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"Kin" by Shawna Kay Rodenberg; Bloomsbury (352 pages, $28) ——— Reading Shawna Kay Rodenberg's "Kin" is like watching anything made by director David Lynch. After each sentence, paragraph or turn of the page, I expected the likes of the Lady in the Radiator from "Eraserhead" to show up, all puffy-cheeked and singing eerily about heaven, or any of the backwards-speaking characters in "Twin ...

"Our Woman in Moscow" by Beatriz Williams; Morrow (448 pages, $27.99) ——— The 50 years leading up to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 could be considered the golden age of espionage. As for novels written during that time, the Cold War category pretty much belongs to men: John Le Carré, Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Robert Littell and Charles McCarry being the best known. And while spy novels ...

"Diary of a Young Naturalist" by Dara McAnulty; Milkweed Editions (222 pages, $25) ——— I was sitting in a sunny spot on my porch reading Dara McAnulty's "Diary of a Young Naturalist" when a shadow passed the window, briefly blotting out the light. I looked up to see a hawk swoop into our maple tree, a small wriggling creature trapped in its claw. What kind of hawk? I don't know. What kind of ...

"Heaven" by Mieko Kawakami; Europa Editions (176 pages, $23) ——— About halfway through Mieko Kawakami's slim new novel, "Heaven," a confounding change occurs. The unnamed narrator, a 14-year-old boy, foreshadows the coming turn at the end of his school break: "I felt something happening in my body. Whatever I saw, whatever I thought about, no longer felt real." He is hesitant to return to ...

"Dark Shapes" by Kavita Bedford; Europa Editions (224 pages, $17) ——— Kavita Bedford's accomplished debut novel is narrated by a woman who is nameless but by no means faceless. Over the course of a year and a quarter, the 29-year-old candidly recounts key developments in her life in Sydney. She opens up her world and tells of her activities with friends and partners, her solo recreational ...

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In Percy’s immersive and imaginative sci-fi thriller, Minnesota is the epicenter of a phenomenon that’s created a “geopolitical crisis” for the world and “existential quandary” for humanity. Northfall, Percy’s fictional town in the Manitou Range, is “making bank” from omnimetal. It’s an alien matter, a powerful energy source like nothing in the known universe, but it’s infected more than the land. Mother Gunderson once was a cashier at Farm and Fleet. Now, she’s a “drug lord or a pope or an amulet” sitting on incalculable wealth. Percy’s novel is a clever amalgamation of speculative fiction and family drama, of supercharged characters and regular folk, encompassing various viewpoints in a highly cinematic narrative.

"Mercury Rising" by Jeff Shesol; W.W. Norton (400 pages, $28.95) ——— "He's back," exulted the Miami News when John Glenn emerged from Friendship 7 after orbiting the Earth three times. America, the Miami Herald implied, was back, as well. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung agreed: The free world need "no longer stare as if hypnotized at Soviet space successes with pricks of doubt in their ...

'The Other Passenger' By Louise Candlish Every day, a group of commuters booze at the bar on a Thames ferry as they shuttle back and forth to their jobs in London. This little group is connected “by [their] childlessness” and their “freedom to put [themselves] before everyone else.” They’re self-indulgent and narcissistic. They’re Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, Ross and Rachel if Gillian Flynn or ...

'The Guide' By Peter Heller Peter Heller’s riveting thriller is set in the American wilderness, but the threats gathering around Jack, the young fishing guide of the title, come from man, not nature. Jack has been hired by a fishing club in Colorado that caters to wealthy clients. His job: Carry gear, find trout, chat up guests and do whatever he can to make them happy. But after he arrives at ...

"On Juneteenth" by Annette Gordon-Reed; Liveright (128 pages, $15.95) ——— The first friend I made when I moved from Florida to the Twin Cities in 1987 was a woman from Doucette, Texas. Laverne, like me, was a Black woman who'd traded the South's warmth and lushness for the cold, austere beauty of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. But we were often homesick and attended events that reminded us of home. ...

"Sauntering," edited by Duncan Minshull; NYRB/Notting Hill (154 pages, $19.95) ——— Here is an odd development: I have decided to carry a book. For at least the coming season, when, with hope, we head out once again for afternoon or evening walks, I want this book with me. I plan to open it, often, every day. "Sauntering: Writers Walk Europe," edited by Duncan Minshull, is a work of impressive ...

"The Blondes of Wisconsin: Stories" by: Anthony Bukoski; University of Wisconsin Press (151 pages, $16.95) ——— The 16 linked stories of Anthony Bukoski's seventh collection find their heart in Superior, Wisconsin, "a broken place of beat-up dreams, beat-up taverns, and empty lots the north wind blows through." His characters are, for the most part, working-class Polish-Americans, though two of ...

"New Girl in Little Cove" by Damhnait Monaghan; Graydon House (336 pages, $16.99) ——— "New Girl in Little Cove" is a charming book, steeped in the beautiful vernacular of Newfoundlanders. Their lyrical Celtic-based speech patterns and diction are at the heart of this fish-out-of-water story. Set in 1985, the novel centers on Rachel O'Brien, who comes "down from Canada" (what? she wonders — ...

"The Secret History of Home Economics" by: Danielle Dreilinger; W.W. Norton (348 pages, $27.95) ——— Danielle Dreilinger's "The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live" is a fascinating history of the field and of the contributions of some very determined women. It is also a revealing account of the title's reverse: how ...

"Moon of the Snowblind," written and illustrated by Gary Kelley; Ice Cube Press (184 pages, $19.99) The history of the Indian Wars is often told from a high-altitude perspective of skirmishes, treaties, victories and defeats. This obscures what it meant to those wrapped up in its muddled battle lines and sudden, inexplicable cruelties. In this astounding graphic historical novel about the 1857 ...

"Things We Lost to the Water" by Eric Nguyen; Alfred A. Knopf (304 pages, $26.95) ——— Eric Nguyen's moving debut novel explores the importance of stories. "Things We Lost to the Water" is about a Vietnamese family in New Orleans and the story that the mother, Huong, tells herself about how she came to arrive in the United States with her two sons and without her husband. Huong revisits the ...

I read these books in December, before there was a COVID-19 vaccine, before there was an end to the endless presidential election, and they were just what I needed. Lighter than my usual fare but entertaining, they were both more complex than a rom-com, less demanding than a serious novel. "The Bookshop of Second Chances" by Jackie Fraser (Ballantine, 438 pages, $17) is a pleasant story, ...

"Crossing the River" by Carol Smith; Abrams Press (272 pages, $26) ——— Most grief tales turn inward. The author feels compelled to figure out why he or she has joined the worst club in the world, why death has come knocking and how to survive the insanity that follows. These books are written out of emotional and existential need. Surely some purpose will grow from this tragedy. Surely it's ...

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