The books we love coming out this week include new titles from Serhiy Zhadan, Claire Christian, and Jonathan Cohn.
Wagers sends their Farian War series out with a bang, delivering all the action, snark, emotion, and political maneuvering fans of Gunrunner Empress Hail Bristol expect. Hail has escaped the beings who captured her in Down Among the Dead, but now finds herself outside of her comfort zone yet again, embroiled in political plots she can’t shoot her way out of. The dangers are manifold: a confrontation is brewing between Hail and supersoldiers who claim to be gods, an ancient and powerful alien race is on its way to Indrana, and a millennia-long war between the Farians and the Shen rages on. Hail is out of her depth in trying to broker peace in the galaxy, but she has her beloved and cunning friends at her side—and still hasn’t lost an iota of courage from her days as a gunrunner. Fans will be sad to see the series end, but gratified by the action and intrigue of this fast-paced finale. This is a fantastic send-off for one of science fiction’s most remarkable recent protagonists.
Christian’s delightful sophomore outing (after A Beautiful Mess) is a vibrant story of self discovery. After Noni Blake’s nine-year relationship fizzles out, Noni, a plus-sized, bisexual teacher, is ready to jump back into the dating scene. She creates a list of people she wishes she’d slept with when she had the chance and sets out to amend these missed connections on a semester-long vacation during which she’ll travel from Australia to the U.K. But when a string of disappointing sexual encounters culminates in sleeping with her college crush only to discover that the woman has a girlfriend, Noni changes her focus from romance to the pursuit of pleasure. Her quest for joy sees her buying lingerie, eating without guilt, and posing in a nude photo shoot. But she’s unprepared for Beau, a brazen Scottish tattoo artist, to weasel his way into her heart. As their fling grows serious, Noni must figure out how to carry the pleasure she’s found on vacation into her daily life. Noni is equally sincere and hilarious as she learns to be true to herself, and Beau’s unwavering support is sure to make readers swoon. Both a celebration of pleasure and a dissection of the restrictions people place on their own lives, this is sure to capture readers’ hearts.
Lust, infidelity, and revenge drive this downright devilish series launch from Cole (The Hearts We Burn). When chronic cheater and cosmetic surgeon Dorian Graham married his on-again, off-again girlfriend of over 10 years, he vowed to stop his philandering ways—so he’s shocked when his wife offers him a marriage pass as an anniversary present: one night to do whatever he wants with whomever he wants, no questions asked. Shantae Graham doesn’t trust her husband, but she’s always wanted to start a family and live happily ever after with him and hopes the pass will bring them closer together. Unbeknownst to Shantae, Dorian uses his pass to sleep with her flighty estranged sister, Reagan—and when Reagan refuses to let go after just one night, their affair leads Dorian’s life to spiral into chaos as he’s forced to deal with a suicide attempt, an unplanned pregnancy, and threats to his medical practice. There are enough twists and turns to this erotic suspense novel to cause whiplash, and the ending is as surprising as it is satisfying. Sensual and shocking, this is a surefire hit.
The opening of a bookshop in Kilbane, Ireland, is cause for celebration in O’Connor’s outstanding seventh Irish Village mystery (after 2020’s Murder at an Irish Christmas), until Kilbane’s residents learn the shop is stocking only good literature and the co-owners, Oran and Padraig McCarthy, will let in only customers who can quote James Joyce or Seamus Heaney. When elderly Margaret O’Shea is found dead near the shop, garda Siobhán O’Sullivan is sure she died of natural causes, but when Siobhán tries to speak to Oran, his behavior strikes her as odd. She later wonders whether Oran’s antipathy to any fiction he doesn’t view as literary might be connected to Margaret’s death—and to the subsequent death of Deirdre Walsh, the self-published author of a dense literary novel, who collapses during a bookshop event. Deirdre’s tree nut allergy could have been the cause, but a power outage shortly before might have provided cover for a killer. Aided by a garda trainee, Siobhán pursues a puzzling investigation full of misdirection and enlivened by the input of her five rambunctious siblings. O’Connor reinforces her place as the queen of the cozy police procedural.
