Best New Books: Week of 3/15/22

“More than once, I’ve wished my real life had a delete key.” – Harlan Coben

A Ballad of Love and Glory by  Reyna Grande

Fiction / Historical Fiction.

A forgotten war. An unforgettable romance.

The year is 1846. After the controversial annexation of Texas, the US Army marches south to provoke war with México over the disputed Río Grande boundary.​

Ximena Salomé is a gifted Mexican healer who dreams of building a family with the man she loves on the coveted land she calls home. But when Texas Rangers storm her ranch and shoot her husband dead, her dreams are burned to ashes. Vowing to honor her husband’s memory and defend her country, Ximena uses her healing skills as an army nurse on the frontlines of the ravaging war.

Meanwhile, John Riley, an Irish immigrant in the Yankee army desperate to help his family escape the famine devastating his homeland, is sickened by the unjust war and the unspeakable atrocities against his countrymen by nativist officers. In a bold act of defiance, he swims across the Río Grande and joins the Mexican Army—a desertion punishable by execution. He forms the St. Patrick’s Battalion, a band of Irish soldiers willing to fight to the death for México’s freedom.

When Ximena and John meet, a dangerous attraction blooms between them. As the war intensifies, so does their passion. Swept up by forces with the power to change history, they fight not only for the fate of a nation but for their future together.

Heartbreaking and lyrical, Reyna Grande’s spellbinding saga, inspired by true events and historical figures, brings these two unforgettable characters to life and illuminates a largely forgotten moment in history that impacts the US-México border to this day.

Will Ximena and John survive the chaos of this bitter war, or will their love be devoured along with the land they strive to defend?

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] worthy old-fashioned epic of romance and war… the author sharply illuminates the heroism of her characters. It’s a great story and a revealing look at a lesser-sung chapter of American history.” – Publishers Weekly

“With poignant storytelling, the buried pieces of history come alive…” – Mystery & Suspense

“Grande successfully contextualizes the choices made by her characters, making it easier to care about them and whether they live or die. Though most readers will already know the eventual outcome of this historical conflict, they will still feel the emotional tug of hope that comes with well-drawn characters.” – San Francisco Chronicle

The Book of Cold Cases by  Simone St. James ★

Fiction / Suspense / Mystery.

In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect–a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017. Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases–a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea’s surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth’s mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she’s not looking, and she could swear she’s seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn’t right. Is she making friends with a manipulative murderer, or are there other dangers lurking in the darkness of the Greer house?

Description from Goodreads.

“Prepare to lose some sleep when you dive into The Book of Cold Cases… [A] creepy thriller.” – PopSugar

“You will sink into this novel faster than you would a peat bog.” – CrimeReads

“[A] chilling paranormal thriller… St. James keeps the suspense high.” – Publishers Weekly

“[A] thrilling story that will keep the reader on edge… Fans will of psychological thrillers will like this one.” – Red Carpet Crash

In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing by  Elena Ferrante ★

Nonfiction / literature.

Four new and revelatory essays by the author of My Brilliant Friend and The Lost Daughter.

In 2020, Claire Luchette in O, The Oprah Magazine described the beloved Italian novelist Elena Ferrante as “an oracle among authors.” Here, in these four crisp essays, Ferrante offers a rare look at the origins of her literary powers. She writes about her influences, her struggles, and her formation as both a reader and a writer; she describes the perils of “bad language” and suggests ways in which it has long excluded women’s truth; she proposes a choral fusion of feminine talent as she brilliantly discourses on the work of Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Ingeborg Bachmann, and many others.

Here is a subtle yet candid book by “one of the great novelists of our time” about adventures in literature, both in and out of the margins.

Description from Goodreads.

“An intimate self-portrait and an essential read.” – AV Club

“In these four pitch-perfect essays, the doyenne of Italian literature pores over her toolbox, discovering that reinvention is the name of her game… An essential read for all aspiring writers.” – Oprah Daily

“Razor-sharp… A candid look into Ferrante’s development of not only her craft, but also her life-long passion for literature.” – Time

“Four essays illuminate the mind of Ferrante in this dazzling collection… The author’s legions of fans are in for a treat.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

The Kaiju Preservation Society by  John Scalzi ★

Fiction / suspense / Science Fiction / fantasy.

