Best New Books: Week of 2/12/2019

A lot of the best books help us to better understand our own lives and the world around us, and this week, many of the best new books do just that. Using everything from family drama to dystopian sci-fi, the stories you will encounter here aim to open our eyes, while of course always remaining entertaining. So check out the list below, and prepare to be moved.



FICTION



Lost Children Archive by  Valeria Luiselli

lost children archiveA mother and father set out with their kids from New York to Arizona. In their used Volvo–and with their ten-year-old son trying out his new Polaroid camera–the family is heading for the Apacheria: the region the Apaches once called home, and where the ghosts of Geronimo and Cochise might still linger. The father, a sound documentarist, hopes to gather an “inventory of echoes” from this historic, mythic place. The mother, a radio journalist, becomes consumed by the news she hears on the car radio, about the thousands of children trying to reach America but getting stranded at the southern border, held in detention centers, or being sent back to their homelands, to an unknown fate.

But as the family drives farther west–through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas–we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, unforgettable adventure–both in the harsh desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations.

Told through the voices of the mother and her son, as well as through a stunning tapestry of collected texts and images–including prior stories of migration and displacement–Lost Children Archive is a story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. Blending the personal and the political with astonishing empathy, it is a powerful, wholly original work of fiction: exquisite, provocative, and deeply moving.

Description from Goodreads.

“Engrossing…brilliantly intricate and constantly surprising—a passionately engaged book [with] intellectual amplitude and moral seriousness, [and] a beautiful, loving portrait of children and of the task of looking after them. It is a pleasure to be a part of the narrator’s family; just as pleasurable is the access we gain to the narrator’s mind—a comprehensive literary intelligence.” – The New Yorker

“A highly imaginative, politically deft portrait of childhood within a vast American landscape—a rollicking tale that contains within it an extremely disciplined exercise in political empathy. Luiselli takes the minds of children seriously, and the reader witnesses their intelligent eyes and ears recording each detail of the borderlands and registering the full terror of them. Luiselli braids and reworks disparate texts . . . [characters’] experiences overlap to create a patchwork representation of how America might see itself. The novel’s most thrilling section [is] a single sentence sustained for some twenty pages near the end, which remains measured and crystalline, expertly controll[ed] . . . Luiselli shows the reader something she wouldn’t normally see, and also maps the past onto the present in ways that can reveal hidden contours in both.” – Harper’s

“Superb, powerful, eloquent. Juxtaposing rich, poetic prose with direct storytelling, and alternating narratives with photos, documents, poems, maps, and music, Lost Children Archive explores what holds a family and society together, and what pulls them apart. The novel begins with a family embarking on a road trip, and culminates in an indictment of the tragic shortcomings of the immigration process. Luiselli demonstrates how callousness toward other cultures erodes our own. Her novel makes a devastating case for compassion.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


American Spy by  Lauren Wilkinson

american spyIt’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club, and her career has stalled out; she’s overlooked for every high profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic, revolutionary president of Burkina Faso, whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Thomas is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she’s being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent.

In the year that follows, Marie will observe Thomas, seduce him, and ultimately, have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.

Inspired by true events–Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”–this novel knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you’ve never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice.

Description from Goodreads.

“[Lauren] Wilkinson’s unflinching, incendiary debut combines the espionage novels of John le Carré with the racial complexity of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. . . . [American Spy] is certain to make Wilkinson’s name as one of the most engaging and perceptive young writers working today. . . . As refreshing as it is revelatory.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“There are many tangled strands to unravel here for Marie, the reader, and first-time novelist Wilkinson, who nonetheless navigates the psychic and physical terrain of this tale of divided loyalties with the poise of such classic masters as Eric Ambler and Graham Greene spiked with late-20th-century black American intellectual history. There’s an honorable, unsung tradition of African-American novelists using the counterspy genre as a metaphor for what W.E.B. Du Bois called “double consciousness,” and Wilkinson’s book is a noteworthy contribution.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“…Wilkinson’s debut is both emotional and poignant, and one that readers can easily get caught up in.” – Booklist

Available Formats:

Print Book


The Heavens by  Sandra Newman

heavensNew York, late summer, 2000. A party in a spacious Manhattan apartment, hosted by a wealthy young activist. Dozens of idealistic twenty-somethings have impassioned conversations over takeout dumplings and champagne. The evening shines with the heady optimism of a progressive new millennium. A young man, Ben, meets a young woman, Kate–and they begin to fall in love. From their first meeting, Ben knows Kate is unworldly and fanciful, so at first he isn’t that concerned when she tells him about the recurring dream she’s had since childhood. In the dream, she’s transported to the past, where she lives a second life as Emilia, the mistress of a nobleman in Elizabethan England.

