Best New Books: Week of 5/16/23

“Until we invent telepathy, books are our best choice for understanding the rest of humanity.” – Christopher Paolini

Dual Memory by Sue Burke

fiction / science fiction.

Dual MemoryAntonio Moro lost everything to the Leviathan League. Now he’s alone in a city on an Arctic island fighting the ruthless, global pirates with the chance to be the artist he always wanted to be. Unfortunately, he thinks it’s a cover story for his real purpose―spying on sympathizers.

When things look bleak, he discovers an unusual ally. His new personal assistant program, Par Augustus. It’s insolent, extroverted, moody, and a not-quite-legal nascent A.I.

Together they create a secret rebellion from unlikely recruits to defend the island from ideological pirates with entitlement and guns, and capitalist pirates with entitlement and money.

“If Ursula Le Guin had written about AI machines, it would have looked a lot like this marvelous fable.” – Don Vicha, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“This rollicking thriller from Burke moves at a fast pace but manages to maintain its focus on the true threats of climate change and human hubris, all the while keeping readers riveted and entertained.” – Marlene Harris, Library Journal

“Burke loads the story with fascinating characters as she probes how humanity’s artistic capacity to inspire might interact with AI’s flexible intelligence. This playful glimpse of nonthreatening human-machine interaction is sure to charm.” – Publishers Weekly

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Edison’s Ghosts: The Untold Weirdness of History’s Greatest Geniuses by Katie Spalding

nonfiction / history / biography / science / comedy.

Edison's GhostsOverturn everything you knew about history’s greatest minds in this raucous and hilarious book, where it turns out there’s a finer line between “genius” and “idiot” than we’ve previously known.

“As Albert Einstein almost certainly never said, everyone is a genius – but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So begins Katie Spalding’s spunky takedown of the Western canon, and how genius may not be as irrefutably great as we commonly understand. While most of us may never become Einstein, it may surprise you to learn that there’s probably a bunch of stuff you can do that Einstein couldn’t. And, as Spalding shows, the famous prodigies she explores here were quite odd by any definition. For example:

• Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, believed that he could communicate with the undead and built the world’s very first hotline to heaven: the Spirit Phone.
• Marie and Pierre Curie, famous for discovering radioactivity, slept next to a lump of radioactive material for years and strapped it to their arms to watch it burn them in real-time.
• Lord Byron, acclaimed British poet, literally took a bear with him to university.
• Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity and motion, but he also looked up at the sun without eye protection. The result? Three days of blindness.
• Tesla, whose scientific work led to the invention of the AC unit, fell in love with a pigeon.

Edison’s Ghosts is filled with examples of the so-called best of humanity doing, to put it bluntly, some really dumb shit. You’ll discover stories that deserve to be told but never are: the hilarious, regrettable, and downright bafflingly lesser-known achievements that never made it into our history books, until now.

“A cheeky tour of history’s brightest and most peculiar people… consistently lively [and] witty… An entertaining and informative collection.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Mathematician Spalding takes some of history’s most lauded savants down a notch in this gut-busting survey. Combining solid academic research with bawdy humor, Spalding portrays each so-called ‘genius’ in a series of embarrassing vignettes… Full of jaw-dropping anecdotes and valuable history lessons, this is a delight.” – Publishers Weekly

“You can tell how much research went into each story and what a natural storyteller Dr.Spalding is. I’m a fan for life, I’ll be first in line for whatever comes next.” – Max, The Bookloft

Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini

fiction / science fiction / fantasy.

Fractal NoiseJuly 25th, 2234: The crew of the Adamura discovers the Anomaly.

On the seemingly uninhabited planet Talos VII: a circular pit, 50 kilometers wide.

Its curve not of nature, but design.

Now, a small team must land and journey on foot across the surface to learn who built the hole and why.

But they all carry the burdens of lives carved out on disparate colonies in the cruel cold of space.

For some the mission is the dream of the lifetime, for others a risk not worth taking, and for one it is a desperate attempt to find meaning in an uncaring universe.

Each step they take toward the mysterious abyss is more punishing than the last.

And the ghosts of their past follow.

