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).

Against Reason with Margo Jefferson

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At Vulture, Margo Jefferson discusses her new memoir, Constructing a Nervous System, and how she worked to shake the “haute bourgeoisie” habits of her childhood. “There was a certain well-behaved manner even when I was arguing, standing firm, that I didn’t want to stay in thrall to,” she says. “I was talking about this with a student of mine the other day who was Black and was writing about race. And I said, ‘There are moments where you are very good. But you are working a little too hard to be reasonable and obliging, to make it something that your audience will be able to move toward. I don’t want you to do exactly the opposite, but look at what this is doing.’ So now transfer this back to me: ‘Margo artfully switched it to a student!’”

Jenny Tinghui Zhang on Tuning Out Publishing Noise

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At Write or Die Tribe, Jenny Tinghui Zhang discusses her debut novel, Four Treasures in the Sky, and shares advice for emerging writers trying to finish their books. “Don’t get distracted by the progress of others and that’s a roundabout way of saying, you know, don’t compare yourself to the progress of others or what others are doing,” she says. “Don’t feel panicked or in distress because something good is happening for someone else. You know, they got an agent or they sold their book or whatever it is. The goals that you have and the work that you’re trying to do, remember that you’re the only one that can tell the story you want to tell. I hate to use this platitude, but it really is a marathon and not a sprint for people who want to be writers and write books. That’s a lifelong thing. That’s a lifelong journey. And hopefully, you will write many books over the course of your lifetime. I certainly hope I write more books after this one. But zoom out from all of the announcements on Twitter and all the book news on Instagram. This is our life’s work. So just remember that you have all of your life to make it happen for yourself.”

Mai Al-Nakib and the Power of Not Belonging

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At Electric Literature, Mai Al-Nakib discusses her debut novel, An Unlasting Home, a family saga that follows generations of women across Kuwait, the U.S., India, and more. “There is a degree of empowerment in not belonging; it allows you to pivot and to create possibilities for yourself that are often fruitful,” she says. “This is the case for Maria, moving herself from Goa to Pune and then to Kuwait, making a life for her children that would not have been possible without her capacity to tolerate non-belonging.”

Characters on Fire with Sandra Cisneros

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At World Literature Today, Sandra Cisneros discusses her forthcoming poetry collection, Woman Without Shame, and why she is attracted to writing about characters and stories with an urgent quality. “I write about people whose lives are on fire,” she says. “If you think of people you love who are living in houses on fire, would you run in and save them? Yes, you would risk your own being. So, I think about people whose lives are on fire. Maybe you know them so well. Maybe you lived in that house once. You think nothing of running in there and saving them. And that’s what’s on your mind.”

The Banning of ‘Persepolis’ Spawns a New Legacy

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Book Riot reports on the history of book banning and censorship in relation to Marjane Satrapi’s influential graphic novel, Persepolis. Its legacy continues in an upcoming graphic nonfiction work called Wake Now In the Fire, written by Jarrett Dapier and illustrated by AJ Dungo. “In 2013, library science graduate student Jarrett Dapier filed a Freedom of Information Act request that made public the Chicago Public School district’s attempt to quietly remove Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi from school libraries and classrooms. […] News of the banning caused a public outcry, especially after Dapier brought his finding to the news and the ALA. Now, Dapier is turning this story into its own graphic nonfiction work called Wake Now In The Fire. It’s illustrated by AJ Dungo and follows a group of Chicago high school students who fight back against the attempts at censorship in their own school.”

Janice Lee Explores the Worldview of a Sentence

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At Catapult, Janice Lee explores story structures at the sentence level, as seen in her recent novel, Imagine a Death. “We often glean meaning from the overall structure of a story, the narrative shape revealing something about subjects like reality, transformation, life and death. But before the story, there is the sentence. Across cultures and languages, the subject/object and noun/verb relationships we see in English are neither universal nor inherent. Not all languages focus on a subject’s action upon an object (many Asian languages, for example, put the emphasis on the verb, rather than the subject coming first), and many indigenous languages have an increased focus on verbs, rather than nouns. […] The sentence itself can reveal an entire worldview through the shape it assumes, through the relationships it maps, which ideological systems it upholds, what power structures it validates simply through its grammar.”