Best New Books: Week of 2/28/2023

“Reading,’ Ead said lightly. ‘A dangerous pastime.” – Samantha Shannon, The Priory of the Orange Tree

Black Candle Women by Diane Marie Brown

fiction / fantasy.

Black Candle WomenGenerations of Montrose women—Augusta, Victoria, Willow—have lived together in their quaint two-story bungalow in California for years. They keep to themselves, never venture far from home, and their collection of tinctures and spells is an unspoken bond between them.

But when seventeen-year-old Nickie Montrose brings home a boy for the first time, their quiet lives are thrown into disarray. For the other women have been withholding a secret from Nickie that will end her relationship before it’s even begun: the decades-old family curse that any person they fall in love with dies.

For each member of the household, revealing this truth to Nickie also means reckoning with their own past choices and mistakes. And as new questions about long-held family beliefs emerge, the women are set on a collision course dating back to a voodoo shop in 1950s New Orleans’s French Quarter—where a hidden story in a mysterious book may just hold the answers they seek in life and in love…

“[For] fans of intergenerational family dramas, this magical twist on the genre will prove refreshing.” – Publishers Weekly

“[A] gripping Black family drama… A cozy autumn or winter read with a main cast of complex Black women. Brown’s debut tackles generational trauma in an engaging and heartfelt way.” – Carleigh Obrochta, Library Journal

“Brown deftly portrays an insular family of women in all of its complicated glory in alternating chapters narrated by each of the four women. Each woman’s voice is unique and captures her essence: too-strict Victoria, big-hearted and resentful Willow, pained but powerful Nanagusta, and confused adolescent Nickie. The spiritual angle gives this powerful family drama a magical twist that will delight readers.” – Susan Maguire, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

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The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

fiction / fantasy / horror.

The Crane Husband“Mothers fly away like migrating birds. This is why farmers have daughters.”

A fifteen-year-old teenager is the backbone of her small Midwestern family, budgeting the household finances and raising her younger brother while her mom, a talented artist, weaves beautiful tapestries. For six years, it’s been just the three of them—her mom has brought home guests at times, but none have ever stayed.

Yet when her mom brings home a six-foot tall crane with a menacing air, the girl is powerless to prevent her mom letting the intruder into her heart, and her children’s lives. Utterly enchanted and numb to his sharp edges, her mom abandons the world around her to weave the masterpiece the crane demands.

In this stunning contemporary retelling of “The Crane Wife” by the Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, one fiercely pragmatic teen forced to grow up faster than was fair will do whatever it takes to protect her family—and change the story.

“…chilling… a fast-moving, lush story that refuses to end neatly, a story of flighty mothers and the daughters who die a little keeping their families alive. Fans of fairy-tale retellings will eat this one up.” – Leah von Essen, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Beyond retelling a folktale, Barnhill constructs nuanced characters with conflicting motivations and loyalties… thought-provoking…” – Erin Niederberger, Library Journal

“[A] grim, grown-up fairy tale… dark and engrossing… In bleak but beautiful prose, Barnhill maintains the original fable’s examination of female exploitation at the hands of male partners and the limits of self-sacrifice, while also touching on more contemporary themes like drone surveillance and the commodification of art… fans of dark, surreal fantasy will be enthralled.” – Publishers Weekly

A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon

fiction / fantasy.

A Day of Fallen NightTunuva Melim is a sister of the Priory. For fifty years, she has trained to slay wyrms – but none have appeared since the Nameless One, and the younger generation is starting to question the Priory’s purpose.

To the north, in the Queendom of Inys, Sabran the Ambitious has married the new King of Hróth, narrowly saving both realms from ruin. Their daughter, Glorian, trails in their shadow – exactly where she wants to be.

The dragons of the East have slept for centuries. Dumai has spent her life in a Seiikinese mountain temple, trying to wake the gods from their long slumber. Now someone from her mother’s past is coming to upend her fate.

When the Dreadmount erupts, bringing with it an age of terror and violence, these women must find the strength to protect humankind from a devastating threat.

Intricate and epic, Samantha Shannon sweeps readers back to the world of A Priory of the Orange Tree, showing us a course of events that shaped it for generations to come.

