The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Tabitha Carvan, Aaron Foley, and Casey Parks.

This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch: The Joy of Loving Something—Anything—Like Your Life Depends on It

Tabitha Carvan. Putnam, $17 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-42191-8

A surprise midlife obsession with British actor Benedict Cumberbatch provides the occasion for musings on passion, aging, and identity in this spirited debut from essayist Carvan. She describes how she became fixated on Cumberbatch after watching an episode of Sherlock, stockpiling her desk with ephemera featuring the actor’s face and watching his television and film performances multiple times over. The author details her investigation into her infatuation, including how her passion revealed to her the toll that motherhood and midlife had taken on her sense of self (“That’s the joke of motherhood: you don’t get to have children and be yourself”). Carvan shares her conversations with middle-aged (and older) fans, some of whom refer to themselves as “Cumberbitches,” including a high-ranking corporate executive and a retail worker who moonlights as a narrator of fanfiction audiobooks. Carvan’s self-aware approach wrings the absurdity out of her story to hilarious effect while touching on the realities of motherhood and fandom: “It’s not just about what we love, but how that love figures in our lives, and how it makes us feel.” The result is a weird-in-the-best-way account of self-discovery that brims with humor and insight.

Boys Come First

Aaron Foley. Belt, $17.95 trade paper (388p) ISBN 978-1-953368-25-6

Foley’s sparkling debut novel (after the guidebook How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass) follows a trio of Black gay male friends in Detroit as they grapple with love, work, and gentrification. Dominick Gibson returns home to Motor City after two setbacks in the Big Apple—losing his job and finding his boyfriend cheating on him. He reconnects with his best friend Troy Clements, a teacher, and meets Troy’s bestie, Remy Patton, a real estate agent. As Dominick reacquaints himself with his native city, the guys observe the differences between “Old and New Detroit,” talk about code-switching, and wonder if they can have healthy, stable relationships. Troy’s boyfriend, Roderick, is abusive, and Remy is imagining a future with Roland, his long-distance “situationship.” In contrast, Dominick has a series of awkward, unsatisfying hookups. Meanwhile, a real estate deal Remy is involved with that would result in Troy’s school being torn down causes a rift between the friends. But it’s Remy’s soul-searching that takes center stage, as he weighs his desire for a meaningful relationship with a need for self-fulfillment, all the while carrying the burdens of his sexual and racial identity. Foley’s love for his city and his engaging characters shines through, and his novel is funny, naughty, and comforting. This auspicious debut will leave readers eager for more.

Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery

Casey Parks. Knopf, $29 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-65853-5

In this tantalizing blend of personal history and reportage, Washington Post reporter Parks seeks out the story of an enigmatic small-town country singer to reckon with her own fraught past. When, in 2002, Parks’s grandmother shared that she’d once been neighbors in the 1950s with “a woman who lived as a man” named Roy Hudgins, Parks pledged to find out what happened to him. As a college freshman in the South who’d recently faced rejection after coming out to her family—a confession met by a plea from her pastor for “God to kill me”—Parks writes, “I couldn’t believe there was a place where you could be different, and people would love and accept you.” Seven years later, she set off on a series of trips through rural Louisiana to interview people who had known Roy. As Parks uncovers the mystery surrounding Roy’s life and death, she attempts to reconcile her sexuality with the specters of the home she left behind, as well as her complicated relationship with her mother, an opioid addict who was “bright and joyous when she was off the nose spray, vacant and mean when she was on.” Out of this comes a brilliantly rendered and complex portrait of Southern life alongside a tender exploration of queer belonging. Parks’s writing is a marvel to witness.


Peter C. Baker. Knopf, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-32027-3

Inspired by the North Carolina Stop Torture Now coalition, Baker’s arresting debut charts the effects of rendition on an Italian Muslim convert and an American former anti-war activist. Amira, 32, feels like an outcast living in the small Rome apartment she once shared with her Moroccan husband, Ayoub, who was detained in Pakistan, then extradited and tortured for suspicion of unspecified crimes. When Ayoub returns after years of silence except for the redacted letters he sent to Amira, he is not the man Amira once knew, and though an American lawyer is working on his case, the future seems dubious for them both. Running alongside this narrative is the story of Melanie, a real estate agent in North Carolina who is cheating on her husband with Bradley, a member of the local school board. Bradley also happens to be the president of Atlantic Industries, a small Air America–style operation that stands accused of providing rendition flights. Now, Melanie becomes consumed with guilt over her hesitancy to help her old activist friends dig into Bradley’s shadowy activities. Baker masterly juggles the two concurrent story lines, never losing the urgency of either as Amira and Melanie grapple with hard truths and seek justice and indemnification. Along the way, the author digs deep into the nuances of love, pain, betrayal, and the promise of deliverance. This moving debut buzzes with relevance.

