This week, the classic book the CIA didn't want you to read, Victorian vampires, and an Antarctic odyssey.
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi (First Second) - Translating historical accounts into the graphic novel format can be an iffy proposal, often reducing the subject to illustrated factual regurgitation, but Bertozzi (Lewis and Clark) compellingly brings readers along for Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914–1915 conquest of the South Pole, just in time for the centennial anniversary of the expedition. After two failed previous attempts to reach the pole, Shackleton and a stalwart crew braved unimaginable desolation, an eight-month stretch with their icebreaker at a standstill, the ship sinking when crushed by tons of thawing ice, and the subsequent trek across 374 miles of frozen wastes. It's an epic true-life adventure, and Bertozzi's storytelling will keep readers riveted as he illustrates the expedition's day-to-day travails in b&w panels as sparse as the stark expanses Shackleton and crew crossed.
Cibola Burn: The Expanse, Book Four by James S.A. Corey (Orbit) - Interstellar gates, relics of a long-vanished civilization, offer access to a thousand star systems. Despite that bounty of planets, territory disputes still threaten the war refugees who fled to the safety of a world they call Ilus. Royal Charter Energy prefers to call it New Terra, and claims it under U.N. charter. Fearing the vast corporation’s encroachment on their home, the colonists commit an act of terrorism that leads to a spiral of violence. Dispatched to rebuild the peace, spaceship captain James Holden is caught between two factions determined to win at any cost; worse, even as the local fauna turn on the humans, remnants of the force that exterminated an alien civilization are beginning to wake.
Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (Abrams/Amulet) - Whenever high school student Nolan Santiago closes his eyes, he sees through the eyes of Amara, a girl in another world. Amara, a mute slave with healing powers, has been bound to princess-in-exile Cilla since childhood, forced to absorb the curse that could kill Cilla if she spills just one drop of blood. Nolan suffers every bit of Amara’s pain until he accidentally overdoses on his medication and discovers he can escape Amara’s body. But when Nolan leaves, so do Amara’s healing abilities. Debut novelist Duyvis smoothly integrates elements of diversity and disability into her cast without letting them stand in for deeper characterizations. Nolan, whose father is Mexican, is an amputee and suffers seizurelike blackouts when he’s pulled into Amara’s world. Equal respect and weight are given to both of Amara’s romantic relationships—she loves her (male) fellow servant, Maart, and has feelings for Cilla, despite the power imbalance between them.
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee (Pantheon) - In brisk and thrilling fashion, Washington Post national security editor Finn and Saint Petersburg State University instructor Couvée take readers into the world of Soviet intelligentsia and shadowy Cold War politics to study how Boris Pasternak came to write and publish Doctor Zhivago (which first appeared in Italy in 1957). The authors use rich archival research, including previously classified CIA files, to depict the oppressive political conditions that gave rise to Pasternak’s masterpiece, and the international firestorm that occurred when the novel was banned in the Soviet Union. The book offers nuanced depictions of the people in Pasternak’s life, including his lover, Olga Ivinskaya, who championed his work and shared his torment at the hands of the KGB.
The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill, trans. from the Spanish by Laura McGloughlin (Crown) - Rich, nuanced characterizations distinguish Hill’s impressive second thriller featuring Barcelona Insp. Héctor Salgado (after 2013’s The Summer of Dead Toys). Five months after Gaspar Ródenas, an employee of Alemany Cosmetics, murders his wife and infant daughter and then commits suicide, Sara Mahler, a laboratory technician at Alemany, throws herself in front of a subway train. Gaspar and Sara’s colleagues are convinced that one of their own is killing people connected to the cosmetics company and disguising the murders as suicides.
The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla (HMH) - Manilla’s second novel is clever, funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, all at once. Garnet Ferrari, of Sweetwater, W.Va., has flaming red hair and birthmarks over her entire body that creates a map of the world. Intelligent and sharp-tongued, she is the product of an Italian Catholic father and a lapsed-Episcopalian mother. Garnet finds solace in her maternal grandfather’s collection of globes and her maternal grandmother’s deeply rooted beliefs—a mixture of paganism and Catholicism. After Garnet seemingly manifests magical abilities of healing, the people of Sweetwater and beyond come to believe that she is a saint. The Vatican sends out an investigator to verify Garnet’s supposed powers, which she herself doubts.
Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art by Arthur I. Miller (Norton) - Since at least the 18th-century, Western culture has consigned art and science to separate realms, seldom exploring their intersections and using each as discrete explanations of reality. Yet, as historian and philosopher of science Miller so deftly demonstrates in this survey of what he calls “artsci,” both artists and scientists—since at least Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon—have probed the porous border between art and science, creating aesthetic objects that incorporate scientific ideas—such as Suzanne Anker’s Zoosemiotics, “tiny chromosomal sculptures laid out in identical pairs”—or engaging in the type of process-driven “interdisciplinarity” found at the MIT Media Lab. Miller eloquently chronicles the story of artsci in brief vignettes of the lives and works of the individuals working at the intersections of these disciplines.
The Quick by Lauren Owen (Random) - Though currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, vampires as we know them are a Victorian invention: Dracula came out in 1897. Debut author Owen sets her seductive book in 1892, in a late-Victorian London with a serious vampire problem. And like her Victorian counterparts, Owen depicts a host of characters: there’s shy, provincial poet James Norbury and his intrepid sister Charlotte; vampire hunters Adeline Swift and Shadwell; a rich American in danger; and Augustus Mould, who researches vampire myth and fact on behalf of the vampires, and who’s as warm and friendly as his name suggests. The vampire world is divided: the elite men of the Aegolius club coexist, not happily, with a ragged band of underclass undead. The book’s pleasures include frequent viewpoint shifts that require readers to figure out how each character fits into the story, new riffs on vampire rituals and language, plus several love affairs, most of which are doomed.
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner (Atria) - Bestselling author Weiner (The Next Best Thing) takes us down the slippery slope of prescription drug addiction in this page-turning saga about a working mom, Allison Weiss, who uses pills to deal with recurrent pain, not to mention life’s increasing challenges. These include being the family’s major breadwinner; raising a difficult five-year-old daughter, Ellie; helping her mother deal with her father’s worsening Alzheimer’s; and maintaining a relationship with her ever-distant husband, Dave. While Weiner covers no new territory, she makes a good case for how a well-educated, self-aware woman can become dependent on drugs through legal prescriptions. Even her closest friend, Janet, turns to something—in her case, alcohol—to take the edge off the burden of being the perfect wife and mom.