The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Luigi Musolino, Virginia Heath, and Maya C. Popa.
Though all set in Musolino’s native Italy, the 11 stories in this outstanding collection, most translated into English for the first time, feature horrors that resonate far beyond national borders. Several are worked up from folk themes, among them “Les Abominations des Altitudes,” about mythical Alpine creatures that lure mountaineers to a terrifying fate, and “The Carnival of the Stag Man,” in which two men hunt a godlike creature from the prehistoric past. “Pupils,” a variation on the story of the Pied Piper, tells of an ancient “lord of dust” who poisons children with awareness of the hopelessness of their futures. Common to all are profound moments of existential dread when characters are plunged from their ordinary world into one of disorienting uncertainty and despair. The masterful “Lactic Acid” does this best: a jogger takes an unfamiliar shortcut and ends up trapped outside his former reality. American horror readers are sure to welcome this powerful voice.
A duke teams up with a journalist to protect his tenants from his scheming uncle in Heath’s infectious second Merriwell Sisters historical romance (after Never Fall for Your Fiancée). Roguish Giles Sinclair, heir to the Duke of Harpenden, learned years ago that his real mother was the duke’s mistress, making him illegitimate. When his father dies suddenly, Giles fears it’s only a matter of time before the truth gets out and the law comes calling to seize his dukedom and hand it over to his greedy, philandering uncle Gervais. Brilliant Diana Merriwell also has a secret: she’s The Sentinel, an anonymous reporter with a reputation for using her pen to uncover dangerous secrets. Though no one in Diana’s family knows her real role at the paper, Giles suspects the truth. The quarrelsome pair have been forced to tolerate each other ever since Giles’s best friend married Diana’s sister—and now Giles turns to Diana for help. As they work together to protect each other’s secrets, their witty bickering becomes more like foreplay and trust and loyalty grow. Still, the threat of Gervais and Diana’s distrust for men threaten their budding romance. It’s the perfect mix of romance and intrigue, and the formidable central couple is sure to win hearts. This is a gem.
Popa’s subtle and gorgeous second collection (after American Faith) maps the conflicting effects of having “wanted all the world, its beauties,/ and its injuries.” The ecstatic language of these meditations and confessions is animated as much by pain as by joy. Popa, a reviews editor at PW, refuses to disparage the world simply because it does not offer “the good news I had hoped for” and mines childhood for glimmers of hope to light the contemporary darkness with “Full days settled by wildflower and stone.” She also asks for passion and tenderness in love (“Let’s be hungry a little/ while longer. Let’s not hurt each other if we can”) to counter the weight of the pandemic, lifted a little when “Friends fed the day hope/ like a broken fever.” She turns to literature—Milton, Gilgamesh, the Bible—as well as to nature (and even WebMD) for guidance, seeking consolation wherever it may be found. “The wound is where/ the light enters us,” she writes. Indeed, in these pages, the truth of each day is brutal but also beautiful.
Thomas, Ekpeki, and Knight assemble a stellar lineup of 32 writers from across the African diaspora for this magnificent and wide-ranging anthology of speculative shorts. Some stories center on technology, including “IRL” by Steven Barnes, in which the protagonist must contend with the ever-thinning line between virtuality and reality. Others focus on history and politics: Sandra Jackson-Opoku’s “Simbi” puzzles through the legacies of slavery and exploitation of labor, while in Wole Talabi’s “A Dream of Electric Mothers,” a woman consults a supercomputer containing the memories of her countryfolk to determine whether to go to war. Akua Lezli Hope’s “The Papermakers,” meanwhile, takes the anthology in a breezy and slightly surreal direction with the story of an interracial relationship in a papermaking guild. If none of the stories stand out, it’s because each is as masterful as the next. This weighty sampler is best read slowly to give each writer their due before moving on to the next. It’s an impressive survey of contemporary Black SFF that should be a must-read for all genre fans.
