New Books (October-November)

NewBooks-20211114

Featuring: Tom Beckerlegge, William Brewer, Michael Connelly, Katie Cotugno, Eli Cranor, Scott Drakeford, Ren Hutchings, James Kestrel, Andrew Lipstein, Ellery Lloyd, H. M. Long, Cassidy Lucas, William Martin, T. R. Napper, Dan Ozzi, K. J. Parker, Kal Penn, Andrew Rice, Will Smith, Richard Swan, Gav Thorpe, Vanessa Veselka, Donald E. Westlake

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BeckerleggeT-CarnivalOfAshTom Beckerlegge, THE CARNIVAL OF ASH (Solaris)

Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.

Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…

I remember thinking this sounded really interesting when it was first announced. My interest remains piqued, and I hope to get to this pretty soon. The Carnival of Ash is due to be published by Solaris Books in North America and in the UK, on March 15th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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BrewerW-RedArrowUSHCWilliam Brewer, THE RED ARROW (Knopf)

A singular, cosmically charged journey through art, memory, and the ways our lives intertwine and align within the riddles of space and time.

When a once-promising young writer agrees to ghostwrite a famous physicist’s memoir, his livelihood is already in jeopardy: Plagued by debt, he’s grown distant from his wife — a successful AI designer — and is haunted by an overwhelming sense of dread he describes as “The Mist.” Then, things get worse: The physicist vanishes, leaving everything in limbo, including our narrator’s sanity.

Desperate for relief, he undergoes an experimental, psychedelic treatment and finds his world completely transformed: Joy suffuses every moment. For the first time, he understands himself in a larger, universal context, and feels his life shift, refract, and crack open to reveal his past and future alike.

Moving swiftly from a chemical spill in West Virginia to Silicon Valley, from a Brooklyn art studio to a high-speed train racing across the Italian countryside, The Red Arrow wades into the shadowy depths of the human psyche only to emerge, as if speeding through a mile-long tunnel, into a world that is so bright and wondrous, it almost feels completely new.

I hadn’t heard of this novel before I spotted that the publisher had made it open to all on NetGalley one week. Thought it sounded interesting, and so decided to give it a try. The Red Arrow is due to be published by Knopf in North America (May 17th) and John Murray in the UK (May 12th).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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ConnellyM-RBHB-DarkHoursUSHCMichael Connelly, THE DARK HOURS (Little, Brown)

There’s chaos in Hollywood at the end of the New Year’s Eve countdown. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD detective Renée Ballard waits out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. Only minutes after midnight, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

Ballard quickly concludes that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky and that it is linked to another unsolved murder — a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch. At the same time, Ballard hunts a fiendish pair of serial rapists, the Midnight Men, who have been terrorizing women and leaving no trace.

Determined to solve both cases, Ballard feels like she is constantly running uphill in a police department indelibly changed by the pandemic and recent social unrest. It is a department so hampered by inertia and low morale that Ballard must go outside to the one detective she can count on: Harry Bosch. But as the two inexorable detectives work together to find out where old and new cases intersect, they must constantly look over their shoulders. The brutal predators they are tracking are ready to kill to keep their secrets hidden.

The latest novel in my favourite crime series. Of course I was going to get this. Cannot recommend Connelly’s books highly enough. The Dark Hours is out now, published by Little, Brown in North America and Orion Books in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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CotugnoK-BirdsOfCaliforniaUSKatie Cotugno, BIRDS OF CALIFORNIA (Harper Perennial)

Former child actor Fiona St. James dropped out of the spotlight after a spectacularly public crash and burn. The tabloids called her crazy and self-destructive and said she’d lost her mind. Now in her late twenties, Fiona believes her humiliating past is firmly behind her. She’s finally regained a modicum of privacy, and she won’t let anything — or anyone — mess it up.

Unlike Fiona, Sam Fox, who played her older brother on the popular television show Birds of California, loves the perks that come with being a successful Hollywood actor: fame, women, parties, money. When his current show gets cancelled and his agent starts to avoid his calls, the desperate actor enthusiastically signs on for a Birds of California revival. But to make it happen, he needs Fiona St. James.

