The books we love coming out this week include new titles from Serhiy Zhadan, Claire Christian, and Jonathan Cohn.
Guanzon debuts with a harrowing story of a man’s desperation and unyielding love for his son. Single father Henry has less than $100 to his name, and he’s planning on spending it on his son Junior’s eighth birthday present: a night in a hotel with a real bed and cable TV instead of sleeping in Henry’s truck. Recently released from a five-year prison sentence for possession of homemade fentanyl pills, Henry washes himself in the bathroom of a McDonald’s and lives on junk food, while Junior’s mother, Michelle, is nowhere to be found. Each chapter is titled after the dwindling amount of cash Henry has, while flashbacks show Henry’s brief windfall from a pill sale and struggle to foot the hospital bill for Junior’s delivery. Junior and Henry are all the other has, and Henry holds out hope that a job interview he has lined up at a call center will give them a shot at escaping their life of itinerancy. Unfortunately, Junior grows increasingly ill from their meager diet, and a violent altercation in a parking lot threatens to derail Henry’s plans. Guanzon’s descriptions of grinding poverty are visceral (pocket change rattles in Henry’s pocket “like tiny shackles”), and Henry’s attempts to fend off relentless adversity for the sake of his son are heartbreaking. This one hits hard.
In this shocking true crime epic, the four investigative journalist authors take a deep dive into the case of three Miami businessmen who built a multibillion-dollar smuggling empire that touched several continents and opened U.S. law enforcement’s eyes to yet another avenue of immorality. From 2013 to 2016, Juan Pablo Granda, Renato Rodriguez, and Samer Barrage used their company, NTR Metals, to smuggle over $3.6 billion in illegally mined gold into the U.S. The NTR Metals case drew international condemnation for its role in exploiting a lesser-known illicit economy that rivals the cocaine and blood diamond trades in terms of harm to the countries of origin: dirty gold comes from an industry in which criminals use toxic chemicals and destructive mining practices to rip the precious metal from the Andes and Amazonian riverbeds, destroying whole ecosystems and poisoning impoverished communities. The authors take the reader beyond the sensational multiagency investigation to provide a comprehensive exploration of the international precious metal trade to show how a criminal enterprise can thrive with a product where melting can erase all traces of origin easier than documents can be forged. This is a must-read for fans of Matthew Hart’s Diamonds and Roberto Saviano’s ZeroZeroZero.
Martine spins a dizzying, exhilarating story of diplomacy, conspiracy, and first contact in the powerhouse sequel to her Hugo Award–winning debut, A Memory Called Empire. Mahit Dzmare has returned home to Lsel station after a brief, eventful stint as ambassador to the empire of Teixcalaan, but now Teixcalaanli warships are moving into formation against the terrifying aliens that live beyond a nearby jumpgate. When Nine Hibiscus, the leader of the warships, requests a trained diplomat to aid in alien relations and avoid conflict, Mahit’s former liaison and love interest, Three Seagrass, assigns herself the job—and drags Mahit along with her. But there are factions on Lsel and in Teixcalaan who would benefit from an endless war and who work to undermine their negotiations. Martine effortlessly balances several points of view—including the idealistic 11-year-old imperial heir, Eight Antidote—to provide a vivid window into a struggle over the question of who gets to be counted as a person. Martine’s aliens are viscerally unsettling and utterly believable, and she deploys them masterfully to underscore themes of colonization, assimilation, and cultural violence. This complex, stunning space opera promises to reshape the genre.
With this charming contemporary romance, Loren (The One for You) delivers a thoroughly satisfying, slow-burning account of a relationship that feels both inevitable and earned. New Orleans blogger Hollyn Tate is a local favorite as Miz Poppy, her nom de plume, but her Tourette’s syndrome and anxiety make it difficult to have a social life outside of her online persona. Then she meets part-time barista and improv actor Jasper Deares, who’s funny, hot, and totally into her, tics and all. Relationship-shy Jasper, who has ADHD, offers to be a “practice boyfriend” for lonely Hollyn, and the pair embark on an enthusiastic friends-with-benefits arrangement—though media-savvy Hollyn knows how this sort of plot usually works out. The sex is great, the companionship is a welcome change, and soon enough, the two catch real feelings for one another. But when success and stardom beckon, their individual careers threaten to tear them apart. Hollyn and Jasper have excellent chemistry, both socially and sexually, and they talk through their issues in a refreshingly mature fashion. Hollyn’s Tourette’s and Jasper’s ADHD are depicted sensitively without overwhelming the rest of the story, while a fleshed-out supporting cast further brings the world to life. Intelligent, sweet, and fun, this romance succeeds on all levels.
This stunning near-future thriller from Divya (Runtime) tackles issues of economic inequality, workers’ rights, privacy, and the nature of intelligence. Bodyguard Welga Ramírez is a disillusioned former Special Forces soldier who makes her living protecting CEOs and celebrities, using mechanical implants and a course of high-tech drugs to enhance her combat skills. It’s much more exciting work than the other options available to humans: “babysitting” the bots that have taken over most skilled labor or scrounging for low-paying online gigs. Welga especially enjoys the opportunity to perform for the ubiquitous microdrone swarms that film and broadcast her every move. She even adds stylish action moves to her fights to improve her tips from her viewers. But when a job goes wrong, Welga faces a mysterious pro-AI terrorist group called The Machinehood. Determined to learn who they are and what they want, Welga heads into the very heart of The Machinehood’s operation, despite a worrying medical issue. Divya keeps the pace rapid, and her crack worldbuilding and vivid characters make for a memorable, page-turning adventure, while the thematic inquiries into human and AI labor rights offer plenty to chew on for fans of big idea sci-fi. Readers will be blown away.
