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Apples Never Fall jacket

Apples Never Fall

Challengers was all about competition and the drive to be the best. Competing with lovers and friends is one thing, but what if the conflict was within your own family? Apples Never Fall stars a tennis dynasty, made up of two retired stars—Stan and Joy—whose four adult children also played professionally. When Joy disappears, Stan is suspected, and Amy, Logan, Troy and Brooke must decide if they believe he’s innocent. No one does drama like Australian author Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret), and this apple is as juicy as it gets. Bonus: You can get this one on a screen too. The TV adaptation is currently streaming on Peacock, and stars Sam Neill and Annette Bening.


Carrie Soto Is Back

Carrie Soto would definitely understand Tashi Duncan, and by that we mean they would immediately try to destroy each other. (They’d probably become friends eventually, but only after almost reducing each other to rubble.) The ferociously determined tennis player at the center of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel decides to come out of retirement to one-up Nikki Chan, the new star player who just broke Carrie’s record amount of Slam titles. If you came away from Challengers wanting more Tashi, this is the book for you.


The Divine Miss Marble

If Challengers made you want to know even more about what it’s like to be a woman in tennis, Robert Weintraub’s biography of Alice Marble, one of the very first tennis greats, can scratch that itch. The Divine Miss Marble chronicles the ups and downs of her life in thrilling detail. Marble won 18 Grand Slam championships between 1936 and 1940 and rubbed elbows with Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, but her influence extended into the late 20th century as she coached greats like Billie Jean King.


Sudden Death

Did you leave the theater thinking, that was fun, but I wish the tennis matches were weirder? Have we got a book for you. Álvaro Enrigue’s bawdy, bizarre tennis novel kicks off with a match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio, and just gets weirder from there (at one point, they’re playing tennis with a ball made of Anne Boleyn’s hair). The author interjects metafictional asides that skewer the conquest of Mexico and other topics, and the book doesn’t shy away from violence, either. We can guarantee one thing: You’ll never read anything else like it.


Wicked Beauty jacket

Wicked Beauty

Let’s be real: The steaminess of the Challengers trailer, and the chemistry among its three stars, was a huge contributor to the film’s successful opening weekend. If you’re looking for a read with a similar spark, Katee Robert is the author for you. Start with the third installment in her Dark Olympus series, which reimagines Greek mythology. Wicked Beauty puts the Iliad’s Achilles and Patroclus into a polyamorous relationship with Helen of Troy. The sex scenes are scorching hot (a Robert trademark), but as in Challengers, the emotional connections are equally complex and valued.

Couldn't get enough of Challengers, director Luca Guadagnino's sophisticated and steamy story of a tennis pro love triangle? We've got some reading material for you.

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters by Cheena Marie Lo

If you were pressed to categorize a book of poetry on your bookshelf as fiction or nonfiction, would you choose fiction? Most people probably would. Poetry has a reputation for being airy and fantastical, for dwelling in the realm of emotions and dreams, not in the “real world.” Yet there is a strain of poetry that is explicitly concerned with informing readers about real events: documentary poetry. Cheena Marie Lo’s A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters (Commune Editions, $16, 9781934639191) is an excellent contemporary example, using statistics and phrases pulled from the news to trace human responsibility for the outcomes of devastating “natural” events like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Lo compares ecological processes like seasonal migration with the movement of evacuees in response both to the destruction caused by a storm and the failure of systems expected to provide help. At the same time, Lo points to the recovery of nature as a model for community recuperation through mutual aid. This is a great collection to read alongside Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler—another powerful documentary book of poems that chronicles state failure and human resilience during and after Katrina.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor


The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

I was introduced to The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, $19.99, 9781419718786) in a college English class, which admittedly isn’t the most exciting way to find a book. But as a 20-something with lots of emotions about parenting and intergenerational trauma, I found author-illustrator Thi Bui’s story at exactly the right time. This graphic memoir flows between present and past. In the frame story, Bui is anxious that her flawed relationships with her parents will define how she interacts with her newborn son. In an effort to alleviate her anxiety, she sits down with her parents and attempts to figure out how they became who they are, journeying with them through their childhoods in war-torn Vietnam, their harrowing migration as refugees and their imperfect restart in America. Told through beautiful watercolor illustrations and sparse, emotionally-wrought text, Bui’s memoir does not offer easy answers to questions about trauma, immigration and family. However, The Best We Could Do is a tremendous lesson in empathy and a testament to healing through human connection.

—Jessica Peng, Editorial Intern


One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel, One Last Stop (Griffin, $16.99, 9781250244499), is a clever, emotionally resonant take on a timeslip romance with an utterly dreamy love interest: 1970s punk feminist Jane Su, who is mysteriously trapped outside of time on the New York City subway. As they proved in their already-iconic 2019 debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuiston understands that in order for readers to wholeheartedly invest in a heightened scenario, it helps to have characters who are going through things that are eminently relatable. And so, recent New Orleans transplant August Landry’s quest to rescue Jane is balanced by the travails and triumphs of her job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes (one of the best fictional diners ever?) and the slow blossoming of her relationships with her roommates into something like family. It’s an achingly sweet portrait of a closed-off loner finding community for the very first time, and an ode to being young, broke and happy in NYC. It all culminates in a perfect finale, where August must draw on her new connections to pull Jane free and secure their happily ever after.

—Savanna, Managing Editor


The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

Our whole planet is migrating in the title story of The Wandering Earth (Tor, $19.99, 9781250796844) a collection by Cixin Liu, renowned author of The Three-Body Problem. Faced with proof of the sun’s imminent death, humanity collectively seeks to escape obliteration by installing giant plasma jets to propel the Earth toward a new solar system. As mankind’s home is transformed into one massive spaceship, an unnamed protagonist watches decades of his life pass, narrating with straightforward melancholy as he witnesses tragedy and chaos. As changes to Earth’s orbit cause boiling rain to fall and oceans to freeze, the cataclysmic, sublime journey of “The Wandering Earth” will batter you with alternating waves of immense beauty and terror. And don’t expect a chance to surface for air after finishing this first story: The next nine continue to pummel the reader with Liu’s staggering imagination and rare talent for combining grandiose backdrops with personal stories suffused with aching emotion, such as that of a man climbing a mountain made of water, or a peasant boy growing up to become a space explorer. Liu’s eye for detail and mind for the poetic add a profundity to The Wandering Earth, elevating it to stand among the best science fiction.

