The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Rafael Agustin, Antonia Angress, and Lina Wolff.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir

Rafael Agustin. Grand Central, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0594-0

Television writer Agustin makes a splashy debut with this humorous account of coming-of-age, undocumented, in Southern California. Born in Ecuador to two doctors, Agustin arrived in the United States in the late 1980s at age seven, only to be disappointed that the America he’d watched obsessively on TV was nowhere to be found. While his parents struggled to juggle English classes with his father’s graveyard shifts as a sleep technician, Agustin writes, “Things seemed to be worse here than they were in Ecuador.” Meanwhile, Agustin wrestled with his identity, eventually coming to learn two life-altering things while attending public school: one, that he wasn’t white, and two, that he was undocumented—a revelation, he wittily recalls, “that was like an end-of-the-world-comet hitting my frosted-tipped head.” As he reckons with being “illegal” (his family came to the U.S. on tourist visas that expired) and traces his path to finding liberation through the world of acting, and, later, TV writing, Agustin offers poignant musings on the difficulties of existing in a country where the notion of race “is mostly understood as a Black and white paradigm.” What emerges is an inspiring and often hilarious story that echoes Agustin’s mother’s refrain: “Dreams should not have borders.” Funny as he is, Agustin is a serious talent.

Sirens & Muses

Antonia Angress. Ballantine, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-49643-5

A quartet of artists negotiate love, ambition, and politics during the 2011 Occupy movement in Angress’s winning debut. Nineteen-year-old Louisa Arceneaux is a new transfer student at the fictional Wrynn College in New England, arriving from her native Louisiana. Her roommate, the icy and beautiful Karina Piontek, is everything Louisa is not: worldly, wealthy, and confident. Preston Utley, a senior, questions the school’s relevance in the modern age. The yin to Utley’s yang is Robert Berger, a teacher whose own art career, once white-hot, has atrophied. Angress nimbly embodies each of her characters, allowing her exceptional storytelling abilities to shine. When Louisa asks Karina to pose for a painting, the initial reticence between the two fades, and something more volatile emerges. Preston and Karina begin a romantic relationship on unequal footing, while Preston, a member of the school’s Occupy group, antagonizes an increasingly desperate Robert by excoriating his work in Artforum, and the novel’s first part ends with a major rupture. In part two, set over the following year, the characters have left Wrynn’s bubble for New York City, where Preston and Karina prepare for a joint debut show at Robert’s former gallery, and Angress sweeps everything toward a wonderfully complex conclusion. This is a standout.


Lina Wolff, trans. from the Swedish by Frank Perry. Other Press, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-63542-074-6

Wolff’s spellbinding latest (after The Polyglot Lovers) blends mystery and melodrama with a meditation on morality and the power of storytelling. Swedish writer Bennedith travels to Madrid on a summer work stipend, and, unsure of what to do with herself when she arrives in the sweltering capital, she volunteers as caretaker for a man with advancing Alzheimer’s. One night, she falls into conversation with a nervous man, Mercuro, in a neighborhood bar. He teases out details of his recent life story, and his stranger-than-fiction saga has it all: lost love, terminal illness, and a vicious nun named Lucia whom he claims ruined his life, all tied together via a blockchain-backed underground reality TV show called Carnality. But Mercuro will only give the full story to Bennedith if she provides him with a place to stay in return. After she agrees and he moves into her flat, she gets romantically involved with Mercuro and develops an intense correspondence with Lucia, who approves of Bennedith’s volunteer work but warns her about Mercuro. Wolff poses fascinating questions about the nature of morality and attachment throughout the propulsive narrative, making for a triumph of ingenuity. Readers won’t want this to end.

Salmon Wars: The Dark Underbelly of Our Favorite Fish

Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz. Holt, $29.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250800-30-5

Erin Brockovich meets Wicked Tuna in this searing exposé from reporters Collins and Frantz (Fallout). Though eating salmon is widely believed to be a responsible and healthy choice, the authors argue that Big Salmon is a powerful industry that prioritizes profits over health—both of the fish and those who consume it. As the authors show, the majority of salmon that reach restaurant or dinner tables are raised in conditions that are harsh, unsanitary, and negatively impact the environment: millions of salmon are reared in cages on massive aquafarms, which pollute underlying seabeds with a layer of slime from “excess feed, chemical residue, and fecal matter” that can reach nearly three feet thick. Scientists, meanwhile, have been trying to sound the alarm about the health risks associated with eating farmed salmon, only to be thwarted by the industry’s “campaign to discredit the criticism.” The authors round things out with suggestions that the USDA, which lacks “standards for what constitutes ‘organic’ salmon,” ought to have some, and should “ramp up oversight.” This stellar investigation is the rare one that has the power to impact policymakers and consumers alike. 

