This week, we highlight new books from Jane Hirshfield, T.J. Klune, S.A. Jones and more.


Jane Hirshfield. Knopf, $27.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-5256-5780-4

From the opening poem, “Let Them Not Say,” to the closing, “My Debt,” the masterful ninth book from Hirshfield (Come, Thief) is an account of how “We did not-enough” to save the world. Most poems are no longer than a page, though some are considerably shorter (“My Silence” is only a title). They are set against a page and a half of prose in the middle of the book about “Capital” which, for the writer, is language “as slippery as any other kind of wealth.” Through this juxtaposition, Hirshfield urges a reckoning of human influence on—and interference with—the planet. In “As If Hearing Heavy Furniture Moved on the Floor Above Us,” she begins: “As things grow rarer, they enter the ranges of counting” and ends, underscoring humanity’s obliviousness: “We scrape from the world its... wonder.../ Closing eyes to taste better the char of ordinary sweetness.” Hirshfield suggests that people are unable, or unwilling, to comprehend their role in their own destruction: “If the unbearable were not weightless we might yet buckle under the grief.” Hirshfield’s world is one filled with beauty, from the “generosity” of grass to humanity’s connection to the muskrat. This is both a paean and a heartbreaking plea. (Mar.)

That We May Live: Speculative Chinese Fiction

Dorothy Tse et al. Two Lines, $16.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-949641-00-4

This remarkable anthology of Chinese speculative fiction offers seven tales of societal responsibility and individual freedom. In “A Counterfeit Life” by Chen Si’an, translated by Canaan Morse, a man becomes the leader of a subtle labor revolution. Two stories by Enoch Tam, both translated by Jeremy Tiang, dive deep into evocative settings: in “The Mushroom Houses Proliferated in District M” a town plants giant mushrooms for shelter, while “Auntie Han’s Modern Life” revolves around a shopkeeper in a strange, changing district. Gender and self-determination lie at the core of both “Sour Meat” by Dorothy Tse, translated by Natascha Bruce, and “Flourishing Beasts” by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang. In Zhu Hui’s “Lip Service,” translated by Michael Day, a charismatic aging news anchor plots to keep her job, and in “The Elephant,” by Chan Chi Wa, translated by Audrey Heijns, the mysterious disappearance of an elephant throws a town into chaos, leading to a thorough exploration of authority and trust. By turns cryptic and revealing, phantasmagorical and straightforward, these tales balance reality and fantasy on the edge of a knife. This provocative sampler of Chinese fiction is both challenging and rewarding. (Mar.)

When You Were Everything

Ashley Woodfolk. Delacorte, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5247-1591-5

Ever since she and her best friend stopped speaking, Cleo has felt “haunted” by the past. Things started going wrong sophomore year, when Layla, who stutters except when she’s singing, auditioned for chorus. The glossy girls in chorus don’t think much of dreamy, Shakespeare-loving, decidedly casual Cleo, and as the girls grow apart, they both behave badly, exchanging harsh words and spreading tit-for-tat rumors. Woodfolk (The Beauty That Remains) depicts an inclusive group of teenagers (Cleo is black, Layla is Bengali, other key characters are black, white, and Asian) with complicated lives: Cleo’s parents are splitting up; there’s a cute, smart new guy in school she might like; she gets stuck tutoring Layla; and making—and trusting—new friends is a challenge. The richly detailed first-person narration moves back and forth in time, opening with Cleo’s realization that she has to start living in the present. It’s a satisfying coming-of-age friendship story, with Cleo learning to stop seeing people as all good (her father, past Layla) or all bad (her mother, current Layla), and that change can be exhilarating rather than disastrous. Ages 14–up. Agent: Beth Phelan, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Mar.)

The House in the Cerulean Sea

TJ Klune. Tor, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-21728-8

Quirk and charm give way to a serious exploration of the dangers of complacency in this delightful, thought-provoking Orwellian fantasy from Klune (Heartsong). Caseworker Linus Baker of the Department in Charge of Magical Youths (DICOMY) believes he is doing right by the preternaturally gifted children placed in DICOMY-sanctioned orphanages. But Linus begins to question DICOMY’s methods when the ominous Extremely Upper Management tasks Linus with evaluating the isolated Marsyas Island Orphanage and reporting not only on the island’s extraordinary children—among them a female gnome, a blob of uncertain species who wants to be a bellhop, and a shy teenage boy who turns into a small dog when startled—but also on the orphanage master, Arthur Parnassus. The bonds Linus forms with the children and the romantic connection he feels for Arthur set Linus on a path toward redemption for the unwitting harm he caused as a cog in an uncaring bureaucratic machine. By turns zany and heartfelt, this tale of found family is hopeful to its core. Readers will revel in Klune’s wit and ingenuity. Agent: Diedre Knight, The Knight Agency (March)

How to be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet

Sophie Egan. Workman, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-5235-0738-2

Egan (Devoured: How What We Eat Defines Who We Are), a contributor to the New York Times’s Well blog, offers a “radically practical” approach to eating both ethically and well in her insightful book. Using a three-question framework—asking whether something is good for oneself, for others, and for the planet—Egan presents thought-provoking ways to consider food choices, such as how much water a particular food item requires to produce. For instance, a handful of almonds require 23 gallons of water, while a stick of string cheese needs less. But cheese’s carbon footprint is higher, and the nuts are healthier. Or one could opt for peanuts, which use less water than other nuts and are more affordable to boot. The section on seafood encompasses not only safety (via checking but the effect on ocean habitats as well as fair wages for fishermen. Egan displays a talent for making the environmental complexities of food choices comprehensible, so that even discussions of food waste are intriguing. Setting a positive and encouraging tone throughout, she provides a thorough primer to combining health consciousness and environmental responsibility. Agent: Danielle Svetcov, Levine, Greenberg, Rostan Literary. (Mar.)

