Gengoroh Tagame, trans. from the Japanese by Anne Ishii (Pantheon)
Manga fans—and queer romance devotees generally—will embrace this nuanced coming-of-age drama from Eisner winner Tagame. Everyone assumes 16-year-old Sora Itoda is dating his best girl-friend, but he’s secretly crushing on a boy. When he gets a gig to paint a mural in a local café owned by an out gay man, he takes courage in the wisdom that “nobody comes out just once.”
All the Lovers in the Night
Mieko Kawakami, trans. from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Europa)
The third and best translation so far of Kawakami makes for a perfect summer gateway drug; it offers a sustained immersion into another perspective and place. Fuyuko Irie, the 30-something protagonist, toils at a Tokyo proofreading job and takes lonely, sake-fueled walks through the city until a new friend helps stimulate her inner world. Our starred review called it an “invigorating and empowering portrait.”
The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza (The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza #1)
Mac Barnett, illus. by Shawn Harris (HarperCollins/Tegen)
When rats from another galaxy begin devouring the moon, Earth’s smartest scientists dispatch a cybernetically enhanced cat—the First Cat in Space—to deal with the threat. Accompanied by guileless, toenail-clipping robot LOZ 4000 and the proud Moon Queen, First Cat adventures across a madcap geography. Adapting the “Live Cartoon” Instagram series that shares its title, Barnett and Harris replace innovative papercraft and DIY camerawork with an assured graphic novel full of absurdist humor.
Bread for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone
Maurizio de Giovanni (Europa)
When a baker is shot dead outside his bakery in Naples, Italy, Lt. Giuseppe Lojacono, one of the misfits from the city’s Pizzofalcone police precinct, thinks the shooter was an amateur. A prominent magistrate is sure it’s an organized crime hit. Dismissed from the case, Lojacono persuades another magistrate to allow two separate investigations. De Giovanni delicately balances humor and pathos as he showcases his characters’ humanity.
All Down Darkness Wide: A Memoir
Seán Hewitt (Penguin Press)
Despite its heart-wrenching premise, Laurel Prize–winning poet Hewitt’s chronicle of loving and living with a partner succumbing to depression overflows with a staggering sense of beauty and compassion. Already a rising literary star in Ireland, the 32-year-old writer’s transportive lyricisms and lush meditations on queerness promise to put him on the map here in the U.S., alongside Garth Greenwell and André Aciman.
Michaela Goade (Little, Brown)
“On an island at the edge of a wide, wild sea,” a child and grandmother celebrate the earth as they forage through the seasons. Together, they express their gratitude to the land as they gather seaweed, catch “slippery salmon,” and pick forest berries. Goade’s soft, pensive watercolors are emboldened by vivid, brilliant hues, painting a serene picture of nature and its many gifts that’s just right for berry season and beyond.
24 Hours in Paris
Romi Moondi (W x Wattpad)
Moondi takes readers on a whirlwind trip through the City of Light when coworkers Mira Attwal and Jake Lewis’s flight home from Paris is delayed by a day. As this pair of polar opposites races to complete Mira’s Parisian bucket list, they come to see each other in a new light and romance blooms. Moondi’s transportive descriptions—especially of mouthwatering French cuisine—make this an ideal pick for any armchair traveler.
The Ballad of Perilous Graves
Alex Jennings (Redhook)
Jennings takes readers on a jazzy romp through the magic- and music-infused streets of New Orleans in his debut urban fantasy. When nine of the Songs of Power that keep the city alive go missing, young Perilous “Perry” Graves helps the spectral pianist Doctor Professor track them down. Their investigation is wildly fun, and Jennings’s love for NOLA and its history shines through on every page.
Ballad & Dagger (Outlaw Saints #1)
Daniel José Older (Disney/Riordan)
When Mateo Matisse learns he’s an initiated child of one of the gods of San Madrigal, a free Caribbean island nation that sank into the sea 15 years ago, he’s resistant. But Mateo must embrace his destiny when violence threatens his Brooklyn neighborhood of Little Madrigal. In the Riordan imprint’s first YA offering, an engrossing duology starter, Older explores themes of diaspora, colonialism, and identity in a vibrant, folklore-tinged urban fantasy that’s action-packed and filled with blossoming romance.
