Featuring: Kurt Andersen, Nicholas Bowling, Craig Brown, Gregory Brown, Bridget Collins, S.A. Cosby, Nicola DeRobertis-Theye, Will Ferguson, Victoria Gosling, Guy Haley, Elizabeth Hand, Anthony Horowitz, Clifford Jackman, R.F. Kuang, Byron Lane, Ellery Lloyd, Melissa Maerz, Una Mannion, David Mitchell, Sylvain Neuvel, Nnedi Okorafor, Kristina Pérez, David Polfeldt, C.L. Polk, Andrzej Sapkowski, Ginger Smith, K.M. Szpara, Nghi Vo, Chris Wraight
Kurt Andersen, EVIL GENIUSES (Random)
During the twentieth century, America managed to make its economic and social systems both more and more fair and more and more prosperous. A huge, secure, and contented middle class emerged. All boats rose together. But then the New Deal gave way to the Raw Deal. Beginning in the early 1970s, by means of a long war conceived of and executed by a confederacy of big business CEOs, the superrich, and right-wing zealots, the rules and norms that made the American middle class possible were undermined and dismantled. The clock was turned back on a century of economic progress, making greed good, workers powerless, and the market all-powerful while weaponizing nostalgia, lifting up an oligarchy that served only its own interests, and leaving the huge majority of Americans with dwindling economic prospects and hope.
Why and how did America take such a wrong turn? In this deeply researched and brilliantly woven cultural, economic, and political chronicle, Kurt Andersen offers a fresh, provocative, and eye-opening history of America’s undoing, naming names, showing receipts, and unsparingly assigning blame — to the radical right in economics and the law, the high priests of high finance, a complacent and complicit Establishment, and liberal “useful idiots,” among whom he includes himself.
I’ve been reading Kurt Andersen’s work for some time, now. (I think I first discovered his books when I was in New York in 2011.) His previous book, Fantasyland, is fantastic and a must-read. When I heard he had a new one on the way, it shot to the top of my must-buy and must-read lists. Evil Geniuses is out now, published by Random House in North America and Ebury in the UK.
Nicholas Bowling, ALPHA OMEGA (Titan)
Something is rotten in the state of the NutriStart Skills Academy
With the discovery of a human skull on the playing fields, children displaying symptoms of an unfamiliar, grisly virus and a catastrophic malfunction in the site’s security system, the NSA is about to experience a week that no amount of rebranding can conceal. As the school descends into chaos, teacher Tom Rosen goes looking for answers – but when the real, the unreal and the surreal are indistinguishable, the truth can be difficult to recognise.
One pupil, Gabriel Backer, may hold the key to saving the school from destroying itself and its students, except he has already been expelled. Not only that – he has disappeared down the rabbit-hole of “Alpha Omega” – the world’s largest VR role-playing game, filled with violent delights and unbridled debauchery. But the game quickly sours. Gabriel will need to confront the real world he’s been so desperate to escape if he ever wants to leave…
Craig Brown, 150 GLIMPSES OF THE BEATLES (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Though fifty years have passed since the breakup of the Beatles, the fab four continue to occupy an utterly unique place in popular culture. Their influence extends far beyond music and into realms as diverse as fashion and fine art, sexual politics and religion. When they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, fresh off the plane from England, they provoked an epidemic of hoarse-throated fandom that continues to this day.
Who better, then, to capture the Beatles phenomenon than Craig Brown — the inimitable author of Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret and master chronicler of the foibles and foppishness of British high society? This wide-ranging portrait of the four lads from Liverpool rivals the unique spectacle of the band itself by delving into a vast catalog of heretofore unexamined lore.
When actress Eleanor Bron touched down at Heathrow with the Beatles, she thought that a flock of starlings had alighted on the roof of the terminal — only to discover that the birds were in fact young women screaming at the top of their lungs. One journalist, mistaken for Paul McCartney as he trailed the band in his car, found himself nearly crushed to death as fans climbed atop the vehicle and pressed their bodies against the windshield. Or what about the Baptist preacher who claimed that the Beatles synchronized their songs with the rhythm of an infant’s heartbeat so as to induce a hypnotic state in listeners? And just how many people have employed the services of a Canadian dentist who bought John Lennon’s tooth at auction, extracted its DNA, and now offers paternity tests to those hoping to sue his estate?
