The books we love coming out this week include new titles by J.S. Dewes, Jan Grue, and Jonathan Santlofer.
The surviving Sentinels of 2020’s The Last Watch face starvation and madness at the edge of the universe in the thrilling second space opera of Dewes’s Divide series. Six months after the events of book one, Sentinels Cavalon and Mesa work to get the Typhos’s jump drive online while everyone aboard contends with diminished rations and the temporal anomalies caused by their proximity to the Divide. The excellent found family dynamic among the protagonists is pushed to the fore when stoic commander Adequin Rake returns from restarting the last of the mysterious Viator generators to a joyful yet tense reunion with Cavalon, Mesa, and Jackin. The need for supplies soon forces Adequin to venture back into populated space on “a hundred-million light-year errand.” Along the way, a deeper exploration of the motives of the hostile alien Viators adds complexity and an unexpected reunion garners a new ally for the Sentinel’s limping mutiny against their Legion employers. Dewes expertly weaves character backstories into the action as Cavalon uncovers a disturbing secret about his childhood and Jackin’s past proves key to saving the Sentinels—at a terrible cost. Well-crafted intrigue, tense battles, and a lot of heart make for a page-turning adventure on the way to a conclusion that will leave fans anxiously awaiting the next installment.
Norwegian novelist Grue (The Best of All Possible Worlds) elegantly flows between memoir, essay, and intellectual discourse in this magnificent story about living with a disability. Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age three, Grue writes that schoolteachers assumed he “was not going to live for very long.” He juxtaposes doctors’ notes from the 1980s—which depicted a childhood “containing little joy”—with his inspiring story of how he overcame the obstacles of living with a wheelchair through intellect and will. In 2008, he attended UC Berkeley and, after graduating, returned to Norway where he eventually met his wife Ida, who “expressed the outrage I had always felt” and forced him to confront why the nondisabled tend to “look away.” Grue mines how disability has been portrayed in pop culture—with a “particularly tragic aura” or as a trade-off for a supernatural ability (“Professor X from X-Men had to be paralyzed in order to acquire his telepathic abilities”)—as well as his experience online dating in a wheelchair. In doing so, he brilliantly articulates what it’s like to be “erased and rewritten,” and, more poignantly, what it’s like to obliterate the narrative one’s been handed. This stunning work isn’t to be missed.
The real-life theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre on Aug. 21, 1911, by workman Vincenzo Peruggia provides the backdrop for this outstanding caper from Nero Award winner Santlofer (Anatomy of Fear). In 2019, Luke Perrone, a nontenured university professor of art history and Vincenzo’s descendant, searches the Laurentian library in Florence, Italy, for his great-grandfather’s journal in the hope of determining whether the stolen Mona Lisa was replaced by a forgery before its recovery in 1913, and thus ensuring his academic position. John Washington Smith, an ambitious analyst from Interpol’s Art Theft Division, and the mysterious Alexandra Greene join Luke in his effort, and the trio are soon contending with nefarious scholars, forgers, stalkers, a Franciscan monk, and a Russian hit man as the bodies pile up. Details of Florence, Paris, and New York City enhance the twisty plot, as does the insider view of the underground world of art collectors driven by deception, ego, and greed. Santlofer, himself an artist, should win more awards with this one.
Neuropsychologist Stixrud and test prep tutor Johnson team up again (after The Self-Driven Child) for this on-target guide to talking to children. “Focusing on effective communication with our kids is a powerful way to grow our relationship with them,” they write, and across nine chapters make a convincing case that, while talking with kids can be hard, doing so is key to their well-being. The authors cover such topics as cultivating closeness (one-on-one time is crucial) and setting healthy expectations (pushing kids hard doesn’t always work). There’s guidance, for example, on how to “parent as consultant,” a low-emotion way to help kids reach goals they set for themselves, and Johnson and Stixrud show readers how to foster in kids an “intrinsic motivation,” or behavior driven by curiosity and desire rather than reward and punishment. On the thorny issue of limiting screen time, they write: “Your job is not to control your kids, but to help them learn to control themselves.” The authors are steadily encouraging: “Isn’t this what we want our parenting to do—to help kids learn to run their own lives?” Full of easy-to-implement tips, this is a resource parents will return to.
Grant (Night Owl) shines in the heart-pounding romantic thriller that opens her Fiona Carver series. Archaeologist Fiona Carver and her crew are headed back to the site of an interrupted dig on remote Chiksook Island, Alaska. Newly joining them is supposed ornithologist Bill Lowell, whom Fiona mentally dubs Hot Bird Man. She has no way of knowing that “Bill” is actually famed wildlife photographer Dean Slater, who’s searching for his fraternal twin, Dylan, the crew’s missing volcanologist. Dean’s suspicions of foul play are quickly borne out when he and Fiona are abandoned by the others, left stranded on the island with a destroyed camp and no food or supplies. With someone working to sabotage them, Fiona and Dean must fight for their lives through extreme conditions—including a harrowing escape from a volcano. Grant makes time for nuanced characterization within the breakneck adventure, taking her protagonists through a series of heart-stopping twists. The story ends on a tantalizing tease of a cliff-hanger, but still doles out just desserts to good guys and bad guys alike. This page-turning romance is headed for many a keeper shelf.
