With Mother's Day fast approaching, perhaps you forgot to get a gift for the mother or maternal figure in your life—or perhaps you are a mother and are mulling the multivarious meanings of motherhood. If either is true, perhaps this list is for you.

Mother Doll

Katya Apekina. Overlook, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4197-7095-1
Apekina (The Deeper the Water, the Uglier the Fish) turns the multigenerational family saga on its head with this sharply original and surprisingly witty tale of a young woman in contemporary Los Angeles, her dying grandmother in New York City, and their ancestor in revolutionary Russia. Zhenia, a 20-something translator based in California, is struggling to come to terms with her beloved grandmother Vera’s dementia and terminal illness, and shamed by her mother for not traveling back east to help. Zhenia has also just told her husband that she’s unexpectedly pregnant, and he’s unhappy with the news. Then she receives a call from a stranger in New York named Paul, who tells her that her dead great-grandmother Irina needs to talk with her. Paul, a medium who normally specializes in pets, met Irina in an overpopulated afterworld, and has agreed to relay her story to Zhenia. A parallel narrative portrays this purgatory as an “undifferentiated cloud,” where, in flashbacks, Irina remembers her passionate adolescence, when she was swayed to join the antimonarchist February Revolution of 1917 by one of her teachers. Now, via Paul, she seeks forgiveness from Zhenia for abandoning Vera in a Russian orphanage and other acts. Apekina avoids the ponderous tone of many historical novels by making Irina a thrillingly vital presence, and allows the parallels between her and her great-granddaughter as young pregnant women to emerge gradually and naturally. The result is a provocative vision of a world in which past and present are not as neatly separated as they appear. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (Mar.)

Floating Hotel

Grace Curtis. DAW, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7564-1930-1
Curtis (Frontier) spins a cozy and compulsively readable sci-fi adventure set aboard the Grand Abeona Hotel, a luxurious resort starship locked in a perpetual tour of the galaxy. Though the ship has seen better days, it’s still a choice setting, offering the finest amenities for its myriad guests as they travel between the stars. The subtle plot chronicles the experiences of the hotel’s staff and guests as they delve into the Grand Abeona’s many mysteries. From amiable manager Carl, crusty chief technician Sasha, and new employee Daphne to an enigmatic pair of newlywed guests, each perspective adds another layer of complexity and suspense to the question of the hotel’s eventual fate. With clever prose and lush descriptions, Curtis captures the spirit of the worn down yet still glamorous starship as it dutifully follows its routine, exploring the backstory of its staff while throwing ever escalating complications in their way, including a potentially eventful academic conference onboard and a murder in one of the guest rooms. Even when the stakes are high, Curtis has a knack for keeping things intimate and understated, peeling back the layers of the novel’s scrappy found family. Centering optimism in the face of an increasingly dark universe, this feel-good saga lingers long after it’s finished. Agent: Zoë Plant, Plant Agency. (Mar.)

Single Mothering

Anna Härmälä. Nobrow, $20.99 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-913123-22-2
Härmälä’s wit glows as warmly as her saturated pastel colors in her semi-autobiographical debut about tackling parenthood alone. Her partner dumps her while she’s pregnant, leaving her to shoulder the responsibilities of birthing and then raising their daughter, Alma. After she fantasizes about burning the house down, she imagines being visited by angels who decree, “From now on, you shall always suffer judgment more than other mothers.” Through short, interconnected vignettes, Härmälä deals with insensitive couples, overly sensitive friends, friendships with other single moms (Sara, an aspirational single mother figure, “smells expensive” and is “emotionally scarred but in a gentle, approachable way”), dating as a single parent, applying for a mortgage alone, and accepting the hard truth that, no matter how exhausting and exasperating her situation is, she has to keep going for the sake of her daughter. Through it all, Härmälä is bitingly funny and visually innovative; she imagines losing her partner in a game show, depicts herself in woodcut-style art as a witch banished from the Village of Couples, and transforms into a half-woman, half-stroller cyborg. Her smooth, rounded art is delightfully expressive and self-deprecating. Parents, single and otherwise, will find plenty to laugh about, in solidarity. (Apr.)

