Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Mark Dent and Rustin Dodd, Drew Gilpin Faust, Laura Moher, and more.

Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury

Drew Gilpin Faust. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-60180-5
Former Harvard president Faust (This Republic of Suffering) nimbly blends the personal and the political in this affecting memoir that covers her life from 1947 (the year she was born) through 1968. Faust, who was raised in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, had difficult relationships with both of her parents: her WWII veteran father was perpetually disengaged, and her upper-class mother was often angry. Disenchanted with their conservative worldviews, Faust forged her own, shaped by the literature of the era, including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank. Her outrage at racist discrimination led a nine-year-old Faust to write to then President Eisenhower to share her feelings that a segregated society was an unjust one (the memoir opens with a photocopy of this letter). Faust furthered her focus on “notions of justice, equality and patriotism” at Bryn Mawr College as a student activist and protester against Jim Crow and the Vietnam War. Her epilogue closes on a note of hope, looking ahead to the moment in 2008 when her home state of Virginia “cast its electoral ballots for the first Black president.” Faust pulls off a brilliant synthesis, grounding the macro stresses of the period in her quest to distance herself from her culture of origin and sharpen her political sensibilities. A follow-up volume exploring her life after 1968 would be more than welcome. (Aug.)

Curves for Days

Laura Moher. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-72827-805-6
Moher’s sparkling debut kicks off when curvy and gumptious Indianapolis waitress Alice Rose Barnes wins $80 million in the lottery. Beset by people looking to take advantage of her newfound wealth and struggling to cope with a recent trauma, Alice decides to flee her old life for somewhere she’ll feel more comfortable. Landing in Galway, N.C., she reinvents herself as Rose and though she keeps her wealth secret from her new neighbors, she becomes a kind of fairy godmother to the town, anonymously donating to local causes. Along the way, she falls for gentle giant Angus Drummond, an Army vet turned therapist who works as a builder on the side. The pair meet when Rose hires Angus to remodel her new home, and, despite a rocky start, their chemistry is undeniable. But what will happen when Angus learns all the secrets Rose is keeping? It’s easy to root for these deserving and well-matched characters on their bumpy road to love, and the charming small-town setting only adds to the appeal of this complex yet cozy tale. An emphasis on body positivity combines with heartfelt romance to make this a winner. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary. (Aug.)

Kingdom Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs, and How a Once Swingin’ Cow Town Chased the Ultimate Comeback

Mark Dent and Rustin Dodd. Dutton, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-47203-3
Journalists Dent and Dodd’s outstanding debut weaves the story of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes into a warts-and-all history of the Missouri city. The son of a former major league pitcher, Mahomes’s passing skills while playing at Texas Tech University caught the attention of the Chiefs, who drafted him in 2017. He became the team’s starting quarterback in 2018 and brought the franchise to new heights, including Super Bowl titles in 2020 and 2023. The authors, both Kansas City natives, contextualize what Mahomes’s achievements meant to the city with a colorful look at its past, discussing Prohibition-era political boss Tom Pendergast’s corrupt dealings, the racial covenants that segregated the city for much of the 20th century, and downtown’s fight to retain residents and business amid widespread migration to the suburbs beginning in the 1950s and ’60s. Dent and Dodd suggest that Mahomes’s success has reinvigorated Kansas City’s spirit and that his activism in support of Black Lives Matter has drawn attention to how racism has shaped the metropolis for centuries, though the authors are careful to note that problems persist, including a lack of affordable housing and discrimination faced by people of color seeking home loans. It’s a riveting look at the plight of a midwestern city through the prism of a star athlete. (Aug.)

Riding the Nightmare

Lisa Tuttle. Valancourt, $34.99 (236p) ISBN 978-1-954321-90-8
These 12 macabre stories from Tuttle (The Dead Hours of Night) abound with intensely unsettling explorations of the dark side of gender dynamics. In the title tale, a spurned woman’s anger toward her lover and his pregnant wife manifests as a nightmarish entity with an uncontrollable life of its own. “The Third Person” follows a woman who allows her friend to conduct an adulterous liaison in her apartment, only to find herself later absorbed into a ménage à trois with their discarnate presences, which linger in her home. The narrator of “Bits and Pieces” assembles a companion who best suits her desires from the body parts past lovers have left behind in her bed. In each of these stories, Tuttle homes in with uncanny precision on the subtle power dynamics that shape how men and women relate to one another, seen nowhere more vividly than in “The Dragon’s Bride,” a stunning novella in which a contemporary romantic relationship is revealed to have roots in a classic folk legend dealing in traditional gender stereotypes. These stories are all the more memorable and terrifying for centering horrors that grow out of their characters’ most vulnerable moments of shared intimacy. Tuttle delivers the goods. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Agency. (Aug.)