Against her better judgment, Fiona agrees to have lunch with Sam. What happens next takes them both by surprise. Sam is enthralled by Fiona’s take-no-prisoners attitude, and Fiona discovers a lovable goofball behind Sam’s close-up-ready face. Long drives to the beach, late nights at dive bars… theirs is the kind of kitschy romance Hollywood sells. But just like in the rom-coms Fiona despises, there’s a twist that threatens her new love. Sam doesn’t know the full story behind her breakdown. What happens when she reveals the truth?

This caught my attention for two reasons, I suppose: first, it’s a novel set in and around the Hollywood/entertainment world, which I’m always interested in. It’s also pitched as a romance, which is not a genre that I typically read. So, thought I’d give it a try. Birds of California is due to be published by Harper Perennial in North America, on June 22nd, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via Edelweiss

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CranorE-DontKnowToughUSHCEli Cranor, DON’T KNOW TOUGH (Soho Crime)

Trent Powers relocates his family from Anaheim to Arkansas to take over as head coach of the Denton Pirates, a high school football team powered by a volatile but talented running back named Billy Lowe. Billy comes from an extremely troubled home: a trailer park where he is terrorized by his unstable mother’s abusive boyfriend. Billy takes out his anger on the field, and it’s not long before he crosses a line. Instead of punishing him, though, Trent takes Billy into his home, hoping to protect his star player as the Pirates begin their playoff run. But when Billy’s abuser is found murdered, nothing can stop an explosive chain of violence that could tear the town apart.

I can’t remember which author drew my attention to this novel (it was via Twitter, that I do remember — perhaps S. A. Cosby?). Pitched as “Friday Night Lights meets Southern Gothic” I’m really looking forward to reading this. Don’t Know Tough is due to be published by Soho Crime in North America and in the UK, on March 8th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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DrakefordS-AoI1-RiseOfTheMageScott Drakeford, RISE OF THE MAGES (Tor)

Emrael Ire wants nothing more than to test to be a weapons master. His final exam will be a bloody insurrection, staged by corrupt nobles and priests, that enslaves his brother.

With the aid of his War Master tutor, herself an undercover mage, Emrael discovers his own latent and powerful talents.

To rescue his brother, Emrael must embrace not only his abilities as a warrior but also his place as last of the ancient Mage Kings — for the Fallen God has returned.

And he is hungry.

The first in a debut fantasy series, and one that sounds… very fantasy, if that makes sense? Could be fun. Looking forward to giving this a try. Rise of Mages is due to be published by Tor Books in North America and in the UK, on January 25th, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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HutchingsR-UnderFortunateStarsRen Hutchings, UNDER FORTUNATE STARS (Solaris)

Stranded in the Dark

In the final throes of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s junk freighter breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue – until they encounter a science vessel that claims to be from 152 years in the future.

Engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the desperate peace mission that ended the war with the Felen and ushered in a new age of collaboration – a mission Keeven’s first mate Leesongronski is supposed to be leading right now.

If Ozakka is right, more than the fates of two ships hangs in the balance…

That cover is pretty striking, isn’t it? This is Hutchings’s debut, and it sounds rather interesting. Under Fortunate Stars is due to be published by Solaris Books in North America and in the UK, on May 10th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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KestrelJ-FiveDecembersJames Kestrel, FIVE DECEMBERS (Hard Case Crime)

December 1941. America teeters on the brink of war, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, police detective Joe McGrady is assigned to investigate a homicide that will change his life forever. Because the trail of murder he uncovers will lead him across the Pacific, far from home and the woman he loves; and though the U.S. doesn’t know it yet, a Japanese fleet is already steaming toward Pearl Harbor.

This extraordinary novel is so much more than just a gripping crime story—it’s a story of survival against all odds, of love and loss and the human cost of war. Spanning the entirety of World War II, FIVE DECEMBERS is a beautiful, masterful, powerful novel that will live in your memory forever.

