The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Michael Connelly, Lily King, and Carol Marron.
In bestseller Connelly’s stellar fourth novel featuring LAPD Det. Renée Ballard (after 2019’s The Night Fire), Ballard leads the way on two separate cases: the shooting death of Javier Raffa, a former gang member, and the search for a pair of serial rapists dubbed the Midnight Men. A recovered bullet connects the Raffa shooting to an old case of Connelly’s main series lead, Harry Bosch. Though Bosch is retired, he willingly helps out and ends up playing a key role in investigating both cases. Meticulous about actual police procedure, Connelly makes the fundamentals of detective work engrossing while providing plenty of suspense and action, including one genuinely shocking scene of violence involving Ballard. He also excels at imbuing his narratives with social commentary, a talent showcased in this entry, which opens with Ballard and her reluctant police partner, Lisa Moore, parked near a homeless encampment on New Year’s Eve 2020 (“It had been a bad year with the pandemic and social unrest and violence”). Along the way to a surprising, even hopeful ending, Connelly avoids polemics while exploring such issues as internal disaffection among the police (including Ballard’s ambivalence about her career), misogyny and domestic violence, and the political divide that resulted in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. This is a masterpiece.
National Book Critics Circle award winner King (Euphoria) delivers a rich and varied collection filled with characters whose lives are transformed by old and new acquaintances, addiction, and the written word. In the opener, “Creature,” teenage narrator Carol finds summer employment as a nanny while she reads Jane Eyre, a novel that has strange and fascinating resonances for her. In “When in the Dordogne,” the narrator, a “martini baby, conceived after one too many in late July 1971,” struggles in the wake of his father’s failed suicide. “The Man at the Door,” the collection’s finest entry, finds a writer who’s also a mother experiencing the heaven of her avocation—“This morning, however, a sentence rose, a strange unexpected chain of words meeting the surface in one long gorgeous arc”—before being quickly brought back down to earth: “The baby bleated through the monitor. She’d only managed to get three sentences on the page.” These stories crackle and shine, and King is a master of the thumbnail portrait: she can create a fully realized life in a single paragraph and then alter it in breathtaking ways. This is a must for fans of the short story.
“Gardens have mattered deeply in people’s lives ever since Eve ate the apple from the tree,” writes Marron (City Squares), a contributing editor at Vogue, in this impressive meditation. When Marron moved to Connecticut, she realized that “to feel rooted,” she needed to “put down roots” and start a garden, so she gave herself 18 months to design and watch a full plant cycle. Along the way, she learned how to be a gardener by reading books by such writer-gardeners as Beverley Nichols, Eleanor Perényi, and Henry Mitchell, and also by good ol’ trial and error. Gardeners make mistakes all the time, Marron suggests—this is just one of the many lessons she lays out. Others include that to be a gardener, one must hang around other gardeners, that gardeners are witnesses to death, and that kitchen gardens are more work than other kinds. As she recounts the skills of “observation, planting techniques, and patience” she gained during her trial, she shares plenty of practical tips for others looking to get started—an “annual to-do list,” for example, breaks down seasonal tasks and what to plant when—and lush photographs compliment Marron’s musings. Aspiring and seasoned gardeners alike will want to have this on the shelf.
Erikson burnishes his reputation as a superior epic fantasy world-builder in this trilogy debut, a spin-off of his Malazan Book of the Fallen series, that makes it easy for newcomers to invest, despite the large cast of characters and weighty backstory. Catastrophic climate change that means the end of winter for the Malazan world threatens to flood the lands of the south. That region’s peoples also face a military threat in the form of an army of raiders led by Elade Tharos, who commands a force of clans united by his promise of revenge upon the southerners who took their members as slaves and seized their lands. Myriad subplots wend throughout, notably including a character’s struggles with addiction, something rarely explored in this genre. Erikson’s outstanding descriptive skills (a graveyard is depicted as “a strange mixture of beehive tombs and mounded urn-pits along with mostly sunken, tilted platforms, hinting at more than one ancient, long-forgotten practice by equally forgotten peoples”) enhance a complicated narrative that sweats the details. This is a treat both for Erikson’s returning readers and lovers of George R.R. Martin–style epic fantasy who have yet to discover his work.
