“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” – Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games edited by J. Robert Lennon & Carmen Maria Machado ★
nonfiction / video games.
From the earliest computers to the smartphones in our pockets, video games have been on our screens and part of our lives for over fifty years. Critical Hits celebrates this sophisticated medium and considers its lasting impact on our culture and ourselves.
This collection of stylish, passionate, and searching essays opens with an introduction by Carmen Maria Machado, who edited the anthology alongside J. Robert Lennon. In these pages, writer-gamers find solace from illness and grief, test ideas about language, bodies, power, race, and technology, and see their experiences and identities reflected in―or complicated by―the interactive virtual worlds they inhabit. Elissa Washuta immerses herself in The Last of Us during the first summer of the pandemic. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah describes his last goodbye to his father with the help of Disco Elysium. Jamil Jan Kochai remembers being an Afghan American teenager killing Afghan insurgents in Call of Duty. Also included are a comic by MariNaomi about her time as a video game producer; a deep dive into “portal fantasy” movies about video games by Charlie Jane Anders; and new work by Alexander Chee, Hanif Abdurraqib, Larissa Pham, and many more.
“Critical Hits marks the welcome ascendance of an emerging body of gamer literature…” – Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
“If Gabrielle Zevin‘s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is the first ‘Great American Gamer Novel’ (as per Nathan Hill), then this is certainly our first Great American Gamer Essay Collection.” – Sophia M. Stewart, The Millions
“Whether they’re casual gamers, lifelong fans, or simply curious, readers will come away with a deepened sense of appreciation for the medium.” – Zeja Z. Copes, Booklist
“…insightful… The diverse entries highlight the ways in which the far out plots of video games can change how players understand themselves and the world around them. ” – Publishers Weekly
Endgame: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy’s Fight for Survival by Omid Scobie
nonfiction / biography / current events.
Endgame, the explosive book from longtime royal journalist Omid Scobie and author of the international blockbuster Finding Freedom, is a penetrating investigation into the current state of the British monarchy—an unpopular king, a power-hungry heir to the throne, a queen willing to go to dangerous lengths to preserve her image, and a prince forced to start a new life after being betrayed by his own family.
Queen Elizabeth II’s death ruptured the already-fractured foundations of the House of Windsor—and dismantled the protective shield around it. With an institution long plagued by antiquated ideas around race, class and money, the monarchy and those who prop it up are now exposed and at odds with a rapidly modernizing world. Relying on his vast experience as a royal reporter and over a decade of conversations and interviews with current and former Palace staff, trusted friends of the royals and even the family members themselves, Scobie pulls back the curtain on an institution in turmoil to show what the monarchy must change in order to survive.
This is the monarchy’s endgame. Do they have what it takes to save it?
Gwen and Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher
fiction / young adult / romance / comedy / historical fiction.
It’s been hundreds of years since King Arthur’s reign. His descendant, Arthur, a future Lord and general gadabout, has been betrothed to Gwendoline, the quick-witted, short-tempered princess of England, since birth. The only thing they can agree on is that they despise each other.
They’re forced to spend the summer together at Camelot in the run up to their nuptials, and within 24 hours, Gwen has discovered Arthur kissing a boy and Arthur has gone digging for Gwen’s childhood diary and found confessions about her crush on the kingdom’s only lady knight, Bridget Leclair.
Realizing they might make better allies than enemies, they make a reluctant pact to cover for each other, and as things heat up at the annual royal tournament, Gwen is swept off her feet by her knight and Arthur takes an interest in Gwen’s royal brother. Lex Croucher’s Gwen & Art Are Not in Love is chock full of sword-fighting, found family, and romantic shenanigans destined to make readers fall in love.
