Known names, newbies, and voices of many cultures are featured in this sparkling collection of literary gifts.
The Age of Light
Whitney Scharer (Little, Brown)
ISBN 978-0-316-52408-7, $28
Scharer’s stellar debut chronicles the tumultuous working and romantic relationships of photographer Man Ray and model-turned-photographer Lee Miller in early 1930s Paris. An older Lee contemplates an assignment to write about that period of her life with Man, but her memories are interspersed with grim but satisfying later years as a WWII photographer. These scenes are juxtaposed against her hope- and-love-filled initial years in Paris, where she meets the older Man at a party. Man nurtures her talent as a photographer but is also possessive and controlling, both as a lover and as a mentor. When Man guts her by submitting her photography under his name for a prize, she exacts revenge via another project he wanted to take from her and brings matters to a head. Scharer’s brilliant portrayal of the complicated couple features a page-turning story and thrillingly depicts the artistic process.
City of Girls
Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead)
ISBN 978-1-59463-473-4, $28
Gilbert begins her beguiling tale of an innocent young woman discovering the excitements and pleasures of 1940 New York City with a light touch, as her heroine, Vivian Morris, romps through the city. Gradually the story deepens into a psychologically keen narrative about Vivian’s search for independence as she indulges her free spirit and sexuality. Freshly expelled from Vassar for not attending any classes, 19-year-old Vivian is sent by her parents to stay with her aunt Peggy Buell in Manhattan. As WWII rages in Europe, Vivian is oblivious to anything but the wonder behind the scruffy theater that Peg runs and the louche leading man with whom she falls in love with passionate abandon. Vivian flits through nightclubs, drinking heavily and scooting into the arms of numerous men. One night at the Stork Club she meets Walter Winchell, the notorious gossip columnist, who plays a pivotal role in the tabloid scandal in which Vivian becomes embroiled. Vivian’s voice gradually darkens with guilt when she receives a devastating comeuppance. Originally reckless and selfish, eventually thoughtful and humane, Vivian is the perfect protagonist for this novel, a page-turner with heart complete with a potent message of fulfillment and happiness.
Jeanette Winterson (Grove)
ISBN 978-0-8021-2949-9, $27
Winterson reimagines literary classic Frankenstein—both the story and the genesis of it—in this magnificent novel. The book shuttles back and forth between 1816, when a challenge leads Mary Shelley to write her indelible character and the monster he creates, and the present day, when a transgender man named Ry Shelley delves deeper into the burgeoning world and industry surrounding robotics and AI. Winterson’s recreation of the story of Mary Shelley’s creative process and later life and work is splendid, but it’s the modern analogue of the famous Lake Geneva party that is truly inspired. There is the hilariously crass sexbot entrepreneur Ron Lord, the evangelical capitalist Claire, and the nosy nuisance of Vanity Fair reporter Polly D. This vividly imagined and gorgeously constructed novel will have readers laughing out loud—and then pondering their personhood and mortality on the next page.
Christopher Castellani (Viking)
ISBN 978-0-525-55905-4, $27
Castellani’s spectacular fourth novel imagines the relationships between Tennessee Williams, his lover Frank Merlo, and a young actress named Anja Bloom, whom they take under their wing. Frank is beloved by Anja, a 17-year-old who flees her mother and finds fame with director Martin Hovland. The 1950s scenes are interspersed with chapters set a decade later as Frank lies dying in a cancer ward, having been all but abandoned by Tenn. Castellani’s novel hits the trifecta of being moving, beautifully written, and a bona fide page-turner. This is a wonderful examination of artists and the people who love them and change their work in large and imperceptible ways.
Helen Phillips (Simon & Schuster)
ISBN 978-1-982113-16-2, $26
Phillips delivers an unforgettable tour de force that melds nonstop suspense, intriguing speculation, and perfectly crafted prose. While excavating a fossil quarry, paleobotanist Molly Nye and her colleagues find plant fossils unconnected to all previously identified species and random objects—a Bible describing God as “she,” a Coke bottle with a backwards-tilting logo—with odd, mysterious differences from their everyday counterparts. She feels uneasy when news of the Bible draws gawkers to the site, but anxiety is no stranger to Molly as she struggles with “apocalyptic exhaustion” and a constant fear that disaster is about to strike her kids. While her husband, David, is abroad, real danger arrives in the form of a black-clad intruder, who wears the gold deer mask David gave Molly for her birthday and knows intimate details of Molly’s life. As the stranger’s mask comes off, literally and figuratively, en route to a startling conclusion to their confrontation, Molly veers between panic, appeasement, and empathy for an “other” whose story is uncannily like her own except in its tragedies. With its crossover appeal to lovers of thriller, science fiction, and literary fiction, this story showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best.