How to Baby: A No-Advice-Given Guide to Motherhood, with Drawings

Liana Finck. Dial, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-59596-1
New Yorker cartoonist Finck (Passing for Human) depicts her pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood in the form of a facetious guidebook with no definitive answers or advice but plenty of gentle snark. Spindly, abstracted female figures illustrate wry observations on such topics as the physical changes of pregnancy (“Is your bladder in on the sexist conspiracy that relegates women to the home?”), dealing with “In-Laws and Other Invaders” (“The walls of your home will dematerialize”), and figuring out baby products (“To my knowledge, there is no way to use a boppy pillow”). Finck’s illustrations sometimes expand into striking expressionism; a pregnant woman’s body is first depicted stuffed with random objects, then as a cage containing a baby, then as an enormous baby’s head. She touches lightly but acerbically on political issues surrounding childbirth and childcare, including the infuriating bureaucracy of the American healthcare system (pretending to be a patient on hold with insurance is “good practice for parenthood”), the uneven gendered division of labor, and the isolation new mothers face. Parents will find plenty here that’s both familiar and funny, and all of it presented with a refreshing lack of judgement. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, Gernert Co. (Apr.)

The Book of Mothers: How Literature Can Help Us Reinvent Modern Motherhood

Carrie Mullins. St. Martin’s, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-28506-5
This perceptive debut study from Mullins explores what the novels of Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, and others reveal about social attitudes toward motherhood. Likening the stars of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise to Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs. Bennet, Mullins argues that both are obsessed with ostentatious wealth and “believe a woman’s currency is her looks.” Mullins contends that while Jane Austen uses Mrs. Bennet as a foil to her daughter Elizabeth’s more progressive “version of womanhood,” characterized by valuing one’s “intellect and happiness,” the Real Housewives shows leave their stars’ superficiality unexamined. Nella Larsen portrays motherhood as an unending bout of anxiety in her 1929 novel, Passing, Mullins writes, faulting Larsen for insinuating that marriage, while necessary for a woman to achieve financial security, makes wives sexually undesirable by turning them into, in the case of protagonist Irene, “overbearing, unattractive worrier[s].” Elsewhere, Mullins opines on how the unrelenting busyness of Mrs. Weasley in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series conflates constant activity with good mothering, and how Offred’s objectification by a repressive society in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale dramatizes how antiabortion policies reduce women to their reproductive capacity. Mullins draws unexpected connections and manages the difficult task of finding fresh perspectives on much studied works of literature. The result is a discerning feminist examination of the Western canon. Agent: Laura Mazer, Wendy Sherman Assoc. (May)

Correction: An earlier version of this review conflated the author with a novelist of the same name.

Le Sud: Recipes from Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Rebekah Peppler. Chronicle, $35 (280p) ISBN 978-1-79721-953-0
Paris-based American food writer Peppler (À Table) conjures up the vibrancy of southern French cuisine through these 80 recipes, which are framed by witty introductions and luscious photographs of the Mediterranean sea, market stalls, and the bounty of the region’s ingredients. Classic dishes include ratatouille, two versions of salad Niçoise, and the beef stew Daube Provençal. While she avoids “overwrought, technique-heavy dishes,” Peppler favors homemade tapenades, pesto, and aioli, the latter which she deems “the very sun of the Provençale universe.” This garlicky sauce shows up in soups (la bourride), mussels (moules in aioli), and, when paired with vegetables, makes a meal unto itself (aioli, petit to monstre). Veggies shine in cherry tomatoes with pistou, zucchini blossoms, and tomates à la Provençale (for “when it’s not summer but you need summer”). Peppler’s voice-driven writing is a treat, even in the titles: “The Pasta I Crave Every Time I’m Near the Sea,” which features fresh clams, is followed by “Pasta to Make When You’re Not Near the Sea (but Wish You Were)” with anchovies and sardines. Personal stories are lightly threaded throughout, as in the intro to sardines and piment d’Espelette, an impromptu picnic dish that Peppler once brought to the beach where she met her future wife. Desserts include a summery strawberry cake and a Christmasy hazelnut nougat, and a quick guide to the modern Provençale cheese plate rounds things out. This sparkling collection will delight foodies and armchair travelers alike. (Apr.)

