Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Hamid, Gavino, Marra, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Mohsin Hamid, our own Kate Gavino, Anthony Marra, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Last White Man: “On the first page of Hamid’s underwhelming latest (after Exit West), a white man named Anders wakes up to find he has mysteriously ‘turned a deep and undeniable brown.’ From this Kafkaesque beginning, Hamid spins a timely if unsatisfying racial allegory in which, one after another, the white inhabitants of an unnamed country become dark-skinned. Hamid mutes the power by harnessing his plot to the dishwater-dull Anders, who works at a gym, and his equally bland girlfriend, Oona, a yoga instructor. The lack of social context is also puzzling, with the story set in an unspecified time and place largely stripped of historical and cultural detail. Hamid employs a cool, spare prose style with little dialogue, leaving the reader to feel like the action of the novel is taking place behind a wall of soundproof glass. The glass briefly shatters when white militants come for Anders, though the author quickly turns back the threat. Later, when Oona’s mother, who indulges in right-wing conspiracy theories, is sickened by the sight of her white daughter in bed with dark-skinned Anders, Hamid taps the rich potential of his premise. For the most part, though, this remains stubbornly inert.”

A Career in Books by Kate Gavino

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Career in Books: “With quill-sharp narration and spot-on details, this delightful graphic novel from Gavino (Last Night’s Reading) depicts New York City publishing through the eyes of three Asian American NYU grads who share an apartment. Nina Nakamura, the most career-driven of the group, takes an assistant job at a large house. Silvia Bautista, an aspiring novelist, works for an indie press supported by the publisher’s ‘seemingly endless trust fund.’ Shirin Yap is hired at an academic press, possibly because the editor hoped she’d be able to speak Cantonese with their Hong Kong–based printer (Shirin is Filipina). Besides artistic fulfillment, their goal is to ‘make that Anthropologie money… non-sale section Anthro money!’ Their neighbor, 92-year-old Veronica Vo, turns out to be a Booker Prize winner whose subsequent books about the domestic lives of Asian American women have fallen out-of-print. Nina leads a charge to reissue Veronica’s work—success for Veronica will, of course, mean hope for their own ambitions, while righting one small historical wrong. Gavino peppers her savvy line drawings with price tags (‘Edith Wharton leather-bound edition, $279’), and applies actual numbers to her characters’ salaries and calculations. Specificity is the fire that fuels this witty social satire, in which fairness doesn’t always triumph, but friendship does.”

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Rabbit Hutch: “Gunty debuts with an astonishing portrait of economically depressed Vacca Vale, Ind., centered on the residents of a subsidized apartment building nicknamed the Rabbit Hutch. The main character is 18-year-old Blandine Watkins, who grew up in foster care and dropped out of high school in junior year. In the opening scene, she is stabbed in her apartment by an unidentified assailant. Gradually, the causes of the crime emerge, followed eventually by the facts, as well as her fate. Along the way, Gunty delves into the stories of Blandine’s neighbors, brilliantly and achingly charting the range of their experiences. An erotic flashback of an infant’s conception at a motel on higher ground in Vacca Vale called the Wooden Lady (‘It’s like if manslaughter were a place,’ one reviewer describes it), where married couple Hope and Anthony hole up during a ‘1,000-year flood,’ contrasts with a devastatingly banal and ultimately traumatic sexual encounter between Blandine and her drama teacher the year before. There’s also a lonely woman who lives in a state of ‘flammable peace’ due to her sensitivity to noise, with whom Blandine shares her fascination with Catholic mystics before going off to sabotage a celebration involving the city’s gentrification scheme with voodoo dolls and fake blood. It all ties together, achieving this first novelist’s maximalist ambitions and making powerful use of language along the way. Readers will be breathless.”

Acceptance by Emi Nietfeld

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Acceptance: “Nietfeld debuts with a heart-pounding look at her path out of homelessness and the flawed systems she had to navigate along the way. Raised in Minneapolis in the early 2000s by a single mother, Nietfeld’s home was ‘filled to the top with garbage, and… covered with mouse and dog excrements.’ Despite the glaring signs of abuse, Nietfeld’s mother convinced therapists her daughter was mentally unwell. ‘No one would listen to me. No one would trust me,’ Nietfeld writes, describing in unsparing prose the revolving door of mental institutions she spun through before being put into foster care in her teens. Though her foster parents belittled her academic pursuits, she excelled in her studies and secured a scholarship to boarding school, where she spent school breaks alternating between prestigious academic camps and living in her car. After being accepted to Harvard, Nietfeld was sure her life would change, but as she reckoned with the school’s elitist culture and, later, the disillusionment that came from working in Silicon Valley, she realized the trauma ‘ingrained into my nervous system’ couldn’t be eradicated by the fleeting thrills and rewards of finding ‘status’ in America. It’s a sobering narrative, and Nietfeld’s raw resilience and candor will keep readers enthralled until the very last page. This hits hard.”

Dogs of Summer by Andrea Abreu (translated by Julia Sanches)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dogs of Summer: “Abreu’s emotionally resonant debut charts the tumultuous friendship between two 10-year-old girls over the course of the summer of 2005 in the Canary Islands. The unnamed narrator is fascinated by her brazen and enigmatic friend, Isora, the granddaughter of Chela, an abusive matriarch who manages the neighborhood minimarket and cares for Isora after her mother’s suicide. Isora calls the shots in the friendship and nicknames the narrator ‘Shit.’ In potent, stream-of-consciousness prose, Abreu details the girls’ long summer days spent in each other’s presence: the afternoons dedicated to memorizing the lyrics of Aventura songs, dipping their toes in the canal and imagining they’re at San Marcos beach, and the timid narrator eating burnt cake just so Isora may watch her after the latter is forced into a diet by the overcritical Chela. (Isora also develops an eating disorder.) Along the way, Abreu ingeniously picks apart the submissive narrator’s conflicting feelings of resentment, admiration, and sexual curiosity, and reveals the way these emotions quickly turn devastating once a traumatic assault changes the power dynamics upon which the girls’ friendship is based. Abreu’s exhilarating chronicle of a young friendship is not to be missed.”

Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Properties of Thirst: “Pulitzer Prize finalist Wiggins (Evidence of Things Unseen) returns with a powerful epic set on a Southern California ranch during WWII. Rocky Rhodes named the ranch Three Chairs, after Thoreau’s idea that three chairs are for ‘society’—or ‘company,’ as Rocky puts it. A widowed scion of a wealthy family back east, he lives there with his daughter, Sunny, and his twin sister. Sunny has a twin brother, Stryker, who is presumed to have died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rocky has spent much of his fortune battling the Los Angeles Water Board, furious that the city has stolen all the local water. Things get worse when Schiff, a young lawyer from the Department of the Interior, is sent to the area to establish an internment camp for Japanese Americans. Morally outraged himself, Schiff befriends the Rhodes family and falls for Sunny, a self-taught cook who takes inspiration from notes left by her mother. Here, Wiggins’s wordplay is stellar, as when the properties of a souffle become metaphor for the emotions of those about to eat it: ‘Sunny folded one thing—the inflated egg whites—into the other, le fond—with the greatest care, aware of both their fragile properties.’ The dialogue is full of grit, and Wiggins manages to capture a big swath of mid-century America by placing a blue-blooded family into a desert inland complete with adobe haciendas, desert blooms, and Hollywood movie sets, while throughout, the Rhodes hold out hope for Stryker’s survival. Wiggins’s masterpiece is one for the ages.”

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mercury Pictures Presents: “Marra’s meticulously crafted latest (after the collection The Tsar of Love and Techno) follows a host of outsiders as they try to make it through pre-WWII Italy and wartime Los Angeles with some of their morals intact. Teenage Maria Lagana and her mother leave Italy for Los Angeles after Fascists exile her father. By 1941, Maria is B-movie producer Artie Feldman’s second-in-command. Artie, a toupee-wearing loudmouth with a heart of gold (he’ll hire any down on their luck European exile), is at war with the censors, his twin brother/business partner, and the bankers with a stake in Mercury Pictures. Marra skillfully switches between small-town Sicily and a still-small Los Angeles where, post–Pearl Harbor, Maria must register as an internal enemy and her Chinese American boyfriend, Eddie, has to flee assailants who are convinced he’s a Japanese spy. The plot is intricate: Artie tries to release a political movie and fend off creditors, Maria and Eddie plot to make a film, a Berlin-born model-builder recreates her city, a Sicilian photographer flees Italy. While Marra’s pleasure in the details and argot of the past occasionally feels like overkill, this tough-minded, funny outing exemplifies what Maria calls the democratic promise of ‘the miniaturist’s gaze,’ in which ‘all were worthy.’ Thanks to Marra, the pleasure is contagious.”

Also out this week: Ex-Members by Tobias Carroll and Bonsai by Alejando Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell).

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Castillo, Hokeah, Murphy, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Elaine Castillo, Oscar Hokeah, Dwyer Murphy, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How to Read Now: “Novelist Castillo (America Is Not the Heart) argues in this brilliant and passionate collection that the publishing industry is designed to suit white readers and that changing the way one reads can change the way one sees the world. In ‘Reading Teaches Us Empathy, and Other Fictions,’ she warns against seeing stories by writers of color as a ‘kind of ethical protein shake’ to teach white readers how to be better people, and urges that ‘we have to push back against the idea that engaging with our art in ways that look beyond the aesthetic is a cheapening of our engagement.’ In ‘The Limits of White Fantasy,’ Castillo critiques white authors’ appropriation of narratives about oppression, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which was partly ‘inspired’ by dissidents in the Philippines during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Meanwhile, ‘Main Character Syndrome’ takes Joan Didion to task for her novel Democracy, in which, Castillo writes, Hawaiian and Southeast Asian settings and characters exist as a background against which the white main characters act out the central drama. Castillo’s knowledge, along with her firebrand style and generous humor, result in a dynamic and necessary look at the state of storytelling. This one packs a powerful punch.”

