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.
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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.”