The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Vaishnavi Patel, Janelle Brown, and Riley Black.
Patel’s mesmerizing debut shines a brilliant light on the vilified queen from the Ramayana. As the only girl of eight royal siblings, Kaikeyi grows up knowing her value as a person is determined by her eventual marriage. When her mother is banished, Kaikeyi is forced to take up her duties in the royal court. In between all her new work, she turns to the palace’s scrolls on magic and learns how to enter the Binding Plane, where she can exert a magical influence over others using the invisible strings that connect her to them. Then Kaikeyi is unwillingly married off to the Raja of Kosala, where her lack of friends and allies means the bonds of the Binding Plane operate differently. Still, Kaikeyi earns her place at her husband’s side, wins the love of her subjects, and raises a son, Rama. Throughout her life, Kaikeyi often recalls a story her mother told of a woman who could not avoid the punishment of man, even when the fault of her actions fell upon a god himself—but the tale’s true message is lost on her until it’s too late. Readers familiar with the source text will be wowed by Patel’s reimagining, while those new to the story will be won over by its powerful, multilayered heroine and epic scope. This easily earns its place on shelves alongside Madeline Miller’s Circe.
Bestseller Brown (Pretty Things) infuses this twist-packed mystery with an intense story of creating one’s identity, rife with deep family trauma and a low-key, creepy depiction of the dark side of twin intimacy. Samantha Logan’s dream-worthy stint as a child TV star depended highly on her identical twin Elli’s initially grudging participation, which eventually created deep bonds between them. In adulthood, Sam’s alcohol addiction and Elli’s traditional lifestyle in Santa Barbara, Calif., has left the two women estranged. So when Elli disappears after going to a mysterious spa in Ojai, with her husband having left her and their parents calling Sam in to help with the toddler Elli has recently adopted without informing her family, Sam feels sure that something is profoundly wrong in her sister’s life. Brown seamlessly uses Sam’s retrospection into the twins’ childhood experiences impersonating and protecting each other both as character development and plot device, letting the latter flow naturally while never feeling cheesy. The perfectly paced emotional reveals of the twins’ shared history pull the reader toward fierce investment in Elli’s safety and the sisters’ reconnection. Brown has upped her game with this one.
“The worst single day in the history of life on Earth” came 66 million years ago when a space rock slammed into Earth and subsequently wiped out about 75% of living species, according to journalist Black (Skeleton Keys) in this impressive account. Black begins by exploring how creatures living in the “Hell Creek Formation beds of central Montana and the Dakotas” experienced that day, imagining the zone from the time of the impact, and the first day (the sun is “blocked by the choking smoke”), month (the area is “a skeleton of what it once was), year (forests are “skeletal), and century following. Black avoids the pitfall of overdramatizing, instead bringing the global disaster to life in elegant prose, imagining, for example, the actions of a young male Edmontosaurus, an 18-foot-long herbivore, and a 25-foot-long armored Ankylosaurus as the world around them changes. She effectively demonstrates the complexity and interdependence of various ecosystems, and the appendix is an extra treat—in it, Black explains how scientists know as much as they do about the behavior and physiology of species alive millions of years ago, and identifies where she used literary license to set a scene. This is top-drawer science writing.
This deeply satisfying and darkly funny feminist fairy tale from Hugo Award winner Kingfisher (What Moves the Dead) finds its unlikely heroine in Marra, youngest princess of the Harbor Kingdom. Marra is better at knitting than politicking, and is relieved to be sent to a convent while her older sisters make political marriages to nobles from the Northern Kingdom. However, when Marra learns that the wicked Prince Vorling has murdered her older sister and seems likely to murder his abused second wife, Marra’s middle sister, as well, Marra takes action. She assembles a rag-tag team bent on overthrowing Vorling—including Bonedog, a resurrected dog skeleton; a dust-wife (a kind of necromancer) with a demonically possessed chicken for a familiar; a suicidally honorable and surprisingly diplomatic knight rescued from a Christina Rosetti-esque goblin market; and a frazzled fairy godmother who can only grant gifts of good health. The plot snaps along as quickly as a good joke, and beneath the whimsy, there’s an underlying sympathy and sincerity that enables Kingfisher to handle tricky issues like domestic violence with great compassion and care. At its heart a story of good people doing their best to make the unjust world a fairer place, this marvelous romp will delight Kingfisher’s fans and fairy tale lovers alike.