The editors of Texas Monthly deliver reader favorites from the magazine’s 50-year history, as well as stunning recipes that highlight the culinary influence of the immigrants who call the state home. Among a bounty of eye-catching wild game entrées, there is Texas quail stuffed with fig mole, and jalapeño dove poppers that are bacon-wrapped and then grilled. Giving New Orleans a run for its money, the editors showcase two styles of crawfish boil (Cajun and Viet-Cajun) and hearty seafood gumbo. Naturally, chili is on the menu, but who would have imagined the fabulous Laotian version, complete with lemongrass, poblanos, cayenne, and a bit of fish sauce for good measure. There are tasty recipes for a modern-day barbecue, including Goldee’s Barbecue house sausage with gochugaru (Korean chile powder). Tex-Mex offerings earn a chapter of their own, as do breakfast dishes and cocktails. Holiday meals range from the Christmas staple of pork tamales to soup joumou, a stew traditionally served to commemorate Haitian Independence Day. Brief essays on such topics as the origin of Texas sheet cake supplement the work. Those who crave bold flavors will relish this collection of Lone Star exceptionalism.
The secrets of Tinseltown burn bright in this collection of interviews culled from the American Film Institute’s archives and assembled by film scholar Basinger (The Movie Musical!) and author Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.). The technical process of filmmaking is expertly explored, and discussions about publicity highlight the work style of individual directors (John Ford “gave in to nobody,” says cinematographer Ray Rennahan) and the charisma of legendary stars such as Marlon Brando. A narrative arc emerges from the hubbub, tracing the freshness of the silent era to the grandeur of the golden age studio system—the “beautiful machinery” of MGM is hymned for its excellent production values and nurturing of new talent—to the modern era of independent producers, high-earning leading actors, and summer blockbusters. The commentary crackles with humorous anecdotes and acerbic insights on topics such as screenplays (“There mustn’t be too much description, because [studio executives] get bored when they read words,” says director and writer Abraham Polonsky) and stunt work (“I used to get $25 every time I jumped a horse off a cliff,” says 1920s actor Hoot Gibson). The result is a fascinating conversation about Hollywood’s magical blending of art and commerce.
Honoring the centenary of T.S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece, biographer Hollis (Now All Roads Lead to France) offers an illuminating account of the making of The Waste Land. Searching out the pieces “of the jigsaw puzzle that would become The Waste Land,” Hollis blends rich characterization and historical background to create a vivid picture of the London literary scene from the end of WWI to 1922 that takes in the writers, journals, and publishers that influenced Eliot’s work. Hollis allots great attention to Ezra Pound, who, he argues, is essential in a consideration of Eliot, as the “confluence that existed between the minds of the two poets” was central to Eliot’s work. Hollis also traces Pound’s influence in several of Eliot’s poems and examines in detail how The Waste Land was shaped by Pound’s editorial eye and “perceptive... direction.” The book gains traction when Eliot gets to the actual writing of the poem, as Hollis describes the laborious early drafts and deleted lines, as well as the sections he completed “almost whole, with barely any correction.” Hollis’s sharp prose sings and is poetic in its own right, and images of typeset pages and manuscripts in Eliot’s handwriting help bring the work to life. This fascinating and brilliantly researched history will delight Eliot’s fans.
The high stakes of international diplomacy are revealed in this captivating history from journalist Kemper (A Splendid Savage). Appointed U.S. ambassador to Japan in 1932, Joseph Grew spent nearly a decade in a doomed effort to maintain peace between the two nations. Following the invasion of China in 1931, the hard-right tilt of Japanese politics urging military conquest became relentless, Kemper explains, infecting all levels of government and insinuating itself into Emperor Hirohito’s court. Though he never learned to speak Japanese, Grew was popular in Japan, and grasped that neither the moderate, pro-Western politicians with whom he forged close relationships, nor the vast majority of Japanese people, desired the cataclysmic endgame promised by the country’s rabid militarists. His diplomatic efforts were hamstrung, however, by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s “foreordained certainty that the Japanese were incapable of anything except treachery.” Despite the tumult of Japanese politics, which included coup attempts, assassinations, and increasingly repressive domestic laws, Grew refused to give up on the idea that war could be averted, and made a “last-minute appeal” to the Japanese foreign minister just hours before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Expertly marshaled from Grew’s diaries and reports, this is a poignant and profound look at diplomacy in action.