The Other Americans
Laila Lalami (Pantheon)
ISBN 978-1-5247-4714-5, $25.95
Lalami’s powerful third novel, after 2014’s Pulitzer Prize finalist The Moor’s Account, uses nine narrators to probe the schisms of American community. When Driss Guerraoui is killed in a hit-and-run, his single daughter Nora, a struggling composer, returns to her parents’ home. There she navigates her strained relationships with her mother, Maryam, who hopes she will abandon music for a law degree, and sister Salma, who unlike Nora chose a conventional path of marriage, children, and a lucrative career. As Nora grapples with grief for her supportive father and pushes the police to find the driver who killed him, her encounters with a former elementary school classmate lead to intimacy she isn’t sure she wants. In a narrative that succeeds as mystery and love story, family and character study, Lalami captures the complex ways humans can be strangers not just outside their “tribes” but within them, as well as to themselves.
The Secrets We Kept
Lara Prescott (Knopf)
ISBN 978-0-525-65615-9, $26.95
Prescott’s triumphant debut offers a fresh perspective on women employed by the CIA during the 1950s and their role in disseminating into the Soviet Union copies of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak’s banned masterpiece. In 1956, American-born Irina Drozdova, trained in spycraft by former OSS agent Sally Forrester, gets a job at the CIA. Meanwhile, inside the Soviet Union, Pasternak is unable to publish Dr. Zhivago, so entrusts his novel to an Italian publisher’s representative. In the U.S., Irina, now engaged to a male agent but in love with Sally, dresses as a nun and places copies of Dr. Zhivago, printed in the original Russian, into the hands of Soviet citizens visiting the Vienna World’s Fair. Through lucid images and vibrant storytelling, Prescott creates an edgy postfeminist vision of the Cold War. This debut shines as spy story, publication thriller, and historical romance with a twist.
The Shadow King
Maaza Mengiste (Norton)
ISBN 978-0-393-08356-9, $26.95
Mengiste again brings heart and authenticity to a slice of Ethiopian history, this time focusing on the Italian invasion of her birth country in 1935. While Hirut, a servant girl, and her trajectory to becoming a fierce soldier defending her country are the nexus of the story, the author elucidates the landscape of war by focusing on individuals offering different viewpoints: a sadistic colonel in Mussolini’s army; a Jewish Venetian photographer/soldier tasked with documenting war atrocities; and Haile Selassie, the emperor bearing the weight of his country’s devastation at the hand of the Italians. Mengiste breaks new ground in this evocative, mesmerizing account of the role of women during wartime.
Mysteries & Thrillers
Whodunnits, Orwellian thrillers, historical thrillers, and ghost stories all find spots on this keep-you-up-at-night list.
City of Windows
Robert Pobi (Minotaur)
ISBN 978-1-250-29394-7, $26.99
Brilliant astrophysicist Lucas Page, the distinctive hero of this outstanding series launch, used to be an FBI agent who could survey a crime scene and automatically convert the topography to geometric forms and numbers, enabling him to pinpoint the origin of a gunshot in the middle of a city. Then the loss of a leg, an arm, and an eye in a shoot-out put an end to his FBI career. Ten years later, when Lucas’s former FBI partner, Doug Hartke, is fatally shot by a sniper while driving in Midtown Manhattan, Lucas reluctantly agrees to help FBI special agent Brett Kehoe track down the culprit. Lucas quickly determines the sniper’s rooftop location, but it was a close to impossible shot, “like trying to thread a needle while riding a mechanical bull set to Motörhead.” The tense plot is balanced by the prickly Lucas’s cerebral investigating skills.
The Darwin Affair
Tim Mason (Algonquin)
ISBN 978-1-61620-634-5, $27.95
This is an audacious historical thriller. In 1860, Chief Det. Insp. Charles Field, the inspiration for Inspector Bucket in Dickens’s Bleak House, is part of the added security force for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert after several assassination attempts. Field is guarding the royal couple’s carriage route when he spots 18-year-old pickpocket Stevie Patchen, who appears to be holding a weapon. Field tackles Patchen, only to realize that the youth was a decoy. The actual gunman, Philip Rendell, is able to fire only a few stray shots at the carriage before he’s apprehended. In the ensuing confusion, someone cuts Patchen’s throat and removes one ear, leading Field to suspect a conspiracy. The intelligent plot features prominent figures of the time, including Karl Marx and Charles Darwin. Wry prose and vivid period detail help make Mason’s speculations feel plausible.
