The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Abby Jimenez, Jeff VanderMeer, and Paul Herron.
Jimenez delivers a swoony and heartfelt third Friend Zone romance (after The Happy Ever After Playlist) about navigating life’s difficulties. Vanessa Price is a 28-year-old YouTube star who travels the world using her platform to raise money and awareness for ALS. With a 50% chance that she has inherited the disease, she’s determined to live her best life now because she may not make it to age 30. But her adventures are cut short when her half-sister drops off Vanessa’s infant niece, Grace, at her door and never comes back, catapulting Vanessa into the role of mother figure overnight. Vanessa’s neighbor, the sexy and successful lawyer Adrian Copeland, is a workaholic with little time for a personal life—until an earsplitting four a.m. meltdown from Grace brings him to Vanessa’s door with an offer of help. Vanessa and Adrian’s meet-cute develops into a steadfast friendship and eventually a slow-burn romance. But with Vanessa’s health deteriorating, will their relationship survive after Adrian finds out that Vanessa may not? Jimenez masterfully blends heavy issues and humor, lacing the tear-jerking heartache with sass and sarcasm. Series fans and newcomers alike will be moved by this emotional rom-com.
The nameless narrator of this stunning standalone from Richards (The Indigo Factor) was once a happy mother with a nine-year-son, until her son died in a house fire caused by an iron she accidentally left on. Five years later, she travels the country carrying out her duties as a hit woman. One day, while shopping in the unnamed town where she lives, she sees a TV news report about serial killer William Atwater, who has terrorized California’s San Pasado County. Believed to have kidnapped and murdered 15 children, Atwater, whose whereabouts are unknown, is the prime suspect in a six-year-old girl’s disappearance. The narrator’s reaction is immediate and visceral: she must find and kill him. She flies to the city of San Pasado, where she soon gets far more than she bargained for in her warped pursuit of justice. Richards combines a damaged protagonist readers will root for with a twisted, whiplash-fast plot filled with layers of moral ambiguity. This harrowing tale of love, loss, and the value of life is not to be missed.
Set in a world far along the path to ecological and political breakdown, this striking mix of thriller and biotech speculative fiction from VanderMeer (Dead Astronauts) charts a seemingly mad quest by its anonymous narrator, who suggests the reader call her Jane Smith. One morning at a coffee shop in an unspecified city in the Pacific Northwest, where Jane does somewhat nebulous work at a security firm, a barista hands Jane an envelope with a storage unit address, a key, and a note. In the storage unit, Jane finds a box containing a preserved hummingbird and a note with the words Hummingbird and Salamander, signed Silvina. Thus begins Jane’s quixotic effort to discover the whereabouts and fate of probable ecoterrorist Silvina Vilcapampa, as well as the salamander mate to the hummingbird. Jane’s traveling to New York City in search of Silvina alerts mysterious foes. Attacks on Jane and her work colleagues as well as surveillance of her home prompt her to abandon her husband and teenage daughter and embark on a yearslong, possibly fruitless quest to discover the truth. Exquisite prose pulls the reader deep into the labyrinthine plot. VanderMeer reinforces his place as one of today’s most innovative writers.
Hogle’s excellent sophomore novel (after You Deserve Each Other) is an endearing take on the enemies-to-lovers trope. For Maybell Parrish, inheriting a house from the beloved great-aunt she hasn’t seen in 20 years is the perfect excuse to leave her crowded apartment and toxic workplace behind. But when she arrives, she’s shocked to learn that she must share the Falling Stars estate with Wesley Koehler, her aunt’s groundskeeper who also happens to be the man she thought she was in a long-distance relationship with before discovering that her co-worker was catfishing her. Both refusing to be bought out, they must work together to rehabilitate Falling Stars to its former glory. But grumpy, stubborn Wesley is nothing like the man who’s starred in Maybell’s wildest daydreams ever since she “met” him online. They immediately butt heads, disagreeing on every decision—but while working and living in close proximity, Maybell begins to see beyond Wesley’s gruff facade. Particularly moving are both characters’ struggles with mental health issues, as in the standout scene in which Wesley, who suffers from anxiety, helps Maybell through a panic attack. Readers are sure to be enchanted by this couple and their deeply felt struggle to open their hearts.
Jha (Foreign), a journalism professor at Seattle University, issues an urgent, fervent plea to raise feminist sons in this trenchant guide. Jha, who writes of growing up in an abusive patriarchal system in India, frequently draws on her own experience as she implores parents to raise boys outside of gender stereotypes. To counter misogyny and toxic masculinity, she and advocates for reshaping masculinity into a gentler version in which boys are “free to experience and express the whole spectrum of human emotion.” Finding examples in movies and nursery rhymes, she identifies teaching moments to start boys on the right track at a young age (“Why was the queen not in the counting house, counting all her money?); guides readers through talking about sex, urging them to start early to create a sense of openness; and examines such issues as parental guilt and childhood slip-ups: “Teaching a boy to expect to make mistakes and to expect to be held accountable when he makes mistakes is the key. Teaching a boy to be able to laugh at himself... wouldn’t that be such a gift?” Concise to-do lists round out each chapter. At times touching and always impassioned, this is an excellent resource for like-minded parents.