“In this frivolous medieval romp of a queer rom-com, Lex Croucher toys with Arthurian legend to delightful effect.” – Entertainment Weekly
“[A] wonderful expansion of the YA romance genre… Frankly a delight.” – Kirkus Reviews
“…riotous… Croucher’s simultaneously sharp and subtle prose boasts delicious banter and a propulsive story populated by intersectionally diverse characters whose interactions feel fresh and vital through the novel’s climactic conclusion.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
Inheritance by Nora Roberts
fiction / romance / mystery / historical fiction.
1806: Astrid Poole sits in her bridal clothes, overwhelmed with happiness. But before her marriage can be consummated, she is murdered, and the circle of gold torn from her finger. Her last words are a promise to Collin never to leave him…
Graphic designer Sonya MacTavish is stunned to learn that her late father had a twin he never knew about—and that her newly discovered uncle, Collin Poole, has left her almost everything he owned, including a majestic Victorian house on the Maine coast, which the will stipulates she must live in it for at least three years. Her engagement recently broken, she sets off to find out why the boys were separated at birth—and why it was all kept secret until a genealogy website brought it to light.
Trey, the young lawyer who greets her at the sprawling clifftop manor, notes Sonya’s unease—and acknowledges that yes, the place is haunted… but just a little. Sure enough, Sonya finds objects moved and music playing out of nowhere. She sees a painting by her father inexplicably hanging in her deceased uncle’s office, and a portrait of a woman named Astrid, whom the lawyer refers to as “the first lost bride.” It’s becoming clear that Sonya has inherited far more than a house. She has inherited a centuries-old curse, and a puzzle to be solved if there is any hope of breaking it…
“…Roberts’s strengths, as usual, are in the details: robust characters, vivid prose, settings familiar enough to be cozy but distinct enough to be memorable, and loyal dogs… this will hit the spot for Roberts’s many fans.” – Publishers Weekly
The Last Love Note by Emma Grey
fiction / romance / comedy.
Kate is a bit of a mess. Two years after losing her young husband Cameron, she’s grieving, solo parenting, working like mad at her university fundraising job, always dropping the ball—and yet clinging to her sense of humor.
Lurching from one comedic crisis to the next, she also navigates an overbearing mom and a Tinder-obsessed best friend who’s determined to matchmake Kate with her hot new neighbor.
When an in-flight problem leaves Kate and her boss, Hugh, stranded for a weekend on the east coast of Australia, she finally has a chance, away from her son, to really process her grief and see what’s right in front of her. Can she let go of the love of her life and risk her heart a second time? When it becomes clear that Hugh is hiding a secret, Kate turns to the trail of scribbled notes she once used to hold her life together.
The first note captured her heart. Will the last note set it free?
“[A] captivating and emotional romantic comedy…” – Becky Meloan, Washington Post
“Grey’s debut adult novel will break readers’ hearts, taking them on an emotional ride but leaving them feeling hopeful… This tearjerker will make readers cheer for the joyful ending.” – Crystal Vela, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
Like Thunder by Nnedi Okorafor
fiction / fantasy / science fiction.
Niger, West Africa, 2077
Welcome back. This second volume is a breathtaking story that sweeps across the sands of the Sahara, flies up to the peaks of the Aïr Mountains, cartwheels into a wild megacity—you get the idea.
I am the Desert Magician; I bring water where there is none.
This book begins with Dikéogu Obidimkpa slowly losing his mind. Yes, that boy who can bring rain just by thinking about it is having some… issues. Years ago, Dikéogu went on an epic journey to save Earth with the shadow speaker girl, Ejii Ubaid, who became his best friend. When it was all over, they went their separate ways, but now he’s learned their quest never really ended at all.
So Dikéogu, more powerful than ever, reunites with Ejii. He records this story as an audiofile, hoping it will help him keep his sanity or at least give him something to leave behind. Smart kid, but it won’t work—or will it?
I can tell you this: it won’t be like before. Our rainmaker and shadow speaker have changed. And after this, nothing will ever be the same again.
As they say, ‘Onye amaro ebe nmili si bido mabaya ama ama onye nyelu ya akwa oji welu ficha aru.’