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Calling for a Blanket Dance: “The Kiowa, Cherokee, and Mexican family members of a young man named Ever Geimausaddle tell stories that span from his infancy to his adulthood in this captivating debut. When Ever is six months old, he witnesses his father being nearly beaten to death by police on the way back to Oklahoma from visiting his paternal grandparents in Chihuahua, Mexico. Ever’s maternal grandmother, Lena, decides to make a quilt for him to help him heal from the incident, but Lena’s schism with her daughter, Turtle, prevents her from ever delivering the gift. Though Ever grows up under a specter of violence, he finds connection to his cultures and the people around him amid the climate of grief, fear, and anger. A chapter narrated by Ever’s paternal grandfather, Vincent, in which Vincent observes his grandsons taking part in a gourd dance, perfectly conveys the double-edged sword of the family’s heritage: ‘I was amazed at how quickly they followed in my footsteps. And then it scared me.’ Throughout, Hokeah succeeds at making each character’s voice distinct and without losing a sense of cohesion. With striking insight into human nature and beautiful prose, this heralds an exciting new voice.”

Denial by Jon Raymond

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Denial: “The engaging speculative latest from screenwriter and novelist Raymond (Freebird) imagines a future in which a slew of energy executives and lobbyists have been convicted of environmental crimes. In 2052, reporter Jack Henry is hot on the trail of Robert Cave, a former fossil fuel official who fled the U.S. during the trials in 2032, was convicted in absentia, and has never paid for his offenses. After one of Jack’s sources spots Cave in Guadalajara, Jack convinces his boss to send him to Mexico to ferret Cave out. Jack scouts Cave at a museum café, and Cave strikes up a conversation with him. The two meet again the next day, and as Jack is introduced to Cave’s new life, he grows fond of his target, who knows nothing of Jack’s planned exposure, and wrestles with the ramifications of following through with his scheme. The narrative works best when it focuses on Jack and Cave, as their interactions drive the novel into unexpected directions. Less successful is a tame romance subplot between Jack and an old friend. Still, Raymond satisfies with a clever vision of a not-too-distant future. The moral ambiguity at the center leaves readers with much to chew on.”

The Boys by Katie Hafner

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Boys: “Journalist Hafner’s marvelous fiction debut centers on a socially awkward man’s neuroses about fatherhood. While working as the chief technology officer at a startup in Philadelphia, Ethan meets Barb, a University of Pennsylvania grad student, and the two start dating. They soon marry, though Ethan suspects he’s scored out of his league. Having lost his parents at an early age, he also fears becoming a father, but Barb changes his mind, only for them to discover after a year of trying to conceive that Ethan is sterile. They decide to foster two young boys, but when the Covid-19 pandemic hits and Ethan develops an overbearing attachment to them, his relationship with Barb disintegrates. She leaves him and he takes the boys on a bike trip to Italy, where a jaw-dropping twist ensues. Starting out as a lighthearted romance before taking an unsettling turn, this upsets expectations in the best way. The heartbreaking late reveal will take a second reading to fully sink in and pushes the troubled marriage genre to dizzying extremes. It’s a remarkable outing, and readers will look forward to seeing what Hafner does next.”

An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about An Honest Living: “The New York attorney who narrates Murphy’s uneven debut—who is unnamed but hints he has a name similar to the author’s—gave up a career with a prestigious law firm to make an honest living in a solo practice doing odd jobs, contract work, and document reviews, but his earnings have been slim of late. Then a wealthy woman calling herself Anna Rennick approaches him, claiming that her much older estranged husband, a former antiquarian book dealer, is stealing rare books from her library. The narrator can’t resist her $10,000 fee as well as a potential bonus if he can catch her husband offering any of her books for sale. Something about the case bothers him, but he manages “to put it out of mind” and he winds it up with little effort. The trouble begins when the real Anna Rennick shows up, threatening to sue. Murphy, the editor-in-chief of CrimeReads, writes with authority about the New York book world and literary references abound, from Edith Wharton to Cormac McCarthy, but the novel’s digressive first half drags and the plot never picks up much speed. This is destined to amuse a niche audience at best.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Fitzgerald, Jacobs, Stevens, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Isaac Fitzgerald, Liska Jacobs, Nell Stevens, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Dirtbag, Massachusetts by Isaac Fitzgerald

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dirtbag, Massachusetts: “Journalist Fitzgerald (How to Be a Pirate) weaves a raucous mosaic of a rough-and-ready New England rarely seen with a transfixing story of his path to finding himself. In a series of essays, he recounts his impoverished childhood in 1980s Massachusetts and follows his escape from it through a litany of jobs and identities. In ‘Family Stories,’ he charts the ‘stained and tattered map’ of his dysfunctional Catholic parent’s lives and their bumpy road from ‘city poor to country poor.’ A poster child of the ‘classic New England family, incapable of discussing… things openly,’ Fitzgerald buried his past in drinking, drugs, and porn: bonding relationships,’ he writes in ‘The Armory,’ ‘were based on the consumption of porn and communal jerking off.’ By his mid-20s, he was ‘on the other side’ starring in pornos. As he takes readers along on his search for salvation, he barrels through many venues—from San Francisco to Southeast Asia to Brooklyn to Kilimanjaro—recounting the ‘conversations that changed me’ and eventually helped him overcome old ideals of masculinity and untangle his complicity in a racist society (in his case, ‘hipster racism’). ‘To any young men out there who aren’t too far gone,’ he writes. ‘I say you’re not done becoming yourself.’ The result is a marvelous coming-of-age story that’s as wily and raunchy as it is heartfelt.”

The Pink Hotel by Liska Jacobs

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Pink Hotel: “Jacobs (The Worst Kind of Want) returns with an amusing if over-the-top satire of the überwealthy. After a chance meeting at a hospitality conference, small-town newlyweds Keith and Kit Collins befriend the tony Richard and Ilka Beaumont, who invite the couple to honeymoon at their renowned Beverly Hills establishment, the Pink Hotel. Once Keith and Kit check in, Keith, who works as the general manager of his uncle’s restaurant and hotel, is enamored of the elite scene and agrees to help Richard attend to guests in hopes of securing a job offer, leaving Kit to spend time with a hard-partying young socialite who’s also staying at the hotel. Complications arise when Keith develops a crush on Richard’s mistress, Coco, whose cousin Sean (a construction worker helping with an expansion at the hotel) takes a liking to Kit after she faints from heatstroke and lands in his arms. Then things go off the rails as encroaching wildfires and rolling blackouts stir up angry mobs outside the hotel gates, while, inside, a guest’s exotic cats go on the attack, shots ring out, and tensions boil over. The chaotic climax is something to behold, but thinly drawn characters water down the satire’s potency, and the class commentary is a bit predictable. Readers who can look past a few wobbles will be easily carried along by the rollicking madcap sensibility.”

Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Shmutz: “Berliner’s memorable debut concerns a young Brooklyn Hasidic woman who becomes addicted to porn. Despite the community’s strict laws against the internet, Raizl, 18, receives a laptop as part of her accounting scholarship to Cohen College, and her naive initial Google searches quickly lead her to more explicit corners of the web. Each night, after her younger sister Gitti falls asleep, Raizl watches porn under the covers with the volume off. More transgressions follow, as she befriends a group of goth classmates and eats a bacon and egg roll from a street vendor. Meanwhile, Raizl endures a series of matchmaker-arranged ‘dates’ with potential husbands. After two failed dates, Berliner writes, ‘the matchmaker must have smelled the fear on [Raizl’s] mother because the next boy she sends… is a clammy snail in a suit.’ Meanwhile, Raizl’s porn addiction affects her grades; she stops sleeping, watching ‘video after video until morning,’ and her attempts to quit prove unsuccessful. Berliner shines in her depictions of a deeply religious life, both in its inequities and its enchantments. If the plot is at times a bit sparse, the prose is inventive, notably in how it uses Raizl’s native Yiddish (and her application of it to porn) to great effect. This brave, eye-opening tale is full of surprises.”

Briefly, a Delicious Life by Nell Stevens

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Briefly, a Delicious Life: “Stevens (Bleaker House: A Memoir) makes her fiction debut with a smart and haunting outing that immerses readers in Valldemosa, Mallorca, over four centuries. The story revolves around the ghost of a 14-year-old girl named Blanca, who died in the 15th century and is captivated by the appearance of author George Sand and her lover, composer Frédéric Chopin, on vacation in the late 19th century. Blanca is attracted to both men and women, and her playful, sensuous narration describes the centuries she’s spent observing the trysts of monks in the monastery where she lives. Sand’s masculine dress particularly excites Blanca, though it elicits disgust of the villagers. As Chopin becomes gravely ill, Stevens alternates the lovers’ story with Blanca’s memories of her own life and death, and Blanca dwells on feelings of blame toward the man who got her pregnant during their affair. Eventually, the stories entwine, as Blanca uses her ghostly powers to intercede in Chopin’s fate. Though Stevens’s idealized view of Sand can feel a bit Mary Sue–ish, for the most part it credibly reflects Blanca’s romanticizing of a woman who ‘dressed like a man, kissed like a man, smoked like a man.’ This will entice readers.”

