This week, we highlight new books from Simon Read, Matthew Ward, and Valzhyna Mort.
In 2019, Hannah Maloney, the heroine of this riveting thriller from bestseller Moretti (The Vanishing Year), is living in Virginia with her fiancé, Huck, when she receives a phone call letting her know that her aunt Fae has been in a car accident. Though Hannah hasn’t spoken to Fae in 17 years, she’s listed as Fae’s emergency contact. After Hannah and Huck arrive at Brackenhill, her aunt Fae and uncle Stuart’s castle home in the Catskills, Hannah learns that Fae has died from her injuries, and Stuart is gravely ill with cancer. Hannah and her sister, Julia, used to spend summers at Brackenhill, until the summer 17 years earlier that Julia disappeared. When Hannah’s dog uncovers a human bone on her aunt’s property, the police, led by police officer Wyatt McCarran, who was Hannah’s first boyfriend in their teens, investigate, though Hannah is sure the bone is her sister’s. Meanwhile, Hannah has disturbing dreams and episodes of sleepwalking, and she’s again attracted to Wyatt. Flashbacks to the summer Julia vanished heighten the suspense. Fans of gothic mysteries with a touch of the supernatural will be richly rewarded.
The vibrant poems on animals and nature for which Petit (Mama Amazonica) is rightfully known are fully realized in this dazzling work. Petit considers her family history, her grandmother’s Indian heritage, and the folklore that fills the speaker’s mind with images of animals, night markets, and shouting vendors. Petit’s gift for luminous juxtaposition shines: “The night is black as bear fur// its muzzle bleeding after eating honey/ baited with explosives.// How many rupees for the galaxies/ in a gallbladder?” Later, in the poem “In the Forest,” she describes the hide of a creature as “arabesques of bulldozed gardens,” declaring, “If it were possible to remake the creature/ from its pelt, I would do it// but the man sold the pelt/ because his family was hungry.” Petit’s poems are rich with such dramatic turns, offering her glorious imagery momentum. “My grandmother... for whom I would weed the world,” she recollects in one of the many poems that draw their energy from the woman she describes as “a hybrid rose... her face the map of India when it’s summer,/ the map of Wales in winter.” This mesmerizing collection is full of delights.
Eight years ago, Virginia “Ginny” Crane found her life upended: her mother abandoned the family, and an earthquake, “the Big One,” tore the western U.S. asunder. Now, Vietnamese American Ginny lives with her father, Gregory, and her brothers, Wes and Harry, in this nearly postapocalyptic world: everyday technology such as cell phones may be gone, but mail carriers use a scanner to verify the DNA of mail recipients; North vs. South mentalities are replaced by West vs. East; and cannibals created by Jinx Root, a new plant that can heal those near death at the cost of their sanity, harass survivors. When Ginny receives a package for her 18th birthday, she embarks on an emotional odyssey to San Francisco to find her mother, Odessa, accompanied by her stowaway brothers. Their journey becomes rife with obstacles as they navigate competing gangs and their own sibling rivalry. Reconnections with friends, including a girl who has a long-standing crush on Ginny, buoy her along the way. Making his #OwnVoices debut, cartoonist Hill fully realizes the destroyed world in two-toned art, and packed layouts deliver consistently strong, emotive reactions from the cast. Ginny’s skillfully laid transformation as she bonds with her brothers is an impactful contrast to the harsh, sometimes unforgiving world in this powerful graphic novel.
Historian Holland (Normandy ’44) chronicles the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily in this expert account. In 38 days, 160,000 American, British, and Canadian troops overcame geographical challenges and fierce German resistance to reach the Straits of Messina. Holland documents how Allied commander Gen. Sir Harold Alexander arrayed his invading forces; recounts how the Tuskegee Airmen helped counter the Luftwaffe; notes cooperation between American intelligence agents and local Mafia dons; and argues that the Sicily invasion provided crucial lessons for the D-Day landings in Normandy. Holland also offers astute assessments of commanders Bernard Montgomery (“highly competent” yet seemingly unaware of his “appalling rudeness”) and George Patton (“obsessed with fears of failure and his own mortality”) and includes the perspectives of frontline combatants and eyewitnesses, including Canadian infantryman Farley Mowat and American reporter Ernie Pyle. Aspects of the Sicily campaign, Holland writes, recalled the trench warfare of WWI; one of the final battles, for the mountain fortress of Troina, was “a terrible, bloody slugging match,” where “horrendously depleted” German forces matched “every act of astonishing heroism from the Americans.” Marshalling a wealth of primary and secondary sources into an engrossing narrative, Holland fills a yawning gap in histories of WWII. This magisterial account is a must-read for military history fans.