2 A.M. in Little America
Ken Kalfus (Milkweed Editions)
Milkweed publisher Daniel Slager recently talked up this novel to me and I was immediately intrigued. Ever since the 2016 election, I’ve wondered what the decline and fall of the American Empire would look like. Kalfus imagines such a dystopian world in this evocative tale: Americans are stripped of our privileged status and must flee the smoldering ruins of our country and settle into immigrant ghettos. Let’s hope this book remains shelved with fiction in bookstores. —Claire Kirch, midwest correspondent
After the Lights Go Out
John Vercher (Soho)
A desperate 30-something mixed-race MMA fighter risks one last fight despite a brain injury to clear his debts and get out from under his racist white father’s roof in Philadelphia. Chapter titles derived from songs by Bad Brains, Geto Boys, and Operation Ivy have me planning a new workout mix and imagining the soundtrack of what promises to be a propulsive and poignant story. —David Varno, reviews editor
The Ghosts of Rose Hill
R.M. Romero (Peachtree Teen)
When Miami Beach–born violinist Ilana is sent to Prague for the summer, she’s expected to study for the SAT; instead, she begins tending a deserted Jewish cemetery on the hill behind her aunt’s cottage, where she meets—and falls in love with—a ghost named Benjamin. Romero’s layered novel in verse is an intoxicating blend of the contemporary, the folkloric, and the historical, interlacing ghost story and romance in a captivating locale.
The Peanutbutter Sisters and Other American Stories
Rumi Hara (Drawn & Quarterly)
Hara returns with fantastical short stories that track a trio of magical sisters who travel on the winds of a hurricane, walk alongside angsty teens plotting their own version of a classical Japanese drama, join the crowd cheering on spectacular aliens in a desert race, and glory in the ascent of “Bombadonna,” a multihued, explosive heroine. It’s quite a trip, carried by Hara’s generous imagination, genre-bending art, and whimsical wit.
Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth & Orson Welles
Jerome Charyn (Liveright)
Remember special features on DVDs? This engrossing blend of historical narrative and apocrypha feels like a deluxe companion to classic films such as The Lady from Shanghai. Charyn hooks the reader with his signature pulpy, slapstick approach—he clearly had fun dramatizing the interplay between Orson Welles’s vanity and ambition. There are also poignant insights on Rita Hayworth’s private struggles, as seen by a spy sent from Columbia Pictures.
The Marvellers (The Marvellers #1)
Dhonielle Clayton, illus. by Khadijah Khatib (Holt)
The first Conjuror to enroll at the elite Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors, Ella Durand is determined to make her family proud. After she boards a sky-ferry and dons her Marvellian mantle, though, an already difficult cultural adjustment becomes even more troublesome. Fantastical and deeply atmospheric, Clayton’s middle grade debut combines myriad global cultural traditions with an intersectionally inclusive adventure that ensnares readers.
Emma Bamford (Scout)
Honeymooners Jake Selkirk and Virginie Durand are headed to Thailand aboard their sailboat when they decide instead to visit Amarante, a remote island with unspoiled beaches. The couple discover other boaters have already arrived by the time they reach Amarante, where the near paradise’s isolation brings out the worst in everyone. Betrayal, jealousy, and violence follow. Amid an exotic backdrop, debut author Bamford delivers evocative, tense scenes on and under the water.
The Colony: Faith and Blood in a Promised Land
Sally Denton (Liveright)
This fascinating tale of religion, violence, and family secrets recounts the 2019 massacre of six women and three children with ties to a fundamentalist Mormon community in northern Mexico. Behind that shocking crime lies another: in 1972, the son of the community’s founder had his brother killed, setting off a wave of “blood atonement” murders that killed dozens of people over the following 20 years. Denton, a descendant of polygamist Mormons, relates this sordid saga with empathy and precision.
A Day for Sandcastles
JonArno Lawson, illus. by Qin Leng (Candlewick)
Lawson and Leng offer a wordless story about a long day at the beach via one family’s sun-dappled visit. While the adults pitch an umbrella, the children begin building sand castles near the ocean’s edge. But the tide is inexorable, and after a windblown hat takes out a turret, a big wave flattens the rest, requiring the kids to begin again. It’s a portrait of the best kind of childhood learning curve—slow, cooperative, independent, and made with little more than water and sand.
