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CBS New York Book Club, it’s time to select a new book!
The CBS New York Book Club team has selected three new fiction books, filled with glamour, mystery, and secrets, for you to consider to kick off your summer reading. These “FicPicks” have plots and/or authors connected to New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut.
Which book will #ClubCalvi read for the next month?
Below you will find information on our “FicPicks,” including excerpts. The novels will be released on Tuesday, June 13th, when we reveal our Readers’ Choice. These books may contain adult themes.
Voting closes Sunday, June 11.
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“The Spectacular” By Fiona Davis
From the publisher: New York City, 1956: Nineteen-year-old Marion Brooks knows she should be happy. Her high school sweetheart is about to propose and sweep her off to the life everyone has always expected they’d have together: a quiet house in the suburbs, Marion staying home to raise their future children. But instead, Marion finds herself feeling trapped. So when she comes across an opportunity to audition for the famous Radio City Rockettes-the glamorous precision-dancing troupe-she jumps at the chance to exchange her predictable future for the dazzling life of a performer.
Meanwhile, the city is reeling from a string of bombings orchestrated by a person the press has nicknamed the “Big Apple Bomber,” who has been terrorizing the citizens of New York for sixteen years by planting bombs in popular, crowded spaces. With the public in an uproar over the lack of any real leads after a yearslong manhunt, the police turn in desperation to Peter Griggs, a young doctor at a local mental hospital who espouses a radical new technique: psychological profiling.
As both Marion and Peter find themselves unexpectedly pulled in to the police search for the bomber, Marion realizes that as much as she’s been training herself to blend in-performing in perfect unison with all the other identical Rockettes-if she hopes to catch the bomber, she’ll need to stand out and take a terrifying risk. In doing so, she may be forced to sacrifice everything she’s worked for, as well as the people she loves the most.
Fiona Davis lives in New York City
“The Puzzle Master” by Danielle Trussoni
From the publisher: All the world is a puzzle, and Mike Brink-a celebrated and ingenious puzzle constructor-understands its patterns like no one else. Once a promising Midwestern football star, Brink was transformed by a traumatic brain injury that caused a rare medical condition: acquired savant syndrome. The injury left him with a mental superpower-he can solve puzzles in ways ordinary people can’t. But it also left him deeply isolated, unable to fully connect with other people.
Everything changes after Brink meets Jess Price, a woman serving thirty years in prison for murder who hasn’t spoken a word since her arrest five years before. When Price draws a perplexing puzzle, her psychiatrist believes it will explain her crime and calls Brink to solve it. What begins as a desire to crack an alluring cipher quickly morphs into an obsession with Price herself. She soon reveals that there is something more urgent, and more dangerous, behind her silence, thrusting Brink into a hunt for the truth.
The quest takes Brink through a series of interlocking enigmas, but the heart of the mystery is the God Puzzle, a cryptic ancient prayer circle created by the thirteenth-century Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia. As Brink navigates a maze of clues, and his emotional entanglement with Price becomes more intense, he realizes that there are powerful forces at work that he cannot escape.
Ranging from an upstate New York women’s prison to nineteenth-century Prague to the secret rooms of the Pierpont Morgan Library, humankind, technology, and the future of the universe itself are at stake.
Danielle Trussoni writes the monthly horror column for the New York Times Book Review.
“The Mythmakers” by Keziah Weir
From the publisher: Sal Cannon’s life is in shambles. Her relationship is crumbling, and her career in journalism hits a low point after it’s revealed that her profile of a playwright is full of inaccuracies. She’s close to rock-bottom when she reads a short story by Martin Keller: a much older author she met at a literary event years ago. Much to her shock, the story is about her and the moment they met. When Sal learns the story is excerpted from his unpublished novel, she reaches out to the story’s editor-only to learn that Martin is deceased. Desperate to leave her crumbling life behind and to read the manuscript from which the story was excerpted, Sal decides to find Martin’s widow, Moira.