—Yi Jiang, Associate Editor

Does warmer weather and the approach of summer have you feeling restless? Pick up one of these stories featuring journeys great and small.
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STARRED REVIEW

May 1, 2024

3 spellbinding cozy fantasies

A bucolic island, a dazzling underwater world and an alpine tea shop beckon to readers in search of charming magical retreats.

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When royal guard Reyna almost dies in service of wicked Queen Tilaine, she decides that it’s time to hang up her boots and take up an offer from her longtime girlfriend, Kianthe, to run away and open a bookshop. Is it technically treason? Yes, but Reyna is an expert swordsperson and Kianthe is the Arcandor, the most powerful mage in the world. With their talents, they’re sure they can stay beneath the queen’s radar.

Together, the two women flee to Tawney, a tiny mountain town on the border of the Queendom. Despite being plagued with dragon attacks and bandits, it offers the perfect sanctuary for the couple to craft their dream store, which features wooden floors, abundant plant life, a lending library of books and a wide selection of teas. As long as they stick to their pseudonyms and fake backstories, they should be fine. But the town is full of mishaps and mysteries, and the couple can’t help but stick their noses into everything. Did the previous town leaders steal dragon eggs? Who is sending aspiring kid bandits to their store? And most importantly: Can Reyna and Kianthe make this strange new life work?

Rebecca Thorne’s Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is a fantasy for readers itching for soft escapism above all else. There’s a creative world around Reyna and Kianthe, but it’s primarily a backdrop as Thorne focuses on the townsfolk of Tawney and the gentle emotional drama of her central couple. Despite the illusion of high stakes, problems big and small are quickly fixed or hand-waved away. Though the couple frets about money, repairs and inventory are purchased with funds to spare; larger issues, from the murderous queen to the raiding dragons, remain in the background and are resolved with ease. Even spats between Kianthe and Reyna are swiftly and affectionately settled as they reassure each other that they’ve made the right decision and that their love, like Kianthe’s ever-flame, will never fade. 

Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is an ambling romantic adventure for those who prefer episodic, sentimental stories. Fans of emotionally-driven tabletop games like Wanderhome and cozy fantasies like Legends & Lattes will find this a soothing addition to their shelves.

Rebecca Thorne’s Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is a romantic fantasy for readers itching for soft escapism above all else.
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Marigold Claude is the least talented woman in her artsy family. She’s resigned to her fate as a spinster, flouncing away from suitors and fleeing balls to dance barefoot with spirits beneath the full moon. So when her grandmother offers Marigold the chance to be the next Honey Witch, the protector of the isle of Innisfree, the decision feels easy. Marigold doesn’t feel like she belongs in her town, but Innisfree, with its magical guardians and abundant plant life, could be home.

The title of Honey Witch, however, comes with consequences: An Ash Witch wants the isle for herself and has cursed the Honey Witches to live without romantic love. It isn’t until her grandmother dies that Marigold realizes how lonely a curse that can be—especially once Lottie, a beautiful, grumpy skeptic who refers to magic as “mythwork,” arrives in her life and upends everything she thought about love.

But the Ash Witch is waiting for a moment of weakness. If Marigold doesn’t learn how to control her magic and break the curse, her island, her family and the feisty woman who holds her heart are all at risk.

“Wild women are their own kind of magic” in Sydney J. Shields’ The Honey Witch. The pacing of this ambrosiac fantasy might leave diehard romance fans wanting more—Lottie is not involved in the first third, which rushes the sweetly erotic love story—but the whimsical world is more than enough to keep most readers enthralled. Shields’ descriptions of elements such as the landvaettir spirits that guard Innisfree and the blossoming gardens of Marigold’s familial home are impeccably lush. The coziness of the setting is offset by grief and a sense of impending disaster. Marigold spends much of her time reminiscing on loneliness and lost love, and even as the book buzzes towards its predictable, happy finale, the curse and the Ash Witch’s arrival bring destruction and terror.

At its heart, however, The Honey Witch focuses on the internal strength of its characters and how “anyone can be capable of something impossible.” Shields’ warmhearted fantasy will satisfy readers of sapphic romances who love the alternate historical world of “Bridgerton” or who grew up rewatching Halloweentown and Practical Magic.

The Honey Witch will satisfy readers of sapphic romances who love the alternate historical world of “Bridgerton” and grew up rewatching Halloweentown and Practical Magic.

Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep is a poignant epistolary adventure set in an underwater landscape filled with academics, explorers and artists. Through letters, log entries and other documents, various narrators describe their society, their passions, their families and, most importantly, the mysterious disappearances of eloquent recluse E. Cidnosin and the socially anxious yet brilliant scholar Henerey Clel. The primary correspondence takes place between Sophy, E.’s sister, and Vyerin, Henerey’s brother, who have bonded through their shared grief and wish to learn more about what actually transpired between their siblings. 

Cathrall’s whimsical water world is filled with remarkable settings like the Cidnosins’ Deep House, a home well below the ocean’s surface that is as mysterious as it is beautiful, and academic institutions such as the Boundless Campus. Each character’s voice is distinct, and readers will blush and giggle along with Sophy and Vy as they track E. and Henerey’s relationship as it evolves from friendship into passionate love. One of the most memorable aspects of the book is watching Sophy and Vy’s own relationship grow. While Sophy is insatiably curious about E.’s past, Vy is a bit more cautious when it comes to learning more about his brother. As Sophy and Vy realize how important this shared cause is to them, readers get to see them develop their own wonderful friendship. 

While the plot largely focuses on love both romantic and familial, the elegant letters hold sinister memories as well, clues leading up to the seaquake that shattered Deep House, after which E. and Henerey disappeared. There are many secrets to uncover, from a mysterious object found just outside Deep House, to E. and Sophy’s strained relationship with their brother, Arvist, to Sophy and her wife’s discoveries in the Ridge, home to deep-sea monsters. It’s up to Sophy and Vy to put the pieces together to heal the hearts and souls of their families and themselves.

A whimsical yet emotional fantasy, Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep is a delightful, oceanic twist on epistolary romances and dark academia.

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Recent Features

A bucolic island, a dazzling underwater world and an alpine tea shop beckon to readers in search of charming magical retreats.

