The books we love coming out this week include new titles from C.M. Waggoner, Eley Williams, and Kwei Quartey.
Audrey Lane, the headstrong young heroine of Wedderburn’s high-powered follow-up to The Milk Chicken Bomb is obsessed with everything about the open road. At 20, Audrey gets her dream job driving a truck around the oil fields not far from Calgary, Alberta. Shortly after, she impulsively runs away from the job and the camp where she’s been staying, and ends up in a gritty Edmonton bar. She talks her way into a job as the driver for a bar band called the Lever Men, with none of them sober enough to drive to their next gig. Along the way, Audrey furthers her cross-country education: lonesome highways, dive bars with names like the Crash Palace (and the unique characters who frequent them), and camaraderie with the four Lever Men, to whom she is both den mother and little sister. Wedderburn then jumps nearly a decade to find Audrey a single mother with a young daughter. After reading about the death of Crash Palace owner Alex Main in a Calgary paper, Audrey reels back into memories of the past, and she feels compelled to attend his funeral. In rich and energetic prose, Wedderburn makes Audrey a character to root for, and her reminiscences are moving and illuminating. Wedderburn’s engaging tale will hot-wire readers’ brains, making Audrey’s wanderlust palpable and contagious.
Set in a land where magic is a rarity, Kelly’s riveting debut and duology launch follows a princess with a dangerous secret who must save her country from invaders. Princess Askia, rightful heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh, has spent months with her men in battle against the invading soldiers of the Rovan Empire. Unable to defend her realm from the advancing Rovans, Askia sails south to Vishir to seek aid from its leader, Emperor Armaan. But life among soldiers leaves Askia unprepared for the decorum and political games of the Vishiri court. With enemies both inside and outside the castle walls and her actions under constant scrutiny, Askia becomes enmeshed in court life. She fears that one wrong move will expose the unique magical ability she’s kept hidden her entire life—and which could spell danger for both her people and herself. Filled with magic, war, and intrigue, this thrilling high fantasy questions how much a ruler should be willing to sacrifice for the sake of duty. Vivid worldbuilding, high stakes, and just a hint of romance propel the twisty plot to a cliffhanger finale. Readers will be on the edges of their seats as they await the next installment.
The universe at its grandest and most minuscule is explored in this beguiling meditation on physics. Nobel Prize–winning physicist Wilczek (A Beautiful Question) elaborates on wide-ranging themes, including the vast size of the universe and minute yet spacious dimensions of subatomic structures; the simplicity of the elementary forces underlying theoretical physics; the delicate interplay between dynamic change and environmental stability that allowed life to arise on Earth; and the deeper unities between the seeming contradictions of quantum mechanics. Wilczek manages to convey advanced physics without overtaxing lay readers with complexities and knotty concepts, and does so by sticking closely to lucid accounts of the experiments and calculations scientists perform to establish how the world works, and by using straightforward but evocative descriptions of natural phenomena. (“Once the temperature gets low enough, the photons in the fireball cease to interact significantly with the other matter,” he writes of the early universe after the Big Bang, adding, “in plain English, the sky clears up, so that light travels more or less freely from one end of the universe to another, as it does today.”) The result is a stimulating and very readable scientific tour of the cosmos.
A Scottish lord and an American socialite discover love during WWI in this gorgeous historical romance from Ciesielski (The Socialite). Lily Durham’s parents send her to live with her cousins in England for the summer to curb her wayward behavior in New York. But once there, Lily absconds to Scotland with her cousin Bertie, hoping to meet handsome soldiers while working as aides at a convalescent home in Kinclavoch Castle. The castle’s brooding owner, Alec MacGregor, will do whatever it takes to keep possession of his ancestral home despite mounting debt. But when a soldier is kidnapped from an ambulance en route to Kinclavoch, the newspapers implicate Alec. As mysterious accidents continue at Kinclavoch, Alec seeks to clear his name and find the person responsible—and all the while he and Lily grow closer. Then Lily’s parents demand that she return home or lose her allowance, and Lily must decide if she can risk her financial stability for a chance at love. Lily’s transformation from a pampered party girl into a selfless nurse is riveting, and the blossoming romance between her and Alec is both electric and believable. The undercurrent of mystery and Ciesielski’s unflinching approach to the harsh realities of wartime only enhance the love story. Readers are sure to be impressed.
In Williams’s comically inventive debut novel (after the collection Attrib.), a woman must ferret out the falsities intentionally embedded in a dictionary. Mallory, the sole employee of David Swansby at Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary, spends her days fielding angry, elliptical bomb threats from an unidentified crackpot. Then, one day, Swansby gives her a special assignment—to find all the mountweazels placed in his family’s dictionary over the years. (A mountweazel is a fake word placed in reference works to protect against copyright infringement.) Williams flashes back to 1899, when Swansby’s is a bustling enterprise that employs many lexicographers, among them Peter Winceworth, who loves to dream up mountweazels (“relectoblivious (adj.), accidentally rereading a phrase or line due to lack of focus or desire to finish”). Mallory and her lover, Pip, search for these fake words and try to ascertain the identity of the anonymous mountweazeler, while in a parallel narrative Winceworth falls frustratingly in love with a fellow lexicographer’s fiancée, leading to two surprising and emotionally satisfying conclusions. The author combines a Nabokovian love of wordplay with an Ali Smith–like ability to create eccentric characters who will take up permanent residence in the reader’s heart. This is a sheer delight for word lovers.
Waggoner makes a delightful return to the vibrant, Victorian England–inspired world of Unnatural Magic for a rollicking standalone fantasy featuring a scrappy but endearing heroine. Dellaria Wells is a no-good guttersnipe who runs petty cons in order to keep a roof over her head and look after her even more no-good mother. She’s also an uncommonly talented fire witch. When Delly joins a misfit team of female bodyguards protecting a wealthy woman in the weeks before her marriage, she thinks it will be easy money—until horrifying necromantic mechanical spiders are sent to attack her boss’s carriage. The culprit who unleashed them slips through the team’s fingers, leading Delly and the other bodyguards on a hunt to bring her to justice (and, more importantly to Delly, to collect the reward money their boss is offering). In between a grisly murder, several extortions and explosions, and encounters with an extremely unsettling zombie mouse, Waggoner finds plenty of room for wry humor and a refreshingly wholesome relationship between Delly and fellow bodyguard Winn Cynallum. With this winning ensemble adventure, Waggoner again proves her skill at crafting immersive, historically flavored fantasy.
The alleys and slums of Buenos Aires supply the backdrop to Enriquez’s harrowing and utterly original collection (after Things We Lost in the Fire), which illuminates the pitch-dark netherworld between urban squalor and madness. In the nightmarish opener, “Angelita Unearthed,” the bones of a rotting child reanimate after being dug up; likewise, in “Back When We Talked to the Dead,” the dead foretell dread using a Ouija board. Themes of obsession and the arcane come to light in “Our Lady of the Quarry,” where a band of teenage girls turn to witchcraft to snare the object of their desires; “Meat,” which follows two grave-robbing fans of a recently deceased rock star; and “Where Are You, Dear Heart?”, in which a self-described “heartbeat fetishist” gets off by holding a stethoscope to a diseased man’s chest. Things grow darker still in “Rambla Triste,” as the victims of a pedophile ring are resurrected in Barcelona as “incarnations of the city’s madness,” and in “Kids Who Come Back,” the book’s epic and visceral centerpiece, in which the missing, damned, and destitute begin returning home. (Which isn’t to discount the grotesque title story or the exorcism at the heart of “The Well.”) Finally, there are the pair of film fanatics who undertake made-to-order pornography only to quickly get in over their heads in “No Birthdays or Baptisms.” Enriquez’s wide-ranging imagination and ravenous appetite for morbid scenarios often reaches sublime heights. Adventurous readers will be rewarded in these trips into the macabre—and hopefully they’ll be able to find their way back.
In Quartey’s terrific sequel to 2020’s The Missing American, PI Emma Djan takes on a nearly year-old cold case—the murder of high-profile fashion icon Lady Araba in the bedroom of her lush mansion in a gated community known as the Beverly Hills of Accra, Ghana. Lady Araba’s aunt doesn’t believe her niece’s chauffeur, who was convicted for the killing, is guilty. Emma and her colleagues at the Yemo Sowah Agency assume various undercover identities—as housekeeper, cop, construction worker, professor, journalist, interested house buyer—in an effort to narrow the long list of possible culprits, including family members, several lovers, and an alcoholic TV talk show host. Stops at the morgue and a forensic lab, as well as an ongoing search for a unique murder weapon, contribute to the dark atmosphere. Along the way, Quartey skewers Ghanaian politics, religion, and the law. Smooth prose complements the well-wrought plot. This distinctive detective series deserves a long run.
Angry Therapist blogger Kim (I Used to Be a Miserable F*ck) uses his own failed relationships as lessons in this laugh-out-loud guide to single life. Kim writes of how he frequently catches himself making many of the same mistakes that he talks through with his clients each week. After losing himself in one serious relationship after another and coming to the realization that “relationship dysfunction feels like crack cocaine,” Kim decides to attempt to happiness on his own. “Single is about being a whole person. Even when you’re in a relationship. In fact, especially when you’re in a relationship.” According to Kim, being happy—single or not—begins with three daily goals: meaning (finding purpose by pursuing one’s passion), joy (allowing oneself simple pleasures, such as a morning coffee), and engagement (turning one’s attention to others). Instead of pursuing perfect, Kim asks readers to question one’s thoughts, list nonnegotiables, and find what makes one feel most alive. (For Kim, it’s riding a motorcycle.) After all, “self-care doesn’t mean bubble baths and fancy brunches. It really means taking care of yourself daily like you would for someone you love.” Kim’s wry humor and approachable lessons will appeal to any single reader looking for encouragement.
In Irish writer O’Donnell’s stellar historical, his stateside debut, 1893 London is abuzz with stories about the Spiriters, a shadowy group allegedly led by the wealthy Lord Strythe that’s said to steal the souls of working-class women. One winter night, seamstress Esther Tull jumps to her death from a window in Strythe’s home trying to escape from her usual work stitching intricate white gowns to the measurements of women she never sees. After Inspector Cutter of New Scotland Yard unsuccessfully seeks Strythe for questioning about Tull’s death, Cutter connects the case to the plight of former millinery worker Angela Tatton, who speaks deliriously about dark air and brightness and is confined to a hospital. Rev. Herbert Neuilly, who lives in the same boarding house as Cutter, had ministered to Tatton and other poor, sickly, young women. Neuilly, like Strythe, has gone missing, and his nephew, Cambridge divinity student Gideon Bliss, arrives in London concerned for him. Cutter brings Bliss along when he travels to Vesper Sands, the home of Strythe’s only living relation, hoping Strythe is hiding there. There they face mortal danger before learning the truth about the Spiriters. Making smart use of classic gothic imagery, O’Donnell excels at concocting eerie scenes. Yet he’s also very funny, particularly in exchanges between the profane Cutter and the verbose but perceptive Bliss. Fans of Sarah Perry (not to mention Dickens and Wilkie Collins) will be captivated by this marvelous feat.