I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about this novel, and so am very much looking forward to reading this as soon as I can. Five Decembers is out now, published by Titan Books in North America and in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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LipsteinA-LastResortUSHCAndrew Lipstein, LAST RESORT (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Caleb Horowitz is twenty-seven, and his wildest dreams are about to come true. His manuscript has caught the attention of the literary agent, who offers him fame, fortune, and a taste of the literary life. He can’t wait for his book to be shopped around to every editor in New York, except one: Avi Dietsch, a college rival and the novel’s “inspiration.” When Avi gets his hands on it, he sees nothing but theft — and opportunity. Caleb is forced to make a Faustian bargain, one that tests his theories of success, ambition, and the limits of art.

Last Resort is the razor-edged account of a young man’s headlong journey into authenticity. As Caleb fights to right his mistakes and reclaim his name, he must burn every bridge, confront his own desire, and finally see his work from the perspective of those locked inside.

I spotted this in the publisher’s catalogue a little while back, and the synopsis caught my eye. Once it was available for request, I did so. Looking forward to reading it soon. Last Resort is due to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (North America) and Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK), on January 18th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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LloydE-ClubUSHCEllery Lloyd, THE CLUB (Harper)

The Club

The A-List is Dying to Join

Envisioned as a luxurious home-away from-home for Very Important People, The Home Group is a collection of celebrity members clubs dotted across the globe, from London to Lisbon, Malibu to Manhattan, where the rich and famous can party hard and then crash out in its five-star suites, far from the prying eyes of fans and the media.

The most spectacular and exclusive of all is Island Home — a sprawling, closely-guarded complex of faux-rustic guest cabins, spas, bars and restaurants just off the English coast. To mark its opening, Home’s mercurial CEO Ned Groom and his team have planned a glamorous three-day launch party, easily the most coveted A-list invite of the year.

But behind the scenes, tensions are at breaking point. Years behind schedule and vastly over budget, the project has stretched a long-serving and long-suffering team to their limits. There’s Ned’s trusted PA, who has over decades maneuvered her way from coat-check girl to Home’s inner circle; Ned’s younger brother, who has sacrificed his marriage and morals to be Ned’s right-hand man; the Head of Membership keeping the world’s most spoiled and jaded individuals entertained using any means necessary; the Head of Housekeeping, who plays silent witness to the guests’ very worst excesses. All of them have something to hide — and that’s before the beautiful people with their own ugly secrets even set foot on the island.

As tempers fray and behaviour worsens, as things get more sinister by the hour and the body count piles up, some of Island Home’s members begin to wish they’d never RSVP’d at all.

Because at this club, if your name’s on the list, you’re not getting out…

The new novel from the husband-and-wife author team of People Like Her, which was a pretty interesting, twisty mystery/thriller. Where their debut took on influencers and social media, their latest takes a look at the lives of the privileged. Looking forward to reading this ASAP. The Club is due to be published by Harper in North America (April 5th) and Mantle in the UK (March 31st).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via Edelweiss

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LongHM-HoS2-TempleOfNoGodH. M. Long, TEMPLE OF NO GOD (Titan)

After a brutal war between the gods, Hessa – High Priestess of the Eangen – has brokered a fragile peace. Through great sacrifice, she has forged an alliance between warring tribes and introduced her people to the true god.

But a new threat is growing across the southern border. In the remnants of the once-great Arpa Empire, three factions are vying for the imperial throne, and the vast well of raw magical power only accessible to the Arpa Emperor. Already beating back former Arpa legionaries at her borders, Hessa knows she cannot let this chance slip by. She must intervene, for the safety of her people.