When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.

What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble.

It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society that’s found its way to the alternate world. Others have, too–and their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.

Description from Goodreads.

“Scalzi’s latest is a wildly inventive take on the kaiju theme.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“…wonderfully witty and refreshingly earnest… Equally lighthearted and grounded―and sure to delight.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“[A] blunt and savage swipe at tech-bro/billionaire culture, the Trump administration, and the chaos and tragedy that result when powerful and rich people set themselves against science and scientists in order to profit from disaster. The evil plot would seem creaky and melodramatic if it weren’t such an accurate satiric mirror of the current sociopolitical milieu. In short, it’s a fictional delivery system for the outrage that Scalzi typically expresses in his tweets and on his blog about the mess we currently find ourselves in. Fun but with a purpose.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Scalzi’s prose is action- and humor-driven and includes just the right amount of the current climate to anchor the setting without wallowing in it… a wild ride filled with takes on pop culture, startups, governmental influence, and science.” – Library Journal

The Match by  Harlan Coben

Fiction / Mystery / Suspense.

‘At the age of somewhere between 35 and 45 – he didn’t know exactly how old he was – Wilde found his father…’

Wilde has grown up knowing nothing of his family, and even less about his own identity. All he knows is that, as a young child, he was found living a feral existence in the Ramapo mountains of New Jersey.

He became known simply as Wilde, the boy from the woods.

Now Wilde has had a hit on the DNA website he has been researching. A 100% match. His father. They meet up, and Wilde soon realizes that his father doesn’t even know he had a son and is as mystified as Wilde is by his existence.

Undaunted, Wilde continues his research for his family on DNA websites where he becomes caught up in a community of online doxxers, a secret group committed to exposing anonymous trolls.

Then one by one these doxxers start to die, and it soon becomes clear that a serial killer is targeting this secret community – and that his next victim might be Wilde himself…

Description from Goodreads.

“The topical follow-up to Coben’s best-selling The Boy from the Woods addresses reality shows, DNA searches, cyberbullying, and social media influencers in a suspenseful novel guaranteed to be a hit.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“…awesome… a thrilling story from the very beginning…” – Red Carpet Crash

“[It’s] a joy to see this enigmatic character again… an exciting read with a colorful cast of characters… Once again, Coben delivers a page-turner that is both a self-contained story and a teaser for what’s to come. It won’t be an easy wait for the next installment.” – Mystery Scene

Nine Lives by  Peter Swanson

Fiction / Mystery / Suspense.

Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke – until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list. First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor.

FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next…

Description from Goodreads.

“Swanson again takes the idea of fiction as homage to deliriously vertiginous new heights… While the tension mounts deliciously as we wonder if there will be any survivors, the real fascination here is the explanation itself—and what it reveals about the cancerous effects of guilt and obsession.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Swanson neatly riffs on Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None in this taut thriller… This is a well-crafted page-turner.” – Publishers Weekly

Ocean State by  Stewart O’Nan

Fiction / Suspense / Mystery.

In the first line of Ocean State, we learn that a high school student was murdered, and we find out who did it. The story that unfolds from there with incredible momentum is thus one of the build-up to and fall-out from the murder, told through the alternating perspectives of the four women at its heart. Angel, the murderer, Carol, her mother, and Birdy, the victim, all come alive on the page as they converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel’s younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight. Angel and Birdy love the same teenage boy, frantically and single mindedly, and are compelled by the intensity of their feelings to extremes neither could have anticipated. O’Nan’s expert hand paints a fully realized portrait of these women, but also weaves a compelling and heartbreaking story of working-class life in Ashaway, Rhode Island. Propulsive, moving, and deeply rendered, Ocean State is a masterful novel by one of our greatest storytellers.

Description from Goodreads.

