This week, we highlight new books from Mary Robinette Kowal, Momus, and Ellison Cooper.
Bybee cushions a serious subject in a gentle tale of love and support in her endearing second Creek Canyon contemporary (after My Way to You). Erin Fleming escapes her abusive husband and assumes a new identity in Santa Clarita, Calif., but she’s afraid to think of her newfound safety as anything but temporary. Her landlady, Parker Sinclair, who series fans will be delighted to see again, quickly brings Erin into her family’s fold, despite Erin’s reluctance to reveal much of anything about herself. Parker’s boyfriend’s brother, firefighter Matt Hudson, crushes on Erin from the day he meets her and after a long, subtle flirtation, she warms up to him as well. Though Erin worries she’s not ready for a new relationship, Matt’s kindness and patience prove him the opposite of her ex. But when Erin’s past catches up to her, the happy life she’s built is thrown into danger. Despite the painful premise, Bybee skillfully avoids both melodrama and melancholy by grounding her characters in genuine emotion. Matt and Erin’s romance is sweet and spicy by turn, and readers will find it easy to root for them. This is Bybee in top form. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (July)
A pop semistar reminisces in the voices of great writers in this dazzlingly off-beat memoir. Momus, aka Nick Currie, a Scotsman who chose the name of the Greek god of mockery as his stage name, recalls life as an art-pop singer-songwriter and novelist (The Book of Jokes) celebrated for dark-edged, satirical lyrics; muttered vocals; and incongruously peppy beats. His narrative is a music industry picaresque, complete with grungy tours and art-school groupies, that falls gloriously short of superstardom. It’s also an inventive homage, presented as commentaries on Momus’s adventures in the personas and styles of dozens of writers, artists, directors and scientists. Thus, “James Joyce” probes Momus’s budding artistic sensibility, “Hemingway” recounts his experiences in Manhattan on 9/11, “Freud” analyzes his sexual fetishes (parading around naked), and “Alexander Graham Bell” also analyzes his sexual fetishes (obscene phone calls). Momus delivers spot-on impersonations—“[He] stared up at... the Gothic shard surrounded by glum stalactites of deadened hedge and the beetle-infested trunks of damp trees, its southern aspect confronting an endless hell of rugby pitches,” writes “Poe” of a sinister boarding school—with plenty of self-deprecating wit. (“For some reason, nobody wants to buy a concept album which mashes up the Red Brigades with The Sound of Music,” grouses British singer-songwriter “Viv Stanshall.”) This is that rare show-biz memoir that’s both entertaining and a literary triumph. (July)
Capitalism and religious fundamentalism collide in Girod’s shimmering account of one man’s heresy and imminent execution. In 2013, Syrian immigrants Mansour al-Jaziri, an architect, and his friend Hussein, an engineer, enjoy comfortable lives as members of the professional class in Saudi Arabia, with access to fast cars, booze, hashish, and friends in high places. As narrated by Hussein, their lives are abruptly changed when Mansour is struck with a headache, has a spiritual epiphany in the desert, and emerges mentally diminished. At a diplomatic affair in Riyadh, Mansour’s strange behavior intrigues the Australian socialite Nadine Nasr-Vaughan and her husband, an ex tennis star. Upon learning Mansour is jobless, the couple hires him as a live-in landscape architect. His subsequent affair with Nadine torments a jealous Hussein, and another employee reports his moral crime. Throughout, Girod neatly enmeshes the saga of Mansour’s great-great-grandfather, the religious and military leader Abdelkader, who struggled for Algerian independence and later attempted to make peace with the colonial French. Mansour’s epiphany mirrors his ancestor’s belief in enlightenment ideals of harmony and reconciliation—of East with West, art with science, man with God. Yet as Hussein observes, “even the purest of geometries breaks down, sometimes, into crude scribbles.” Girod’s incisive, sometimes terrifying tale illuminates colonial history and the fraught nature of Mansour’s ideals, gleaming as brightly in the believer’s eyes as on the blade above his head. (July)
Schneyer (The Law & the Heart: Stories to Bend the Mind & Soul) dazzles with this striking collection of 27 wide-ranging speculative stories. In the emotional “Keeping Tabs,” domestic abuse survivor Dorothy gets a direct line to her favorite actor, Pearl Mouton, through an implant that allows her to tune in to the star’s experiences. When the “tab” malfunctions, she witnesses Pearl’s husband abusing her and is determined to help her escape. The intimate “Dispersion” is the unsettling story of a daughter discovering that insects can voice the thoughts that her mother, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s, can no longer remember. “The Plausibility of Dragons” sends Malik, an itinerant Moorish teacher, and Fara of Hallstatt, a female knight, on a quest to kill a dragon. Toddlers carrying deadly diseases are used as instruments of war in the chilling “The Last Bombardment.” And in the satirical “Life of the Author Plus Seventy,” writer Eric Weiss cryogenically freezes himself to avoid paying a ballooning library fine in the year 2107. Each world is distinct and fully realized, and the astonishing variety of genre and tone on offer showcases Schneyer’s versatility. Inventive and resonant, this collection is sure to impress. (July)
