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And You May Find Yourself: Confessions of a Late-Blooming Gen-X Weirdo

Sari Botton. Heliotrope, $18.50 trade paper (212p) ISBN 978-1-942762-99-7

Former Longreads editor Botton debuts with an introspective collection of essays about the joys and pains of feeling like a misfit. A self-proclaimed “weirdo,” Botton always felt out of place among her peers, until just before her 27th birthday in 1992, when she decided to “explode” her life: “I took the gameboard of my small existence and threw it over,” she writes in her opening essay, “Lost,” “leaving behind a starter marriage... and suburbia.” Now in her mid-50s, Botton recalls in heartfelt and witty prose the pivotal moments that have shaped her. In “Leaving the Land of Make-Believe,” she recounts struggling with identity as she came to grips with being “split in two” by her parents’ divorce. Along her hard-earned path to self-acceptance, she details high school insecurities and bullying a classmate, only to have the tables turned on her (“In what felt like an instant, five girls I’d become close with but had always been somewhat wary of became my arch enemies”). As Botton recounts her mortifying moments, struggles with body image, and countless anxious encounters, readers are likely to find themselves squirming alongside her. The result offers a cathartic look at an imperfect life lived fully. (June)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Going Public: How Silicon Valley Rebels Loosened Wall Street’s Grip on the IPO and Sparked a Revolution

Dakin Campbell. Twelve, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0788-3

Campbell, Business Insider’s chief financial correspondent, delivers a thorough if dry history of the initial public offering and its evolution as tech companies became a bigger chunk of the market. He begins with technology companies’ IPOs during the ’60s and goes on to profile such luminaries as Bill Hambrecht of Francis I. DuPont & Co., an investment banker who popularized the OpenIPO model in the late ‘90s, which allowed the public to purchase shares “more equitably.” Campbell discusses how the market changed when Spotify listed shares directly on the exchange in 2018, which “fashion[ed] a new role for investment banks that kept them at arm’s length,” and Slack later modeled its listing after Spotify’s. Things culminate at the end of 2020 with DoorDash’s IPO, which closed 85% higher than the IPO price, and the SEC’s approval of the NYSE’s proposal to allow companies to raise money with direct listings, paying fewer fees to investment banks. Campbell’s heavy on the details, and he meanders from company to company with little in the way of narrative or drama. Readers who aren’t already in the finance world can safely take a pass on this one. (July)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Anne Brontë Reimagined

Adelle Hay. Saraband, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-912235-64-3

Hay, an academic at the University of Loughborough, debuts with a casual introduction to the life and work of Anne Brontë and her evolving reputation. Hay makes a case that despite early accounts that cemented her as the “frail” and “weak” sister and a lesser talent among the three, Anne “deserves to be regarded as a great writer.” Though eager to avoid the “Charlotte-as-bitch” trap, Hay notes the negative effect Anne’s sister Charlotte had on her work’s reception: Charlotte’s “Biographical Notice” contained a misunderstanding of Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, for example, that influenced critics. Hays also examines her subject’s embrace of the unorthodox doctrine of Universal Salvation, which made readers “uncomfortable,” and her desire in her novels to tell “unpalatable truths,” which resulted in her work being labeled “coarse” and “brutal.” With skilled close readings of her work, Hays convincingly argues that Brontë’s writing on loneliness and society’s expectations for women remain relevant, but a few of Hay’s positions are a little tenuous, notably that Brontë is similar to musician Sufjan Stevens, and the comparison of Brontë’s thoughts on goodness to the sitcom The Good Place. Even so, this accessible introduction to a “misunderstood” writer is a fine place to start for readers new to her work. (July)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Forgotten Blade

Tze Chun and Toni Fejzula. TKO Studios, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-952203-08-4