Moira has made it clear that she doesn’t want to be contacted. But soon Sal is on a bus to Upstate New York, where she slowly but surely inserts herself into Moira’s life. Or is it the other way around? As Sal sifts through Martin’s papers and learns more about Moira, the question of muse and artist arises-again and again. Even more so when Martin’s daughter’s story emerges. Who owns a story? And who is the one left to tell it?
Keziah Weir is a Senior Editor at Vanity Fair.
Marysue Rucci Books is an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS2’s parent company Paramount.
Excerpt: “The Spectacular” By Fiona Davis
They were back at a quarter to two, their hair smoothed and new lipstick applied. There were around a hundred women who had made the second round, and they all seemed so glamorous to Marion, like gazelles. She couldn’t help but wonder if it might have been better to be cut in the first round rather than be crushed by this graceful stampede.
Mr. Markert asked them to take their places. “Congratulations. You’ve made it through. I’m pleased to introduce you to our esteemed producer, Leon Leonidoff.”
A small man with round wire glasses got up from the table and stood beside Mr. Markert. Where Mr. Markert was laconic and loose‑limbed, Mr. Leonidoff was tightly wound, his fists clenched.
His voice was overly loud, even for the large rehearsal hall. “We have rules here at Radio City. You must be between eighteen and twenty‑three years old. If you’re younger or older than that, leave now.” He waited, but no one left. “If you are chosen to be a Rockette, you’ll make seventy dollars a week. You cannot change your weight, you cannot change your hair color, and you absolutely cannot get a tan or a sunburn. Am I clear?”
They answered in unison. “Yes.”
“Back to you.”
Emily and Mr. Markert worked the dancers through the same combinations as earlier in the day, but with only one demonstration, as a test of the dancers’ memory. An additional sixteen counts were added, as Mr. Markert called out instructions. “We are pushing you to your limit because Rockettes need to not only have exquisite dance technique, they have to be smart. You’ll be learning new routines every week, so I expect you to hit these combinations with even more energy than you did earlier today. I want precision, no less than perfection.”
Marion’s head felt like it might explode from everything she had to remember: chaîné and piqué turns, more fan kicks, and then on to the tap and jazz combinations. Every fifteen minutes, Mr. Markert pointed to a few of the dancers and asked them to step to the side, which they did, teary‑eyed. The group became smaller and smaller, until only sixty were left.
Including Vanessa and Marion.
Marion was amazed she’d made it this far, but her legs were shaky and her heart was pumping madly. They were shown a kick‑and‑turn combo, then brought up to the front of the room one at a time to per‑ form alone.
Vanessa strode to the center of the room when her number was called, a huge smile on her face. The music began, and she did the choreography perfectly, her kicks hitting eye height, exactly as they’d been directed. But on the final piano kick, she caught her heel on the side of her other shoe. It was a tiny bobble, hardly noticeable, but she grimaced before catching herself and smiling wide once more.
Hopefully they hadn’t noticed, but several of the judges wrote something down on their pads as Vanessa ran back to her spot. She didn’t meet Marion’s eyes as she passed by.
“Next up, number 310.”
Marion walked to the front of the room.
As the music began, she thought of her favorite dancer, Gwen Verdon. She’d seen her last month on Broadway in Damn Yankees. As the enchantress Lola, there were times her body seemed to be made of liquid, yet she also had an inherent strength, especially in her upper torso, that counteracted the wild freedom of movement in her limbs. She could seduce with a turn of an ankle or a flick of a wrist, yet underneath her performance was a childlike playfulness. The woman was the toast of Broadway, and for good reason.
But the choreography Marion had learned today was the exact opposite, all about precision and technique, and presented a different kind of challenge, one that Marion welcomed. She remembered her mother and her wasted dreams and used that energy to fuel every step, keeping each one sharp and taut. When she kicked, she imagined her mother’s glee at finding out she’d been cast in a Broadway play. Same with every arm lift, each snap of the head. She felt her mother’s spirit watching her, pushing her harder, urging her on.