“[A] deep character portrait, enhanced by the mystery and disconcerting nature of the setting… it shows Paolini’s range as a storyteller… [his] star has shone more brightly with every new release.” – John Keogh, Booklist

“Paolini effectively creates a gradual creep of dread as the doomed team slowly falls apart… [he] understands that in the best character-driven science-fiction stories, the alien tech is never as interesting as the human relationships. Tense and gripping.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…breathes new life into the classic first encounter narrative through a sophisticated examination of the grieving narrator’s psyche… Paolini makes the experiences of his well-shaded explorers vivid and gripping through smart worldbuilding and believable stakes. James S.A. Corey fans will be especially riveted.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Glassworks by Olivia Wolfgang-Smith

fiction / historical fiction.

GlassworksIn 1910, Agnes Carter makes the wrong choice in marriage. After years as an independent woman of fortune, influential with the board of a prominent university because of her financial donations, she is now subject to the whims of an abusive, spendthrift husband. But when Bohemian naturalist and glassblower Ignace Novak reignites Agnes’s passion for science, Agnes begins to imagine a different life, and she sets her mind to getting it.

Agnes’s desperate actions breed secrecy, and the resulting silence echoes into the future. Her son, Edward, wants to be a man of faith but struggles with the complexities of the mortal world while apprenticing at a stained-glass studio.

In 1986, Edward’s child, Novak-just Novak-is an acrobatic window washer cleaning Manhattan high-rises, who gets caught up in the plight of Cecily, a small town girl remade as a gender-bending Broadway ingénue.

And in 2015, Cecily’s daughter Flip-a burned-out stoner trapped in a bureaucratic job firing cremains into keepsake glass ornaments-resolves to break the cycle of inherited secrets, reaching back through the generations in search of a family legacy that feels true.

“[Glassworks] is a captivating and warm epic.” – Adam, Debutiful

“[A] sophisticated debut… Wolfgang-Smith writes like a glass blower, patiently building and enhancing to create durable beauty. Simply put, this is a wonderful, wonderful book.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“This captivating saga that feels as taut and fragile as the glass-blown ornaments at the center of it follows four generations of people who discover that one wrong choice can echo across the ages. It’s a twisty tale of love, chosen family, hard choices and harder people that picks up speed as it goes, careening breathlessly toward the last page.” – Lizz Schumer, Good Housekeeping

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The Guest by Emma Cline 

fiction / suspense.

The GuestSummer is coming to a close on the East End of Long Island, and Alex is no longer welcome.

A misstep at a dinner party, and the older man she’s been staying with dismisses her with a ride to the train station and a ticket back to the city.

With few resources and a waterlogged phone, but gifted with an ability to navigate the desires of others, Alex stays on Long Island and drifts like a ghost through the hedged lanes, gated driveways, and sun-blasted dunes of a rarified world that is, at first, closed to her. Propelled by desperation and a mutable sense of morality, she spends the week leading up to Labor Day moving from one place to the next, a cipher leaving destruction in her wake.

Taut, propulsive, and impossible to look away from, Emma Cline’s The Guest is a spellbinding literary achievement.

“[A] wonderfully suspenseful examination of luxury, delusion, class and fear.” – Jackie Thomas-Kennedy, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Cline’s writing at its very best—hypnotically propulsive, viscerally disquieting, and moving in the most unpredictable ways.” – Doug Battersby, Financial Times

“The sheer anxiety level of watching Alex lure each new stranger (from the help to lonely rich teenagers), filling the endless hours until the next morning, will keep your blood pressure as high as if you were following a serial killer stalking their next victim.” – Natalie Zutter, Paste

“In her first novel since 2016’s runaway hit The Girls Emma Cline returns with another story of sex and manipulation… The same things that make Alex a sketchy person also make her an infectious protagonist: She’s a schemer, a liar, a seducer, and a thief… But ‘hot mess’ doesn’t quite do justice to her entrancing resourcefulness even as the walls are closing in… Alex is amazing.” – Patrick Rapa, Philadelphia Inquirer

Killing Me by Michelle Gagnon

fiction / suspense / mystery / comedy.

Killing MeShe escaped a serial killer. Then things got weird.

Amber Jamison cannot believe she’s about to become the latest victim of a serial killer—she’s savvy and street smart, so when she gets pushed into, of all things, a white windowless van, she’s more angry than afraid. Things get even weirder when she’s miraculously saved by a mysterious woman…who promptly disappears. Who was she? And why is she hunting serial killers?