“Even as he inverts the form, veteran novelist Stewart O’Nan effectively keeps you turning the pages quickly with this tragic story of teenage love… it should be mentioned that the sections of the story narrated by the murder victim… gather an almost excruciating tension as she approaches her inevitable fate. O’Nan makes her much more than a simple plot device, and it’s what elevates the story to more than just a page-turner.” – Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Interesting and enduring… In Ocean State, O’Nan is subverting the thriller, borrowing its momentum to propel this bracing, chilling novel. Whereas thrillers tend to use murders as a prurient jumping-off point, the entryway to the reader’s pleasure — that chance to play Columbo or Kinsey Millhone in our heads — O’Nan takes his time, humanizing this story to make the hole where the victim was suitably substantial. Highly specific to the landmarks of the real Ashaway, but ringing with the universal, Ocean State is a map for the emotional dead ends of America, where kids kill other kids over seemingly nothing. O’Nan understands that at least in the moment, it is for everything.” – New York Times

“O’Nan’s great gift is that we want to know more about every person he writes, no matter how unremarkable they seem from the outside… Through prolonged exposure to the girls’ thoughts, O’Nan builds the novel’s tension until it feels like the air right before a monsoon; these teens, like all of us, are ruled by their passions, and passions can and do transcend human law… The entire telling becomes an act of empathy. It’s an invention, but one that drives home irrevocably and elegantly what you’d been feeling as you read but did not fully acknowledge: that there are as many different kinds of pain as there are people.” – Boston Globe

The Other Side of Yet: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness by  Michelle D. Hord

Nonfiction / Memoir / Self-help / grief.

Media executive Michelle D. Hord has suffered loss at almost every major phase in her life; the most devastating being the murder of her beloved daughter at the hands of her ex-husband. Yet through it all, there was a voice inside her insisting that she must let the light shine through the holes in her heart. With evocative prose and spiritual insight, The Other Side of Yet offers a compassionate blueprint on how to harness your inner strength. She shares how, while we can’t control the pain or trauma that alters life as we knew it before, we can always pivot to a yet and rebuild a new after.

The Other Side of Yet is about creating a life of purpose, passion, and possibility regardless of what is thrown at us. It highlights how we can face our hardships, yet also choose to keep fighting. A timeless and accessible book for anyone who has experienced grief or loss, it will give you the inspiration and tools you need to reclaim your story.

Description from Goodreads.

“In writing that is contemplative, emotional, and spiritual, Hord looks forward, holding space for the infinite love that she has for her daughter while she envisions a future filled with light and continued healing.” – Shondaland

“Hord lets us into her grief and provides a road map for leaning into the ‘yet’—the radical healing after loss that must occur as we seek to recover from unimaginable trials and tribulations.” – Essence

“Hord doesn’t pull punches or offer easy bromides, but instead confronts grief with grace and candor. Readers struggling with loss will find solace in Hord’s courage and guidance.” – Publishers Weekly

Reptile Memoirs by  Silje Ulstein, translated by  Alison McCullough

Fiction / Suspense / Mystery.

Liv has a lot of secrets. For her, home is the picturesque town of Ålesund, perched on a fjord in western Norway. One night, in the early-morning embers of a great party in the basement apartment she shares with two friends, Liv is watching TV, high on weed, and sees a python on an Australian nature show. She becomes obsessed with the idea of buying a snake as a pet. Soon Nero, the baby Burmese python, becomes the apartment’s fourth roommate. As Liv bonds with Nero, she feels extremely protective, like a caring mother, and she is struck by a desire that surprises her with its intensity. Finally she is safe.

Thirteen years later, in the nearby town of Kristiansund, Mariam Lind goes on a shopping trip with her eleven-year-old daughter, Iben, who angers her mother by asking for a magazine one too many times. Mariam storms off, leaving Iben in the shop and, expecting her young daughter to find her own way home, heads off on a long calming drive. When she returns home in the evening, her husband is relieved to see her but terrified that Iben isn’t also there. Detective Roe Olsvik is assigned to the case of Iben’s disappearance; he has just turned sixty and is new to the Kristiansund police department. As he interrogates Mariam, he instantly suspects her–but there is much more to this case and these characters than their outer appearances would suggest.