Or, ‘If you do not remember where the rain started to beat you, you will not remember who gave you the towel with which to dry your body.’
“…impressive… readers will be enthralled.” – Publishers Weekly
“An emotional near-future novel that will keep readers turning pages even as their mountain of questions grows larger.” – Kirkus Reviews
The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose ★
fiction / mystery.
Molly Gray is not like anyone else. With her flair for cleaning and proper etiquette, she has risen through the ranks of the glorious five-star Regency Grand Hotel to become the esteemed Head Maid. But just as her life reaches a pinnacle state of perfection, her world is turned upside down when J. D. Grimthorpe, the world-renowned mystery author, drops dead—very dead—on the hotel’s tearoom floor.
When Detective Stark, Molly’s old foe, investigates the author’s unexpected demise, it becomes clear that this death was murder most foul. Suspects abound, and everyone wants to know: Who killed J. D. Grimthorpe? Was it Lily, the new Maid-in-Training? Or was it Serena, the author’s secretary? Could Mr. Preston, the hotel’s beloved doorman, be hiding something? And is Molly really as innocent as she seems?
As the high-profile death threatens the hotel’s pristine reputation, Molly knows she alone holds the key to unlocking the killer’s identity. But that key is buried deep in her past, as long ago, she knew J. D. Grimthorpe. Molly begins to comb her memory for clues, revisiting her childhood and the mysterious Grimthorpe mansion where she and her dearly departed Gran once worked side by side. With the entire hotel under investigation, Molly must solve the mystery posthaste. Because if there’s one thing she knows for sure, it’s that secrets don’t stay buried forever.
“[A] heartwarming, feel-good mystery.” – Emily Melton, Booklist
“Fans of the first book in this series will not be disappointed…” – Cari Dubiel, Library Reads
“The sequel to Prose’s award-winning debut The Maid marks the return of a charming protagonist with awkward social skills and a big heart.” – Lesa Holstine, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“Prose sets up a classic mystery with a few deft notes of psychological suspense to create a heady whirlwind of an investigation.” – Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads
The Other Half by Charlotte Vassell
fiction / mystery / suspense.
Who killed Clemmie? Was it the blithe, sociopathic boyfriend? His impossibly wealthy godmother? The gallery owner with whom Clemmie was having an affair? Or was it the result of something else entirely?
All the party-goers have alibis. Naturally. This investigation is going to be about aristocrats and Classics degrees, Instagram influencers and whose father knows who.
Or is it ‘whom’? Detective Caius Beauchamp isn’t sure. He’s sharply dressed, smart, and thoroughly modern—he discovers Clemmie’s body on his early morning jog. As he searches for the dark truth beneath the luxurious life of these London socialites, a wall of staggering wealth and privilege threatens to shut down his investigation before it’s even begun. Can Caius peer through the tangled mess of connections in which the other half live—and die—before the case is wrenched from his hands? Bitingly funny, full of shocking twists, and all too familiar, The Other Half is a truly stunning debut.
“Smart, witty, and fast-paced, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, twisty satire. With razor-sharp observation, Vassell creates some memorably unpleasant characters in her successful skewering of upper-class pretension.” – Fanny Blake, The Daily Mail
“[A] dead-on debut… Race and privilege light the fuse in this classics-laced whodunit.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Vassell’s crackling debut skewers England’s current crop of gilded youth… Vassell gleefully plunges into the underbelly of 21st-century entitlement, creating vivid sketches of aimless young Londoners gorging on designer clothes and designer drugs… as a diamond-sharp satirical whodunit in the vein of Liane Moriarty, this succeeds.” – Publishers Weekly
Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars by Kliph Nesteroff
nonfiction / history / comedy / politics.
There is a common belief that we live in unprecedented times, that people are too sensitive today, that nobody objected to the actions of actors, comedians, and filmmakers in the past. Modern pundits would have us believe that Americans of a previous generation had tougher skin and seldom complained. But does this argument hold up to scrutiny?
