This past April marked the 150th anniversary of that great national tragedy, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Harold Holzer is one of our great Lincoln scholars. In this collection Holzer has compiled some essential reading. Here are the graphic accounts of eyewitnesses; people who were at Ford's Theater when Lincoln was shot, a doctor who was there when Lincoln was dying, there's even a diary entry from the assassin John Wilkes Booth. This documentation of a most terrible event makes for some gripping reading.

What is Appalachia? Do you know the answer to that question? The answer might surprise you. Neil Carpathios moved to southern Ohio and was intrigued. He has compiled a collection of poetry and prose with an Appalachian flavor. Listen to this interview and you'll discover the geographic definition of the region and you'll also obtain a feel for the distinctive literary vibes that Appalachia can evoke.

Richard Price is one of our greatest living American novelists. His readers have learned to be patient. Over the last 40+ years Price has published nine novels. He takes his time. It has to be right. But life is expensive and there are always bills to pay. So Price teaches and he writes screenplays, whatever it takes to keep the boiler running. When he decided to write his most recent novel "The Whites" he had hoped to take a different approach. His last book "Lush Life" had come out in 2008.

Late last year I received an advance copy of a novel that was written by an author who was unknown to me. This is not an uncommon circumstance. What was unusual was that this book had a press release which indicated that there was a lot of buzz about it among some people who work in publishing. They were all abuzz about this novel "The Girl on the Train." So I read it and then I got it. I understood.

Alexandra Fuller is one of my favorite writers. Originally she tried her hand at writing fiction. That didn't work out. She could not find a publisher for it. Then she decided to try writing a memoir. That worked. Her memoirs are extraordinary. This latest one, "Leaving Before the Rains Come" is the story of her marriage and how it all eventually came apart. Her marriage had failed. This book is the post-mortem.

The Ramones were one of the most influential of the American punk rock bands of 30 years ago. The band originally consisted of four young men from suburban New York City. They decided to call themselves the Ramones and every member of the band used that name of Ramone. There was Joey Ramone, and Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, and so on.

We live in a culture that restricts the use of some very powerful drugs. Some of these drugs can only be obtained with a prescription from a doctor. Others can only be found through illicit channels. You have to be an adult to purchase alcohol and nicotine products. No such regulations restrict the usage of one of the most ubiquitous drug substances in our society. Little kids can find it almost anywhere. Many adults cannot face the day without it. The drug is caffeine and oh how we love it.

Here's another debut crime novel on the Minotaur imprint by a promising young author. Ausma Zehanat Khan has set her story in the Canadian city of Toronto. This is a story the author felt compelled to tell. The novel opens with a mysterious death. A man has died after falling off of a cliff one dark night. It looks like it was an accident. We know better, don't we?

If I had ever read any crime novels or mysteries prior to 1994 I cannot recall what they would have been. No Sherlock Holmes. No Agatha Christie. I had not even discovered Ed McBain yet. Then I started interviewing authors on the radio. That has changed everything. I started reading crime novels and mysteries and thrillers and now I'm completely hooked.  They are like potato chips. I cannot stop after just one. I have to keep reading them. 

Last summer I spent several months reading an advance copy of this first volume of Stephen Kotkin's planned three book biography of the Soviet dictator Stalin. I would read a chapter then set the book aside for a while so I could mull over what I was learning. I also needed to rest my arms because this book weighs a lot! Stalin, who died in 1953, still casts a long shadow-he had an impact upon millions of souls. Those people that he ruled, that he terrorized, that he killed are nearly impossible to tabulate. My father's parents were among them.