“This magnificent, Sapphic fantasy novel… is going to sweep you off your feet.” – Glamour

“This richly detailed epic roars to a satisfying conclusion; both Priory devotees and newcomers are in for a treat.” – Anna Mickelsen, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Magic, dragons, and prophecy are welcome threads in a fantasy that extols the power of motherhood, friendship, and self-love to change the world… This story is epic in scope, but its density is the sort that pulls you in. The biggest pull comes from the humanity displayed by the central characters, whose hearts ache for their children and their futures in a world fraught with turmoil… The very real struggles these characters face, whether they ride dragons or bear the suffocating rules of monarchy, make this a consuming read… Prepare yourself for the long haul. This is expansive, emotionally complex, and bound to suck you in.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Shannon artfully builds on the world of The Priory of the Orange Tree with this masterful standalone prequel… an expansive epic… Shannon skillfully grounds high-stakes fantasy action in human emotion and a mature exploration of duty, bodily autonomy, identity, and motherhood. Series fans and any reader looking for queernorm fantasy will be thrilled by this self-assured adventure.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

The Maltese Iguana by Tim Dorsey

FICTION / mystery / comedy.

The Maltese IguanaAfter a long and arduous COVID-19 quarantine, Serge A. Storms is fully vaccinated and ready to hit the road. Along with his condo neighbors, he cooks up a wild plan to celebrate in true Serge fashion: each week, they rent a shuttle van and head out for funky Florida road trips and some serious revelry.

Meanwhile, a CIA revenge operation down in Honduras goes very, very wrong. The local liaison hired to help with the mission is the only witness to the disaster, and the CIA quickly sets a black ops contractor on his trail to eliminate him.

Forced to flee his home country, the witness lands in Miami with a new identity and passport. But the CIA is still on his tail, pushing him further and further south to the Florida Keys, where he runs into Serge’s convoy. With Florida’s most lovable serial killer involved, the real party is about to get started…

“Dorsey reliably delivers the gonzo goods.” – Publishers Weekly

“Quintessential Florida man Serge Storms rocks the post-Covid world… zany… A global health crisis is just one more day in the life of Dorsey’s resilient hero.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[An] ending that you could only read in a Tim Dorsey novel… Fans of the series will love this one.” – Red Carpet Crash

The Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest

fiction / romance.

The Neighbor FavorShy, bookish, and admittedly awkward, Lily Greene has always felt inadequate compared to the rest of her accomplished family, who strive for Black excellence. She dreams of becoming an editor of children’s books but has been frustratingly stuck in the nonfiction division for years without a promotion in sight. Lily finds escapism in her correspondences with her favorite fantasy author, and what begins as two lonely people connecting over e-mail turns into a tentative friendship and possibly something else Lily won’t let herself entertain–until he ghosts her.

Months later, still crushed but determined to take charge of her life, Lily seeks a date to her sister’s wedding. And the perfect person to help her is Nick Brown, her charming, attractive new neighbor, whom she feels drawn to for unexplainable reasons. Little does she know that Nick is an author–her favorite fantasy author.

Nick, who has his reasons for using a pen name and for pushing people away, soon realizes that the beautiful, quiet woman from down the hall is the same Lily he fell in love with over e-mail months ago. Unwilling to complicate things even more between them, he agrees to set her up with someone else, though this simple favor between two neighbors is anything but–not when he can’t get her off his mind.

“…adorable… Forest expertly balances this perfectly matched duo’s emotional connection with their physical chemistry, making them easy to cheer on. This is a winner.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“[T]his romance has thoughtful portrayals of characters working on their self-esteem and learning to speak up for themselves, giving both leads room to grow. Realistic and interesting relationships between the leads and their families and friends add richness. Book-loving romantics will be charmed.” – Kirkus Reviews

“This swoony, contemporary romance with fully realized characters will have readers hooked from the first page… readers will clamor for more.” – Heather Miller Cover, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Never Never by Colleen Hoover & Tarryn Fisher

fiction / romance / mystery.

Never NeverNever stop… Never forget… Just remember.

Charlie Wynwood and Silas Nash have been best friends since they could walk. They’ve been in love since the age of fourteen. But as of this morning… they are complete strangers. Their first kiss, their first fight, the moment they fell in love… every memory has vanished. Now Charlie and Silas must work together to uncover the truth about what happened to them and why.

But the more they learn about the couple they used to be… the more they question why they were ever together to begin with. Forgetting is terrifying, but remembering may be worse.

“[W]hen I opened it, it was over: I was completely addicted, and I couldn’t stop reading… one crazy ride.” – Marie, Drizzle & Hurricane Books

“Put together two awesome writers on their own, and you get one of the best books of the year. This has everything you want in a well-written, engaging book, that you will not want to put down.” – Red Carpet Crash

She Is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran

fiction / young adult / horror / fantasy.