Empire of Lies
Raymond Khoury (Forge)
ISBN 978-1-250-21096-8, $27.99
Alternate histories don’t get much better than this thought-provoking mind bender. In 1683, suicide bombers, armed with dynamite, kill themselves and the leaders of the army of Christendom. The explosives are the result of an intricate scheme launched by Iraqi ISIS leader Ayman Rasheed in the present after he learns the secret of time travel. Eager to recreate a caliphate that would awe the world, Ayman determines that ensuring the capture of Vienna would lead to the continued existence and dominance of the Ottoman Empire in the 21st century. By 2017, however, the regime has become repressive and faces a resistance movement. The bulk of the action occurs in Paris, where Kamal Arslan Agha, of the counterterrorism directorate investigates a murder connected to Ayman. Superior and plausible worldbuilding matches an ingeniously imaginative conceit.
Heaven, My Home
Attica Locke (Mulholland)
ISBN 978-0-316-36340-2, $27
Edgar-winner Locke’s searing sequel to 2017’s Bluebird, Bluebird finds African-American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews reconciled with his wife, though to maintain their marriage, he has agreed to take a desk job at the Rangers’ Houston office, where he’s assigned to analyze digital surveillance data on his state’s chapter of the Aryan Brotherhood. Then nine-year-old Levi King, the son of Aryan Brotherhood of Texas captain Bill King, disappears in Marion County, and Matthews returns to field duty. Meanwhile, Bill, who evaded justice for killing a black man, but is serving 20 years in prison on drug charges, writes to the governor to request an exhaustive search for his son. Matthews’s boss, who’s seeking an indictment of the Brotherhood, including Bill, hopes that the search for Levi will yield information that can be used against his father. This one’s another Edgar contender.
S.J. Rozan (Pegasus Crime)
ISBN 978-1-64313-129-0, $25.95
Last seen in 2011’s Ghost Hero, Lydia Chin and Bill Smith venture into unfamiliar terrain—the Deep South—in Edgar winner Rozan’s stellar 12th novel featuring the two New York City PIs. To Lydia’s surprise, her mother, who isn’t a fan of either her daughter’s profession or Bill, asks Lydia to travel with Bill to Clarksdale, Miss., where a cousin Lydia has never heard of, 23-year-old Jefferson Tam, has just been arrested for the murder of his grocer father, Leland. While the evidence against Jefferson appears strong, Mrs. Chin refuses to accept that a relative of her late husband could possibly be guilty. Before Lydia and Bill can talk to Jefferson about what happened, he escapes from jail, an act that only makes him look guiltier. As usual, Rozan is adept at devising a plausible but intricate mystery for her leads. Her superior prose and characterizations will make even newcomers hope for a shorter wait for the next book in the series.
The Satapur Moonstone
Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)
ISBN 978-1-61695-909-8, $26.95
Set in 1922, Edgar finalist Massey’s second whodunit featuring Bombay attorney Perveen Mistry is even better than the series’ impressive debut, 2018’s The Widows of Malabar Hill. Sir David Hobson-Jones, a top adviser to the governor of India, approaches Perveen, who has bucked gender prejudices to become one of India’s few female lawyers, on behalf of the Kolhapur Agency, a British civil service entity in need of a legal investigator to handle a delicate situation in the small state of Satapur. The state’s two maharanis are involved in a bitter debate over where the current maharajah, 10-year-old Jiva Reo, should be educated. Because the maharanis avoid contact with men, the authorities view Perveen as the ideal person to talk with them and issue an educational recommendation. Despite her misgivings at working for her country’s occupiers, Perveen accepts the assignment, only to learn that the two previous rulers of Satapur died within the past two years, leading her to fear that Reo is also at risk. The winning, self-sufficient Perveen should be able to sustain a long series.
