The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Lindsay Ellis, Gregory Galloway, and Mondiant Dogon.
Career thief Rick, the narrator of this stellar noir from Galloway (The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand) set in an unnamed part of the U.S., learned dishonesty from his father, a crooked building inspector. After Rick’s girlfriend, Denise, gives birth to their daughter, the couple split, but Rick becomes concerned about the new man in Denise’s life, a drug addict. Rick seeks help getting the drug addict out of the picture from Froehmer, a friend of his dad’s, who agrees to take care of the problem. In exchange, Rick steals tools and equipment on demand from construction sites. Rick’s proficiency at boosting stuff leads to another request from Froehmer—to burglarize a home to steal a box. That successful assignment leads to other burglaries and to Rick’s eventual acquisition of a partner, Frank, who has the tech skills to evade alarms and surveillance. The partnership results in murder and the tightening of the screws around Rick. Galloway is as good at characterizations as he is at tight, and surprising, plotting. Michael Kardos fans will be eager for more from Galloway.
A human rights activist remembers a childhood besieged by violence in Congo and Rwanda in this searing debut memoir. Dogon was born in North Kivu, a region of Congo on the border with Rwanda that was populated by ethnic Hutus and Tutsis; after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when he was three years old, Hutu attacks drove his Tutsi family from their village. Fleeing to Rwanda, they survived massacres inflicted by Hutu militias on Tutsi refugee camps. Dogon later returned to Congo with his father, but at the age of 11 he was imprisoned and witnessed the rapes and murders of inmates by Congolese soldiers. He eventually escaped to join pro-Tutsi rebels before returning to Rwanda, where he got an education, but still experienced poverty, hunger, and the despair of being a stateless outcast in a society that reviled refugees. There is shocking suffering here, and Dogon conveys its psychological impact with limpid, subdued prose. (“I turned my little sister’s head from side to side,” he recalls of his sister’s death from starvation. “It moved without resistance... like a toy.... I felt as though I was no longer human.”) The result is an immensely moving memorial to the Rwandan tragedy.
Historian Sturgis (Walter Sickert: A Life) delivers a comprehensive portrait of playwright and poet Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) in this extraordinary account. Renowned for his flamboyance and defiance of convention, “Wilde’s shimmering wit creates an open-ended discourse that encourages all heresies,” according to Sturgis. Drawing on letters, contracts, notebooks, and court documents, among other materials, Sturgis meticulously tracks her subject’s turbulent life, highlighting his rise to fame as the “living embodiment of Aestheticism,” his affairs with men while married to Constance Lloyd, his trio of highly successful plays including An Ideal Husband in the early 1890s, and his eventual two-year imprisonment on charges of “gross indecency.” With meticulous attention to detail, Sturgis recounts the destruction the Victorian penal system inflicted on the playwright, noting that when Wilde was temporarily taken out of prison to attend his bankruptcy proceedings, “he was dressed in his old clothes, but they hung about him now.” Sturgis offers plenty of history behind Wilde’s best-known works, (including The Picture of Dorian Gray, which caused a “phenomenal stir” and became one of London’s most talked about books), and creates a rich and complex characterization of the author, who could be both exceedingly generous and profoundly callous. This splendid biography is not to be missed.
The situation with intelligent extraterrestrials on Earth grows ever more complex in bestseller Ellis’s brilliantly considered follow-up to Axiom’s End, which finds human Cora and alien amygdaline Ampersand navigating a political minefield. While the world’s governments debate how many rights, if any, to extend to the amygdalines, unrest builds in the United States due to the lack of public information about the aliens. Out of the turmoil rises the Third Party, advocating a Third Option, a “proposed law that would create an entirely new category of personhood” and severely limit the amygdalines’ ability to function within the U.S. without a human chaperone, essentially classifying them as second-class citizens. As the party’s extremists grow increasingly violent, things are further complicated by the arrival of yet another amygdaline, this one determined to fulfill a suicide pact with Ampersand. Meanwhile, Cora and Ampersand cope with PTSD amplified by their dynamic fusion bond—and Cora realizes that Ampersand has been less than honest with her. Ellis draws skillful parallels between her science-fictional politics and real world issues, gracefully navigating the difficult topics of discrimination, violent extremism, mental health, and addiction. This thought-provoking novel will linger long in readers’ minds.
Illustrator, cook, and memoirist Shopsin (Arbitrary Stupid Goal) mixes the stories of a scrappy Mac repair shop’s employees with a history of digital technology in her unconventional and captivating debut novel. Shopsin follows 19-year-old Claire as she begins a new job at TekServe in mid-1990s New York City. Here, Claire finds an eccentric but compassionate family of co-workers and a newfound passion for the intricacies of printer repair. She’s trained by Joel, a Berklee College of Music grad who begged for a job there after his music internship ended. Shopsin cleverly evokes the era with a mix of historical and fictionalized references, as Claire’s interest in punk music and social justice prompts her to volunteer for Food Not Bombs at Big Squat on Avenue B, a stand-in for C-Squat, where the members of a band named Hookworm 68 all live. Shopsin also delves into TekServe’s origins as a tape player manufacturer; the emergence and extinction of Apple’s laser printer; and includes snappy origin stories of figures such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, all punctuated by pixelated illustrations evoking the aesthetics of MacPaint (Claire recalls being “mesmerized by the marching ants of the marquee” when she used the program as a child). This singular project brilliantly captures the spirit of individuality, innovation, and change.