TJ Alexander (Atria/Bestler)
Alexander’s adorable debut rom-com pairs a grumpy pastry chef with her cheery new nonbinary kitchen manager as they navigate difficult office dynamics, their reluctant attraction to each other, and the unexpected viral fame that comes when their cooking videos gain traction—in no small part due to their on-camera chemistry. Theirs is a deliciously slow-burning romance that pays off in spades, with baked goods and banter along the way.
Sunyi Dean (Tor)
The supernatural race central to Dean’s addictive gothic debut literally eat books to survive. After Devon, a book eater woman who was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales in her family’s effort to control her, gives birth to a mind eater baby, she and her son go on the run—but the child’s terrifying appetite only grows. It’s a gripping thrill ride that will have bibliophiles on the edges of their seats.
Ryan La Sala (Scholastic)
In a family obsessed with their image, Mars’s gender-fluidity means he’s often excluded from traditions, like attending the prestigious Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy. But when his twin sister Caroline dies under tragic and mysterious circumstances, and it becomes clear to Mars that the academy is connected, he insists on attending in her place. Against the idyllic backdrop of a secluded summer retreat, La Sala blends the season’s heady depths with twisted horror in this tantalizing read.
Nell Zink (Knopf)
I’m a huge fan of Zink’s The Wallcreeper and have recently been reading everything else she’s got to offer—Avalon arrives right on time. It features another down-and-out protagonist who’s sharp as a tack: Bran is raised on her common-law stepfather’s semilegal farm, falls in love with a UCLA student who sees the specter of fascism in everything, and finds her purpose writing films for her friends’ assignments. The whole thing is full of Zink’s characteristic wit. —Carliann Rittman, reviews editor
Beauty and the Besharam
Lillie Vale (Viking Books for Young Readers)
I’m a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, but combining that with party princess culture just hits too many of my buttons to ignore. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it affects Kavya and Ian’s love story as the two are forced to play prince and princess while also competing against each other in a succession of challenges. —Drucilla Shultz, bookroom editor
Wash Day Diaries
Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith (Chronicle)
Bursting with personality, color, and the everyday drama that circles around Bronx salon culture, Rowser and Smith’s graphic debut features an ensemble clique of Black women figuring out love, life, and family. As singer Kimana and her friends gear up for a performance, they encounter fresh crushes and aggressive old flames, hot gossip and quiet moments of poignant reconciliation, in between the renewing rituals of wash day.
Kirsten Miller (Morrow)
Three women harness supernatural powers after they hit menopause—that’s the change referred to in the title—and use them to investigate and avenge a series of unsolved murders of girls on Long Island. Rather than a straight-up revenge scheme, Miller expands and deepens the goings-on with singular characters. Our starred review called it a “tightly plotted page-turner,” as well as a “fierce anthem against misogyny.”
Kat Fajardo (Graphix)
In Fajardo’s graphic novel, a solo debut, aspiring artist Suyapa Gutiérrez would rather spend her 15th birthday reading manga than dancing at a quinceañera. But on a family trip to visit her mother’s family in Honduras, Sue learns that her mother has already planned the celebration. Fajardo’s sympathetic look at a girl learning that she can be herself and still cherish family tradition celebrates the beauty of Honduras with vivid, summery art.
The Kingdoms of Savannah
George Dawes Green (Celadon)
A Savannah homeless man’s murder and the disappearance of his drinking buddy, a sometime archaeologist, plunge their friends Jaq Walker, a fearless aspiring documentarian currently tending bar, and her uncle by marriage, Ransom, a disgraced scion of the storied Musgrove family, into a high-stakes hunt for answers that threatens to unearth some of the city’s most sinister secrets. With strong characters, assured writing, and a provocative plot, this haunting literary thriller finds Green firing on all cylinders.
Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional
Isaac Fitzgerald (Bloomsbury)
In this mesmerizing memoir, former BuzzFeed books editor Fitzgerald recounts his unlikely life, from growing up in a rural Massachusetts homeless shelter to trying on multiple identities around the world as a bartender, biker, and BDSM porn star. As he cavorts through homegrown fight clubs, Catholic shame, and ritzy boarding schools, he reckons with fraught ideas of masculinity and belonging, emerging with a nuanced story of self-acceptance that’s impossible to look away from.
Does a Bulldozer Have a Butt?