You’d think escaping one psychopath would be enough, but Amber’s problems are just beginning. Her close call has law enforcement circling a past she’s tried to outrun. So she’s forced to flee across the country, ending up at a seedy motel in Las Vegas with a noir-obsessed manager and a sex worker as her unlikely companions… and danger right behind. She’s landed in the crosshairs of the world’s most prolific killer, caught up in a deadly game that’s been going on for years. To survive, she’s forced to dust off her old playbook and partner with someone she can’t trust. The odds are against her, but sometimes you just have to roll the dice.

“[A] wild ride of a thriller…” – Molly Odintz, CrimeReads

“Gagnon’s neo-noir thriller hits all the right notes, providing an entertaining, escapist ride.” – Becky Meloan, Washington Post

“Veteran novelist Gagnon offers up a fun, quirky thriller with a flawed yet likable main character surrounded by a wacky supporting cast.” – Joy Gunn, Library Journal

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig 

nonfiction / biography / history.

King A LifeVividly written and exhaustively researched, Jonathan Eig’s King: A Life is the first major biography in decades of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.―and the first to include recently declassified FBI files. In this revelatory new portrait of the preacher and activist who shook the world, the bestselling biographer gives us an intimate view of the courageous and often emotionally troubled human being who demanded peaceful protest for his movement but was rarely at peace with himself. He casts fresh light on the King family’s origins as well as MLK’s complex relationships with his wife, father, and fellow activists. King reveals a minister wrestling with his own human frailties and dark moods, a citizen hunted by his own government, and a man determined to fight for justice even if it proved to be a fight to the death. As he follows MLK from the classroom to the pulpit to the streets of Birmingham, Selma, and Memphis, Eig dramatically re-creates the journey of a man who recast American race relations and became our only modern-day founding father―as well as the nation’s most mourned martyr.

In this landmark biography, Eig gives us an MLK for our times: a deep thinker, a brilliant strategist, and a committed radical who led one of history’s greatest movements, and whose demands for racial and economic justice remain as urgent today as they were in his lifetime.

“Groundbreaking… King is such a nuanced, detailed biography, it’s like having Martin Luther King sitting in your living room.” – Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times

“In this biography, his sixth book, Eig writes like an Olympic diver who jackknifes off the high board, slicing the water without a ripple. He performs with sheer artistry, like Picasso paints and Astaire dances.” – Kitty Kelley, Washington Independent Review of Books

“[A] complex, nuanced portrait… an enthralling reappraisal that confirms King’s relevance to today’s debates over racial justice.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The ambitious, anxious, contemplative, depressed, fun-loving, uncertain private King gets equal attention to the determined, eloquent, fearless public person in the spotlight… A must for readers interested in moving beyond clichéd catchphrases to see a more complete and complex King, the context of his charisma, and the creation and content of his character.” – Thomas J. Davis, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

The Lie Maker by Linwood Barclay

fiction / suspense / mystery.

The Lie MakerYour dad’s not a good person. Your dad killed people, son.

These are some of the last words Jack Givins’ father spoke to him before he was whisked away by witness protection, leaving Jack and his mother to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives as best they could.

Years later, Jack is a grown man with problems of his own. He’s a talented but struggling author, barely scraping by on the royalties from his moderately successful first book. So when the U.S. Marshals approach him with a lucrative opportunity, he’s in no position to turn them down. They’re recruiting writers like Jack to create false histories for people in witness protection–people like Jack’s father.

The coincidence is astonishing to Jack at first, but he soon realizes this may be a chance to find his dad. Only there’s one problem–Jack’s father hasn’t made contact with his handlers recently, and they have no idea where he is. He could be in serious danger, and Jack may be the only one who can find him.

But how will he find a man he’s never truly known? A man who has done terrible things in his lifetime and made some deadly enemies in the process–enemies who wouldn’t think twice about using his own son against him.

“[A] twisty tale of skullduggery…” – David Keymer, Library Journal

“…Barclay does a bang-up job of mixing and matching characters and plotlines and building suspense… a fun ride… with dips and swerves that should delight his fans. A relentless mystery with an affecting dose of father-son intrigue.” – Kirkus Reviews

“It’s the kind of thriller Barclay does so well: a story that constantly changes direction and forces readers to reconsider their notions of what the book is actually about. We soon find, when reading Barclay, that it’s better simply to put ourselves in the author’s hands and enjoy the ride, because trying to guess what’s going to happen is a fruitless exercise.” – David Pitt, Booklist

A Line in the Sand by Kevin Powers

fiction / suspense.