Chang (Obit) brings a poet’s lyricism to considering grief and memory in this powerful collection of letters. Mixing official documents, handwritten notes, photographs, and correspondence, she creates a moving consideration of ancestry and loss. There are letters to family members—one, titled “Dear Mother,” is filled with Chang’s speculations about her mother’s move from China to Taiwan: “I would like to know if you took a train. If you walked. If you had pockets in your dress.” Letters are also written to nonfamilial characters in Chang’s life, among them “Dear Teacher,” to a high school English teacher who “loved to read,” and others to a slew of various acquaintances. Several pieces aren’t addressed to people at all: there’s “Dear Silence,” which discusses language and shame; “Dear Body,” which asks, “Have you ever wondered when I would let you go?”; and “Dear Ford Motor Company,” which features a perfect-attendance letter sent from the company to the author’s father. As Chang recounts the death of her mother and what it means to remember, her prose is sharp and strong—memory is “the exit wound of joy,” she writes—and her creativity shines in her incorporation of the collage-like visual elements, which add depth. Fans of Chang’s poetry will be delighted.
Stone’s magnetic, bittersweet debut finds publicist Josie Morgan dreading Christmas following a break up with her cheating boyfriend, Oliver. It’s just one more reason to hate the season: Josie’s parents died at Christmastime when she was nine years old, and for the past two decades she’s swapped out letters to Santa with letters to them sent each December. This year, while bicycling to her London post box, Josie collides with Max Carter, an architect unable to get a flight to New York for Christmas with his family. The pair wind up spending the holiday season together, enjoying a brief, intense affair. But Max flies to New York on Boxing Day without offering a way to contact him. Months later, the pair cross paths at a Brooklyn gallery opening Josie’s attending with Oliver, with whom she’s reunited, and then again at a wedding in Scotland. Though they’re unsure where they stand with each other, when Josie’s grandmother has a heart attack, Max is there to comfort her. But Max is harboring a secret that explains his reluctance to have a relationship—and the revelation will change Josie’s life forever. Romance fans should be prepared for a tearjerker ending to this poignant, well-plotted tale of once-in-a-life-time love. It’s as unforgettable as it is heart-wrenching.
The murder of Lizzie Oullette, the most hated woman in rundown Copper Falls, Maine, jump-starts this clever, surprising psychological thriller from YA author Rosenfield (Inland). Few people mourn Lizzie, their dislike stemming from her rough background, the only child of the local junkyard’s owner. Instead, the residents of Copper Falls (“not even the yearly influx of tourists could reverse the town’s protracted death from neglect”) are more worried about her missing husband, the prime suspect in Lizzie’s murder, regarded by them as “some kind of hometown hero whose life had been unfairly derailed.” The investigation of Det. Ian Bird of the Maine State Police takes him to Boston to track down Adrienne and Ethan Richards, the wealthy couple who rented the lake house where Lizzie’s body was found. A much-despised disgraced financier, Ethan was never prosecuted for bilking many out of their life savings. Flashbacks reveal how the lives of Lizzie and smug, arrogant Adrienne intersected with fatal results. The superb character-driven plot delivers an astonishing, believable jolt. Rosenfield shines a searing light on issues of classism, jealousy, and squandered potential.
Ragsdale (A Planters’ Republic), former director of the Federal Judicial History Office, offers a fascinating and richly informative portrait of George Washington focused on how “agricultural improvement and the work of nation building were firmly joined in [his] mind.” Drawing on Washington’s ledger and account books and the weekly work reports he created to measure the value of enslaved labor, Ragsdale meticulously traces the founding father’s agricultural pursuits from the late 1750s to his death in 1799. Washington’s experimental methods at his Mount Vernon estate included switching from tobacco and corn to wheat, digging ditches and planting hedgerows, and the introduction of crop rotation and fodder crops. He struck up correspondence with influential English and Scots agriculturalists, and closely followed the “latest models of British husbandry” in instituting reforms. Ragsdale shows how these improvement efforts increased the complexity of operations at Mount Vernon and “imposed a far more demanding work regimen” on the enslaved people there, which eventually led to Washington’s recognition that the “ideal of a balanced order rooted in nature and improved by human endeavor” was “in conflict with the system of enslaved labor.” Ragsdale’s lucid explanations of agricultural and financial matters and excellent usage of underexamined primary sources make this a must-read for fans of early American history. Illus.
In 1941, trainee nurse Bridget Kelly, the heroine of this richly nuanced mystery from Mary Higgins Clark Award winner Rader-Day (The Lucky One), is mourning the bombing deaths of her mother and siblings when she makes a medication dosing mistake that kills a man. Her supervisor assigns her to care for children being evacuated from London and promises that if she does well, her training can resume. With 10 infants and toddlers and a fellow nurse who says her name is also Bridget Kelly but goes by Gigi, Bridget travels to Greenway, the Devon holiday home of author Agatha Christie, which is empty except for staff while Christie and her husband do war work. Gigi is unreliable and faints at the sight of blood, but her effervescence helps lighten Bridget’s sadness and self-doubt. When a strangled corpse is found in a nearby river, Bridget recognizes it as a man whom she discovered wandering in Greenway’s garden one morning. Soon afterward, Gigi disappears. Through multiple viewpoints, Rader-Day nicely evokes the isolation and dislocations of people in WWII Britain while revealing her characters’ complexities. Despite the many allusions to Christie’s life and work, she eschews an artificially neat conclusion. Fans of both Christie and Rader-Day will relish this.