This week, we highlight new books from Kelly Rimmer, Abby Jiminez, and Kay Ryan.

Saving History: How White Evangelicals Tour the Nation’s Capital and Redeem a Christian America

Lauren R. Kerby. Univ. of North Carolina, $22 (208p) ISBN 978-1-469-65877-3

Kerby, religious studies scholar at Harvard Divinity School, explores in her excellent debut the historical and political narratives crafted and reinforced by Christian heritage tourism in Washington, D.C. Using field research and interviews, she discovers that tour guides and tourists share a common set of beliefs about the role of white Christian evangelicals in American history—formed through Christian nationalist literature, such as Peter Marshall and David Manuel’s 1977 bestseller, The Light and the Glory—which shape their encounter with D.C. long before they set foot in the capital. Kerby explains how white Christian evangelicals understand themselves as the rightful religious and political heirs of America’s founders, as moral leaders in exile, as victims of secularizing agents who seek to erase Christianity from the public square, and as rightful saviors of a nation in spiritual and political jeopardy. Her interviews reveal that Christian heritage tourism has an explicit political purpose, encouraging a “restorative nostalgia” in participants who are “tasked with learning the nation’s Christian history and using it to restore the nation to its previous Christian ideals.” Thoughtfully documenting and reflecting upon the contours of a uniquely American subculture, this ethnographic study will appeal to anyone interested in the pull of American Christian nationalism. (Apr.)

The Happy Ever After Playlist

Abby Jimenez. Forever, $12.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1564-2

Revisiting the quirky cast of her debut novel The Friend Zone, Jimenez combines sentimentality, sexiness, and humor in this remarkable rom-com about finding the courage to take a second chance on love. Sloan Monroe is still grieving the death of her fiancé two years earlier when she adopts a runaway puppy named Tucker. Caring for her new pet helps Sloan heal—until Tucker’s owner, Jason, finally responds to her messages. Jason is working overseas, so Sloan cares for Tucker until he gets back, with Jason texting and calling frequently to check in on his dog. After weeks of flirting over the phone, the two meet in person and Sloan discovers that Jason is really her favorite rock star, Jaxon Waters. As Sloan embraces their new romance, a demanding tour schedule makes finding stability harder than either of them thought. Sparking wit and vulnerable characters bring this story to life. Jimenez tackles deep emotions without ever losing sight of fun. Agent: Stacey Graham, Red Sofa Literary. (Apr.)

Lake Like a Mirror

Ho Sok Fong, trans. from the Chinese by Natascha Bruce. Two Lines, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-931883-98-6

Malaysian writer Ho’s excellent debut collection features women pushed to the margins of society. In “The Wall,” a highway construction project transforms a neighborhood. After a little girl who lived in a nearby apartment building is run over and killed, a barrier is built between the highway and the back of the apartment building. The life of a woman called “next-door aunty” is disrupted by the presence of the wall, which blocks sunlight and her back door. In Ho's sly fantastical tale, the aunty’s body gradually adjusts, becoming thin enough that she can slip through the foot of space between door and wall. In “Aminah,” a young woman with that name born to a Muslim father applies to the Syariah Court to leave Islam. The application is denied, and she is ordered to stay at a rehabilitation center. In her despair and frustration, she wanders the grounds at night in her sleep, naked, spurring crises of faith among the teachers and wardens. In “Wind Through the Pineapple Leaves, Through the Frangipani,” another Aminah lends further insight to resisting a Muslim rehabilitation center (“Reading from the Quran mends mouths, but they sin by mispronouncing syllables. They sin by secretly skipping pages”), and Aminah begins imagining a froglike angelic apparition. Ho's vivid imagination and keen eye for women’s pain, gracefully translated, are hallmarks of a deeply talented writer. (Apr.)