With propulsive action and twists that keep the reader guessing, Wallace’s page-turning sophomore novel (after Salvation Day) spins a locked-room mystery set on an asteroid mining colony. After a terrorist attack against the spaceship transporting workers on the Titan Research Project leaves scientist Hester Marley with two metal limbs and a suffocating amount of medical debt, Hester finds work as a Safety Officer for Parthenope Enterprises, a powerful corporation in the asteroid belt. She plans to keep her head down, work off her debt, and return home to Earth—but that plan is derailed when David Prussenko, a colleague from her past, is killed just hours after sending her an enigmatic message. Hester’s investigation leads to a claustrophobic mining base, where she finds herself trapped with the murderer. Remarkably, most of the action takes place in just 24 hours, the mystery unraveling at warp speed as the violence escalates and the stakes steadily mount. Hester is a fascinating, troubled, but not overly dour narrator, who must use her wits and past experiences—which are teased out in flashbacks—to solve the murder and stay alive. This tense sprint through a future dominated by profit-driven amorality makes for a gripping, cinematic sci-fi thriller that readers won’t want to put down.
Set in ancient Greece, this sumptuous adventure from King (the Hundredth Queen series) sees a fierce heroine contending with brutal Titans, suspicious vestals, and a petulant Boy God. Eleven-year-old Althea Lambros witnesses her mother die while giving birth to a half-Titan baby after having been raped by the god Cronus, the most powerful Titan. At her dying mother’s request, Althea vows to protect her older sisters, Cleora and Bronte. But when Althea is 18, Cronus’s goons kidnap Cleora. Althea seeks advice on how to defeat Cronus from the oracle Clotho, who tasks Althea with retrieving the 15-year-old Boy God Zeus from the island of Crete, where he’s been hidden from Cronus, his father, by his mother. Zeus has the power to overthrow Cronus and unite the Titans under his own rule—but not without Althea’s help. To succeed, Althea must evade the evil General Decimus, who has marked her as his property; thwart the vengeful Erinyes; and defy the handsome but deceitful Col. Theo Angelos. King ably weaves Greek mythology into a cat-and-mouse spectacle. Readers will cheer for Althea as she upholds her family’s honor and fights belligerent gods with determination and confidence. This is a winner.
The discovery of a young woman’s body on the main street of the remote town of Siglufjörður propels Jónasson’s outstanding final Dark Iceland mystery featuring police inspector Ari Thór Arason (after 2019’s Rupture). The victim, later identified as 19-year-old Unnur, fell from a balcony overlooking the street, but was it an accident? Or did Unnur jump—or, worse, was she pushed? In classic procedural style, Ari Thór tries to piece together what happened to this “quiet, studious” girl who was still living at home with her mother, but he makes little progress, with no witnesses and no obvious suspects. The stakes rise when Ari Thór learns that a patient in a local nursing home scrawled “She was murdered” on the wall of his room after hearing about the death. How this distinctive lead relates to the people of Siglufjörður is as intriguing as the crime solving. That this is a translation of the French translation of the original Icelandic edition is no impediment to enjoyment. Series fans will be sorry to see the last of Ari Thór.
Olisakwe (Eyes of a Goddess) delivers a powerful tale of a young Nigerian woman yearning for freedom. At 17, Ogadinma’s resilience is tested by patriarchal violence, grief, and familial obligation. When Ogadinma’s father discovers she’s had an abortion, he sends her away from their home in Kano to stay with family in Lagos, all but ending her dreams of going to university. While in Lagos, she falls in love with Tobe, an older man, who turns violent after they are married and unjustly blames her for his business and legal troubles. After a series of misfortunes, abuse, and familial betrayals, Ogadinma must weigh the costs of forging her own path toward liberation. The twists and turns are fast-paced, creating a sequence of events that allows the reader to continue rooting for Ogadinma as she approaches insurmountable barriers. Olisakwe stunningly depicts how both Ogadinma’s and Tobe’s family members can be quick to protect and reject her with equal fervor. While Tobe is confronted by his uncle Ekene after a particularly brutal act of violence toward Ogadinma, Ekene remarks, “It is the family that bears the shame because the madman does not comprehend the concept of shame.” This smart, unforgettable novel sings out with an earnest hope for an end to intergenerational abuse.
Political scientist Rasmussen (The Infidel and the Professor) delivers an illuminating account of how the founding fathers worried about the future of America. With the notable exception of James Madison, Rasmussen writes, the country’s early leaders, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, were pessimistic that the American experiment in republican democracy would endure. Washington’s fears stemmed from concerns that political partisanship would inevitably tear the country “asunder.” Adams distrusted the people’s ability to put aside their self-interest in favor of the greater public good, according to Rasmussen, while Jefferson anticipated that regional divisions—exemplified in differing attitudes toward slavery—would doom the American enterprise. Hamilton, meanwhile, worried that the federal government lacked the energy or authority to successfully govern the states. One factor behind Madison’s relative optimism, Rasmussen notes, was his lower expectations for how the new country would operate. Rasmussen lends weight to his arguments with revealing—and often sobering—quotes from primary sources (Hamilton, for instance, called the Constitution “a frail and worthless fabric”), and enlivens the proceedings with flashes of wit (“with enemies like Jefferson, slavery hardly needed friends”). This standout history provides useful context for understanding the roots of contemporary political turmoils and may comfort those who fear that American democracy is in dire peril.