In Outrageous, celebrated cultural historian Kliph Nesteroff demonstrates that Americans have been objecting to entertainment for nearly two hundred years, sometimes rationally, often irrationally. Likewise, powerful political interests have sought to circumvent the arts using censorship, legal harassment, and outright propaganda. From Mae West through Johnny Carson, Amos ’n’ Andy through Beavis and Butt-Head, Outrageous chronicles the controversies of American show business and the ongoing attempts to change what we watch, read, and hear.
“…readers seeking evidence to rebut criticism of today’s ‘snowflakes’ will have plenty to choose from here.” – Publishers Weekly
“This fascinating cultural history examines the relationship between entertainment and suppression by looking at the cycles of success and censorship that plagued Elvis Presley, Mae West, Carol Burnett and others.” – Becky Meloan, Washington Post
Starkweather: The Untold Story of the Killing Spree That Changed America by Harry N. MacLean
nonfiction / true crime / history.
On January 21, 1958, nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather changed the course of crime in the United States when he murdered the parents and sister of his fourteen-year-old girlfriend (and possible accomplice), Caril Ann Fugate, in a house on the edge of Lincoln, Nebraska. They then drove to the nearby town of Bennet, where a farmer was robbed and killed. When Starkweather’s car broke down, the teenagers who stopped to help were murdered and jammed into a storm cellar. By the time the dust settled, ten innocent people were dead and the city of Lincoln was in a state of terror. Schools closed. Men with rifles perched on the roofs of their houses. The National Guard patrolled the street. If there is a cultural version of PTSD, the town suffered from it.
Starkweather and Fugate’s capture and arrest, and the resulting trials about the killing spree, received worldwide coverage. The event would serve as the inspiration for the movie Natural Born Killers and Springsteen’s iconic album Nebraska. Today, the story has dropped far from the national consciousness. With new material, new reporting, and new conclusions about the possible guilt or innocence of Fugate, the tale is ripe for an updated and definitive retelling. In Starkweather, bestselling author Harry N. MacLean tells the story of this shocking event and its lasting impact, a crime spree that struck deep into the heart of the heartland.
“…deeply emphatetic… MacLean rights the record and gets deep into the psychology of not only his subjects, but their claustrophobic and constrained time and place.” – Molly Odintz, CrimeReads
“…magisterial… MacLean pieces together a propulsive account that nails down concrete details from the ‘ten different versions’ of events Starkweather provided in official documents, and presents crucial context about his and Fugate’s early lives. The result is an instant true crime classic.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“…absorbing… With the potential to change minds about long-ago crimes, this is all but destined to become a genre classic.” – Philip Zozzaro, Booklist
Tone by Sofia Samatar & Kate Zambreno
nonfiction / writing.
Tone is a collaborative study of literary tone, a notoriously challenging and slippery topic for criticism. Both granular and global, infusing a text with feeling, tone is so difficult to pin down that responses to it often take the vague form of “I know it when I see it.”
In Tone, a cooperative authorial voice under the name of the Committee to Investigate Atmosphere begins from the premise that tone is relational, belonging to shared experience rather than a single author, and should be approached through a communal practice. In partnership, the Committee explores the atmospheres emanating from texts by Nella Larsen, W. G. Sebald, Heike Geissler, Hiroko Oyamada, Mieko Kanai, Bhanu Kapil, Franz Kafka, Renee Gladman, and others, attending to the chafing of political irritation, the hunger of precarious and temporary work, and the lonely delights of urban and suburban walks.
This study treats a variety of questions: How is tone filtered through translation? Can a text hold the feelings that pass between humans and animals? What can attention to literary tone reveal about shared spaces such as factories, universities, and streets and the clashes and connections that happen there? Searching and conversational, Tone seeks immersion in literary affect to convey the experience of reading—and living—together.