When a Scot Ties the Knot

There’s unlucky, and then there’s “Surprise! Your fake pen pal is actually a real person!” Madeline Gracechurch dreamed up Captain Logan MacKenzie, an honorable Scottish soldier conveniently stationed elsewhere, to get out of making her debut and continue her work as an illustrator of naturalist texts. Maddie writes letters to Logan for years before she finally decides to kill him off, thinking herself safe from matrimony forever. And then, of course, Logan shows up on her doorstep, letters in hand, intent on getting married for real so that his battle-weary men can settle down on Maddie’s extensive property. When a Scot Ties the Knot is an absolute sugar high of a romance, complete with digressions on subjects such as why some men look hotter in glasses, how to seduce women by bathing in mountain lochs and the mating travails of Maddie’s lobsters (their names are Rex and Fluffy). Tessa Dare’s great talent as an author is her ability to root farcical silliness in emotional reality: Logan’s quest to give his men a life where they can heal and flourish is treated with utmost seriousness, as is the paralyzing social anxiety that led Maddie to start writing him in the first place. 

—Savanna, Managing Editor 

The Bee Sting

Was ever a family more unfortunate than the Barneses, the dysfunctional crew at the heart of Irish writer Paul Murray’s masterfully crafted fourth novel? Dickie Barnes is barely holding on to his auto dealership; his glamorous wife, Imelda, resents their fall in status. Their daughter, Cass, who plans to attend university in Dublin, may be jeopardizing that future thanks to too many nights at the pub, while 12-year-old PJ’s plan to escape his bullies is only leading him into more danger. Beginning with Cass, each family member takes a turn telling the story as they see it, unveiling layers of damage, secrets and bad luck. What keeps this tale of woe engaging across more than 600 pages is Murray’s tenderness for the Barnes family, despite their flaws. The voice of each character is refreshingly distinct, and there’s much satisfaction in seeing the puzzle pieces of their perspectives click together to create a full view of this fractured family, who love each other deeply but rarely manage to communicate that love in the right way or at the right moment. A heartfelt tragedy with a bravura ending, The Bee Sting is a strikingly human and empathetic read.

—Trisha, Publisher 

Troubles

Surely there could be no greater misfortune than that which befalls Major Brendan Archer, who, near the end of J.G. Farrell’s Troubles finds himself buried up to his neck in sand, awaiting drowning as the tide comes in. Troubles is the first in Farrell’s Empire Trilogy, a series of masterful, bleakly hilarious eviscerations of British colonialism. After returning from World War I, the Major goes to Ireland to be with his fiancée, Angela Spencer, a woman he hardly remembers. Angela’s Protestant, Anglo-Irish family runs a once-glorious hotel called The Majestic. Even through the scrupulously polite Major’s eyes, it’s clear that the Spencers are in denial about the state of the hotel and the precarity of their political situation, as tensions with the majority-Catholic people of the surrounding area rise to a deadly pitch. Still, none of them manage to bring the danger into focus, to the point that the Irish Republicans go nameless and faceless throughout the book, even as they pack rocks around the Major’s body and leave him to die. Sadly, Farrell himself met an unfortunate end: At only 44, he was swept out to sea while fishing. We can only imagine what other great novels he would have graced the canon with, had he lived longer.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

The Odyssey

I never realized how often Odysseus wept: as Polyphemus the Cyclops wet the floor with the brains of his friends; on Aeaea when the clever witch Circe transformed his men into pigs; on the shore of Ogygia as Calypso’s captive; in the halls of the Phaeacians, as he bemoaned his misfortune. After two decades of trying and failing to read The Odyssey, I picked up Emily Wilson’s translation and saw myself in this most unlucky of men. I had long wanted to read Homer’s epic, but I found it unbearably dull and the verse too difficult to unravel. I could never even get to Scherie, let alone back to Ithaca. Wilson, the first woman to publish a translation in English, brings Homer’s epic alive. She writes in her translator’s note that other English translations render Homer’s text in “grand, ornate, rhetorically elevated English.” But the poet’s verse was not “bombastic or grandiloquent.” It was accessible, performed around the ancient world to people from all walks of life. Wilson opts instead to use straightforward language and syntax, along with good old iambic pentameter, to present a story that is full of suspense and pathos. I lost myself in The Odyssey, I found myself in Odysseus and I wept for his misfortune. 

—Erica, Associate Editor

There’s something weirdly engaging about a character who’s down on their luck. Fortunately (or not), their loss is our gain.
STARRED REVIEW

Our top 10 books for March 2024

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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Book jacket image for 49 Days by Agnes Lee

49 Days is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

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Book jacket image for All That Grows by Jack Wong

In All That Grows, Jack Wong evokes the soft haze of childhood summers where a small stand of trees might be seen as a huge

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Book jacket image for Black Wolf by Juan Gomez-Jurado

The Antonia Scott series is hands-down the best suspense trilogy to come along since Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

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A lushly crafted tale of a Maine fishing village cursed by a mermaid, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a debut to submerge yourself in.

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Book jacket image for Mrs. Gulliver by Valerie Martin

In Mrs. Gulliver, Valerie Martin offers us an idyll, perhaps even a comedy. All’s well that ends well. We hope.

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Book jacket image for The Phoenix Bride by Natasha Siegel

Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.

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Book jacket image for Thunder Song by Sasha LaPointe

Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.

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Book jacket image for The Unclaimed by Pamela Prickett

Gripping and groundbreaking, The Unclaimed investigates the Americans who are abandoned in death and what they tell us about how we treat the living.

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Book jacket image for The Great Divide by Cristina Henriquez

Cristina Henriquez’s polyvocal novel is a moving and powerful epic about the human cost of building the Panama Canal. It’s easy to imagine, in these

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Novelist, essayist, humorist and critic Sloane Crosley shows a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide.

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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
Book jacket image for Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon
STARRED REVIEW

March 14, 2024

Memoir March 2024

Literary luminaries unearth stories of family, food and grief in seven satisfying memoirs.

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Memoirs are expected to be intimate, laying the groundwork for an author’s backstory and how they got to where they are currently. But it is less common for a personal account to be rendered in a way that’s hilarious, clever, profound and poignant at the same time, particularly one with food as its focus.

Geraldine DeRuiter’s If You Can’t Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury provides all these elements and more. As the James Beard Award-winning blogger who penned a viral response to celebrity chef Mario Batali’s ill-advised #MeToo “apology” (in which he shared a recipe for cinnamon rolls), DeRuiter is no stranger to writing about culinary escapades. In this meaty series of essays, she travels from her childhood encounters with food to the present day, with many experiences in between that are as entertaining as her gifted voice and knack for description.

Subjects that she covers include religion, teendom, dating and marriage, all the while sharing life lessons that will resonate with many readers. The result is a memoir that is raw, revealing and relatable, with particular attention given to challenges women face in patriarchal society. For example, in a chapter hilariously titled “The Only Thing in My Oven,” she defends her decision not to have children and smartly draws parallels between what others call “maternal instinct” with her desire, since, childhood, to bake. As she explains, “I think a prerequisite to being a parent is that you should want to be one. And there’s a long diatribe here that I could go on about, but simply: parenthood should always be a choice. But baking didn’t feel like a decision. It was a calling.”

