The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Rob Pope, Georgia Pritchett, and Richie Hofmann.
Becoming Forrest: One Man’s Epic Run Across America
Ultra-athlete Pope debuts with a stirring chronicle of his more than 15,000 mile run across the United States to recreate Tom Hanks’s famous cross-country trek in Forrest Gump. An English veterinarian, marathon runner, and longtime Gump enthusiast, Pope dedicated his run to raising money for charities including the World Wide Fund for Nature and Peace Direct. Early chapters detail his start in Alabama in 2016—decked out in “Gump paraphernalia,” including a “pristine new pair of white Nike Cortez”—and then follow Pope day by day, state by state. Along the way, he meticulously catalogues his experiences, dutifully posting his mileage, new roadkill spottings (in Louisiana: “one otter”), and his latest gnarly blisters. What quickly becomes striking—on top of the extreme distance of his runs, often “forty miles every day without rest”—is Pope’s innate curiosity and fascination with the world around him. While running near the Mexican border, for example, he reflects upon George Harrison’s quote that “all things must pass,” and after President Trump’s declaration that the U.S. would be leaving the Paris Agreement regarding climate change, Pope ponders the shifting tides of American life and culture during a stop in Indiana. This is sure to inspire distance runners as well as those interested in a hearty slice of Americana.
My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety
British comedy writer Pritchett debuts with a collection of zippy and poignant anecdotes that describe living at the crossroads of imagination and anxiety. As a child, she wondered if there were monsters under her bed—and, if so, were they comfortable in all that dust? But also, what if she was the Messiah, headed toward a violent death? Indeed, in Pritchett’s eyes, life isn’t simply terrifying—it’s nonsensical, as demonstrated when a friend is shuffled off to an ex-gay ministry after the two of them kiss: “The church wanted to exorcise me [as well],” she writes, “but that didn’t sound like much fun, so I said no.” As she grows up, her tendency to understate eats away at her, and her anxiety functions as a “Dark Overlord Beaver.” She sprinkles in more serious moments: a mentally ill man threatening her brother with a knife, or hearing racist taunts when she’s out with a boyfriend of color. The narrative becomes more intense (though still funny) as she confronts sexism in the entertainment industry (she writes for Succession and wrote for Veep), infertility and miscarriage, her partner’s cancer scare, and her sons’ autism diagnoses. The delivery’s delightful and as finely tuned as poetry or a tight stand-up routine. Her torment, as well as her joys, are readers’ gain.
A Hundred Lovers
The sensuous second collection from Hofmann (Second Empire) catalogs the tastes, textures, scents, and sounds of queer love, sex, and heartache. “Light shone through the glass of our apartment,” he writes. “You had been showering,/ the smell of mint invaded the room, your hair was wet.” It would be easy to call this a book of love poems, but love, in Hofmann’s writing, is an inadequate construct. “I wanted to feel tenderness,” he writes in “Underground,” “but the love everyone was seeking/ I already owned.” Nearly every poem addresses an unnamed lover, but the focus is on the speaker’s own experience and senses. These are corporeal poems that find their players yearning, yawning, aroused under a chestnut tree, dressed in linens, fed on cheese and apples, mourning, smelling of ferns. Just as Hofmann’s book bears witness to the richness of sexuality, it also explores the entrapments of shame, the devastation of heartbreak, and the difficult emotional work that relationships require. “To give oneself to a hundred lovers: hard,” he writes. “To give oneself to one: also hard.” This offers an entrancing testament to the pleasures and pains of human connection.
Jane and the Year Without a Summer: Being a Jane Austen Mystery
At the start of Barron’s outstanding 14th Jane Austen mystery (after 2016’s Jane and the Waterloo Map), Jane uses some of the profits from her novel Emma to treat herself and her sister, Cassandra, to two weeks at Cheltenham Spa in Gloucestershire in May 1816. Jane hopes that taking the waters there will alleviate her lassitude, back pain, and “want of spirits.” The new acquaintances the sisters meet include a beautiful invalid in her 20s, a heroic naval captain, and an evangelical clergyman (“Repent, Miss Austen—Prepare. The end of all things is upon us”), who’s accompanied by his impertinent sister (“You do not appear to suffer. You cannot claim ill health,” she tells Jane). When one of these sharply defined characters dies of poisoning, Jane once again turns sleuth. The Austen family’s financial constraints and Jane’s own failing health add verisimilitude to this taut, sometimes perplexing tale of lost opportunity and unfulfilled aspirations. Barron fans will hope Jane, who died in 1817, will be back for one more mystery.