Hugo and Nebula Award–winner Kowal expands her Lady Astronaut alternate history series with this stellar third installment, set in the 1960s, a decade after the devastating meteor strike that led to the creation of the International Aerospace Coalition in The Calculating Stars. Nicole Wargin, an ambitious, driven, and passionate Air Force pilot turned Lady Astronaut, leaves her husband, Kansas governor Kenneth Wargin, on Earth to become one of the first inhabitants of a colony on the moon. As the head of the colony’s security, Nicole works openly to establish a habitat for humanity on the moon, and covertly to counter the efforts of the “Earth First” terrorists, who are intent on sabotaging the IAC and humankind’s expansion into space. Between lunar security crises and figuring out who she can trust among her fellow colonists, Nicole must also work through personal issues, including her struggle with anorexia and her now long-distance marriage. Kowal effortlessly blends espionage, spacefaring adventure, and social fiction, paying particular attention to the details of life as a female astronaut in the 1960s. This is hard science fiction at its most emotional, intimate, and insightful. Agent: Seth Fishman, the Gernert Company. (July)
This profound and delightful novel-in-stories by Cuban poet Iglesias, her English-language debut, is a breathtaking exploration of identity, country, art, and family. Iglesias’s narrator slips with ease into a different voice in each chapter, though they all retain facets of her consciousness. In “Politics,” the narrator explores her relationship with Cuba through the reminiscences of her dead grandfather. “Monster” is written in a heightened bureaucratic voice, a formal choice that makes concrete the narrator’s stress as she navigates the emigration process. The chapters that follow reveal different aspects of the narrator’s identity—an erudite queer woman; a U.S. émigré; a poet with a deep knowledge of literary and musical history, and an all-consuming affection for her darling French bulldog. While the narrator worries about “being no one” or “accepting, that you are no one here and now,” Iglesias’s voice is too sure, too fresh, and too in command of form to be overlooked. Iglesias’s distinctive style carries her narrator on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery through langage. Agent: Austin Mueller, the Wiley Agency. (July)
In Thriller Award finalist Cooper’s exhilarating third outing for FBI agent and neuroscientist Sayer Altair (after 2019’s Buried), Sayer heads up a challenging, high-profile investigation into a hijacked bus carrying 24 high schoolers returning from a STEM fair in Washington, D.C. When a 17-year-old girl’s body is found on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences, she’s identified as one of the missing students. The ritualized staging of the corpse, carefully placed on the celestial map at the Einstein Memorial and surrounded by a circle of nine baboon figurines and a large axe, persuades Sayer it’s the work of a serial killer. The suspense mounts as the tally of victims rise, and the remaining hostages on board the bus plot an escape. Meanwhile, fake witnesses, misinformation, and false identities undermine Sayer’s hunt for the missing teens, and a shocking revelation tests her strength of character. The sharp, intricate story, full of chills and unexpected twists, will keep readers guessing to the end. Fans will hope to see a lot more of this smart, capable lead. Agent: Amy Tannenbaum, Jane Rotrosen Agency.
The House That Love Built: Why I Opened My Door to Immigrants and How We Found Hope Beyond a Broken System
In this eye-opening debut, Jackson, executive director of immigrant hospitality organization Casa de Paz, explores the second commandment—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—as it relates to the fraught topic of immigration. With only a firm conviction that love makes a difference and her 600-square-foot Denver apartment, Jackson opened her home in 2012 to immigrants separated from family due to their immigration status. Casa de Paz (House of Peace) has since expanded to a three-bedroom home where Jackson has provided nearly 3,000 strangers with meals, rooms, and transportation. Jackson shares encounters with people like Agustin, a loving father who has been separated from his children for over a year, and Alejandro, whose wife was arrested after returning from her brother’s funeral in Mexico. “I met beautiful families and saw the indignities they endured, the tears they cried, the absence of their parents or spouses, and I wondered: What does God think?” In the end, she challenges Christian readers to similarly open their hearts and address immigrant rights head-on. Jackson’s visionary account is a beautiful model of sacrificial love. (July)
Scioli (the Gødland series) injects oomph into the already-energetic life story of the “King of Comics” through sweeping narrative and Scioli’s trademark detailed page layouts. Told from the point of view of Kirby (1917–1994), the biography also acts as a history of the comics industry, from early strips to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beginning with Kirby’s hardscrabble upbringing in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (remarkably similar to the back history he later gave the Thing, one of his most endearing creations), Scioli extensively documents the artist’s career and personal life through a chummy and casual first-person narrative. Scioli recreates many of Kirby’s panels from superhero, war, crime, and romance comics—threaded through Kirby’s own experiences as a soldier and in love, for example—while his pompadour-adorned, wide-eyed figure of Kirby seems to pop from the page among a more realistically drawn supporting cast, just as his own heroes stood out as larger than life. Fans of Kirby’s most famous Marvel comics will especially enjoy recollections of his collaboration with Stan Lee, which established the Marvel Universe in the 1960s. This is a must-read for Kirby fans, and beyond—it captures the mythos of the of the 20th century comic industry’s golden age. Agent: Bob Mecoy, Creative Book Services. (July)