This seductive neo-noir thriller from bestseller Moreno-Garcia (Mexican Gothic) draws on the real-life efforts of the Mexican government to suppress political dissent in the 1970s. Maite, a 30-year-old secretary in Mexico City who feels life has passed her by, escapes from routine by reading the magazine Secret Romance, oblivious to the political upheaval around her. When her beautiful art student neighbor, Leonora, disappears, Maite, with the help of Rubén, Leonora’s former lover, begins a search that takes her into the world of student radicals. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Elvis, muscle for a clandestine, government-funded shock troop employed to suppress student protests, longs for something more and wishes to escape his old life. When Elvis’s boss assigns him to track down Leonora, his search crosses that of Maite, with whom he becomes fascinated. As the two get closer to discovering the reason behind Leonora’s disappearance, they uncover secrets that shadowy forces, both domestic and foreign, will kill to protect. This is a rich novel with an engrossing plot, distinctive characters, and a pleasing touch of romance. Readers won’t be able to put it down.
Ward sends out the mammoth and extremely rewarding trilogy that began with Legacy of Ash with this expertly wrought epic. The war between the Tressian Republic and the Hadari Empire has ended, but peace does not comfort Tressia’s Lord Protector Viktor Droshna, who is burdened by a supernatural shadow that drives him to create new conflict. Josiri Trelan, Viktor’s best friend and Head of the Constabulary in the city of Tressia, is slow to recognize the danger, distracted by fears for his beloved demon, Anastacia Psanneque, and by the restless, unhappy populace. Much bloodshed and intrigue ensue in the buildup to Viktor trying first to resurrect Calenne Trelan, his dead lover and Josari’s sister—then to use the power of shadow to animate an army of clay mannequins against the Republic. Meanwhile the deities who lurk behind the trilogy’s action, bargaining with ephemeral humans when it pleases them, become ever more involved in the characters’ lives, especially the Raven, God of the Dead, who is both amused and annoyed by Calenne’s refusal to stay dead. Ward breathes new life into familiar tropes while convincingly maneuvering his huge cast to universally satisfying conclusions. The result is a vigorous, bravura saga.
Gable (A Paris Apartment) immerses readers into parallel narratives of two authors revolving around a London bookshop. American novelist Katie Cabot’s writing career seems to have stalled. Eager to get away from her overbearing family in present-day Northern Virginia and their advice about her recent breakup with her fiancé, Armie, Katie travels to London to see a friend. There, Katie visits Heywood Hill Ltd., a decades-old bookstore where famed novelist Nancy Mitford worked during WWII, and meets Simon Bailey, an attractive teacher who is eager to find Nancy’s missing unpublished memoir, which he learned about when reading letters from Nancy to his grandmother Lea, who lived at Rutland Gate, where Nancy’s friend housed war refugees. As Katie helps Simon by searching for the missing manuscript at Heywood Hill, the attraction between the two builds, but is complicated by Armie’s unexpected arrival in London. Gable’s witty narrative effortlessly moves between two time periods and is enriched with cameos by historical figures and authentic, memorable characters. Historical fiction fans will be riveted from the first page
Strength in solidarity is the prevailing theme of this galvanizing graphic dramatization by Campbell (Baaaad Muthaz) of a real-life clash between residents of Carnegie, Penn., and the KKK in 1923. Cabbriele, an Italian immigrant haunted by the memory of being tormented by a lynch mob (“We done caught us a guinea instead”), joins Irish, African American, and Jewish protestors who aim to upend “Karnegie Day,” a rally of armed Klansmen supported by elements of the local government. His grinding path from Sicily to America helps form the story’s emotional core and frames how he banded together with others to organize a counterprotest, which ended in a brawl that ousted the Klan. “A man without his friends will have nothing but trouble throughout his life,” utters a white working class man to a Black comrade in this effort, neatly summing up Campbell’s theme. Khodabandeh (The Little Black Fish) supplies chilling panels of Klan members in full regalia, including an image of child pulling a miniature noose around the neck of an African American female doll. Campbell reflects in the afterword on how the anti-rally had been largely forgotten as Carnegie—his hometown—developed away from its immigrant roots. Now readers have this emotionally charged record of how hatred born in American forced a community of immigrants and marginalized people to rally and model the best version of their nation’s ideals.