Forester Wohlleben and editor Billinghurst reconvene for this enlightening look at the power of forests (after The Hidden Life of Trees). Being in the woods can force one to slow down and offers an opportunity to hone senses, the authors write, and they offer a guide to navigating woodland areas. This includes tips for seasonal walks, wildlife spotting, foraging, and outdoor attire, and they suggest some activities for children, too, such as painting with mud on a tree trunk and learning to play the beech leaf, which makes a squeaking sound when blown. Along the way, Wohlleben and Billinghurst provide insight into how forests operate: “Thrifty red spruces,” for example, “engineer an ecosystem” in soil that lacks nutrients, and even dead trees serve as homes for wildlife and provide nutrients to the earth. Trees “shape the soil, the climate, the frequency of fire, and the path taken by water in the surrounding landscape.” The survey is poetic and full of marvels, and readers will be encouraged by the authors’ insistence that a simple walk is all one needs to find adventure. This beautifully written homage will have readers ready to get outside.
A mood board for one’s food board is served up in this excellent guide from Scott, executive editor at America’s Test Kitchen. Her aim to is to offer an “interactive and low-key yet elegant way of presenting food,” and she succeeds in spades. In writing that is amiable and concise, Scott walks readers through the basics, advising them on how to choose a board type (charcuterie, crudités, DIY), use household items such as muffin tins and cake stands for displays, and “take things from simple to special” by adding flourishes such as smearing condiments with the back of a spoon. Most helpful is an informal set of board “rules” that emphasize the importance of having a unifying theme and a focal point, and balancing store-bought items with easy homemade dips. While cheese and meats are covered, it’s the unexpected options—among them, a stellar breakfast taco spread, a martini board for the ages, and a hearty Oktoberfest platter—that steal the spotlight. Sweets are also given their due with fun themes such as chocolate fondue and cookie decorating, and a dessert cheese board accented with grilled peaches. Maximalists, meanwhile, will devour Scott’s “level up” tips, like elevating one’s bruschetta with port-caramelized onions and washing down the nacho board with micheladas. This has instant classic written all over it.
Lawrence continues to combine stunningly original worldbuilding and multifaceted characters in his third Book of Ice fantasy (after The Girl and the Mountain). The “ice-bound” world of Abeth has only a small habitable zone, the Corridor, at its equator, populated by the remote descendants of Earth, while the icy wilds surrounding it are weathered by tougher tribes. The title character, 16-year-old Yaz, has the blood of a vanished tribe, the Missing, which gives her the power to control the stars. A “wanderer from the ice,” she has finally made it to the Corridor, only to be threatened with execution. Things don’t ease up as Yaz learns more secrets about the Missing, which could impact the survival of all of Abeth. The prose, as always, is top-notch (“The green-landers merely had to stretch out an arm to take hold of the voice of some long-dead father’s father’s father, still strong and clear and perfectly preserved amid the marks left by the scratch of an inky feather”), and Lawrence resolves major plots while preserving the option of setting more stories in this complex, immersive world. With plenty of backstory to get readers up to speed, this will both satisfy devoted followers of the series and captivate newcomers.
Three distinctive women unknowingly fall in love with the same man in this captivating romance from bestseller O’Leary (The Road Trip). Life coach Siobhan Kelly meets charismatic Joseph Carter in London and falls hard after a passionate night together. Miranda Rosso, a free-spirited professional tree surgeon, also feels committed to Joseph despite suspecting that he’s keeping secrets. And shy, bookish Jane Miller is determined to keep her flirtatious relationship with Joseph platonic, though deep down, she wishes they were something more. When Joseph doesn’t show up to his Valentine’s dates with any of the three women, his erratic behavior casts doubt on his relationships, and his partners wonder if there’s more to Joseph than he’s letting on. O’Leary pulls off an impressive balancing act, unraveling each woman’s backstory while meticulously drawing connections between them and celebrating them for their differences. The attention to detail adds depth to each character—even Joseph will win readers over—and the twisty plot keeps readers both guessing what will happen next and rooting for happy endings across the board. This is a knockout.