The Second Sleep
Robert Harris (Knopf)
ISBN 978-0-525-65669-2, $26.95
Thriller Award–winner Harris does a masterful job playing with readers’ expectations in this mystery set in 15th-century England. Fr. Christopher Fairfax has been dispatched to officiate at the funeral of Fr. Thomas Lacy, a parish priest who died in a fall. The assignment seems routine enough, but on reaching the town of Addicott St. George, Fairfax learns that the man he’s about to interview in consecrated ground possessed numerous heretical volumes relating to an antiquarian society proscribed by the church. When foul weather delays Fairfax’s departure, he finds even more oddities, including the disappearance of the church register and an unsettling letter by a Cambridge professor found in a mass grave, which supports his suspicion that Lacy’s interest in the past was more than innocent scholarly curiosity. This is a clever complement to Harris’s debut mystery, Fatherland.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
Kate Racculia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN 978-0-358-02393-7, $26
Rarely does a novel so suffused with death radiate as much life as this spirited—in every sense of the word—genre-bending adventure. The games begin for volunteer Tuesday Mooney at a fund-raising gala when, uncharacteristically, the self-possessed loner finds herself flirting with a handsome guest who introduces himself as Nathaniel Arches, of the Boston Brahmin megabucks clan. Then Vincent Pryce—not the Vincent Price but an eccentric, cape-draped elderly billionaire famed for his love of the macabre—collapses. In his subsequently published self-penned obituary, he invites the city to play an elaborate treasure hunt with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe, for a chunk of his fortune. The challenge galvanizes a host of contestants, including Tuesday, for whom the dark side has held a fascination ever since her childhood in Salem, Mass., and the never-solved disappearance of her best friend, Abby Hobbes. As suspenseful as the adrenaline-pumping race will prove, the author, like Vincent, has a deeper design in mind, which only becomes apparent with the book’s immensely satisfying final bombshells.
Rob Hart (Crown)
What if the totalitarian regime controlling people’s lives was a mega-corporation rather than a fascist government? That’s the conceit of this intelligent Orwellian thriller by Hart (the Ash McKenna series), who imagines an all-too-plausible near-future in which an Amazon-on-steroids company called Cloud dominates retail sales and the labor market. The story is told from the perspectives of three people: multibillionaire Gibson Wells, the founder of Cloud; Paxton, a newly hired security employee at a MotherCloud facility, where he also lives; and Zinnia, a shipping worker and resident of the same facility. Hart’s detail-oriented worldbuilding, which credibly extrapolates from the Trump administration’s antiregulatory agenda, makes this cautionary tale memorable and powerful. This promises to be Hart’s breakout book.
Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
A plethora of phantasmagoria pepper this list of imagined worlds, from space operas to tales of necromancy.
Elizabeth Bear (Saga)
ISBN 978-1-5344-0298-0, $25.99
Anyone who enjoys space opera, exploration of characters, and political speculation will love this outstanding novel, Bear’s welcome return to hard SF after several years of writing well-received steampunk. As an engineer on a scrappy space salvage tug, narrator Haimey Dz has a comfortable, relatively low-stress existence. Then, while aboard a booby-trapped derelict ship, she is infected with a not-quite-parasitic alien device that gives her insights into the universe’s structure. This makes her valuable not only to the apparently benevolent interstellar government, the Synarche, but also to a vicious association of space pirates. While fleeing, she and her crew discover a gigantic, ancient alien space ship hidden at the bottom of a black hole at the center of the galaxy, and at that point, things start getting complicated. Amid a space opera resurgence, Bear’s novel sets the bar high.
Ted Chiang (Knopf)
ISBN 978-1-101-94788-3, $25.99
Hugo- and Nebula-winner Chiang’s standout second collection explores the effects that technology and knowledge have on consciousness, free will, and the human desire for meaning. Included in the nine stories is the Hugo- and Nebula-winning novelette “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a time-travel story that employs both relativistic physics and an Arabian Nights–style structure. Other tales grapple with robots parenting humans, humans parenting AIs, the Fermi paradox, quantum mechanics, and what it means to be a sentient creature facing a potentially deterministic universe. These stories are brilliant experiments, and his commitment to exploring deep human questions elevates them to among the very best science fiction.
Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow
Charlie Jane Anders et al. (Unnamed)
ISBN 978-1-944700-95-9, $27
This dynamic, dud-free anthology of 14 short stories written by some of speculative fiction’s greats provides gripping, convincing glimpses into various near futures that explore the interrelated advancement of technology, society, and human nature. In Nnedi Okorafor’s “Mother of Invention,” the life of an abandoned pregnant woman is endangered because of superplants causing terrible allergies. Her hopelessness is balanced with the optimism of her smart house. The story is quiet and hopeful, and explores friendship and family. Meg Elison’s heart-wrenching “Safe Surrender,” in which humans intermarry and interbreed with aliens, looks at the stories people tell themselves about difference, as well as what it means to find a home. Each author cleverly and thoroughly explores the benefits and consequences of change, making this essential reading for anyone intrigued by what might come next for humankind.