But for Kate, the dream becomes increasingly real and compelling until it threatens to overwhelm her life. And soon she’s waking from it to find the world changed–pictures on her wall she doesn’t recognize, new buildings in the neighborhood that have sprung up overnight. As she tries to make sense of what’s happening, Ben worries the woman he’s fallen in love with is losing her grip on reality.

Transporting the reader between a richly detailed past and a frighteningly possible future, The Heavens is a powerful reminder of the consequences of our actions, a poignant testament to how the people we love are destined to change, and a masterful exploration of the power of dreams.

Description from Goodreads.

“Newman’s novel expertly marries historical and contemporary, plumbing the rich, all-too-human depths of present-day New York and early modern England, and racing toward a well-executed peak. But it’s the evolution of Kate and Ben’s relationship that serves as the book’s emotional anchor, making for a fantastic, ingenious novel.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED & BOXED REVIEW

“Smart and terrifying and delicious literary storytelling.” – Literary Hub

“Newman neatly manages the uneasy feat of pulling off a historical novel featuring both William Shakespeare and Alexander the Great, foreshadowing the action with philosophical musings on the butterfly effect and the Great Man theory of history. A thought-provoking, head-spinning fever dream of a novel; highly recommended.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


Leading Men by  Christopher Castellani

leading menIn July of 1953, at a glittering party thrown by Truman Capote in Portofino, Italy, Tennessee Williams and his longtime lover Frank Merlo meet Anja Blomgren, a mysteriously taciturn young Swedish beauty and aspiring actress. Their encounter will go on to alter all of their lives.

Ten years later, Frank revisits the tempestuous events of that fateful summer from his deathbed in Manhattan, where he waits anxiously for Tennessee to visit him one final time. Anja, now legendary film icon Anja Bloom, lives as a recluse in the present-day U.S., until a young man connected to the events of 1953 lures her reluctantly back into the spotlight after he discovers she possesses the only surviving copy of Williams’s final play.

What keeps two people together and what breaks them apart? Can we save someone else if we can’t save ourselves? Like The Master and The HoursLeading Men seamlessly weaves fact and fiction to navigate the tensions between public figures and their private lives. In an ultimately heartbreaking story about the burdens of fame and the complex negotiations of life in the shadows of greatness, Castellani creates an unforgettable leading lady in Anja Bloom and reveals the hidden machinery of one of the great literary love stories of the twentieth-century.

Description from Goodreads.

“Spectacular… Castellani’s novel hits the trifecta of being moving, beautifully written, and a bona fide page-turner. This is a wonderful examination of artists and the people who love them and change their work in large and imperceptible ways.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“A moving story of love, loss, memory and regret . . . Leading Men is a transporting adventure.” – Shelf Awareness

“Castellani . . . [injects] the book with a gravitas and a precariousness that recalls the authorial finesse of his own character, Tennessee Williams, harnessing a talent not only for forming tragic heroes, but allowing them to exhibit the kind of complexity that remains utterly real to readers, that mix of ambition and ambivalence that so often suggests the self who remains unknown to us, the parts of us which we ourselves cannot account for.” – Brooklyn Rail

Available Formats:

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MYSTERY



The Hunting Party by  Lucy Foley

hunting partyAll of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

Description from Goodreads.

“Fans of Ruth Ware will likely rip through The Hunting Party at warp speed.” – Popsugar

“A great update on the classic country house murder… brilliantly builds the tension.” – Good Housekeeping UK

“An auspicious thriller debut…a cracklingly suspenseful story for a long winter’s night.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook



HISTORICAL FICTION



The Night Tiger by  Yangsze Choo

night tigerWhen 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

Description from Goodreads.

“So engrossing you could spend a day reading this lush historical novel without staring at your phone once… A sweeping novel with something for everyone ― and incredible writing.” – Refinery29

“A work of incredible beauty…Astoundingly captivating and striking in its portrayal of love, betrayal, and death, The Night Tiger is a transcendent story of courage and connection.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Complex, ambitious…a little bit magical.” – Shelf Awareness

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


Finding Dorothy by  Elizabeth Letts

finding dorothyMaud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy–especially when Maud heard her sing “Over the Rainbow,” a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living–until Frank Baum’s book became a national sensation.

This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud’s youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people–especially young Dorothy–who would inspire Frank’s masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.

Description from Goodreads.