Derick Wilder, illus. by K-Fai Steele (Chronicle)
As a father and child walk to school, an important question arises: “Which things do and don’t have butts?” Paired with Steele’s ink line and bright washes, Wilder’s transgressively funny concept (plus plentiful puns and mentions of tush utility) will no doubt win over the target audience. But even more important is the view the book offers: one of a world in which questions serve as a common bond, curiosity is amply rewarded, and variety is the spice of life.
A Lady for a Duke
Alexis Hall (Forever)
Hall captures everything readers love in Regency romance—sparkling dialogue, swoonworthy chemistry, and norm-bucking characters—in this pitch-perfect love story between trans woman Viola Caroll, who, presumed dead at Waterloo, seizes the chance to finally live as herself, and her grieving former best friend, the Duke of Gracewood, who doesn’t realize who Viola is when she reenters his life. It’s an emotional celebration of love and authenticity—and it may be Hall’s best yet.
Isabel Cañas (Berkley)
The haunted house story gets an update in Cañas’s chilling, gorgeous novel. In 1823 Mexico, the new wife of a mysterious widower fears that something’s off in her husband’s sprawling home—and the only person who believes her is a handsome young priest. As they work together to exorcise whatever spirit haunts the hacienda, they uncover a hidden history and Cañas brilliantly deploys—and subverts—horror tropes.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Casey McQuiston (Wednesday)
McQuiston’s YA debut spins a multifaceted mystery via scavenger hunt as narrated by sardonic bisexual high school senior Chloe Green. When the beautiful and universally beloved Shara Wheeler suddenly kisses Chloe and disappears, Chloe teams up with Shara’s boyfriend, Smith Parker, and Shara’s neighbor, Rory Heron, to find her by puzzling together clues that Shara left behind. Crisp writing, humorous dialogue, and fully realized characters and relationships keep things fresh and genuinely hopeful.
Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It
Kaitlyn Tiffany (MCD x FSG Originals)
As someone who frequently turns to Harry Styles music videos for sweet relief from the stressors of life, I was ecstatic to see a book coming out about One Direction’s frenzied fans and the power they hold in the digital age. And it couldn’t be written by a better author—Atlantic staffer Tiffany has long been a sage interpreter of internet culture, and her clever insights on fandom are sure to garner her new stans. —Steph Buschardt, nonfiction reviews editor
Alice Elliott Dark (Scribner/Rucci)
Nostalgic for those summer afternoons spent transported by a book? Welcome to Fellowship Point, a modern 19th-century novel centered on the friendship of two octogenarian women friends who took very different life paths. Between them is the fate of a tract of land in Maine: preserve it or pass it on? The twists and turns of long lives well lived will keep you reading until the fireflies appear. —Louisa Ermelino, editor-at-large
Chabouté and Benoît Cohen, trans. from the French by Edward Gauvin (IDW)
In a gorgeous comics adaptation by Eisner winner Chabouté, French filmmaker Cohen attempts to sign up as an N.Y.C. taxi driver to research his next movie (the script of which he hashes out across the comic). It’s all more bizarre than he bargained for, whether pursuing the coveted taxi medallion or cruising around the city with rotating oddball passengers in the spirit of Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth.
Sloane Crosley (MCD)
A cult, a startup, and, worst of all, the ghosts of boyfriends past figure into this funny and fantastical story from Crosley. After protagonist Lola starts running into one ex after another on the streets of New York City, she seeks help from a former magazine editor who is building a business—and a cult—around a set of experimental psychology techniques designed to help clients achieve closure with people from their past.
Small Town Pride
Phil Stamper (HarperCollins)
After 13-year-old Jake Moore comes out to his parents, his father installs a large Pride flag in the family’s small-town Ohio yard, and Jake decides to throw the village’s first Pride festival. But village politics and red tape threaten to derail things, forcing Jake and his cohort to work toward changing the system. Drawing from his own childhood experiences, Stamper keeps the accessible story hopeful with a heartfelt portrayal of acceptance, inclusion, and bighearted community.
Last Call at the Nightingale
Katharine Schellman (Minotaur)
In 1924 Manhattan, Vivian Kelly toils as a seamstress by day, but at night she frequents the Nightingale speakeasy. When the body of a suspected bootlegger turns up in an alley outside the Nightingale, Vivian agrees to spy on the victim’s family members to see whether they can help find the killer. Well-defined characters and a vivid picture of Jazz Age Manhattan make this a winner.
