Blood & Whiskey #23
Dennis Lehane, Ivy Pochoda, Eli Cranor, Michelle Zauner, Jason Rejulak, and Jim Ruland. Plus: Neal's new podcast (Hawaii!) Also: Tequila + Amari — three ways.
Hello friends and readers,
My wife and I are moving to Boston for the summer and I’m making the drive (from Seattle) with my youngest son. We’re loaded up with audiobooks and a few podcasts, but I’m open to XC road trip suggestions: books, tunes, podcast. And to any Bostonians out there: I know my way around a few bookshops (Brookline, Porter Square, Harvard) but feel free to send suggestions for lesser-known joints — not just books, but beer/cocktail/food, yoga studios, swim spots. We’ll be staying in Cambridge. And speaking of Boston… It felt like an ideal time to read a Boston-based mystery from one of my favorite writers, Dennis Lehane:
Small Mercies (Harper) — Set in 1974 as the city is about to desegregate its schools through busing, a fierce South Boston woman’s daughter goes missing the same night a Black man is killed on a subway platform. Lehane’s first novel in five years gives us all the complex issues he’s known for: the messy history of Boston’s Irish; the racism, crime, poverty, hate and power of that iconic, flawed city. He’s at the top of his game here, crafting an intimate story of hope striving to grow toward the light. It’s funny, frightening, and violent. Sentence by sentence, it’s masterful and lyrical, beautiful and sad. Ranks among his best.
Sing Her Down (MCD/FSG), by Ivy Pochoda — This book was a punch in the face, a kick in the teeth, a jab in the eye… it’s that good. But not an easy read. Florence “Florida” Baum can’t seem to stop doing the next wrong/bad/dangerous thing. Even when she’s freed from an Arizona women’s prison and makes her way toward her Los Angeles home, she courts danger and her dark side. As a dad to two boys who were drawn to the dark, I recognized the slow tilt toward not-turning-back and felt protective of Florida, who had no one to protect her. Then again: we make our choices. Pochoda is a fierce, fearless writer, but be forewarned: This is bleak and brutal stuff. This isn’t WeHo or Santa Monica but the bloody, shanty sprawl of LA’s underworld, “a sick city getting sicker.”
Ozark Dogs (Soho), by Eli Cranor — I missed Cranor’s well-received debut, Don't Know Tough, last year, and was looking forward to this raw tale of guns and junkyard dogs and family secrets. Jeremiah Fitzjurls has raised his granddaughter, Jo, since she was two — ever since her father was sent to prison for murder. Now the drug-dealing, white-supremacist family of his son’s victim is seeking revenge. A good one for fans of southern noir like Donald Ray Pollack, Daniel Woodrell, S.A. Cosby, or Chris Offutt (who also has a new book out).
Crying in H Mart (Knopf/Vintage) by Michelle Zauner — Not quite a Blood & Whiskey type book, but I love a good memoir and I’m a fan of Zauner’s band, Japanese Breakfast, so I jumped at the chance to see her speak recently, at Seattle Arts & Lectures. I picked up a copy there. My wife devoured it first, then I did. She’s a fantastic writer, and her mother was a rare gem of a human.
Hidden Pictures (Flatiron) by Jason Rekulak — From the former publisher of the awesome little Philly-based small press, Quirk Books, this devourable story (edited by my former editor, Zack Wagman, who helmed my 2018 memoir, Kickflip Boys) was an unexpected surprise. Mallory Quinn is recently sober and takes a job babysitting 5-year-old Teddy in a South Jersey suburb. It’s a great gig until Teddy starts drawing a series of disturbing sketches (embedded throughout the book) of an apparent murder, which Mallory seeks to solve.
Make It Stop (Rare Bird) by Jim Ruland — Earlier this year, I’d reviewed Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows and did a (virtual) Q&A with the author. I then came across Ruland’s interview with Harper in the LA Times, learned about his book, and he sent me a copy. Honestly? I thought I’d politely skim it and move on. But I got sucked in and devoured it in a few sessions. The premise: it’s near-future LA and an evil health company runs most of the rehab centers where, per the “if you can’t pay, you stay” rules, patients are being held against their will. Enter the vigilante group, Make It Stop, which busts rehabbers free. Great characters with messy backgrounds. Sharp, no-fuss prose. A steady pace. Funny without trying too hard. Loved it. (Also, it’s published by the scrappy small press, Rare Bird.)
Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, by Claire Dederer — Seattle writer pal’s exploration of how to reconcile our love of the art (Hemingway, Polanski, Picasso, Woody Allen, Michael Jackson) against the misdeeds of the artist.
Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them, by Timothy Egan — From another Seattle writer friend, the timely and terrifying 1920s story of the Klan’s rise to power and the Indiana con man who spread the gospel of hate.
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder, by David Grann — A shipwreck mystery-thriller from the New Yorker writer and narrative nonfiction master. (Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon is coming to the big screen soon, directed by Scorcese, starring De Niro and DiCaprio.)
Hang the Moon, by Jeannette Walls — Wall gave a fun shoutout to my 2006 book, Driving with the Devil, in a recent interview with the NY Times. She apparently relied on Devil for her research into southern moonshiners.
I was a nonfiction judge for this year’s Oregon State Book Awards and loved these two: When the Moon Turns to Blood: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and a Story of Murder, Wild Faith, and End Times, by Leah Sottile, and the winner, Lauren Kessler’s Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home.
Listening: Lana Del Rey's Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. Says NPR's Ken Tucker: "This is Del Rey’s version of a Ross Macdonald novel; she’s Lew Archer sussing out clues, hard boiled and vivid."
Watching: A Spy Among Friends
Cocktails of the Month
Did you know Tequila is on very friendly terms with Amaro? Neither did I!
Last year, for The First Kennedys, I did a zoom chat with an old newspaper friend’s book club. They later sent me a gift certificate to Seattle’s whiskey mecca, an eye-candy cocktail bar called Canon. We finally partook a few weeks back, and I was surprised to find a playful drinks menu not dominated solely by whiskey. A friend ordered a “surprise me” drink with tequila as the base, which inspired me to explore and experiment: with amaro. Here are three takes — the first two found online, the last one (a sorta twist on a margarita) my creation.
The Charming Foxhole
1-1/2 oz reposado tequila
1/2 to 1 oz Aperol
1/2 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (or other sweet vermouth)
1/4 oz Amaro Nonino
2 dashes peychaud’s bitters
Shake with ice and strain into coupe glass; garnish with grapefruit twist
1 oz reposado tequila
1 oz Averna Amaro
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz maple syrup (or agave)
Shake with ice and strain into coupe glass; no garnish
1 oz tequila
1 oz Meletti Amaro
1/2 oz plum shrub (I used Girl Meets Dirt; simple syrup or agave works too)
1/2 oz or more lemon juice
Shake with ice and strain into martini glass; garnish with cherry
Podcast of the Month
Earlier this year I wrote a four-part series on the History of Hawaii for the show, American History Tellers. It explores the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani; the rise of Pineapple King, Jim Dole; tourism, surfing, and Duke Kahanamoku; an infamous 1932 murder and Pearl Harbor. You can find the full series at Wondery. All four episodes (plus an author interview episode) are now up on Spotify:
Finally… Substack launched a new thingy called Substack Notes, which it describes as “a new space to share links, short posts, quotes, photos, and more.” I’ll experiment with it for things that don’t fit in this newsletter — mini book recs or lists; an occasional reader question or author Q&A; a cocktail suggestion that can’t wait for the newsletter. To join: visit substack.com/notes or find the “Notes” tab in the Substack app (see below). As a subscriber to Blood & Whiskey, you’ll automatically see my notes. Feel free to like, reply, or share them. You can also share notes of your own. I hope this becomes a space where Blood & Whiskey readers can share book and cocktail suggestions and such…
That’s all for this month. Maybe I’ll drop a note from the heartland as my kid and I make our way across ‘Merica. Thanks for reading. Until next month…
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Safe travels! Sounds like a hell of a trip
While you're in Boston, I recommend going to Kane's donuts, The original one in Saugus about 15 minutes out for a sort of quaint small town experience of it. Unbelievable stuff -if you have a sweet tooth especially-the coffee rolls are more like cakes.