The Literary Hill


Unhappy in Its Own Way
In 1996, Nicole Harkin is called home from college to Montana, where her father lies in a coma. As the days drag on and the bills accumulate, she discovers that her mother doesn’t know where he keeps the money. He’s a well-paid airline pilot. Surely he’s got a savings account somewhere. Harkin goes through his desk. The mortgage on the house is huge. The credit card bills even bigger. “Where did the money that he made end up?” she wonders. “Could Dad have another family? Nothing seemed out of the realm of possibility.”

The fact that the thought even occurred to her says much about Harkin’s upbringing. In her new memoir, “Tilting,” she tells the story of a family where “we learned to scream and yell at each other rather than talk about what was happening.” She writes that they “operated like six little planets occasionally intersecting and interacting with one another. None of us took into consideration how our individual actions affected the others.”

Over time—and through the critical illnesses of both parents—the siblings come to terms with themselves and their relationships. With the help of a sympathetic therapist, they give up the fighting and realize that “our family had been slowly tilting ever on a course to capsize.” Finally they had a chance “to right the ship” and “choose to be a functioning family.”

Unsparing in its emotional honesty, “Tilting” is one woman’s powerful story of how she overcame a rocky start to make her way in the world. “We have the power to change the situation, no matter the cost or difficulty,” she writes. “Choices.”

A writer and family photographer, Harkin lives in DC with her husband and two small children. She is currently working on a mystery novel set in Berlin, where she lived as a Fulbright Scholar during law school. Find her at

Stem STEM Learning Loss!
Capitol Hill publisher Science, Naturally! is offering an incentive to help combat STEM reading loss over the summer. From now through August 15, buy two of their award-winning science and math books and get a third one free. The books are fun, challenging, easy to pack for pool or beach—and will give kids a head start when they go back to school in the fall.

Go to and enter the code ROCKET at checkout.

The Gold Bug
In Nick Auclair’s 2014 adventure, “Steel’s Treasure,” Army intelligence Captain William Steel was hot on the trail of WWII Japanese treasure hidden in the caves high above Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. It was 1985 and the country was in political upheaval, with rampant corruption and greed the order of the day.

In his new novel, “Steel’s Gold,” not much has changed. It’s still 1985, the Marcos regime is about to topple and Steel continues to pursue his obsession with finding a trove of gold and gems. This time, however, he’s got plenty of company.

Over the course of his quest, Steel is variously trailed by the Philippine Army, surveilled by Marcos’s henchmen, chased by bandits and guerillas, stalked by a vengeful former employee, and seduced by a comely CIA agent. “You are like an American soap opera,” one character observes. “You have layers of people following your activities.”

As Steel closes in on the gold, his pursuers aren’t far behind. “They all lusted for [the] fortune, would stop at nothing to get it,” he thinks. “They all used him. They used his weakness for gold. Goddamn them. He needed to outsmart them all. Hone his skills. Use his resources wisely. Be always one step ahead. Then he could quit.”

In many ways, “Steel’s Gold” is an old-fashioned thriller, set in an exotic location with plenty of sex and violence, but its overlay of political intrigue and psychological cross-currents give it added depth and resonance. Call it a guilty pleasure with benefits.

Nick Auclair spent 20 years as a US intelligence officer, five of those in the Philippines, where he spent his free time chasing treasure. He now lives on a farm in Virginia and teaches counterinsurgency at the Virginia Military Institute, but maintains a pied-à-terre on the Hill.

Touched by an Angel
All Nia wanted to do was to touch the wing of the angel and absorb some of his peaceful aura. Heaven knows she could use some peace, what with her mother submerged in sorrow after the death of her husband. “When she drowns,” Nia laments, “I am not even there in her eyes. Nothing is there, expect my father’s absence.” But in the fantasy world of E.J. Wenstrom, even a touch can have world-changing consequences.

“Rain: A Novella” is the prequel to Wenstrom’s debut novel, “Mud: Chronicles of the Third Realm War,” which was named FWA’s 2016 Book of the year. In this pre-history, a young woman finds herself torn between a kind-hearted, shape-shifting demon named Bastus, and the “glorious and beautiful and terrible” angel Calipher. Her choice sets in motion a series of events that spiral into disaster. “The magic that holds the realms in order is complex and subtle,” Bastus warns her, “and when set out of order, dangerous.”

Soon “everything is swaying off kilter,” and Nia must once again make a life-altering decision. But how will she find the courage to give up the magic that is her only solace? And, she wonders, “How will I make it alone in this ruined realm?”

E.J. Wenstrom is an award-winning fantasy and science fiction author who calls herself “a DC girl at heart.” Find her at

On the Hill in July (and Beyond)
East City Bookshop hosts readings by Lee Matthew Goldberg, author of “The Mentor: A Thriller,” July 10, 6:30pm; Brad Thor, author of “Use of Force: A Thriller,” in conversation with Larry O’Connor of WMAL, July 14, 7pm; John Pfordresher, author of “The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Bronte Wrote Her Masterpiece,” July 17, 6:30pm; Clay Cane, author of “Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race,” July 20, 6:30pm; Ian Bassingwaighte, author of “Live From Cairo: A Novel,” July 25, 6:30pm; Drew Magary, author of “The Hike: A Novel,” July 26, 6:30pm; and David Burr Gerrard, author of “The Epiphany Machine,” in conversation with Adam Kushner of the Washington Post, July 27, 6:30pm.

The Library of Congress has scheduled its 17th annual National Book Festival for Sat., Sept. 2, 1-7:30pm at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Featured writers will include 2015 Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander; Michael Lewis, author of “Moneyball” and “The Undoing Project”; physician and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of “The Gene: An Intimate History”; J.D. Vance, author of the bestselling “Hillbilly Elegy”; Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures”; and thriller writer David Baldacci.

Smithsonian Associates presents Mario Livio, astrophysicist and author of “Why? What Makes Us Curious,” July 12, 6:45pm; “George Orwell in the 21st Century,” with Orwell scholar Andrew Rubin, July 19, 6:45pm; and “Bootleggers, Bathtubs, and Speakeasies: Tales from Prohibition,” with author Garrett Peck, Aug. 1, 6:45pm.