With the peace she has sacrificed so much for at stake, Hessa must venture into the heart of enemy territory, where warring Arpa factions are not the only danger she must face. A sinister new cult is on the rise, one with the power to suck the life from everything it touches. With enemies on every side and her fragile alliance beginning to waver, Hessa must decide who to trust – no matter what it may cost her…

This is the second novel in the Hall of Smoke fantasy series. I have the first book, but have yet to get around to it. Hopefully I’ll be able to get caught up soon. Temple of No God is due to be published by Titan Books in North America and in the UK, on January 18th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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LucasC-LastPartyUSHCCassidy Lucas, THE LAST PARTY (Harper)

For Los Angeleno Dani Sanders, turning 50 seems like one more disappointment. Her career has stalled, her nineteen-year-old daughter with developmental issues is regressing, and Dani’s ex-husband Craig, a fertility doctor worshipped by Hollywood’s elite, is forever upending her life. Though she doesn’t feel much like celebrating, she can’t say no when her best friend Mia Markle, a flamboyant and strong-willed actress, insists on planning a “creative” birthday weekend in the wild, wealthy bohemian enclave of Topanga Canyon.

On the weekend of the Summer Solstice, Dani and her six closest friends gather in the hills above the canyon at “Celestial Ranch,” 18-acres of rugged, wooded mountainside where they’ll spend three glorious days hiking, practicing meditation and reiki, and enjoying lavish catered cuisine. They will also indulge in a little DMT, a short-acting psychedelic drug meant to open their senses and transport them to a higher plain. But as the weekend unfolds, long-buried tensions, unresolved grievances, and old secrets emerge, leaving Dani desperate for clarity about her life.

Dani and her friends take the drug late at night on an open hillside beneath the glittering stars. When Dani returns from her intense and revelatory “trip,” she learns that one of her friends has gone missing. Then another disappears. And soon, Dani finds herself alone on the dark mountainside, seemingly abandoned by the people who are supposed to love her most.

Or have they somehow been taken from her?

What could Dani have possibly done to deserve a devastating birthday night like this — and how will she make it to the morning alone?

The second novel from writer duo “Cassidy Lucas” — after 2020’s Santa Monica, which I quite enjoyed. Sounds interesting, and looking forward to reading it soon. The Last Party is due to be published by Harper in North America, on April 26th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via Edelweiss

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MartinW-December41USHCWilliam Martin, DECEMBER ’41 (Forge Books)

The ultimate manhunt, a desperate chase from Los Angeles to Washington, D. C., in the first weeks of the Second World War.

On the day after Pearl Harbor, shocked Americans gather around their radios to hear Franklin Roosevelt declare war. In Los Angeles, a German agent named Martin Browning is planning to kill FDR on the night he lights the National Christmas Tree. Who will stop him? Relentless FBI Agent Frank Carter? Kevin Cusack, a Hollywood script reader who also spies on the German Bund of Los Angeles, and becomes a suspect himself? Or Vivian Hopewell, the aspiring actress who signs on to play Martin Browning’s wife and cannot help but fall in love with him?

The clock is ticking. The tracks are laid. The train of narrow escapes, mistaken identities, and shocking deaths is right on schedule. It’s a thrilling ride that will sweep you from the back lots of Hollywood to the speeding Super Chief to that solemn Christmas Eve, when twenty thousand people gather on the South Lawn of the White House and the lives of Franklin Roosevelt and his surprise guest, Winston Churchill, hang in the balance.

Hadn’t heard about this novel until it popped up on NetGalley. I’ve enjoyed some of Martin’s other novels, and this sounds pretty interesting — don’t think I’ve read many WW2 novels set outside of Europe, so this should be an interesting read. December ’41 is due to be published by Forge Books in North America and in the UK, on June 7th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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NapperTR-36StreetsT. R. Napper, 36 STREETS (Titan)

Lin ‘The Silent One’ Vu is a gangster and sometime private investigator living in Chinese-occupied Hanoi, in the steaming, paranoid alleyways of the 36 Streets. Born in Vietnam, raised in Australia, everywhere she is an outsider.

Through grit and courage Lin has carved a place for herself in the Vietnamese underworld where Hanoi’s crime boss, Bao Nguyen, is training her to fight and lead. Bao drives her hard; on the streets there are no second chances. Meanwhile the people of Hanoi are succumbing to Fat Victory – a dangerously addictive immersive simulation of the US-Vietnam war.

When an Englishman comes to Hanoi on the trail of his friend’s murderer, Lin’s life is turned upside down. She is drawn into the grand conspiracies of the neon gods – of regimes and mega-corporations – as they unleash dangerous new technologies.

