Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Mike Chen, Karelia Stetz-Waters, and Annalee Newitz.

Vampire Weekend

Mike Chen. Mira, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7783-8696-4
A love letter to the power of music, this thoughtful, humorous exploration of what constitutes living versus mere survival sees Chen (Light Years from Home) at the top of his game. Chinese-American Louise Chao, a musician in life, has spent decades living like an outcast even among her fellow vampires. She ekes out an existence by working nights as a hospital janitor (which provides easy access to blood) while ignoring the overtures of Eric, the leader of the local vampire community. Then 13-year-old Ian, a distant (mortal) cousin whose father is dead and mother is dying, shows up at her door. Louise sees an opportunity of help Ian cope by introducing him to the greats of the punk era and puts aside her apprehension and secrecy to form an unlikely bond. Their connection revitalizes her love of music, leaving her eager to join a band once more and get back to the joy, power, and rhythm she’d felt in the music scene of 1980s San Francisco. Of course, nothing is easy, and as Louise struggles to keep her undead state a secret, Ian inches ever closer to the truth. Chen fully immerses readers in Louise’s mindset, delivering both laugh-out-loud snark and moments of aching loveliness as she navigates the thorny experience of being other, all underscored by a soundtrack that defined a generation. This is a hit. Agent: Eric Smith, P.S. Literary. (Jan.)

Behind the Scenes

Karelia Stetz-Waters. Forever, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0925-2
This gentle, satisfying contemporary romance from Stetz-Waters (Satisfaction Guaranteed) about two perfectly gorgeous, perfectly talented professional women stumbling into one another at an animal rescue fund-raiser and becoming the perfect balm for each other’s hurts is escapism with no apologies. Rose Josten is 38 and prepping as efficiently and predictably for her midlife crisis as she does for her job as a Portland, Ore., business consultant. Ash Stewart, 40, is a brilliant filmmaker trying to get back in the game both romantically and professionally after a devastating car accident and divorce. Rose’s offer of a free one-hour consultation turns into love almost effortlessly, and though it’s not all smooth sailing from there, the entirely believable bumps in the lovers’ road are very much not the point. Nor is this the kind of rom-com dependent on over-the-top pratfalls. Instead, Stetz-Waters woos reader with unabashed sweetness lavishly sprinkled with girls’ gossiping nights, punk rock T-shirts, and a running gag about Pottery Barn decor. The result is irresistible wish fulfillment that will surely leave readers with a smile. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Jan.)

The Terraformers

Annalee Newitz. Tor, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-22801-7
Newitz (The Future of Another Timeline) performs a staggering feat of revolutionary imagination in this hopeful space-opera built from three interconnected novellas. “Settlers” opens on Destry Thomas, a ranger with the Environmental Rescue Team on corporate-owned planet Sasky, as she stumbles on a fiercely independent underground society, Spider City. Discovery puts Spider City at risk, while showing Sasky’s surface-dwellers a new possible future. In “Public Works,” a crew of bots and hominins grows from uneasy colleagues to found family while trying to design a planetwide public transport network. They’re undermined at every step by their corporate overlords, until they reach Spider City, where every being is a person, and a radical new solution presents itself. “Gentrifiers” sees a planetwide housing crisis bring together a sentient train, Scrubjay, and Moose, a cat journalist. As unrest erupts across Sasky’s big cities, Scrubjay and Moose race to lend aid, in the process uncovering a shocking secret that could be key to breaking the corporate stranglehold over the planet. Newitz masterfully grapples with questions of embodiment and personhood, exploring the power of coalition and the impossibility of utopia under capitalism. With the ethos of Becky Chambers and the gonzo imagination of Samuel R. Delany, plus a strong scientific basis in ecology and urban planning, this feels like a new frontier in science fiction. (Jan.)

Call and Response: Stories

Gothataone Moeng. Viking, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-49098-3
Motswana writer Moeng’s lyrical and poignant debut delves into complex family dynamics. In “Botalaote,” Boikanyo, 12, no longer views her dying aunt as a relative, just a burden. Boikanyo meets a boy and escapes the drudgery of caretaking, though after her aunt’s death, her striking reflections on the proximity of her school to the cemetery make her realize the constant presence of death in her life. In “A Good Girl,” Keletso, nine, observes her mother and teenage sister’s wariness with each other as her sister vies for independence and spills a family secret. Keletso later moves to Gaborone, where her married brother lives, and remains the “good” one in his eyes, never revealing her relationships with men or her drinking. Here, Moeng adds to the stunning range of narrative styles, sliding into first-person plural to encapsulate the debaucherous activities of Keletso and her female roommates. She meets an artist, learns another secret, and comes to terms with her role as a repository for deceit. Twenty-something Phetso grieves her husband’s death in a car accident in “Small Wonders” and marvels at how nothing has changed for anyone else. She becomes a solitary observer, ignoring family and their desire for a ceremony to honor him and release her from her mourning after a year. The author brings insightful prose and a distinctive voice to these layered stories, demonstrating deep knowledge of her characters and care for their worlds. Moeng is a new force in the literary landscape. Agent: Julie Barer, Book Group. (Jan.)

