accepted views to get into the system. They tend to get squeezed out. I think the thing that proves my point dramatically are the waves of shaming that wash through social media – the thing you have spotted and describe so well in your book. It's what happens when someone says something, or does something, that disturbs the agreed protocols of the system. The other parts react furiously and try to eject that destabilising fragment and regain stability.”

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Take Two Now and Call the Drug Dealer in the Morning

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Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

Dreamland225The rumblings about the dangers of the prescription painkiller OxyContin are getting louder every day, and for good reason.   More and more often the end of prescribed refills leaves patients with an addiction to the opiate that is being filled by heroin dealers--dealers who have turned the demand into a business that author Sam Quinones compares to the efficiency of pizza delivery.

Who are these addicts?  They are the people we see everyday in the suburbs and heartlands of our nation--young people, athletes, working professionals across the strata of our society.

Quinones brings us the shocking true story of how we got here in his incredibly well-researched and timely book, Dreamland. The discussions amongst the editors that pushed Dreamland onto our Best Books of April list have not ended--we are still talking about this crazy-but-true story--so we asked the author a few questions piquing our curiosity:   

How did you first become aware of the opiate epidemic and what prompted you to dig into the question of “how could this have happened?” ?

At the LA Times in 2009, I was working on a team covering Mexico’s drug wars. My job was to cover how Mexican drugs were trafficked through the U.S. I came upon some stories from two years before out of Huntington, W.V. that told of a spate of fatal overdoses from black-tar heroin.

That immediately caught my eye. Black tar is a semi-processed form of heroin made in Mexico and had only ever been found in large amounts west of the Mississippi River up to that point. So what was it doing in West Virginia, a state east of the Mississippi and with very few Mexicans?

I was eventually directed to a DEA agent in Columbus who told me of these guys who drove around town with their mouths full of balloons of heroin, selling them retail to addicts who called an operator and had the dope delivered like pizza. Addicts from Huntington would come up and buy it. DEA would arrest the crews, he said, and within a few days there’d be new guys driving around town.

Then he said the thing that hooked me. He said, “Crazy thing is, they’re all from the same town.” He said they were from Tepic, the capital of the small state of Nayarit, Mexico.  I’d lived 10 years in Mexico and written two books about the country. I’d seen that often people in one small town will all have the same occupation. One town I wrote about, everyone makes popsicles. So when he said they were all from one town, I had a hunch they were all from the same place, but not a capital city. It had to be a small town or village.

In time, talking with guys they’d arrested, I learned two things: The town was indeed small, a place called Xalisco (pop 23,000); and the Xalisco heroin crews serviced not just Columbus, but Nashville, Portland, Charlotte. One guy kept on naming cities.

That blew me away. He counted these guys in 17 states, and occasionally in another eight – half of America. All this heroin, all from one little town that doesn’t show up on most maps.

The other question that occurred to me later, of course, was how is it they have any market at all for their heroin in West Virginia, a state I did not associate with heroin in any way.

That’s what brought me to the issue of prescription opiate painkillers, and of course OxyContin, and finally the realization that the pills and the Xalisco Boy heroin both were spread through marketing. These were twin tales of drug marketing. No Scarfaces, no drive-by shootings. Massive promotion brought addiction, with no guns involved at all.

What was the most surprising discovery in your research?

Wow, there were a lot:

- That Levi’s 501s were an important factor in the spread of the Xalisco heroin system.

- That a few places, like the town of Portsmouth, Ohio, were so overrun with pills that they actually developed an OxyContin economy, where you could buy anything – T-bone steaks, cable TV, cars, refrigerators, dentist appointments, you could ransom your boyfriend – with pills.  Cash was secondary because so many people were addicted and pills were what they valued.

- That an entire revolution in US medicine– the widespread use of prescription opiate painkillers for chronic pain with the belief that the pills were “virtually nonaddictive” – was achieved based on almost no evidence.  Instead, pain specialists relied in good measure on a 101-word letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine from 1980. Addiction was rare, it read, in hospital patients who’d been given painkillers, according to medical records from a database. The author of that letter intended it as nothing major, just something worth noting.