Lin must confront the immutable moral calculus of unjust wars. She must choose: family, country, or gang. Blood, truth, or redemption. No choice is easy on the 36 Streets.

Hadn’t heard much about this novel before it arrived in the mail. Sounds pretty interesting, though. Looking forward to giving it a try. 36 Streets is due to be published by Titan Books in North America and in the UK, on January 18th, 2022.

Also on CR: Interview with T. R. Napper (2020)

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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OzziD-SelloutUSHCDan Ozzi, SELLOUT (Mariner Books)

The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994–2007)

A raucous history of punk, emo, and hardcore’s growing pains during the commercial boom of the early 90s and mid-aughts, following eleven bands as they “sell out” and find mainstream fame, or break beneath the weight of it all

Punk rock found itself at a crossroads in the mid-90’s. After indie favorite Nirvana catapulted into the mainstream with its unexpected phenomenon, Nevermind, rebellion was suddenly en vogue. Looking to replicate the band’s success, major record labels set their sights on the underground, and began courting punk’s rising stars. But the DIY punk scene, which had long prided itself on its trademark authenticity and anti-establishment ethos, wasn’t quite ready to let their homegrown acts go without a fight. The result was a schism: those who accepted the cash flow of the majors, and those who defiantly clung to their indie cred.

In Sellout, seasoned music writer Dan Ozzi chronicles this embattled era in punk. Focusing on eleven prominent bands who made the jump from indie to major, Sellout charts the twists and turns of the last “gold rush” of the music industry, where some groups “sold out” and rose to surprise super stardom, while others buckled under mounting pressures. Sellout is both a gripping history of the music industry’s evolution, and a punk rock lover’s guide to the chaotic darlings of the post-grunge era, featuring original interviews and personal stories from members of modern punk’s most (in)famous bands.

Thought this sounded very interesting — especially because I’m familiar with almost all of the bands Ozzi writes about: Green Day, Jawbreaker, Jimmy Eat World, Blink-182, At the Drive-In, The Donnas, Thursday, The Distillers, My Chemical Romance, Rise Against, and Against Me!. Looking forward to reading it. Sellout is out now, published by Mariner Books in North America and in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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ParkerKJ-LongGameUSK. J. Parker, THE LONG GAME (Subterranean Press)

The unnamed narrator of The Long Game is an Adept, a member of an Ecclesiastical order charged, among other things, with opposing a race of immaterial demons, creatures capable of possessing and controlling human minds. Complicating the narrator’s life is the fact that, over time, he has developed a cordial “relationship” with one of the demons. Complicating matters further is the unexpected arrival of Amalasomtha, a young woman with impossible abilities who claims to have come from the remote — perhaps mythical — country of Idalia. She also claims that, for reasons she does not entirely understand, she has been tasked with capturing one such demon and returning with it to Idalia. The truth, it turns out, is considerably more complex.

Amalasomtha’s arrival sets in motion a chain of events encompassing murder, magic, deception, and an array of unintended consequences. By the story’s end, this consistently witty account of demonic possession, hidden agendas and Ecclesiastical politics has taken us to some unexpected places and given us a glimpse of a larger story still, the “long game” that lies at the heart of all human history.

Any new K. J. Parker novella is a must-read for me. I read this very soon after I received it, and very much enjoyed it. It’s another story set around the demon mythology that the author introduced in Prosper’s Demon — they and the people tasked with exorcising them have now popped up in four novellas, I believe, including this one. I’ll post a full review for the novella soon. The TL;DR version of it, though, is: “Another very good novella, packed with all of the hallmarks of a great Parker story. Highly recommended.” The Long Game is due to be published by Subterranean Press, in March 2022.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Last Witness, The Devil You Know, Downfall of the Gods, My Beautiful Life, Prosper’s Demon, Academic Exercises, and The Big Score

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads
Review copy received from publisher

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PennK-YouCantBeSeriousUSHCKal Penn, YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS (Simon & Schuster)

In this refreshingly candid memoir, Kal Penn recounts why he rejected the advice of his aunties and guidance counselors and, instead of becoming a doctor or “something practical,” embarked on a surprising journey that has included acting, writing, working as a farmhand, teaching Ivy League University courses, and smoking fake weed with a fake President of the United States, before serving the country and advising a real one.