Also out this week: The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai and Amanat edited by Zaure Batayeva and Shelley Fairweather-Vega.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Wayne, Okparanta, Chang, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Teddy Wayne, Chinelo Okparanta, K-Ming Chang, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
The Great Man Theory by Teddy Wayne
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Great Man Theory: “Paul, the snippy academic protagonist of Wayne’s alternately crushing and tedious latest (after Apartment), is having a rough go of it. He’s toiling as an adjunct, has to move in with his mom in the Bronx, is being pushed away by his tween daughter, and is stalled on writing his book-length treatise, The Luddite Manifesto. Reduced to the indignity of having to buy a smartphone and work as a rideshare driver, he finds purpose after picking up Lauren, the producer of cable TV show Mackey Live (think: The O’Reilly Factor). He hits it off with her after claiming to be a conservative professor disgusted by lefty academia, and before long they’re dating. As Paul manipulates Lauren to try to get himself booked on Mackey’s show and sabotage it for the good of the country, his life further disintegrates. Wayne’s greatest feat is also something of an Achilles heel: he convincingly inhabits Paul, but Paul can be bloviating and vapid. The fact that swaths of his internal monologues are skippable may cause some readers to tune out. This would be a shame, because when Paul bottoms out, his hurt hits as deep and palpable, and, indeed, his ‘nothing to lose’ plan feels fittingly desperate. There’s not a dull sentence here, though it’s too bad there aren’t fewer of them before the sting in the tail arrives.”
Harry Sylvester Bird by Chinelo Okparanta
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Harry Sylvester Bird: “The inventive if messy latest from Okparanta (Under the Udala Trees) chronicles the coming-of-age of a young white man who is convinced he is Black. In 2016, 14-year-old Harry Sylvester Bird develops an enduring fascination with Blackness while on a safari in Tanzania. (Regarding a Black tour guide’s arm hairs: ‘I noted them and wished I could be them.’) Several years later and back home in Edward, Pa., Harry’s racist parents slide toward financial catastrophe as Harry graduates high school and Covid-19 takes hold, spurring vaccination checkpoints and a national ‘bubble registry.’ Eager to distance himself from his family, Harry moves to New York and starts to identify as Black, going by ‘G-Dawg’ and joining a ‘Transracial-Anon’ support group. After ambivalently accepting a scholarship from the Purists (an extremist white populist political party), Harry enrolls in college and falls in love with Maryam, a fellow student from Nigeria. Despite some disastrous early dates, the couple stays together for years until a study-abroad trip to Ghana compels Harry to grapple with his identity and puts his relationship with Maryam to the test. There are weighty ideas here, but Harry’s lack of self-awareness will test readers’ patience, and the satire sometimes gets lost in the scattered plot. This doesn’t quite stick the landing.”
Brother Alive by Zain Khalid
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Brother Alive: “In this auspicious debut, Khalid unfurls a beguiling story involving a Staten Island imam’s secrets. Salim Smith has adopted three boys, all sons of his inner circle of confidantes from his days at the Islamic University of Markab in Saudi Arabia. In their cramped apartment above Salim’s Staten Island mosque, the oldest son, Youssef, struggles along with his brothers to understand their father’s behavior, as Salim shuns human touch, locks himself in his room writing mysterious letters, and dramatically loses weight. Then as Youssef gets ready to start college at Columbia, he learns Salim had been thrust into a parental role he has no interest in. Salim’s story is fleshed out in the second section, which takes place decades earlier, with Salim living in Markab and being coopted by a powerful Saudi mufti, Ibrahim Sharif, into preaching to marginalized community members known as the ‘Unsettled.’ Meanwhile, Ibrahim conducts dangerous experiments on the castoffs. In the final section, Salim returns to Saudi Arabia in search of a cure for his lingering health problems from Ibrahim’s regimen, and finds that Ibrahim has built a luxurious futuristic city on top of Markab. Youssef and his brothers follow and are soon working for Ibrahim, jeopardizing their planned reunion with Salim. Khalid brilliantly reveals new shades of truth from each character’s point of view, and perfectly integrates the many ideas about capitalism and religious extremism into an enthralling narrative. It’s a tour de force.”
Total by Rebecca Miller
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Total: “In Miller’s alluring collection (after the novel Jacob’s Folly), protagonists search for connection and pleasure in strange, sometimes destructive ways. Daphne in ‘Mrs. Covet’ is a mother of two, pregnant with a third. The family hires a cleaning lady named Nat, hoping for some order, but after Nat moves in, something disastrous happens. In the speculative title story, people have transcendent phone sex on devices called Total Phones, and the force field of an early version of the phone leads to birth defects (most ‘Total children’ die from unknown causes by the age of eight or nine). Roxanne, 16, hatches a plan to break her younger sister, E, eight, from the Total Care Center where she’s lived since her infancy, and devastating consequences ensue. In ‘She Came to Me,’ Ciaran, an Irish writer who has remained faithful to his wife of 18 years, struggles with writer’s block and decides to seek out everyday stories in Dublin. He meets a young American woman who professes to be a romantic (and admits to having been a stalker). They go to her room, where he has second thoughts about having sex with her, though they do anyway. Miller brings a cinematic eye to her descriptions (a parking garage’s ‘final floor’ offers a ‘vivid sky’) and plenty of drama to the situations. These stories are full of surprises.”
Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Our Wives Under the Sea: “Armfield follows her collection, Salt Slow, with a moody and intimate debut novel, both a portrait of a marriage and a subtle horror fantasy. Miri and Leah are a married lesbian couple living in a British coastal city. Leah, a scientist with the Centre for Marine Enquiry, participates with her submarine crew in a deep-sea dive that is supposed to take three weeks but instead lasts six months, due to a malfunction, and Miri’s reactions range from helpless panic to anger to acceptance and mourning as she phones desperately to get answers from the Centre. (She even joins an online community of role-playing women who imagine their husbands are astronauts in space.) When Leah returns, she begins exhibiting such symptoms as the ‘silvering’ of her skin, sleepwalking, loss of appetite, and a need to be near or in water. She also spends hours in the bathroom with the taps running and a sound machine playing ocean surf sounds, and bleeds frequently: from her nose, gums, and through her skin. While Miri at first looks for a logical explanation for these maladies, their source remains mysterious. Meanwhile, the two have stopped communicating and sleep in separate bedrooms, and it begins to seem as if Leah is transforming into some nonhuman creature. With echoes of Jules Verne, Thor Heyerdahl (whose work inspired Leah), H.P. Lovecraft, and the film Altered States, Armfield anchors the shudder-producing tale in authentic marine science and a deep understanding of human nature. This is mesmerizing.”
The Empire of Dirt by Francesca Manfredi (translated by Ekin Olap)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Empire of Dirt: “Manfredi’s English-language debut is an evocative tale of one young woman’s coming-of-age in 1990s rural Italy. Valentina is 12, an only child living in an ancient crumbling farmhouse with her pious grandmother and troubled mother. Valentina wakes one morning to a spreading stain on her bedroom wall, which she believes corresponds to the shame she feels about having her first period. Terrified of her body’s changes and troubled by her grandmother’s references to a family curse and biblical retribution, Valentina decides she has brought on a plague. Hundreds of tiny frogs followed by mosquitoes, flies, and locusts then descend on the house and vegetable farm, and the sheep begin dying of a terrible disease, all of which Valentina tries to deal with by sacrificing a goat. Meanwhile, her mother is busy wooing a new boyfriend, her grandmother rapidly descends into terminal illness, and her best friend has broken off their friendship out of jealousy over a local boy. The melodious prose enhances the coming-of-age scenes and Valentina’s religious guilt (‘it came at night, when all terrible things happen, and like all terrible things, it decided to give me a choice,’ she narrates about her period), but too often the plot points are dropped or unexplained. Though it feels unresolved overall, the accomplished prose is a testament to Manfredi’s potential.”
Bad Thoughts by Nada Alic
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bad Thoughts: “In Alic’s candid and humorous debut collection, women explore their darkest thoughts and fears. The narrator in ‘My New Life’ reflects on her alienation at a baby shower (‘I sometimes worry that motherhood is contagious, like a parasite or the way cohabitating women synchronize their cycles’). There, she finds a kindred spirit in Mona, who sets up a dating profile despite being married. In ‘Tug Spin Release,’ the narrator, a gym teacher, attends a bachelorette party in Cabo, where she holds out for an unlikely acceptance from a writing residency. In Cabo, she feels increasingly isolated from the others as they overshare about their lives. In ‘The Party,’ the narrator and her boyfriend take a quiz from a swank bedding company before selecting their pricey sheets, and face their ambivalence over whether they want children. Later, afraid she’s having a dangerous reaction to an ecstasy pill, the narrator calls a telehealth line and confides in the doctor about her life, a ‘conga line of disappointments’ in which she’s ‘getting less young and more old at the same time.’ As the characters wrestle with what’s missing from their lives, the author finds mordant hilarity. The more Alic leans into the weirdness, the more addictive this becomes.”
Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sirens & Muses: “A quartet of artists negotiate love, ambition, and politics during the 2011 Occupy movement in Angress’s winning debut. Nineteen-year-old Louisa Arceneaux is a new transfer student at the fictional Wrynn College in New England, arriving from her native Louisiana. Her roommate, the icy and beautiful Karina Piontek, is everything Louisa is not: worldly, wealthy, and confident. Preston Utley, a senior, questions the school’s relevance in the modern age. The yin to Utley’s yang is Robert Berger, a teacher whose own art career, once white-hot, has atrophied. Angress nimbly embodies each of her characters, allowing her exceptional storytelling abilities to shine. When Louisa asks Karina to pose for a painting, the initial reticence between the two fades, and something more volatile emerges. Preston and Karina begin a romantic relationship on unequal footing, while Preston, a member of the school’s Occupy group, antagonizes an increasingly desperate Robert by excoriating his work in Artforum, and the novel’s first part ends with a major rupture. In part two, set over the following year, the characters have left Wrynn’s bubble for New York City, where Preston and Karina prepare for a joint debut show at Robert’s former gallery, and Angress sweeps everything toward a wonderfully complex conclusion. This is a standout.”
Fire Season by Leyna Krow
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fire Season: “Krow’s evocative debut novel (after the collection I’m Fine, but You Appear to Be Sinking) follows three misfits who prosper in the aftermath of a devastating fire in 1889 Spokane Falls, just before Washington gains statehood. Barton Heydale, 29, is the manager of the only bank within 100 miles; feeling lonesome and disliked, he’s considering ending his life when he sees the fire at Wolfe’s Hotel. In the chaotic aftermath, he enacts a plan to steal from the bank. He later runs into Roslyn Beck, a sex worker he’d engaged at Wolfe’s on the day of the fire, and invites her to stay with him. Barton plans to escape town with the money and Roslyn, but she and the money disappear. Then Quake Auchenbaucher arrives, identifying himself as a federal arson inspector to the police, who have taken Barton into custody on charges of usury and counterfeiting. Quake, a savvy con man, pins the fire on Barton and convinces the officers all the bank’s money is fake, and that he must transport it to the Treasury. After a series of twists, the three outlaws all converge. Krow pulls off a convincing last gasp of the Wild West with an appealing array of charlatans and schemers. The prose is marvelous, and Krow shrewdly shows via Barton, who pretends to be a ‘man in a fine, if not enviable state,’ how the riskiest con is against the self. Readers will be captivated.”
The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Poet’s House: “Thompson (A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl) intriguingly explores the contours of the literary world through the eyes of an outsider. Carla Sawyer, a restless Northern California landscaper in her 20s, is stretched thin by conflicting advice. Her divorced mother urges her to either get a hospital job or grow legal marijuana, while her boyfriend remarks that her green thumb remains underappreciated. Carla’s world broadens when she begins work in the gardens of renowned poet Viridian Boone. Carla doesn’t know anything about poetry, but Viridian opens her home to the young woman, who winds up mingling with an eccentric coterie of poets, writers, and artists. As Carla grows closer to Viridian and the bohemian group, she develops a strong appreciation for poetry. Soon, Carla becomes caught up in conversations with Viridian about Viridian’s former lover, Mathias, who died by suicide many years earlier, after he became famous for his love poems about Viridian. Thompson’s talents for immersive storytelling and sharp characters are on brilliant display, particularly in her portrayal of Carla’s longing for something greater, and of Viridian’s conflicted feelings about Mathias’s work. The author’s fans will savor this.”
Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Big Girl: “Sullivan (the collection Blue Talk and Love) charms in her stunning debut novel about a Black girl’s coming-of-age. While growing up in gentrifying Harlem during the 1980s and ’90s, Malaya Clondon is irrevocably impacted by other people’s perceptions and judgments of her weight. At eight, her mother, Nyela forces her to attend Nyela’s Weight Watchers meetings, and she endures cruel remarks from classmates at her predominantly white school. When she’s 16, Nyela and Malaya’s father, Percy, fight over the prospect of Malaya undergoing a gastric bypass. Throughout, Sullivan offers a nuanced portrayal of Malaya’s difficulties in navigating a world in which other people are unable to see her beyond her size, even after a terrible loss shakes Malaya’s world and reorients her family. All of Sullivan’s characters—even the cruel ones—brim with humanity, and the author shines when conveying the details of Malaya’s comforts, such as Biggie Smalls lyrics, the portraits she paints in her room, the colors she braids into her hair, and the sweet-smelling dulce de coco candies she eats with a classmate with whom she shares a close and sexually charged friendship. This is a treasure.”
Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Gods of Want: “Chang (Bestiary) returns with a dazzling collection of stories within stories that draw on old myths to embody the heartache and memories of Asian American women. In ‘The Chorus of Dead Cousins,’ the unnamed narrator is constantly disrupted by the ghosts of her dead cousins and tries to escape them by traveling with her storm-chaser wife to record a tornado. In ‘Episodes of Hoarders,’ a woman nicknamed ‘little crab’ grieves over her dead hoarder grandmother. A wild mother-in-law repeatedly pretends to die and makes married life a living nightmare for the protagonist of ‘Xífù,’ who envies her lesbian daughter for being unattached to men. In ‘Anchor,’ a young woman struggles with the verbal abuse of her aunt, who raised her after her mother died during childbirth. She’s also haunted by the ghost of a girl her aunt accidentally shot many years earlier, has delicate conversations with a nun at a nearby temple, and searches for the old toy gun her brother lost before he left for the military. Chang’s bold conceits and potent imagery evoke a raw, visceral power that captures feelings of deep longing and puts them into words. This stellar collection will leave readers hungry for more.”
Also on shelves this week: Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Habib, Kaplan, Zevin, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Conner Habib, Isabel Kaplan, Gabrielle Zevin, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hawk Mountain: “Unresolved emotional conflict from adolescence haunts a man in Habib’s intensely unsettling debut. While at the beach, Todd Nasca, a high school English teacher estranged from his wife and raising his six-year-old son Anthony in a quaint New England town, crosses paths with Jack Gates, a former schoolmate who used to bully Todd. All smiles now, Jack insinuates himself into Todd’s life with disturbing ease, overstaying his welcome to sleep a few nights on Todd’s couch and gradually working his way into Todd and Anthony’s domestic routines. Then Todd finds out Jack answered a call from Todd’s wife without telling him, setting up a confrontation that is spectacularly hideous in its brutality. Habib laces his narrative with references to the books Todd assigns his students about ‘male bonding and camaraderie,’ suggesting unspoken nuances of his relationship with Jack. The narrative also toggles between past and present, building tension en route to the revelation of an unexpected encounter between the two as teenagers that had major consequences on the course of their lives. Habib brings rich psychological insight to his characters, expertly observing how the conflicts of youth persist into Todd and Jack’s present. Though not for the squeamish, this dramatic tale soars.”