And then it was over. Marion was dismissed and withdrew into the crowd of dancers. Vanessa stood on the other side of the room, her arms crossed.
A few more women performed, but Marion didn’t bother watching. Now that her audition was over, she’d have to go back to her old life and figure out how to fix it. Figure out what would make her happy. The energy drained out of her at the very thought.
As Mr. Markert called out the numbers of those who’d made it, the lucky girls screamed with happiness and were congratulated by the dancers next to them.
“And finally, number 310.”
Marion looked up.
“Sorry?” she said.
“That would be you,” said Mr. Markert, pointing to her number and closing his notebook. “That’s it, ladies. Thank you for coming. For those who didn’t make it, please don’t give up. There’s a big dance world out there. For those who did, we’ll see you tomorrow morning at nine o’clock for orientation and first rehearsal. Congratulations.”
Excerpted from The Spectacular by Fiona Davis. Copyright © 2023 by Fiona Davis. Reprinted with permission of Dutton. All rights reserved.
Excerpt: “The Puzzle Master” By Danielle Trussoni
June 9, 2022
Ray Brook, New York
Mike Brink turned down a country road, drove through a dense evergreen forest, and stopped before the high metal gate of the prison. His dog, a one-year-old dachshund called Conundrum—Connie for short—slept on the floor of the truck, camouflaged by shadows. She was so still that when the security guard stepped to Brink’s truck and peered inside, he didn’t see her at all. He merely checked Brink’s driver’s license against a list and waved him toward an imposing brick institution that seemed better suited to a horror movie than the bright June sunshine.
Mike Brink had an appointment with Dr. Thessaly Moses, the head psychologist at the New York State Correctional Facility, an all-women’s minimum-security prison in the hamlet of Ray Brook, New York. She’d called him the week before and asked him to come to the prison to speak with her. One of the prisoners had drawn a perplexing puzzle, and she wanted help making sense of it. Because of his work as a puzzle constructor and his fame after Time magazine christened him the most talented puzzleist in the world, thirty-two-year-old Mike Brink was barraged with puzzles. Most of them he solved in an instant. But from Dr. Moses’s description, this puzzle sounded peculiar, unlike any puzzle he’d seen before. When he asked her to take a photo and email it, she said she couldn’t risk it. Prisoner records were confidential. “I shouldn’t be discussing this with you at all,” she said. “But this is a unique patient, one who’s become rather important to me.” And so, despite his deadlines and the three-hundred-mile drive, Mike Brink agreed to come upstate to see it. Puzzles were his passion, his way of making sense of the world, and this was one he couldn’t resist.
The prison was ominous, with steeples and dark, narrow windows. When he’d read up on its history, he found that it was built in 1903 as a sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis. The clean air, high altitude, and endless forests had been an integral part of the cure. The institution’s one claim to fame was its appearance in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Plath had visited her boyfriend while he was recovering from tuberculosis at the facility and then repurposed the sanatorium in her fiction. Now the facility housed hundreds of female inmates. From the parking lot he saw a yard enclosed by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire and, beyond, a modern cinder-block addition, its severity a startling contrast to the Gothic excesses of the original building. Surrounding it all stretched an endless sea of thick evergreen forest, a natural barrier between the prisoners and the rest of the world. He imagined that such isolation was intentional: Even if a prisoner made it over the fence, even if she got free of its twists of razor wire, she would find herself in the middle of nowhere.
Brink parked in the shade, filled a plastic bowl with water for Connie, scratched her behind her long, soft ears, and plugged a portable fan into the truck’s cigarette lighter, cracking the window so she’d be comfortable. Normally he wouldn’t leave her alone, but he wouldn’t be gone long, and the mountain air was cool, nothing like the heavy wet heat of Manhattan. “Be right back,” he said, and headed to the prison.