Her articulations are sincere and nostalgic, particularly in the story of how she learned about her past and ancestral roots, and how she has processed (and is still processing) what she has discovered. She doesn’t shy away from grappling with childhood trauma, but If You Can’t Take the Heat is by no means depressing. Quite the opposite. DeRuiter’s divulging is comforting and significant to both women and those who have made a similar culinary journey. Readers will find this witty series of vignettes humorous and enlightening.

Geraldine DeRuiter braids her love of food with feminist critique in her hilarious, relatable memoir If You Can’t Take the Heat.

To playwright and performer Susan Lieu, the woman she called M&aacute was “more mystery than mother.” In her deeply moving debut memoir, The Manicurist’s Daughter, Lieu excavates her family history and the painful narratives she’s stubbornly preserved over the years to answer the questions that emerged after her mother’s shocking death in 1996: How can you heal from intergenerational trauma if your family denies its existence?

When Lieu was 11, her family structure collapsed. Lieu’s mother, a dynamic 38-year-old Vietnamese refugee and successful nail salon owner in the Bay Area, went to a plastic surgery clinic for an operation that included an abdominoplasty, or “tummy tuck.” During the procedure, she lost oxygen to her brain, and 14 minutes passed before the surgeon called 911. She spent five days in a coma before flatlining. The surgeon, a white man who didn’t carry liability insurance, had been placed on probation four years before operating on Lieu’s mother, and remained on probation for years after her death. He specifically marketed his services to the Bay Area’s Vietnamese population.

Avoiding displays of grief, Lieu’s family refused to acknowledge the death of her mother, just as they refused to talk about their exodus from Vietnam. The emotional distance between Lieu and her father, who had suddenly become a widower with four children at 42, steadily grew as the years passed. As Lieu navigated adulthood, she struggled to make sense of her mother’s death, and her role as a daughter.

Lieu’s narrative provides a touching tribute to her mother and a probing investigation of destructive beauty standards. With considerable nuance and vulnerability, Lieu carefully deconstructs her own image of her mother as a victim without agency. Her journey to find closure is as vulnerable as an open vein, but eventually leads to a place of acceptance and forgiveness. To feel is to heal, and Lieu’s willingness to embrace emotional honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, is at the heart of The Manicurist’s Daughter.

In her deeply moving memoir, Susan Lieu tries to find closure after her mother’s untimely death.

Until the publication of his raw 2011 memoir, Townie, Andre Dubus III was known exclusively for bestselling novels like House of Sand and Fog. The 18 emotionally generous and beautifully crafted essays in Ghost Dogs: On Killers and Kin are certain to please the fans of this empathetic writer’s fiction and nonfiction.

Though there’s no organizing scheme to Dubus’ book, the themes of money, family and the writing life predominate. He’s the son of esteemed short story writer and teacher Andre Dubus II, who abandoned 10-year-old Andre and his three siblings to the care of a devoted mother who struggled to provide for them throughout their childhood. His life was shadowed for decades by this impoverished past. This comes to bear on his essay “The Land of No,” in which he describes his challenging relationship with a girlfriend who was the beneficiary of a $2 million trust fund. In another essay, “High Life,” he reveals his ambivalence over a few days of profligate spending he indulged in as the organizer of a celebration for his aunt’s 70th birthday in New York City.

That essay also reflects the centrality of deep family relationships in Dubus’ life. He and his wife Fontaine, a dancer and choreographer, have been married since 1989, a union that’s produced three children. “Pappy” is a warmhearted tribute to his maternal grandfather, who introduced Dubus to the virtues of hard physical labor one steamy summer in Louisiana. In “Mary,” he offers an affectionate portrait of his relationship with his mother-in-law, who lived in an apartment at the Massachusetts home Dubus helped build until her death at 99.

Reflective of Dubus’ passion for writing is “Carver and Dubus.” It’s a touching story of the sole encounter between Dubus’ father and one of his literary idols, Raymond Carver, only a few months before Carver’s death in 1988, and at a time when the younger Dubus was emerging as a writer. As a whole, the essays plumb great emotional depths. Strictly speaking, Andre Dubus III’s estimable gift for words may not be in his DNA, but as this book reveals, it’s at the core of who he is as a human being.

Andre Dubus III plumbs emotional depths in his beautifully crafted memoir in essays, Ghost Dogs.

Sasha LaPointe’s 2022 memoir, Red Paint, offered readers a profoundly moving glimpse into trauma and healing through the Indigenous perspective of a Coast Salish punk. Now, in her powerful new collection of personal essays, Thunder Song, LaPointe expands her poetic lens to take in the collective healing needed in a world shaped by colonization, structural racism and a global pandemic. These vibrant essays are grounded in the personal but committed to the political, moving from grief to righteous anger and activism.

The essays in Thunder Song are shaped by the city of Seattle, built on top of the tidal lands that are the ancestral home of the Coast Salish people, and LaPointe’s beloved great-grandmother, a Coast Salish elder committed to preserving Indigenous languages. The central themes are entwined in the titular essay, in which Grandma Vi convinces a composer to write a symphony shaped by the orations of Chief Seattle, who witnessed the sale of Native lands to white settlers.

Like her grandmother, LaPointe believes in the healing power of music for a world in crisis, as seen in her work as a vocalist and lyricist in Seattle-area punk bands. In essays like “Reservation Riot Grrrl,” LaPointe offers a loving but necessary critique of the whiteness of the Seattle music scene. Her attentiveness to the erasure of Indigenous identity and landscape in the region acts as a corrective to colonialist histories of the Pacific Northwest; the essay “Tulips” is a particularly stunning revisionary reading of the flower as settler colonist.

“Swan Creek” and “Basket Woman” suggest that new growth may still emerge from the ruins of loss and violence. In the former, LaPointe’s sensitive meditation on miscarriage twines individual grief with creative expression, while her focus on the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the latter expresses a communal need for all Native women to believe themselves worthy of safety.

Thunder Song proves LaPointe is a dynamic emergent voice in Native arts and letters, arguing that collective art and activism, powered by love, among Indigenous peoples around the globe is the medicine this planet needs.

Read our interview with Sasha LaPointe on Thunder Song.
Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.