NSFW by Isabel Kaplan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about NSFW: “The daughter of a prominent victim’s rights attorney navigates the treacherous pre-#MeToo television industry in Kaplan’s well-crafted but unilluminating adult debut (after the YA novel Hancock Park). The unnamed narrator returns to her hometown of Los Angeles after graduating from Harvard and, after using her mother’s connections, begins climbing the ladder at XBC, an upstart broadcasting network. As the narrator internalizes fatphobia and unrealistic beauty standards, and capitulates to and chafes against the casual misogyny at XBC, she tries to stay afloat in an environment teeming with sexual misconduct. Most intriguing, though, is the narrator’s Sisyphean relationship with her famously feminist mother, who simultaneously longs for her daughter’s success and resents it. Kaplan takes on heavy topics with an appealing frankness and snappy prose but doesn’t offer anything new regarding the no-win scenarios faced by survivors of sexual violence when deciding whether to go public (‘Come forward and your career is probably tanked. Stay silent and he won’t have to answer for any of it,’ the narrator says to a colleague), and as a result her depiction of the double bind comes off as rather mundane. As a Hollywood coming-of-age story, this does the job, but those in search of a new take on the larger issues at play will be left unsatisfied.”

Kaleidoscope by Cecily Wong

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Kaleidoscope: “Wong (Diamond Head) captures the fierce bond and stark differences between two mixed-race Chinese American sisters, one of whom dies in a freak accident, in her penetrating latest. After a family vacation in India, Hank and Karen Liu Brighton open an import and textiles boutique called Kaleidoscope in Eugene, Ore., to cash in on Americans’ interest in Eastern aesthetics. Soon, they move to New York City to open a new Kaleidoscope branch, just as their older daughter, Morgan, begins studying at the Parsons School of Design in the city. Morgan becomes the company’s main designer, shaping vibrant Indian-inspired textiles into a panoply of culturally appropriated styles such as kimonos and Mexican embroidery, while her sister Riley, ever the observer, studies anthropology at Barnard. Then, Morgan is killed by a collapsed construction crane. Hank and Karen find refuge in sleeping pills and alcohol while Kaleidoscope wanes; Riley blindly wanders Manhattan collecting newspaper articles detailing Morgan’s death; and Morgan’s boyfriend, James, quits his job and plans a whirlwind monthslong trip abroad accompanied by Riley. After Karen reveals secrets that undermine Riley’s impression of her seemingly perfect sister, she wishes she’d been more help to Morgan. The author balances her characters’ palpable emotions with whip-smart commentary on cultural commodification, as the sisters joke about their parents’ ‘Doors of the World’ fundraiser, in which doors procured from various countries are auctioned off to wealthy donors. It’s a smash.”

Self-Portrait with Ghost by Meng Jin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Self-Portrait with Ghost: “Jin (Little Gods) returns with a provocative magical realist collection in which women fall in love, grieve, and figure out what to make of their lives amid constant changes. Many of these engrossing entries take inspiration from contemporary events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump presidency. The protagonists of ‘The Odd Women’ deal with a mysterious virus on top of the onset of puzzling superpowers, such as the ability to make themselves immaterial, change identity to match others’ expectations, and divide parts of themselves into ‘distinct entities, one to confront each aspect of the divided, complicated world.’ Meanwhile, ‘In The Event’ features a woman reflecting on the ‘obscenities of the new president,’ which make her feel like she’s living in a badly written novel. Even the stories that focus on timeless themes—such as formative relationships in ‘Phillip Is Dead’ and ‘First Love,’ and the aftermaths of loss in ‘Suffering’ and ‘Self-Portrait with Ghost’—take on a strangely elusive tone. Throughout, Jin toys with the concept of reality, which in the title story is malleable for its writer protagonist (‘My novel was all about subjectivity, I said. Each character tells their version of reality and the various realities add up to something that looks more like unknowing than a solution,’ the writer recounts of a conversation with the ghost of a Chinese aunt, who speaks in English despite never having learned the language). Throughout, there is beauty, wit, and pathos. This mystifying collection is a testament to Jin’s talent and versatility.”

The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Displacements: “In Holsinger’s harrowing novel of environmental disaster (after The Gifted School), an unprecedented category 6 hurricane obliterates Miami and disrupts a once-charmed family. Before the storm hits, Daphne Larsen-Hall has a great life—pampered wife of a wealthy surgeon, with a two-million-dollar home in Coral Gables and two bright children, Oliver and Mia. But after Hurricane Luna, Daphne’s life is upended. Homeless and penniless due to a cascading series of setbacks, she and the children end up evacuated to a megashelter in Oklahoma run by no-nonsense FEMA official Rain Holton. There, among 10,000 other evacuees, her sullen stepson Gavin falls under the spell of two drug dealers and Mia becomes obsessed with playing a kids’ game called Range. Then, after the final indignity of losing her wedding and engagement rings, Daphne decides to become an art teacher in the camp. Two months in, many evacuees have formed ‘ethnic enclaves,’ including one called Crackertown, which Holsinger describes as a ‘dark edge of pride in [the whites’] self-designation.’ Then Rain contends with a new weather emergency threatening the shelter. Holsinger does a good job exploring the country’s cultural and economic divisions and the effects of climate change, and is even better with the characters and their ever-mounting problems. This story of displacement and desperation packs a wallop.”

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow: “Zevin (Young Jane Young) returns with an exhilarating epic of friendship, grief, and computer game development. In 1986, Sadie Green, 11, visits a children’s hospital where her sister is recovering from cancer. There, she befriends another patient, a 12-year-old Korean Jewish boy named Sam Masur, who has a badly injured foot, and the two bond over their love for video games. Their friendship ruptures, however, after Sam discovers Sadie’s been tallying the visits to fulfill her bat mitzvah service. Years later, they reconnect while attending college in Boston. Sam is wowed by a game Sadie developed, called Solution. In it, a player who doesn’t ask questions will unknowingly build a widget for the Third Reich, thus forcing the player to reflect on the impact of their moral choices. He proposes they design a game together, and relying on help from his charming, wealthy Japanese Korean roommate, Marx, and Sadie’s instructor cum abusive lover, Dov, they score a massive hit with Ichigo, inspired by The Tempest. In 2004, their virtual world-builder Mapletown allows for same-sex marriages, drawing ire from conservatives, and a violent turn upends everything for Sam and Sadie. Zevin layers the narrative with her characters’ wrenching emotional wounds as their relationships wax and wane, including Sadie’s resentment about sexism in gaming, Sam’s loss of his mother, and his foot amputation. Even more impressive are the visionary and transgressive games (another, a shooter, is based on the poems of Emily Dickinson). This is a one-of-a-kind achievement.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Walter, Bazawule, Bourne, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Jess Walter, Blitz Bazawule, our own Michael Bourne, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
The Angel of Rome by Jess Walter

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Angel of Rome: “Reading Walter’s perceptive collection (after The Cold Millions) is like sitting next to the guy at a dinner party who has something hilarious to say about everyone and knows all their secrets. In the title story, written with actor Edoardo Ballerini, a starry-eyed Nebraska kid spends a year studying in Italy after high school. There, he stumbles onto the set of a film starring a fading Italian bombshell, and the encounter sets off an antic shaggy-dog tale culminating in the students in his Latin class writing a new ending for the movie. Walter is even better in quieter stories like ‘Drafting,’ in which a woman battling cancer seeks out an old flame, a 36-year-old perpetually stoned skater dude who, despite his utter fecklessness, is the only person able to quiet her existential dread. Occasionally, Walter’s shrewdness about the nature of his characters can feel a little schematic, as in the otherwise entertaining and witty ‘Famous Actor,’ involving a hookup between a coffee shop barista and a slumming movie star with a drug problem. The dialogue and setup are great (‘It’s so great to just be in, like, a fucking apartment,’ the actor says about the narrator’s place), though it ends predictably. Compared to the novels, this is minor Jess Walter, but minor Jess Walter is better than most.”

The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Scent of Burnt Flowers: “In a transportive debut set in the mid-1960s, Ghanaian artist Bazawule charts the fallout of the violent confrontation of an African American couple by a racist gang. Fearing for their lives afterward, Bernadette Broussard and Melvin Johnson flee to Ghana in disguise as a pastor and his wife. Melvin’s college friend Kwame Nkrumah happens to be the president of the country, and Melvin is certain Nkrumah will grant them asylum and a chance at a new life. When they arrive in Cape Coast, famed Ghanaian musician Kwesi Kwayson is about to perform in a courtyard outside their hotel. Bernadette catches his eye, and after she shares that her mother disappeared during a flood in her native Louisiana, the two forge a bond. Kwesi, who is on the way to perform for Nkrumah, aids Bernadette and Melvin on the road, and a rivalry brews between the two men. Meanwhile, a rogue FBI agent tracks the couple on suspicion of their involvement in the incident that caused them to flee, defying orders not to pursue them in Ghana. The fugitives-fleeing-authorities plot takes many of the expected twists on its way to a tragic conclusion, but Bazawule nails the atmosphere, loading it with cultural details on everything from palm wine to Highlife music. It’s an engaging if not riveting period piece.”

Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Patricia Wants to Cuddle: “Allen (Real Queer America) debuts with an amusing and jolting look at a dating show gone horribly wrong. Four contestants on the reality show The Catch—think Naked and Afraid meets The Bachelor—converge on an eerie island in the Pacific Northwest. There’s the reserved Renee Irons, Christian influencer Lilah-Mae Adams, shrewd model Vanessa Voorhees, and cheerful vlogger Amanda Parker. All face harrowing events as they vie for a spot in the show’s finale (and a proposal from entrepreneur Jeremy Blackstone). With only two weeks to go, the women try to advance their goals, which vary from finding true love to boosting their social media brands—but they soon begin to glimpse a mysterious ‘creature’ named Patricia lurking in the shadows. When Patricia finally strikes, the results are grotesque and shocking, laying bare the island’s dark history. The characters, however, often feel flat, with insufficient details about the women’s lives, and Allen leaves several loose ends dangling. Still, she cleverly explores themes of human connection, social acceptance, and the harms of social media as the contestants vie for what they want and the show’s producer takes staggering measures to boost ratings. Despite the flaws, there’s enough invention here to keep readers on board.”

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies: “A British woman’s breast cancer returns in Mortimer’s poignant and inventive debut, told in part by the disease. Lia, 43 and a children’s author, is devastated to learn her cancer is back after a two-year absence. Her professor husband, Harry, assures her they’ll fight it, while Lia’s unsure of how to tell their 12-year-old daughter, Iris. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, Lia reveals how as a teenager she and a boy named Matthew, a student of Lia’s vicar father, become secret lovers. When her parents find out, they make other arrangements for Matthew, and Lia leaves for university in London. Later she receives a postcard from Matthew telling her to join him in Italy. Their paths converge and diverge a couple more times, while in the present Lia and her family struggle to manage her worsening illness. The cancer intrudes with bursts of modernist lyricism (‘If I could rub my hands together, gnarl out a poisonous twat-cackle, pick open their dreams or leave my own little marks in their diaries, I would’), which can feel excessive, but the author does a good job tying everything together. Though this first outing is a bit baggy, Mortimer shows promise.”

Blithedale Canyon by Michael Bourne

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Blithedale Canyon: “Bourne, a reviewer for PW, debuts with an acute and vulnerable expression of male angst set in Mill Valley, Calif. Trent Wolfer, a man in his late 20s, is haunted by a history of poor, debauched decision making. After spending time in prison for embezzling funds from a liquor store, he returns home, picks up a fast food job, and moves back in with his groovy Marin County mother and her wealthy second husband. Meanwhile, Trent struggles with regret, habitual lying, and alcoholism. However, after an encounter with an old flame, he begins to take his life more seriously and shifts over to a job at a wholesome grocery store. Reform and temptation tug at him with equal force, which Bourne conveys with a searing, confessional sincerity. Readers might think of Trent as an older version of Holden Caulfield (according to Trent, everyone in town is ‘full of shit’), and despite his deeply flawed nature, the more he wobbles and struggles, the more endearing he becomes. This will resonate with readers.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Moshfegh, Hogeland, Gallagher, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Ottessa Moshfegh, Anna Hogeland, Leigh N. Gallagher, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lapvona: “Moshfegh’s deliriously quirky medieval tale (after Death in Her Hands) revolves around a disabled shepherd boy’s test of faith. Marek, 13, is abused by his father and raised by Ina, a midwife and witch who once nursed him as an infant. Still, Marek possesses a childlike faith in God. He’ll need it. All is not well in the fiefdom of Lapvona: a plague ravages the people, a drought sours the earth, starvation spreads, and high atop a hill overlooking the village sits greedy Lord Villiam, a man who ‘believe[s] that his appetite [is] nothing but a physical symptom of his greatness’ and consequently hoards all the food. Down below, Ina trades villagers psychedelic mushrooms for bread and eggs, and the mushrooms give people alternately visions of heaven and hell, either a respite from or an enhancement of the daily nightmare wrought on them by Villiam. Moshfegh’s picture of medieval cruelty includes unsparing accounts of torture, rape, cannibalism, and witchcraft, and as Marek grapples with the pervasive brutality and whether remaining pure of heart is worth the trouble—or is even possible—the narrative tosses readers through a series of dizzying reversals. Throughout, Moshfegh brings her trademark fascination with the grotesque to depictions of the pandemic, inequality, and governmental corruption, making them feel both uncanny and all too familiar. It’s a triumph.”

