Typically in this space, we look for themes that link some of our latest recommended titles. We could play that game again this week — war, violence, art, obsession, take your pick — or I could point out that Brenda Shaughnessy’s new poetry collection imagines humans in the near future answering to a class of octopus overlords. OCTOPUS OVERLORDS, people. Start with that one, and you’re sure to sit up straighter by the time you reach the reference, in Maylis de Kerangal’s novel “The Cook,” to octopus salad with fresh fennel. Now that’s what I call overlap.
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GRACE WILL LEAD US HOME: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness, by Jennifer Berry Hawes. (St. Martin’s, $28.99.) It has been four years since Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and killed nine people. Jennifer Berry Hawes, an award-winning journalist for the Charleston-based Post and Courier, covered the tragedy extensively, and drew on her long relationships with the families in writing this book. “Hawes is a poised writer and a patient observer,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes. “Her primary interest is in the lives of the survivors and the families of the victims, ‘the people who will live this story forever.’”
THE BRITISH ARE COMING: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, by Rick Atkinson. (Holt, $40.) This first volume in a planned trilogy offers a Tolstoyan perspective on the American Revolution, presenting a conflict that will be new to many readers, one that was ugly, savage and often barbaric. “To say that Atkinson can tell a story is like saying Sinatra can sing,” our reviewer, Joseph J. Ellis, writes. “Lurking behind all the assembled evidence, which Atkinson has somehow managed to read and digest in a remarkably short period of time, is a novelistic imagination that verges on the cinematic. Historians of the American Revolution take note. Atkinson is coming.”
FEAST YOUR EYES, by Myla Goldberg. (Scribner, $28.) This ambitious novel about a pioneering midcentury photographer, facing obscenity charges for pictures of her half-dressed daughter, draws from the real-life careers of Sally Mann, Diane Arbus and Berenice Abbott. “Goldberg’s passionate depiction of Lillian rings heartbreakingly true at a moment when discussions of emotional labor dominate certain sectors of the media,” Joanna Rakoff writes in her review. “Though the novel’s plot hinges on the obscenity trial, its most powerful moments arrive in the form of Lillian’s wrenchingly intimate reflections in her journal, from devastating accounts of watching her daughter sleep to poignant descriptions of her artistic process.”
THE OCTOPUS MUSEUM: Poems, by Brenda Shaughnessy. (Knopf, $25.) In her capacious fifth collection, Shaughnessy turns largely to prose poems to envision a near future ravaged by climate change, in which humans have wrecked the environment and ceded control of their destiny to “the Octopodes,” a conglomerate of semi-benevolent cephalopods. “If they are often bleak, Shaughnessy’s poems are also very funny,” Elisa Gabbert writes in her review, identifying the book’s central question as what we owe our children and humanity writ large. “Shaughnessy can also write the kind of line that is confusing in its beauty, whose beauty exceeds its sense, which is the thing I go to poetry for — lines that can be read and reread without exhausting their potential meaning.”
THE FARM, by Joanne Ramos. (Random House, $27.) Ramos’s debut novel imagines what might happen were surrogacy taken to its high-capitalist extreme: Clients pay for “hosts” to carry their children, and those hosts move to a facility named Golden Oaks for the duration of their pregnancies. The book follows four women in what amounts to a group portrait of female striving — for survival, for status, for purpose. “‘The Farm’ may be an ‘issue’ book, but it wears the mantle lightly,” our reviewer, Jen McDonald, writes. “Ambiguity may be the point. Ramos’s characters articulate both sides of the surrogacy argument.”
SWIFT: New and Selected Poems, by David Baker. (Norton, $26.95.) Covering nearly 40 years of work, this career retrospective reveals Baker as a peerless poet of the natural world who never stops trying to see things as if for the first time. “Transience and interconnectedness are his big themes,” Eric McHenry writes in his review. “All of Baker’s poems are rich in observation, imagination and memory. … In his best poems, generously represented here, he builds something lovely and durable from that brokenness.”
A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell. (Viking, $28.) You’ve probably never heard of Virginia Hall, the coolheaded, one-legged operative who infiltrated Vichy France, but her story deserves to be celebrated. Purnell’s excellent biography should help make that happen. “If Virginia Hall herself remains something of an enigma — a testament, perhaps, to the skills that allowed her to live in the shadows for so long — the extraordinary facts of her life are brought onto the page here with a well-judged balance of empathy and fine detail,” Mick Herron writes in his review. “This book is as riveting as any thriller, and as hard to put down.”
GHOSTS OF GOLD MOUNTAIN: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, by Gordon H. Chang. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28.) A work of history and remembrance, bringing to light the arduous and often tragic work of Chinese immigrants on America’s transcontinental railroad. “While the contours of this history may be familiar, the lived experience of the Railroad Chinese has long been elusive, partly because no sources written in their own hand survive,” Andrew Graybill notes in his review. “Chang thus looks elsewhere for information about their daily lives — how they dressed, what they ate, when they rested — making use of photographs and material objects, in addition to newspaper accounts and business records. From this intrepid research, a composite portrait begins to emerge.”
THE COOK, by Maylis de Kerangal. Translated by Sam Taylor. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20.) The protagonist of de Kerangal’s latest novel is a preternaturally talented young chef learning his craft. Nancy Kline, reviewing the book alongside two other French novels, calls it “slim, bountiful, beautifully written and gorgeously translated. … De Kerangal takes us through different kitchens, geographies and individuals in the life of young Mauro, whose art is profoundly social (cooking is completed in other people’s mouths) yet whose gift isolates him.” The novel’s “intimate yet distant narrative voice,” Kline adds, “reflects the human condition itself.”
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