A series of letters between communications specialists Byron McCauley and Jennifer Mooney about politics, protests, and the pandemic has turned into the nonfiction work Hope, Interrupted (Orange Frazer Press), an unvarnished snapshot of these turbulent times. It’s just one of an impressive number of books published this summer by Cincinnati authors.
McCauley is Black and grew up in the south, while Mooney is Jewish and grew up in the suburb of Wyoming. After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, McCauley texted Mooney, “I feel like we are living through history. I think we should start writing it down.” She texted back, “OK, I’ll start tomorrow.” Overall, the book models the type of dialogue they feel is needed today in Cincinnati and around the country. “We wanted to get people talking,” says Mooney. “You can look at people a lot different than you and realize you both love your children and you both love your country, so you can start there.”
Or you can start with Michael Griffith’s The Speaking Stone (University of Cincinnati Press), which began as digital ramblings through Spring Grove Cemetery and became an unruly history of the city’s eclectic departed souls. The book’s website offers a free map enabling you to trail Griffith’s meanderings while enjoying his companionable prose.
Kevin Grace offers Cincinnati’s Literary Heritage (History Press), a book whose subtitle “A History for Booklovers” says it all. His writing prompted me to finally browse the Ohio Book Store (established in 1940), and I’m anxious to check off the other sites in his “15 Essential Literary Points of Interest” appendix.
For additional local color, consult Rick Pender’s Oldest Cincinnati (Reedy Press), which gathers 90 of the city’s “oldests, firsts, and finests.” You’ll learn about the oldest Art Deco buildings (Dixie Terminal in 1921 and Carew Tower in 1930), the oldest roller coasters (Kings Island’s Bavarian Beetle, which came to the park from Coney Island in 1972), and the oldest underground railroad safe house (John Rankin House in 1829).
Pender’s The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia (Rowman & Littlefield) takes an A-to-Z approach to the father of the modern American musical. Despite the inevitable cataloging challenges, his 652-page tome follows the master’s three writing mantras: content dictates form, less is more, and God is in the details. I browsed for an entry on Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Sondheim protégé, and found it fast on page 335.
Few dramas loom larger in Cincinnati history than the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire. In Forbidden Fruit (Chilidog Press), Peter Bronson uses documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act to present evidence that the tragedy was not an accident but arson, a piece of the long history of organized crime in Newport and beyond.
Danger can lurk in peaceful places. Francesca (Adelaide Books), a novel by Don Tassone, imagines the Vatican in 2055 ushering in a new pope, an American woman who takes the name of Francesca. Her faith-filled plans are met with opposition, and, like reformers in our own time, she struggles to stay the course.
Likewise in Fire in the Field (Golden Antelope Press), John Young presents 16 short stories of people who, as he puts it, “survive a difficult challenge only to arrive at a place where they can see some human beauty out of the hardship.” Whether a man hesitantly agreeing to host his unemployed brother or a child sitting between his parents on a road trip, his stories show the combustible dynamics underlying even the most mundane scenes.
Unpredictable family dynamics also animate Jessica Strawser’s A Million Reasons Why (St. Martin’s Press), which explores how the revelation of a secret impacts two half-sisters. For one, a DNA-test result is potentially lifesaving; for another, it calls into question everything she thought she knew.
Finally, Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation (Berkley) follows social-media expert Poppy, who convinces the buttoned-up Alex to take one more vacation even though their last one was a disaster. Henry offers perfect pacing and smart writing to create a welcome feeling of escape. What more could you want from a summer read?