The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Angie Hockman, Meng Jin, and Ron Shelton.
Hockman (Shipped) puts a wonderfully original spin on amnesia romance in her delightful sophomore rom-com. Aspiring lawyer Cass Walker falls asleep at the wheel after her bar exam and wakes up in the hospital six days later asking for her boyfriend, Devin Bloom. This question baffles her friends and family, who’ve never heard the name and know Cass to be single. Cass struggles to reconcile herself to the idea that the man she can picture so clearly is a figment of her imagination—until, one year later, she stops into Cleveland flower shop Blooms & Baubles for a bouquet and comes face-to-face with the man in her mind’s eye. It’s Devin Szymanski, brother of the shop’s owner, Perry, and, though he has no idea who Cass is, he agrees to help her solve the mystery of their connection. Cass is sure it must be fate—but fate, and Cass’s surprising feelings for Perry, may disagree. Hockman makes the explanation for Cass’s memories feel eminently plausible. The endearing cast will capture readers’ hearts, and the clever, twisty plot keeps the pages flying. This is a first-rate romp.
Jin (Little Gods) returns with a provocative magical realist collection in which women fall in love, grieve, and figure out what to make of their lives amid constant changes. Many of these engrossing entries take inspiration from contemporary events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump presidency. The protagonists of “The Odd Women” deal with a mysterious virus on top of the onset of puzzling superpowers, such as the ability to make themselves immaterial, change identity to match others’ expectations, and divide parts of themselves into “distinct entities, one to confront each aspect of the divided, complicated world.” Meanwhile, “In The Event” features a woman reflecting on the “obscenities of the new president,” which make her feel like she’s living in a badly written novel. Even the stories that focus on timeless themes—such as formative relationships in “Phillip Is Dead” and “First Love,” and the aftermaths of loss in “Suffering” and “Self-Portrait with Ghost”—take on a strangely elusive tone. Throughout, Jin toys with the concept of reality, which in the title story is malleable for its writer protagonist (“My novel was all about subjectivity, I said. Each character tells their version of reality and the various realities add up to something that looks more like unknowing than a solution,” the writer recounts of a conversation with the ghost of a Chinese aunt, who speaks in English despite never having learned the language). Throughout, there is beauty, wit, and pathos. This mystifying collection is a testament to Jin’s talent and versatility.
The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit
In this spectacular debut, screenwriter and director Shelton reflects on the deeply personal passion that brought his canonical sports film, 1988’s Bull Durham, to life. Rather than fall into the trappings of a tell-all about “lies, clashing egos, and bloodshed”—which he regards as routine in the making of any film—Shelton produces a work that’s humanizing and intimate. He chronicles the movie’s indelible impact: on the residents of Durham, N.C., who, even after 30 years, still credit the film for revitalizing the city; on its memorable cast—Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins—who were at that point three Hollywood newcomers Shelton tirelessly advocated for despite “deflating pushback” from Columbia Pictures; and, most of all, on his own career in filmmaking, which he recounts in vivid detail. In addition to his fascinating analyses of the script’s genesis—including play-by-plays of character development that went into every baseball sequence (“Nuke begins pitching better because he’s not thinking about pitching; he’s thinking about Annie”)—readers will revel in Shelton’s own accounts of playing baseball professionally in the minor leagues in the 1960s. As he writes, it was the “fragile and absurd... wondrous and thrilling” world he discovered there that ignited his dreams to write the film. The result is an immensely moving look into the mind behind the masterpiece.
Stanfill (Wakefield Hall) reimagines in her sharp latest medieval abbeys, aristocrats, and Lady Isabelle, the spirited confidante of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Set in France and England at the end of the 12th century, the story follows curious Isabelle, who at 17 marries Gerard, Lord de Meurtaigne, a wealthy, newly titled widower who wants a noble-born wife to give him an heir. Initially, Isabelle is enamored with Gerard and her new opulence, but she also fears Gerard will discover her “furtive life” of hidden relics and potions given to her by a clairvoyant. They divorce after Isabelle fails to produce an heir, and she happily joins the vaunted Fontevraud Abbey as a lay noblewoman. But after Gerard finds one of Isabelle’s secret objects left behind after the divorce, he vows to find and punish Isabelle for casting a spell on his new wife. As Gerard closes in on the abbey, Isabelle escapes to England and becomes a companion to Queen Eleanor, who was exiled by her husband, King Henry II. Fireside vignettes feature Eleanor and Isabelle discussing history, poetry, and philosophy, all while the queen maneuvers to mold the court and preserve her legacy. The enriching dialogue between brave Isabelle and wise Eleanor consistently intrigues, as does the bewitching blend of tainted nobility, secretive domestics, and palace plots. This is a crackling historical.