- That a pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, would market its new painkiller, OxyContin, which included the largest quantities of synthetic opiate in one pill ever, with techniques often used to promote over-the-counter medication.

- That at ground zero of all this - in Southern Ohio and other parts of Appalachia - both Walmart and Medicaid health-insurance cards were crucial to the spread of pill abuse.

- That one small county in Mexico, which doesn’t appear on most maps, could be the source of so much of our heroin in so many parts of the country – and that they would do that by delivering it like pizza, selling it retail, and that they would spread this drug using not guns but marketing, convenience, and customer service.

So many strange sides to this saga.

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What individual’s story in the book did you find most interesting or disturbing (or both)?

The most disturbing character was the fellow I call the Man. He was in his late 60s when I met him, a long-time heroin addict from Southern California, and had been trafficking drugs since he was 19. He is Mexican-American and happened upon a Xalisco Boy when they were in a Nevada prison. They became partners when they were released in the early 1990s. This was just as the Xalisco Boys’ heroin delivery system was taking shape and spreading beyond Southern California, where it began.

A few years later, he was fully involved in Xalisco, knew everyone, owned property down there. He took the delivery system – and black-tar heroin – east of the Mississippi River for the first time. All this happened in Ohio and West Virginia just as prescription painkillers, OxyContin in particular, were being promoted as the solution to pain of all kinds, and marketed especially hard in those areas.

Because the Man was a long-time addict and spoke English, he perceived the spread of pills and understood their potential for priming the market for his own drug, black-tar heroin. He knew the pills would eventually lead to huge amounts of heroin addiction. So he followed the pills and set up where they were just beginning to be a problem.

Really, his arrival in central Ohio in 1998 was the first time the pills and heroin collided, to devastating effect that has been repeated over and over across the country since then, though not always with dope provided by the Xalisco Boys. It was largely first due to this man, whose name I agreed not to print in exchange for his agreeing to tell me his story.

Ever since he charted that virgin territory – Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and some others - those areas, which had little to no heroin before, have been hives of Xalisco heroin cells. Columbus had no heroin to speak of 15 years ago; now it has a weekly court devoted solely to heroin cases, and it is packed.

There were many interesting characters. Several cops spent long, lonely hours in various parts of the country trying to understand the Xalisco Boys, who were very good at looking like minor hustlers. These cops realized these guys were different and ominous, and felt sometimes fairly alone in the endeavor. Unable to interest higher-ups or the media, or sometimes even their colleagues, in these Xalisco guys and their heroin system. Ed Ruplinger in Boise and Dennis Chavez in Denver are among them.

The Portsmouth, Ohio swimming pool – Dreamland, from which I took the book’s title – was in fact an important character, both as a stand-in for America and as a social center that kept the town functioning. When it died, the town folded in on itself and opiates made easy work of the place after that – until recently, that is.

Have you ever been prescribed OxyContin? If so, were you already aware of the dangers and if not, how would you feel about taking it after writing this story?

Never OxyContin, but after an appendix removal, doctors prescribed me Vicodin. That was a few years before this project and I knew nothing about the pill. Knew nothing about hydrocodone, which is the synthetic opiate in Vicodin, nor did they tell me anything about it. They sent me home with 60. I prefer to do without pills as much as possible, so I think I took 2-3 and then endured some small amount of discomfort for a day. Never used them after that. They stayed in my medicine cabinet for a while. I threw them away when I got into this project, not because I feared I would use them but because I’d heard of too many cases where kids or kids’ friends got into the medicine cabinets of their parents and got hooked on the (massively overprescribed) pills that hadn’t been used. Happens a lot.