Gideon the Ninth
Tamsyn Muir (Tor)
ISBN 978-1-250-31319-5, $25.99
Queer necromancers vie for power, solve ancient puzzles, and cross rapiers while exploring haunted deep-space ruins in this madcap science fantasy romp that manages to be both riotously funny and heartbreaking. Eighteen-year-old orphan Gideon Nav has spent her life devising ways to escape indentured servitude to the Ninth House. When Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the sole daughter and heir to the Ninth, sees a chance to become a Lyctor, right hand to the Necromancer Divine, she needs a cavalier by her side if she hopes to beat out the candidates of the other eight Houses—and only Gideon will do. Much as Muir’s necromancers do with human remains, she effortlessly compiles macabre humor, body horror, secrets, and tenderness into the stitched-together corpse of a dark universe, then brings it to life with a delightfully chaotic, crackling cast of characters and the connective tissue of their relationships
Light from Other Stars
Erika Swyler (Bloomsbury)
ISBN 978-1-63557-316-9, $27
In 1986, 12-year-old Nedda Papas dreams of joining the ranks of the female astronauts she idolizes. Nedda worships her father, an ex-NASA physicist, and resents the domesticity of her mother, a baker with hidden scientific depths of her own. She’s unaware of her parents’ grief over the death of her infant brother. It is this grief that leads Nedda’s father to experiment with a machine that can slow down time, hoping to extend Nedda’s childhood—experiments that go horribly awry. Decades later, Nedda is part of the small, intimately bonded crew of the Chawla as they face down their final days in service of generations to come. Swyler’s beautiful story, told in eloquent prose, induces shivers of wonder. This meditation on time, loss, and the depth of human connection is both melancholy and astonishing.
A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers
Edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams (One World)
ISBN 978-0-525-50880-9, $17
LaValle and Adams present an outstanding collection written by 25 heavy hitters of speculative fiction, offering dazzling and often chilling glimpses of an uncertain future in which America teeters on the brink. In “Calendar Girls” by Justina Ireland, a young black girl arrested for selling illegal contraceptives must provide abortion transport to the daughter of the senator who criminalized contraception. In “Our Aim Is Not to Die” by A. Merc Rustad, an autistic, nonbinary person struggles to survive an oppressive, technofascist society where each quality that marks people as atypical puts them at risk for being “remade” into the “white, male, straight” ideal. This bold collection is full of hope, strength, and courage, and will be welcomed by readers looking for emotional sustenance and validation of their experiences in a challenging time.
The Rage of Dragons
Evan Winter (Orbit)
ISBN 978-0-316-48976-8, $26
Winter’s stunning debut fantasy epic is rich in complex characters and a well-wrought world with both European and African influences. Tau Tafari is a common boy of the Omehi people, whose society is strictly divided by class. When his father is murdered needlessly to assuage the ego of an offended noble, Tau vows to take advantage of the only opportunity his class is given and become an Ihashe in the Omehian military. Tau’s determination to succeed drives him to breach the underworld with the help of his lover, Zuri, a young woman training to become an Enervator. Winter’s secondary characters support his hero’s story and amplify its themes of brotherhood, but it is Tau himself, far more nuanced than a simple underdog, who will move readers to eagerly seek the next volume. This impressive series launch holds tremendous promise.
The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction
Edited by Gardner Dozois (Griffin)
ISBN 978-1-250-29619-1, $39.99
The 38 stories in this culling by the late Dozois testify to the breathtaking scope of science fiction and the diversity and talent of its writers. Among them are Eleanor Arnason, John Kessel, Michael Swanwick, and John Barnes. Forward-looking as all the stories are, several are tributes to the groundbreaking genre fiction of Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Rice Burroughs by, respectively, Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, and Allen M. Steele. Dozois was one of the great editors of science fiction over the last 50 years, and this book features some of the best science fiction written in the 21st century.
Love comes in many forms in this wide array of romance novels from historical to hysterical.
Ayesha at Last
Uzma Jalaluddin (Berkley)
ISBN 978-1-984802-79-8, $16
In this excellent modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, aspiring poet Ayesha Shamsi juggles her dreams and the stifling expectations of Toronto’s Indian-Muslim community. She picks a practical career as a high school teacher and watches as her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, collects marriage proposals like trading cards. After a misunderstanding, Ayesha pretends to be Hafsa while planning a conference, where she is required to collaborate with conservative Khalid, a newcomer to the area. As Ayesha and Khalid work together, Khalid learns to accommodate different viewpoints. With humor and abundant cultural references, both manifest in the all-seeing all-criticizing aunty brigade, Jalaluddin cleverly illustrates the social pressures facing young Indian-Muslim adults and stays true to the original Austen while tackling meatier issues likes workplace discrimination, alcoholism, and abortion. Even readers unfamiliar with Austen’s work will find this a highly entertaining tale of family, community, and romance.