The Long Answer by Anna Hogeland

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Long Answer: “Hogeland’s lackluster debut follows a group of women and charts their feelings about their pregnancies. First, pregnant narrator Anna gets a call from her older sister, Margot, with the news that Margot had a miscarriage. Some weeks later, Margot calls Anna to talk about her friend Elizabeth, and Anna thinks about how she’s jealous of Elizabeth’s friendship with Margot, which deepened after Elizabeth, who is also pregnant, confided a secret to Margot. At a prenatal yoga class, Anna meets a young woman, Corrie, who shares a story about an earlier pregnancy followed by abortion. Then Hogeland delves into a problem with Anna’s pregnancy, and her writer husband’s attempts to write a story about it. Later, Anna travels to Joshua Tree, Calif., where she meets an older woman named Marisol, who tells her a story about her own pregnancy and approaching menopause, which Anna uses in her own attempt at writing fiction. The gestures at metafiction feel undercooked (‘This was never supposed to be part of this novel,’ Anna narrates in the middle of the Marisol episode), though Hogeland does a nice job showing the degree to which the women’s lives are shaped by reproduction. Still, this doesn’t quite cohere.”

The Catch by Alison Fairbrother

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Catch: “In Fairbrother’s perceptive debut, a young journalist is left reeling and looking for answers after her father’s sudden death. Ellie Adler, 24, a reporter at a D.C. news website, heads home to Maryland to visit her poet father, James, and her stepfamily. Ellie, the oldest, is happy believing she’s her father’s closest confidante and shares his writerly interests. Days later, he dies of a heart attack, and a bereft Ellie reads his most famous poem, ‘The Catch,’ at his funeral service, where an unknown woman attends. Later, Ellie begins looking into the woman’s relationship with James, and tries to piece together why he bequeathed Ellie an unfamiliar tie rack and gave the lucky baseball she’d always wanted to a stranger named L.M. Taylor. Meanwhile, Ellie begins questioning her relationship with her boyfriend, an older, married man, after her roommate learns of the affair. She also parlays a work assignment into an investigation of Taylor’s osprey conservation on the Chesapeake Bay to learn more about him. The minutiae of James’s estate eventually wears thin, but Fairbrother ably captures Ellie’s fractured world as a child of divorce, which fuels her motivation. This is a promising start.”

Girls They Write Songs About by Carlene Bauer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Girls They Write Songs About: “Bauer’s appealing if aimless latest (after Frances and Bernard) follows the friendship of two women in New York City from the late 1990s through the aughts. Charlotte Snowe and Rose Pellegrino apply for a staff editor job at a music magazine, and that’s where they meet; Rose gets the job and Charlotte eventually gets hired as an editor. The two quickly develop a close bond, but jealousies both romantic and professional eventually rear their heads. When Rose sets aside her writing commitments to marry Peter, Charlotte takes it as a personal affront and it eventually becomes a wedge between them, and as one ascends in her career, the other’s decline is put into greater relief. There’s not much of a plot, just a bunch of time in bars, clubs, and restaurants and conversations that don’t quite pass the Bechdel test (lots of talk about men, their bosses, relationships, and sex), and by the end it just sort of fizzles out. Still, Bauer has a talent for exacting language, particularly when describing the characters’ attempts at navigating an era in which it feels like feminism is over (‘We were neither selfish enough nor selfless enough to become heroines’). There are better stories of moving to the city, but this makes for a charming enough time capsule.”

Who You Might Be by Leigh N. Gallagher

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Who You Might Be: “Gallagher harnesses the turbulence and cadence of adolescence in this ambitious if uneven debut. Two of the novel’s three sections are set in the 1990s, starting with the account of best friends Meghan and Judy, both 14, as they slip away for the weekend to attend a house party thrown by a girl Meghan met online. When they get to the address, they’re greeted by a disturbed elderly woman and follow her upstairs. What they find is shocking and traumatic. Gallagher then introduces Caleb and Miles, who were uprooted from their privileged San Francisco enclave for Ann Arbor, Mich., after their mother accepted a prestigious academic position. Caleb seeks thrills among the industrial ruins of Detroit and falls in with Tez, a graffiti artist, but old ‘beefs’ between Tez and another artist culminate in a shocking assault whose consequences will reverberate across decades. Gallagher is at her best when conveying the vulnerable, yearning space between childhood and maturity, such as when Miles scurries through the dark with his companions in a former department store marked for demolition and suddenly becomes scared (‘not of getting in trouble… but of finding himself unable to rise to whatever unknown challenges came’). Gallagher falters in the third section, speeding toward a conclusion where the disparate characters collide in 2016 Brooklyn. Despite some missteps, Gallagher perfectly captures a generation’s dislocated vibe.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Brooks, Newman, Taddeo, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Geraldine Brooks, Sandra Newman, Lisa Taddeo, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Horse: “Pulitzer winner Brooks returns after The Secret Chord with a fascinating saga based on the true story of a famous 19th-century racehorse. In 2019, Theo Northam, a Black graduate student in Washington, D.C., finds a discarded equestrian painting that he decides to research for a Smithsonian magazine article. Meanwhile, Jess, a bone specialist at the Smithsonian, gets a call about an old horse skeleton that’s been stored in the museum’s attic. Jess and Theo end up meeting, but first Brooks takes the story to 1850s Lexington, Ky., where Jarret Lewis, an enslaved boy, is the groom for a promising colt that his father, Harry, a freedman, has trained. But then the horse, Lexington, is sold and the new buyer sends him along with Jarret to a Mississippi plantation with ruinous consequences. In 1853, Lexington and Jarret end up in New Orleans, where the horse thrills the racing world, and Jarret hopes to buy his freedom, while back in contemporary D.C., a romance blossoms between Jess and Theo. While Brooks’s multiple narratives and strong character development captivate, and she soars with the story of Jarret, a late plot twist in the D.C. thread dampens the ending a bit. Despite a bit of flagging in the home stretch, this wins by a nose.”

The Men by Sandra Newman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Men: “Newman (The Heavens) delivers a smashing feminist utopia (or dystopia) about a young woman whose husband and son go missing along with all the other people in the world who were born with a Y chromosome. While camping, Jane Pearson begins imagining what her life would be like without the burden of a family. Then, in a strange dreamlike flicker, they vanish from their tent. Jane’s first reaction, like the other women portrayed, is one of abject grief. There’s Ji-Won Park, an artist who mourns the loss of her platonic best friend; Blanca Suarez, 14, whose aunt moves her into a house share situation with Alma McCormick, a 40-year-old woman who takes over the Los Angeles mansion where her brother worked as a caretaker; and Ruth Goldstein, a New Yorker who takes a $10,000 flight to be with her daughter on the West Coast. After Jane emerges from the woods, she discovers women adjusting to the new normal with a festive air, Ruth witnesses a harrowing attack on a trans man, and ComPA, a fringe movement Jane founded in her college years with fellow student and lover Evangelyne Moreau, attempts to fill the power vacuum. Evangelyne, a Black woman who, at 14, was convicted of murder after shooting two police officers during a raid on her peaceful cult in Vermont, once shared a special bond with Jane, and now they reconnect. Their backstory enriches the reader’s understanding of Jane’s ambivalence about having a family, and Newman provides powerful insights on the limits of sacrifice. As all the characters converge, the author introduces startling explanations for the mass disappearance. This is a stunner.”

One’s Company by Ashley Hutson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about One’s Company: “Hutson’s affecting and ingenious debut follows a woman’s attempt to find refuge from her tragic reality. Bonnie is known in her small town as the convenience store clerk who survived a vicious robbery in which she was sexually assaulted and the store’s owners murdered. Alone in her trailer, she develops an obsession with the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company, in which she finds a ‘surrogate family, impervious to death or harm.’ After she wins a massive lottery payout, she buys a mountaintop property and recreates the show’s apartment complex. Hutson succeeds in describing Bonnie’s quasi-religious devotion to the pop culture artifact without resorting to pompousness. Rather, Hutson instills the enterprise with Bonnie’s sense of impending doom, which she expresses in self-aware narration: ‘Farce punishes everyone eventually.’ The project unfolds in complete secrecy, the actors and crew required to sign NDAs, read Bonnie’s dry synopsis of the show, and watch an episode. (Readers will likely be put in mind of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder more than once.) Once the giant replica set is built, Bonnie plays the sitcom’s various characters in turn, though her isolated splendor is threatened when outsiders intrude onto the compound. This darkly clever work dramatizes the necessity and fragility of illusions, showing how they can crumble when broadcast to the world. Hutson is off to a brilliant start.”

