The Nightstand | December 2014

Editor-in-chief at Kirkus Reviews hand selects some of his favorite books from 2014.

A crew of middle school con artists, the behind-the-scenes ego battles among three crafty politicians, and a meditation on the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas: they are a few of the ideas Austin writers cover in notable books published this year. Austin has long been the sought-out home for writers, so the 10 of them featured here (actually, I cheat and include 11) are just the beginning of this year’s home-grown publishing success stories. Check out these writers’ books if you aren’t aware of them already.



After reading an article in Texas Monthly about the mass shooting at the University of Texas in 1966, Crook thought hard about the lives of the victims after the massacre had transpired: What happens to people who are left holding the remnants of a tragedy years after everyone else has moved on? Her resulting novel, Monday, Monday, was chosen for the Mayor’s Book Club and received rave reviews.



The Great Greene Heist is Johnson’s first middle-grade novel, having written young adult books previously. A civil engineer by day, Johnson left Random House Children’s Books to publish The Great Greene Heist with Scholastic, a decision that’s worked in his favor (stellar reviews, for one). The Great Greene Heist is “a thrilling ride,” The New York Times wrote.



Ziegler is another Austin kid’s writer who decamped from Random House to Scholastic this year; her middle-grade novel The Revenge of the Flower Girls shows enough kicky, sassy, funny promise for a possible series and put this author of three previous kid’s books on the map in a new way.



Bird grew up in a military family that was stationed at Okinawa (in 1945, one-fourth of the civilian population there was killed during the vicious Battle of Okinawa). Above the East China Sea is Bird’s meditation about this often forgotten place, in a narrative that shuttles between the story of a young woman suffering through World War II and a present-day Air Force brat moved to Okinawa against her will. Bird received the Texas Book Festival’s Texas Writer Award this year, in a deserving nod to her entire body of work.



Tomlinson covered the Rwandan genocide for the Associated Press but Tomlinson Hill, about his family’s ownership of a plantation near Waco, and how that ownership implicates his family in America’s fraught racial history, is a more personal (and unblinking) story.



McCracken and her husband Carey have been clacking away at their keyboards the past few years to arrive at 2014, when both, coincidentally, published a noteworthy book. McCracken’s latest story collection, Thunderstruck, is on this year’s National Book Awards Longlist for Fiction; Carey’s macabre new book Heap House, for middle graders and young teens, has won Carey young fans who may be entirely unaware of how revered Carey’s debut 2001 novel Observatory Mansions is.



Gwynne had a major hit on his hands in 2010 with Empire of the Summer Moon, which managed to retell the history of the Comanches in Texas we learned in dreary seventh grade Texas history class in an engrossing and lively way. His new book, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson hit The New York Times bestseller list.



Magnuson is the long-time director of UT’s Michener Center for Writers. His caper Famous Writers I Have Known is about Frankie, a con man who’s a dead ringer for a famous, reclusive novelist who hides out by teaching at a writing program in Austin, doling out writing advice to students when he knows more about being a grifter than paragraphs. Magnuson clearly has fun with the references here, and his pleasure in writing the book is infectious.



Brinkley is the prolific and well-known historian who’s written about almost everyone, it seems (Walter Cronkite, Hunter S. Thompson, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dylan, Rosa Parks). In his 2014 book, The Nixon Tapes, he shares the spotlight with Luke Nichter, a Texas A&M historian; in a year that saw several other crucial Nixon books being released, this one will be the authoritative one future historians will consult.



Wright is a New Yorker staff writer who received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction whose new book Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David was reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Thirteen Days is about “one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century,” when President Carter, unpopular at the time, managed to convince two proud, intransigent leaders of the Middle East to compromise.

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