This week, a fascinating book about milk, a page-turning Victorian thriller from Charles Palliser, and Amy Tan's newest. Plus: why Druids are underrated.
Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (Little, Brown) - Sophronia Temminnick is back for more daring yet ladylike exploits in this effervescent second installment in Carriger’s Finishing School series, which follows Etiquette & Espionage. This time, the dirigible that is Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is embarking on an exciting and mysterious trip to London—with boys on board, students from Bunson & Lacroix’s Polytechnique.
Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses edited by Bill Henderson (Pushcart) - In its 38th edition, the Pushcart Prize anthology features a diverse selection of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from hundreds of small presses. Exceptional fiction includes “A Full-Service Shelter,” Amy Hempel’s tale of tireless animal shelter volunteers taking on the Sisyphean task of saving animals slated for execution, as well as Lorrie Moore’s “Wings,” in which a washed-up musician finds an unlikely companion in her elderly neighbor.
Death of a Nightingale by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, trans. from the Danish by Elisabeth Dyssegaard (Soho) - Artfully drawn characters who are a pleasure to know populate Kaaberbøl and Friis’s excellent third thriller featuring nurse Nina Borg (after 2012’s Invisible Murder). At a Red Cross crisis center in Copenhagen known as Coal-House Camp, Nina bonds with Natasha Doroshenko, a Ukrainian refuge. Natasha is arrested for the attempted murder of her abusive Danish fiancé, but Nina believes she is innocent, even after Natasha escapes from custody and the fiancé is brutally slain.
New and Selected Poems by David Lehman (Scribner) - Lehman enjoys an unquestionable prominence in American poetry, as much for his energetic editorial and critical work as for his own much-praised verse. This seventh volume and first selected places the poems themselves at center stage: they steer an entertaining, zigzag path between nonchalant Jewish-American autobiography and whimsical experiment.
Champion by Marie Lu (Putnam) - The conclusion to Lu’s Legend trilogy opens on a stage set for personal resolution, maybe even a happy ending. With the political transition established and the Patriots quiet, June and Day appear to have the opportunity to close their romantic distance. But there are lessons neither has learned about how much power to grant the past, and it’s easier to focus on the virtues of separation. That is, until geopolitical reality comes roaring back to complicate every bond and every choice.
Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch (Little, Brown) - The plot line of this rewarding debut has the feel of a classic American western: in 1832, Coll Coyle kills a powerful local landowner, then flees in fear of frontier justice at the hands of the landlord’s sadistic henchman, John Faller. But Lynch, an Irish writer living in Dublin, has set his story not west of the Mississippi, but in the west of Ireland (a rural area in County Donegal).
The Occupation of Eliza Goode: A Civil War Novel by Shelley Fraser Mickle (Koehler) - In Mickle's extraordinary new novel, a cache of letters from the Civil War era is discovered in a relative's attic, bringing the powerfully narrative, ancestral voice of Eliza Goode to life in her own words, and through the character of Susan Masters, a novelist living in modern day.
Rustication by Charles Palliser (Norton) - Palliser juxtaposes Gothic melodrama, a metafictional frame, a vividly unreliable narrator, and a roiling mix of mysteries in this provocative Victorian thriller, his first novel since 1999’s The Unburied. Earthier in milieu and more rollicking in tone than The Unburied or his classic, The Quincunx, Rustication showcases the author’s originality, boldness, and range. Expelled from Cambridge in disgrace in 1863, 17-year-old Richard Shenstone returns to remote Thurchester and a family hiding in its own secrets.
The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts by Graham Robb (Norton) - Presenting one of the most astonishing, significant discoveries in recent memory, Robb upends nearly everything we believe about the history—or, as he calls it, “protohistory”—of early Europe and its barbarous Celtic tribes and semimythical Druids. Popularly dismissed as superstitious, wizarding hermits, Robb demonstrates how the Druids were perhaps the most intellectually advanced thinkers of their age.
Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History Since 1900 by Kendra Smith-Howard (Oxford Univ.) - Smith-Howard’s interdisciplinary social history catalogues milk’s strange reputation as both a quintessentially natural food and a highly technological product. Milk has played a central role in the American cultural and industrial landscape over the last century, binding farms with urban consumers, placing regulators at odds with producers, requiring technical improvements in transportation and animal sanitation, and inspiring a constant dance between producers, consolidators, nutritionists, and end-users about how it is marketed and sold.
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (Ecco) - In her first novel since 2005’s Saving Fish from Drowning, Tan again explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, control and submission, tradition and new beginnings. Jumping from bustling Shanghai to an isolated village in rural China to San Francisco at the turn of the 19th century, the epic story follows three generations of women pulled apart by outside forces.
The Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg (FSG) - If ever there was a writer going places, it’s Laura Van Den Berg, who follows up her debut collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, with the ambitious, modular The Isle of Youth, whose seven stories are arranged along the themes of family secrets with noirish intrigue.
Fosse by Sam Wasson (HMH) - Bob Fosse, the legendary Broadway choreographer and director of the trendsetting movie antimusicals Cabaret and All That Jazz (which chronicled his life), is the glittering, neurotic soul of showbiz in this scintillating biography. Film scholar and critic Wasson styles Fosse as a charismatic charmer, a relentless and endearing lady's man, a tyrant in the rehearsal studio, a prima donna in the director's chair, and a methamphetamine-addicted narcissist with a persistent death wish and simultaneous delusions of grandeur and worthlessness.
Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America by Steven Watts (Other Press) - The man whose bestselling How to Win Friends and Influence People defined 20th-century American normalcy was a deeply subversive figure, according to this penetrating biography. Historian Watts follows Carnegie as he abandons his family’s rural poverty and rock-ribbed Protestantism to become a salesman, actor, theater impresario, Lost Generation novelist, and educator who developed his public-speaking courses into a prescription for psychological renovation and a template for later self-help therapies.