The Girls in Queens by Christine Kandic Torres

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Girls in Queens: “Torres debuts with an incisive and keenly observed story of girls and women navigating life in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens. In 2006, narrator Brisma, a shy aspiring screenwriter raised by a single Puerto Rican mother and about to graduate from college, runs into her high school boyfriend Brian, now a college baseball player, at a Mets game. Later, as Brisma starts thinking of rekindling their romance, she learns he has been accused of sexual assault, which leads her to reconsider her relationship with him back in the ’90s, which began when she was 15, and to reflect on other sexual predators she knew of in her youth. Her past and present are both tangled not only with Brian but with her best friend, Kelly, an outgoing woman whose Colombian father has returned to his native country and whose Irish mother is in prison. Their resilient but volatile friendship forms the heart of the story and is tested after Kelly takes a different view of Brian’s accusers by offering him support, which makes Brisma feel betrayed. Even more impressive is the vibrant portrait of Queens, where gender, skin color, and ethnicity are prime factors in shaping the characters’ social positions. Torres hits every note perfectly. ”

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Flying Solo: “Holmes (Evvie Drake Starts Over) serves up a sweet romance with a side of mystery in this fun page-turner. Laurie Sassalyn, having recently called off her wedding and on the cusp of her 40th birthday, returns to her Maine hometown to clean out the house of her recently deceased great-aunt Dot. Sorting through Dot’s belongings, Laurie finds a wooden duck decoy and an old letter with an inscrutable reference to ducks. She investigates the story behind the decoy with the help of a few friends, including her high school sweetheart Nick. Laurie and Nick renew their romance, but to his disappointment, Laurie has no plans to stay in town or settle down. Meanwhile, Laurie hires a man to help clean out the house, but when he finds out the duck might have a connection to a famous artist, he swindles Laurie and buys it for much less than it’s worth. After she realizes her mistake, she and her friends hatch a harebrained scheme to recover the decoy. Holmes’s colorful cast of characters pop off the page, and the sure-footed plot entertains. Readers will be eager to see what Holmes does next.”

Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ghost Lover: “Taddeo (Animal) critiques late-stage capitalism in her smart if sometimes cryptic debut collection. In the title story, a woman spurned by her lover becomes famous after she creates an app that allows female clients to woo potential lovers through beautiful online Cyranos. An older woman in ‘Forty-two’ discovers that life is a numbers game when she learns her ex-lover is about to marry a younger woman. At a Malibu fund-raiser in ‘American Girl,’ three women—a busty waitress, a once famous actor, and a talk show host named Cremora (after the cream substitute)—all vie for the attention of an up-and-coming California politician. In ‘Air Supply,’ a hedonistic 18-year-old high school student and her best friend have their relationship tested during a portentous vacation in Puerto Rico. The stories are parts Didionesque anomie, American Psycho-ish brand invocation (Journelle, Dunhill, Barbuto), and a nonstop barrage of head-scratching non sequiturs masquerading as hip observations (‘Pastrami is the polar opposite of Los Angeles,’ according to the narrator of ‘Ghost Lover’). Though the affectless characters can start to wear a bit and begin to feel familiar, they reflect the author’s well-earned reputation for harnessing a vision of America populated by unfulfilled happiness seekers. This isn’t Taddeo’s best, but her fans will dig it.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Crosley, Gayle, Fajardo-Anstine, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Sloane Crosley, Caleb Gayle, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cult Classic: “Crosley (The Clasp) offers a witty and fantastical story of dating and experimental psychology in New York City. After Lola, 37, bumps into two exes in two days, she suspects it’s more than coincidence. Then her friend Vadis, with whom she used to work at a prestigious psychology journal, drags her to a meeting held by a secretive startup named Golconda run by their charming former boss, Clive Glenn. Clive is putting an obscure theory to the test involving meditation and technological manipulation, in which participants can lure people from their past for a final interaction and closure. Lola balks at the cultlike reverence the others show for Clive, as well as their New Agey vibe, but also hopes to clarify whether she really wants to marry her glassmaker fiancé, Boots. With Boots away for two weeks in San Francisco, she signs up and spends every evening having brief interactions with exes, then returning to Golconda for debriefing. When a stressed-out Clive says they only have funding for one final encounter, Lola discovers something unsettling about the experiment. The accounts of Lola’s reckoning with her romantic history are thoroughly hilarious (describing the rush of boyfriends past, she narrates, ‘I experienced these men as no one is supposed to experience them, as if being propelled from a T-shirt gun’), and the details of online dating, which made her ‘the victim of a metric ton of rejection,’ are also sharply perceptive, rooting this very much in the real world. Crosley has found the perfect fictional subject for her gimlet eye.”

We Refuse to Forget by Caleb Gayle

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Refuse to Forget: “Gayle, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, debuts with an illuminating look at racial dynamics within Creek Nation. In the decades before the Creeks were forcibly relocated from the southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, ‘Blacks could become formally adopted and identified as fully Creeks… when they put down roots in the Creek Nation.’ In 1866, a Black Creek leader named Cow Tom negotiated a treaty with the U.S. government that ‘gave certain Black people citizenship rights within the Nation.’ But the 1887 Dawes Act, which instituted a policy of determining Native American identity based on ‘a highly dubious measurement of how much ‘Indian blood’ one has,’ posed a significant challenge to Black Creeks, and the Nation’s 1979 constitution disenfranchised them. Gayle brilliantly untangles the interwoven threads of colonialism, racism, and capitalism by documenting the lives of Cow Tom’s descendants, including businessman and civil rights activist Jake Simmons Jr. and attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who is currently waging a legal battle to reinstate tribal citizenship for Black Creeks. Sharp character sketches, incisive history lessons, and Gayle’s autobiographical reflections as a Jamaican American transplant to Oklahoma make this a powerful portrait of how ‘white supremacy divides marginalized groups and pits them against each other.’”

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about God’s Children Are Little Broken Things: “Ifeakandu debuts with nine heartbreaking stories of gay men grappling with secret relationships in Nigeria. In ‘The Dreamer’s Litany,’ Auwal seeks help with his daughter’s medical bills from wealthy ‘Chief’ Emeka, with whom he’s having an affair; painful revelations follow. After Nonye’s father, Dubem, dies, she returns to Nigeria from the U.S., and uncomfortably accepts Dubem’s partner’s hospitality in ‘Where the Heart Sleeps.’ In the title story, Lotanna, a university student, has an up-and-down relationship with a music student, complicated by Lotanna’s visits with his volatile family and girlfriend. ‘What the Singers Say About Love’ includes a rare glimpse of a happy queer community amid a fraught story of two men whose relationship is tested after one, an aspiring pop singer, gets his big break. In ‘Mother’s Love,’ 34-year-old Chikelu’s mother misreads his grief over his ‘roommate’ Uchenna’s departure just before her visit, but the truth comes out in a surprisingly hopeful if uncertain ending. An understated style reflects the characters’ tendency to avoid speaking directly about their relationships, which encourages close reading and elicits a strong sense of what it is like for the characters to endure the perils of being gay in Nigeria. The author leaves readers with a painful and powerful group portrait.”

Exalted by Anna Dorn

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Exalted: “Dorn (Vagablonde) returns with a hilarious and surprising chronicle of astrology packed with sharp cultural commentary. Dawn, a recently dumped Leo with a drinking problem and a penchant for arson, alternates between quoting her court-appointed therapist and astrology memes from @Exalted, her favorite Instagram account. The page is run by Emily, a Scorpio and failed actor who spends her afternoons at a burlesque club and tries to do enough online chart readings to scrape together the rent. When Emily receives a request for a reading from a man named Beau Rubidoux, she is shocked to find that his astrological placements are ‘exalted,’ astrology-speak for ideal. Despite the fact that Emily believes astrology is a ‘scam’ yet still ‘divine’ (blame it on her Gemini moon—’so ideologically chaotic’), she becomes convinced Beau is the love of her life. Meanwhile, Dawn drinks too much, overstays her welcome at various gay bars and friends’ houses, and keeps tabs on @Exalted. Told from the alternating perspectives of Dawn and Emily, this salacious trip barrels through Southern California as the two women’s startling connection is finally revealed. The narrative conveys a deep knowledge of astrology, which the characters skewer with sharp-witted observations (‘Freud,’ Emily claims, ‘is just Astrology for men’). Compulsively readable, this consistently shocks and delights.”

Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O’Connell

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Just by Looking at Him: “O’Connell navigates internalized homophobia and ableism in his hysterical debut novel (after the memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves), a ripsnorter set in Los Angeles. Elliott, the protagonist, introduces readers to his ‘perfect’ boyfriend, Gus, whom he increasingly resents. After almost six years together, the two are in a rut of ordering takeout, drinking natural wine, and having dissociative sex. Elliott is living with cerebral palsy, and despite having a flashy job writing for television, he can’t help but think ‘modern life is hell.’ After an eyebrow-raising story from his boss involving hiring a sex worker, Elliott sets off on a trip of self-sabotage turned self-discovery, as he probes his relationships with sex and his body, alcohol, disability (‘I work very hard to appear palatable, easy to digest, the crostini of disability’), and his father. (Some of this may sound familiar to fans of O’Connell’s Netflix series, Special.) Here, O’Connell’s revelatory and charming humor adds dimension to a character who is unapologetic about his spiraling behavior despite claiming to know better. O’Connell leaves nothing on the table, and the result reads like a zippy, traffic-dodging trip up the 101 on a blinding afternoon.”

