These novels, from screwball comedies to apocalyptic visions and political fantasies, will make bibliophiles winter-ready.
David Hajdu (Norton)
ISBN 978-0-393-63422-8, $25.95
Music critic Hajdu’s inventive debut novel takes as its subject the “Queen of Bleak Chic,” a piano phenom who breaks out in the early 1980s after withdrawing from Juilliard. Pianist Adrianne Geffel, who has a neurological condition that enables her to express her feelings through music, emerges through an oral history told by her family members and others who reflect on her troubled childhood (she ran away at nine). Many try to exploit her talent, such as a pompous fellow student at Juilliard who positions himself as her manager. The author establishes Geffel’s impact on American popular culture from the very beginning (one can be accused of “only geffelling,” “over-geffelling,” or “not geffelling enough”), which makes the various accounts of her credible and engaging all the way to the end. Hajdu’s vigorous send-up of the late-20th-century music scene sings.
Charlie Kaufman (Random House)
ISBN 978-0-399-58968-3, $28.99
Screenwriter-director Kaufman’s debut brims with screwball satire and provocative reflections on how art shapes people’s perception of the world. In St. Augustine, Fla., B. Rosenberg, a pretentious film historian and critic, crosses paths with Ingo Cutbirth, an elderly former child actor who shows B. an unnamed film created with stop-motion puppetry that was 90 years in the making and takes three months to watch. B. appraises the film as “the greatest cinematic masterpiece of perhaps all time.” After Cutbirth dies, he bequeaths the film to B., who loses it in a car fire and spends the rest of the novel consulting with therapists, desperate to reconstruct his experience of the film. Along the way, B. suffers a series of comic setbacks. With tongue firmly in cheek, B. derides filmmaker Charlie Kaufman as “a monster unaware of his staggering ineptitude.” B.’s outsize personality and his giddily freewheeling experiences make this picaresque irresistible.
The Five Books of (Robert) Moses
Arthur Nersesian (Akashic)
ISBN 978-1-61775-499-9, $44.95
Nersesian delivers a sprawling, engrossing Pentateuch of an alternate New York City from 1980 to the present, casting the city as a vibrant, violent world that bubbles with political intrigue and is controlled by gangs. A terrorist attack has rendered New York uninhabitable; by 1980, it has been reestablished in Nevada and is known more familiarly as Rescue City. At the center of the epic is Ulysses “Uli” Sarkisian, an amnesiac FBI agent who lands in Queens on Election Day in 1980 with a mission he vaguely remembers. On a bus, Uli meets Mallory, who travels with a baby kangaroo. She eventually becomes mayor, and their lives cross frequently over the five books. Many celebrities of the 1960s and ’70s appear as minor characters, and much of the novel’s resonance (and fun) comes from how each has been reimagined. Dozens of black-and-white illustrations by Lisa Archigian playfully enhance the narrative. Nersesian’s binge-worthy odyssey is a singularly wild ride.
Her Last Flight
Beatriz Williams (Morrow)
ISBN 978-0-06-300232-6, $27.99
Williams imagines the adventures of a world-famous aviator, who disappears in 1937 during a solo, around-the-world flight, in this engaging tale of courage, intrigue, and adventure. Aspiring pilot Irene Foster, 20, meets Sam Mallory on a California beach in 1928. Sam is a seasoned stunt pilot, war hero, and aerial derby racer. The two become flying partners and will later gain fame for their flight to Australia, which is interrupted when they are marooned on a remote Pacific island. While waiting to be rescued, Sam reflects on their mutual desire and his troubled marriage. After their rescue, Irene marries her talent manager, who makes her a star in her own right, until she disappears. The novel’s dual timeline shifts to 1947, when photojournalist Janey Everett is researching a biography on Sam Mallory, who was presumed killed during the Spanish Civil War. Janey travels to Hawaii, believing Irene is living there in obscurity as Irene Lindquist, and hopes Irene will fill in some details about Sam. Initially, Irene refuses, but gradually she relents. Williams builds irresistible tension with the alternating timelines as the fate of Irene and Sam unfolds with shrewd twists and turns that build to an unexpected jolt.
Leave the World Behind
Rumaan Alam (Ecco)
ISBN 978-0-06-266763-2, $27.99
In Alam’s spectacular and ominous latest novel, a family’s idyllic summer retreat coincides with global catastrophe. Amanda and Clay, married white Brooklynites with two children, rent a secluded house in the Hamptons for a summer vacation. Their “illusion of ownership” is shattered when the owners, G.H. and Ruth, an African-American couple in their 60s, show up unannounced from New York City. Widespread blackouts have hit the East Coast, and G.H. and Ruth are seeking refuge in the beach house they’ve rented out. They are greeted with polite suspicion and simmering resentment on both sides. But over a couple days, they form an uneasy collective as a series of strange and increasingly menacing events herald cataclysmic change. Though information is scarce, the signs of impending collapse—ecological and geopolitical—have been glaringly visible to the characters all along. “No one could plead ignorance that was not willful.” This illuminating social novel offers piercing commentary on race, class, and the luxurious mirage of safety, adding up to an all-too-plausible apocalyptic vision.
Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House)
ISBN 978-0-399-59091-7, $30
In this entertaining political fantasy, Sittenfeld imagines Hillary Clinton’s personal and professional life if she and Bill had gone their separate ways instead of marrying. The novel begins with an intimate perspective on historical events: At Wellesley’s 1969 graduation, Hillary feels the exhilaration of speaking her mind in public. Two years later, she meets Bill at Yale Law School. He is handsome, larger than life, and proud of his Arkansas roots. She is ambitious, smart, hardworking, and opinionated. They fall in love and discuss marriage, but break up because of Bill’s philandering. Bill runs for president in 1992 but drops out of the race. Hillary, meanwhile, is a year into her first term as senator from Illinois. When she runs for president, in 2016, Bill is one of three primary challengers. Sittenfeld movingly captures Hillary’s awareness of her transformation into a complicated public figure. Readers won’t have to be feminists (though it would help) to relish Sittenfeld’s often funny, mostly sympathetic, and always sharp what-if.
Sex and Vanity
Kevin Kwan (Doubleday)
ISBN 978-0-385-54627-0, $26.95
Kwan follows up his Crazy Rich Asians trilogy with an intoxicating, breezy update of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Lucie Tang Churchill, 19, a privileged “hapa” (she is half Chinese, half WASP) attends her richer friend Isabel’s wedding in Capri. After Lucie meets Isabel’s cousin George Zao, a rich, handsome, Chinese-Australian surfer, she becomes a “bundle of conflicting emotions,” repulsed by her attraction to the “brooding weirdo.” Still, they hook up. Four years later, they cross paths in New York City, only now Lucie is engaged. However, Lucy can’t get George out of her mind, and she is flummoxed by his kindness. Kwan exploits the Forster frame for clever references—including Merchant and Ivory—and provides amusing footnotes. Kwan also relishes describing lavish meals and haute couture clothing, as well as Isabel’s decadent wedding. There are moments both catty and witty in this delectable comedy of manners.
Yaa Gyasi (Knopf)
ISBN 978-0-525-65818-4, $27.95
Gyasi’s meticulous, psychologically complex second novel (after Home-going) examines the consequences of a Ghanaian family’s immigration to Huntsville, Ala. Gifty, the only member of the family born in the United States, is six years into a doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford, where she is attempting to see if she can alter the neural pathways leading to addiction and depression. Her project is motivated by the fate of her beloved older brother who died from a heroin overdose, and by the condition of her depressed mother. Though she now determinedly puts her faith in science, Gifty still feels the pull of her evangelical upbringing, and she struggles to reconcile the two opposing belief systems. Gyasi’s constraint renders the emotional impact of the novel all the more powerful: her description of the casual racism endured by the family, particularly at the hands of their nearly all-white church in Alabama, is more chilling for being so matter-of-fact. At once a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience and a sharp delineation of an individual’s inner struggle, the novel brilliantly succeeds on both counts.
Sarah Gerard (Harper)
ISBN 978-0-06-293743-8, $25.99
Gossip, sexual desire, and the uncompromising economics for aspiring artists guide the action in Gerard’s lurid, captivating tale. Nina Wicks, a 20-something writer with an eating disorder and pill addiction who dropped out of college in New York City, is back home on the Florida Gulf Coast, dating a pretentious artist named Seth while sexting with Brian, an editor at the magazine she works for. Nina and Seth move to Brooklyn for her to begin a writing program. There, Nina reconnects with Aaron, an acquaintance from college, and they discuss making a movie titled True Love. Their volatile attraction leads Nina to a dizzying breakup with Seth and harrowing fights between her and Aaron, which reach a fever pitch after she becomes the victim of revenge porn from Brian. Gerard’s unflinching look at youthful desperation marks an exciting turn in her work.
Daniel Kehlmann (Pantheon)
ISBN 978-1-5247-4746-6, $26.95
This is a rollicking historical picaresque that follows the legendary trickster, acrobat, and jack-of-all-trades Tyll Ulenspiegel as he and his company make their way through a 17th-century German countryside gutted by the Thirty Years’ War. After the Jesuits execute his father, young Tyll escapes with his adopted sister, Nele, and becomes pupil to the wandering (and treacherous) entertainer Pirmin. Tyll’s ensuing adventures unfold over the course of eight distinct episodes resembling folktales, some of which put the canny Tyll in the foreground, while others feature him only as a witness to the main action via characters such as fat Count Martin von Wolkenstein or occultist Dr. Kirher, among others. Located somewhere between German romanticism and modernism, superstition and science, history and high fantasy, this is a rapturous and adventuresome novel of ideas that, like Tyll’s roaming sideshow, must be experienced to be believed.
Mysteries & Thrillers
Gumshoes of every stripe populate the pages of these mysteries.
And Now She’s Gone
Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge)
ISBN 978-1-250-75317-5, $27.99
Newbie L.A. PI Gray Sykes, the 39-year-old heroine of this smart, razor-sharp novel from Thriller Award finalist Hall (They All Fall Down), reluctantly accepts her first independent assignment from her boss, Nick Rader, a friend of hers since she was 15 and on whom she now has a crush: to locate physician Ian O’Donnell’s missing girlfriend, Isabel Lincoln, who may not want to be found. As Gray searches for Isabel, she discovers that self-professed nice guy Ian abused Isabel, and that Isabel even attempted suicide. Then Isabel herself starts to text Gray, who eight years earlier went by another name, to tell her to stop investigating, and it becomes clear that Isabel’s own strange history mirrors Gray’s. A final plot twist puts Gray’s life in peril just as she’s getting closer to Nick. Full of wry, dark humor, this nuanced tale of two extraordinary women is un-put-downable.
Romy Hausmann, trans. from the German by Jamie Bulloch (Flatiron)
ISBN 978-1-250-76853-7, $26.99
Early in German author Hausmann’s outstanding debut, a woman is hit by a car in a forest on the German-Czech border. The police believe the victim may be Lena Beck, a college student who disappeared in Munich 13 years earlier. After a search of the forest reveals a windowless cabin, a horrific story begins taking shape: Lena was abducted and forced to live in captivity while giving birth to a girl and a boy. When Lena’s father, Matthias, arrives at the hospital to identify his daughter, however, he says it’s not her. But the young girl with her—the woman’s alleged daughter—looks exactly like a younger Lena. Matthias vows to find out what happened to his daughter. The multiple points of view and numerous plot twists sustain the breakneck pacing, but the book’s real power lies in the author’s insightful and sensitive portrayal of the characters involved in the tragedy.
Eight Perfect Murders
Peter Swanson (Morrow)
ISBN 978-0-06-283820-9, $26.99
In 2004, Malcolm Kershaw, the narrator of this outstanding fair-play crime novel from Swanson, began working at Boston’s Old Devils Bookstore, where he posted a list on the store’s blog of eight mysteries in which “the murderer comes closest to realizing that platonic ideal of a perfect murder.” Years later, FBI agent Gwen Mulvey tells him she’s investigating multiple killings that she believes may have been influenced by his blog post. For example, Mulvey is probing the deaths of three people apparently connected only by having a name related to birds, a setup similar to Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders, one of the books on the list. The stakes rise when Kershaw admits he knew one of the victims but chose not to share that with Mulvey. Swanson will keep most readers guessing until the end. Classic whodunit fans will be in heaven.
The Forger’s Daughter
Bradford Morrow (Mysterious)
ISBN 978-0-8021-4925-1, $26
In Morrow’s sterling sequel to 2014’s The Forgers, the enviable life that erstwhile literary forger Will has painstakingly crafted since he survived a savage attack by criminal rival Henry Slader two decades earlier threatens to come crashing down. One evening outside Will’s farmhouse in New York’s Hudson Valley, a spectral figure springs from the bushes and delivers a package. Inside is what appears to be the rarest book in American literature—Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane and Other Poems—along with a letter from Slader asking for a meeting. When Will, now a beyond-reproach manuscript expert at a Manhattan auction house, meets Slader at a local tavern, his nemesis demands that he forge the Poe book or his most shameful secret will be exposed. Will feels he has no choice but to agree. What he doesn’t realize is just how dangerous the gamble could prove for his family. Evocatively rendered and emotionally resonant, this literary crime novel is the real deal. Morrow’s gothic tale bears comparison with Poe’s own work.
Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings
Liz Ireland (Kensington)
ISBN 978-1-4967-2658-2, $15.95
Set at the North Pole, this exceptional series launch features such delightful characters as Old Charlie, a snowman; Blitzen, a reindeer descended from the Blitzen of “The Night Before Christmas” fame; and Jingles, the elf steward at frigid Castle Kringle. All of them are potential perps in the murder of Giblet Hollyberry, a notoriously unpleasant elf, but the chief suspect is Nick Claus, the acting Santa of Santaland. Constable Crinkles is soon on the case, along with detective Jake Frost, but it’s going to be up to April Claus, Nick’s wife, to clear her husband’s name. April has only a few days to find the killer before Christmas. Meanwhile, she must cope with the quirks of the extended Claus family. This fun, well-plotted mystery is the perfect holiday entertainment.
A Royal Affair
Allison Montclair. (Minotaur)
In Montclair’s stellar sequel to 2019’s The Right Sort of Man, former British intelligence operative Iris Sparks and widow Gwen Bainbridge, who teamed up after WWII to run a business seeking to match up prospective spouses, are offered a highly sensitive assignment in 1946 London. Gwen’s titled cousin, Lady Patience Matheson, who works for Queen Elizabeth, wants the partners of the Right Sort of Marriage Bureau to vet Prince Philip, the intended of the heir apparent, the future Elizabeth II. The then princess has received an anonymous letter stating “I have what Talbot found in Corfu” and that there will be a price for returning “them” to Alice, Philip’s mother. Iris and Gwen agree to investigate so that Lady Matheson can assess whether the prince is a suitable mate for the princess. Montclair successfully combines the insightful characterizations of Jacqueline Winspear with the witty banter of Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles. Fans of the British royal family will have fun.
The Silence of the White City
Eva García Sáenz, trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
ISBN 978-1-9848-9859-3, $16.95
In the stunning first in Sáenz’s White City trilogy, a mélange of offbeat police procedural, Basque legends, and world mythology, Insp. Unai López de Ayala investigates a series of ritualistic murders in Vitoria, Spain, that eerily resemble the sensational crimes that were committed in the area 20 years earlier, all at prehistoric sites. A prominent archaeologist, Tasio Ortiz de Zárate, was arrested at the time and convicted of the crimes. Since Tasio has been in prison ever since, Unai has to wonder whether Tasio was innocent or had an accomplice. Unai embarks on what becomes a self-sacrificing quest to prevent evil from destroying innocence. Fascinating local color, a handsomely crafted plot, and exquisite characterization make this a standout. Readers will eagerly await the next volume in the series.
Take It Back
Kia Abdullah (St. Martin’s,)
ISBN 978-1-250-27301-7, $27.99
Barrister Zara Kaleel, the heroine of this riveting, thought-provoking legal thriller from British author Abdullah, is a rising star in a prominent London law firm, until she decides to do something more meaningful: become an advocate for sexual abuse victims. Her first case in this new role involves four teenage boys, all English Muslims from East London, accused by their classmate Jodie Wolfe, a 16-year-old disabled white girl, of rape. That Zara is an English Muslim herself advocating against Muslim boys guarantees front-page attention. Zara is torn by her family’s dismay over her role and her firm belief in Jodie, even though Jodie’s alcoholic mother and best friend don’t believe the girl. Readers may find themselves believing one side, then the other, up until the shocking ending. Abdullah is definitely a writer to watch.