Geography Is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000 Year History
Ian Morris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A sweeping history of Britain from the ice ages to Brexit may not sound like a beach read, but Morris renders clashes with Roman centurions, Norman invaders, Spanish armadas, fascist dictators, and European Union technocrats in effervescent prose, illuminating essential characteristics of British politics and culture. Packed with intriguing arcana and astute big-picture analysis, this is history at its most erudite and compulsively readable.
Doug Salati (Knopf)
Set on one sizzling summer day, Salati’s solo debut is a remarkable slice-of-life story starring a copper-hued, city-dwelling dachshund. In candid-feeling spreads, Salati captures an urban crush, and the dog’s subsequent meltdown, until—a cab, a train, and a ferry later—hound and human companion arrive at “an island... wild and long and low,” where, at last, “a pup can run.” Luxurious scenes of ocean, sand, and reeds add to a calming portrait of escape and renewal.
The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes
Cat Sebastian (Avon)
Blackmail makes for a surprising meet-cute between lovable rogue Rob Brooks and fiery Marian Hayes, the discontented wife of a duke, in Sebastian’s wildly charming Georgian England–set romantic caper. After a burglary gone awry, the pair go on the run together, creating plenty of opportunity for these feisty, intelligent characters to match wits and, eventually, succumb to passion. The pair’s palpable connection and hilarious, highly criminal road trip antics keep the pages flying.
Nghi Vo (Tordotcom)
Vo brings the golden age of Hollywood to life through the spellbinding story of a Chinese American starlet who rises through the film industry’s corrupt ranks and makes a name for herself playing monsters—though the real monsters lurk behind the scenes. Vo’s prose is as lush and evocative as ever, and her character study of an ambitious, talented actor captivates. This is sure to suck readers in.
Ebony LaDelle (Simon & Schuster)
Aspiring author Danielle Ford self-isolates following an incident, until classmate Prince—a Detroit radio relationship expert who has worries of his own—wagers that he can win her love in three dates. With the clock running down on their time together, Dani and Prince find that their romance may be just the thing they need to face their problems head-on. LaDelle’s telling blends comedic banter and poignant connection in a story about two Black teens giving love a chance.
Leyna Krow (Viking)
A hapless banker, a career con man, and a psychically gifted prostitute walk into a bar—or, in Krow’s debut novel, intersect in the Washington Territory, summer 1889, when Spokane Falls is the latest Washington city whose downtown has gone up in flames. In the wreckage, the three cross purposes in their conflicting pursuits of financial gain and freedom. Part revisionist western, part meditation on misogyny and female power, it’s an appealingly strange, idiosyncratic tale. —Carolyn Juris, features editor
Adrian McKinty (Little, Brown)
In 2019, I devoured The Chain, McKinty’s breakout thriller about a divorced mother’s desperate efforts to save her 13-year-old daughter from a diabolical scheme that blackmails parents into kidnapping other people’s children to get their own back. Can the author match that book’s nail-biting suspense in this tale of an American family’s misadventures on an Australian island? I’m eager to find out. —Peter Cannon, senior editor
Anna Dorn (Unnamed Press)
Everyone knows astrology is make-believe, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing. In Dorn’s deliciously comic novel, two young self-aware women named Dawn and Emily are drawn to a man named Beau Rubidoux, and the three are connected via Emily’s popular astrology meme account. Dorn finds hilarity in the characters’ shortcomings and erratic behavior, such as Dawn’s impulsive decision to set an ex’s car on fire and thwarted actor Emily’s obsession with celebrities.
Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter
Zoraida Córdova (Scholastic Press)
The Salazar family, including Valentina and her tight-knit siblings, are not monster hunters—they’re monster protectors, responsible for rescuing the magical creatures that sometimes wander into the real world from their own dimensions. When a mythical egg surfaces, Val will stop at nothing to protect it from the actual monster hunters determined to destroy it. Córdova weaves a tale packed with action and hijinks, perfect for an impromptu summertime adventure.
Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday)
In 1964, Hollywood star Katie Barstow and her new husband, a Rodeo Drive gallerist, head to Tanzania for a safari honeymoon, accompanied by a small group of friends and family. What was supposed to be a civilized adventure on the Serengeti becomes a nightmare after they fall into the hands of Russian mercenaries. Meanwhile, someone within the entourage has motive to make trouble. The suspense remains taut throughout this cunning whydunit.