Former cop Jack Constantine, the hero of Herron’s outstanding debut, is serving time at Ravenhill Correctional Facility outside Miami, Fla., for killing one of the three men who murdered his wife three years earlier. He and his cellmate, Felix, are assigned to a detail to clean out the Glasshouse, a nearby decommissioned military prison, where he runs into an unwelcome person from his past, fellow prisoner Malcolm Kincaid. Four years before, Constantine framed Kincaid for murder out of frustration that Kincaid, a drug dealer with well-connected friends, had previously evaded justice. Before Constantine can process how Kincaid’s presence in Ravenhill will change things, a hurricane threatens the area. The corrections officers flee for their own safety, leaving their charges to fend for themselves. Constantine and Felix, aided by a female officer accidentally left behind by her colleagues, embark on a desperate attempt to stay alive in the face of perils from Mother Nature and violent men alike. Herron maintains nail-biting suspense throughout without sacrificing characterization. Readers will eagerly await his next.
Former Irish Republican Army bank robber O’Rawe (Afterlives: The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer That Changed Irish History) makes his fiction debut with a riveting crime thriller loosely based on the unsolved bank robbery that nearly undermined the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Veteran IRA heavy James “Ructions” O’Hare and his crime-boss uncle, Johnny “Panzer” O’Hare, secretly form a crew of ex-paramilitaries to rob the National Bank in Belfast, Northern Ireland. But that’s not the hardest part; their plan to cross the IRA by not paying the mandatory 50 percent tax could put them in the ground if discovered. Bonds of family and faction are put to the ultimate test as IRA enforcers and local police search for suspects, and Ructions must use all of his cunning if he’s to survive. O’Rawe channels both Elmore Leonard and Guy Ritchie in this heist thriller full of sharp twists and gritty dialogue, emerging with a style all his own. His reimagining of the real-life bank heist feels so authentic readers will hope he has a strong alibi. Ken Bruen fans won’t want to miss this one.
Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Hudes (Water by the Spoonful) delivers a love letter to her Puerto Rican heritage in her astonishing debut memoir. Chronicling her childhood in North Philadelphia, with a Jewish father and Boricua mother, and her early career as a playwright, she exposes chasms around identity and builds bridges between her selves as Boricua, mixed race, composer, writer, and observer. After her parents’ marriage dissolved, she bounced between two households and felt “stretched between English me and Spanish me.” Her mom, a faithful Santeria adherent, and the soulful dancing of her cousins left her sidelined and unable to communicate: “My words and my world did not align.” Then her “not-quite-stepfather” brought home an old piano, and she discovered music was a “new language.” Upon leaving for Yale to study composition, Hudes felt at odds with the privileged backgrounds of her peers, and it wasn’t until she enrolled in an MFA program at Brown that she found her voice and was able to incorporate her Boricua culture into her theater productions, a breakthrough that “reminded viscerally of my inheritance.” The fine-tuned storytelling is studded with sharply turned phrases (after long workdays, her mom is “soggy-limbed, a marionette whose strings had come loose”). This heartfelt, glorious exploration of identity and authorship will be a welcome addition to the literature of Latinx lives.
Lebo (Pie & Whiskey) considers fruits of all flavors in this sensationally chaotic compendium. She has barely begun her A-to-Z with an entry on Aronia berries (“a tannic pucker that rivals raw quince”) before spiraling into a self-deprecating take on her health obsessions. Each chapter features a different hard-to-wrangle fruit, a discussion of its history and usages, and witty medicinal and culinary recipes (elderberry syrup: “Swallow 1 spoonful a day. Or 7. Whatever you need to stay well”), and are leavened with pungently wrought memoir. In these tangential turns, such as connecting her tasting of durian fruit to eating dim sum with “a man who would never love me,” Lebo never fails to surprise. On the recipe front, many concoctions feel like the result of hard-won battles—one imagines Lebo’s kitchen overflowing with sticky pots and jars—with cravings-inducing taste-combinations such as a barley soup with fennel sausage and “faceclock greens” or vanilla bean cake with buttercream. Unusual and piquant, this off-kilter collection will hit the spot with readers hungry for something a little different.
Harris’s excellent 16th Regency-era whodunit (after 2020’s Who Speaks for the Damned) pits her aristocratic sleuth, Sebastian St. Cyr, against a killer possibly connected to a notorious real-life series of murders. In 1814, St. Cyr is consulted by magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy after Lovejoy’s colleague, Sir Edwin Pym, is found dead in a London alley, his throat slit and his head bashed in. The m.o. matches the recent death of a seaman. The slaughter of a high-ranking official and nobleman is unsettling enough, but the two killings also resemble the horrific Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, which claimed seven lives in two households and terrified the city. While sailor John Williams was charged with those homicides, he apparently hanged himself while awaiting trial, and doubts linger as to whether he was guilty. That history leads St. Cyr to reinvestigate the proof against Williams, even as his father-in-law, Lord Jarvis, the real power behind the throne, insists that the inquiry be circumscribed to avoid agitating an already restive population. Harris makes good use of the available evidence concerning the historical crimes, crafting a clever and suspenseful plot. Fans of David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art will be pleased.