The Thursday Murder Club
Richard Osman (Viking/Dorman)
ISBN 978-1-984-88096-3, $26
British TV celebrity Osman mixes mirth and murder in his exceptional debut, a series launch featuring the four members of the Thursday Murder Club, residents of a retirement village. Despite their different backgrounds, Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Joyce, and Ron share an interest in solving mysteries. When 26-year-old Donna De Freitas, a police constable who dreams of pursuing serial killers, visits the home to talk to the pensioners about “Practical Tips for Home Security,” the club members arrange for Donna to be assigned to a homicide case they have a connection to by manipulating her boss. That way they can take a crack at solving the bludgeoning murder of drug dealer Tony Curran, who operated a building business as a front, and whose killer left a photo of three men, one of whom is Ron’s son, near Curran’s corpse. Osman’s wit is a highlight. Fans of Lynne Truss’s Constable Twitten mysteries will be tickled.
David Heska Wanbli Weiden. (Ecco)
ISBN 978-0-06-296894-4, $27.99
Virgil Wounded Horse, the half Lakota, half white narrator of Weiden’s gorgeous debut, serves as a fists-for-hire enforcer on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation. Ever since Virgil’s sister died in a car accident three years earlier, her son, Nathan, has been living with him. Back when Virgil was an alcoholic, his erratic behavior drove away the love of his life, Marie Short Bear, but now he’s sober, and after Nathan ends up in the hospital from a heroin overdose, Marie returns to help Virgil take on the bad guys responsible for bringing heroin to the reservation. The novel twists delicately around various personal conflicts while artfully addressing issues related to the politics of the reservation. Weiden combines funny, complex, and unforgettable characters with strong, poetic prose. This is crime fiction at its best.
Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
Whether set in different galaxies and future millennia or here and now, these selections use the global problems and horrors of today to spin wildly entertaining tales.
A Deadly Education
Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
ISBN 978-0-59312-848-0, $28
Novik puts a refreshingly dark, adult spin on the magical boarding school setting of the spellbinding first fantasy in her Scholomance trilogy. The students of Scholomance, a boarding school for sorcerers, must weather survival-of-the-fittest trials, fighting off monsters known as maleficaria (or “mals”) that routinely break in to eat students. Graduation is the greatest challenge of all, and requires the students to fight their way through the sea of mals clustered outside the building. Dark sorceress El has a plan for how she’ll make it through the gates, but monster-slayer Orion Lake throws a wrench in the works. He keeps saving El before she can display her talents. El and Orion must strike up an alliance to save themselves and their schoolmates from monstrous destruction. Readers will delight in the push and pull of El and Orion’s relationship, the fantastically detailed world, the clever magic system, and the matter-of-fact diversity of the student body. This is a must-read for fantasy fans.
Master of Poisons
Andrea Hairston (Tor.com)
ISBN 978-1-250-26054-3, $27.99
Hairston dazzles with this complex epic fantasy about a people struggling to survive in the world they’ve helped destroy. A poisonous desert is spreading across the Arkhysian Empire, killing everything in its path, and Djola, Emperor Azizi’s second in command, sets out to find a solution. As he works to stop the world from burning, he discovers the darkness lurking within the empire and in his own heart. Meanwhile, garden sprite Awa, a young griot in training, struggles to find her own place in the uncertain future. In stirring prose, Hairston weaves a rich tapestry of folklore and adventure, inviting readers into a well-developed, non-Western fantasy world while navigating pressing issues of climate change and personal responsibility. This is an urgent, gorgeous work.
Martha Wells (Tor.com)
ISBN 978-1-250-22986-1, $26.99
Hugo and Nebula winner Wells’s excellent first full-length Murderbot Diaries novel (after the novella Exit Strategy) sees her hilariously humanlike Artificial Intelligence Security Unit recount a routine space mission gone horribly awry. Being captured has become a matter of course for the crew’s missions, and this time the kidnapping brings SecUnit face-to-face with its pseudo-creator, ART (Asshole Research Transport). Turns out that ART, another AI, needs SecUnit’s help to rescue it from a hostile takeover by alien remnant technology. SecUnit’s gloriously candid, frequently confused assessments of its crew and their predicaments allow for an amusingly childlike perspective on what it means to be human. Wells puts an astonishing amount of technical detail into SecUnit’s narrative, which will please hard sci-fi readers without detracting from the engaging story line. Series fans and anyone who enjoys humor-infused space operas won’t want to miss this.
Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
ISBN 978-1-78108-794-7, $24.99
Lee sets an arresting tale of loyalty, identity, and the power of art in a skillfully rendered fantasy world inspired by the Japanese occupation of Korea. The Empire of Razan conquered Hwaguk six years earlier, transforming it into Administrative Territory Fourteen. When nonbinary Gyen Jebi registers for a Razanei name to enhance their job prospects, their sister, Bongsunga, calls Jebi a traitor to their Hwagugin heritage and cuts off the financial support she had been providing. But Jebi is left in no position to turn down a job offer from the Razan government’s defense sector. His task is to destroy classic Hwagugin artworks, reducing them to a powder with magical properties that can be used as a pigment to paint codes onto automatons of war and program their behaviors. When Jebi secretly teaches the mechanical dragon they’re working on to speak, Jebi learns the devastating truth behind a recent massacre. But will Jebi be able to save their people and regain their sister’s trust? Lee’s masterful storytelling is sure to wow.
The Relentless Moon
Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
ISBN 978-1-250-23695-1, $30.99
Hugo and Nebula Award winner Kowal expands her Lady Astronaut alternate history series with this stellar third installment, set in the 1960s. Nicole Wargin, passionate Air Force pilot turned Lady Astronaut, leaves her husband on Earth to become one of the first inhabitants of a colony on the moon. As the head of the colony’s security, Nicole works to establish a habitat for humanity on the moon, and covertly to counter the efforts of the “Earth First” terrorists. Between lunar security crises and figuring out who she can trust among her fellow colonists, Nicole must also work through personal issues, including her struggle with anorexia and her now long-distance marriage. Kowal effortlessly blends espionage, spacefaring adventure, and social fiction, paying particular attention to the details of life as a female astronaut in the 1960s. This is hard science fiction at its most emotional, intimate, and insightful.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
Grady Hendrix (Quirk) $21.