“It’s not every day you get to kill God,” laughs Ruza the Unwashed in this visually phantasmagorical metaphysical allegory. Noa, a shamaness, has hired Ruza to slay The Allfather, the omnipotent and unseen god of the Land of the Five Rivers. Noa believes that killing this god will reunite her with her dead children—but High Diviner Tenna is determined to crush her plot and maintain his rule by religious authority. The script by Chun (The Seven Deadly Sins) embraces familiar fantasy tropes (a magic weapon, a journey to a forbidden land to kill a powerful being), but what first seems a magical quest becomes a spiritual crusade, the outcome of which could release the dead to final rest. Fejzula (the Veil series) expertly fills this lush world with mythic landscapes, bizarre architecture, and outrageous weapons like the Forgotten Blade (which resembles electric circuitry). Coloring by Roig and Helz is essential to the design, delineating each land in a specific color scheme, with bold and brilliant hues glowing brighter as the story revs up. It’s intelligent escapism in the vein of Avatar: The Last Airbender that also invites rereading and reflection. (May)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Sherlock Holmes: Masters of Lies

Philip Purser-Hallard. Titan, $15.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-789099-24-9

In 1898, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are summoned by Mycroft Holmes following the apparent suicide of Christopher Bastion, one of the Foreign Office’s most trusted—and most valuable—civil servants, in Purser-Hallard’s stellar third pastiche (after 2020’s Sherlock Holmes: The Spider’s Web). Bastion, who died at home of prussic acid poisoning, left behind a suicide note. The motive for his fatal act seems clear, as evidence suggests that Bastion was recently preparing to sell government secrets to a foreign spy. Mycroft asks his brother to find out to whom Bastion may have leaked sensitive information and the substance of those leaks. But the inquiry takes a different path when Holmes’s inspection of the crime scene points to Bastion’s having been murdered, which in turns leads to his suspicion that a master forger faked the suicide note and possibly the evidence indicating the dead man had betrayed his country. Purser-Hallard’s unusual fair-play puzzle will remind many of the sleight-of-hand novels of Anthony Horowitz. Fans of traditional Holmes stories will hope for more from this versatile author. (May)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Carolina Moonset

Matt Goldman. Forge, $29.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-81012-0

At the start of this first-class mystery from Goldman (the Nils Shapiro series), Joey Green, the owner of a Chicago jewelry company, returns to Beaufort, S.C., to visit his father, Marshall, who’s suffering from a disease that’s rapidly destroying his short-term memory. Joey offers to stay with Marshall for a few days while his mother, Carol, takes a much needed break. Carol’s three-day vacation in Florida turns into a feverish nightmare for Joey when Thomas Hammond, patriarch of Beaufort’s most important family, is shot dead one night near the Greens’ house. Joey left his father alone during the time of the murder, Marshall hated the Hammond family, and—most worrying—Marshall’s gun is missing. When the police come knocking, Joey is desperate to protect his father, but his impulse to help may make things much worse. As Joey tries to discover who killed Thomas, he comes to realize that Marshall’s teenage memories hold the key to murders that occurred decades earlier. The often amusing dialogue flows naturally, the emotional undercurrents ring true, and the mystery itself offers a full complement of suspects and motives. This novel about love, loss, and family ties isn’t to be missed. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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A Face to Die For

Iris Johansen. Grand Central, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1321-1

Myth meets reality in bestseller Johansen’s riveting 28th thriller featuring forensic sculptor Eve Duncan (after 2021’s The Bullet). While in central Africa working on a reconstruction case, Eve is sought out by Riley Smith. Three months earlier, Riley’s father, an archaeologist who thought highly of Eve’s forensic skills, was murdered by tomb robbers in Azerbaijan. Riley believes her father was killed because he was close to discovering the location of the tomb of Helen of Troy, who he believed was a real queen. Eve agrees to help Riley search for the elusive tomb—and reconstruct Helen’s face if their quest succeeds. In Azerbaijan, the stakes rise as the two women have to contend with Ralph Dakar, the leader of a gang of ruthless tomb robbers, and agents of a power-hungry U.S. president, Adam Madlock, who’s hunting for Eve because of her connection to the “silver bullet” cure to all illnesses developed by the ex-wife of Eve’s husband, Joe Quinn. Johansen does a fine job breathing life into the premise of Helen of Troy being a historical figure. This no-holds-barred suspense yarn is a good starting place for newcomers. Agents: Andrea Cirillo and Rebecca Scherer, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Visitors