150 Glimpses of the Beatles is, above all, a distinctively kaleidoscopic examination of the Beatles’ effect on the world around them and the world they helped bring into being. Part anthropology and part memoir, and enriched by the recollections of everyone from Tom Hanks to Bruce Springsteen, this book is a humorous, elegiac, and at times madcap take on the Beatles’ role in the making of the sixties and of music as we know it.
I’ve still not really read anything substantial about the Beatles — either as a collective, or individually. Not really sure how that’s happened. Regardless, I thought this sounded interesting. 150 Glimpses of the Beatles is due to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on October 13th, 2020, in North America and in the UK.
Follow the Author: Goodreads
Review copy received via NetGalley
Gregory Brown, THE LOWERING DAYS (Harper)
If you paid attention, you could see the entire unfolding of human history in a story…
Growing up, David Almerin Ames and his brothers, Link and Simon, believed the wild patch of Maine where they lived along the Penobscot River belonged to them. Running down the state like a spine, the river shared its name with the people of the Penobscot Nation, whose ancestral territory included the entire Penobscot watershed — the land upon which the Ames family eventually made their home.
The brothers’ affinity for the natural world derives from their iconoclastic parents, Arnoux, a romantic artist and Vietnam War deserter who builds boats by hand, and Falon, an activist journalist who runs The Lowering Days, a community newspaper which gives equal voice to indigenous and white issues.
But the boys’ childhood reverie is shattered when a bankrupt paper mill, once the Penobscot Valley’s largest employer, is burned to the ground on the eve of potentially reopening. As the community grapples with the scope of the devastation, Falon receives a letter from a Penobscot teenager confessing to the crime — an act of justice for a sacred river under centuries of assault.
For the residents of the Penobscot Valley, the fire reveals a stark truth. For many, the mill is a lifeline, providing working class jobs they need to survive. Within the Penobscot Nation, the mill is a bringer of death, spewing toxic chemicals and wastewater products that poison the river’s fish and plants.
As the divide within the community widens, the building anger and resentment explodes in tragedy, wrecking the lives of David and those around him.
Evocative and atmospheric, pulsating with the rhythms of the natural world, The Lowering Days is a meditation on the flow and weight of history, the power and fragility of love, the dangerous fault lines underlying families, and the enduring land where stories are created and told.
I was pre-approved for this on Edelweiss, and thought it sounded really interesting. I’ll hopefully read it pretty soon, although I’ll probably wait to post a review. The Lowering Days is due to be published by Harper in North America and in the UK, on March 2nd, 2021.
Bridget Collins, THE BETRAYALS (Borough Press)
If everything in your life was based on a lie
Would you risk it all to tell the truth?
At Montverre, an exclusive academy tucked away in the mountains, the best and brightest are trained for excellence in the grand jeu: an arcane and mysterious contest. Léo Martin was once a student there, but lost his passion for the grand jeu following a violent tragedy. Now he returns in disgrace, exiled to his old place of learning with his political career in tatters.
Montverre has changed since he studied there, even allowing a woman, Claire Dryden, to serve in the grand jeu’s highest office of Magister Ludi. When Léo first sees Claire he senses an odd connection with her, though he’s sure they have never met before.
Both Léo and Claire have built their lives on lies. And as the legendary Midsummer Game, the climax of the year, draws closer, secrets are whispering in the walls…
I saw some buzz about this novel when ARCs were first created/sent out for blurbs. Forgot about it for a bit, but then spotted it on NetGalley, and decided to give it a try. Looking forward to it. The Betrayals is due to be published by The Borough Press in the UK and William Morrow in North America (November 12th).
S.A. Cosby, BLACKTOP WASTELAND (Flatiron)
Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.
He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.
Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland… or die trying.
This novel has received a ton of pre- and post-publication buzz. I started reading it pretty soon after I got it, and zipped through. I’m happy to report that the buzz is entirely justified — it’s gripping, with fantastic characters. It’s been pitched as “Ocean’s Eleven meets Drive“, which isn’t quite right: sure, Drive, but Ocean’s Eleven is maybe a bit of a stretch. Regardless, it’s an excellent novel, and I do highly recommend it. Blacktop Wasteland is out now, published by Flatiron Books in North America and Headline in the UK.
Don DeLillo, THE SILENCE (Scribner)
Don DeLillo completed this novel just weeks before the advent of Covid-19. The Silence is the story of a different catastrophic event. Its resonances offer a mysterious solace.
It is Super Bowl Sunday in the year 2022. Five people, dinner, an apartment on the east side of Manhattan. The retired physics professor and her husband and her former student waiting for the couple who will join them from what becomes a dramatic flight from Paris. The conversation ranges from a survey telescope in North-central Chile to a favorite brand of bourbon to Einstein’s 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity.
Then something happens and the digital connections that have transformed our lives are severed.
The new novel by the acclaimed author of White Noise and Underworld, among others. The full synopsis is a bit… florid, which makes me a little anxious. I read this on the same day I received the DRC, and while there were parts that I liked very much, overall it was a bit of a let-down: for one thing, it’s too short to deliver on anything the synopsis promises. Long-time fans of DeLillo will no doubt enjoy it, but I was left wanting much more. The Silence is due to be published by Scribner in North America (October 20th) and Picador in the UK (October 29th).
Follow the Author: Goodreads
Review copy received via Edelweiss
Nicola DeRobertis-Theye, THE VIETRI PROJECT (Harper)
Working at a bookstore in Berkeley in the years after college, Gabriele becomes intrigued by the orders of signor Vietri, a customer from Rome whose numerous purchases grow increasingly mystical and esoteric. Restless and uncertain of her future, Gabriele quits her job and, landing in Rome, decides to look up Vietri. Unable to locate him, she begins a quest to unearth the well-concealed facts of his life.
Following a trail of obituaries and military records, a memoir of life in a village forgotten by modernity, and the court records of a communist murder trial, Gabriele meets an eclectic assortment of the city’s inhabitants, from the widow of an Italian prisoner of war to members of a generation set adrift by the financial crisis. Each encounter draws her unexpectedly closer to her own painful past and complicated family history — an Italian mother diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized during her childhood, and an extended family in Rome still recovering from the losses and betrayals in their past. Through these voices and histories, Gabriele will discover what it means to be a person in the world; a member of a family and a citizen of a country — and how reconciling these stories may be the key to understanding her own.
I spotted this available for review, and it sounded suitably different to everything else I was reading. So, I decided I wanted to give it a try. I read it quite soon after getting the DRC, but I’m holding off on posting my review until closer to its release date (which feels very far away, to be honest). It is well-written, certainly, and there are some interesting observations and diversions, but for the main I wasn’t really sure what it wanted to do or be. It left me a little disappointed. The Vietri Project is due to be published by Harper in North America and the UK, in March 2021.
Will Ferguson, THE FINDER (Simon & Schuster)
The world is filled with wonders, lost objects — all real — all still out there, waiting to be found:
– the missing Fabergé eggs of the Romanov dynasty, worth millions
– the last reel of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film
– Buddy Holly’s iconic glasses
– Muhammad Ali’s Olympic gold medal
How can such cherished objects simply vanish? Where are they hiding? And who on earth might be compelled to uncover them?
Will Ferguson takes readers on a heroic, imaginative journey across continents, from the seas of southern Japan, to the arid Australian Outback, to the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, after the earthquake. Prepare to meet Gaddy Rhodes, a brittle Interpol agent obsessed with tracking “The Finder” — a shadowy figure she believes is collecting lost objects; Thomas Rafferty, a burnt-out travel writer whose path crosses that of The Finder, to devastating effect; and Tamsin Greene, a swaggering war photographer who is hiding secrets of her own.
The Finder is a beguiling and wildly original tale about the people, places, and things that are lost and found in our world. Both an epic literary adventure and an escape into a darkly thrilling world of deceit and its rewards, this novel asks: How far would you be willing to go to recover the things you’ve left behind?
I spotted this a while ago in a catalogue, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since — it sounds like an intriguing international heist/cat-and-mouse tale. I’ll be reading this very soon. The Finder is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in North America and in the UK, on September 1st, 2020.
Victoria Gosling, BEFORE THE RUINS (Henry Holt)
Four friends, an abandoned manor, and one fateful night that will follow them for the rest of their lives
That summer, there were four of them, all on the cusp of adulthood: Andy, her boyfriend Marcus, her best friend Peter, and Em, whiling away the hours in a deserted manor house with a rich, sordid history. Sorely without the ambition and opportunities that her friends have always counted on, Andy finds herself terrified of a future that will take them all down very different paths. Her newfound fears make her reckless, resulting in increasingly destructive behavior. Then David shows up. Magnetic, worldly, and on the run from the police, David presents an irresistible lure for both Andy and Peter, pitting the two lifelong friends against each other for the first time. When the group learns that a diamond necklace, stolen fifty years ago, might still be somewhere on the manor grounds, the Game — half treasure hunt, half friendly deception — begins. But the Game becomes much bigger than the necklace, growing to encompass years of secrets, lies, and, ultimately, one terrible betrayal.
Decades later, Andy and Peter struggle to maintain their friendship, meeting only to drink to the past and trying not to talk about what happened at the manor. But when Peter goes missing, Andy is thrust back to that summer — with all of its frantic energy, yearning, and loss — and the mysteries that still haven’t been solved.
Hadn’t heard of this before the publisher got in touch, but it sounds pretty interesting. Looking forward to giving it a try. Before the Ruins is due to be published by Henry Holt in North America (November 17th) and Serpent’s Tail in the UK (May 6th).
Elizabeth Hand, THE BOOK OF LAMPS AND BANNERS (Mulholland)
Photographer Cass Neary is hard-up for cash and in more danger than she realizes on the hunt for an ancient, legendary book…
Photographer Cass Neary is desperate to get home, and she’s already lost her camera — like losing a limb. Now her only chance is to cash in on a deal that a friend is about to cut for a legendary illuminated manuscript: The Book of Lamps and Banners. Rumored to have been rescued from the Library at Alexandria, the Book is said to contain ancient esoteric knowledge, even an otherworldly power.
So when an intruder brazenly steals the manuscript, Cass and her ex-con lover Quinn must get it back-plunging headlong into a shady underworld where antiquarian booksellers, unhinged tech entrepreneurs, and brutal nationalists all converge. This breathless psychological thriller, featuring one of the greatest amateur sleuths of the past decade, could only come from the mind of Elizabeth Hand.
This is the fourth novel in Hand’s Cass Neary series. I managed to get my hands on the first three, but have yet to find time to read them. Each of them sounds great, however, and they are a little different from my typical mystery read. I hope, therefore, to get to the series soon. The Book of Lamps and Banners is due to be published by Mulholland Books, in North America and in the UK, on October 29th.
Anthony Horowitz, MOONFLOWER MURDERS (Harper)
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she’s always wanted. But is it? She’s exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she’s beginning to miss London.
And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married — a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Hall — fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts.
One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim — an advertising executive named Frank Parris — and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pund Takes the Cake, on that very crime.
The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder — a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman — is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.
This is the second novel in Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland series, following Magpie Murders. Moonflower Murders is due to be published by Harper in North America (November 10th) and Century in the UK (August 20th).
Clifford Jackman, THE BRAVER THING (Random House Canada)
A swash-buckling adventure from piracy’s Golden Age and a deft political allegory for our troubled times.
In 1721, when the most notorious pirates are either dead or on the run, Jimmy Kavanagh, who sailed with Blackbeard, decides to pull together a “Company of Gentleman of Fortune” for one last “Adventuring Cruise” that will set them all up for life. All begins well: the pirates sail across the Atlantic and sack Cape Coast Castle, looting it of chests of gold ill-gotten from the slave trade. But before Kavanagh can lead them on, he sickens, unleashing a drastic series of power struggles among the company. As further victories transform them from the hunters to the hunted, the pirates descend into mutiny, show trials, assassination and tyranny as they flee from their pursuers and struggle against the seas.
Full of epic sea battles and storms, peopled with characters worthy of Mutiny on the Bounty, Jackman’s pirate voyage is also an object lesson in how political systems degrade as the pirates, who set out as a band of brothers, are powerless to prevent the erosion of the norms and values that hold their Company together. Where they end will shock you. But given our own times, it might not surprise you.
This has been described as “Treasure Island meets Lord of the Flies“, which certainly sounds rather intriguing. I haven’t read anything by Jackman before, so I’m looking forward to giving this a try. The Braver Thing is due to be published on August 11th by Random House in North America (not sure about a UK publisher, but it is available via import).
R.F. Kuang, THE BURNING GOD (Voyager)
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much – the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges – and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
The Burning God is the third novel in Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning Poppy War series. I enjoyed the first novel, but haven’t yet had the chance to read the second (so many must read books, so little time!). Maybe I should rectify that oversight ASAP. The Burning God is due to be published in November, by Voyager in North America and in the UK.
Also on CR: Interview with R.F. Kuang (2018)
Byron Lane, A STAR IS BORED (Henry Holt)
She needs an assistant.
He needs a hero.
A hilariously heartfelt novel influenced in part by the author’s time assisting Carrie Fisher.
Charlie Besson is tense and sweating as he prepares for a wild job interview. His car is idling, like his life, outside the Hollywood mansion of Kathi Kannon, star of stage and screen and People magazine’s Worst Dressed list. She’s an actress in need of assistance, and he’s adrift and in need of a lifeline.
Kathi is an icon, bestselling author, and award-winning movie star, most known for her role as Priestess Talara in a blockbuster sci-fi film. She’s also known in another role: Outrageous Hollywood royalty. Admittedly so. Famously so. Chaotically so, as Charlie quickly discovers.
Charlie gets the job, and his three-year odyssey is filled with late-night shopping sprees, last-minute trips to see the aurora borealis, and an initiation to that most sacred of Hollywood tribes: the personal assistant. But Kathi becomes much more than a boss, and as their friendship grows Charlie must make a choice. Will he always be on the sidelines of life, assisting the great forces that be, or can he step into his own life’s leading role?
Laugh-out-loud funny, and searingly poignant, Byron Lane’s A Star is Bored is a novel that, like the star at its center, is enchanting and joyous, heartbreaking and hopeful.
I’ve been looking forward to reading this novel since I first heard about it a few months ago. I’ll be reading this very soon. A Star is Bored is out now, published by Henry Holt in North America and in the UK.
Ellery Lloyd, PEOPLE LIKE HER (Harper)
Followed by Millions, Watched by One
To her adoring fans, Emmy Jackson, aka @the_mamabare, is the honest “Instamum” who always tells it like it is.
To her skeptical husband, a washed-up novelist who knows just how creative Emmy can be with the truth, she is a breadwinning powerhouse chillingly brilliant at monetizing the intimate details of their family life.
To one of Emmy’s dangerously obsessive followers, she’s the woman that has everything — but deserves none of it.
As Emmy’s marriage begins to crack under the strain of her growing success and her moral compass veers wildly off course, the more vulnerable she becomes to a very real danger circling ever closer to her family.
In this deeply addictive tale of psychological suspense, Ellery Lloyd raises important questions about technology, social media celebrity, and the way we live today. Probing the dark side of influencer culture and the perils of parenting online, People Like Her explores our desperate need to be seen and the lengths we’ll go to be liked by strangers. It asks what — and who — we sacrifice when make our private lives public, and ultimately lose control of who we let in…
This novel was apparently the subject of a five-way auction. So, I’m sure we’re going to be seeing a lot more buzz about it in the near future. It seems to tap into an area that I’m very interested in — namely, the uses and abuses of social media and technology. I’ll read it soon, but hold off on a review until November or December. People Like Her is due to be published by Harper in North America (January 12th) and Mantle in the UK (January 14th).
Melissa Maerz, ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT (Harper)
The definitive oral history of the cult classic Dazed and Confused, featuring behind-the-scenes stories from the cast and crew and written with the cooperation of Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater.
Dazed and Confused not only heralded the arrival of filmmaker Richard Linklater, it introduced a cast of unknowns who would become the next generation of movie stars. Embraced as a cultural touchstone, the 1993 film would also make Matthew McConaughey’s famous phrase — alright, alright, alright — ubiquitous. But it started with a simple idea: Linklater thought people might like to watch a movie about high school kids just hanging out and listening to music on the last day of school in 1976.
To some, that might not even sound like a movie. But to a few studio executives, it sounded enough like the next American Graffiti to justify the risk. Dazed and Confused made almost no money at the box office and seemed destined to disappear. Then something weird happened: Linklater turned out to be right. This wasn’t the kind of movie everybody liked, but it was the kind of movie certain people loved, with an intensity that felt personal. No matter what their high school experience was like, they thought Dazed and Confused was about them.
Alright, Alright, Alright is the story of how this iconic film came together and why it worked. Combining behind-the-scenes photos and insights from nearly the entire cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and many others, and with the full cooperation of Linklater himself, it offers an inside look at how a budding filmmaker and a cast of newcomers made a period piece that would feel timeless for decades to come.
I’ve only seen Dazed & Confused once, and fairly recently at that. But, despite not having that long, fond nostalgia attached to the movie, when I spotted this available for review I was intrigued. Looking forward to reading this relatively soon. Alright, Alright, Alright is due to be published by Harper on November 17th, 2020, in North America and in the UK.
Una Mannion, A CROOKED TREE (Harper)
“The night we left Ellen on the road, we drove up the mountain in silence.”
It is the early 1980s and fifteen-year-old Libby is obsessed with The Field Guide to the Trees of North America, a gift her Irish immigrant father gave her before he died. She finds solace in “The Kingdom,” a stand of red oak and thick mountain laurel near her home in suburban Pennsylvania, where she can escape from her large and unruly family and share menthol cigarettes and lukewarm beers with her best friend.
One night, while driving home, Libby’s mother, exhausted and overwhelmed with the fighting in the backseat, pulls over and orders Libby’s little sister Ellen to walk home. What none of this family knows as they drive off leaving a twelve-year-old girl on the side of the road five miles from home with darkness closing in, is what will happen next.
A Crooked Tree is a surprising, indelible novel, both a poignant portrayal of an unmoored childhood giving way to adolescence, and a gripping page-turner about the unexpected reverberations of one rash act.
Thought this debut sounded interesting, and a little different to my usual reading. Also, that cover is very eye-catching. (Great job, designer!) A Crooked Tree is due to be published by Harper in North America (January 5th) and Faber & Faber in the UK (January 19th).
David Mitchell, UTOPIA AVENUE (Knopf)
Utopia Avenue is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967, and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue embarked on a meteoric journey from the seedy clubs of Soho, a TV debut on Top of the Pops, the cusp of chart success, glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American sojourn in the Chelsea Hotel, Laurel Canyon, and San Francisco during the autumn of ’68.
David Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue’s turbulent life and times; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of voices in the head, and the truths and lies they whisper; of music, madness, and idealism. Can we really change the world, or does the world change us?
The latest novel from the author of Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks, and many other acclaimed novels. Strangely, none of which I’ve read… And they’re apparently all at least semi-connected. I have most of them, and intend to read Black Swan Green and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet very soon. Utopia Avenue is out now, published by Knopf in North America and Sceptre in the UK.
Sylvain Neuvel, A HISTORY OF WHAT COMES NEXT (Tor.com)
Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.
Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.
But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.
A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them…
Described as a “fast moving, darkly satirical look at 1940s rocketry” and “an exploration of the amorality of progress and the nature of violence”, this sounds rather interesting. The first in a new series (Take Them to the Stars) it’s not out for quite some time, so I’ll hold off on a review, but I think I’ll read it quite soon. A History of What Comes Next is due to be published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK, on February 2nd, 2021.
Nnedi Okorafor, REMOTE CONTROL (Tor.com)
An alien artifact turns a young girl into Death’s adopted daughter…
“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”
The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa — a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.
Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks — alone, except for her fox companion — searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.
But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?
Okorafor’s Lagoon was one of my favourite reads of 2014. A fascinating, brilliantly written sci-fi novel, it also featured a most sympathetic spider. This is a new novella, the latest since Okorafor’s award-winning, critically-acclaimed Binti series. Really looking forward to reading it very soon. Remote Control is due to be published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK, on January 19th, 2021.
Also on CR: Review of Lagoon
Kristina Pérez, BRIGHT RAVEN SKIES (Imprint)
The thrilling conclusion to the lush and heart-wrenching romantic fantasy trilogy about ancient magic, warring families, and star-crossed lovers…
To save the kingdom, Branwen embraced the darkest aspects of her magic. But she may have lost herself — and the two people she loves most.
Tristan and Eseult are missing. As Branwen searches for them, she must hide the truth surrounding their disappearance from both the king and her lover. Above all, she must find the Queen and her Champion first.
New and old enemies circle Branwen, clamoring for power and revenge, and threatening to destroy the fragile peace that she has sacrificed everything to secure.
This is the third novel in Pérez’s Sweet Black Waves trilogy. I haven’t had a chance to read the first two novels, but I’ll try to hunt them down soon. Bright Raven Skies is due to be published by Imprint in North America and in the UK, on August 25th, 2020.
Also on CR: Interview with Kristina Pérez (2020)
David Polfeldt, THE DREAM ARCHITECTS (Grand Central)
The inside story of the booming video game industry from the late 1990s to the present, as told by the Managing Director of Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment (The Division, Far Cry 3, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations).
At Massive Entertainment, a Ubisoft studio, a key division of one of the largest, most influential companies in gaming, Managing Director Polfeldt has had a hand in some of the biggest video game franchises of today, from Assassin’s Creed to Far Cry to Tom Clancy’s The Division, the fastest-selling new series this generation which revitalized the Clancy brand in gaming.
In The Dream Architects, Polfeldt charts his course through a charmed, idiosyncratic career which began at the dawn of the Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox era — from successfully pitching an Avatar game to James Cameron that will digitally create all of Pandora to enduring a week-long survivalist camp in the Scandinavian forest to better understand the post-apocalyptic future of The Division.
Along the way, Polfeldt ruminates on how the video game industry has grown and changed, how and when games became art, and the medium’s expanding artistic and storytelling potential. He shares what it’s like to manage a creative process that has ballooned from a low-six-figure expense with a team of a half dozen people to a transatlantic production of five hundred employees on a single project with a production budget of over a hundred million dollars.
A rare firsthand account of the golden age of game development told in vivid detail, The Dream Architects is a seminal work about the biggest entertainment medium of today.
I don’t have as extensive a history with the video game industry than many people I know (and, in fact, as much as I would like). But, I saw this available for review, and thought it looked interesting. I think it will also help fill a non-fiction reading gap, now that I’m trying to read outside of politics/history (I also have a fair few books about basketball on the TBR mountain). The Dream Architects is due to be published by Grand Central Publishing in North America and in the UK, on September 1st.
Follow the Author: Goodreads
Review copy received via NetGalley
C.L. Polk, THE MIDNIGHT BARGAIN (Erewhon)
A sweeping, romantic new fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency England, where women’s magic is taken from them when they marry. A sorceress must balance her desire to become the first great female magician against her duty to her family.
Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.
In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss… with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.
The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries — even for love — she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?
A new novel from the author of the acclaimed Kingston Cycle novellas, published by Tor.com. This also sounds quite interesting, and I hope to give it a try soon. The Midnight Bargain is due to be published by Erewhon in North America and in the UK, on October 13th, 2020.
Andrzej Sapkowski, THE TOWER OF FOOLS (Orbit)
Reinmar of Bielawa, sometimes known as Reynevan, is a doctor, a magician and, according to some, a charlatan. And when a thoughtless indiscretion finds him caught in the crosshairs of powerful noble family, he is forced to flee his home.
But once he passes beyond the city borders, he finds that there are dangers ahead as well as behind. Strange mystical forces are gathering in the shadows. And pursued not only by the affronted Stercza brothers, bent on vengeance, but also by the Holy Inquisition, Reynevan finds himself in the Narrenturm, the Tower of Fools.
The Tower is an asylum for the mad, or for those who dare to think differently and challenge the prevailing order. And escaping the Tower, avoiding the conflict around him, and keeping his own sanity might prove a greater challenge than Reynevan ever imagined.
The first in a new trilogy by the author of the internationally best-selling Witcher series. Like many, I enjoyed the recent Netflix adaptation of The Witcher. It also reminded me that I have the first book in that series, but have not managed to read it yet. As the first in a new series, I’m quite looking forward to giving this a try. The Tower of Fools is due to be published by Orbit Book in North America and Gollancz in the UK, on October 27th, 2020.
Ginger Smith, THE RUSH’S EDGE (Angry Robot)
Halvor Cullen, a genetically-engineered and technology implanted ex-solider, doesn’t see himself as a hero. After getting out of the service, all he’s interested in is chasing the adrenaline rush that his body was designed to crave. Hal knows he won’t live long anyway; vat soldiers like him are designed to die early or will be burnt out from relentlessly seeking the rush. His best friend and former CO, Tyce, is determined not to let that happen and distracts him by work salvaging crashed ships in the Edge. But after a new crewmember – hacker-turned-tecker, Vivi – joins their band of misfits, they find a sphere that downloads an alien presence into their ship…
Multiple clashes with the military force Hal and his crew to choose sides. The battle they fight will determine the fate of vats and natural-borns throughout the galaxy. Will they join the movement against the Coalition? What has invaded their ship’s computer? And can there be a real future for a vat with an expiration date?
An interesting premise. Looking forward to giving this a try. The Rush’s Edge is due to be published by Angry Robot Books in North America and in the UK, on November 10th, 2020.
K.M. Szpara, FIRST, BECOME ASHES (Tor.com)
The Fellowship raised Lark to kill monsters.
His partner betrayed them to the Feds.
But Lark knows his magic is real, and he’ll do anything to complete his quest.
Lark spent the first twenty-four years, nine months, and three days of his life training for a righteous quest: to rid the world of monsters. Alongside his partner Kane, he wore the cage and endured the scourge in order to develop his innate magic. He never thought that when Kane left, he’d next see him in the company of FBI agents and a SWAT team. He never dreamed that the leader of the Fellowship of the Anointed would be brought up on charges of abuse and assault.
He never expected the government would tell him that the monsters aren’t real — that there is no magic, and all the pain was for nothing.
Lark isn’t ready to give up. He is determined to fulfill his quest, to defeat the monsters he was promised. Along the way he will grapple with the past, confront love, and discover his long-buried truth.
Thought this looked rather intriguing. I haven’t had a chance to read Szpara’s debut, Docile, but I’ve also been hearing very good things about that novel, too. First, Become Ashes is due to be published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK, on April 6th, 2021.
Nghi Vo, WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN (Tor.com)
The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover — a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty — and discover how truth can survive becoming history.
Returning to the empire of Ahn, this is the sequel to The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which I enjoyed. The second novella in the Singing Hills Cycle, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is due to be published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK, on December 8th, 2020.
Also on CR: Review of The Empress of Salt and Fortune
Chris Wraight, BLOODLINES (Black Library)
Try to unravel the secrets lurking in the sprawling city of Varangantua.
In the immense city of Varangantua, life is cheap but mistakes are expensive. When Probator Agusto Zidarov of the city’s enforcers is charged with locating the missing scion of a wealthy family, he knows full well that the chances of finding him alive are slight. The people demanding answers, though, are powerful and ruthless, and he is soon immersed in a world of criminal cartels and corporate warfare where even an enforcer’s survival is far from guaranteed. As he follows the evidence deeper into the city’s dark underbelly, he discovers secrets that have been kept hidden by powerful hands. As the net closes in on both him and his quarry, he is forced to confront just what measures some people are willing to take in order to stay alive…
The first novel in Black Library’s new Warhammer Crime series (also, given what’s on the cover, the first in the Agusto Zidarov series). As with Warhammer Horror, the stories/novels will be set in their sci-fi and fantasy settings. I’m really looking forward to reading this one — I’ve been reading crime fiction for decades, and I’ve noticed that many of my favourite SFF novels do have a crime element to them. So, crossing fingers that these work out. (Stangely, I’ve also noticed that I have a lot of books by Wraight that I haven’t got around to reading, yet. Weird. He’s really good.) Bloodlines is out now, published by Black Library in North America and in the UK.
Various, SCIONS OF THE EMPEROR (Black Library)
From their shadowed origins to the desperate battles that ensued when half of them rebelled against their father, the Sons of the Emperor – the vaunted primarchs – were among the greatest of humanity’s champions. They were warriors without peer and heroes whose deeds became legend. From a tale of Ferrus Manus in his earliest days to mysterious murders that lead Rogal Dorn into peril on the eve of the Siege of Terra, the eight tales in this volume lay bare key moments in the lives of these mighty heroes.
Canticle by David Guymer
The Verdict of the Scythe by David Annandale
A Game of Opposites by Guy Haley
Better Angels by Ian St Martin
The Conqueror’s Truth by Gav Thorpe
The Sinew of War by Darius Hinks
The Chamber at the End of Memory by James Swallow
First Legion by Chris Wraight
A previously convention-only anthology, newly released as an eBook and new print edition. I’m a sucker for a new Horus Heresy book, so this was an immediate purchase. I’ll read it soon. Scions of the Emperor is out now, published by Black Library in the UK and North America.