ISBN 978-1-68369-143-3, $21
When Patricia Campbell, a bored housewife in 1990s Charleston, S.C., muses, “Don’t you wish that something exciting would happen around here?” she all but invites the chilling horrors that soon enmesh her and her friends in this clever, addictive vampire thriller. The lives of the members of Patricia’s local book club—which exclusively reads pulpy true crime chronicles—are upended by the arrival of James Harris, an outsider who easily ingratiates himself into their community. Patricia alone finds Harris’s lack of traditional identification and sensitivity to daylight peculiar. When people begin to disappear, she struggles to convince her friends that Harris is more sinister than he appears. Hendrix draws shrewd parallels between the serial killers documented in the book club’s picks and Harris’s apparent vampire persona, loading his gruesome story with perfectly pitched allusions to classic horror novels and true crime accounts. This powerful, eclectic novel both pays homage to the literary vampire canon and stands singularly within it.
Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror
Edited by Nadxieli Nieto and Lincoln Michel (Black Balloon)
ISBN 978-1-948226-62-2, $16.95
In this masterful anthology, Nieto and Michel bring together 42 chilling works of flash fiction that capture terrors both supernatural and mundane. In Samantha Hunt’s “Rearview,” a single mother attempts to distance herself from her former drug abuse, even as her past self comes back to haunt her. “Lone” by Jac Jemc is a realistic and hair-raising exploration of a woman’s anxieties while camping alone. Helen McClory’s “Gabriel Metsu, Man Writing a Letter c. 1664–66” follows an eerie encounter between an art gallery docent and the “presence” within a 17th-century painting. “Downpour” by Joseph Salvatore is a truly terrifying tale about a rat on the New York City subway, made all the more disturbing for its plausibility. Each of these succinct, vivid, visceral tales engages with horrors with striking immediacy. This carefully crafted and genuinely scary collection is sure to impress.
The Tower of Fools
Andrzej Sapkowski, trans. from the Polish by David French (Orbit)
ISBN 978-0-316-70535-6, $28
Sapkowski sets a sharply detailed fantasy of magic, lust, and mayhem, the first in a new series, against the backdrop of the religious wars of the Renaissance as Czech Hussite reformers battle Catholic Inquisitors across Central Europe. Caught up in the cross crusades, Reinmar of Bielawa, a scholar of medicine and magic, unwisely woos a married noblewoman, Adèle of Stercza, and must flee her husband’s kin when their tryst is discovered. When Reinmar’s pursuers realize they cannot catch him, they murder his brother instead and Reinmar swears vengeance. Reinmar is impulsive, loyal to the point of foolishness, and frequently smitten (moving on from his infatuation with Adèle to an obsession with “the fair Nicolette”), making his plans to escape to Hungary less and less likely to succeed. Sapkowski’s love for the period is clear as he touches on notorious historical events and figures, including press inventor Johannes Gutenberg. The carefully painted landscapes and intricate politics, meanwhile, effortlessly draw readers into Reinmar’s life and times. This is historical fantasy done right.
The Vanished Birds
Simon Jimenez (Del Rey)
ISBN 978-0-593-12898-5, $26
In a profound look at humankind’s spacefaring future, Jimenez’s debut tells of both anguish and love as the result of heart-wrenching decisions. A century from now, aerospace engineer Fumiko abandons climate-ravaged Earth to pursue her career as a space station designer. Nearly 1,000 years later in her extended life, Ahro, a boy who doesn’t speak, returns to one of Fumiko’s stations after crash-landing on a distant farming world. When Fumiko learns Ahro has powers that could speed up space travel—abilities sought by Fumiko’s employer, the megacorporation Umbai, which is looking for more efficient ways to pillage planets—she offers to keep the boy hidden, leading to ripples of choices and consequences. This is a mostly progressive future, but classism, unchecked capitalism, and resource exhaustion loom large. This extraordinary science fiction epic, which delves deep into the perils of failing to learn from one’s mistakes, is perfect for fans of big ideas and intimate reflections.
Romance & Erotica
Love is colorblind, classblind, and sometimes just dumb blind in these stories of romance.
A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby
Vanessa Riley (Zebra)
ISBN 978-1-4201-5223-4, $15.95
Romance burns slow and hot in this bewitching Regency series opener from Riley. Patience Jordan, a West Indian heiress, is separated from her infant son, Lionel, following the suicide of her British husband, Colin. Colin’s villainous, money-grubbing cousin, Markham, sees an opportunity to enrich himself by raising Colin’s heir and has Patience institutionalized, claiming she’s a danger to herself and her child. But Colin’s other cousin, Busick Strathmore, the dashing Duke of Repington, thwarts his plan by taking guardianship of Lionel. Patience escapes the confines of Bedlam in disguise, but knowing Busick won’t trust her with Lionel thanks to her tarnished reputation, she accepts a job as Lionel’s nanny. The alluring, strong-willed Patience soon captures Busick’s attention. Riley loads her expertly crafted romance with intrigue, droll banter, and steadily building passion. Readers will be hard-pressed to find a flaw in this bighearted Regency romance.
