June Publications

When Louise Connor, a brainy, difficult 16-year-old from Sydney, Australia, travels to Chicago as a foreign exchange student, she wants more than just friendship from her wealthy suburban host family. Desperate for affection and approval—and hoping to permanently escape her real family—she plies her hosts with effusive thank-you notes, but also swigs gin to calm her nerves, with predictable results. How the Light Gets In by M.J. Hyland is a cool, accomplished first novel, originally published to acclaim in Australia; international rights have been sold in five countries, and Hyland will embark on a five-city tour in the U.S. (Canongate, $13 paper 320p ISBN 1-84195-548-5)

Writers pay homage to rockers in Lit Riffs, a collection of 24 stories inspired by songs. Edited by Matthew Miele, the book features a familiar list of hip young literary lights offering good—but perhaps not their best—work. Jonathan Letham, inspired by Daniel Johnston's "Speeding Motorcycle," offers a mannered consideration of love and adultery; Elissa Schappell tells of a writer's loving (and exploitative) feelings toward an old flame, after John Cale's "Dying on the Vine"; and Heidi Julavitz, riffing on Cat Power's cover of "I Found a Reason" by the Velvet Underground, serves up a story with characters inspired by Chan Marshall and Lou Reed. A CD from Manhattan Records will be released simultaneously. (MTV Books, $13.95 paper 432p ISBN 0-7434-7026-5)

In Alessandro Baricco's brief, penetrating morality tale, Without Blood (trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein), Nina, a little girl, witnesses the murder of her doctor father by men who accuse him of hideous war crimes. As an old woman, Nina hunts down the killers, asking a curious favor of the last of them, an elderly lottery card vendor. Ending his story with a poignant twist, Baricco (author of the international bestseller Silk) reflects movingly on the nature of war and brutality. (Knopf, $18 112p ISBN 1-4000-4145-7)

Single mom Tracey Kendricks is bringing her daughter up right. Lauren, 17, has informed Aaron, her college student boyfriend, that she's not ready to sleep with him yet. But Tracey can't keep her own hands off luscious Aaron (who "put the 'hot' in 'hottie' "). My Daughter's Boyfriend by first-timer Cydney Rax attempts some thoughtful exploration of the trickiest kind of romantic triangle, but readers may feel she lets impulsive Tracey off too easily. (Crown, $22 320p ISBN 1-4000-4920-2)

May Publications

It's impossible not to be charmed by the narrator of Poe Ballantine's comic and sparklingly intelligent God Clobbers Us All. Edgar, a surfing fanatic and orderly at a San Diego rest home, whiles away the evenings with drugs, booze and plenty of wacky fellow employees, "not only because we are poor and our futures are dull, but also because we see every night first hand the terrible and heartbreaking things that are going to happen to us when we grow old." An affair with a married co-worker nine years his senior seems like a big deal—that is, until a mousy nurse's aide disappears after one of Edgar's LSD parties, and he and his best friend, a mannish Blackfoot Indian named Pat, are held responsible. (Hawthorne [www.hawthornebooks.com], $15.95 paper 196p ISBN 0-9716915-4-1)

A Bahamian vacation turns into a nightmarish dreamworld in Tsipi Keller's smart, sly Jackpot. Maggie has long been cowed by her beautiful friend Robin, so when Robin leaves Paradise Island for a spur-of-the-moment sailing trip, Maggie has a chance to shine. Instead, she descends into wild gambling and even wilder sex, though she somehow retains her innocence. Keller expertly charts Maggie's transformation in this accomplished and oddly gripping novel. (Spuyten Duyvil [P.O. Box 1852, Cathedral Station, New York, N.Y. 10025], $13 paper 200p ISBN 0-9720662-1-7)