After Sloane Crosley’s apartment is burglarized, she’s unmoored. The thief stole handfuls of jewelry that once belonged to Crosley’s grandmother—a cruel woman whom she didn’t like, Crosley’s mom reminds her. But the jewelry was Crosley’s, and she wants it back. She also wants the sense of safety that fled with the burglar as he exited her bedroom window and descended the fire escape onto Manhattan streets. That isn’t so easy to recover, so instead Crosley channels her uncertainty into detective work.

Crosley wrestles with her feelings about the burglary, writing, “Grief is for people, not things.” And on the one-month anniversary of the incident, her grief finds a new object. Her best friend, Russell, dies by suicide. If the burglary unmoored Crosley, Russell’s death sends her out to sea.

In her memoir Grief Is for People, Crosley attempts to write her way through the five stages of grief, which provide the book’s structure. Russell’s death trumps Crosley’s missing jewelry, but the two incidents are intertwined in both her psyche and her experience. She and Russell—a former boss from when she worked in book publishing—would spend hours at flea markets in search of treasures. The spice cabinet the jewelry was taken from was one of Russell’s finds, and a missing ring was one of the identifying factors Russell noted on Crosley’s resume during her job interview (“Long brown hair. Square ring”).

Crosley’s work is often praised for its humor, whether in her essay collections (I Was Told There’d Be Cake, How Did You Get This Number) or novels (Cult Classic, The Clasp). But Grief Is for People places at the forefront a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide. Crosley began writing one month after Russell’s 2019 death in an attempt to convince herself that he was really gone (a conclusion she accepts, inconveniently, during the COVID-19 pandemic). Her search for acceptance is an impulse that readers who have mourned a loved one may recognize—an effort to map a new emotional landscape on what looks, to a non-mourner’s eye, like the same old world.

In Grief Is for People, Sloane Crosley shows a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide.
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After fleeing Cambodia during the brutal regime of Pol Pot, Chantha Nguon spent decades in increasingly desperate poverty, first in urban Vietnam, then the squalor of Thailand refugee camps and finally in the malarial jungles of Cambodia. Through it all, Nguon relied on the delicious food of her childhood for comfort. In her heartbreaking, exquisitely told memoir, Slow Noodles: A Cambodian Memoir of Love, Loss, and Family Recipes, Nguon tells her story with co-author Kim Green.

At the end of each chapter, Nguon shares a recipe; some are delicious and intricate (sour chicken lime soup, village style), others bittersweet (silken rebellion fish fry or as Nguon’s subtitle calls it, “How to Make Unfresh Fish Taste Rather Delicious”). Most of these she learned sitting in her prosperous childhood kitchen, watching her mother and older sister create magical dishes they shared with their less wealthy neighbors.

That generosity got Nguon through her years in exile. She writes of sharing resources when she had so few, and making friends who would find and carry each other again and again. In the Thai refugee camps, where Nguon and others waited years for even an interview, they found a chosen family. “We refugees had nothing,” she writes, “but many of us drew close, and found ways to ease one another’s suffering. . . . Here in camp, we were all poor and full of loss. Often, that united us.”

Throughout Slow Noodles, Nguon returns to that theme: loss and despair giving way to strength. While this is a war memoir, it also is ultimately a story of hope. Despite the decades of horror the Khmer Rouge inflicted on millions of Cambodians, Nguon infuses her memoir with a spirit of persistence and defiance. Even in the face of evil, she continued cooking her childhood dishes, speaking her childhood language and slowly, slowly making her way home again.

“When you have nothing, weakness can destroy you,” Nguon writes. “No one would carry me out of the jungle. I would have to carry myself.”

In her memoir, Slow Noodles, Cambodian writer Chantha Nguon survives the terror of the Khmer Rouge and keeps her family recipes intact.

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Literary luminaries unearth stories of family, food and grief in seven satisfying memoirs by Sloane Crosley, Andres Debus III, Leslie Jamison and more.
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STARRED REVIEW

March 19, 2024

3 marvelous, watery fantasies to dive into

These sweeping, magical novels draw from traditional tales of rivers and oceans.

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Tiankawi may be a city half-submerged in water, but like so many cities, it is divided between the haves and the have-nots. The haves, who inhabit Tiankawi’s sweeping spires, are nearly all human. Some of the have-nots are too, but the majority of the city’s dispossessed are of the fathomfolk diaspora: people of the sea who have been forced out of their underwater havens by pollution and human-mediated destruction. Mira straddles both worlds. The first half-siren captain in the border guard, she wants to make a difference in the lives of those who she grew up with—if anyone will let her. Mira’s way of making change is slow and methodical, often relying on her well-connected water dragon boyfriend to help push for better legislation and provide an image of a model minority. Her boyfriend’s sister, Nami, has other plans. Banished to Tiankawi for her rebellious ways, she begins to associate with groups who view violence as necessary for revolution. As she bonds with these new friends, she begins to realize that their methods may be questionable, and soon both Nami and Mira will be forced to grapple with the fallout.

A modern urban fairy tale, Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk pairs futuristic cityscapes with fantastical races and real-world politics. The folk are in many ways climate refugees, feared by their hosts and forced to wear bracelets that suppress their powers and prevent them from harming humans, even in self-defense. While it is tempting to draw parallels between the central struggle for the rights of fathomfolk and the rights of refugees in general, Chan’s focus on the intersectionality of issues within Tiankawi makes it satisfyingly difficult to draw a straight line between our world and hers. Chan shows the divisions among the folk, from species-based class divisions among the sea dragons, kappa and kelpies to a distaste for families of mixed heritage. But she also shows that a society bent on oppressing one group will surely not stop there: Tiankawi’s slums are as full of humans as they are full of folk, and its draconian policies harm everyone. This message, both obscured and amplified by the fantasy elements of the story, makes Fathomfolk a nuanced, powerful and complex parable, one that raises questions that linger far after the novel reaches its conclusion.

Set in a city that’s half aboveground and half underwater, Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk pairs fantastical races and real-world politics.
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Mackerel Sky hasn’t had a good fishing season in centuries. Not since its founder betrayed the mermaid who captured his heart, and she cursed the Maine fishing village in retaliation. That grand tragedy begat many others, but no curse is absolute, even one cast by the most vengeful scion of the relentless ocean. And as young Leo Beale’s alcohol-fueled rebellion against his opiate-dependent mother leads him to the shelter of town elder Myra Kelley; Manon Perle quilts her way out of the miasma of grief over her daughter, born with her legs fused together like a mermaid’s tail and dead far too young; and the local high school’s star pitcher, Derrick Stowe, falls clandestinely in love, the mermaid’s magic may finally be at an ebb.