A biting and constantly shifting tale of family secrets, rebirth, and the legacy of trauma, Reptile Memoirs is a brilliant exploration of the cold-bloodedness of humanity, and the struggle to mend broken lives and families.

Description from Goodreads.

“Everyone seems guilty in this well-written, pitch-black psychological thriller, whose tense, lost-child theme conjures twisted fairytale tropes.” – Booklist

“The serpentine plot of this astonishing debut gradually tightens its grip and leaves you gasping… The narrative twists will make your jaw drop… Silje Ulstein is a daringly original writer.” – The Times

“Neither Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), nor Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), nor Alex Michaelides (The Silent Patient)—to name some well-known examples from the last decade—can measure up to Ulstein… This debut is a great discovery… A thriller that really stands out.” – Aftenposten

Sadie on a Plate by  Amanda Elliot

Fiction / Romance.

Sadie is a rising star in the trendy Seattle restaurant scene. Her dream is to create unique, modern, and mouthwatering takes on traditional Jewish recipes. But after a public breakup with her boss, a famous chef, she is sure her career is over–until she lands a coveted spot on the next season of her favorite TV show, Chef Supreme.

On the plane to New York, Sadie has sizzling chemistry with her seatmate, Luke, but tells him that she won’t be able to contact him for the next six weeks. They prolong their night with a spontaneous, magical dinner before parting ways. Or so she thinks. When she turns up to set the next day, she makes a shocking discovery about who Luke is…

If Sadie wants to save her career by winning Chef Supreme, she’s going to have to ignore the simmering heat between her and Luke. But how long can she do that before the pot boils over?

Description from Goodreads.

“Luke and Sadie are likable characters with magnetic, slow-building chemistry and sympathetic, realistic backstories. The fast-paced, delicious plot is as much about food as romance… Readers, especially those who enjoy shows like Top Chef, won’t be able to put down this fast-paced romantic comedy.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Elliot’s first adult novel has the perfect amount of reality show hijinks and food innuendos that help dial up the heat… A satisfying debut for foodies and romance lovers alike.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“[This] book has the perfect combination of a great comeback story, a super sweet romance, high stakes competition and loads of mouthwatering dishes… Sadie On A Plate is a super sweet will they or won’t they, Top Chef style romcom that will be the perfect read for all foodies and romance lovers!” – Harlequin Junkie

Secret Identity by  Alex Segura ★

Fiction / Mystery / Historical Fiction.

It’s 1975 and the comic book industry is struggling, but Carmen Valdez doesn’t care. She’s an assistant at Triumph Comics, which doesn’t have the creative zeal of Marvel nor the buttoned-up efficiency of DC, but it doesn’t matter. Carmen is tantalizingly close to fulfilling her dream of writing a superhero book.

That dream is nearly a reality when one of the Triumph writers enlists her help to create a new character, which they call “The Lethal Lynx,” Triumph’s first female hero. But her colleague is acting strangely and asking to keep her involvement a secret. And then he’s found dead, with all of their scripts turned into the publisher without her name. Carmen is desperate to piece together what happened to him, to hang on to her piece of the Lynx, which turns out to be a runaway hit. But that’s complicated by a surprise visitor from her home in Miami, a tenacious cop who is piecing everything together too quickly for Carmen, and the tangled web of secrets and resentments among the passionate eccentrics who write comics for a living.

Alex Segura uses his expertise as a comics creator as well as his unabashed love of noir fiction to create a truly one-of-a-kind novel–hard-edged and bright-eyed, gritty and dangerous, and utterly absorbing.

Description from Goodreads.