Here to Stay
Adriana Herrera. Carina
ISBN: 978-0-369-70092-6, $14.99
Dancing between hot, heartwarming, and hilarious, this romance from Herrera celebrates Latinx family and friendship, with a dash of N.Y.C. pride thrown in. The relationship that motivated Puerto Rican–Dominican Julia del Mar Ortiz to move from Queens, N.Y., to Dallas, Tex., went bust when her boyfriend ditched her, leaving Julia with time to focus on her dream job of running the charitable foundation of high fashion company Sturm. But then Sturm hires a fellow displaced New Yorker, Irish-Italian consultant Rocco Quinn, and Julia’s department may be on the chopping block. When Julia starts the Gotham Exiles Club, she doesn’t expect Rocco to join—and she’s even less prepared to discover he has a social conscience. Their sensual slow-burn romance takes center stage, but readers will also love how much space Herrera devotes to Julia’s satisfaction in helping immigrant families thrive and the supportive friendships that keep the couple on track. This is a standout.
How to Fail at Flirting
Denise Williams (Berkley)
ISBN 978-0-5931-0190-2, $16
Williams debuts with a quirky, delightful rom-com. Since ending things with an abusive partner, Naya Turner has poured all her energy into her job teaching at Thurmond University, so it’s a wake-up call when her position is placed on the chopping block. Realizing she needs to “get a life,” she devises a to-do list with items including “stand up for myself, take risks, let someone else get me to orgasm” and “trust a man again.” When Naya’s friends bail on a night out, she meets charming, pun-loving Jake Shaw and they share a night of spontaneous adventures that ends in Jake’s hotel room—where Naya promptly throws up. Despite the vomit, Jake reaches out for more, leading to a relationship that’s equal parts sugar and spice. But with Naya’s abusive ex back in town, Naya’s lingering trauma puts a wedge in her relationship with Jake. Complicating things further, the dean of Thurmond University hires Jake’s consulting firm to determine which departments to cut, putting Naya’s career in his hands. Jam-packed with laugh-out-loud banter and heart-fluttering romance, this is a knockout.
In a Holidaze
Christina Lauren (Gallery)
ISBN 978-1-982123-94-9, $16
Pseudonymous writing duo Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings put a fantastical twist on holiday cheer in this hilarious and heartwarming rom-com. Mae Jones is 26, single, and unhappy with her boring accounting job, but she’s excited for her annual Christmas trip to a cabin in Park City, Utah, with her friends and family. Her vacation is ruined, though, by the announcement of the imminent sale of the cabin. Mae finishes the trip despondent—only to be hit by a car and wake up back at the beginning of the holiday getaway. This Groundhog Day–style time loop repeats until Mae can figure out how to save the season, hold onto the cabin, and finally act on her yearslong crush on Andrew Hollis. The messy, slow-burn romance between Andrew and Mae is delectable, but just as engrossing are the subplots devoted to Mae’s complex relationships with her friends and family. The result is a perfect Christmas treat.
The Paris Secret
Natasha Lester (Forever),
ISBN 978-1-5387-1728-8, $16.99
Lester entrances with this lush romance set in WWII Britain and present-day Australia. In 1940, pilot Skye Penrose becomes one of the first women to join the Air Transport Auxiliary, a civilian flying service. On one of her missions, Skye comes face-to-face with her long-lost childhood friend Nicholas Crawford, a member of the American Eagle Squadron. Though Nicholas is already engaged to Margaux Jourdan, he and Skye fall deeply in love. In 2012, Kat, Margaux’s granddaughter travels to England for work, stopping to check-in at her grandmother’s cottage, where she discovers a closet of vintage Dior dresses that hint at a different life story for her grandmother than the one Kat knows. Back in Australia, Kat is contacted by Elliott Beaufort, an author researching a book on WWII, who believes Margaux was actually a spy for the French Resistance. As Kat helps Elliott with his research, they embark on a romance—but their love affair is interrupted when Kat discovers the real reason Elliott is searching for her grandmother. Lester’s magnetic characters, lyrical writing, and extensive historical research breathe life into this riveting tale.
Rosie Danan (Berkley)
ISBN 978-0-593-10160-5, $16
Danan debuts with this wildly original and sexy romance about an uptight East Coast socialite and the stranger she inadvertently shacks up with. When Clara Wheaton’s longtime crush invites her to leave her Manhattan apartment and move in to his spare room in Los Angeles, she impulsively agrees. But then his band heads off on tour and he rents out his own room as well—to porn star Josh Darling. Clara, who’s always been squeamish about porn and has never had a satisfying sexual relationship, googles Josh, and, naturally, Josh walks in on her watching one of his films. He offers to make up for all the boyfriends who’ve left her cold by demonstrating his talents in person. Their no-strings-attached encounter simultaneously accelerates and complicates their budding friendship. Danan makes this novel premise work with a charming, believable heroine; an offbeat hero with a heart of gold; and snappy, laugh-out-loud prose. Romance fans will especially appreciate that the steamy erotic scenes are used to further character development, rather than just for cheap thrills. This delectable rom-com is both red-hot and fiercely feminist.
To Have and to Hoax
Martha Waters. (Atria)
ISBN 978-1-9821-3611-6, $17
Waters’s debut Regency rom-com delights with hilarious, high-concept romantic schemes that call to mind Shakespeare’s comedies. Lady Violet Grey’s first meeting with Lord James Audley was a comedy of errors, but despite an unlikely start and constant bickering, the pair fell in love and married. The first year was bliss, but then one argument too many turned their passionate romance sour, and an icy distance has persisted between them since. They’re reunited when Violet learns that James has had a riding accident. She rushes to his side only to discover him totally fine and seemingly indifferent to her concern. To recapture his attention, Violet enlists her two closest friends to help her fake a health crisis of her own. What follows is a series of riotously funny mishaps, pranks, and misunderstandings. Waters gently lampoons genre tropes without sacrificing genuine feeling. Self-aware and brimming with well-timed epiphanies, this joyful, elegant romp is sure to enchant.