I believe these pills certainly have a legitimate use in medicine – if used far more judiciously than they are now and with far more thorough follow up with patients later. I also believe that they are, as I said, massively overprescribed. Just sending people home with dozens of these pills is scary, in many cases. This rising sea level of pills, as I call it, is behind the huge amount of opiate addiction we’re seeing.

We often debate whether demand or supply causes illegal drug abuse. In this case, supply created demand.

After meth became such a widespread problem we saw a crackdown on the availability of pseudoephedrine, based on your research do you see any change on the horizon for how widely OxyContin is precsribed?  

I do see signs that doctors are becoming aware of the problem. Certainly some institutions – the V.A., for example – seem to have rethought their initial enthusiasm for massive prescribing of pain pills for chronic pain. The VA has piloted clinics where chronic pain patients are treated with a variety of approaches – swimming therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc., even psychological therapy, as a lot of chronic pain is understood to have roots in such issues.

The problem is that too often general practitioner docs don’t have the time to spend with their patients, particularly pain patients, that they really need to understand the nuances, and perhaps prescribe something else, or some variety of approaches, that don’t involve opiate pills. Docs spend an average of about 12 minutes per patient and that’s not nearly enough. In that context, pills are the convenient short-term solution – both for the patient and for the doctor.

Do you have another story that you’re following and/or will you continue the work you started in Dreamland?

I’ve always got lots of ideas popping. Journalism is always that way.

I want to write the biography of Chalino Sanchez, a slain legendary narcosinger, who was to Mexican cartels what Sinatra was to the Italian mob. Within his story you can tell a lot of major stories: mass Mexican migration to the U.S., the rise of coyote industry, the rise of Mexican drug cartels, etc.

I’d also like to write a book about tubas. They’re huge in LA. Also the tuba is enjoying a civil rights movement of sorts, as tuba players are no long content to be hidden at the back of the band.

Lately, I’ve been working with an LA gang member doing three life terms in prison on his memoir of growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, and then becoming a lieutenant in the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

There’s also a collection of stories about L.A. I want to write – like the tale of the Cambodian Donut King, who is the reason why all our donut shops are run by Cambodians here in Southern California; and Dr. Fresh, an Indian man who owned a dental-products company and at one point produced more dental floss than anyone in the world; and the born-again bank robber, Mexico’s John Dillinger, who broke out of three prisons, was that country’s Public Enemy #1, then disappeared, became a Christian while on the run, even played minor roles in a few Christian films, and moved to an LA suburb for 19 years, where he raised a family and cleaned department store floors, before they finally grabbed him.

There’s a million strange and true tales and I’d love to tell them all.

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Kiss & Tell: Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Why We Love Shape-Shifter Romances

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The Unleashing by Shelly Laurenston


The third time I heard a romance reader utter the phrase “billionaire bears,” followed by a giggle, I realized that shape-shifter romance had taken off in such a big way that “werebears” wasn’t a good enough category anymore—we now needed a further subdivision into “billionaire bears.” What was going on?

Shape-shifters. Skinwalkers. Weres. Mostly human on the outside and concealing an animal on the inside, shape-shifting heroes and heroines boldly straddle the world between civilization and the wild…and that’s where the fun begins.

The Unleashing“Shape-shifters are allowed to have a certain freedom outside of boundaries that human characters often can’t,” says Cindy Hwang, vice president and executive editor of Berkley Books. This gives the author room to steer their characters in new directions. “With characters who are only part human, you have a lot more leeway,” says Shelly Laurenston, author of The Unleashing and the extremely popular Pride series. “I can do things with a heroine who’s part bear that I can’t do with a regular ol’ human like myself.”

As the rules on what’s acceptable behavior drop away, authors can delve into character growth in innovative ways. Says Jeffe Kennedy of how shape-shifting ties into a larger theme that winds through her books: “Having characters shape-shift is a metaphor for personal transformation.” Each of Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms books focus on three princesses who have the power to affect great changes to their country but need to discover who and what they are first. “I’m really interested in personal growth, how we overcome our flaws to become happier and fulfilled—reaching for that self-actualization. Shape-shifting is one way of getting there.”