The late artist and critic Schloss (1919–2011) brilliantly conveys her experiences as a participant in, and a keen observer of, New York’s “loft generation,” a community of American abstract expressionist painters, musicians, photographers, dancers, and artists who took up residence in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in the 1940s and ’50s. This posthumous book, thoughtfully edited by Venturini, combines Schloss’s personal memoir with her art criticism to provide a riveting firsthand account of the daily lives, complex social interactions, and marital spats of artists—including Willem de Kooning, John Cage (a “dry Protestant Californian” whose early concerts attracted more painters than musicians), Denise Levertov, Francesca Woodman (a photographer “ahead of her time”), and Cy Twombly—whom she encountered living in New York and Italy. In addition to her eye for detail and ear for dialogue, Schloss brings a feminist perspective to her recollections; readers learn as much about Elaine de Kooning (“no one... ever had such style or courage”) as they do her more famous husband, Bill, and many lesser-known female artists—including collage artist Lucia Vernarelli and surrealist painter Helen DeMott—are treated with the same respect. Rich in granular detail and rendered in eloquent and captivating prose, this is an intimate look at a pivotal era in its formative stages and offers an invaluable source for the study of one of the great art movements.
Historian Gross (The Minutemen and Their World) provides a rich and immersive portrait of 19th-century Concord, Mass., and the Transcendentalist movement that originated there. Aiming to place Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and other Transcendentalists “in the context of the town in which they lived and wrote,” Gross documents the “promises and pitfalls” of Thoreau’s pencil-making father, John Thoreau, and other businessmen due to the region’s expanding economy (“Trade curses every thing it handles,” Thoreau would later write in Walden). Gross also delves into the subscription libraries, debating societies, and lecture series that connected community members to the wider world, and details how Emerson’s “call for self-reliance” was a bridge too far for many would-be Transcendentalists in Concord who still believed in the “ancient social ethic of New England.” Thoreau, however, was “drawn apart from his townsmen” and toward Emerson, as the two men “struggled for ways to reconcile the new freedom of individuals with the older claims of interdependence for the common good.” Seamlessly integrating a wealth of primary and secondary sources into his narrative, Gross brings 19th-century New England to vivid life and portrays the personal dynamics between Transcendentalism’s leading figures with insight. This sweeping study brilliantly illuminates a crucial period in American history.
“You can bake like a Southerner no matter where you live,” writes Day (The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook) in this impressive compilation of baked goods hailing from and adapted in Southern states. Inspired by the handwritten recipes passed down from her great-great-grandmother and a passion for collecting old Southern cookbooks, Day supplements her delectable offerings with fascinating historical context: “Before vanilla extract was widely available,” she writes in her apple rose pie recipe, “the most popular flavoring in America was rose water.” Alongside Southern staples peach cobbler, hummingbird cake, and golden buttermilk chess pie, she shares enticing savory options as well—such as summer tomato pie, parmesan-rosemary-pecan shortbread, and cornmeal cheese waffles. Other palatable choices include salty honey bars, crispy cheese crackers (an “addictive party snack” made with crisped rice cereal), and strawberry black pepper butter. Day also devotes a detailed section to jam making and teaches readers how to can for long-term use. Her easy-to-follow steps and tricks (like blanching peaches to perfectly peel them) will boost confidence and help refine baking techniques so that “every day is worthy of a special treat from the kitchen.” This is an excellent guide for novice and experienced bakers looking to add a little Southern charm to their repertoire.
Historian McManus follows Fortitude and Fire with an outstanding second volume in his planned trilogy on the Pacific theater of WWII. Covering the period from the invasion of the Marshall Islands in January 1944 to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s premature declaration of victory at the Battle of Leyte in December 1944, McManus’s extensive cast of characters includes commanders, officers, enlisted men, and captured soldiers toiling in Japan’s horrendous POW camps. He delves into each island invasion in scrupulous detail, documenting, for instance, how the Army Air Force bombed Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for seven weeks to prepare for the amphibious assault, which nevertheless devolved into an “incremental slugfest” as outnumbered Japanese soldiers fought ferociously from pillboxes, entrenchments, and the ruins of bombed-out buildings. McManus sheds light on famous battles (Bougainville, Corregidor) as well as lesser-known affairs (Sanananda, Attu), and incisively profiles U.S. military commanders including MacArthur, a brilliant strategist and courageous leader who was also “a man of astonishing pomposity, megalomania and egocentrism.” Distinguished by informative deep dives into logistical and strategic issues and McManus’s storytelling prowess, this is an excellent study of how the U.S. turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.