You Can’t Be Serious is a series of funny, consequential, awkward, and ridiculous stories from Kal’s idiosyncratic life. It’s about being the grandson of Gandhian freedom fighters, and the son of immigrant parents: people who came to this country with very little and went very far—and whose vision of the American dream probably never included their son sliding off an oiled-up naked woman in a raunchy Ryan Reynolds movie…or getting a phone call from Air Force One as Kal flew with the country’s first Black president.

With intelligence, humor, and charm on every page, Kal reflects on the most exasperating and rewarding moments from his journey so far. He pulls back the curtain on the nuances of opportunity and racism in the entertainment industry and recounts how he built allies, found encouragement, and dealt with early reminders that he might never fit in. And of course, he reveals how, after a decade and a half of fighting for and enjoying successes in Hollywood, he made the terrifying but rewarding decision to take a sabbatical from a fulfilling acting career for an opportunity to serve his country as a White House aide.

Above all, You Can’t Be Serious shows that everyone can have more than one life story. Kal demonstrates by example that no matter who you are and where you come from, you have many more choices than those presented to you. It’s a story about struggle, triumph, and learning how to keep your head up. And okay, yes, it’s also about how he accidentally (and very stupidly) accepted an invitation to take the entire White House Office of Public Engagement to a strip club—because, let’s be honest, that’s the kind of stuff you really want to hear about.

I realized when I pre-ordered this that I haven’t watched that much of Penn’s body of work. I’ve seen him on House, and in How I Met Your Mother (he has one of my favourite moments on that show), on Designated Survivor, and maybe a couple of other bit-parts in movies and shows. I did also really like his Amazon Prime documentary series, The Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to this in audio. Review hopefully soon. You Can’t Be Serious is out now, published by Simon & Schuster in North America (also by Simon & Schuster Audio), and Gallery in the UK.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

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RiceA-YearThatBrokeAmericaUSHCAndrew Rice, THE YEAR THAT BROKE AMERICA (Harper)

Before there was Coronavirus, before there was the contentious 2020 election or the entire Trump presidency, there was a turning-point year that proved momentous and transformative for American politics and the fate of the nation. That year was 2000, the last year of America’s unchallenged geopolitical dominance, the year Mark Burnett created Survivor and a new form of celebrity, the year a little Cuban immigrant became the focus of a media circus, the year Donald Trump flirted with running for President (and failed miserably), the year a group of Al Qaeda operatives traveled to America to learn to fly planes. They all converged in Florida, where that fall, the most important presidential election in generations was decided by the slimmest margin imaginable.

But the year 2000 was also the moment when the authority of the political system was undermined by technical malfunctions;  when the legal system was compromised by the justices of the Supreme Court; when the financial system was devalued by deregulation, speculation, creative securitization, and scam artistry; when the mainstream news media was destabilized by the propaganda power of Fox News and the supercharged speed of the internet; when the power of tastemakers, gatekeepers, and cultural elites was diminished by a dawning recognition of its irrelevance.

Expertly synthesizing many hours of interviews, court records, FOIA requests, and original archival research, Andrew Rice marshals an impressive cast of dupes, schmucks, superstars, politicians, and shameless scoundrels in telling the fascinating story of this portentous year that marked a cultural watershed. Back at the start of the new millennium it was easy to laugh and roll our eyes about the crazy events in Florida in the year 2000 — but what happened then and there has determined where we are and who we’ve become.

Thought this sounded really interesting: 2000 was in many ways the year I started paying attention to US politics and international affairs, so I’ll be interesting to see how my own thoughts/interpretations match up with (or not) Rice’s. The Year That Broke America is due to be published by Harper in North America, on February 22nd, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via Edelweiss

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SmithW-WillUSHCWill Smith & Mark Manson, WILL (Penguin Press)

One of the most dynamic and globally recognized entertainment forces of our time opens up fully about his life, in a brave and inspiring book that traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned. Along the way, Will tells the story in full of one of the most amazing rides through the worlds of music and film that anyone has ever had.