Bringing Down the Duke
Evie Dunmore (Berkley)
ISBN 978-1-984805-68-3, $15
A bright, penniless suffragette in Victorian England melts the heart of a notoriously icy duke in this delightful romance. Annabelle Archer is granted a scholarship by the National Society for Women’s Suffrage to become one of the first women to study at Oxford University. In exchange, she’s required to publicly support
the suffrage cause. When she brazenly offers a political pamphlet to the Duke of Montgomery, it is just the first of many times that she shocks him with her brains and courage.
He soon finds his ambition derailed by a beautiful, radical, and totally incompatible woman. Their disparate circumstances make a relationship impossible, but they set out to find a way to make it work. Charming, sexy, and thoroughly transportive, this is historical romance done right.
Duchess by Deception
Marie Force (Zebra)
ISBN 978-1-4201-4785-8, $7.99
Despite the dramatic title of Force’s magnificent Regency, she keeps the focus squarely on the romance as a suspenseful story unfolds. In order to keep his title, charismatic Derek Eagan, the seventh Duke of Westwood, must wed before his 30th birthday—which is 10 days away—but he refuses to marry a bland debutante. When he encounters the beautiful spitfire Lady Catherine McCabe, he believes he’s finally met the one, but Catherine has a ticking clock of her own: an unwanted fiancé who’s chasing her while she hunts a treasure that could save her from him. When Derek meets Catherine and learns of her disdain for the aristocracy, he keeps his identity a secret. They marry before the truth is revealed, and the newlyweds’ future is tested by Derek’s lies, his uncle’s greed, and Catherine’s evil former fiancé. With a meet-cute that’s as creative as the work itself, Force has crafted a masterpiece with the perfect amount of romance.
Red, White and Royal Blue
Casey McQuiston (Griffin)
ISBN 978-1-250-31677-6, $16.99
McQuiston’s outstanding debut pivots on an inspired rom-com premise: What if Alex Claremont-Diaz, the half-Mexican son of the first female president of the United States, fell in love with Prince Henry, England’s heir? The two heartthrobs are arch-nemeses at first. After a scandalous mishap at a wedding, however, they are required to pretend to be best friends lest their enmity spark an international incident. Not surprisingly, their hate turns into a bromance. Soon, the scions contrive ways of being together, at Wimbledon, in Texas, and at a West Hollywood karaoke bar to steal kisses or have secretive sex. Of course, their romance will eventually be discovered and leaked to the press. The impossible relationship between Alex and Henry is portrayed with quick wit and clever plotting. The drama, which involves political rivals, possible betrayals, and even a meeting with the queen, is both irresistible and delicious.
The Right Swipe
Alisha Rai (Avon)
ISBN 978-0-06-287809-0, $14.99
Rising romance star Rai brings a perfect relationship to life in this luscious contemporary series launch. Rhiannon “Rhi” Hunter is a successful dating app entrepreneur hell-bent on succeeding, though workaholism is detrimental to her dating life. Samson Lima is a former football star who’s drawn into the dating business by his aunt, who needs a new public face for her company, a rival to Rhi’s. Rhi and Samson’s paths cross at a conference, and they’re both shocked to recognize each other: they hooked up several months earlier, and Samson ghosted on the promised second date. As the onetime lovers are drawn into closer proximity, their chemistry sizzles on the page. This winning novel will enhance any romance reader’s collection.
Tiffany Reisz (Mira)
ISBN 978-0-7783-0792-1, $15.99
Ancient Greece invades England as Rita Award–winner Reisz, for Picture Perfect Cowboy, transmutes spicy mythological tales into sensual fantasies and erotic romance featuring young escort agency madam Lady Lia Godwick and seductive sex worker August Bowman. When Lia’s unconventional parents give her a historic wine cup, August attempts to purchase it from her with outlandish claims about its magical properties. Lia is skeptical, but August is persuasive, leading her through intense fantasies of mythological heroines. The characters are delightfully sympathetic, and the simple framing device works well, with some bonuses for mythology fans. Intense, lengthy sex scenes, set in lush and creative imaginings of the mythological world, elevate this erotic novel above more prosaic fare.
Christina Lauren (Gallery)
ISBN 978-1-5011-2803-5, $16
This dazzling standalone is a hilarious comedy of coincidences. Olive Torres is a notoriously unlucky woman, but her luck seems to change after her twin sister Amelia’s wedding ends with almost everyone sick from food poisoning. The only ones who dodged it are Olive and Ethan Thomas, the brother of Amelia’s new husband. Olive and Ethan can’t stand each other, and when Amelia insists that the two of them enjoy the booked Hawaiian honeymoon, which would be wasted on the unwell newlyweds, Olive is sure this will be the worst vacation ever. Instead, she finds herself having fun and rethinking her enmity with Ethan, who slowly reveals himself to be a genuinely decent guy. Lauren brilliantly wields familiar rom-com tropes—enemies to lovers, fake marriage, even height differences—to craft a delightful romance that will have readers hanging on every word.
Comics & Graphic Novels
Covering everything from Walt Whitman’s poetry to the grotesque, these visual books will be a welcome part of the holiday’s bounty.
Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel
George Orwell, illus. by Odyr (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN 978-0-358-09315-2, $22
Brazilian graphic novelist, cartoonist, and painter Odyr has created the first graphic adaptation of George Orwell’s timeless and timely allegorical novel, Animal Farm. In 1945, George Orwell, called “the conscience of his generation,” created an enduring, devastating story of new tyranny replacing old and power corrupting even the noblest of causes that remains fiercely relevant today. In this fully authorized edition, Odyr brings Old Major, Napoleon, Squealer, Snowball, Boxer, and all the animals of Animal Farm to life in this newly envisaged classic.
Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN 978-1-77046-357-8, $59.95
Readers will be dazzled by this impressive graphic novel, 20 years in the making, of the Matchcard brothers and the business that bound them together. After their father deserts their family in 1945, Abe and Simon Matchcard take over Clyde Fans, his oscillating fans business, only for it to fall prey, over the course of many decades, to the advent of air conditioning and the Matchcards’ own human frailties. This is an operatic story, as rich in intimacy as it is breathtaking in scope. Splendor and tragedy lurk in the visual details: Simon and his mother linger over consumerist plenty in a magazine, memories of a lover’s fond confession looms ghoulishly out of the shadows of Abe’s mind, Simon rambles to a shelf of disused toys. This isn’t just a story, or even, as it terms itself, a “picture novel”—it is a brilliant journey into the heart of midcentury darkness.
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
Mira Jacob (One World)
ISBN 978-0-399-58904-1, $30
Snippets of dialogue between Jacob and her family and friends form the basis of this breezy but poignant graphic memoir that takes on racism, love, and the election of President Trump. The bisexual daughter of Indian immigrants, Jacob effectively conveys how the 2016 election impacted LGBTQ folks and people of color in ways that were searing, personal, and often misunderstood. Jacob pastes simple character drawings, cut like paper dolls staring directly at the reader, over grainy photos of New York City, her childhood home in New Mexico, and other locales, emphasizing the contingency of identity. The collage effect creates an odd, immediate intimacy. She employs pages of narrative prose sparingly but hauntingly, as when she learns that a haughty, wealthy woman once lost a child: “in that place where you thought you would find a certain kind of woman... is someone you cannot begin to imagine.” The “talks” Jacob relates are painful, often hilarious, and sometimes absurd, but her memoir makes a fierce case for continuing to have them.
Live Oak, with Moss
Walt Whitman and Brian Selznick (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN 978-1-4197-3405-2, $29.99
Whitman originally collected these 12 romantic, homoerotic poems into a secret handmade book in the 1850s, and they are now brought gracefully to life courtesy of children’s book author and illustrator Selznick (Caldecott Medal winner for The Invention of Hugo Cabret). Selznick writes at the outset that his drawings “are not meant to be illustrations of the poems but a framework, or a lens, through which they can be discovered.” The volume is presented in three sections. First, Selznick’s vibrantly colored drawings are standalone, forming their own silent narrative of desire and fulfillment. Selznick expertly captures the intensity of Whitman’s work, sensually rendering his phallic oak trees, adding collages of the cityscape of New Orleans (where Whitman explored his sexual preferences with more freedom), and dreamy cosmic imagery. Karen Karbiener’s afterword closes out the book, with a compact history and contextualization of Whitman’s work. In harmony, the art, the poems, and the analysis all honor while illuminating Whitman’s work and make it more accessible to contemporary readers.
Rusty Brown, Part I
Chris Ware (Pantheon)
ISBN 978-0-375-42432-8, $35
Ware delivers an astounding graphic novel about nothing less than the nature of life and time as it charts the intersecting lives of characters that revolve around an Omaha, Nebr., parochial school in the 1970s. The cast includes third-grader Chalky White and his high schooler sister, Alice, who are new students; another outsider—the bullied Rusty Brown; the leering English teacher, Woody Brown (Rusty’s father); the equally inappropriate ogler, art teacher Chris Ware; and Joanna Cole, a black woman born into poverty who perseveres as a teacher in the wealthy, predominantly white academy. Ware’s dazzling geometric art—pointillism for Woody’s eyesight sans glasses; close-ups of Joanne’s face through the decades—has never been better. Ware again displays his virtuosic ability to locate the extraordinary within the ordinary, elevating normal lives into something profound, unforgettable, and true.