At the main entrance, he paused at the security station, dropped his messenger bag into a plastic bin, showed his driver’s license and vaccination card to a guard, and walked through a metal detector. He’d been given prior approval to bring his bag—which held his laptop, his phone, and a notebook and pen—and was relieved that the guards didn’t try to take it.
A woman in a loose navy-blue dress stood waiting. She was tall and thin with dark-brown eyes, dark skin, and hair cut in a bob. She introduced herself as Dr. Thessaly Moses, the head psychologist.
He didn’t need to introduce himself. Clearly, she’d googled him. Still, she stared at him a bit too long, and he knew she was surprised by his appearance. He was six foot one and athletic, lean and strong and (as he’d been told) handsome, not at all what people expected of (as his mom sometimes teased) “a puzzle geek.” He wore his favorite red Converse All Stars, black Levi’s, and a sports jacket over a T-shirt that read somebody do something.
Aside from photos, a Mike Brink Google search would have brought up a video clip of his remote Zoom-in appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, recorded during the 2020 pandemic lockdown. He’d taken Colbert on a tour of his puzzle library and opened one of his Japanese puzzle boxes, which inspired a joke about sushi. There would be a Wikipedia page that linked to the New York Times Games page, where he was a regular constructor; a list of the puzzle competitions he’d won; and a link to a Vanity Fair profile that gave his entire life story: the normal Midwestern childhood, the tragic accident that had altered his brain, and the miraculous gift that had appeared in its wake.
“Thank you for coming so quickly,” she said. “I would’ve driven down to the city, but I couldn’t leave my patients.”
“You’ve definitely made me curious,” he said. “From your description, it seems pretty unusual.”
“I don’t understand it at all, to be perfectly honest with you,” she said. “But if anyone can shed light on this, it’s you.”
Her faith in his abilities worried him. As his fame as a puzzle solver grew, people often assumed Mike Brink possessed a superhuman gift. Not just an ability to recite fifteen thousand pi places, or the talent to create a vicious crossword, but the power to read the future. But he didn’t have superpowers, and he couldn’t do the impossible. He was a regular guy with a singular gift—”an island of genius,” as his doctor called it. The best he could do was give it a try.
Excerpted from The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni. Copyright © 2023 by Danielle Trussoni. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Random House.
Excerpt: “The Mythmakers” By Keziah Weir
SIX YEARS EARLIER, before leaving my apartment for the reading, I nursed a Corona and surveyed myself in my roommate Georgia’s warped mirror. It was the middle of July: she had an air conditioner in her bedroom window, I did not. Georgia had invited me to the reading, but she was coming from her job uptown and so we’d planned to meet at the library. I wore a sleeveless dress I hoped projected an air of sophistication. Getting ready alone, I worried that its length was frumpy rather than refined, and spent half an hour manipulating my hair into slight variations on a dull theme. In the end, I clipped it back with a small, rose-shaped barrette, a long-ago gift from my mother. Georgia and I had only lived in Brooklyn for a month, and the subway remained an unpredictable and confusing experience—I was always working myself up on the platform about whether I’d find a space in front of the map, and once I was in the car I spent the ride craning my neck to check the station names through the window—so I left nearly an hour before I needed to.
The New York Public Library. Stone lions and Doric columns. By the time I met Georgia at the entrance I was more relaxed, having arrived early and killed time at an old boxing bar up the street. Next to Georgia’s bare face and wide-legged trousers, my dress was too considered, but not terrible. “You are going to dazzle the literati tonight,” she said. “Think of this as your grand debut.” Georgia, an assistant at Sotheby’s, loved networking and disapproved of how I’d spent our first weeks in the city. Through a friend of my mother’s, I’d gotten a job as an unauthorized Central Park tour guide, a desperate choice I pretended was purposeful—time to write, interesting encounters with strangers—but between my newfound freedom following four years of academia and the tequila-Tecate specials at our neighborhood dive, I hadn’t been getting much writing done. We linked elbows and made our way inside.