A History of Delusions: The Glass King, a Substitute Husband and a Walking Corpse
Victoria Shepherd (Oneworld)
Shepherd explores 10 delusions dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, including a king who thought he was made of glass, a woman who believed an imposter had replaced her husband, and a man who claimed his head had been lopped off. Fascinating and bizarre, these thoughtful case studies serve as escape hatches into the past, revealing the historical preoccupations that may have given rise to these delusions.
The Stardust Thief
Chelsea Abdullah (Orbit)
Epic fantasy fans will find much to love in Abdullah’s One Thousand and One Nights–inspired debut and series launch, which follows an unlikely found family of a smuggler, a thief, a jinn, and a prince on a dangerous trek through the desert in search of an ancient artifact. The vibrant worldbuilding sets their adventures apart as they face supernatural challenges, reveal deeply held secrets, and, of course, tell stories.
Our Crooked Hearts
Melissa Albert (Flatiron)
Two parallel story lines converge in unprecedented and terrifying ways in Albert’s dark and gripping contemporary fantasy, which features witchcraft alongside generational secrets and lies. In the present, 17-year-old Ivy grapples with the unsettling events of her everyday life and the realization that there’s more to her mother than meets the eye, while a lens on the past traces Ivy’s mother Dana, then 16, coming into her mysterious and destructive abilities, making for a riveting escapist read.
Adam White (Hogarth)
This is White’s first novel, but it reads like a fifth or a sixth, so assured it is. Set in that favorite Yankee summer destination of coastal Maine, it’s about the things that go on that tourists don’t see, specifically how a kid from a local lobstering family went from topping up boats with gas on the family dock to being the town’s grand poo-bah. Might it have something to do with a body found in a burned-out car? Don’t rush this one. Savor it. —Jonathan Segura, executive editor
Saint Sebastian’s Abyss
Mark Haber (Coffee House)
Haber writes in a deliberately hyperbolic literary style that is a lot of fun, provided you’re the type of person who has a sense of humor about your own pretensions. His work reads like it has been translated from a Balkan language by an unfunny academic, which makes it, paradoxically, utterly engaging. This, Haber’s second novel, takes on art, professional rivalry, and male friendship. It is an all-too-brief delight! —Ed Nawotka, international and bookselling editor
Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press)
Moshfegh imagines a miserable feudal village somewhere in medieval Europe, ruled by a lord whose idea of an iron fist involves hiring bandits to terrorize the villagers and keeping a stranglehold on the food supply. Despite the horrors—and there are many—it’s full of unusual delights, not least of which being the child protagonist’s waning naivete or his former wet nurse’s magic mushrooms.
Wretched Waterpark (Sinister Summer #1)
Kiersten White (Delacorte)
The Sinister-Winterbottoms siblings—Theo; her twin, Alexander; and their older sister, Wil—are spending the summer with odd and sometimes creepy Aunt Saffronia. Desperately bored, the three are thrilled when Aunt Saffronia suggests a trip to the Fathoms of Fun Waterpark, but the theme park is filled with oddities even creepier than their aunt, making the trio wonder if they’re in over their heads, in White’s series opener about an average summer vacation turned spooky.
The Lost Summers of Newport
Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White (Morrow)
In 2019, architectural historian Andie Figuero arrives at Sprague Hall, a crumbling Newport, R.I., summer home to host an episode of a TV reality show called Makeover Mansions. The reclusive elderly heiress who lives at Sprague Hall threatens to cause trouble unless Andie meets certain conditions. Flashbacks to 1899 and 1958 reveal devastating family secrets and violent deaths. Superb pacing and elegant plotting will keep readers turning the pages right up to the fairy tale ending.
Inventing the It Girl: How Elinor Glyn Created the Modern Romance and Conquered Early Hollywood
Hilary A. Hallett (Liveright)
This marvelous biography recounts the life and career of Elinor Glyn, a novelist who “midwifed much of the sexual ethos of Anglo-American popular culture.” After taking her steamy romance novels mainstream in the early 1900s, Glyn moved to Hollywood and birthed the idea of an “It Girl.” Hallett covers all the glitz with great detail, making for a page-turning account of the art of celebrity.
A Seed Grows
Antoinette Portis (Holiday House/Porter)
Employing spare language and sunny, stippled multimedia spreads that belie their quiet complexity, Portis gracefully traces a sunflower’s cycle from seed to sprout to plant—and back again. This vibrant offering, almost as jam-packed as a seed itself, details a seedling’s early needs and maturation phases with text and images that hint at the plant’s place as participant in the natural world.
A Proposal They Can't Refuse
Natalie Caña (Mira)
Matchmaking octogenarian best friends push their grandchildren, Puerto Rican chef Kamilah Vega and Irish American whiskey distiller Liam Kane, toward each other in Caña’s absolute blast of a debut. The pair agree to fake an engagement to appease their grandfathers, leading to amusing hijinks, a thoughtful exploration of cultural heritage, and—of course—true love. This cute, delightfully tropey rom-com delivers both heat and heart.
She's Nice Though
Mia Mercado (HarperOne)
This collection of essays allows readers inside Mercado’s life as a Midwestern biracial woman. She uses humor to reveal truths about depression, racism, and societal norms while questioning what it means to be nice (“to shrink or apologize or smile out of obligation”), who benefits from it (“nice girls finish eventually”), and how to “differentiate between the performance of niceness and... true good intentions.” This is for anyone who would rather die than, heaven forbid, be a bother and ask for help. —Emma Wenner, religion editor
The Third Person
Emma Grove (Drawn & Quarterly)
Grove’s animation background shines in the quick-sketch intuition of her fab comics memoir debut. I found myself racing through almost 900 pages in one sitting. The basics of the script: a trans woman reconstructs intense sessions with a doubting psychologist, who won’t approve her for hormone therapy because he doesn’t quite believe she’s telling him the whole truth—all told in shifting points of view from three distinct personalities within Grove. It’s a sharp and satisfying psychological mystery that unfolds from inside a crowded mind. —Meg Lemke, graphic novel reviews editor
Last Summer on State Street
Toya Wolfe (Morrow)
Wolfe’s debut offers an unflinching look at the violence and racism affecting those who inhabit a Chicago housing project fated for demolition in 1999, but it’s also full of love and life, particularly in the portrayal of three 12-year-old Black girls first seen “snapping through the block in neon colors like a school of tropical fish.” As the characters struggle to envision a life for themselves beyond the project, the explosive story turns wrenching.
River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile
Candace Millard (Doubleday)
Bestseller Millard unearths the captivating story of 19th-century explorer Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who spent decades enslaved in India before returning to his native Africa, where he became a key player in many British expeditions, including Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke’s tumultuous quest to find the source of the Nile River. Full of monumental ego clashes, white-knuckle escapes, and the thrill of discovery, this adventure saga soars.
The World Belonged to Us
Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by Leo Espinosa (Penguin/Paulsen)
Lilting, intimate lines by Woodson capture a delicious sense of autonomy and possibility shared “In Brooklyn/ in the summer/ not so long ago,” when “the minute/ school ended, us kids were free as air.” In Espinosa’s spreads, kids crowd sidewalks and stoops, open hydrants, and play street games with chalk and bottle caps. Together, the creators celebrate the strengths of shared experiences and community, showing how childhood can engender joy that follows “everywhere I’d ever go.”
The Twilight World
Werner Herzog, trans. Michael Hofmann (Penguin Press)
Director Herzog is known for his films about quixotic quests (see Fitzcarraldo), so what better fit for the director’s first novel than a fictionalization of the real-life story of Hiroo Onoda, the WWII Japanese Army lieutenant who in 1944 was told to hold down an island in the Philippines from Allied attack? (He did so until he formally surrendered—in 1974.) Herzog brings an inimitable and surreal touch to his work, and this promises to be no exception. —Marc Greenawalt, associate reviews editor
Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle
Jody Rosen (Crown)
For me, New York is biking. I moved to the city in November 2008, bought a used 10-speed that spring, and have ridden it anywhere and everywhere, in whatever weather won’t kill me, ever since. To work, to the bar, to the beach—there’s no better way to get where you’re going. (Except Times Square. Even a bike can’t help you there.) That’s why I can’t wait to read this cultural history, which got a starred review from PW—it might be the next best thing to going for a ride. —David Adams, reviews editor
Sandra Newman (Grove)
A woman takes a camping trip with her husband and young son and imagines a world without them. Then they suddenly disappear, along with all the other people on the planet who were born with a Y chromosome. Newman updates the 1970s-era feminist utopia story with elements of contemporary disaster narratives, making for a crackerjack page-turner that explores the implications of the remaining women’s newfound freedom and abject grief.
The Lunar Housewife
Caroline Woods (Doubleday)
Louise Leithauser, the heroine of this early Cold War thriller set in New York, writes pseudonymously about politics for a hot new literary magazine cofounded by her boyfriend, Joe Martin. An overheard conversation leads Louise, who has written a novella-length American-Soviet space romance, to investigate Joe’s connections to government censorship of literary expression. The cameo appearance of Ernest Hemingway, whom Louise interviews, helps lend authenticity. This tale of gender dynamics, politics, and power enchants.
This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch: The Joy of Loving Something—Anything—Like Your Life Depends on It
Tabitha Carvan (Putnam)
After watching the Victorian special episode of BBC’s Sherlock, essayist Carvan developed an all-consuming obsession with the show’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch. Through interviews with fellow superfans, Carvan uses her fixation to unpack how motherhood can scramble a mother’s sense of identity and how societal expectations of domestic responsibility discourage adult women from nurturing their passions. Hilarious and heartfelt, this self-help guide finds profound insights in some unexpected places.
Wrath Goddess Sing
Maya Deane (Morrow)
I love retellings, and Deane’s brilliant, immersive take on The Iliad brings the classic to vibrant new life, with trans woman Achilles front and center and wonderfully otherworldly gods pulling the strings. Both a propulsive tale of battle and a thoughtful meditation on identity and power, this gorgeous debut skillfully transports readers to the ancient Mediterranean—with cameos from some delightfully devilish dolphins. —Phoebe Cramer, reviews editor
Lydia Conklin (Catapult)
This intoxicating set of stories ranges through a varied group of queer characters. All of them ache with a zest for life, which Conklin makes palpable on the page, whether with a nonbinary narrator’s forays into dating during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic or a woman flirting with temptation while mindful of her sex addiction. In another story, a couple begins planning a queer family. Throughout, Conklin makes their characters’ desires beautifully complicated.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf)
Zevin chronicles a childhood friendship’s abrupt end and fruitful reunion years later in college when Sadie and Sam develop a hit video game. What makes this moving is that as they experience the pain of abuse and grief, they create better worlds in their visionary games. But what makes it irresistible are Zevin’s ideas for the games themselves, which the reader comes to wish were real.
The Murder of Mr. Wickham
Claudia Gray (Vintage)
In 1820, Emma Woodhouse Knightley hosts a house party for Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy and other friends familiar to Jane Austen readers. George Wickham, the widower of Elizabeth’s sister Lydia, now running a dubious investment scheme, crashes the party and is soon murdered. Gray perfectly captures the personalities of Austen’s beloved characters, as well as their children, in this inspired homage. Agatha Christie fans will have fun figuring out whodunit.
Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America’s Woods
Lyndsie Bourgon (Little, Brown Spark)
True crime meets climate crisis in this propulsive look at the tree poaching scene in California. Historian Bourgon paints brilliant portraits of the local “tree thieves” and the rangers attempting to stop them. It’s an intricate tale of competing priorities in Redwood National Park, full of page-turning reporting and fascinating history, plus some vivid nature writing, to boot.
Tracy Flick Can't Win
Tom Perrotta (Scribner)
Y’all heard? Tracy Flick is back, baby, and like before, she’s determined to win. This time, the hero of Election (immortalized by Reese Witherspoon in the film adaptation) campaigns for principal at a New Jersey high school. Perrotta updates the story by having Tracy reflect on her affair as a high school student with a teacher through the lens of #MeToo, and he cannily explores other hot-button issues such as racism and gun violence.
The Year of the Horses: A Memoir
Courtney Maum (Tin House)
With her signature wit and razor-sharp intellect, novelist Maum offers a spirited riposte to the tired midlife crisis narrative with an account of overcoming depression via horseback riding. It’s a captivating dual narrative that celebrates the independence, freedom, and joy found in getting back in the saddle (literally and figuratively), and a thrilling ride through horse history as both a sport and thriving culture.
Hernan Diaz (Riverhead)
Pulitzer finalist Diaz ups his game with this deeply ambitious and satisfying experiment. The novel’s four interrelated texts reverberate and play off one another, all revolving around the story of a financier who survived the stock market crash of 1929 to become one of New York City’s leading investors. For readers with time on their hands to knock this down in one steady gulp—preferably while unplugged on vacation—this offers the greatest of riches.