Imagination: A Manifesto

Ruha Benjamin. Norton, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-1-324-02097-4
Benjamin (Viral Justice) posits in this wide-ranging treatise that “collective imagination” will be a key force behind the creation of an emerging new social order. Arguing that the world is “between stories” (quoting historian Thomas Berry) and thus ready to discard dead ideas of racism and nationalism and dream new social arrangements into being, Benjamin asserts that “it matters whose imaginations get to materialize as our shared future.” She cautions that society is in danger of being ensnared by the quasi-utopias on offer from tech titans, where the well-off escape problems rather than solve them and technology is used to police and surveil regular people. Benjamin goes on to critique other realms of failed imagination, including America’s education system (“a site of spirit murder”) and prison system. She highlights projects that, in her view, direct collective imagination toward more just and humane outcomes, ranging from experiments in data sovereignty in Barcelona to a virtual reality art installation honoring Breonna Taylor’s life. Throughout, Benjamin’s roving narrative moves nimbly between topics to make her case (at one exemplary point she pauses her analysis of a documentary on creative writing programs for prisoners to note how it reminds her of a line from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: “Could a creature without a human spirit create such heart-wrenching paintings?”). It’s a powerful exhortation for society to point its dreams toward the collective good. (Feb.)

Free Love: The Story of a Great American Scandal

Robert Shaplen. McNally, $18 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-946-02291-2
First published in 1954, this droll and waggish chronicle of an American media frenzy from journalist Shaplen (The Lost Revolution) revels in the eccentricity of 19th-century elites. Tracking the consummation and public fallout of an 1860s extramarital affair between famed preacher Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, wife of Theodore Tilton, one of Beecher’s most ardent followers, Shaplen pokes sly fun at the trio and their upper-crust set through extensive excerpting of their saccharine letters to one another and reports on their outlandish behavior, all of which became public during a civil trial. Beecher, a serial philanderer, comes off as a charismatic seducer (instructing Elizabeth in his letters on how to keep their affair secret by referring to it as “nest-hiding”), while Elizabeth appears pitiable and lonely in light of her husband’s strange aloofness (a bizarre man, Theodore was given to walking around his house at two in the morning moving picture frames). Shaplen’s liberal quotations from the correspondence occasionally bog down the narrative in confessions and apologies; however, the book comes alive in the latter half with the entrance of Victoria Woodhull, a politically ambitious spiritualist who pushed the scandal into public view (she hoped that this evidence of men’s fallibility would undercut the public’s faith in male politicians). Shaplen’s eye for detail creates a vision of sweaty, prurient absurdity in postbellum America. This enthralls. (Apr.)

Where Rivers Part: A Story of My Mother’s Life

Kao Kalia Yang. Atria, $28.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-9821-8529-9
“I wanted to claim the legacy of the woman I came from,” Yang (Somewhere in the Unknown World) writes in the introduction to this gripping and compassionate account of her mother’s escape from war-torn Laos. Her mother, Tswb, was born to a Hmong family in Laos in 1961. In 1975, after the end of the Vietnam War, communist forces began hunting down Hmong families because some had been recruited by the CIA to fight alongside American forces during the war. A teenage Tswb and her family first sought safety in Laotian jungles, then in Thai refugee camps. By 1980, Tswb had resettled in Bangkok, where Yang was born. In its second half, the narrative shifts to Minnesota, where Yang and her parents relocated in 1987. Living in a housing project, working in factories, and attending school at night, Tswb felt “rendered invisible” by her inability to provide more than the basic necessities for Yang and her five siblings. When Tswb’s mother died in Laos circa 2020, Tswb returned to reconnect with the land and people she left behind. Yang writes much of the account from Tswb’s perspective, giving tender voice to her struggles with the competing demands of family duty and personal fulfillment. The results are illuminating, uplifting, and difficult to forget. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Mar.)

Somehow: Thoughts on Love

Anne Lamott. Riverhead, $22 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-71441-6
Lamott (Dusk, Night, Dawn) brings her signature wit and warmth to these effervescent meditations on matters of the heart. Drawing from across her life, Lamott details how seemingly lost love can be transmuted into different forms, recalling how friends and family stepped in after she was broken up with while pregnant in her 30s: “Love pushed back its sleeves and took over.... We were provided with everything we needed and then some”—even if that love “was a little hard to take.” Elsewhere, Lamott explores the gap between the way one wants to give love and how another wants to receive it, illustrating the point with a humorous account of how she tried to foist a swag bag from her church onto a skeptical unhoused person. Turning to love that inflicts pain, Lamott delineates in wrenching detail how her parents’ stony marriage affected her childhood—“It was uncertain whether they cared for each other, so I took it upon myself to try to fill the holes this left them with.” A topic that might feel trite in the hands of a lesser writer takes on fresh meaning in Lamott’s, thanks to her ability to distill complex truths with a deceptive lightness. This rings true. (Apr.)