This week, creating the solar system from scratch, murder and mayhem in the South, and a death row thriller. Plus: Rebecca Solnit's elegant, meandering essays.
Belmont by Stephen Burt (Graywolf) - Burt’s third poetry collection Belmont (named for Burt’s Boston suburb and the fictional suburb in The Merchant of Venice) explores themes of adulthood, parenthood, and personhood with tenderness, intelligence, and wonder. These are welcoming, entertaining poems full of rhetorical questions that are never bullying or glib: “Dear shepherd: do you have a staff?/ Dear effortful ones: how far are you wandering home?” This collection, full of heart and humor, demonstrates Burt’s impressive range and formal deftness.
The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels by Brian Fagan (Bloomsbury) - Data pulled from a diverse base of geological studies, archaeological finds, historical documentation, and modern reporting ground this broad and accessible survey of the interaction between rising sea levels and humanity over the past 9,000 years. Fagan, an emeritus professor of anthropology at U.C. Santa Barbara, explains that since the dawn of human society, people have struggled to reconcile the ocean’s value with its destructiveness.
The Hanging by Lotte and Soren Hammer, trans. from the Danish by Ebba Segerberg (Minotaur) - The Hammers, a sister and brother writing team, make their U.S. debut with this outstanding crime thriller, which introduces Danish Det. Insp. Konrad Simonsen. In a Copenhagen suburb, a gruesome scene awaits the eyes of two children in their school gym—the naked corpses of five men hanging from the ceiling, each suspended by a single rope, each with his face mutilated. When word leaks out that the dead men were all child molesters, public opinion shifts in favor of the killer, assumed to have taken revenge on behalf of the victims of abuse. The truth is less straightforward, and the inquiry is complicated by the apparent suicide of a key witness.
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (Grand Central) - In this entertaining and quirky throwback, journalist Koppel revisits the ladies who cheered and bolstered their men to victory in the U.S. space program from the late ’50s through early 1970s, revealing public triumph and rarely private agony. Beginning with the Mercury Seven mission and going forward, this is a great snapshot of the times.
Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown) - “Life in The Realms has fallen into a sort of ‘been there, done that’ kind of routine” for Joss, the seventh and least skilled son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. The Realms occupy the dark matter of the universe and keep the whole thing running; Joss’s job is to deliver pies for the Powers That Be (PTB), pies that hold “the very fabric of the universe together.” When 12-year-old Earth resident Annika accidentally rips Earth and its solar system out of the space-time continuum, Joss must recreate everything—from the ground up.
Anne Frank: The Biography by Melissa Müller, trans. from the German by Rita and Robert Kimber (Metropolitan) – This biography was originally published in 1998, but this expanded edition takes into account diary entries that had previously been redacted by Anne’s father, as well as recently discovered letters from Otto to relatives in the United States and unpublished documents provided to Müller during interviews with those who knew Anne and her family. This nuanced and valuable supplement to Anne’s diary eschews idealization, providing a fuller picture of a vibrant, willful, and soul-searching young woman.
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver (Crown) - At the start of Silver’s searing debut, Noa Singleton, a convicted murderer on Pennsylvania’s death row scheduled to be executed in six months, receives an offer of help from the most unlikely of sources—her pregnant victim’s mother, Marlene Dixon. A high-powered Philadelphia lawyer, Marlene has changed her views on the death penalty and will champion a petition to commute Noa’s sentence to life in prison—if Noa reveals what drove her to kill her one-time University of Pennsylvania classmate.
The Faraway Nearby: Essays by Rebecca Solnit (Viking) - Solnit fashions an elegant study in empathy through these meandering reflections on subjects as diverse as her mother’s descent into dementia, Che Guevara, and Solnit’s own “magical rescue” to Iceland for some months as resident at the Library of Water museum.
Nelson: The Sword of Albion by John Sugden (Holt) - Picking up where Sugden’s Nelson: A Dream of Glory, 1758–1797 left off, this superb warts-and-all biography details the awe-inspiring ups and downs of the final eight years of British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s life. Sugden’s meticulously researched, highly readable work will no doubt be the definitive portrait of a brilliant, fearless, inspiring warrior beset by flaws and vulnerabilities.
The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom (Grove) - Making brilliant use of a little-known chapter in America’s history, Wascom’s gripping debut captures the pioneer spirit, lawlessness, and religious fervor of the Southern frontier. In the Louisiana Territory in 1799, teenaged Angel Woolsack and his abusive, hellfire-preaching father encounter their equals: preacher Deacon Kemper and his sons. Mayhem and mastery ensues. Check out a Q&A with Wascom on the novel started as a short story.
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff (Little, Brown) - Zadoff shines in this violent, entertaining twist on the teen spy novel. His unnamed 16-year-old protagonist lost his identity when he was kidnapped and his parents murdered. Forced into a grueling training program, the teen now gets sent on undercover missions, befriending the children of powerful targets, getting invited to their houses, and killing their parents.