Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Alexandra Chang, R. Eric Thomas, Wole Talabi, and more.

Congratulations, the Best Is Over!

R. Eric Thomas. Ballantine, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-49626-8
In this hilariously candid memoir-in-essays, bestseller Thomas (Here for It) offers a glimpse at his experiences returning to his hometown of Baltimore from Philadelphia after decades away. The conversational pieces cover a wide range of subjects, including his marriage to a minister (whose job search landed the couple back in Maryland), his infatuation with Oprah’s Favorite Things, his attempts to build himself a Nancy Meyers kitchen, and his experience attending his 20th high school reunion only to discover the name tag he (a Black man) was assigned displayed the photo of a “white guy with blond hair.” The mood isn’t all light, however: Thomas opens up about his father-in-law’s death and his own bouts with depression (“It’s really more of an ongoing partnership than a struggle”), and he punctuates the proceedings with regular soul-searching, repeating the question “Who am I now?” as he revisits key locations from his past. The unfailingly entertaining essays burst with personality and amount to a full-fleshed portrait of all the beauty and difficulty of coming home again. This tender memoir captivates. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Neon Literary. (Aug.)

Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon

Wole Talabi. DAW, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7564-1826-7
This frenetic fantasy debut from Nigerian author Talabi starts out noir, with a car chase across the “spirit-side” of London while antihero Shigidi bleeds out in the back seat of a cab. Then the shenanigans really ramp up, flashing back to how Shigidi wound up there. The ensuing romp is a heist caper with sex, violence, and superpowers popping off every Technicolor page. Shigidi, former Nigerian nightmare deity, slips the daily grind of the Orisha Spirit Company for the persuasive tutelage of freelance succubus Nneoma, who’s training him to become a succubus himself. But freedom has its price, and when the big god Olorun calls in a favor, Shigidi and Nneoma have mere hours to lift an ancient Nigerian talisman from the British Museum and escape the retributive justice of the Royal British Spirit Bureau. Readers of Neil Gaiman and Harry Turtledove will have encountered similar takes on the spirit realm; Talabi’s freshness is in his language, his caustically amusing protagonist (Shigidi describes a supernatural effusion as “light gushing out... like a vandalized pipeline”), and his commitment to having more fun than noir usually allows. Readers are in for a rollicking thrill ride. Agent: Van Aggelen, African Literary Agency. (Aug.)

You, Bleeding Childhood

Michele Mari, trans. from the Italian by Brian Robert Moore. And Other Stories, $17.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-913505-68-4
Mari makes his English-language debut with a dazzling and sometimes surreal collection of reminiscences on childhood obsessions. In “Comic Strips,” a new father struggles to decide if his son should read the comics he enjoyed in his own youth. It’s a moving meditation, conveying compassion for both the child to be and the child the father once was. The narrator of “The Covers of Urania” catalogs the covers (“You crystals, and you gelatins, and you philosophic mantises, and you pedunculated pods, how plausible you were, how perfect you were! How capable you were of melancholy!”) of the sci-fi magazine that shaped his imagination and colors his memories of boyhood, whether it’s a dream he once had of Robert Louis Stevenson asking to borrow back issues or the recollection of receiving news of his grandfather’s death. In “Jigsawed Greens,” a mother and son bond over their shared love of puzzles, pushing their passion to absurd lengths as they search for bigger and bigger canvases. Mari delivers trenchant satires of nostalgia with deadpan grace and wit, resulting in stories that are as heartfelt as they are humorous, with great care given to descriptions of the characters’ foibles and idiosyncrasies. This is not to be missed. (July)

The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty in America

Kathryn J. Edin, H. Luke Shaefer, and Timothy Nelson. Mariner, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-063-23949-4
Edin and Shaefer (coauthors, $2 a Day, and, respectively, a sociologist and University of Michigan public policy professor) team up with public affairs scholar Nelson (Doing the Best I Can) to reframe the history of poverty in the U.S. in this essential study. Ranking communities on the basis of income, birth weights, life expectancy, and intergenerational mobility, they find that the country’s most disadvantaged areas are rural ones—Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, the Tobacco Belt in South Carolina, and south Texas. The authors argue that from the 18th through the 20th centuries these regions were intentionally treated by government policy as “internal colonies.” With economies based on resource extraction (coal, timber, cotton, etc.) and usually populated by majority people of color, these were places where labor was systematically exploited, elites controlled both local and state governments, and public services were meager. According to the authors, these regions “still retain, to a greater or lesser degree, features of the internal colonies they once were,” because of inherited problems such as local government corruption, lack of social infrastructure, and structural racism. This eye-opening account provides a powerful lens with which to view contemporary inequality in America. (Aug.)

