Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Peynado, Feng, Blau, and More

May 11, 2021 | 6 books mentioned 4 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Brenda Peynado, Linda Rui Feng, Jessica Anya Blau, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Rock Eaters: “Peynado probes the limits of reckoning with such dilemmas as otherness, loss, and love in her glorious debut, a collection of inventive and fabulist stories. Here, pendulous stones sprout from the body (‘The Stones of Sorrow Lake’), an American-made ‘supertruck’ takes X-rays of vehicles suspected of drug trafficking in Venezuela (‘The Radioactives’), and spindly-legged, purple-faced aliens became enthralled by such unremarkable human activity as kite flying (‘The Kite Maker’). Rich social commentary on immigration, xenophobia, and right-wing Christianity underlie the title story, which follows first-generation immigrants returning to their unspecified Latin American island home with the gift of flying, ‘blotting the sky with [their] billowing skirts… skidding to rough landings.’ Their children likewise develop flying skills upon reaching puberty; however, in an ironic twist, the children devour rocks to moor themselves to the island. In ‘Thoughts and Prayers,’ birdlike angels preside over suburban homes where those with the ‘best’ angels are sanctified with material wealth and fortunate circumstances, but those who are ‘unlucky’ (read non-Christian, Hindu, Indian-American) endure a slew of catastrophes: school shootings, mental illness, and job loss. The perceptive ‘Whitest Girl’ highlights Latinx Catholic high school students’ fascination with whiteness. These alluring stories make powerful use of their fantastical motifs, enhancing the realities of the characters’ lives. The author’s skillful storytelling soars.”

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Swimming Back to Trout River: “Feng’s striking debut novel (after the nonfiction work City of Marvel and Transformation) chronicles what happens to a young Chinese family in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. In 1981, five-year-old Junie, who was born without legs, is sent to live with her grandparents in Trout River, a small village. Junie’s father, Momo, has left China for America to seek a better future, with her mother, Cassia, due to follow. Both parents bear the weight of the Cultural Revolution: Momo sacrificed his dreams of becoming a violinist and his friendship with fellow musician Dawn, whose own story forms a minor plotline, while Cassia witnessed the horrifying death of a man she loved while under interrogation by revolutionaries. The novel traces the adults’ attempts to seek reconciliation within themselves and with each other, while Junie’s closeness with her grandparents—and ensuing determination to remain in Trout River despite her father’s wishes—lends brief but emotional drama. Feng captures humor and grief in equal measures, such as a scene with an airport security official who mistakes the ashes of Cassia’s stillborn boy for ‘baby powder,’ and she elegantly references Chinese concepts of fate and luck while building toward a poignant conclusion. This resonates from page one.”

V for Victory by Lissa Evans

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about V for Victory: “A middle-aged London woman takes in a 14-year-old boy during WWII in Evans’s beguiling sequel to Crooked Heart. In 1944, Vee Sedge continues living as Margery Overs, aunt of Noel Bostock, to maintain custody of Noel and others abandoned during the war. After Vee sees a man fatally struck by a van, she is called to testify in court, where she maintains her ruse as Margery, who is deceased, and recalls her fear when previously appearing before a magistrate’s court for alleged theft. As the bombing of London continues, meanwhile, Air Raid Precautions Warden Winnie Crowther works tirelessly as she ponders her future after the war and hopes her husband, Emlyn, returns from a POW camp. After Vee is blackmailed by someone threatening to expose her fraud, she reveals the details of the blackmailing to Noel, who has a secret of his own, and the bond between them grows stronger. A host of quirky characters adds levity to the frequent deadly bombing raids as the stories of Vee, Noel, and the Crowthers intersect. Evans’s down-to-earth tale will hook readers from the first page.

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mary Jane: “Blau (The Summer of Naked Swim Parties) returns with a sweet if simplistic coming-of-age story about a teenage girl’s influential encounter with a rock star couple in 1975 Baltimore. Mary Jane Dillard, 14, the responsible daughter of country-clubbing, conservative Betsy and Gerald, takes a job as a nanny for her parents’ free-spirited acquaintances, the Cones: Richard, a psychiatrist; and Bonnie, his bohemian wife. The Cones need Mary Jane’s help with their five-year-old daughter while hosting celebrity couple Jimmy and Sheba as part of Jimmy’s group therapy treatment for his alcohol and drug addiction. Jimmy sings in a popular band, and Sheba stars in a variety show. Soon Mary Jane uses her choir voice to sing in harmony with Jimmy and Sheba, and as she witnesses both couples’ emotional outbursts and unadulterated shows of affection, she gains a deeper understanding of the potential of human relationships and of her own musical talent. Mary Jane’s narration can be cloying (‘I wondered if the addict would look like the addicts I’d seen downtown from the window of the car,’ Mary Jane thinks, anticipating Jimmy’s arrival), and the narrative arc, though shaped by Mary Jane’s eye-opening exposure to the realities of adulthood, is not particularly sophisticated. Still, this might please readers looking to indulge their ’70s nostalgia.”

Also debuting this week: Flares by Christopher Merrill.

is a staff writer for The Millions. He lives in New York.

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