She Is a HauntingWhen Jade Nguyen arrives in Vietnam for a visit with her estranged father, she has one goal: survive five weeks pretending to be a happy family in the French colonial house Ba is restoring. She’s always lied to fit in, so if she’s straight enough, Vietnamese enough, American enough, she can get out with the college money he promised.

But the house has other plans. Night after night, Jade wakes up paralyzed. The walls exude a thrumming sound, while bugs leave their legs and feelers in places they don’t belong. She finds curious traces of her ancestors in the gardens they once tended. And at night Jade can’t ignore the ghost of the beautiful bride who leaves her cryptic warnings: Don’t eat.

Neither Ba nor her sweet sister Lily believe that there is anything strange happening. With help from a delinquent girl, Jade will prove this house—the home her family has always wanted—will not rest until it destroys them. Maybe, this time, she can keep her family together. As she roots out the house’s rot, she must also face the truth of who she is and who she must become to save them all.

“[A] hair-raising supernatural horror debut… Tran smartly weaves Vietnamese culture and real horrors of French imperialism to deliver an eerie tale overflowing with deeply unsettling atmosphere.” – Publishers Weekly

“This is a multi-layered exemplar of the horror genre, as the terrifying supernatural aspects of this story combine with the equally horrific colonialist history of this home… A compelling exploration of the dynamics of estranged families and how culture, identity, and feelings of what is home can vary dramatically from generation to generation.” – The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Atmospheric descriptions and sharp plotting combine with slowly escalating danger from both supernatural and terribly real forces. Examinations of Western influences and past atrocities in Vietnam and their effects on the diaspora work in harmony with the novel’s uncanny elements, making for a satisfying blend of traditional horror with modern themes and concerns. Both the ghosts and the humans in this richly layered work are alluring and deadly.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

She Is a Haunting successfully combines the alluring aesthetic of gothic ghost stories with the complexity of contemporary immigration narratives. The result is an atmospheric horror novel that teens with a penchant for the grotesque will delight in unfolding, bit by rotting bit.” – Mariel Fechik, BookPage

Stars in an Italian Sky by Jill Santopolo

FICtion / historical fiction / romance.

Stars in an Italian SkyGenoa, Italy, 1946. Vincenzo and Giovanna fall in love at twenty-one the moment they set eyes on each other. The son of a count and the daughter of a tailor, they belong to opposing worlds. Despite this, the undeniable spark between them quickly burns into a deep and passionate relationship spent exploring each other’s minds, bodies and their city, as well as Vincenzo’s family’s sprawling vineyard, Villa Della Rosa–until shifts in political power force them each to choose a side and commit what the other believes is a betrayal, shattering the bright future they dreamed of together.

New York, 2017. Cassandra and Luca are in love. Although neither quite fits with the other’s family, Cass and Luca have always felt like a perfect match for each other. But when Luca, an artist, convinces his grandfather and Cass’s grandmother to pose for a painting, past and present collide and reveal a secret that changes everything.

“…moving… Santopolo’s flawed yet endearing characters are sure to tug at readers’ heartstrings.” – Publishers Weekly

“A well-written dual storyline novel, looking at the after-effects of WWII, lost love, and second chances.” – Red Carpet Crash

“[An] emotional read about love lost, love found, second chances, and forgiveness… A romantic, sweeping story that’s satisfying and heartbreaking at the same time.” – Kirkus Reviews

Storm Watch by C.J. Box

fiction / mystery / suspense / western.

Storm WatchWhen a prominent University of Wyoming professor goes missing, authorities are stumped. That is, until Joe Pickett makes two surprising discoveries while hunting down a wounded elk on his district as an epic spring storm descends upon him.

First, Joe finds the professor’s vehicle parked on a remote mountainside. Then he finds the professor’s frozen and mutilated body. When he attempts to learn more, his investigation is obstructed by Federal agents, extreme environmentalists, and Governor Colter Allen.

Meanwhile, Joe’s associate Nate Romanowski is rebuilding his falconry company, financing this through crypto mining. Nate is then approached by a shadowy group of local militant activists who are gaining in power and influence, and demanding that Wyoming join other western states and secede from the union – by force, if necessary. They ask Nate to throw in his lot with them, but he’s wary. Should he trust them, or is he being set up?

As a storm of peril gathers around them, Joe and Nate confront it in different ways – and maybe, for the first time, on opposite sides.