The Floating Girls

Lo Patrick. Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-72824-875-2

Both comic and heartrending, Patrick’s superb debut sets a bildungsroman and murder mystery in the wetlands of coastal Georgia. Brash and lonely Kay Whitaker, 12, is frustrated by her unemployed father, Clay; her emotionally absent mother, Sue-Bess; and her remote older sister, Sarah-Anne, whose favorite activity Kay describes as “standin’ in the yard like a twig in mud.” While exploring the wetlands beyond their isolated home, Kay meets Andy Webber, a handsome boy her age who lives with his crabber father, Nile. Clay orders her to avoid the Webbers but won’t explain why. Later, Kay discovers Nile was suspected in the drowning death of his wife a decade earlier. As Kay defies her father by jockeying for Andy’s attention, unidentified authorities her parents refer to only as “people from the state” routinely visit the Whitaker home. (Her parents also hide Sarah-Anne during the visits.) Then Sarah-Anne disappears, and secrets begin to surface. The crackling energy of Kay’s narration—a winning mixture of insight and naiveté, humor and pathos, vulnerability and strength—provides a welcome counterbalance to the oppressive setting and the pain the characters try to suppress. It’s a masterly achievement.

August Kitko and the Mechas from Space

Alex White. Orbit, $17.99 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-0-316-43057-9

White (A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe) launches the Starmetal Symphony series with this music-infused space opera smash. Brilliant pianist August “Gus” Kitko is hopeless in the face of the apocalypse. It’s 2657, and an alien artificial intelligence is wiping out human settlements across the universe, using extremely powerful robots called Vanguards to do its bidding. Though Gus has resigned himself to playing his piano as the Vanguards head for Earth, it turns out he may just be the planet’s last hope. A group of Vanguards shocks the universe by switching sides, and one of these rebels happens to choose Gus to be its Conduit, a kind of interpreter of humanity. Together, man and machine must join up with the other Traitor Vanguards and their Conduits to make humanity’s last stand on Earth. Music forms the backbone of this beautifully balanced, artistically rendered space opera, which expertly combines well-executed action with witty banter between charming characters. Fans of epic, feel-good sci-fi are sure to be wowed.

Death and the Conjuror

Tom Mead. Mysterious, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61316-318-4

Set in London, Mead’s stellar debut and series launch, an homage to golden age crime fiction, in particular the works of John Dickson Carr, introduces magician Joseph Spector. In 1936, Spector’s Scotland Yard friend, Insp. George Flint, consults him in the baffling case of Austrian psychotherapist Anselm Rees. The doctor was found dead in his study with his throat slit so deeply that his head was almost decapitated. As the room’s door and windows were locked, Flint hopes Spector, a master of conjuring tricks and misdirection, can explain how anyone could have committed the crime and left the room sealed. The pair pursue the theory that the murder was a revenge killing after learning that one of Rees’s Viennese patients cut his own throat in a similar manner. Meanwhile, they must also probe two other cases: the apparently connected murder of a possible witness in an elevator that no one but the victim had access to, and the impossible theft of a rare artwork. Mead maintains suspense throughout, creating a creepy atmosphere en route to satisfying reveals. Puzzle mystery fans will eagerly await the sequel.

Remember Love

Mary Balogh. Berkley, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-43812-1

Bestseller Balogh (the Westcott series) launches her Ravenswood series with a stunningly emotional Regency romance. Devlin Ware, heir to the Earl of Stratton, appears to come from the perfect family. Every summer, his parents and siblings host a fete for the local community around their estate, Ravenswood Hall, in Hampshire. The summer of 1808 holds special promise, as Devlin discovers that his neighbor Gwyneth Rhys, whom he’s long pined for in secret, believing her to be entangled with his brother, returns his affection. But Devlin’s idyllic world is shattered when he discovers his father’s infidelity. When upstanding Devlin reveals the earl’s bad behavior to society, he’s banished from the family. Forced to leave home, he joins the fight against Napoleon in France—and leaves a broken hearted Gwyneth in his wake. Six years later, a battle-scarred and embittered Devlin returns to claim his inheritance after his father’s death—and though neither he nor Gwyneth have forgotten each other, Devlin’s wounds may be too deep for love to heal. Balogh again proves her mastery of Regency romance, expertly revealing her characters’ psychological depths. This second-chance love story proves impossible to put down.