The Blonde Identity

Ally Carter. Avon, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-327664-2
Bestselling YA author Carter (the Gallagher Girls series) serves up an irresistible cocktail of danger and passion in her un-put-downable adult debut. A woman wakes up on an icy Paris sidewalk with no memory of who she is and bad guys closing in. According to her enemies, she’s a rogue CIA operative named Alex who stole a critical flash drive from a Russian mobster and now she’s on the run for her life. Run she does—right into the arms of sexy spy Jake Sawyer, who rescues her from her myriad pursuers and informs her that she’s really Alex’s innocent identical twin sister, Zoe. With a Russian gangster and a shady CIA agent hot on their heels, Sawyer and Zoe must jump on and off trains, boats, and bridges to stay alive—and locate the real Alex. Carter ratchets up the danger—and the sexual tension—at every turn, throwing plenty of red herrings across the trail and keeping readers guessing who to trust. Zoe’s sense of humor in the face of danger adds levity, and readers will fall hard for gallant Sawyer. Carter also expertly teases a sequel about Alex, whetting appetites for the next installment. This snappy and suspenseful romance fires on all cylinders. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary. (Aug.)


Helen Macdonald and Sin Blaché. Grove, $29 (480p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6202-1
A drug designed by the military weaponizes people’s nostalgia in this sinuous and transfixing collaboration from Macdonald (H Is for Hawk) and Blaché. After an American roadside diner magically appears outside of a U.S. air base in England, the two operatives dispatched to investigate—former MI6 agent Sunil Rao and American intelligence officer Adam Rubenstein—trace its likely origins to Lunastus-Dainsleif, a lab in Aurora, Colo., that runs the military-funded Eos Prophet program. Prophet is a wildly unpredictable pharmacologic agent that induces material approximations of fond memories—referred to as Eos Prophet Generated Objects, or EPGOs—but at a grievous cost for the user: a psychic break, and sometimes death. Rao and Rubenstein prove immune to the side effects, which makes them the perfect agents to study the drug. The novel’s denouement, in which Rao, Rubenstein, and their ops team navigate a landscape booby-trapped with rogue EPGOs to rescue Lunastus’s CEO, is wildly surreal with occasional flashes of dark humor, such as a Pac-Man machine that physically consumes a man who was once addicted to the game. The authors’ most irresistible achievement, though, is their odd-couple pairing of the Dionysian Rao with the fastidious Rubenstein, who bicker and banter contentiously despite their fondness for each other. The well-matched authors make good on their audacious premise. (Aug.)

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

James McBride. Riverhead, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-42294-6
National Book Award winner McBride (Deacon King Kong) tells a vibrant tale of Chicken Hill, a working-class neighborhood of Jewish, Black, and European immigrant families in Pottstown, Pa., where the 1972 discovery of a human skeleton unearths events that took place several decades earlier. In 1925, Moshe Ludlow owns the town’s first integrated dance hall and theater with his wife, Chona, a beautiful woman who’s undeterred by her polio-related disability and driven by her deep Jewish faith. Chona also runs the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, where she extends kindness and indefinite credit to her Jewish and Black customers alike. When Nate and Addie Tamblin, friends and employees of the Ludlows who are Black, approach the couple for help keeping their nephew, Dodo, from becoming a ward of the state, Chona doesn’t hesitate to open her home to hide the boy from the authorities. As the racist white “good Christians” from down the hill begin to interfere, claiming to be worried about Dodo’s welfare, a two-fold tragedy occurs that brings the community together to exact justice, which leads to the dead body discovered years later. McBride’s pages burst with life, whether in descriptions of Moshe’s dance hall, where folks get down to Chick Webb’s “gorgeous, stomping, low-down, rip-roaring, heart-racing jazz,” or a fortune teller who dances and cries out to God before registering her premonitions on a typewriter. This endlessly rich saga highlights the different ways in which people look out for one another. (Aug.)

Tangled Vines: Power, Privilege, and the Murdaugh Family Murders

John Glatt. St. Martin’s, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-28348-1
Bestseller Glatt (The Doomsday Mother) tells the stranger-than-fiction saga of South Carolina’s Murdaugh family in this exemplary work of true crime. While many readers will be familiar with the allegations that attorney Alex Murdaugh killed his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, in 2021—resulting in his 2023 conviction and double life sentence—Glatt deepens the story by placing those murders in the context of the family’s history. The Murdaughs “dominated a huge swath of South Carolina’s luscious Lowcountry, epitomizing power, justice, and big, big money” by serving as the equivalent of district attorneys at a time when state laws also permitted them to maintain a lucrative civil practice; they were well-known locally as both prosecutors and personal injury lawyers. Leading up to the murders, Maggie was beginning to consider filing for divorce, and Paul had been indicted for homicide after drunkenly crashing a boat and killing one of its passengers. All of this, Glatt explains, motivated Alex to act in desperate defense of the family legacy and their accumulated fortune, supporting this thesis by digging into the scope of both their influence and their wealth. Through his judicious use of police records, interviews with sources including local historians, and Alex’s own jailhouse phone calls (including one where he laughs off his crimes, saying “it is what it is”), Glatt has produced the equivalent of a juicy John Grisham novel, featuring a lead more “dark and totally devoid of conscience” than anyone he’s ever researched. This real-life Southern noir lingers. (Aug.)