“In some ways reminiscent of Jerry Stahl’s excellent I, Fatty, Letts’ Finding Dorothy combines exhaustive research with expansive imagination, blending history and speculation into a seamless tapestry. . . . It’s a testament to Letts’ skill that she can capture on the page, without benefit of audio, that same emotion we have all felt sometime over the last 80 years while listening to ‘Over the Rainbow.’” – BookPage, STARRED REVIEW

“Readers looking for an inspiring true story will be delighted. . . . [Letts] again crafts a tale of fortitude and triumph over adversity. . . . Fans of the Oz novels or film will be enchanted. This is a great fit for readers of Christina Baker Kline and Lisa Wingate, and will surely be a popular choice for book clubs. . . . [A] well-researched novelization.” – Library Journal

“Maud [Gage Baum] is a fascinating character, and this is a poignant, absorbing tale of the life and love story that led to the creation of a beloved classic.” – Booklist

Available Formats:

Print Book | Audiobook | eBook | eAudiobook



SCI-FI & FANTASY



The City in the Middle of the Night by  Charlie Jane Anders

city in the middle of the night“If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams… And from there, it’s easy to control our entire lives.” 

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace — though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below.

But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet–before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence.

Description from Goodreads.

“An even stronger novel than Anders’ Nebula Award–winning All the Birds in the Sky; a tale that can stand beside such enduring works as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Intricate, embracing much of what makes a grand adventure: smugglers, revolutionaries, pirates, camaraderie, personal sacrifice, wondrous discovery, and the struggle to find light in the darkness. Breathlessly exciting and thought-provoking.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The kind of didactic, intelligent, critical fiction that interrogates the boundaries of our current moment through broad-scope questions…I couldn’t recommend it more.” – Tor.com

Available Formats:

Print Book


Early Riser by  Jasper Fforde

early riserEvery Winter, the human population hibernates.

During those bitterly cold four months, the nation is a snow-draped landscape of desolate loneliness, devoid of human activity.

Well, not quite .

Your name is Charlie Worthing and it’s your first season with the Winter Consuls, the committed but mildly unhinged group of misfits who are responsible for ensuring the hibernatory safe passage of the sleeping masses.

You are investigating an outbreak of viral dreams which you dismiss as nonsense; nothing more than a quirky artefact borne of the sleeping mind.

When the dreams start to kill people, it’s unsettling.

When you get the dreams too, it’s weird.

When they start to come true, you begin to doubt your sanity.

But teasing truth from the Winter is never easy: You have to avoid the Villains and their penchant for murder, kidnapping, and stamp collecting, ensure you aren’t eaten by Nightwalkers, whose thirst for human flesh can only be satisfied by comfort food, and sidestep the increasingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk.

But so long as you remember to wrap up warmly, you’ll be fine.

Description from Goodreads.

“Charlie’s journey . . . is so absorbing, and Fforde’s wit so sharp, the reveal that the narrative is also a commentary on capitalism comes across as a brilliant twist. . . . Whip-smart, tremendous fun, and an utter delight from start to finish.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“A wonderfully weird dystopian thriller. . . . As precisely built as an ice sculpture, Fforde’s wintry nightmare glistens with mystery and menace. Though the zombie apocalypse elements spin a darker tale . . . plenty of pure Ffordian humor pops up.” – Shelf Awareness

“If a cross between the monstrous winter of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire series and dream-heist film Inception sounds appealing then British author Jasper Fforde’s standalone novel Early Riser is for you . . . Fforde is wildly innovative in his world-building . . . The novel builds to a thrilling climax that is worth staying up for.” – The Straits Times

Available Formats:

Print Book



NONFICTION



The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by  Toni Morrison

source of self-regardThe Source of Self-Regard is brimming with all the elegance of mind and style, the literary prowess and moral compass that are Toni Morrison’s inimitable hallmark. It is divided into three parts: the first is introduced by a powerful prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second by a searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., and the last by a heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin. In the writings and speeches included here, Morrison takes on contested social issues: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, “black matter(s),” and human rights. She looks at enduring matters of culture: the role of the artist in society, the literary imagination, the Afro-American presence in American literature, and in her Nobel lecture, the power of language itself. And here too is piercing commentary on her own work (including The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Beloved, and Paradise) and that of others, among them, painter and collagist Romare Bearden, author Toni Cade Bambara, and theater director Peter Sellars. In all, The Source of Self-Regard is a luminous and essential addition to Toni Morrison’s oeuvre.

Description from Goodreads.

“Brilliantly incisive essays, speeches, and meditations considering race, power, identity, and art… Powerful, highly compelling pieces from one of our greatest writers.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Morrison turns a critical eye on race, social politics, money, feminism, culture, and the press, with the essential mandate that each of us bears the responsibility for reaching beyond our superficial identities and circumstances for a closer look at what it means to be human.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Some superb pieces headline this rich collection…Prescient and highly relevant to the present political moment…” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | Audiobook | eBook

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