“C.J. Box shows yet again why he’s one of the best storytellers alive today with Storm Watch, a riveting new adventure that features one of his best twists and most shocking endings yet. Trust me, whatever you do, do not miss this book.” – The Real Book Spy

“…outstanding… The suspense builds as the various story lines neatly intersect on the way to a tense confrontation between two of the most powerful politicians in Wyoming. Box is writing at the top of his game.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Like a patient spider, Box plays out plotline after plotline, balancing his sympathies adroitly between anti-establishment libertarians who’ve had enough of the coastal elites and officers sworn to serve and protect their communities, before knotting them all together with a climactic revelation that for better or worse will leave you gasping. One of the most successful of Box’s increasingly ambitious have-it-all thrillers.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Stravaging “Strange” by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky; translated by Joanne Turnbull with Nikolai Formozov

fiction / fantasy.

Stravaging Strange
“I’m not on good terms with the present day,” Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky once mused, “but posterity loves me.” Virtually unknown during his lifetime and unpublishable under Stalin, he now draws comparisons to Beckett, Borges, Gogol, and Swift. This book presents three tales that encapsulate Krzhizhanovsky’s gift for creating philosophical, satirical, and lyrical phantasmagorias.

“Stravaging ‘Strange'” details the darkly comic adventures of an apprentice magus: lovesick, he imbibes a magic tincture to reduce himself to the size of a dust mote, the better to observe the young lady in question. He stumbles across a talkative king of hearts, a gallant flea, a coven of vindictive house imps, and his romantic rival along the way to a cinematic denouement. “Catastrophe” wryly parodies Kant’s philosophy: An old sage decides to extract the essence from all things and beings in a ruthless attempt to understand reality–and chaos ensues. “Material for a Life of Gorgis Katafalaki,” set in Berlin, Paris, London, and Moscow, recounts the absurd trials of an otherworldly outsider of uncertain nationality and unfixed profession with boundless curiosity but scant means.

This book also includes excerpts from Krzhizhanovsky’s notebooks–aphoristic glimpses of his worldview, moods, humor, and writing methods–and reminiscences of Krzhizhanovsky by his lifelong companion, Anna Bovshek, beginning with their first meeting in Kiev in 1920 and ending with his death in Moscow in 1950.

“It is now clear that Krzhizhanovsky is one of the greatest Russian writers of the last century.” – Robert Chandler, The Financial Times

“[A] richly rewarding read with great depths to mine for the dedicated reader. In the rich feast that is 20th century Russian literature, Krzhizhanovsky should not be forgotten.” – Axie Barclay, Seattle Book Review

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Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns

fiction / comedy.

Your Driver Is WaitingDamani is tired. Her father just died on the job at a fast food joint, and now she lives paycheck to paycheck in a basement, caring for her mom and driving for an app that is constantly cutting her take. The city is roiling in protests –everybody’s in solidarity with somebody– but while she keeps hearing that they’re fighting for change on behalf of people like her, she literally can’t afford to pay attention.

Then she gives a ride to Jolene (5 stars, obviously). Jolene seems like she could be the perfect girlfriend – attentive, attractive, an ally – and their chemistry is off the charts. Jolene’s done the reading, she goes to every protest, and she says all the right things. So maybe Damani can look past the one thing that’s holding her back: She’s never dated anyone with money before, not to mention a white girl with money. But just as their romance intensifies and Damani finally lets her guard down, Jolene does something unforgivable, setting off an explosive chain of events.

A wild, one-sitting read brimming with dark comedy, and piercing social commentary and announcing Priya Guns’ feverishly original voice, Your Driver Is Waiting is a crackling send-up of our culture of modern alienation.

“A punchy page-turner imbued with dark comedy and trenchant social commentary… Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.” – Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Your Driver Is Waiting is an ambitious project, taking on performative allyship, racial discrimination and the class system all at once… The novel’s greatest strength [is] a ferocity of voice that belongs to Guns alone… What you are about to read is a call to arms. Best to prepare for a confrontation.” – Camille Perri, New York Times

“Remarkable… A fast-paced narrative with bite and, above all, Damani—smart, funny, brave and feral—a character not soon forgotten.” – Brian Bethune, Toronto Star

“A queer feminist retelling of the 1970’s film Taxi Driver, this one had me laughing loud enough to draw looks on the subway, and that takes some doing. It’s a crackling social commentary on the social justice movements of our time, the gig economy, performative wokeness and who gets to speak on behalf of the disadvantaged. It’s a fast-paced read that begs to be devoured.” – Lizz Schumer, Good Housekeeping


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