The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Hilary A. Hallett, Mary McMyne, and Kathy Kleiman.

Inventing the It Girl: How Elinor Glyn Created the Modern Romance and Conquered Early Hollywood

Hilary A. Hallett. Liveright, $32.50 (400p) ISBN 978-1-63149-069-9

Hallett (Go West, Young Women!), a history professor at Columbia University, delivers a page-turning account of the life of Elinor Glyn (1864–1943), a once prominent writer who has been largely lost to history. Glyn spent the first part of her life around the upper classes of late Victorian and Edwardian English society. She married up, cavorted with duchesses, and traveled through Europe and Egypt. By the turn of the 20th century, however, after learning of her family’s mounting debts, she “leaned harder on her pen” and “sought her fortune” in romance novels. She pioneered steamy fiction in a time of heavy censorship, and was known for the “Tiger Queen’’ heroine she “created and imitated” and was named after an “infamous sex scene on a tiger skin.” In the 1920s, Glyn moved to Hollywood, where she honed the idea of “It” or extraordinary sex appeal, and catapulted actor Clara Bow to “It girl” fame with the film It. Hallett is equally at home chronicling the contours of Glyn’s life, decaying English aristocracy, and the glamour of Hollywood, easily conjuring her subject and the events and cultural shifts that shaped her. This one brings the goods.

The Book of Gothel

Mary McMyne. Redhook, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-316-39311-9

McMyne’s shimmering debut gives a fresh, exciting backstory to one of the most famous villains in fairy tale lore: the witch who put Rapunzel in her tower. Haelewise daughter-of-Hedda has been plagued by mysterious fainting spells for as long as she can remember. Her mother, a midwife, warns her never to travel alone and keeps her entertained at home through fairy tales. After her mother falls ill and dies, however, Haelewise dares to venture out into the mist-filled woods, seeking more knowledge of her mother’s ancestry, beliefs, and the magic she so often spoke of. Haelewise discovers a sacred place from her mother’s stories, a tower called Gothel, where a wise woman offers her shelter. As Haelewise learns more about the world and her place in it—partly through another young woman, Rika, who also seeks refuge at the tower—she forges her own history, reframing traditional understandings of witches: “I built proverbs in my head.... Blessed is the snow that hides my path. Blessed is the lie that saves a life. Blessed is the woman who helps her kind.” The result is a sprawling epic, full of magic, love, and heartbreak. Fans of Circe and The Wolf and the Woodsman will devour this taut, empowering fairy tale.

Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer

Kathy Kleiman. Grand Central, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-538718-28-5

Law professor Kleiman recounts in her fantastic debut the vital but overlooked role six women played in the history of computers. While researching computer programming, Kleiman came across photos of unidentified women working on the ENIAC, “the world’s first all-electronic, programmable, general-purpose computer” built at the University of Pennsylvania during WWII. Unconvinced by a museum director’s suggestion that they were models, she dug deeper and uncovered their role in ENIAC’s development. In 1942, with the US having joined WWII and men in short supply, the Army hired young women with math backgrounds to program ENIAC to calculate missile trajectories. With no manuals to aid them, Frances Elizabeth Snyder Holberton, Betty Jean Jennings, Kathleen McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Frances Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman took the job. Despite harassment and discriminatory treatment (they were classified SP, for “subprofessional and subscientific”), they persevered, and with their success opened up an “electronic computing revolution” that some “would soon call... the birth of the Information Age,” Kleiman writes. Kleiman has a novelist’s gift for crafting a page-turning narrative, and the one on offer is both revelatory and inspiring. Fans of Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures are in for a treat.

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight

Riku Onda, trans. from the Japanese by Alison Watts. Bitter Lemon, $15.95 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-913394-59-2

In this artful and enigmatic suspense novel, Onda (The Aosawa Murders) pulls the ground out from under the reader by undermining beliefs and expectations concerning her two alternating and potentially unreliable narrators. A young couple about to break up, Hiro and Aki, are preparing to spend their last night together in their small apartment in an unnamed Japanese city. In the first chapter, Hiro concludes his dispassionate account of a mundane conversation between them by wondering whether at some point that night he’ll have to force Aki “to say with her own lips that she killed that man?” In the next chapter, Aki reveals that she lied when she told Hiro she would be traveling to Vietnam with friends as a way to ensure that Hiro, whom she suspects of murdering the unidentified man, doesn’t harm her. Onda judiciously and incrementally fills in the backstory about the man, who officially died as the result of an accidental fall. This tour de force demonstrates how suggesting events can be so much more powerful than explicitly depicting them. Fans of subtle psychological thrillers will be enthralled.

The Nova Incident

Dan Moren. Angry Robot, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-85766-945-2

Moren’s third Galactic Cold War space opera (after The Aleph Extraction) looks to the internal politics of the Commonwealth for a breathtakingly twisty story. This outing leans to the investigative and procedural side, but still provides plenty of adrenaline-filled maneuvers by a team that trusts one another’s competence if not always one another’s motives. Maj. Simon Kovalic must deal with the loose end he left nine months earlier when he let Lt. Aaron Page disappear after his betrayal of Kovalic’s team. The office building housing the Commonwealth government’s communication hub on Terra Nova is bombed, and Page appears in terrorist group Nova Front’s video claiming responsibility. Kovalic’s team is directed to work the case by tracking Page, an approach which has them butting heads with the Commonwealth Intelligence Directorate and uncovering some of the Commonwealth’s most unsavory secrets. Though most of the action is planet-based, daredevil car chases and fiery explosions provide plenty of excitement. Moren’s meaty storytelling capitalizes on Kovalic and his crew’s complex relationships and improvisational teamwork and buzzes with well-earned surprises. Moren proves there’s plenty more life in this series with an entry that satisfies in its own right and sets things up nicely for the next installment.

Wolf in the Shadows

Maria Vale. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $8.99 mass market (360p) ISBN 978-1-72821-473-3

Vale closes out her Legend of All Wolves series (after Season of the Wolf) with a beautiful and melancholy love story that provides the dual satisfaction of a caring and transformative romance and a heartfelt celebration of all things wild. Julia Martel, who comes from a powerful line of Lukani—shape-shifters who resist their bestial natures—grew up spoiled and was raised to be “exquisitely inconsequential” in the shadow of powerful men. After her fiancé’s misstep leaves her stranded with the Great North Pack of wolf shifters, she lands in the care of beautiful Arthur, the bottom-ranked Omega of the Pack, who’s healing from the brutal ritual Clawing he received as punishment for killing a traitor before he could be put to trial. Arthur is kind and gentle, but constantly working to control the maelstrom of violent impulses that threaten to overwhelm him. As Julia grows into her power and discovers the wild side that she’s long been denied, she and Arthur build trust and love that enables her to help him maintain his calm. Charmingly tender scenes of Julia helping the Pack’s young pups learn to function in the human world, paralleled with scenes of Julia learning how to hunt with the Pack, are a particular delight. Vale also ties up the series-long political arc, satisfyingly disarming the remaining threats and shepherding all to a happy ending. This is a worthy finish.

Nobody’s Princess

Erica Ridley. Forever, $8.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1958-9

A woman discovers her self-worth with help from a wonderfully unconventional family in Ridley’s sparkling third Wild Wynchesters Regency (after The Perks of Loving a Wallflower). Kuni de Heusch of Balcovia dreams of becoming the kingdom’s first female Royal Guardsman, though her Guardsmen older brothers always laugh her off. She finally gets a chance to prove herself on a mission to London gathering intel in advance of a royal visit. Graham Wynchester, the unofficial spy master of his Robin Hoodesque band of quirky adopted siblings, knows the Balcovian royalty are on their way. So when he stumbles on Kuni, he mistakes her for a princess in need of his protection. Of course, Kuni quickly proves more than capable of protecting herself. Taken in by her fierceness and beauty, Graham invites Kuni to stay with him and his siblings. Kuni’s independence is hard won—but when the boisterous Wynchester clan invites her to join in on their heists, she feels seen and appreciated for the first time. Graham and Kuni share an immediate attraction, which grows to something more through witty banter and mutual support. But if Kuni becomes a Royal Guardsman, how will Graham fit into her life? The sense of camaraderie between the diverse Wynchester crew is as strong as ever, and Ridley hits the sweet spot of tickling readers’ funny bones and pulling on their heartstrings in equal measure. This is a joy.

The Murder Book

Mark Billingham. Atlantic Monthly, $26 (416p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5968-7

British author Billingham’s masterly 18th novel featuring Det. Insp. Tom Thorne (after 2020’s Cry Baby) finds Thorne content in his relationship with Melita Perera, who works with the police as a forensic psychiatrist, following a period of social isolation. Meanwhile, Thorne’s nemesis, Stuart Nicklin, who once tortured and nearly killed Thorne’s best friend, pathologist Phil Hendricks, escapes from prison and undergoes cosmetic surgery that makes him all but unrecognizable. When three grotesque murders, which imitate the proverbial “see no evil” theme, occur in London, Thorne and partner Det. Insp. Nicola Tanner investigate. They tie all three to sociopath Rebecca Driver, an acolyte of Nicklin’s, who meets her victims on a dating website, and arrest her. While Driver is in a holding cell after conviction and waiting to be sentenced, she finally decides to expose Nicklin’s evil manipulations. In the brilliant denouement, Thorne confronts Nicklin in Melita’s home, and the fallout from their violent encounter is sure to reverberate through the lives of Tanner, Hendricks, and himself in future installments. The intricate plot matches superior characterizations. Thorne fans will eagerly await his next outing.