Zhadan (Mesopotamia) presents a nightmarish, raw vision of contemporary eastern Ukraine under siege from Russian-backed separatists. Pasha, a bespectacled teacher with a heart condition and an injured hand, keeps his head down, avoids politics, and just does his job. One January day, he must pick up his nephew from the local orphanage (where his unmarried, stressed-out sister, a railway stewardess, had left the epileptic boy years ago) and bring him home. On the way there, Pasha encounters roads destroyed by shelling, public transportation suspended, utility and cellphone service disrupted, and the train station crowded with stranded women, children, and old men. After reluctantly leading a ragtag assortment of vulnerable people on a dangerous trek back to their neighborhood and an uncertain future, Pasha reaches the orphanage and takes the surprisingly mature 13-year-old on a terrifying trek back home, with constant threats from mortar rounds, automatic-rifle fire, tanks, packs of starving dogs, menacing soldiers, and desperate civilians. With a poet’s sense of lyricism, Zhadan employs descriptions of weather and the sky as literal physical challenges but also as powerful metaphors for lack of transparency, justice, and truth, and the translators deserve credit for rendering Zhadan’s prose into colloquial English. This unblinkingly reveals a country’s devastation and its people’s passionate determination to survive.
Set in WWII London, this excellent fair-play mystery from Lorac (1894–1958) opens on a dramatic note. One evening, artist Bruce Manaton is in his studio painting the portrait of an actor while two other men, a civil servant and a government chemist, are playing chess. Shortly after Manaton’s sister pops outside briefly to make sure that blackout precautions have been observed, Special Constable Lewis Verraby, who has arrested Canadian soldier Neil Folliner for murder, intrudes on the quartet. After noticing the front door of the building next to the studio open, Verraby went inside and found Folliner near the corpse of the soldier’s great-uncle, Albert, who’d been shot in the head. Folliner insists that Albert was already dead when he arrived. Scotland Yard’s Chief Insp. Robert Macdonald, Lorac’s series sleuth, looks beyond the obvious—that Folliner is guilty—at the possible motives of the others on the scene, including Verraby. The astute Macdonald’s interrogations and deductions lead to a satisfying resolution. The characters are all well-delineated, and the clues artfully hidden. First published in 1944, this British Library Crime Classic more than deserves that status.
HuffPost correspondent Cohn (Sick) delivers an engrossing behind-the-scenes account of the fight to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Drawing on interviews with President Obama and other key players, Cohn illustrates how the compromises needed to pass the legislation (namely, the abandonment of the public option) left progressive advocates unsatisfied and led to Medicare for All becoming a central issue of the 2020 Democratic primary. Cohn also sketches the history of healthcare as a political cause, noting that President Nixon was open to universal coverage in the 1970s, and that conservatives embraced Republican governor Mitt Romney’s creation of an individual mandate requiring people to purchase healthcare coverage in Massachusetts, before opposing the same policy as part of Obamacare. Supporters of the Affordable Care Act will be shocked by the sloppy wording that left it vulnerable to being overturned by the Supreme Court, and impressed by the details of Nancy Pelosi’s maneuvering to get it across the finish line in Congress. This is a comprehensive and essential look at “arguably the most important and controversial piece of legislation in the last few decades.”
Yoerg takes the pulse of a Navy veteran’s large family in this keen novel (after Stories We Never Told). In 1980, Maeve and Arthur Vergennes have nine children with a 10th on the way in a small Virginia town on the Chesapeake Bay. The oldest, Jude, left the family under duress five years earlier, so Verity, the next oldest at 18, is considered captain of Nepenthe, the family’s dry-docked oyster boat. The vessel came with their sprawling house on a small island property and is central to the children’s lives, where every Saturday they head off on imaginary voyages, a family tradition that helps distract the children from the trauma of Jude’s departure and, eventually, Maeve’s death following a miscarriage. In chapters that alternate from different family members’ points of view, Yoerg does justice to their perspectives as they navigate various conflicts. At the center is a sexual assault endured by Verity at 13, and her controlling father’s unwillingness to allow her to leave home for college. The author tackles a full range of events with élan: the loss of innocence, the push-pull divide between father and son, and how tragedy can cause a family to implode or come out stronger. This richly-drawn and insightful story demonstrates an exceptionally deep understanding of family relationships.