Mate BondStriking off in another direction, Jennifer Ashley likes to explore “the strength of family and community” in her Shifters Unbound novels, most recently in Mate Bond. “My shape-shifter heroes have the best of both human and animal traits—they’re strong, protective, fierce, loving, kick-butt fighters, and loving parents.” Her heroes and heroines have been corralled into Shiftertowns and fitted with Collars to keep them from committing violent acts. Only by sticking together as they deal with internal and external forces can the shifters survive, but, Ashley explains, “Their wildness can never be completely tamed.”

Wicked RideThat wildness is part of the attraction to romance readers. Take a glance through a dozen romance covers featuring weres or shifters, and very human manly chests are on prominent display. “There’s an animalistic level of passion a shifter might reach that a normal human could not,” says author Rebecca Zanetti, who penned the Dark Protector series and is shifting gears to a new series with her upcoming Wicked Ride (June). 

Alicia Condon, Kensington’s Editorial Director, also sees the sensuality of many shape-shifter romances as a key component for readers. “They’re hot! Those uncontrollable urges and enhanced abilities give shape-shifters larger-than-life appeal, but their essentially human nature makes them sympathetic too.”

Slave to SensationCharacters who are closer to and more accepting of those urges is part of why Nalini Singh enjoys writing her Psy-Changeling novels. “I love that these heroes and heroines are more in touch with, and comfortable with, their primal skin. They often break the rules of ‘civilized’ behavior, and their emotions are worn far closer to the surface.” 

If you’re new to shape-shifter romances and want to take a walk on the wild side, Cindy Hwang of Berkley suggests a number of books to start with, including Nalini Singh’s Slave to Sensation, Christine Feehan’s Leopard series starting with Wild Rain, and Eileen Wilks’s Tempting Danger. Hwang calls out Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound as something special: “One of the most unique—and most memorable—shape-shifter romances that I’ve ever read. The hero, Dragos, is a dragon who can shape-shift into a man, which is very different from being a man who can shape-shift into a dragon. ”

Dragon BoundThea Harrison gets the thumbs-up from Nalini Singh and Jeffe Kennedy as well. Strong shape-shifting characters also populate several urban fantasy series that have a romantic thread: Kennedy cites Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books as among her favorites, and Jennifer Ashley points to Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series as books she recommends to readers.

Finally, Kensington’s Alicia Condon looks ahead at where this frisky category is going: “The addition of humor.” Darkly intense half-human heroes will always make the heart throb, but there’s more than enough room for shape-shifters who laugh and make readers laugh, too.

A shifter who has a sense of humor? Toss in some cooking skills, and you’ve found the perfect part-human mate. Lions and Tigers and Bears? Oh, my…


Adrian Liang will be writing "Kiss and Tell" posts every week about the best and brightest romance novels and novelists. Subscribe to the Omnivoracious email newsletter to get a sneak peek at more amazing books.

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2015 James Beard Book Award Winners

Kitchn300Last night the winners of the 2015 James Beard book awards were announced at a gala celebration in Chicago. Prizes were awarded in 12 book categories plus the Cookbook of the Year and we were thrilled to see some of our favorites take home prizes.

Congratulations all the winning books, to Barbara Kafka for her induction into the Cookbook Hall of Fame, and to Ina Garten for winning 2015 Outstanding Food Personality/Host.  You can see all the past and present winners and finalists of the James Beard book awards here.


Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition by David Sterling


Heritage by Sean Brock


- Winner:
Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold



Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns 



Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition by David Sterling



Cooking Light Mad Delicious: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing by Keith Schroeder



Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours by Alice Medrich



The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking by Faith Durand and Sara Kate Gillingham



In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World Photographer:Gabriele Galimberti



Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering by Adam Danforth



Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan



At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well by Amy Chaplin



The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber


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