A Line in the SandOne early morning on a Norfolk beach in Virginia, a dead body is discovered by a man taking his daily swim—Arman Bajalan, formerly an interpreter in Iraq. After narrowly surviving an assassination attempt that killed his wife and child, Arman has been given lonely sanctuary in the US as a maintenance worker at the Sea Breeze Motel. Now, convinced that the body is connected to his past, he knows he is still not safe.

Seasoned detective Catherine Wheel and her newly minted partner have little to go on beyond a bus ticket in the dead man’s pocket. It leads them to Sally Ewell, a local journalist as grief-stricken as Arman is by the Iraq War, who is investigating a corporation on the cusp of landing a multi-billion-dollar government defense contract.

As victims mount around Arman, taking the team down wrong turns and towards startling evidence, they find themselves in a race, committed to unraveling the truth and keeping Arman alive—even if it costs them absolutely everything.

“A taut thriller linking war crimes, politics, and police work… Masterful in its structure and pacing; a great read.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“PEN/Hemingway award-winner Powers’ skill as a fiction writer, as well as his experience as an Iraq War veteran, are both on display here, especially in the thoughtfully developed relationships between veterans, which add insight and heart to this thriller’s unrelenting suspense.” – Christine Tran, Booklist

“…eminently readable… Powers generates a satisfying sense of suspense, and his strength lies in drawing fully realized characters, from the protagonists down to the support players… an enjoyable outing that will have readers hoping for future Wheel adventures.” – Publishers Weekly

The Postcard by Anne Berest; translated by Tina Kover

fiction / historical fiction.

The PostcardAt once a gripping investigation into family secrets, a poignant tale of mothers and daughters, and an enthralling portrait of 20th-century Parisian intellectual and artistic life, The Postcard tells the story of a family devastated by the Holocaust and yet somehow restored by love and the power of storytelling. Heartbreaking, funny, atmospheric, and a sheer joy to read, The Postcard is certain to find fans among readers of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

January 2003. Together with the usual holiday cards, an anonymous postcard is delivered to the Berest family home. On the front, a photo of the Opéra Garnier in Paris; on the back, the four names of Anne Berest’s maternal great-grandparents, Ephraïm and Emma, and their children, Noémie and Jacques—all of whom died at Auschwitz in 1942.

Almost twenty years after the postcard is delivered, Anne is moved to discover who sent it, and why. Aided by her chain-smoking mother, countless family, friends, and associates, a private detective, a graphologist, and many others, she embarks on a journey to uncover the fate of the Rabinovitch family: their flight from Russia following the revolution, their journey to Latvia, Palestine, and Paris, the war and its aftermath. What emerges is a thrilling and sweeping tale that shatters her certainties about her family, her country, and herself.

“[A] can’t-miss novel.” – Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books

“Not only a significant contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust but a moving reflection on loss, memory, and the past, in equal measures heartwarming and heartrending. Highly recommended.” – Edward B. Cone, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“…phenomenal… With bracing prose, smoothly translated by Kover, Berest takes an unflinching look at antisemitism past and present (‘And, I realized now, I was the same age as my mother and grandmother were when they were hit with the insults, the stones… The pattern was undeniable’). The more Anne learns of her family, the more powerful her story of reclaiming her ancestry becomes. This is brilliant.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

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Quietly Hostile: Essays by Samantha Irby

nonfiction / comedy / memoir.

Quietly HostileBeloved writer Samantha Irby has returned to the printed page for her much-anticipated, sidesplitting fourth book following her 2020 breakout, Wow, No Thank You, a Vintage Books Original.

The success of Irby’s career has taken her to new heights. She fields calls with job offers from Hollywood and walks the red carpet with the iconic ladies of Sex and the City. Finally, she has made it. But, behind all that new-found glam, Irby is just trying to keep her life together as she always had.

Her teeth are poisoning her from inside her mouth, and her diarrhea is back. She gets turned away from a restaurant for wearing ugly clothes, she goes to therapy and tries out Lexapro, gets healed with RReiki, explores the power of crystals, and becomes addicted to QVC. Making light of herself as she takes us on an outrageously funny tour of all the details that make up a true portrait of her life, Irby is once again the relatable, uproarious tonic we all need.

“An outrageously funny offering that once again shows how Irby has become the beloved writer that she is.” – SheReads

“To know Samantha Irby’s sidesplitting work is to love it… Quietly Hostile flips between the poignant and the snidely hilarious… even the quirks hold rich meaning.” – Laura Zornosa, Time

“One of our finest comic writers returns with a gut-busting variety pack of intimate essays. As ever, Irby shines… Bracing and brutally honest, Quietly Hostile reminds us why Irby is one of our most essential essayists.” – Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

“One of our culture’s greatest humorists is back with another collection… Irby is the answer to your boring airplane ride, the writer to lure you back after a long reading dry spell, and the ideal person onto which to project a parasocial relationship.” – Jenny Singer, Glamour

The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams

fiction / comedy.

The Three of UsWhat if the two most important people in your life hated each other with a passion?

The wife has it all. A big house in a nice neighborhood, a ride-or-die snarky friend with whom to laugh about facile men, and an affectionate husband who loves her above all else. The only thing missing from this portrait is a baby. But motherhood is a serious undertaking, especially for the wife who has valued her selfhood above all else.

On a seemingly normal day, the best friend comes over to spend a lazy afternoon with the wife. But when the husband comes home and a series of confessions are made that threaten to throw everything off balance, the wife’s two confidantes are suddenly forced to jockey for their positions. Told in three taut, mesmerizing parts—the wife, the husband, the best friend—the day quickly unfolds to show how the trio’s dented visions of each other finally unravel, throwing everyone’s integrity into question – and their long-drawn-out territorial dance, carefully constructed over pivotal years, into utter chaos.

At once subversively comical, wildly astute, and painfully compulsive, The Three of Us explores cultural truths, what it means to defy them, and the fine line between compromise and betrayal, ultimately asking: who are we if not for the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the people we’re meant to love?

The Three of Us toes the tightrope between concession and deception as Agbaje-Williams executes surprise twists in a narrative that’s drenched in wine.” – Laura Zornosa, Time

“Agbaje-Williams throws caution to the wind and pulls off a surprise win. An original and potent comedy of manners with an ingenious final twist.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“In this sharp, taut, dark comedy that takes place over the course of one fateful day, the simmering tensions between a husband, a wife, and her best friend come to a boiling point. It’s a tense read that will have you glued to your beach chair!” – Jenny Jackson, Good Morning America

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren

fiction / romance / comedy.

The True Love ExperimentFelicity “Fizzy” Chen is lost. Sure, she’s got an incredible career as a beloved romance novelist with a slew of bestsellers under her belt, but when she’s asked to give a commencement address, it hits her: she hasn’t been practicing what she’s preached.

Fizzy hasn’t ever really been in love. Lust? Definitely. But that swoon-worthy, can’t-stop-thinking-about-him, all-encompassing feeling? Nope. Nothing. What happens when the optimism she’s spent her career encouraging in readers starts to feel like a lie?

Connor Prince, documentary filmmaker and single father, loves his work in large part because it allows him to live near his daughter. But when his profit-minded boss orders him to create a reality TV show, putting his job on the line, Connor is out of his element. Desperate to find his romantic lead, a chance run-in with an exasperated Fizzy offers Connor the perfect solution. What if he could show the queen of romance herself falling head-over-heels for all the world to see? Fizzy gives him a hard pass—unless he agrees to her list of demands. When he says yes, and production on The True Love Experiment begins, Connor wonders if that perfect match will ever be in the cue cards for him, too.

The True Love Experiment is the book fans have been waiting for ever since Fizzy’s debut in The Soulmate Equation. But when the lights come on and all eyes are on her, it turns out the happily ever after Fizzy had all but given up on might lie just behind the camera.

“[A] smart and hilarious rom-com… The authors gleefully play with romance tropes, blending the delight of the meet-cute with smart critiques of more toxic dating habits and wrapping the whole in clever dialogue and refreshing sex-positivity. Readers will have no trouble rooting for Fizzy.” – Publishers Weekly

“The two women who write as Lauren return with yet another pitch-perfect rom-com that manages to be funny, angst-y, and extremely sexy… a love letter to the romance genre and its many devoted fans… Another winning romance from Lauren, full of big laughs, a few tears, and some seriously steamy scenes.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Readers will appreciate the witty dialogue, chemistry that practically leaps off the page, and believable conflicts… Both Lauren’s loyal fans and all contemporary romance readers will appreciate this sexy, swoony, heartfelt novel.” – Whitney Kramer, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

The World: A Family History of Humanity by Simon Sebag Montefiore

nonfiction / history / biography.

The WorldWe begin with the footsteps of a family walking along a beach 950,000 years ago. From here, Montefiore takes us on an exhilarating epic journey through the families that have shaped our world: the Caesars, Medicis and Incas, Ottomans and Mughals, Bonapartes, Habsburgs and Zulus, Rothschilds, Rockefellers and Krupps, Churchills, Kennedys, Castros, Nehrus, Pahlavis and Kenyattas, Saudis, Kims and Assads.

A rich cast of complex characters form the beating heart of the story. Some are well-known leaders, from Alexander the Great, Attila, Ivan the Terrible and Genghis Khan to Hitler, Thatcher, Obama, Putin and Zelensky. Some are creative, from Socrates, Michelangelo and Shakespeare to Newton, Mozart, Balzac, Freud, Bowie and Tim Berners-Lee.

Others are lesser-known: Hongwu, who began life as a beggar and founded the Ming dynasty; Kamehameha, conqueror of Hawaii; Zenobia, Arab empress who defied Rome; King Henry of Haiti; Lady Murasaki, first female novelist; Sayyida al-Hurra, Moroccan pirate-queen. Here are not just conquerors and queens but prophets, charlatans, actors, gangsters, artists, scientists, doctors, tycoons, lovers, wives, husbands and children.

This is world history on the most grand and intimate scale – spanning centuries, continents and cultures, and linking grand themes of war, migration, plague, religion, medicine and technology to the people at the center of the human drama.

As spellbinding as fiction, The World captures the story of humankind in all its joy, sorrow, romance, ingenuity and cruelty in a ground-breaking, single narrative that will forever shift the boundaries of what history can achieve.

“Setting a whirlwind pace, Montefiore skillfully guides readers through the tumult with elegant prose and evocative character sketches. It’s a bravura performance.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Deserves to be a roaring bestseller… Think Succession meets Game of Thrones, history told through dynasty and intrigue and written with wit, insight, and more than a dash of scandal.” – The Spectator

“A history of pretty much everything everywhere from the evolution of Homo sapiens to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine… Dip into any page and you’ll find history rushing by in prose that combines clarity, liveliness and even deadpan humour with intriguing little asides a specialty… A staggering achievement.” – James Walton, The Telegraph

“A delightful world history, told through influential families… The device of weaving together the past using the most enduring and essential unit of human relations is inspired. It lets readers empathize with people who helped shape historical events and were shaped by them… The method also allows the author to cover every continent and era, and to give women and even children a voice and presence that they tend to be denied in more conventional histories… Despite the book’s formidable length, there is never a dull moment. The story moves at pace across terrible battles, court intrigues, personal triumphs and disasters, lurid sexual practices and hideous tortures… The author tells these stories with verve and palpable relish for the unbridled sex and inventive violence that run through them. His character sketches are pithy and witty… The footnotes, often short essays in themselves, have the acid drollery of Edward Gibbon… Overall this book is a triumph and a delight, an epic that entertains, informs and appalls in enjoyably equal measure.” – The Economist

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang


YellowfaceAuthors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song–complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

“[Kuang’s] magnificent novel uses satire to shine a light on systemic racial discrimination and the truth that often hides behind the twisted narratives constructed by those in power.” – Emily Park, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[An] excellent satire… Kuang provides a sharp analysis of publishing’s blind spots and guides the plot toward a thrilling face-off between June and Athena’s ‘ghost.’ This is not to be missed.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Equal parts modern satire, indictment of the publishing industry, and twisted ghost story, R. F. Kuang’s first foray into literary fiction pulls no punches and will have you reading late into the night.” – Abby Bennsky, Indie Next

“[A] sharp publishing satire that takes on a lot: Asian American and Pacific Islander representation, betrayal, plagiarism and the irrational process of book deals… It’s the read of the season.” – Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times


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