Fruiting Bodies by Kathryn Harlan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fruiting Bodies: “In Harlan’s enticing debut collection, primarily queer, female characters encounter surreal and fantastical situations. In the title story, the protagonist’s lover becomes mysteriously mycological, sprouting various types of mushrooms the partners can cook and enjoy—or use to poison an unwitting, uninvited guest. In the tense ‘The Changeling,’ two cousins kidnap the main character’s aunt’s hard-won ‘miracle baby,’ fearing he is a demonic doppelgänger. ‘Endangered Animals’ involves a road trip with two young women who share ambiguous and unpredictable feelings for each other. The story is set against a backdrop of the effects of climate change, and it offers a surprising twist. In another standout, ‘Is This You?,’ Maura is visited by versions of her former selves at various ages as her mother writes about Maura’s life, including a period of self-harm during Maura’s adolescence. Harlan’s prose is beautiful and vivid, and each story has elements of beauty and horror, evocative of, as the narrator of ‘Algal Bloom’ puts it, ‘nothing I had words for, like the end of the world.’ As that story’s protagonist defies the warnings against swimming in a potentially lethal pond, Harlan captures the essence of the collection: much splendor and quite a bit of squirm. This is well worth diving into.”

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Woman of Light: “Fajardo-Anstine’s impressive if underdeveloped debut novel (after the collection Sabrina & Corina) recounts the harrowing multigenerational adventures of a family originating in the ‘Lost Territory’ of late 19th-century New Mexico and arriving in Denver by the 1930s. Depictions of the Lost Territory are vivid and well-informed. Pidre Lopez, the family’s anchor and a Puebloan Indigenous person, settles in Animas, Co., where he runs a Wild West show. The author describes it wonderfully: ‘a pistol crack, a long rifle’s pinging bullet, the exasperated neigh of a horse.’ The narrative centers for the most part on seer Luz ‘Little Light’ Lopez, who leads a hardscrabble life in 1930s Denver with her aunt Maria Josie and her brother, Diego, a snake charmer and womanizer. Luz entrances with visions dredged from reading tea leaves, but her gift of seeing often portends ominous circumstances such as racist violence from the KKK. Luz uses her family connections to become a secretary in a law office where she finds herself in a love triangle with her attorney boss and a young mariachi musician. Unfortunately, Fajardo-Anstine’s Denver lacks the same historical precision she gives to the Lost Territory portions, and is limited to a few plugged-in period details. Despite the uneven effort, it’s clear this author has talent to spare.”

Also out this week: Papers by Violaine Schwartz (translated by Christine Gutman).

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Sedaris, Adelmann, Cross-Smith, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from David Sedaris, Maria Adelmann, Leesa Cross-Smith, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Happy-Go-Lucky: “Unrest, plague, and death give rise to mordant comedy in this intimate collection from Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day). The author covers rude service workers, difficulties in his own life, and goings-on in ‘Eastern Europe countries no one wants to immigrate to’ where ‘[T]hugs guard parked BMWs and stray dogs roam the streets…. There are cats too, grease-covered from skulking beneath cars, one eye or sometimes both glued shut with pus.’ He faces mask sticklers in a Target checkout line, sees a drunken mask scofflaw on a flight, and communes with BLM protesters while deploring their ‘lazy’ slogans. Much of the book has a dark edge, as it recounts the decline and death of his 98-year-old father; Sedaris voices still rankling resentments—'[a]s long as my father had power, he used it to hurt me’—and recounts his sister’s accusations that their father sexually abused her. As always, Sedaris has a knack for finding where the blithe and innocent intersect with the tawdry and lurid: ‘His voice had an old-fashioned quality… like a boy’s in a radio serial,’ he writes of a Nintendo-obsessed 11-year-old; ‘ ‘Gee willikers!’ you could imagine him saying, if that were the name of a video game in which things blew up and women got shot in the back of the head.’ Sedaris’s tragicomedy is gloomier than usual, but it’s as rich and rewarding as ever.”

How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How to Be Eaten: “Adelmann’s funny and poignant debut novel (after the collection Girls of a Certain Age) invokes classic and modern fairy tales to portray a group of traumatized women. Six women, all public figures, join a mysterious group therapy experiment facilitated by the handsome if preternaturally bland Will. Every Friday evening, they meet in a YMCA rec room to drink coffee and share their experiences. First up is Bernice, who was whisked into a whirlwind romance with a tech billionaire nicknamed ‘Bluebeard’ for his blue-dyed beard. Everything was great until Bernice discovered his secret habit of imprisoning and murdering women in his mansion. Then there’s Ashlee, a ‘survivor’ of a Bachelor-esque dating show; and Ruby, who as a child was swallowed by a wolf. Adelmann’s retelling of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ is particularly good; it involves Raina, the oldest of the group, and includes a stunning revelation during one of Will’s sessions of an imp-human sex scene. In the background is a running commentary about the power structure of narratives (‘Morals create a labyrinth of rules geared toward blaming the victim,’ says Bernice, quoting a woman who later became one of Bluebeard’s victims). Revisionist fairy tales are nothing new, but Adelmann’s are elevated by accomplished prose and wry humor. It’s a fresh and inventive gem.”

Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Yerba Buena: “In LaCour’s solid adult debut (after the YA novel Watch Over Me), two Los Angeles women navigate the uncertainties of their 20s and their complicated pasts. Sara Foster ran away from home at 16 after her girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances that may have involved Sara’s family. Now she’s a bartender whose signature cocktails are in high demand at the popular restaurant Yerba Buena. Emilie Dubois, who is part Creole, spent her early life as the ‘steady daughter’ and ‘good girl,’ but with a sister in and out of rehab, her parents getting divorced, and her grandmother dying, she begins to search for her authentic self rather than continue passing as white and straight. After Emilie takes a job designing flowers at Yerba Buena, she embarks on an affair with the married owner, Jacob Lowell, while Sara occasionally takes home women from the bar. Though the chemistry is palpable between Emilie and Sara, the story turns out to be less about a love affair than what the women each need for themselves. Sometimes the alternating points of view between Sara and Emilie feel interchangeable, but LaCour writes with beauty and clarity about how a relationship is not a substitute for the characters’ mutual need to love themselves. This doesn’t break new ground, but it gets the job done.”

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Walk the Vanished Earth: “Swan’s ambitious but flawed debut follows a family through many generations from the plains of Kansas to the sands of Mars. In 1873, Samson, an Irish immigrant, hunts buffalo on the prairie. In 1975, his descendant, a mute, 11-year-old girl named Bea, gives birth to a son named Paul, who becomes an engineer. In 2018, Paul devises a plan to rebuild New Orleans after it’s submerged in a worldwide cataclysm. In 2027, in the Floating City Paul helped design, Paul and his poet daughter, Kay, entertain David, who dreams of mankind finding a new home on Mars. In 2073, a nomadic Martian named Moon contacts survivors on Earth and considers becoming a mother, and a section set in 2046 delves into the lineage that connects Moon to Paul’s family. Swan has limited success with the sci-fi elements; the futuristic backgrounds fail to persuade, the technology involved in the characters’ journey from Earth to Mars is glossed over, and the choppy, nonchronological narrative muddies the water. On the other hand, Moon and the other characters are created with true depth of feeling, and the consideration of motherhood as its meaning changes over time lands as just short of epic. There’s a lot to admire, but it bites off a bit too much.”

Planes by Peter C. Baker

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Planes: “Inspired by the North Carolina Stop Torture Now coalition, Baker’s arresting debut charts the effects of rendition on an Italian Muslim convert and an American former anti-war activist. Amira, 32, feels like an outcast living in the small Rome apartment she once shared with her Moroccan husband, Ayoub, who was detained in Pakistan, then extradited and tortured for suspicion of unspecified crimes. When Ayoub returns after years of silence except for the redacted letters he sent to Amira, he is not the man Amira once knew, and though an American lawyer is working on his case, the future seems dubious for them both. Running alongside this narrative is the story of Melanie, a real estate agent in North Carolina who is cheating on her husband with Bradley, a member of the local school board. Bradley also happens to be the president of Atlantic Industries, a small Air America–style operation that stands accused of providing rendition flights. Now, Melanie becomes consumed with guilt over her hesitancy to help her old activist friends dig into Bradley’s shadowy activities. Baker masterly juggles the two concurrent story lines, never losing the urgency of either as Amira and Melanie grapple with hard truths and seek justice and indemnification. Along the way, the author digs deep into the nuances of love, pain, betrayal, and the promise of deliverance. This moving debut buzzes with relevance.”

Half-Blown Rose by Leesa Cross-Smith

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Half-Blown Rose: “A woman grapples with love and the emotional turmoil that comes with it in the long-winded latest from Cross-Smith (This Close to Okay). In Paris, 44-year-old Vincent works as an art teacher. She also makes jewelry, entertains friends in a posh apartment, and is embroiled in a love affair with Loup, one of her students. Though her life may seem like an expat’s dream, she’s there because her estranged husband, Cillian, published a bombshell of an autofictional novel revealing his past relationship with another woman, which involved a secret pregnancy. Now, Vincent emails with Cillian’s ex, Siobhan, and Cillian and Siobhan’s son, Tully, with whom she unexpectedly becomes fast friends. After Vincent’s work visa expires, she is forced to choose between her former life with Cillian and the new one she’s built in Paris. Cross-Smith offers a refreshing take on a woman’s story of midlife upheaval, but there isn’t much in the way of narrative momentum, and Vincent’s vacillation between Cillian and Loup ends up feeling like the author is merely spinning her wheels. This has its moments, but it’s not Cross-Smith’s best.”