Will Smith’s transformation from a West Philadelphia kid to one of the biggest rap stars of his era, and then one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history, is an epic tale — but it’s only half the story.

Will Smith thought, with good reason, that he had won at life: not only was his own success unparalleled, his whole family was at the pinnacle of the entertainment world. Only they didn’t see it that way: they felt more like star performers in his circus, a seven-days-a-week job they hadn’t signed up for. It turned out Will Smith’s education wasn’t nearly over.

This memoir is the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind. Written with the help of Mark Manson, author of the multi-million-copy bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Will is the story of how one person mastered his own emotions, written in a way that can help everyone else do the same. Few of us will know the pressure of performing on the world’s biggest stages for the highest of stakes, but we can all understand that the fuel that works for one stage of our journey might have to be changed if we want to make it all the way home. The combination of genuine wisdom of universal value and a life story that is preposterously entertaining, even astonishing, puts Will the book, like its author, in a category by itself.

Like a great many people, I’ve been watching Will Smith’s movies for decades. I never saw Fresh Prince, though. Anyway, thought this might be interesting, so pre-ordered the audiobook. (Smith’s co-author also wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, which I haven’t read but have heard good things about.) Will is out now, published by Penguin Press in North America and Century in the UK.

Follow the Author (Smith): Website, Goodreads
Follow the Author (Manson): Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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SwanR-EotW1-JusticeOfKingsRichard Swan, THE JUSTICE OF KINGS (Orbit)

Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice, who is a detective, judge and executioner all in one. But these are dangerous times to be a Justice…

No man is above the law.

The Empire of the Wolf simmers with unrest, rife with rebels, heretics and powerful patricians who would challenge the power of the imperial throne.

Only the Order of Justices stands in the way of chaos. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is the most feared Justice of all, upholding the law by way of his sharp mind, arcane powers and skill as a swordsman. In this he is aided by Helena Sedanka, his clerk and protégé, orphaned by the wars that forged the empire.

When the pair investigate the murder of a provincial aristocrat, they unearth a conspiracy that stretches to the very top of Imperial society. As the stakes rise and become ever more personal, Vonvalt must make a choice: will he abandon the laws he’s sworn to uphold in order to protect the empire?

This novel has been receiving a lot of pre-publication buzz. So, naturally, I’m intrigued. (The synopsis, of course, also grabbed my attention.) I’ll be read this very soon. The Justice of Kings is due to be published by Orbit Books in North America and in the UK, on February 22nd, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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ThorpeG-WH40k-DoF3-WolftimeGav Thorpe, THE WOLFTIME (Black Library)

The Indomitus Crusade has brought the Emperor’s vengeance to thousands of star systems. The fleets and armies under the leadership of Roboute Guilliman fight for the survival of humanity against the forces of the Chaos Gods. But the traitors and heretics are not the only foe looking to destroy the rule of Terra.

Xenos prey on human worlds in numbers not seen for millennia. Worst amongst them are the rampaging orks, whose migration conquests threaten to reverse many gains of Fleet Primus. And their throaty bellows carry a name not heard in years, of destruction made flesh, a bestial warlord without peer: Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka.

In the midst of this brutal tide is Fenris, world of the Space Wolves under Logan Grimnar. Depleted by ever greater demands on their warriors, called upon by the Legion-breaker Guilliman, the Wolves of Fenris face a momentous decision. Grimnar and his counsellors must choose whether their fate is to ally themselves with an ancient rival and risk all that makes them the Vlka Fenryka, or to accept their demise and wait for the return of their own primarch, and the coming of the Wolftime.

The third novel in the Dawn of Fire series, which moves the overall WH40k story forward. I enjoyed the first two books (), and have been looking forward to this one ever since I finished the second. The Wolftime is out now, published by Black Library in North America and in the UK.