The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Guide: How to Combine Shape, Color, and Texture to Create the Garden of Your Dreams
Expertise and artistry are in full bloom in this outstanding floral masterclass from historian Carey (Glorious Shade). “Flower gardens are as individual as the...gardeners who cultivate them,” she writes, urging readers to pay attention to what grows in their area, keep a list of the flowers they admire, and “think about who you are making this garden for.” Favoring a cottage-garden-inspired “plant-packed look,” Carey breaks down the difference between plant types (including bulbs, annuals, and perennials), and instructs on coordinating flowers by size, form, and foliage (let bold ones such as peonies take center stage, while hollyhocks add fullness and do well in the background). Carey includes “favorite flower” mood boards for spring, summer, and fall, and shares an alphabetized index of her star performers, including delphinium (“sigh-worthy”), catmint (“a great companion for spring bulbs”), and yucca (“indestructible”). Stressing the importance of stewardship, her philosophy is to anticipate, appreciate, and adjust, as “Gardeners live concurrently in the past, present, and future.” Encyclopedic knowledge and a fantastic eye for detail make this a must-read for gardeners of all levels.
Four women discover that family comes in many forms in this gorgeous saga from Byrd (Lady of a Thousand Treasures). In 1958, Helen Devries, the widow of a Navy lieutenant, receives an unexpected call from Choi Eunhee, who says her recently deceased husband had been good friends with Helen’s husband and that she’s fallen on hard times, facing prejudice surrounding the spread of the “Asian flu.” Helen impulsively invites Eunhee to move in with her and they become fast friends, sharing secrets, traditions, and dreams as they restore Helen’s farmhouse, plant a garden, and prepare for the arrival of Eunhee’s baby. When tragedy strikes, they lean on their Christian faith to help them endure. In the present day, Helen nears death and asks her granddaughter, Cassidy Quinn, to sort through her belongings with Grace Kim, Cassidy’s best friend and Eunhee’s granddaughter. They discover a chest in the attic containing clues to their grandmothers’ past, revealing secrets that have remained hidden for decades. Lush and vivid prose brings the setting to life (“The white-petaled daisies and their cousins, fainting gerberas, competed in the midsummer beauty pageant for the nearby bachelor’s buttons’ affections”), and Helen and Eunhee’s friendship will melt hearts. This is a gem.
In 1946, private detective Kosuke Kindaichi, the protagonist of this exceptional whodunit from Yokomizo (1902–1981), travels to the Japanese island of Gokumon, which has a reputation for insularity and whose inhabitants are all rumored to be crazy. Kosuke’s on a mission for a deceased friend with whom he served in the army, Chimata Kito. Chimata beseeched the detective to go to Gokumon to prevent the murders of his three sisters, providing him with a letter of introduction to the island’s three most prominent citizens—the mayor, the priest, and the doctor—but no information as to the basis for his fears. Despite that explanation for his presence, Kosuke is viewed with suspicion by all the islanders he encounters, which makes it more challenging when he’s unable to prevent the killing of one of Chimata’s siblings, whose strangled corpse is hung upside-down from a plum tree. More deaths follow as Kosuke, who himself is suspected of the killing, tries to identify the murderer. The brilliant and intricate plot will keep readers turning the pages. Golden age fans will hope for more translations of this gifted author.
Screenwriter Babalola follows up the collection Love in Color with a vivacious and romantic debut novel about a young Black British woman. Kiki Banjo is a second-year student at Whitewell College, and though Kiki zealously guards her own affections, she isn’t afraid to dish out relationship advice to members of Whitewell’s African-Caribbean Society (jokingly dubbed “Blackwell”). Her campus radio show, Brown Sugar, meanwhile, blends Kiki’s brand of spicy, sharp-tongued wisdom with the perfect R&B song for any amorous dilemma. But the ambitious Kiki may have met her match when her favorite professor suggests she pair up on a collaboration with transfer student Malakai Korede. Malakai is an aspiring filmmaker whose undeniable talents (and stunning good looks) hardly make up for being cocky and annoying, but she eventually proposes the two of them pretend to pair up romantically as well, their fake relationship serving as fodder for both of their professional projects. Suffused with music and pop culture references (thanks in large part to Kiki’s vast musical knowledge and her talent for puns), their repartee is quick and clever, with the verbal sparring heightening their physical attraction and making the sexy and effervescent story emotionally intimate and hilarious in turn. Babalola’s expert handling of the messy vulnerability and joyful exuberance of young love makes this a winner.