The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Fonda Lee, Edmund White, and Francesca Stavrakopoulou.
In the epic finale to Lee’s Green Bone Saga series (following Jade War), the rival clans of No Peak and the Mountain continue their multigenerational struggle for dominance over their island home of Kekon. The No Peak Kaul and Mountain Ayt families are locked in a bitter decades-long blood feud fueled by honor and the bioenergetic jade that grants users phenomenal abilities. While the war between their clans plays out in myriad ways—from economic manipulation and political intrigue to vicious street duels—the far-flung family members and their allies find time for more personal and intimate dramas. As the older generation slows down, retires, or dies, younger representatives look for a way to end the conflict once and for all. Sprawling, complex, and steeped in Asian culture and sensibilities, this impressive contemporary fantasy slowly unwinds over many years, capturing the feel of time passing and eras changing even as it lingers in the most pivotal moments. Lee expertly balances conflict and growth on both individual and societal levels, giving this massive story weight, as every decision can potentially change the world. In both meeting and subverting expectations at every turn, Lee guides her cast to a deeply satisfying, well-earned conclusion.
White (A Saint from Texas) offers an erotically charged and ingenious metafictional story of a married couple. In 2050, 70-something Sicilian musician Ruggero Castelnuovo agrees, with his 30-year-old American wife, Constance, to break the silence about their pasts. Three decades earlier, Ruggero had an affair with Edmund White, who was in his 80s at the time. Ruggero and Constance read their memoirs aloud in alternate passages, and each welcomes their newfound revelations. Ruggero fears that despite his international reputation in the music world he’ll only be remembered as “the man who ruined Edmund White’s life” (what he means by that will come out later). Constance tells of a gay suitemate at Princeton, two failed marriages to older men (robbed by her first husband; humiliated by her second). As their confessions unroll, they reckon with the shadow of age and redefine their relationship, culminating in life-changing decisions. Through it all, the author hands his characters indelible lines to express their self-knowledge, which often yield insights on gender fluidity and sexuality (“it was the part you played that determined your identity, not the gender of your partner,” Ruggero tells Constance, explaining an episode of role play). It adds up to a dizzyingly enticing and kaleidoscopic take on the spectrum of sexual experiences.
Biblical scholar Stavrakopoulou convincingly argues for understanding the Christian God as an embodied being in this fascinating comparative mythology. Despite encountering “broad assumption” among Jewish and Christian insistence that God is “formless,” Stavrakopoulou found “ancient texts conjured a startlingly corporeal image of God.” She demonstrates this through biblical appearances, alongside the mythologies of an embodied God from the ancient Hebrews’ neighbors. Stavrakopoulou starts with the feet and moves upwards, using body parts as jumping-off points to explore cultural and theological issues. She considers genitals (including Ezekiel’s vision of God’s genitals filling the temple); the torso and organs (with a section on the heart as the seat of cognition); and arms, hands, and head (including an eye-opening exploration of the power of scent in rituals). She moves into what those parts can do, as, when discussing hands, she considers the ancient power invested in writing. By placing Hebrew stories in their local context, she explains what body parts meant to the original writers of the Bible, and offers insights into the reasons and methods that later theologians employed to diminish God’s corporeality. Stavrakopoulou writes with the fluidity of a seasoned storyteller, using ample footnotes, but never getting weighed down by academic jargon. This is a provocative tour de force.
McSweeney’s editors Monks and Traig gather laugh-out-loud parenting wisdom in this compendium of games, essays, and tongue-in-cheek quizzes. Many parenting books are “filled with completely reasonable advice, but they’re too dry and boring to actually read,” writes Nick Kroll in his introduction, and the pieces that follow are anything but. Sara Hutto offers a list of “Myth Versus Fact for My Kids” in which she discloses that “mommy’s special bean dip is the source of all her powers and how she casts spells and also it’s chocolate,” while Mary Kay Jordan Flemming assesses via a questionnaire if readers are up to the task of parenting (asking if they “enjoy cooking for people whose best reviews include the words yuck, gross, disgusting, and blech?”). Kimberly Harrington shares a “Homeschooling While Working from Home During a Global Pandemic Bingo” board (complete with squares for “crying” and “night coffee”), and Carlos Greaves doles out “Advice-Column Questions from Famous Fictional Parents” (“Does she have any hobbies besides defeating the Huns?” he writes in response to Mulan’s father). This quirky collection will remind those with children not to take themselves too seriously. Fans of Adam Mansbach’s Go the F**k to Sleep are in for a treat.