The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a book to submerge yourself in. Debut novelist MZ’s storytelling does not flow in straight lines. Rather, it eddies, lingering in tiny moments in the present before transporting readers back to the story’s headwaters, hundreds of years ago. She explores the past in loving detail, filling every page with lushly crafted, often poetic prose. The backstory seems, at times, irrelevant to the modern-day plotline, inserted more for world building than narrative necessity. However, MZ does nothing without purpose. Every half-finished historical anecdote and ancillary encounter contributes to the larger story, like a school of fish following an insistent current.This nonlinear structure is unified by an underlying theme of foreignness. Humans are creatures of the land, whose trespasses on water are tolerated at the mermaids’ whim, while the mermaids themselves are antithetical to land. At its core, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is both a tragedy and a romance, a tale of humans and merfolk struggling to live and love in each other’s domains, and how they all end up moored to the liminal space of the shore.

A lushly crafted tale of a Maine fishing village cursed by a mermaid, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a debut to submerge yourself in.
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Without any career prospects after grad school, Alicia finds her dead-end retail job tolerable only because of two co-workers she sort-of calls friends: bright, bubbly Heaven and jaded, focused Mars. After a rare appearance at one of Heaven’s parties, Alicia tries to return to the Toronto apartment she shares with her mother only to be waylaid by River Mumma, the ethereal Jamaican spirit of the water. Somebody has stolen her comb, and if Alicia doesn’t return it to her in 24 hours, River Mumma will leave this world and take all her waters with her.

Unmoored by the request, Alicia sets off to find the thief. But as visions from her ancestors begin to overwhelm her, and wicked spirits called duppies start to chase down her and her friends, Alicia will need to choose a path, step into her family legacy and go where the river takes her.

Millennial ennui and Jamaican legend intertwine in Zalika Reid-Benta’s propulsive debut novel, River Mumma. Alicia’s quest rests on folk medicine and the oft-buried spirituality of diasporic communities, which Reid-Benta juxtaposes against modern issues of social media and poorly organized subway lines, but also uses to lend a mythic tone to her tale of young people struggling to find their purpose in a big city. 

The robust cast of characters, from Heaven’s spiritualist friend, Oni, to the creepy Whooping Boy duppy, keep the story feeling fresh as Alicia catapults between past and present, though River Mumma rightfully takes center stage with each appearance. “Water heals, water nourishes, water has power,” as Heaven declares, and Alicia’s family ties to the water spirit offer her a guiding light through the choppy seas of her late 20s. Ultimately, Alicia, Heaven and Mars learn to embrace the fullness of life over the apathy that helped them survive a mundane day to day. While these themes get lost on occasion, especially in the chaos of duppy attacks, the adventure along the way is worth a sometimes bumpy ride.

For those entranced by folkloric fantasy, and for fans of N.K. Jemisin and Kat Howard, River Mumma will be a must-read.

Millennial ennui and Jamaican legend intertwine in Zalika Reid-Benta's propulsive debut novel, River Mumma.

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

As the days become shorter, there’s nothing more comforting than immersing myself in a sweeping historical novel—the bigger, the better! When my book club recently voted to read Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow (Penguin, $18, 9780143110439), I welcomed the opportunity to escape nightly into the grand halls of the Metropol hotel where aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov, deemed a threat by the Bolsheviks in 1922, is sentenced to lifelong house arrest. Hotel employees, guests and other visitors round out the vibrant cast of characters in the Count’s orbit as he adjusts to his new circumstances and tries to pursue a meaningful life in confinement. His friendship with precocious 9-year-old Nina is particularly endearing; the pair’s quest to explore every nook and cranny of the hotel is a delight. All the while, outside the Count’s window, political turmoil and inevitable social change are transforming Russian society. Written with wit and warmth, Towles’ tale is one you’ll want to curl up with and return to night after night.

—Katherine, Subscriptions 


The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I spent a few sublime weeks last winter in the company of Umberto Eco’s magisterial debut novel, The Name of the Rose (HarperVia, $19.99, 9780063279636). This medieval whodunit is intellectually absorbing and slyly hilarious as it tracks Brother William of Baskerville and Brother Adso of Melk’s quest to solve a spree of bizarre murders at a monastery in Italy. A historian, philosopher and literary theorist, Eco transports readers into the 14th-century mind, and while things get heady (at one point, Adso contemplates a door for more than a page), Eco never lets his own erudition run away with him. There are impressively gruesome deaths to describe, tangled little dramas of monastery life to tease out and one of the most unforgettable libraries in literature to explore. I read long into the night, wrapped in blankets with a mug of tea at hand, happily looking up Latin phrases and medieval heretics until arriving at Eco’s grand finale, a satisfying conclusion with a few icy notes of existential dread to balance things out.

—Savanna, Managing Editor


The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

To me, coziness is a cat dozing on my lap, but a book that captures the magic of our purring friends will also do. A sublime, delicate meditation on the passage of time within everyday life, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat (New Directions, $14.95, 9780811221504) washes over you like a dream, making it an ideal read for a long winter night. A male narrator and his wife fall in love with their neighbor’s cat, naming her Chibi as she begins visiting them at their rented house. The wife tells the man how a philosopher once said that “observation is at its core an expression of love,” and indeed, Hiraide’s ruminations on the quotidian—dragonflies flying towards water sprayed from a garden hose, Chibi climbing a tree—carry tremendous emotion despite the unembellished prose. With equal parts joy and melancholy, the couple’s relationships with the cat and each other shift, along with the course of their lives and Japan, as the late ’80s economic bubble bursts. Hiraide slips in and out of reflection and memory with precise, feline grace.

—Yi, Associate Editor


The New Life by Tom Crewe

There is something so pleasurable about spending a chilly day absorbed in the concerns of another time and identifying resonances with our own. Tom Crewe’s debut novel, The New Life (Scribner, $18, 9781668000847), provides just such a pleasure, placing vivid characters and thorny moral dilemmas against a finely textured historical backdrop. Based on two real life freethinkers in late Victorian Britain, Crewe’s John Addington and Henry Ellis are documenting the lives of gay men for a book that they hope will shift cultural perceptions of homosexuality. It’s risky, but they believe in the cause—and that their status as married men will protect them. However, ideological differences emerge, and Addington begins to wonder if ideals can be legitimate if they are not lived openly. Crewe excels when depicting the nuances of conflict and the question of balancing personal risk against the ability to effect change, drawing readers in with polished old-fashioned storytelling that also speaks to a modern sensibility—A.S. Byatt meets Alan Hollinghurst.