The Wind Whistling in the Cranes
Jorge (The Painter of Birds) delivers a captivating Romeo and Juliet–style love story set in the Algarve of Portugal and wrapped in the saga of a country politically altered by postcolonial migration following the Carnation Revolution of 1974. Workers are taking control of factories and farms, selling machinery, and ruining businesses. By 1984, defunct cannery Fabrica de Conservas Leandro is home to the Matas, a family of Cape Verde immigrants who rent from Dona Regina Leandro. After the Leandro matriarch wanders out of an ambulance wearing a nightgown at a gas station and staggers to the gates of the Old Factory, where she dies, her granddaughter, Milene, seeks the truth behind the unexplainable events. Dominoes fall quickly once the Matas find Milene, “the white person,” hiding in the courtyard. After Milene meets the widowed Antonino Mata, circumstances become the “absolute monarchs” of Milene’s and Antonio’s lives as their devious family members try to keep them apart. Meanwhile, developers swarm around the canning factory and the future looks uncertain for the community. Throughout, Jorge blends the personal drama with insight on the compounding social issues, making the account sing on several levels. The result is brilliant and trenchant.
Eating Again: The Recipes That Healed Me
Food provides a tasty balm for the soul in this stellar debut, a blend of personal stories and heartwarming recipes. When Tench’s therapists “suggested food as a means of getting back in touch” with herself after struggles with bulimia and alcoholism, she turned to her roots and began cooking. Here, she shares the formative dishes of her past, the “one[s] that made me the... woman I finally love and respect” and that eventually inspired her to start her own cooking show, Instagram to Table, in 2019. In luscious prose, Tench recounts discovering her late Italian grandmother’s diaries of “what she ate, what she cooked”—a memory that gives way to a section of traditional Italian recipes, including a simple onion frittata, and pumpkin soup with rice and milk (one of her “Madri’s” many “magical” dishes). Revisiting her recovery from bulimia, she shares the creamy butternut squash bucatini recipe that saw her through it, while breaded meatballs evoke memories of her father’s childhood in Puglia. Other tempting dishes include Orecchiette with broccoli rabe; smoked paprika kale chips that Tench’s daughter, Catherine, eats by the bunches; and a grilled zucchini parmigiana that pays homage to her mother’s fondness for the versatile veggie. This sincere and delicious chronicle is one to savor.
Not the Witch You Wed
Things get hexy in Asher’s Supernatural Singles series launch, a delightful paranormal rom-com. Violet Maxwell is happy to stay out of the spotlight in the supernatural world, as, though she’s a triplet granddaughter to a powerful Prima Witch, she has no magical abilities that she knows of. Wolf shifter Lincoln Thorne, the Alpha of the North American Pack, wants to leave his past behind and create a better future for all shifters. Both Violet and Lincoln oppose the arcane, oppressive laws of the Supernatural Community—especially given that they’re each bound by these laws to find a mate. The pair have a painful history, but to get around the antiquated ritual they agree to put aside their baggage and fake a relationship, hoping to buy enough time to find a loophole in the laws and bring about reform. Of course, feelings and attraction—both physical and magical—get in the way. All of this makes for a hilarious, sexy, and refreshingly modern take on the paranormal romance trope of fated mates that throws tradition in the trash. Asher artfully navigates themes of choice vs. destiny and power vs. oppression while weaving a steamy, heartfelt love story. Readers will devour this.
Behind the Lie
At the start of Naymark’s excellent sequel to 2021’s Hide in Place, a block party turns violent in upstate Sylvan, N.Y., where PI Laney Bird, a former NYPD detective, and Alfie, her troubled 15-year-old son, resettled four years earlier. Toward the end of the festivities, Oliver Dubois, the husband of Laney’s friend Holly, uses a neighbor’s pickup truck to smash through the front door of his own home. When Laney hears fire engines, she rushes to a nearby burning house, where the truck’s owner, Step Volkin, is inside bleeding from a gunshot wound. Both Step’s wife, Vera, and Holly go missing, along with Laney’s firearm. When Alfie, who has committed arson in the past, is evasive about his whereabouts at the time of the fire, Laney fears her son has crossed a line. She sets out to find the truth, uncertain whether to conceal or expose it. Naymark hits the rhythms of small-town life perfectly and maintains tension by alternating perspectives. Lisa Unger fans will want to take a look.