Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Luis Alberto Urrea, Meg Shaffer, and I.S. Berry.

Good Night, Irene

Luis Alberto Urrea. Little, Brown, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-26585-0
Urrea (The House of Broken Angels) transports readers to the Western Front of WWII in his stunning latest. Irene Woodward, a tough New Yorker, covers up the bruises received from her abusive fiancé with concealer and sweaters, throws her engagement ring down the drain, and joins America’s war effort as a member of the Red Cross Clubmobile. Tasked with high expectations—keep driving and keep smiling—Irene is sent to England alongside Dorothy Dunford, who, much like Irene, is looking for an escape from her life. The two become fast friends while serving coffee and doughnuts and trying to comfort the soldiers, a nebulous task defined in the chaste terms of the day (they should act like a “big sister, girl next door, mom or sweetheart”). As the U.S. efforts advance, Irene fears she has lost Dorothy, who’s become like a sister, after they are separated in an accident; eventually, she goes home to New York to rebuild a life marred with survivor’s guilt and shell shock. In a move that could feel contrived but only further elevates the work, Urrea bookends the wrenching narrative with a surprising discovery 50 years later. It’s a moving and graceful tribute to friendship and to heroic women who have shouldered the burdens of war. Agent: Julie Barer, Book Group. (May)

The Wishing Game

Meg Shaffer. Ballantine, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-59883-2
Shaffer blends tragedy and triumph in a whimsical and gratifying debut romance about what makes a family. At 13, Lucy Hart ran away from home to escape neglectful parents, wishing instead to live with Jack Masterson—the bestselling author of her favorite children’s books, the Clock Island series—on the real-life counterpart to Clock Island. That dream didn’t pan out. Now, 13 years later, she’s a kindergarten teacher’s aide desperate to adopt seven-year-old Christopher Lamb, an orphaned former student of hers, but she needs more money and greater stability in order to make it happen. Hugo Reese, Jack’s illustrator and surrogate son, is concerned when Jack abruptly comes out of a six-year retirement to invite Lucy and three other former runaways and superfans to Clock Island, where they’ll compete for the only copy of a brand new Clock Island book. Jack puts the contestants through a series of challenges and riddles designed to mimic the adventures in his books, and along the way, readers will come to root for all four to succeed—and for Hugo and Lucy to fall in love. Shaffer doesn’t shy away from the darkness in her characters’ backstories even as she delivers childlike wonder in spades. This is wish fulfilment in the best way. Agent: Amy Tannenbaum, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (May)

The Peacock and the Sparrow

I.S. Berry. Atria, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9821-9454-3
Berry’s stint as a CIA officer lends a palpable veracity to this outstanding debut thriller. In 2012, 52-year-old CIA veteran Shane Collins is assigned to Bahrain’s capital city of Manama during the Arab Spring uprisings there. His career is circling the drain, but his young station chief, Whitney Mitchell, is a star on the rise. In order to collect information that proves Iran is fueling the local revolution, Collins has riskily embedded a local agent in a volatile rebel group. Then Collins attends a gala where he’s struck by a massive mosaic and again by the beautiful artist who created it, Almaisa. Shane begins a lengthy pursuit of Almaisa, and before long, he’s juggling new love, a budding conscience about his work, and bloody complications with his revolutionary informant. The plot’s many twists will captivate readers, and Berry’s gorgeous prose is its own reward, with echoes of Le Carré and Graham Greene: “Wind whistled through the fortress like the laughing dead.” This auspicious first outing marks Berry as a writer to watch. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick Literary. (May)

Genealogy of a Murder: Four Generations, Three Families, One Fateful Night

Lisa Belkin. Norton, $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-393-28525-3
Journalist Belkin (Life’s Work) goes deep on a tragic 1960 shooting in this outstanding true crime saga. From primary sources including diaries, letters, autobiographies, and her own interviews, Belkin retraces the steps that led ex-convict Joseph DeSalvo to kill Stamford, Conn., beat cop David Troy during a bar holdup. At the time, DeSalvo was on parole from an armed robbery sentence, during which he became friendly with a doctor named Alvin Tarlov, who conducted experiments on inmates where DeSalvo was housed. Tarlov had faith that DeSalvo was rehabilitated and supported his release, paving the way for his deadly confrontation with Troy. After meticulously detailing the crime, Belkin flashes back to trace several generations of the Troy, Tarlov, and DeSalvo families, each of whom emigrated from Europe starting in 1906. She invites readers to wonder whether, had their ancestors taken different paths, the trio might have wound up in a less deadly place. Belkin’s judicious research parlays into an engrossing, expansive narrative that reads like a real-life Greek tragedy. It will spur contemplation and debate in an audience far beyond just true crime diehards. (May)

Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir in Archives

Amelia Possanza. Catapult, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64622-105-9
In her impressive debut, Possanza stitches together personal memoir, painstaking research, and fictional imaginings with a fluid style and a sure hand. Lesbians, Possanza asserts, “invent their own systems of love”—romantic, family, friend—“even when they are at risk of losing everything,” yet remain largely ignored by history. So Possanza, determined to restore her own curdling concept of love, became a “collector of lesbians,” exhuming hidden histories to see what she and other cynics might learn from their lesbian forebears. She tracked down Mary Casal’s 1930 lesbian memoir, The Stone Wall, and learned it was written by Ruth White Fuller, who shielded her identity with a pen name. Subsequent chapters highlight Mabel Hampton, cofounder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias, ancient Greek singer Sappho (“the patron saint of today’s lesbians”), male impersonator Rusty Brown, Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa, and writer Amy Hoffman. Possanza’s sensuous prose also introduces fictive elements: in Hampton’s first encounter with her lover Lillian, Possanza imagines the two meeting “on a downtown sidewalk thatched with leaves turned gold by the alchemy of the season.” Throughout, she weaves the threads beautifully. This is an outstanding work of literary scholarship that also delivers a vulnerable, intimate portrait of its author. Agent: Sarah Levitt, Aevitas Creative Management. (May)


Matt James. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-5005-3
This thoughtful stream-of-consciousness outing from James (The Funeral) is voiced by a child who hunts for tadpoles with their father one rainy spring. In the field across from the child’s school, there’s an old silo. “Once,” the narrator remembers, “when my dad first moved to his new place, I stood in the silo and yelled every single swear word that I know.” After sound is shown emanating from the building, the father appears, then kneels and embraces the child. “I guess I was worried that he wouldn’t love me anymore, but my dad says that some things never change.” Now the two, portrayed with pale skin, wade through the pond that’s formed in the field, looking among the tadpoles for froglets (“My dad says that puddles like these are called ephemeral ponds”). Wordless spreads show the protagonist saying farewell to Dad with a small, brave smile, suggesting that the duo’s ebb and flow has grown easier. Multimedia art’s spattered, stroked textures convey the feel of pages left out in a storm in James’s portrait of transition, throughout which the setting and its fluctuating features prove quiet symbols of seasonal and personal transformation, as well as change as a sure thing. Ages 4–8. Agent: Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Arts. (May)

Threads That Bind

Kika Hatzopoulou. Razorbill, $19.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-52871-6
In this page-turning mythological noir fantasy debut by Hatzopoulou, a cataclysm called the Collapse decimated the world and created other-born, descendants of gods who can wield their respective ancestral deity’s powers. The sunken city of Alante is home to 18-year-old Io Ora and her older sisters Thais and Ava. The trio are moira-born, able to see and alter threads of fate. After an emotional rift splits the siblings apart, Io, a fate cutter who can sever the threads that Thais and Ava spin, uses her ability to become a private investigator. When Io stumbles across a murder in an impoverished, gang-controlled corner of Alante, she discovers that wraiths—preternatural women whose fate-threads have been cut by an unknown interloper—are seeking vengeance for past transgressions. Io is hired by Fortuna, a local gang, to learn more; when she meets Fortuna’s second-in-command, Io realizes that he is her soul mate. Sizzling romance and action-packed sequences set against an intriguing plot plagued by political corruption and conspiracy build to a dynamic pace. The postapocalyptic mythos adds flair to the dark and mysterious premise, and intersectionally diverse characters round out this richly detailed adventure. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michaela Whatnall, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (May)

Bread and Circus

Airea D. Matthews. Scribner, $26 (112p) ISBN 978-1-66801-145-4
The unflinching second collection from Matthews (Simulacra) interweaves autobiographical poems with erasures of texts by Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, and Guy Debord, a Marxist social theorist, to create a vigorous and personal refutation of late-stage capitalism. These pieces question the limits of choice and opportunity for those on the margins, positioning Matthews’s lived experience as a Black woman from a working-class family in relation to Smith’s ideas about economic self-interest and Debord’s reduction of human lives to commodities. Confessional poems capture the emotional calculus family members must make under economic strain, such as the father who loses his job one night and stops at a bar to consider his options: “to pilfer time through a bottle/ then plot provision—/ three square, four souls—/ strategizing who to feed/ to whom.” Other entries situate family trauma within a wider economic context: “in 1979 after OPEC raised the price of oil/ my father rolled up the hem of his pants and handed me a needle... and i had a choice/ shoot him up or suffer worse.” Full of humane wisdom, this powerful volume forces readers to acknowledge systemic inequity. (May)