Regretfully, my enthusiasm for the event was engendered less by its literary promise and more by the prospect of meeting a future boyfriend. Georgia had started dating an editor almost immediately upon our move to the city, a serious man with a vested interest in his magazine’s softball team who left trimmings from, I hoped, his beard in our bathroom sink. He was the one who’d given her the tickets to the reading. I don’t know where he was that night, but I had the idea there might be others like him in attendance. I imagined falling in love under the iconic reading room ceiling, painted with clouds.
In reality, the event took place in a wood-paneled antechamber off a quiet hallway upstairs. We found two empty seats in the rows of folding chairs. Both the red-haired author who was launching her book and the blonde interviewing her wrote about the banal ebb and flow of life (babies, boyfriends), which they complained landed their novels in the Women’s Fiction section of the bookstore. Stories by men about anxiety and having sex with younger women do not get a special section, the red-haired author pointed out to an appreciative chuckle from the audience, they are called Literary Fiction.
Afterward we filed like schoolchildren into the adjoining room. Plastic party platters covered one table in pale imitation of a Dutch still life: marbled salami wheels and rosebuds of prosciutto, sliced cantaloupe, a few anemic bunches of grapes. At another table, a pair of boys around my age poured wine into rigid cups and ogled my friend.
I was used to Georgia overshadowing me; she is a person to whom eyes are always drawn in a crowded room. Because, for years, men have felt moved to say very stupid things to her, she has adopted a remote air that makes people want to impress her. We met off campus the fall of our freshman year, right after I’d watched her dance barefoot on the hood of a parked pickup truck, all legs and platinum hair; she needed a partner for beer pong. “You’re fun,” she said when I landed a shot with my eyes closed. Her parents had their names on the walls of two New York museums and an elevator that opened into their apartment. The private girls’ school she’d attended, her summers in Cape Cod, stood in stark contrast to my own childhood in the Colorado mountains, itself an idyll of ponderosa pines, ski lessons, and a main street flanked by pretty red-brick buildings, though I hadn’t yet learned to describe it as such and instead found it embarrassing and provincial. Georgia was the most glamorous person I’d ever met.
While Georgia wasn’t dancing on anything that night in the library, she was involved in a witty repartee with an interested stranger, the adult equivalent. I felt my smile calcifying as they discussed a museum show I hadn’t seen. Waving my empty glass around, I murmured something about getting more wine.
I walked a slow circle of the room before arriving at the drinks table, where a boy refilled my cup, and then I made myself a plate of melon and fat green olives. I was hovering by the table, having realized I couldn’t hold the wine, the plate, and also eat, when a man next to me said, “That looks bleak, doesn’t it?”
I looked cartoonishly to my right, for whoever it was he was speaking to, but no one was there. The man withdrew the finger he’d been pointing toward the prosciutto. “Frayed at the edges, as though someone’s nibbled at it,” he said, fixing me with a mellow, generous gaze. “Who’s your best guess?”
“The culprit,” he said, and as he lowered his voice I, instinctively, leaned in. “Who do you think it could be?”
Tinted rectangular glasses perched grandfatherly on his nose below a pair of unruly eyebrows, and though his mouth at rest pulled into a serious straight line, he had a mischievous air. I scanned the room. “Him,” I said, tipping my chin toward a goateed man explaining something to Georgia, blithely oblivious of her efforts to escape.
“Indeed,” the man said. “He’s had his vulpine snout all over this spread. Still, is there anything more pleasurable than prosciutto?” He gave the word a hint of a rolled r as he made up his own plate. “Even the bad stuff?” He folded a cantaloupe square in a tissue-thin slice of the meat and popped it into his mouth. “So,” he said, chewing. “Who are you? Tell me everything about yourself.”
Excerpted from The Mythmakers. Copyright © 2023, Keziah Weir. Reproduced by permission of Marysue Rucci Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.