“Samatar x Zambreno—an intellectual match made in heaven.” – Sophia M. Stewart, The Millions
“[A] lyrical, erudite meditation on the enigmatic concept of tone in literature… A fresh perspective on an elusive element of literature.” – Kirkus Reviews
A True Account: Hannah Masury’s Sojourn Amongst the Pyrates, Written by Herself by Katherine Howe
fiction / historical fiction / mystery / suspense.
In Boston, as the Golden Age of Piracy comes to a bloody close, Hannah Masury – bound out to service at a waterfront inn since childhood – is ready to take her life into her own hands. When a man is hanged for piracy in the town square and whispers of a treasure in the Caribbean spread, Hannah is forced to flee for her life, disguising herself as a cabin boy in the pitiless crew of the notorious pirate Edward “Ned” Low. To earn the freedom to choose a path for herself, Hannah must hunt down the treasure and change the tides.
Meanwhile, professor Marian Beresford pieces Hannah’s story together in 1930, seeing her own lack of freedom reflected back at her as she watches Hannah’s transformation. At the center of Hannah Masury’s account, however, lies a centuries-old mystery that Marian is determined to solve, just as Hannah may have been determined to take it to her grave.
A True Account tells the unforgettable story of two women in different worlds, both shattering the rules of their own society and daring to risk everything to go out on their own account.
“Howe has created a suspenseful, swashbuckling adventure filled with fiendish characters and historic detail.” – Susan Santa, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“[Howe’s] intrepid women protagonists will delight readers.” – Bethany Latham, Booklist
“Howe brings the world of 18th-century pirates to life in this bracing outing… Hannah’s adventures are riveting, and Howe manages to connect the parallel stories by highlighting how her women protagonists navigate the whims of powerful men. Historical fiction fans will love this.” – Publishers Weekly
Unnatural Death by Patricia Cornwell
fiction / mystery / suspense.
In this thrilling new installment of Patricia Cornwell’s #1 bestselling Scarpetta series, chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta finds herself in a Northern Virginia wilderness examining the remains of two campers wanted by federal law enforcement.
The victims have been savaged beyond recognition, and other evidence is terrifying and baffling, including a larger-than-life footprint.
After one of the most frightening body retrievals of her career, Scarpetta must discover who would commit murders this savage, and why.
“[An] especially good entry in the series… in top form, a Scarpetta novel is almost unmatched in the mystery genre. Enthusiastically recommended to Cornwell’s fans.” – David Pitt, Booklist
We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein
fiction / historical fiction.
On a November day in 1940, Adam Paskow becomes a prisoner in the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Jews of the city are cut off from their former lives and held captive by Nazi guards to await an uncertain fate. Weeks later, he is approached by a mysterious figure with a surprising request: Would he join a secret group of archivists working to preserve the truth of what is happening inside these walls?
Adam agrees and begins taking testimonies from his students, friends, and neighbors. He learns about their childhoods and their daydreams, their passions and their fears, their desperate strategies for safety and survival. The stories form a portrait of endurance in a world where no choices are good ones.
One of the people Adam interviews is his flatmate Sala Wiskoff, who is stoic, determined, and funny—and married with two children. Over the months of their confinement, in the presence of her family, Adam and Sala fall in love. As they desperately carve out intimacy, their relationship feels both impossible and vital, their connection keeping them alive.
But when Adam discovers a possible escape from the Ghetto, he is faced with an unbearable choice: whom can he save, and at what cost ?
Inspired by the testimony-gathering project with the code name Oneg Shabbat, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Grodstein draws readers into the lives of people living on the edge. Told with immediacy and heart, We Must Not Think of Ourselves is a piercing story of love, determination, and sacrifice.
“Profound… This will move you to tears.” – Leslie Zemeckis, Montecito Journal
“[A] crucial, compelling, and important new novel.” – Lilith
“[A] delicate, warm account of a brutal, cold time, grounded in humanity, small details, and unwavering clarity.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW