This week, we highlight new books from Breece D’j Pancake, Neal Gabler, and Lindsay McKenna.
A complex web of romantic entanglements forms the core of Jackson’s exhilarating third Cahills romantic suspense novel (after Almost Dead). Megan Travers has a vicious fight with her boyfriend, serial dater James Cahill, after which Megan goes missing and James wakes in a hospital room badly bruised and beaten, with no recollection of how he got there or the woman, Sophia Russo, who shows up insisting that she’s his girlfriend. James is also the main person of interest in Megan’s disappearance, but his memory loss holds up the investigation. Not buying the amnesia angle, Megan’s sister, Rebecca, another of James’s ex-lovers, arrives in Riggs Crossing, Wash., determined to find out what really happened. The memory of James’s passion for Rebecca turns out to be the only thing that can break through James’s foggy mind. The romance takes a back seat to the suspense as Jackson pulls the entire cast of kooky, nefarious townsfolk into the mystery of Megan’s disappearance, and the constant twists will keep the readers hooked. This is a nonstop thrill ride.
Haedrich (Dinner Pies), founder of the The Pie Academy website, delivers a substantial and highly informative volume on the popular dessert. Writing in a conversational tone, he provides detailed instructions for each aspect of pie making and includes suggestions for acquiring basic equipment (“My one beef with heavy ceramic or stoneware pans is that they’re often so thick that the crust doesn’t brown quickly enough”) and troubleshooting techniques (“Don’t roll toward yourself. That’s awkward,” he suggests to bakers who can’t keep dough round when they roll). There are also plenty of photographs to help readers become acquainted with essential pie-making steps, such as fluting the crust, blind baking the crust, and creating a lattice pattern. This recipe collection is bound to please bakers of all tastes with its impressive number of pie crust variations, such as flaky cream cheese, cornmeal, and a simple press-in crust. The bountiful assortment of fillings includes cherry-vanilla, maple custard, and kahlua fudge brownie. Readers will appreciate pie variations for specific fruits, such as apple: caramel apple slab pie with melted butter crumb topping, apple butter pie, and buttermilk pie with fried apple rings. This is an excellent resource for home bakers looking to up their pie game.
Sapkowski, author of the bestselling Witcher saga, sets a sharply detailed fantasy of magic, lust, and mayhem, the first in a new series, against the backdrop of the religious wars of the Renaissance as Czech Hussite reformers battle Catholic Inquisitors across Central Europe. Caught up in the cross-crusades, Reinmar of Bielawa, a scholar of medicine and magic, unwisely woos a married noblewoman, Adèle of Stercza, and must flee her husband’s kin when their tryst is discovered. When his pursuers realize they cannot catch him, they murder his brother instead and Reinmar swears vengeance. To the constant dismay of his companions—stoic Scharley, a paroled rebel, and hulking Samson, a supernatural creature trapped in a human body—Reinmar is impulsive, loyal to the point of foolishness, and frequently smitten (moving on from his infatuation with Adèle to an obsession with “the fair Nicolette”), making their plans to escape to Hungary less and less likely to succeed. Sapkowski’s love for the period is clear as he touches on notorious historical events and figures, including the Defenestration of Prague and printing press inventor Johannes Gutenberg. The carefully painted landscapes and intricate politics, meanwhile, effortlessly draw readers into Reinmar’s life and times. This is historical fantasy done right.
In this vibrant collection, Pancake’s quirky, indelible prose is shadowed by the poignancy of his personal history. An intense, artistic misfit from rural West Virginia, Pancake died by suicide in 1979 at age 26, four years before The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake was published. In the front matter, Jayne Ann Phillips claims Pancake produced “some of the best short stories written anywhere, at any time,” and James Alan McPherson notes how Pancake synthesized a Hemingway style with themes and characters inspired by his home state. And, indeed, the stories live up to the hype. Pancake balances muscular precision and economy with rich, evocative detail. In “The Mark,” a struggling couple brushes aside the difficulties of the wife’s pregnancy to take their prize bull, Pride and Promise, to a fair. “Fox Hunters” offers a bracing slice of West Virginia life, complete with junk cars in various stages of repair and an opossum or two. The successful protagonist of “The Salvation of Me” learns that you can’t go home again. In addition to the stories and five fragments, the book includes a lengthy section of Pancake’s letters, which reads like a memoir. With its impressive quantity of annotation and tribute, this omnibus offers Pancake fans a deeper look at the artist and will go a long way to inviting others to join this legion.
This stunning thriller from White (The Dark Bones) opens in February 2021 at the New South Wales, Australia, supreme court, where Ellie Cresswell-Smith is about to stand trial for the murder of her real-estate mogul husband, Martin. Flash back 16 months to the Agnes Basin, New South Wales, where senior constable Lozza Bianchi retrieves Martin’s stabbed, mutilated body from the sea. In another flashback, to early 2019, Ellie and Martin meet in Vancouver, Canada. Wealthy Ellie, who’s recovering from the drowning of her three-year-old daughter and a divorce, is smitten. Ellie marries Martin in Las Vegas, Nev., and they move to New South Wales, where she invests heavily in his resort development there. Meanwhile, she must deal with giant bats, poisonous jellyfish, and spiders, as well as Martin’s physical abuse and probable infidelity. The trial, Lozza’s investigation, and the events leading up to Martin’s murder are told in superbly imagined alternating narratives. Convincing character development and a denouement worthy of Agatha Christie make this a winner. White has outdone herself.