Snow, Glass, Apples
Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran (Dark Horse)
ISBN 978-1-5067-0979-6, $17.99
Doran outdoes herself in adapting Gaiman’s inventive short story into a stylish graphic novella. The dark fairy tale recasts “Snow White” from the queen’s point of view; in this version, Snow White is a seductive vampire, the dwarfs are sinister “forest folk,” and cutting out the princess’s heart does nothing to stop her wintry reign of terror. To match the script’s eerie mood and transgressive themes, Doran draws visual inspiration from Harry Clarke, an early-20th-century illustrator and stained-glass artist with a romantic, decadent sensibility. Her panels drip with fin de siècle elegance: beads, flowers, flowing hair, Celtic designs, and dense collages of figures, landscapes, and patterns. The result is a lush, unabashedly sexy fantasy/horror comic with a timeless, mythic feel. It’s one of the best Gaiman adaptations to come along in some time, and it’s a must-read for lovers of mature fantasy and art nouveau.
Urusei Yatsura, Vol. 1
Rumiko Takahashi (Viz)
ISBN 978-1-974703-42-5, $19.99
Takahashi blends sci-fi takes on creatures and tropes from Japanese folklore in a newly translated volume of her classic manga. When Japanese teenager Ataru Moroboshi saves Earth from an alien invasion, he’s stuck with tiger fur bikini–clad Lum, the alien leader’s daughter, as his presumed fiancée (much to the dismay of Shinobu, his actual girlfriend), a situation that unleashes comedic mayhem upon Ataru and the planet. Heavily influenced by the American sitcom Bewitched and sporting a charming, animation-ready art style, the episodic narrative collects issues featuring myriad alien and human characters. An instant hit upon its debut in 1978, it evolved into a cultural phenomenon that established Takahashi as a manga superstar. Supplemental material includes profiles of Tomobiki Town, the main setting, and Sakura, a major supporting character. This expanded and updated edition of the uproarious landmark series is cause for celebration.
Kate Lacour (Fantagraphics)
ISBN 978-1-68396-212-0, $24.99
Lacour depicts the surgical drawings, magic, and vices of imagined terrifying worlds in this delightfully disgusting compendium of the grotesque, her trade debut after publishing a number of mini-comics. The surreal volume is styled like the journals of a demented doctor and details impossible procedures: the use of unicorn horns as injectable drugs, the transformation of arms and brains into genitalia, supermarket ground beef knit into human brains. Exquisitely drawn open sores, flayed skin, and blooming lilies are all delineated with precise washes of color, rendering the entire book a true visual delight. Lacour’s triumph comes as she mixes the mundane and the macabre so effectively that the reader is forced to feel alienated by depictions of blossoms and butchery alike. Her work engenders horror of the deepest sort, and it lingers in the mind for hours. Lacour doesn’t just unnerve her audience—she draws nightmares so precisely that viewers can’t help admiring them–despite wishing they could look away.
Here are six fiction picks from mega authors with new books out this year.
A Minute to Midnight (Grand Central)
ISBN 978-1-5387-6160-1, $29
In his latest tale of crime, out in November, Baldacci brings back FBI agent Atlee Pine who reopens an investigation of her twin sister’s abduction and crosses paths with a serial killer.
Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel (Delacorte)
ISBN 978-0-399-59354-3, $28.99
Jack Reacher is back—this time to come to the aid of an elderly couple whose past mistakes put Reacher in deep jeopardy.
The Guardians (Doubleday)
ISBN 978-0-385-54418-4, $29.95
The master of the legal thriller sets his new tale in a small Florida town where a young lawyer is shot dead at his desk.
Under Currents (St. Martin’s)
ISBN 978-1-250-20709-8, $28.99
In Roberts’s new romantic suspense thriller, siblings Zane and Darby return to their small town in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains to face the secrets of the past.
Someone Knows (St. Martin’s)
ISBN 978-0-525-53964-3 $27
Edgar Award–winner Scottoline offers a riveting suspense thriller that centers on how a single decision can undo a family.
The New Girl (Harper)
ISBN 978-0-06-283483-6, $28.99
This espionage thriller of deception, betrayal and vengeance that moves from an exclusive boarding school in Switzerland to the Middle East.