Secret Identity is an early favorite of mine in this young reading year, and is highly recommended.” – Cemetery Dance

“Segura’s book works on so many levels, it’s almost hard to keep track―as a love letter to comic books, it’s as powerful as anything since Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. And as a thriller, it’s smart, perfectly paced, and wonderfully atmospheric―Segura captures the intense, grimy milieu of 1970s New York with aplomb. You don’t have to be a comics fan to love this novel; it’s a masterful book filled with real heart and soul. A triumph.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Darkest noir meets the vibrant world of comics in the hands of Segura… His reverence for the medium comes across vividly here… A superlative one-of-a-kind novel.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Outstanding… Segura’s infectious passion for superheroes shines in this page-turning mix of murder mystery and coming-of-age story.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

When We Were Birds by  Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

Fiction / Fantasy / Romance.

You were never the smartest child, but even you should know that when a dead woman offers you a cigarette, the polite thing to do would be to take it. Especially when that dead woman is your mother.

The St. Bernard women have lived in Morne Marie, the house on top of a hill outside Port Angeles, for generations. Built from the ashes of a plantation that enslaved their ancestors, it has come to shelter a lineage that is bonded by much more than blood. One woman in each generation of St. Bernards is responsible for the passage of the city’s souls into the afterlife. But Yejide’s relationship with her mother, Petronella, has always been contorted by anger and neglect, which Petronella stubbornly carries to her death bed, leaving Yejide unprepared to fulfill her destiny.

Raised in the countryside by a devout Rastafarian mother, Darwin has always abided by the religious commandment not to interact with death. He has never been to a funeral, much less seen a dead body. But when his ailing mother can no longer work and the only job he can find is grave digging, he must betray the life she built for him in order to provide for them both. Newly shorn of his dreadlocks and his past and determined to prove himself, Darwin finds himself adrift in a city electric with possibility and danger.

Yejide and Darwin will meet inside the gates of Fidelis, Port Angeles’s largest and oldest cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both. A masterwork of lush imagination and immersive lyricism, When We Were Birds is a spellbinding novel about inheritance, loss, and love’s seismic power to heal.

Description from Goodreads.

“Mythic and captivating… Banwo roots the reader in [Trinidad’s] traditions and rituals, in the sights and sounds and colors and smells of fruit vendors, fish vendors, street preachers and schoolchildren. In the glorious matriarchy by which lineage is upheld. The result is a depiction of ordinary life that’s full and breathtaking.” – New York Times

“[A] masterly debut novel. It announces an important new voice in fiction, at once grounded and mythic in its scope and carried by an incantatory prose style that recalls Arundhati Roy… Lloyd Banwo’s literary gift lies in her capacity to transfigure [grief] – to conjure a cosmic landscape where the living coexist among the dead.” – The Observer

“A thoroughly original and emotionally rich examination of love, grief and inheritance… When We Were Birds is full of life… The scenes it hosts are packed with drama, colour and tension, particularly in her gripping finale… Her novel takes flight and soars.” – The Economist

Women Talk Money: Breaking the Taboo edited by  Rebecca Walker

Nonfiction / Finance / Current Events.

Women Talk Money is a groundbreaking collection that lifts the veil on what women talk about when they talk about money; it unflinchingly recounts the power of money to impact health, define relationships, and shape identity. The collection includes previously unpublished essays by trailblazing writers, activists, and models, such as Alice Walker, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Rachel Cargle, Tracy McMillan, Cameron Russell, Sonya Renee Taylor, Adrienne Maree Brown, and more, with Rebecca Walker as editor.

In this provocative anthology, we discover a family that worships money even as it tears them apart; we read about the “financial death sentence” a transgender woman must confront to live as herself. We trace the journey of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who finally makes enough money to discover her spiritual impoverishment; we follow a stressful email exchange between an unsympathetic university financial officer and a desperate family who can’t afford to pay their daughter’s tuition, and more.

This collection is a clarion call to conduct honest conversations that demystify and transform the role money plays in our lives. Dazzlingly resonant and deeply familiar, Women Talk Money is a revelation.

Description from Goodreads.

“The collection contains universal truths as well as uniquely American ones… Thoughtful and expansive… A worthy read.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…inspiring… As Walker writes, ‘our money stories resist their own telling, as if the revelations might bring down an empire,’ and the essays, taken together, make a powerful case for the importance of disclosure. It’s a sobering and eye-opening look at what really happens behind the purse strings.” – Publishers Weekly


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