—Trisha, Publisher

Ready the fireplace, put the kettle on and get out some thick woolen socks. These four titles are worthy companions for long winter nights.
STARRED REVIEW
February 9, 2024

Lift every voice

Black history month offers fresh looks at freedom fighters John Lewis, Harriet Tubman and Medgar and Myrlie Evers.
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Combee

Edda L. Fields-Black’s revelatory Combee narrates the 1863 Combahee River Raid, in which Harriet Tubman led Black soldiers to liberate more than 700 enslaved people.
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Medgar and Myrlie

Page by page, Joy-Ann Reid’s Medgar and Myrlie paints unforgettable portraits of Medgar and Myrlie Evers, two American heroes who faced American racism with unimaginable ...
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John Lewis

Raymond Arsenault’s mesmerizing biography of John Lewis chronicles the life of the Civil Rights icon and congressman whose vision of a just and equitable society ...
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Top 10 books for February 2024

Beloved and buzzy authors such as Tia Williams, Francis Spufford and Katherine Arden took new and exciting directions in February!
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The author of the marvelous Winterlight trilogy makes her grand return to historical fantasy with this haunting tale set during World War I. Former nurse

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STARRED REVIEW

February 6, 2024

3 fabulous fake-relationship romances

There’s nothing quite as delicious as a romance that isn’t real—until it is.

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Martha Waters’ fifth and final Regency Vows romance, To Woo and to Wed, ends the series on a high note. In this second-chance romance, Waters once again brings us into a world full of heat and charm, where love matches are plentiful and happily ever afters are guaranteed.

Life as a widow isn’t half-bad for Lady Sophie Bridewell. In fact, it’s quite freeing. She can spend her days in the library reading and eating French pastries to her heart’s content. Not too shabby! But when her sister Alexandra, who is also a widow, shares that she is being courted but doesn’t want to get married and leave Sophie alone, well, that just won’t do. A decade ago, she rejected her own true love, the Marquess of Weston, rather than jeopardize her sisters’ potential betrothals, and she refuses to let that sacrifice be for nothing. Instead, Sophie approaches West with a proposition: They’ll fake an engagement until Alexandra is married, then go their separate ways. This actually works out quite well for West, whose malevolent, meddling father has begun pushing him to marry. A fake engagement to the woman he loves—er, loved—should be easy. But as their “fake” feelings get more and more real, Sophie and West must work to leave the past behind and look towards the future.

In a Waters romance, friend groups are supportive and families are, for the most part, loving. (Parents even make sex jokes about their children’s love lives!) Regency novels are a very popular subgenre, especially after the success of “Bridgerton,” but Waters’ work is still exciting, fun and fresh. She twists the norms of the time to suit her own purposes and creates characters that feel shockingly contemporary. Sophie and West are some of her most endearing leads; you’d be hard pressed to find two people more worthy of love. The responsibility they believe they owe to their families and to each other constantly tugs them in different directions. Both are so deeply invested in being a noble martyr that, at a certain point, you just want to force them to sit down and talk instead of continuing to assume what’s best for each other. But isn’t that part of the fun and frustration (funstration? frun?) of reading romance? Watching two people dance around each other and feeling the tension build until they tear each other’s clothes off and bang until their problems are solved? Destiny is waiting for these two, if they can just get out of their own way.

To Woo and to Wed is a perfect ending to the Regency Vows series, solidifying its status as one of the most entertaining historical romance series on shelves today.

To Woo and to Wed is a perfect ending to the Regency Vows series, solidifying its status as one of the most entertaining historical romance series on shelves today.
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If you’re looking for the rom-commiest rom-com to ever rom or com, then look no further. Do you like stories with the rich and/or popular guy falling for the non-skinny, non-famous, non-glamorous girl? How about opposites attract? Maybe you want a fake relationship where a kiss just for show ends up feeling all too real? Or how about that perennial classic, There Was Only One Bed? You’ll find all of that and more in Charlotte Stein’s When Grumpy Met Sunshine, and if you think it sounds like too much, you’re wrong—it’s exactly enough, and a blast from start to finish.

The story opens with an epic meet-ugly. Alfie Harding meets Mabel Willicker when she’s introduced as the ghostwriter for his memoir. Alfie, a superstar Premier League footballer bearing an unmistakable resemblance to “Ted Lasso” ’s Roy Kent, is armored in black clothes, a bristling black beard, a 10-inch-deep frown and a voice that sounds “like very churlish gravel being shoved through an extremely sullen cement mixer.” Mabel, meanwhile, is in a pastel pink dress, with a plate of fairy cakes she baked for the occasion. Needless to say, the first meeting does not go well. But when they finally get to talking after another couple of hilariously disastrous encounters, they realize that they understand each other almost eerily well. As she uncovers unexpected bits and pieces about Alfie’s thoughts and feelings, Mabel also has the chance to unpack her own baggage. One wishes Stein allowed herself to linger longer on this part of the story, given how deeply enjoyable it is to watch her develop these characters and the increasingly rich connection between them. But the rom must com, so when the paparazzi spot Alfie with Mabel and the internet explodes with speculation, they soon end up in a fake relationship. Cue moments that are awkward to the max and growing sexual tension as all the pretending becomes less and less pretend. (FYI, this book definitely knows how to bring the heat.)

The similarities to “Ted Lasso” (not just Roy-core Alfie but also Mabel’s eventual editor, clearly modeled after the mustached coach himself) don’t stop with the characters. The warmth that drew people to that show—the joy of spending time with characters you genuinely like, who reveal themselves to be smarter and quirkier and more interesting than you expected—permeates the whole book. The tropes give the story its structure, but Stein adds heart and creativity that elevate it into something genuinely delightful. Mabel’s wry, funny voice is charming from the very start. (Seriously, just check out the book’s table of contents. The chapter titles alone will have you giggling.) And readers will absolutely adore Alfie who, behind his bristle, is as genuinely kind, genuinely chivalrous and genuinely, passionately devoted as any hero in recent memory. When Grumpy Met Sunshine is a classic feel-good story that’ll remind you why we all love rom-coms in the first place.

When Grumpy Met Sunshine has a very Roy Kent-esque hero, but the similarities to “Ted Lasso” don’t stop there: Warmth and joy permeate the entire book.
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Megan Frampton has once again brought history to vivid, technicolor life with the third installment of her School for Scoundrels series, Her Adventures in Temptation. This bold foray into the world of Regency damsels and the scoundrels who drive them crazy is spirited and scandalous, and Frampton’s refreshing voice gives the popular fake-relationship trope new wings. 