River Sing Me Home

Eleanor Shearer. Berkley, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-59354-804-2
A woman travels the Caribbean in search of her children after she’s escaped from slavery in Shearer’s lyrical and deeply evocative debut. In 1834 Barbados, Rachel, 40, listens as her sugarcane plantation owner announces slavery has ended but that all the workers are legally bound to the plantation for another six years as apprentices (“six years of cutting and planting and cutting again. Freedom was just another name for the life they had always lived,” Shearer writes). Rachel runs away, desperate to learn the fate of her five surviving children who were sold into slavery. Former tobacco harvesters living on an abandoned plantation help Rachel to Bridgetown, where she is reunited with her mute daughter, Mary Grace. The two travel with a seaman named Nobody and an Akawaio Indian orphan named Nuno, chasing leads on her son Micah in the aftermath of an uprising in British Guiana. Tension mounts with a canoe trip up a crocodile-infested river, which leads them to her son Thomas Augustus and an encampment of runaway slaves. In Trinidad, Rachel finds her daughter Cherry Jane, a radiant beauty with upper-class pretensions and an invented identity as “the daughter of prominent free mulattoes.” Rachel finds her last surviving child, Mercy, pregnant and being whipped on a Trinidad plantation. In scenes of vivid horror, stirring resilience, and moving reconciliation, Shearer shows the cruel effects of slavery and its aftermath. The beautifully written depiction of a mother longing for her children makes this transcendent. Agent: Laurie Robertson, Peters Fraser and Dunlop Literary Agency. (Jan.)


V (formerly Eve Ensler). Bloomsbury, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-635-57904-8
This bracing career-spanning collection from playwright V (The Apology) gives readers unprecedent access to her life, work, and the underpinnings of her worldview. V details how writing The Apology, an imagined narrative of her father atoning for his sexual and physical abuse of her, ultimately set her free: “He owned his terrible deeds, he felt my pain, he evidenced awareness and remorse.” V’s strongest work from the Guardian is reprinted here: “Disaster Patriarchy” argued that Covid-19 “unleashed the most severe setback to women’s liberation” by allowing men to “exploit a crisis to reassert control and dominance”; and in a contribution to the paper’s Living in a Woman’s Body series, she wrote about how her own body “was a conquered land... pillaged and vanquished from the very start.” Other pieces—which discuss such topics as Donald Trump, femicide in the Congo, and rape as a weapon of war—shed light on global horrors. In the final chapter, she explains why she changed her name: “V is the name of my real people and reminder of my true origins.” V’s explosive truth-telling is as provocative as it is intense. The result is a raw and relevant oeuvre. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. (Jan.)


Jane Harper. Flatiron, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-23535-0
Bestseller Harper’s stellar third outing for Aaron Falk (after 2018’s Force of Nature) takes Falk, of the Australian Federal Police’s financial division, back to the town of Marralee, the site of a popular food and wine festival. A year earlier, Falk was in Marralee when a tragedy occurred. During that year’s festival, 39-year-old Kim Gillespie left the stroller containing her five-week-old daughter in the stroller storage area—and disappeared. Despite frantic searches, Kim never turned up, though her shoe was found in a nearby reservoir, leading to the belief that she drowned there. Falk agrees to revisit the mystery at the behest of Zara, Kim’s teenage daughter, and Greg Raco, a friend of Falk. The inquiry suggests a possible link to another unresolved case—the hit-and-run death of accountant Dean Tozer six years earlier, also coinciding with the Marralee festival. Writing at the top of her game, Harper effectively uses whodunit tropes to explore her characters’ hidden lives. Readers interested in literate and nuanced mysteries will be eager to see more of Falk. 5-city author tour. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Jan.)

The Drift

C.J. Tudor. Ballantine, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-35656-2
In this tour de force from Tudor (The Burning Girls), a postapocalyptic thriller, a haven called the Retreat, which has been constructed for a select few in the wake of a devastating new plague, proves to be not much of a haven. Some of those in residence at the mountainside facility begin to disappear, even as vital supplies go missing and power outages increase, leading up to the discovery of a body floating in the recreational pool. Meanwhile, a cable car transporting a group to the Retreat is stranded mid-journey; its occupants, including Meg, a former homicide cop, are stunned to find they’re trapped with a corpse, whom Meg recognizes. And a second group also faces a threat to their lives; Hannah Grant has been evacuated from a boarding school, but the bus she’s in crashes, possibly not by accident, trapping her and several others. Tudor shifts among the three situations, teasing a common link, and gradually ratchets up the pressure on her characters as they try to preserve their humanity while surviving. This is a masterpiece of its kind. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary. (Jan.)