Two Rogues Make a Right
Cat Sebastian (Avon)
ISBN 978-0-06-282159-1, $5.99
Sebastian sends out her Seducing the Sedgwicks series in style with this intimate Regency romance. Mr. William Sedgwick and Sir Martin Easterbrook have been best friends since childhood, despite the class disparity between their families. Now Martin—who was raised by a despotic and lecherous father—is wasting away of consumption. And the fanciful but staunchly moral Will—who’s recovering from an opium addiction and traumatic experiences in the Royal Navy—spirits him away to convalesce in a country cottage. The close quarters initially present a challenge, as repressed Martin has been in love with Will for ages, while more experienced Will suddenly awakens to his own attraction to Martin. But as Martin regains his health, the men acknowledge their desire relatively quickly, entering into a loving relationship until their scarred psyches get in the way of their tender domesticity and Martin returns to London without Will. But Will refuses to be left behind. Sensual sex scenes and fully realized supporting characters enhance the tale. This is a delight.
The Worst Best Man
Mia Sosa (Avon)
ISBN 978-0-06-290987-9, $15.99
Sosa imbues a soap operatic premise with weight and heart in this fantastically fun contemporary rom-com. Three years ago, Afro-Latina wedding planner Carolina Santos was left at the altar. Lina’s white fiancé, Andrew Hartley, sent his brother and best man, Max, to deliver the awful news, and Lina has blamed him ever since. Now, Lina’s up for a potentially life-altering job—but to get it, she’ll have to work closely with Max. As Max and Lina work together, sweet, deeply apologetic Max wrestles with his attraction to his brother’s ex-fiancée while learning to understand Lina in a way that Andrew never did. Romance fans are sure to be swept away by Sosa’s empathetic characters as they make the most of a ridiculous situation.
Comics & Graphic Novels
A wide array of visual books cover a range of topics, from drag to jazz to the Kent State tragedy.
The Art of Drag
Jake Hall et al. (Nobrow)
ISBN 978-1-910620-71-7, $22.95
This stylish coffee-table/conversation piece illuminates the history of drag from its ancient roots in mime and traditional theater to the present day. With inset text in full-page illustrations, the volume covers such subjects as the all-male casts of Shakespeare plays, Kabuki theater and the Peking Opera, the Kathakali dancers of precolonial India, and young male dancers of the Ottoman empire. The lineage of cross-dressing performers is traced from Vaudeville and pantomime to Jazz Age nightclubs, silent film stars, and the Harlem Renaissance, and to the key roles queens played in the queer liberation movements of the 1960s–1970s. The pages glow with brilliantly colorful illustrations, capturing all the queenly glamour; hot pinks and moody teals are contrasted with butter yellows and acid greens. Wigs have never looked taller, nor eye shadow so excessive. The result is a truly fabulous combination history and gift book.
Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California
Dave Chisholm (Z2)
ISBN 978-1-940878-38-6, $29.99
Chisholm, a musician and cartoonist, delivers a biographical treasure on the life and music of bebop innovator Charlie Parker (1920–1955). The revered saxophonist/composer’s life was also consumed by prodigious addictions to drugs and alcohol, a tragic reality that Chisholm connects to the vicious racism of the time. The book is constructed around six chapters, or “choruses,” based on personal accounts by Dizzy Gillespie, his lover Julie MacDonald, and record producer Ross Russell that are each rendered in a different drawing style and color scheme. The result is a quasimusical narrative ensemble that reflects the technical structure of Parker’s music, offers ingenious visual representations of Parker and his improvisations, and provides a rare account of his charming personality and humility. Chisholm’s drawings combine a talent for skillful likenesses with a pliable and inventive expressive line. This superb book is an innovative exemplar of the graphic bio form and will win over Parker fans and jazz newbies alike. The book includes a flexi disc.
The Great Gatsby: The Graphic Novel
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fred Fordham, and Aya Morton (Scribner)
ISBN 978-1-982144-52-4, $30
This respectable graphic adaptation of Fitzgerald’s canonical novel succeeds as homage, and mostly as a satisfying social critique in its own right. In the introduction, Fitzgerald’s great-granddaughter, Blake Hazard, acknowledges the challenges inherent to adapting the 1925 classic to a comic, observing that “the language itself is in some ways the main character.” And while Fordham must pare down the text, he does a fine job distilling the haunted romanticism of Fitzgerald’s narrative. The clean, art deco–like backgrounds by Morton evoke the beguiling but ultimately empty nouveau-riche milieu of Gatsby and the Buchanans in suburban Long Island, as well as the dreary gray world of Myrtle and George Wilson in working-class Queens, N.Y. While perhaps inevitably lacking the complexity of the original, the fidelity of this graphic adaptation should satisfy Fitzgerald devotees.
I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf
Grant Snider (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN 978-1-4197-3711-4, $16.99
This playful, self-aware collection of strips and gags on the joys and frustrations of reading and writing is equal parts lighthearted and sincere. Snider is “writing the great American novel,” and one gets the sense that creating these comics was an escape during slumps. He riffs on literary genres (“Choose Your Own Memoir” displays a MadLibs mash-up of tropes) and the writing process. Snider pays homage to bibliophilia via a Haruki Murakami bingo game and a breakdown of bookshelf types that includes “stylish but shallow” and “stuck in high school.” The panels range from gently clever to surprisingly profound to laugh-out-loud. And for aspiring writers in doubt (“What should I write about? Gods of Literature, send me a ray of hope”), Snider suggests looking to the “Three Rays”(Carver, Chandler, Bradbury): “A man. In a truck. By a river,” says Carver. “Murder at a tattoo parlor,” says Chandler. “A computer that can cry,” says Bradbury. All to say, Snider’s got a bit here for every avid reader.