Simeon Jones was raised by a single mother who taught him that art comes before everything . . . even love. It’s a hard mantra to shake, but he’s not a vain, cruel player. Rather, Simeon is the sensitive hunk of his group of friends, the Bastard Five. Despite the white lies and tiny manipulations he employs to navigate high society as an illegitimate artist, he’s earnest and sweet under it all.

He’s drawn to Lady Myrtle Allen, a well-to-do yet unconventional woman. Confident, independent and intelligent with a head for numbers, Myrtle enjoys eating cake and helping other women manage their finances, and she intends to make her way to London to establish a home away from her interfering, controlling family. But as upper-class Regency women cannot travel alone, Myrtle navigates her first business negotiation, paying Simeon to journey with her while posing as her husband. 

Many Regency novels are super chatty, full of double-entendre and doublespeak. Frampton’s style follows suit, but her writing is as smart as her characters. Simeon and Myrtle don’t lob banter back and forth; rather, they volley information at each other with precision and speed. The characters’ different communication styles perfectly fill in the blanks for their other half: Myrtle is frank and practical, telling the truth when nobody else will; Simeon protects his soft heart with studied, elegant courtesy.

As Simeon and Myrtle fall in love, they realize that they can not only have love and their careers, but also the joy of respecting and elevating their partner’s work. It’s so easy to pull for them both, because they so clearly pull for each other.

Megan Frampton’s refreshing voice gives the fake-engagement trope new wings in Her Adventures in Temptation.

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STARRED REVIEW

February 6, 2024

Two thrilling new takes on noir

Grab your trenchcoat and a stiff drink—you’ll need it.

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Suppose, just for a moment, that the European colonizers of America hadn’t brought a whole host of diseases that wiped out a majority of the Indigenous population, and that Natives had thrived, rather than been decimated. What would Prohibition-era America have looked like, politically, economically and culturally?

In the alt-universe police procedural mystery Cahokia Jazz, Francis Spufford takes this premise and runs with it. It’s as if Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle met up with Tony Hillerman’s Skinwalkers in a 1922 speakeasy. 

Apart from the setting—the state of Cahokia, carved out of eastern Missouri and surrounding states—the story starts off in familiar, if somewhat gruesome, territory. Two detectives, Joe Barrow and Phineas Drummond, are investigating a murder in which the victim has had his heart cut out. On his face, the word bashli (from Anopa, the city’s Native lingua franca, meaning hit or cut) has been scrawled in blood. 

At first, the murder seems to have possibly been some sort of Aztec ritual sacrifice, but as the investigation progresses, it’s discovered that the deceased had links to the Ku Klux Klan, who very much want to replace Cahokia’s Native power structure with one of their own. 

The book’s debt to the likes of Raymond Chandler is evident throughout, as Detective Barrow steps into the hallowed role of the untarnished, unvarnished romantic who makes his way doggedly down these mean streets. And on occasion, Spufford’s language equals that of noir masters of yore: “He had opened the box at the city’s heart, and found it contained a secret, and a dark one, a grim sacrifice, but not a snake or a scorpion, not anything beyond the reach of the hope that every morning upholds hearts and cities. And now he was free to go. The city was done with him.”

There’s a bit of a learning curve for the reader, as unfamiliar language and culture weave through the intricately plotted narrative, but Spufford propels the Jazz Age action to a climax that is at once unanticipated and seemingly inevitable.

Visit an alternate America where European colonization never took place in this intricately plotted police procedural from Francis Spufford.

By the time she was 12, Ámbar Mondragón knew how to treat bullet wounds. When she turned 13, her father, Victor, gave her a sawed-off shotgun plus shooting and hot-wiring lessons. And as Nicolás Ferraro’s My Favorite Scar opens, 15-year-old Ámbar is tending to her father’s latest injury: He’s returned from a night out with a bullet hole in his upper chest and his murdered friend Giovanni’s body in the passenger seat of his car.

To Ámbar, this horrifying turn of events isn’t all that shocking. Rather, it’s just another terrible moment in the life she’s lived since the age of 9, when Grandma Nuria, who cared for Ámbar after her mother abandoned her, had a fatal heart attack. Dad came to get her, and Ámbar since adjusted to an existence rife with violence and loneliness, one where she wonders if she’ll ever feel happy or secure. After all, while the titular “favorite scar” refers to Dad’s tattoo bearing her name, “He might carry my name on his skin, but he never held me in his arms. He chose my name, but he was never around until he didn’t have any other choice.”

Now, Ámbar has to tag along as Dad embarks on a singularly vicious road trip, determined to exact bloody revenge on those who betrayed him and Giovanni. My Favorite Scar is a nihilistic road novel of unrelenting bleakness that takes readers on a hair-raising tour of Argentina’s criminal underworld. The duo stop at bars, burial sites and hideout shacks where Dad delivers interrogations, warnings and beatings as Ámbar plays lookout or getaway driver, often with sawed-off shotgun in hand.

As in Cruz, his first novel translated into English, Ferraro explores the effects of criminals’ choices on children who become unwitting and/or unwilling accomplices. His deftly created suspense builds with every mile driven, every fake ID used, every drop of blood spilled. Will the cycle of violence ever end? Will Ámbar ever be anything but “what other people have left behind”? My Favorite Scar is a pitch-black coming-of-age tale that reverberates with oft-poetically expressed pain and sadness—and maybe, just maybe, a hint of hope.

Nicolas Ferraro’s My Favorite Scar is a nihilistic, hair-raising road trip through Argentina’s criminal underworld.

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Grab your trenchcoat and a stiff drink—you’ll need it.
STARRED REVIEW
January 23, 2024

Ring in 2024 with 6 transformative self-help books

Tips for healing, motivation and balance abound to help you keep those resolutions this year.
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Think Faster, Talk Smarter

Professor and “Think Fast, Talk Smart” podcast host Matt Abrahams provides suggestions, exercises and techniques on how to become a better speaker.
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How to Say Goodbye

Wendy MacNaughton’s gentle drawings are followed by a deep well of resources for the dying and those who love and care for them.
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Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun’s hopeful, practical book will equip highly sensitive people to work toward justice and social reform while still taking care of themselves.
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The Origins of You

Therapist Vienna Pharaon is a cheerleader and confidant throughout The Origins of You, helping readers break negative family patterns and find healing.
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Enchantment

Wintering author Katherine May returns with Enchantment, a lovely, meditative ode to finding connection in a disconnected age.
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