The Ones

Brian Michael Bendis and Jacob Edgar. Dark Horse, $24.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-5067-2991-6
In this welcome deconstruction of mainstream comics tropes from Eisner winner Bendis (the New Avengers series) and Edgar (the Batman Adventures series), a superhero team is destined to defeat evil—if they can get their act together. Wilson, “Keeper of the Prophecies,” recruits a Vampire Slayer (and her mortal sidekick, Barb, who’s in real estate); master of magic Doctor Jamax; the brawny “Thrace the Champion,” wielder of the Bloodspiller Sword; Ava Granetstein, who appears to be a normal human; plus, a genuine superhero type called Novus and a figure named “The Chosen One”—though the conceit is each of these fighters are one of a kind. Together they promise to be the winning combo to best Satan (the real deal), a goal thwarted by infighting, second-guessing, and demands for catered meetings. Bendis plays to his strengths in the script: quippy dialogue, brilliantly realized archetypes, and mundane profanity are peppered throughout. The art and design by Edgar achieves a stripped-down cartoon style akin to Michael Avon Oeming’s work on Powers (also a Bendis-scripted comic), with clear and crisp detail across action and (ample) dialogue. For example, while three different red-headed women are introduced as major characters within a dozen pages, Edgar makes each immediately distinct. This arch superhero saga by way of the Coen brothers shows Bendis at his best. (Aug.)

Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith

John Szwed. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-37428-224-0
In this vividly detailed biography, music scholar Szwed (Billie Holiday) brilliantly captures the life and legacy of the enigmatic filmmaker, folklorist, painter, producer, anthropologist, archivist, Kabbalist, and alchemist Harry Smith (1923–1991). Gathering information about Smith’s “scattered” life from incomplete archives (much was lost during Smith’s stints living on the streets), Szwed paints his subject as an influential force in American art, admired by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, and Allen Ginsberg. Smith’s work elided boundaries between folk and fine art; his landmark 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, a six-LP collection of rediscovered commercial recordings, was instrumental “to the folk music revival,” while several of his films, including Heaven and Earth Magic (1957) and Mahagonny (1980), were featured in the Museum of Modern Art and the Louvre. Despite his influence, he died destitute, of cardiac arrest, in a Manhattan hotel room in 1991, the same year he won a Chairman’s Merit Award Grammy with Harry Belafonte. Drawing on extensive research to fill in his subject’s emotional states, Szwed sensitively renders the extraordinary, bizarre, and ultimately tragic life that Smith “devoted... completely to art, in some ways turning [that life] into a work of art, his own personal surrealism.” The result is a masterful ode to a “strange and singular character” in American arts. (Aug.)

The Ballot and the Bible: How Scripture Has Been Used and Abused in American Politics and Where We Go from Here

Kaitlyn Schiess. Brazos, $19.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-587-43596-6
Journalist Schiess (The Liturgy of Politics) presents an erudite history of both America’s “proper application” and “deep misuse” of scripture during pivotal events, from the Revolutionary and Civil wars through the Cold War and 9/11. Among other topics, Schiess examines politicians’ invocations of biblical blessings and the idea of America as a nation “uniquely covenanted with God.” Citing 1960s civil rights activists’ references to the exodus from Egypt, she explains that the Black church community recognized itself in “the plights of Israel” and looked to the Bible for “a divine mission for justice,” making for powerful oratory, while segregationists drew on hazy, misapplied “appeals to the unmistakable natural order of God’s creation.” Schiess sets out a new vision for biblical language use: instead of “plucking passages out of their context” and retrofitting them for predetermined political agendas, those combing the Bible for present-day insight should consider “the larger context of God’s redemptive story.” Buttressing her claims with impressive close analysis, Schiess sets out a nuanced look at America’s legacy of scriptural language, and readers will find especially useful her guidelines for responsible biblical interpretation when engaging in political discourse. This is a boon for activists looking to the Bible for inspiration. (Aug.)

Free to Judge: The Power of Campaign Money in Judicial Elections

Michael S. Kang and Joanna M. Shepherd. Stanford Univ, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-1-503-62761-1
In this significant study, law professors Kang (coeditor of Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process) and Shepherd (The Economics of Industrial Organization) present “the best empirical evidence to date” that judges decide cases in favor of their campaign donors. Drawing on a dataset 10 years in the making, they demonstrate that state judges who face reelection are more likely to rule in favor of their donors than lame-duck state judges who have reached the end of their term limits. The authors also provide historical insight into why judicial elections exist. In the mid-19th century, many states switched from appointments to elections to “protect judges from the influence of legislatures and governors”—a not-insignificant concern, as the authors go on to demonstrate that judges seeking reappointment are more likely to decide cases in the government’s favor. Kang and Shepherd conclude that any “judicial retention” mechanism that forces judges to be concerned about holding onto their job, whether reelection or reappointment, creates bias in their rulings, and recommend having judges serve single long terms as the best way to reduce favoritism. Ingeniously blending data science and legal analysis, this is an innovative and accessible program for justice system reform. (Aug.)