Jessi Jezewska Stevens. And Other Stories, $25.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-913505-28-8

This mordantly funny requiem for the early 21st century from Stevens (The Exhibition of Persephone Q) revisits the fallout of the 2008 financial crash and Occupy Wall Street movement. C, frankly, has problems. Her career as a textile artist is well behind her, her arts supply business is flagging, medical bills are piling up, and she’s having a hard time admitting that she’s half in love with her best friend, Zo, whose job as a stock trader makes her a captive audience to the unfolding carnage. What’s more, C has an uninvited guest: a lawn gnome who infiltrates her house and soon becomes her only confidante. C’s other friends include Yi, the ailing older woman she cares for, and Fran, Zo’s art dealer ex, and up till now their conversations haven’t touched on politics. But as the sinister hacker group GoodNite engages in domestic terrorism around the country, its coup de grâce threatens to irrevocably change the lives of C, her friends, and her gnome. The odd touch of magic does nothing to diminish the story’s uneasy relevance to the contemporary state of affairs. Fans of such paranoia masters as DeLillo and Pynchon should give this a look. (June)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Swanfolk

Kristín Ómarsdóttir, trans. from the Icelandic by Vala Thorodds. HarperVia, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-315837-5

Ómarsdóttir (Children in Reindeer Woods) returns with an offbeat and uneven tale of secret committees and hybrid creatures. Narrator Elísabet Eva is a special agent for an unnamed country’s Ministry of the Interior. After she is attacked while on a mission in Paris, she’s assigned to report on the local stand-up comedy scene, and while visiting a park, she meets a handful of half-human, half-swan animals who periodically whisk her into their world. The “swanfolk,” as Elísabet calls them, are sometimes friendly, sometimes violent, and they long to live alongside humans. One day, a parcel arrives at the Ministry containing a swanfolk’s unhatched egg, which prompts Elísabet to report the swanfolk’s existence to her office. An investigation is launched, but no traces of the swanfolk are found, and despite the egg, Elísabet wonders if she imagined everything. Throughout, Ómarsdóttir hints at Elísabet’s unreliability, from the character conjuring an imaginary sister and pet dog to an occasional use of third-person narration. And while the author cleverly employs the swanfolk to explore Elísabet’s mental state, the story basically amounts to a series of odd details. The whole doesn’t quite live up to its parts. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (July)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

Maddie Mortimer. Scribner, $18.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-982181-77-2

A British woman’s breast cancer returns in Mortimer’s poignant and inventive debut, told in part by the disease. Lia, 43 and a children’s author, is devastated to learn her cancer is back after a two-year absence. Her professor husband, Harry, assures her they’ll fight it, while Lia’s unsure of how to tell their 12-year-old daughter, Iris. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, Lia reveals how as a teenager she and a boy named Matthew, a student of Lia’s vicar father, become secret lovers. When her parents find out, they make other arrangements for Matthew, and Lia leaves for university in London. Later she receives a postcard from Matthew telling her to join him in Italy. Their paths converge and diverge a couple more times, while in the present Lia and her family struggle to manage her worsening illness. The cancer intrudes with bursts of modernist lyricism (“If I could rub my hands together, gnarl out a poisonous twat-cackle, pick open their dreams or leave my own little marks in their diaries, I would”), which can feel excessive, but the author does a good job tying everything together. Though this first outing is a bit baggy, Mortimer shows promise. Agent: Zoe Waldie, RCW Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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