The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Rosalie Knecht, Wanda Coleman, and Guadalupe García McCall.
Set in 1971, Sue Grafton Award winner Knecht’s excellent third mystery featuring CIA operative-turned-PI Vera Kelly (after 2020’s Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery) finds Vera and her girlfriend, Max Comstock, quietly enjoying their life together in Brooklyn when Max receives a letter begging her to return to her estranged family because her parents are getting divorced. Vera supports Max by accompanying her to Los Angeles, but she quickly discovers how little she knows about the ultra-wealthy family that cut Max off without a cent because of her sexuality seven years earlier when she was 22. When Max vanishes after an acrimonious family dinner, Vera must rescue the woman she loves by mapping a perilous course through the underbelly of California cults. Knecht’s scathing picture of the mental health “cures” of the 1970s is at once bitterly humorous and horrifying. Filled with well-drawn, quirky characters, the novel captures both the hidden pleasures and not so hidden dangers of a closeted existence. This nuanced portrait of gay life in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots thoroughly satisfies.
In this essential collection of Coleman's signature "American Sonnets," critical poise and dazzling imagery are on resounding display. Coleman throws herself "heart first into this ruin": the ruin of America, of love, and of the body. Relentlessly reinventing the inherited sonnet form, her poems offer a critique of "creative capitalism," "brutal powers," and "this sham world." Each dizzies with imagination and her ever-present wit: "i cannot swim/ and i have been refused a mae west." Jostling between centuries-old language and the intimacy of the colloquial, Coleman becomes a kind of "rebel angel," fully invested in desire and what stands in the way of the heart. A poem after Robert Duncan admits, "o memory. i sweat the eternal weight of graves," while other sonnets ask "toward what" our society travels, and argue against "the killer humdrum of life without fulfillment." Transcending and outlasting eras, Coleman's incisive poems sing out against long-standing inequalities. This complete edition offers an indispensable look at one of the most important and surprising voices in American poetry.
In this elaborately plotted gothic mystery set in modern-day South Texas, García McCall (All the Stars Denied) expertly weaves together the personal and family history of an 18-year-old with an inherited ability known as echoes—“a kind of woman’s intuition with sights and sounds and smells”—as she pieces together heartbreaking past events in the aftermath of a present-day family tragedy. Three years prior to this story’s present, Grace Torres disappeared for a week, turning up on a church pew in Mexico with no memory of how she got there. Now, following the accidental death of her nephew Alexander, ghosts begin to permeate Grace’s world in ways she can’t predict, and she must fight to understand what the echoes mean before her strained relationship with her older sister Mercy—Alexander’s mother—fractures forever. Employing a carefully guided first-person voice and sensory-rich imagery that centers nature (“The morning light pulses and wavers, making each bristle of dark hair on the caterpillar glint”), García McCall crafts a haunting, intrigue-laden update on the genre that—through critiques of generational trauma cycles wrought through femicide and gender-based violence—demands accountability and action. Protagonists are cued as of Mexican heritage. Ages 14–up.
Magic and music—here “one and the same”—bring to life a vibrant alternate New Orleans in Jennings’s stunning urban fantasy debut. When Perilous “Perry” Graves encounters the city’s famed undead pianist Doctor Professor, he knows something’s wrong. Nine of the powerful songs that “keep Nola humming” have been stolen, and the city starts to break down: its sky trolleys stop running, and the magic that maintains the city’s music fizzles. From there, the jazzy tale alternates timelines and perspectives between Perry; his younger sister, Brendy; his best friend, Peaches; and Casey Ravel, a trans man who’s moved back to town years after fleeing Hurricane Katrina. As Casey reconnects with his cousin, Jaylon, now a celebrated artist, they look back on their teenage graffiti and the uncanny ways their paintings have changed. And, after Perry and Brendy’s grandfather goes missing, it appears his disappearance may be linked to the music thief, leading the pair to offer to help Doctor Professor investigate. Jennings develops a rich, enveloping world brimming with mesmerizing art, music, and fantasy, and sets within it a rich discussion of community and culture. The unmistakable love for New Orleans that emanates from these pages will stick in readers’ heads—and hearts—like the catchiest of tunes.
In 2016, Perez-Gallardo and Black took over a diner in Hudson, N.Y., and began slinging “tropical comfort” food on a menu that oftentimes includes nonfood items like a five-dollar Spanish ballad sung tableside. Like the restaurant, this joyful collection has personality to spare. The tone is playfully provocative, with loosely organized chapters tagged “Arousal” and “Climax,” and suggestive photos that border on NSFW. That said, the authors take their dishes seriously. Instructions for crafting tamales with a shiitake filling are as thorough as they are encouraging (“Find beauty in the imperfection”), and surprising flavor combinations abound in such recipes as seared tuna with Vietnamese-inspired grape dipping sauce, and a tamarind sauce that offsets the sweetness of pork marinated in dulce de leche. Elsewhere, an eye-catching ambrosia salad sees pineapple, avocado, and radish slices shingled on a plate. Cultures cross willy-nilly: a slow-roasted beef shank, for instance, is accompanied by a combination of “mole negro and bordelaise,” while an ice cream sundae is generously topped with Burmese-style fried bananas. Thoughtful wine-pairing advice—“A good frizzante rosé is the ideal ‘yes and’ wine for any fried-food moment”—is sprinkled throughout, alongside wacky wine poems and tips for the lovelorn. The result is a cheeky work that’s got as much “chutzpah” as it does culinary expertise.
Many artists re-channeled their creativity during the Covid-related lockdowns, but few managed it with as much fiery elan and grace as Graham. Serialized as a daily webcomic on Instagram, this Seattle-set graphic novel takes place over a few days as a love triangle breaks an already-fragile hipster ecosystem. Gussy is a middle-aged ex-painter now running a yuppie dog treat café (sample offering: Rosemary cracked pepper balsamic buttermilk) and lusting after his younger employee, Rosie. Though Rosie is keen on Gussy, her attention is drawn more acutely to her roommate, Hissy, a trust-fund bisexual dabbler in social justice. While of different generations, Rosie and Gussy seem of the same neurotic mold, spinning in self-recriminating spirals while Hissy blithely stirs trouble. The hothouse pandemic atmosphere amplifies the trio’s combustible situation, as does Graham’s art: her characters are drawn with animal heads affixed to human torsos, exaggerated expressions, and ropy limbs, and have a knack for self-destruction. Occasionally X-rated relationship drama gets balanced with fantastical elements (Hissy being the son of actor Jennifer Love Hewitt, for example). Graham channels summer 2020’s rage with a sharp eye: cops appear clownishly sadistic, protestors refuse to admit the violence happening in front of them. It’s a messy comedy of errors for readers who embrace the social media chaos of Matt Furie but appreciate Graham’s greater nuance.
Razor-edged prose that Raymond Chandler would appreciate lifts Estleman’s excellent 30th outing for Detroit PI Amos Walker (after Cutthroat Dogs). Walker has just learned of the death of his ex-wife, Catherine, when he takes on a new client, Shane Sothern. Sothern, who has built a reputation as a top-notch research assistant, is seeking to become an investigative reporter, but he fears he’s being surveilled by someone looking to find a valuable source. Walker confirms that when he tails his client himself, spotting other watchers who look like feds. In the process, he discovers that Sothern’s source is a fugitive whistleblower charged with leaking government secrets. The case turns into a murder inquiry, and Walker’s life is further complicated when he learns that Catherine had also been under surveillance. The portrayal of the Motor City (the PI refers to a bleak urban landscape as “the pipe dream of a dull-witted former governor who knew nothing of meth labs and crack houses, now waiting their turn at demolition”) is as vivid as James Ellroy’s L.A. Estleman makes sustaining a long-running series’ high quality look easy.
Surrounded by Narcissists: How to Effectively Recognize, Avoid, and Defend Yourself Against Toxic People (and Not Lose Your Mind)
Motivational speaker Erikson (Surrounded by Psychopaths) takes on narcissists in the outstanding latest entry to his Surrounded by Idiots series. “Thinking a little less about ourselves and a little more about one another is the road to true success and happiness,” Erikson contends, and to that end he explores the psychology of narcissism and outlines a more caring alternative based in “greater truth and freedom.” The author suggests that while everyone thinks about themselves, narcissists focus on themselves “at the expense of everyone else” and feel entitled and as if they are above the rules. He also asserts that social media provides “fertile ground” for a “cultural narcissism” that sees society reward such narcissistic behavior as posting pictures of one’s lunch. To protect against the narcissists in one’s life, Erikson recommends breaking off all contact, and to insulate oneself from cultural narcissism, he advises taking a 30-day digital detox. Erickson impresses with his trademark facility for making research-based discussions accessible and entertaining, and readers will appreciate the insightful guidance. This is another home run from Erikson.