Creeping Jenny

Jeff Noon. Angry Robot, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-857668-40-0

Noon (The Body Library) remixes classic horror elements in this outstanding paranormal mystery, his third to feature British PI John Nyquist. In 1959, Nyquist receives an envelope of photographs from an unknown sender, one of which depicts Nyquist’s long-lost father. Seeking answers, Nyquist travels to the village of Hoxley, where the photos seem to have been taken. Hoxley’s residents are largely hostile to his visit and unhelpful in his investigation. Their community is bound by bizarre traditions, and every day they honor a different saint. On Saint Meade’s Day, for example, Hoxleyans refrain from speech, and on Saint Edmund and Saint Alice Day, they all wear masks and answer only to the names of Edmund or Alice. As Nyquist attempts to find out more about his father, Noon piles on the disquieting oddities, including a sinister plant called the Creeping Jenny, to build a palpably foreboding atmosphere. This creepy tale will delight fans of weird, understated horror from authors like Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Agent: Michelle Kass, Michelle Kass Associates. (Apr.)

Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest

Ian Zack. Beacon, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8070-3532-0

Zack (Say No to the Devil) celebrates the life of guitarist-vocalist-lyricist Odetta Holmes (1930–2008) in this fascinating first full-length biography of the musician. Odetta blended jazz, blues, country, and folk and influenced generations of musicians, including Joan Baez, Miley Cyrus, Bob Dylan, and Rhiannon Giddens. “Her soaring vocals and preternatural ability to inhabit the characters she sang about left her predominantly white audiences spellbound,” Zack writes. He traces Odetta’s life from her birthplace in Birmingham, Ala., to Los Angeles, where she received opera lessons at 13 and performed in musical and theatrical ensembles. By the mid-1950s, she was performing folk music in San Francisco and New York City nightclubs. Zack provides a complete discography of her seminal recordings, which includes Odetta Sings Ballads and Odetta at the Gate of Horn. Throughout this expertly researched biography, Zack shares testimonies of friends and fellow musicians, including Harry Belafonte: “the people who heard her became deeply committed to a force and something that she brought to the table that was so artful.” A political activist, Odetta performed at the 1963 March on Washington, after which she would earn the moniker “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.” Odetta fans will delight in this timely biography. (Apr.)

Apsara Engine

Bishakh Som. Feminist Press, $24.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-936932-81-8

Som’s provocative collection of short comics explores the idiosyncrasies of gender, desire, friendship, courtship, family, and culture through speculative fiction. Each of her eight stories, rendered in fine pen and exquisite watercolor, explores a different facet of life in distinct futures, with a focus on South Asian perspectives and cultures. “Apsara Engine” is the least narrative of the bunch, a puzzle-like mapped series of vignettes of futuristic people on the phone, in lust, and attaining nirvana. In “Throat,” a man is confronted with an acquaintance’s pet human/dog hybrid and finds it more intelligent than its owner believes, while “I Can See It in You” finds an interracial couple in strife after an impossible guest crashes a party. The resonant “Swandive” features two desi transgender people who meet at an academic conference, bond, and map out a glorious urban trans future in (literal) blood. Som’s delicate lines are turned to sharply expressive faces and gestures, with subtle sepia tinting the stories and luminescent, layered colors on chapter openers reminiscent of retrofuturistic stained glass. And the font is a precise cursive, as if pulled from an illuminated manuscript. Som is a master of pacing, letting the emotion of her scenes churn and roil in the reader; her debut heralds the rise of new talent to watch. (Apr.)

Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose

Kay Ryan. Grove, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8021-4818-6

Pulitzer-winner and former U.S. poet laureate Ryan (Elephant Rocks) delivers a brilliant essay collection. Each entry is an exploration into poetry, whether Ryan is revealing her own idiosyncrasies as a writer or considering the lives of poets, such as the eccentric Stevie Smith. Sympathetic to Smith’s celebration of the outwardly placid life of “regular habits,” Ryan warns fellow poets against favoring superficial novelty and tritely picturesque “Kodak” memories in their work, cautioning, “We must be less in love with foreground if we want to see far.” Meanwhile, in “A Consideration of Poetry,” she explains the inherent comedy in poetry. Her critical prose eloquently exposes a poem’s deeper meaning, looking, for instance, at how Gerard Manley Hopkins reshapes language in his poem “Spring and Fall.” Most remarkable is Ryan’s ability to illuminate in an unpretentious manner writers including Jorges Luis Borges, whose This Craft of Verse contains a “constant feeling of blurring, or interpenetration, of [literary] categories.” Much like her description of poet William Bronk’s work, this collection proves “there are moments of aesthetic transport which weld beauty to beauty, occasional angles which offer a glimpse of something endless and compelling.” For poetry enthusiasts and skeptics alike, this will be an inviting portal into the mind of one of America’s greatest living writers. (Apr.)

