Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Benjamin Percy, Jean Chen Ho, Jessamine Chan, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Unfamiliar Garden: “Percy’s masterful second Comet Cycle genre-bender (after The Ninth Metal) combines a missing-person case, romantic reconciliation, and a riveting sci-fi what-if imagining of a sentient fungi, spawned by debris from a passing comet, that symbiotically absorbs flora and fauna—including human beings. On the day the comet swept Earth with a dramatic meteor shower, ‘fun dad’ Jack, a mycologist, took his eight-year-old daughter, Mia, on a mushroom study trip through a dank forest outside Seattle—where she vanished. This devastating loss breaks up Jack’s marriage to Nora, a type A police detective. Now, five years later, Nora investigates a series of eerie, ritualistic Seattle homicides, while Jack boozily self-destructs his academic career. The pair gradually reconnect by probing into the ominous fungal invasion—a line of inquiry that may lead them to Mia. Meanwhile, a sinister governmental operation attempts to militarize the fungus, developing it into a mind control serum. The juxtaposition of malignant military-industrial machinations and well-delineated human tension works wonderfully, and sci-fi fans will appreciate Percy’s extraterrestrial biological lore. It’s a thoroughly satisfying near-future glimpse of both disaster and salvation.”
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fiona and Jane: “In Ho’s intimate debut collection, two childhood friends, Fiona and Jane, grow up, grow apart, and then back together. The first story, ‘The Night Market,’ begins with 18-year-old Jane’s visit to her father in Taiwan. On her last night there, her father reveals he’s in love with his male friend Lee and that he will not be returning to Jane and her mother in Los Angeles. Reeling after this revelation, Jane reflects on her parents’ relationship and her own budding romantic feelings toward her female piano teacher. From there, the stories follow more or less chronologically, with ‘Go Slow,’ flashing back to an eventful night drinking soju at a strip mall Korean bar when Fiona and Jane are 16, then forward to Fiona’s ambitious move to New York with her boyfriend, Jasper, after college in ‘The Inheritance,’ while Jane stays in California. ‘Cold Turkey’ finds Jane grieving over her father and breaking up with her girlfriend. In later stories, Fiona leaves both law school and a cheating Jasper, and the old friends reconnect. Ho excels at creating characters whose struggles feel deeply human. This packs in plenty of insights about love and friendship.”
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The School for Good Mothers: “Chan’s enthralling speculative debut opens with a woman having ‘one very bad day’ in Philadelphia. Frida Liu, Chinese American and recently divorced, has left her daughter, 18-month-old Harriet, alone at home in an ExerSaucer for two hours so she can work, a decision that results in Harriet’s removal to a crisis center. Frida is then sentenced by a family court judge to one year in a live-in rehab program for bad moms that will use constant instruction, training, and supervision to determine if she can make ‘sufficient progress’ as a mother or if her parental rights should be terminated. Guided by the mantra ‘I am a bad mother, but I am learning to be good,’ Frida and the other 200 moms must prove their worth by raising surrogate children in order to earn their own children back. Chan raises the stakes as she explores Frida’s relationships with the other mothers, Harriet and Emmanuelle (her surrogate daughter), her ex-husband’s new family, and her romantic interests. Chan (a former PW reviews editor) also tightens the screws of the program itself as the leaders capriciously deny privileges, such as 10-minute Sunday phone calls home, and broaden the definitions for what’s considered an offense. Woven seamlessly throughout are societal assumptions and stereotypes about mothers, especially mothers of color, and their consequences. Chan’s imaginative flourishes render the mothers’ vulnerability to social pressures and governmental whims nightmarish and palpable. It’s a powerful story, made more so by its empathetic and complicated heroine.”
The Latinist by Mark Prins
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Latinist: “Prins puts a contemporary spin on the Apollo and Daphne myth in his laudable debut, which revolves around the relationship of a classical philology student and her unscrupulous mentor. Tessa Templeton is just weeks away from receiving her doctorate from Oxford when she discovers that her trusted adviser, Christopher Eccles, professor of classics at Westfaling College, has effectively sabotaged her budding career with a misleading recommendation letter that he sent to the universities she’d applied to for teaching positions—leaving her only option to accept a faculty job at Westfaling, where she would be subject to Eccles’s continued scheming and enamored attention. As Tessa attempts to free herself from his obsessive manipulation, she uncovers groundbreaking revelations regarding a second-century female Roman poet with a penchant for limping iambs that could propel her career into the stratosphere. Prins’s riveting tale of love, power, and possession matches deep characterization with an intriguing plot involving ancient texts, necropolises, and archaeological sites. Fans of academic thrillers will dig this.”
Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Velorio: “Navarro Aquino debuts with an elegiac and fervent ode to Puerto Rico that opens in the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, as people grow increasingly desperate for food, water, and gasoline. In the absence of effective government, a magnetic young man named Urayoán sees an opportunity to take power, and—supported by his red-shirted minions—founds a self-sufficient society called Memoria. Urayoán limits Memoria’s inhabitants to young adults and teens, and the novel follows several of them, first as they follow signs in search of Memoria, rumored to be ‘the center of all things,’ and later as they contend with Memoria’s growing violence and instability. There’s tough, independent Bayfish; his happy-go-lucky friend Banto; and Camila, who wanders the island, trancelike, carrying the corpse of her older sister, who was killed by a mudslide. The ambitious, polyphonic first half takes a little while to build steam, but once the characters gather in Memoria, the narrative takes off as Memoria threatens to collapse. Graphic, unsettling scenes of animalistic violence orchestrated by Urayoán are studded with moments of emotional clarity and grace. Throughout, Aquino’s characters grapple with all they have lost and wrestle with the temptation to feed their nostalgia for a place and a past that never really existed. This lyrical and emotionally raw story will leave readers reflecting on the pain and promise of memory.”