Broken Glass: Mies van der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight over a Modernist Masterpiece

Alex Beam. Random House, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-59271-3

Beam (The Feud) interweaves architectural history and personal drama in this enthralling account of the construction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, revealing how two friends designed one of America's most widely recognized residences before descending into bitterness and strife. At a 1945 dinner party, physician Edith Farnsworth asked renowned avant-garde architect Mies van der Rohe to design her a weekend home on a beautiful wooded plot next to the Fox River in Plano, Ill. Inspired, he designed a transparent home composed almost entirely of glass and steel to "let the outside in." The two became intimately involved, spending weekends together crafting the design and motivating rival architect Philip Johnson to design the Glass House in New Canaan, Conn. Architectural problems and skyrocketing costs (the total cost ballooned from $40,000 to over $70,000) drove a wedge between Farnsworth and Mies van der Rohe, with Farnsworth publicly denigrating Mies van der Rohe's work before he sued her for unpaid fees, which turned into four years of legal wrangling after the house was completed in 1951. This engrossing page turner is a portrait of two complex people and a fascinating history of a modern architectural masterpiece. (Mar.)


TaraShea Nesbit. Bloombury, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63557-322-0

Nesbit (The Wives of Los Alamos) cleverly recasts pilgrim history in this deeply enjoyable novel of murder in Plymouth Colony, Mass. To those living in Plymouth in 1630, the colony is not the land of freedom they’d envisioned. The Puritans hold an iron grip on religious observations, alienating the Anglicans among them, while the colonists haven’t received the benefits promised to them, such as land. John and Eleanor Billington, former indentured servants, distinguish themselves as rebels in the colony, never hesitating to point out inequities and hypocrisy, particularly those of prominent settlers William and Alice Bradford and the storied Myles Standish. After the arrival of John Newcomen, a new settler who’s been promised land belonging to the Billingtons, more than one person ends up dead. Capturing the alternating voices of the haves (the Bradfords, Newcomen) and the have-nots (the Billingtons), Nesbit’s lush prose adds texture to stories of the colony’s women, and her deep immersion in primary sources adds complexity to the historical record. Fans of Miriam Toews’s Women Talking will eagerly devour this gripping historical. Agent: Julie Barer, The Book Group. (Mar.)

The Fortress

S.A. Jones. Erewhon, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-64566-002-6

Jones (Isabelle of the Moon and Stars) gracefully combines the mythic with the deeply human in this rewarding fantasy about the transformative potential of freeing society from patriarchal power. Executive Jonathon Bridge is entrenched in contemporary rape culture, happily cheating on his pregnant wife with assistants and interns at his office, taking their consent for granted and not considering the power dynamics at play in these trysts. When his wife discovers his behavior, Jonathon hopes to regain her trust and prove his capacity to be a good father by volunteering as a supplicant at the mysterious, matriarchal Fortress, a sovereign nation of women existing along side his present-day world. He will spend a year in highly controlled, ascetic service within the Fortress, where the guiding principles are “Work. History. Sex. Justice.” Explicit scenes of men in humiliating sexual service to the women of the Fortress veer into the territory of feminist revenge fantasy, but the primary tone of the book is one of compassion as the focus remains on Jonathon’s slow, sometimes dark, emotional journey. Jones’s radical, detailed vision of what extremes it might take to unlearn misogyny is rendered with insight, immediacy, and painful honesty. This gut-punch of a story is sure to start conversations. (Mar.)

Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA

Neil Shubin. Pantheon, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-101-87133-1

Making complex scientific ideas both accessible to and enjoyable for the general public is a rare skill, but one that Shubin (Your Inner Fish), a University of Chicago biology professor, has mastered in his eloquent survey. He explores two complex and related evolutionary questions: how organisms bearing no immediately perceptible resemblance to each other—such as dinosaurs and birds—can be closely related; and how new traits—such as feathers or lungs—can appear. Writing for a lay audience, Shubin takes a historical perspective and describes the gradual accumulation of scientific knowledge. He explains that Darwin, without possessing the data available today, grasped that body parts evolve through “a change in function.” In recent years, genetic testing on fish with lunglike organs has revealed that “lungs aren’t some invention that abruptly came about as creatures evolved to walk.” Instead, lungs already existed in certain species of fish, but changed function when their descendants became land-dwellers. Shubin also covers discoveries about the genetic mechanisms behind such changes, such as studies pinpointing the specific areas in DNA that turn genes on and off during fetal development. This superb primer brings the intellectual excitement of the scientific endeavor to life in a way that both educates and entertains. (Mar.)

In Bed with the Earl

Christi Caldwell. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4257-4

The exceptional first Lost Lords of London Victorian era romance by Caldwell (the Heart of a Scandal series) circles an intriguing central mystery. Thirty-year-old newspaper reporter Verity Lovelace searches for a long-missing earl in order to secure a scandalous story and ensure her spot at the paper and the income that supports her, her sister, and their childhood nursemaid. Malcolm North, the Earl of Maxwell, was kidnapped as a child and has not been seen since. Twenty years later, Malcolm has no memory of his lofty origins, having grown up among a society of street fighters and scavengers in London’s sewers. Caldwell wastes no time establishing her vivid, distinctly stratified vision of Victorian London, pulling readers in to the world of her formidable protagonists. As desperate, determined Verity struggles to hold her own within the male-dominated newspaper office, Malcolm navigates the London underworld and slowly realizes the truth of his identity. When Verity’s investigation leads the pair to meet, their sexual tension is palpable, but more impressive is the heartwarming emotional connection that grows between them. This series launch is an intoxicating romp sure to delight fans of historical romance. (Mar.)