Also on CR: Interviews with Gav Thorpe — 2011 and 2016; Reviews of Deliverance Lost, Angels of Caliban, and The First Wall

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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VeselkaV-Zazen2021Vanessa Veselka, ZAZEN (Vintage)

The world is on fire, and Della doesn’t know what, if anything, she should do about it.

The country is poised on the brink of war. Curfews and other restrictions give the police an excuse for violence. Customers at the vaguely vegan cafe where Della is working after dropping out of grad school debate which foreign countries are the best to flee to: Costa Rica? Bali? Della’s parents—former revolutionaries—are more excited at the idea of her brother and his Black wife giving them biracial grandbabies than in engaging in any new actions; her nominally activist coworkers are mostly devoted to planning a massive sex party. Della floats between them, lost and numb.

Then a bomb goes off: some shallow place of capitalistic worship demolished. Inspired, for reasons not entirely clear to herself, Della calls in a second—fake—bomb threat. But a bomb goes off there, too, and soon Della finds herself pulled in by a group of people who, for once, are promising to actually do something. No matter the consequences. Prescient when it was first published, Vanessa Veselka’s debut novel is even more revolutionary now.

This is the re-issue edition of Veselka’s debut. I came across the author’s work via her latest novel, The Great Offshore Grounds. Looking forward to reading this one, too. Zazen is out now, published by Vintage in North America, and Red Lemonade in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads
Review copy received via Edelweiss

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WalshM-SubplotUSMegan Walsh, THE SUBPLOT (Columbia Global Reports)

What China is Reading and Why it Matters

What does contemporary China’s diverse and exciting fiction tell us about its culture, and the relationship between art and politics?

The Subplot takes us on a lively journey through a literary landscape like you’ve never seen before: a vast migrant-worker poetry movement, homoerotic romances by “rotten girls,” swaggering literary popstars, millionaire e-writers churning out the longest-ever novels, underground comics, the surreal works of Yu Hua, Yan Lianke, and Nobel-laureate Mo Yan, and what is widely hailed as a golden-age of sci-fi. Chinese online fiction is now the largest publishing platform in the world.

Fueled by her passionate engagement with the arts and ideas of China’s people, Megan Walsh, a brilliant young critic, shows us why it’s important to finally pay attention to Chinese fiction—an exuberant drama that illustrates the complex relationship between art and politics, one that is increasingly shaping the West as well. Turns out, writers write neither what their government nor foreign readers want or expect, as they work on a different wavelength to keep alive ideas and events that are censored by the propaganda machine. The Subplot vividly captures the way in which literature offers an alternative — perhaps truer — way to understanding the contradictions that make up China itself.

I’ve been a fan of the Columbia Global Reports series for a while — offering a pretty wide range of short, more-than-an-introduction examinations of important, contemporary political and social topics: from Hong Kong, to the US Supreme Court, to Nigerian Cinema, there’s a bit of something for everyone. This latest sounds particularly interesting, and I’ll be reading it quite soon. The Subplot is due to be published by Columbia Global Reports in North America and in the UK, on February 8th, 2022.

Follow the Author: Goodreads
Review copy received via NetGalley

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WestlakeDE-CallMeACabDonald E. Westlake, CALL ME A CAB (Hard Case Crime)

In 1977, one of the world’s finest crime novelists turned his pen to suspense of a very different sort – and the results have never been published, until now.

Fans of mystery fiction have often pondered whether it would be possible to write a suspense novel without any crime at all, and in CALL ME A CAB the masterful Donald E. Westlake answered the question in his inimitable style. You won’t find any crime in these pages – but what you will find is a wonderful suspense story, about a New York City taxi driver hired to drive a beautiful woman all the way across America, from Manhattan to Los Angeles, where the biggest decision of her life is waiting to be made. It’s Westlake at his witty, thought-provoking best, and it proves that a page-turner doesn’t need to have a bomb set to go off at the end of it in order to keep sparks flying every step of the way.

I’ve never read anything by Westlake, so I’m looking forward to giving this a try. Call Me A Cab is due to be published by Titan Books in North America and in the UK, on February 1st, 2022.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads
Review copy received from publisher

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