Historian Read (Winston Churchill Reporting) delivers an action-packed and vividly written rundown of how Allied forces sank Germany’s four most dangerous battleships during WWII. The Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Bismarck, and Tirpitz “posed a mortal threat to Britain’s survival,” Read writes, endangering the island nation’s access to food and raw materials as well as its ability to supply the Allied war effort overseas. After the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and its destroyer escorts, killing more than 1,500 British sailors and airmen, Read notes, the German ships went on to destroy or seize “more than 115,000 tons of Allied shipping” over a two-month period in 1941. Read also describes the sinking of HMS Hood by the Bismarck (“vertical to the sea like some massive gray tombstone, she loitered for a moment before slipping beneath the waves”), and the public calls for revenge that led to an all-out effort to discover and sink the German warship. A daring attack on the dry-docked Tirpitz by British commandos failed, but RAF bombers eventually destroyed it in 1944. Drawing on firsthand accounts from Allied and German sources, Read recreates the demise of each German warship in gripping, often poignant, prose. WWII buffs and naval history fans will be spellbound.
This stellar 1932 mystery from Queen (the pen name of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) takes Manhattan amateur sleuth Ellery Queen to Arroyo, W.Va., to look into the murder of schoolmaster Andrew Van, who was crucified and beheaded on Christmas morning. Van’s headless corpse was nailed to a signpost in a posture that resembled the letter T, and the dead man’s blood was used to paint the same letter on the door of his nearby home. The motive for the killing is obscure, given that Van led an unremarkable life, apart from an indulgence in gourmet food. Queen and the locals get nowhere, until six months later when millionaire rug importer Thomas Brad is murdered in a similar fashion. The case gets even weirder before Queen provides a logical solution that highlights the author’s genius at misdirection. This brilliant fair play puzzle exemplifies the mission of the American Mystery Classics series.
Allport (Browned Off and Bloody-Minded), a history professor at Syracuse University, delivers a sweeping first installment in a planned two-volume chronicle of Great Britain during WWII. He expertly sketches the cultural and social landscape of middle-class England in the 1930s; details political unrest at home (IRA bombings in Ulster) and abroad (the Arab revolt in British-occupied Palestine); and assesses Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as a “dreadful judge of character.” After the 1938 Munich accords failed to contain Hitler, Winston Churchill came to power, the British troops were forced to evacuate Dunkirk, and France fell. Allport offers cogent and insightful accounts of the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the first tank campaigns in Egypt and Libya, and bombing raids over Germany, and he sketches incisive portraits of key yet often overlooked political and military leaders, including conservative M.P. Leo Amery and Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell. Setting the stage for the next volume, Allport argues that three far-flung occurrences in the first week of September 1941 were key to England’s fate: a German submarine fired a torpedo at a U.S. Navy destroyer, a committee of British scientists was given the go-ahead to develop an “effective uranium bomb,” and Japanese strategists met to study the inevitability of war with the U.S. and Britain. Expertly researched and marvelously written, this sterling history casts an oft-studied subject in a new light.
The outstanding second fantasy in Ward’s Legacy trilogy (after Legacy of Ash) keeps the drama rushing along at an exciting clip through a fiendishly complicated plot. First and foremost, there’s the war between the Tressian Republic, championed by Josiri Trelan and Viktor Akadra, and the Hadari Empire, led by Prince Kai and his ambitious daughter, Melanna Saranal. Simultaneously, supernaturally powerful kernclaw assassins threaten both realms. But there are over 50 characters on the novel’s list of dramatis personae, and 10 of them are “divinities” who enjoy meddling in human affairs. Ward’s experience as a game designer serves him well as he shifts focus frequently, mixing massive battles with intimate personal moments, as in the moving scene in which Josiri’s sister realizes she is not the person she had imagined herself to be. The human struggles mingle with conflict between semimortal gods as the threat of the Third Dawn, or the end of the world, looms. Ward presses all the right, well-worn buttons with enough vigor to make them feel fresh. The result is a ripping yarn that more than earns its length.
The elegiac third collection from Mort asks searing, meditative questions born from war, massacre, and famine. “What has kept us alive,” Mort asks before answering, “Our death songs.” These poems are indeed lyrical death songs, bearing witness to horror and wondering “How could it be that I’m from this Earth,/ yet trees are also from this Earth?” Mort’s work contrasts suffering and tragedy with the persistence of the natural world: “Of the empire’s fall/ I heard on the radio/ while waiting for a weather forecast.” Life continues, but Mort questions the complexity of idealism and corruption, and a world in which “Justice has turned out to be/ more terrifying/ than injustice.” She asks, “What to do about the etymology of us?/ Our etymology?” The stakes of humanity are central to Mort, who seeks to offer a voice to those denied one throughout history: “Have I told you about how much I live inside your stories and not reality?” These are poems of reclamation and resurrection; to live in them is to confront the hard work of witness.