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics
Tom Scioli (Ten Speed)
ISBN 978-1-984856-90-6, $28.99
Scioli injects oomph into the already energetic life story of the “King of Comics” through sweeping narrative and Scioli’s trademark detailed page layouts. Told from the point of view of Kirby (1917–1994), the biography also acts as a history of the comics industry, from early strips to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Scioli recreates many of Kirby’s panels from superhero, war, crime, and romance comics—threaded through Kirby’s own experiences as a soldier and in love, for example—while his pompadour-adorned, wide-eyed figure of Kirby seems to pop from the page among a more realistically drawn supporting cast, just as his own heroes stood out as larger than life. Fans of Kirby’s most famous Marvel comics will especially enjoy recollections of his collaboration with Stan Lee, which established the Marvel Universe in the 1960s. This is a must-read for Kirby fans, and beyond—it captures the mythos of the of the 20th-century comic industry’s golden age.
Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio
Derf Backderf (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN 978-1-4197-3484-7, $24.99
Backderf delivers a provocative, heartbreaking account of the days leading up to the infamous tragedy of May 1970, in which National Guardsmen killed four unarmed students and injured nine others at a Vietnam War protest on the Kent State University campus. Backderf conducted extensive research to explore the lives of the four students, revealing their hopes and dreams for the future. Though wholly sympathetic to the student protestors, Backderf also takes care to report the grueling conditions the National Guardsmen were forced to endure; their lack of training for de-escalation versus battlefield deployment; and the failings of leaders such as Ohio governor Jim Rhodes (a Nixon loyalist) and Gen. Robert Canterbury. Backderf’s tightly drawn, muscular figures and busy layouts anchored by choice period details are consistent with his established style, with flourishes (from hairstyles to smirks) that individualize the ensemble cast. His expertly crafted chronicle of this defining moment in U.S. history serves as a deeply moving elegy for the victims.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist
Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN 978-1-77046-395-0, $24.95
Eisner Award–winner Tomine (Killing and Dying) depicts choice vignettes from a decades-long cartooning career in this ruefully funny, often deliberately mortifying memoir. In the early 1980s in his California elementary school, Tomine presents as an obsessive, socially inept comics nerd, earning him instant ostracism from his classmates. But by his 20s, he makes a name for himself in alternative comics circles, but that does not protect him from negative reviews, poorly attended signings, weird or hostile readers, casual racism, and other ego-deflating encounters. In one especially humiliating but hilarious episode, Tomine hangs out with an attractive young journalist who has just interviewed him, when sudden gastrointestinal distress quashes any romantic possibility. Graph paper backgrounds create a sense of peeking into a diary consisting of Tomine’s graceful drawings and precise lettering. Tomine reveals himself again a master of self-satire. This merciless memoir delivers laughter with a wince, to the point of tears.
Parable of the Sower
Octavia E. Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN 978-1-4197-3133-4, $24.99
This nimble graphic adaptation of Butler’s 1993 novel of capitalism-ravaged California feels alarmingly prescient and relevant. Duffy and Jennings skillfully rework the tale told through the eyes of teenage empath Lauren Oya Olamina, who navigates a world transformed by drought, gun violence, and exploitation. The adaptation captures the heart of Butler’s message: survival depends on evolution, but also on breaking through isolation to build communities of trust and love. Jennings’s color palette flames with reds, oranges, and yellows, evoking both vibrant Los Angeles sunsets and the city choked with smoke and fire. His blocky, busy line work portrays the brutal violence of Lauren’s life without lingering on the gore or turning the empathetic story into a grotesque thriller. This accessible adaptation is poised to introduce Butler’s dystopian tale to a new generation of readers.
Paying the Land
Joe Sacco (Metropolitan)
ISBN 978-1-62779-903-4, $29.99
Eisner-winner Sacco (Safe Area Goražde) travels to northern Canada to talk with members of the Dene, a First Nations group located largely in the Northwest Territories, in this arresting exploration of a community on the brink. Fracking is the hotly contested issue at hand; it brings money and jobs, but devastates the environment. Sacco delves deeper than the current debate, exploring the long, fraught relationship between the Dene, the Canadian government, and the land. His densely composed, meticulous black-and-white art has grown even more realistic and carefully observed in this work, though he still presents himself as a caricature with buckteeth and Coke-bottle glasses. He wisely withdraws his presence to the background, allowing the Dene and other locals he interviews to take the spotlight, interspersing close-ups of faces with images of the breathtaking northern vistas. Sacco again proves himself a master of comics journalism.
Stuck Rubber Baby (25th anniversary edition)
Howard Cruse (First Second)
ISBN: 978-1-250-24948-7, $24.99
Less than a year after Cruse’s death, First Second published this 25th anniversary edition of his groundbreaking LGBTQ/civil rights graphic novel, fulfilling the cartoonist’s wish to have it brought back into print. Painstakingly researched and exquisitely illustrated, the book draws on Cruse’s experience coming of age and coming out in 1960s Birmingham, Ala. Originally published in 1995, the book is set in the in the fictional Southern town of Clayfield, a stand-in for Birmingham. It tells the story of Toland Polk, a young white queer man struggling to accept his sexuality in a town that is as viciously homophobic as it is brutally racist. The new edition includes an introduction by cartoonist and MacArthur fellow Alison Bechdel, as well as a trove of reference materials and an afterword and biography by Cruse. Bechdel writes, “The formal virtuosity of Stuck Rubber Baby, its ambitious historic sweep, its rich characters, its unflinching look at sex, race, violence, hate, and love, make it an immersive, truly novelistic reading experience in a way that’s still uncommon for graphic narrative to achieve.”