Bell (How the Duke Was Won) unites a bookish Lady looking forward to spinsterhood with a handsome carpenter in the sparkling launch of her Wallflowers vs. Rogues series. In 1830 Cornwall, Lady Beatrice Bentley struggles to complete work on an etymological dictionary at Thornhill House, her brother’s mansion, but is distracted by the presence of Ford Wright, a dashing rogue working on renovations to the estate. After Beatrice returns to London and reluctantly follows her mother’s command to attend the events of the season, she inherits a bookstore from an estranged aunt and determines to transform it into a haven for her companions in the Mayfair Ladies Knitting League. When Ford turns up in London hoping to consult with Beatrice’s brother on business, Beatrice hires him to complete repairs on the shop. As the pair spend more time together, Ford’s teasing of Beatrice turns into a genuine infatuation with her intelligence and caring, though he believes she will never return his affections because of their class disparity. But Beatrice blossoms through her friendship with Ford, learning to stand up to her mother, exert her independence, and go after what she wants. Witty, insightful dialogue and expertly developed characters fill the chapters of this page-turner. Gripping and emotionally charged, this romance promises more good things from the series to come.
Journalist James, the author of two novels under the pen name Kemble Scott, makes his nonfiction debut with this gripping, meticulously researched account of the 2003 Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., that killed 100 people. On February 20, 2003, pyrotechnics used by the band Great White ignited the walls and ceiling of the Station nightclub, and flammable acoustical foam spread the fire within minutes. In the aftermath, the public was incensed by the loss of life and furious that only three people were indicted. The Station’s owners, brothers Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, and band tour manager Daniel Biechele all made plea deals and received short sentences. Michael served four years in prison, Jeffrey had his sentence suspended, and Biechele served less than four years. But plenty of others shared the blame, notes James, including the fire marshal who certified the building as safe and the manufacturer of the acoustical foam. The only solace for many of the survivors would come from civil suits that were settled by the companies involved for tens of millions of dollars. James draws on his knowledge of the state’s politics and interviews with the principal players to present a complete, affecting picture of the tragedy’s terrible human cost. This is essential reading for true crime fans.
Harvey (Bounds of Their Habitation), professor of history at the University of Colorado, offers an illuminating account of the life and legacy of Howard Thurman (1899–1981), the grandson of a slave who became a well-known preacher, teacher, author, mystic, and mentor to a generation of civil rights activists. Harvey recounts Thurman’s drive for educational advancement despite numerous obstacles—his hometown of Daytona, Fla., lacked a high school for Black students—and the learning and leadership opportunities he pursued at the YMCA, Morehouse College, and Rochester Theological Seminary. Later chapters cover Thurman’s six-month trip to India in 1935 as part of the American Christian Student Movement’s “Negro delegation,” during which he met Gandhi; his career as dean of the chapel at Howard University and, later, Boston University; and his efforts to establish an interracial church in San Francisco. Harvey astutely unpacks the development of Thurman’s understanding of Christian faith, which was greatly influenced by the spirituals and Quaker thought, defied Baptist orthodoxy, incorporated mysticism and pacifism, and led to his seminal work, Jesus and the Disinherited, which influenced Martin Luther King Jr. This should go far to raise the profile of a lesser-known spiritual leader whose writings, sermons, and mentorship helped lay the foundation for the civil rights movement.
Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy was not a callow afterthought to his larger-than-life brothers, but “the most consequential legislator of his lifetime” and an embodiment of liberalism’s strengths and tragic weaknesses, according to this sweeping first installment in a planned two-volume biography. Cultural historian Gabler (An Empire of Their Own) recaps Kennedy’s many years of patient, incremental lawmaking on immigration, the Voting Rights Act, health insurance, and campaign finance. He also situates Kennedy in a larger narrative about the dismantling of the “post–New Deal modern liberal consensus” as liberalism’s “moral authority” was undermined by the Vietnam War, which Ted Kennedy was slow to oppose; by public perceptions of liberals’ ethical laxness and irresponsibility, which were stoked by Kennedy’s handling of the car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick in 1969; and by liberals’ failure to bridge the gap between their civil-rights agenda and the racial resentments of the white working-class part of their base. There’s plenty of drama and pathos, including a riveting recreation of physical attacks on Kennedy by mobs of Boston anti-busing protesters, but Gabler pierces the haze of glamour surrounding the Kennedy clan to get at the substance of the politics they personified. This elegantly written and shrewdly insightful account is a must-read for political history buffs.
McKenna (the Wind River Valley series) launches her Silver Creek series with this stirring work of romantic suspense. Talented 29-year-old woodworker Lea Ryan takes a job renovating Logan Anderson’s Wild Goose Ranch in Silver Creek, Wyo. On her way there, her truck is rammed in a hit-and-run accident, and it’s the strapping Logan himself who rescues her from her totaled vehicle. As Lea recovers from her minor injuries and becomes immersed in her work on Logan’s ranch house, she and Logan grow close: he opens up to her about the death of his wife and unborn daughter, and she shares details of a traumatic incident from her teen years that left her wary of men. Their growing connection is only heightened by a mounting element of danger: a man who wants Logan’s land for fracking starts sending increasingly violent threats. Logan’s determination to keep Lea safe will please fans of the genre, while Lea’s bravery and passion for the environment make her an admirable character. The romance is slow to evolve but rich with emotion and intensified by suspense. Readers will be excited to see where McKenna takes the series next. Agent: Claire Gerus, Claire Gerus Literary.