Truths I Never Told You

Kelly Rimmer. Graydon House, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-5258-0460-1

Postpartum depression impacts two generations of women in Rimmer’s illuminating tale of a family’s unspoken troubles (after The Things We Cannot Say). After taking fertility drugs for six years during the 1990s, child psychologist Beth Walsh feels that having Noah, now five months old, was a mistake, and fears she might purposefully harm him, thoughts she keeps to herself and finds especially disturbing. Beth welcomes the distraction of helping her three older siblings clean out the family home in Seattle as their father, Patrick, enters hospice care with dementia. In the attic, she finds journal entries from her late mother, Grace. Written in the 1950s, they leave an unsettling image of the seemingly perfect Patrick, describing his unhappiness and heavy drinking. As the siblings pick up on Beth’s depression and rally to get her help, their support contrasts with Patrick’s dismissive response to Grace’s “baby blues,” as evidenced in the journal entries. In Patrick’s dementia, he mistakes Beth for Maryanne, Grace’s sister, and tries to apologize for past wrongs, leading Beth to clues about her parents’ gloom. With a mix of engrossing mystery and deep feeling, Rimmer offers a harrowing account of a doomed mother’s experience in the ’50s and a family grappling with the truth. Rimmer’s suspenseful narrative will enthrall and move readers. (Apr.)

Grace from the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation after the Oklahoma City Bombing

Jeanne Bishop. Zondervan, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-310-35767-4

Bishop (Change of Heart), a public defender and human rights advocate, delivers the heartrending story of an unlikely friendship forged in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City domestic terrorist bombing. Bishop—who was raised in Oklahoma City, has a journalism degree, and is the sister of a murder victim—has followed the case closely. She brings sensitized, respectful attention to the story of Bud Welch, whose 23-year-old daughter, Julie, died in the bombing. Welch sought out another father: Bill McVeigh, father of Timothy McVeigh, the man who drove the truck bomb. Bishop underscores what the two fathers had in common: both had strong Catholic faith, and both lost a child as a result of the bombing. The author traces the influences on the two men and their children, who all grew up in a state where tornados, a history of land struggles, and church community were all mainstays of life, and then recounts the bombing and its emotional and legal aftermath, including the 1998 meeting of the men that led to their friendship. Readers should have tissues at hand before beginning Bishop’s affecting story. This incredible and empathetic story is a testament to the powers of forgiveness, fellowship, and redemption. Agent: Greg Daniel, Daniel Literary Group. (Apr.)

Calder: The Conquest of Space, the Later Years, 1940–1976

Jed Perl. Knopf, $60 (688p) ISBN 978-0-451-49411-5

Art critic Perl (Calder: The Conquest of Time) completes his magisterial biography of sculptor Alexander Calder (1898–1976) with this lavishly illustrated volume, revealing Calder’s transformation from playful American master to international figure. First achieving acclaim for his mobiles, Calder later gained notoriety for “monumental objects that celebrate the uprising of the human spirit.” Improvising a bohemian life in Connecticut with his wife, Louisa, during WWII, the artist welcomed refugee artists such as Marc Chagall, Piet Mondrian, and Andre Masson as he sculpted unconventional materials and space into what Calder called “a new form of art.” Calder later experimented with art forms in his constellations and sculptures depicting weightlessness (as with The Dancer and On One Knee). The artist gained international acclaim in the 1950s as foreign audiences “saw in his ebullient and sometimes downright idiosyncratic abstractions a bridge between the prewar and the postwar possibilities for abstract art.” In the 1960s, Calder received titanic commissions at Spoleto, Montreal’s Expo ’67, and 1968’s Mexico City Olympics for his monumental sculptural pieces. Calder admirers will delight in this exhaustively researched and illuminating retrospective. (Apr.)