Ruiz debuts with a touching, hilarious rom-com that finds Florida yacht steward Jo Walker striving to cross 30 items off her bucket list by her 30th birthday. Unfortunately, a family tragedy throws Jo off track, and the list gets put on the back burner. Now she has just three months left to complete her bucket list. She books a trip to Europe to knock off two items—visit 10 countries and sleep in a castle—but this plan is derailed when her two nieces unexpectedly arrive to spend the summer with her. When the girls discover the bucket list, they launch a scheme to help Jo complete it in time. Meanwhile, task number five—kiss a stranger—leads Jo to meet Alex Hayes, who doesn’t stay a stranger for long. But Jo’s failure to confront difficult emotions causes problems in all her relationships, and she must address her past before she can construct a meaningful future. Ruiz presents a layered story by merging the heartbreak of Jo and her family’s loss with the sheer joy of chasing down items on the impossible bucket list. The sunny setting; chaste, endearing romance; and heartwarming themes of familial devotion will leave readers hungry for more from Ruiz.
Set in 1950s Japan, this taut mystery from Yokomizo (1902–1981) provides an original variation on the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Tatsuya Terada, a cosmetics company employee in his 20s who believes he has no surviving relatives, hears a radio announcement asking anyone who knows of his whereabouts to contact an attorney. He subsequently learns that an unknown, unnamed wealthy relative wants to adopt and provide for him. Tatsuya then gets an anonymous warning to “never set foot in the village of Eight Graves again,” lest it “become a sea of blood.” A curse was placed on the village in 1566 by the leader of a group of eight samurai killed by its residents. His vow of vengeance apparently manifested itself in the 1920s, when a man related to Tatsuya went berserk and slaughtered more than 30 villagers. Tatsuya agrees to return to Eight Graves, triggering a series of baffling murders. Kosuke Kindaichi, Yokomizo’s Columbo-like sleuth, arrives to sort through the tangled puzzle and provide a satisfying solution. Fans of gothic-tinged fair play will be enthralled.
This Prix Goncourt winner from Le Tellier (All Happy Families), an extraordinary mix of existential thriller and speculative fiction, introduces several characters, starting with a French hit man named Blake, all of whom take Air France Flight 006 from Paris to New York on March 10, 2021. The plane hits some highly unusual turbulence as it nears its destination, but lands safely. Later, one passenger, author Victor Miesel, writes a novel titled The Anomaly, then dies by suicide. Other passengers’ lives continue onward in their own way. Then FBI agents seek out each of the passengers on the flight. All are gathered under Protocol 42, developed by two mathematicians to make sense of unforeseen and unimagined air traffic events that go far beyond extraterrestrial interference or controls overridden by an artificial intelligence. The reality-defying incident creates a crisis, which a Trump-like American president fumbles his way through. Questions of philosophy, mathematics, and astrophysics bend this novel far from the typical mold, and Le Tellier’s characters must confront the deepest questions of existence. This thought-provoking literary work deserves a wide readership.
Shimada’s contemplative manga, his English-language debut, winds through a thoughtfully developed world where humanoid robots are commonplace. Through interconnected vignettes, an ensemble cast of androids and other humans go about their lives. Sachio, an android, continues to live among humans even after his companion’s death; while Toby and Chloe, also androids, are sent to search deep space for planets that could support human life. The most frequently recurring character is Maria, an ultra-longevity robot who keeps a facility running for thousands of years as the humans who check in on her are replaced by ever-more advanced robots. The evocative, sparsely illustrated sequences are reminiscent of alternative American comics, such as Freddy Carrasco’s Gleem or Sophia Foster-Dimino’s oeuvre, than mainstream sci-fi manga. Shimada creates an image of a potential future full of understated love and empathy: robots transfer data between themselves by touching each other’s cheeks, replicating a human gesture of intimacy and affection, and the doctor in charge of Toby and Chloe’s mission asked for the robots to be happy if they couldn’t return to Earth, a mission they do their best to fulfill. Shimada upends the notion that survival of androids over humanity must essentially be dystopian, depicting a future where human traits of love and care endure, even if humanity does not.
Rumors and respectability are at the forefront of Long’s exceptional fourth Palace of Rogues Regency romance (after I’m Only Wicked with You). Disgraced opera singer Mariana Wylde flees her London home after she’s threatened by a mob accusing her of using her feminine wiles to incite a duel. She finds refuge at the Grand Palace on the Thames, a boarding house run by Delilah Hardy and Angelique Durand where war hero James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, also resides. The image-conscious duke initially rebuffs and ridicules Mariana, until Delilah and Angelique step in. As penance for his poor behavior, James offers to teach Mariana Italian, and their enjoyable tutoring sessions soon lead to frank discussions and intense attraction. But as Mariana considers an offer to sing in a new opera in Paris and James contemplates remarrying after the death of his wife five years before, it seems the differences in their social stations may be insurmountable. Long’s intelligent, complex protagonists and their credible hidden depths feel remarkably real, while the slow-burning evolution of their romance and genuine impediments to their love will keep readers hooked. Add in witty dialogue and sharp commentary on class restrictions, and the result is a standout historical romance.