African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Freedom

David Hackett Fischer. Simon & Schuster, $40 (800p) ISBN 978-1-982145-09-5

Pulitzer winner Fischer (Washington’s Crossing) delivers a sprawling inquiry into “what happened when Africans and Europeans came to North America, and the growth of race slavery collided with expansive ideas of freedom and liberty and rule of law.” Examining nine “Afro-European regional cultures” that developed in early America, he profiles hundreds of people of African descent, including Massachusetts poet Phillis Wheatley; Yarrow Mamout, a Muslim master bricklayer in Maryland; Louis Congo, the royal executioner of Louisiana; and Texas cowboy Mathew “Bones” Hooks, who reputedly could “stay on any horse alive.” Fischer touches on myriad aspects of his subjects’ lives, including the religions they practiced, the languages they spoke, and the arts, crafts, and music they created. The level of detail astonishes: a discussion of America’s “maritime frontiers” touches on how the Chesapeake log canoe, a type of sailboat, evolved from the West African dugout. Distilling African “gifts” to America in the fields of language and speech, music, spirituality, and ethics, Fischer contends that the “abiding faith in living free” maintained by enslaved Africans and their descendants “has been one of the greatest African contributions to America and the world.” Enriched by Hackett’s deep empathy, scrupulous research, and lucid prose, this milestone study casts American history in a new light.

Hummingbird Heart

Travis Dandro. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-770-46562-6

With a knack for breathtaking still lifes that accentuate the melancholy, Dandro follows King of King Court with a graphic memoir framing his teen years in the 1990s spent caring for his ailing grandmother. Dandro is a comics-loving prankster who would rather smash pumpkins with his friends Zung and Joey than deal with the death of his incarcerated addict father. But he’s also a responsible kid, and his Nana is a feisty, foulmouthed confidante. When she dies after refusing chemo for cancer, Dandro gets into fights and struggles with his next steps. “At least you had a grandmother! I’ve never even met mine!” Zung shouts, before describing his family’s humiliations as immigrants. Nana, along with Dandro’s long-deceased grandfather, becomes a spirit guide of sorts, pulling up in his dreams in a muscle car and cruising beneath a star-strewn sky to their final resting place. Dandro’s flair for detail offers windows into the harshness all his characters face; while the story elements are simple—grief, teen angst—the telling is visually layered. The art luxuriates in long pauses and aching suburban landscapes; readers will find themselves lingering over drawings that make even the Sears parking lot portentous. Dandro captures the ache of adolescent loss through the eyes of this crude-talking but deeply sensitive teen. 

Downton Shabby: One American’s Ultimate DIY Adventure Restoring His Family’s English Castle

Hopwood DePree. Morrow, $27.99 (310p) ISBN 978-0-06-308085-0

In this marvelous debut, film producer DePree leaves the Hollywood hills to resurrect his British ancestral home, a 50,000-square-foot estate in the English countryside. After losing his grandfather and father in the span of two years, DePree found solace in tracing his family genealogy. He was astonished when, in 2013, while perusing the internet, he stumbled upon Hopwood Hall, the real-life 600-year-old castle that often featured in his Pap’s childhood stories. During the inaugural pilgrimage with his mother and family to see it in person (“Even under clouds,” he writes of the lovingly dubbed “Downton Shabby,” “it was a magical sight”), DePree counted 2,710 small windows that needed repair. Determined to save the dilapidated and empty estate from ruin—despite having no construction experience—he sold his Los Angeles home and, over the next four years, dedicated his life to a daunting renovation (“It was like the hall and I had been dating, and now it was time for me to... put a ring on her finger”). While his self-deprecating humor about the challenges of navigating grants—and being somewhat clueless about English culture—entertain, it’s his wonderment following some unexpected help from the community that makes this DIY fairy tale a true delight. Readers are in for a treat.

The Lava Witch

Debra Bokur. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-3785-4

Bokur’s stellar third Dark Paradise mystery (after 2021’s The Bone Field) takes Det. Kali Mahoe of the Maui police to a grisly crime scene in the Kula Forest Reserve. A corpse, later identified as that of 24-year-old Maya Louise Holmes, hangs from a tree, her hands bound, her neck in a noose, and the soles of her feet partially burnt, possibly from having been forced into a firewalking ceremony. The autopsy reveals that the victim, who was reported missing two days earlier, was tortured and then suffocated with fine lava dust. Kali pursues numerous angles, including the possibility that the killing was linked to Holmes’s work for the Center for Marine Mining and Research related to robotic technology. Meanwhile, a witness claims to have seen “a band of witches” flying through the trees where the body was displayed and heard noises that sounded like someone was being tortured, testimony that forces Kali to review the supernatural legends she learned growing up in Hawaii to see whether they have any relevance to her inquiry. This procedural keeps readers guessing all the way to the gratifying solution. Fans of Tony Hillerman will be enthralled.