Friday, January 19, 2018

New Books

Five new books coming your way.  Debuts, autobiography, thriller, dystopian mystery, a dog book about grief, and a look at the people of the border in this age of The Wall.  From authors Ana Simo, Louisa Luna, Sigrid Nunez, Joseph Cassara and Francisco Cantú.


Ana Simo
Restless Books - January

[from the publisher]
In a word-drunk romp through an alternate, pre-apocalyptic United States, Ana Simo’s fiction debut, Heartland, is the uproarious story of a thwarted writer’s elaborate revenge on the woman who stole her lover, blending elements of telenovela, pulp noir, and dystopian satire.

Every so often, it's a treat to read a book that utterly defies your expectations of what a novel can and should do. Heartland is longtime playwright and lesbian activist Ana Simo's debut novel, which was a finalist for the first Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Don't be fooled by the seemingly safe and centered title: Heartland is a murder mystery turned inside out, mixing the styles of telenovela and pulp noir, set in a dystopian dark mirror of our society in which government corruption has led to mass starvation in the heartland and a nationwide refugee crisis. Our heroine is a luckless writer who becomes obsessed with eliminating from the face of the earth her rival in love—but her homicidal master plan becomes more ornate than a baroque symphony.

The New York Times Book Review calls it "hilariously absurd and profane"—which seems fitting for our not-so-hilariously absurd and profane times. It’s also a searching exploration of America’s conflicted attitudes toward race, assimilation, and sexual mores. We hope you "heart" it as much as we do!


Doubleday - January

[from the publisher]
As addictive, cinematic and binge-worthy a narrative as The Wire and The Killing, Two Girls Down introduces Louisa Luna as a thriller writer of immense talent and verve.

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.

Louisa Luna is the author of the novels Brave New Girl, Crooked and Serious as a Heart Attack. She was born and raised in the city of San Francisco, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.


The Friend
Sigrid Nunez
Riverhead Books - February

[from the publisher]
When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building.

While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog’s care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unravelling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them.

Elegiac and searching, The Friend is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion.


House of Impossible Beauties
Joseph Cassara
Ecco - February

[from the publisher]
A gritty and gorgeous debut that follows a cast of gay and transgender club kids navigating the Harlem ball scene of the 1980s and ’90s, inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza made famous by the seminal documentary Paris Is Burning.

It’s 1980 in New York City, and nowhere is the city’s glamour and energy better reflected than in the burgeoning Harlem ball scene, where seventeen-year-old Angel first comes into her own. Burned by her traumatic past, Angel is new to the drag world, new to ball culture, and has a yearning inside of her to help create family for those without. When she falls in love with Hector, a beautiful young man who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the two decide to form the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. But when Hector dies of AIDS-related complications, Angel must bear the responsibility of tending to their house alone.

As mother of the house, Angel recruits Venus, a whip-fast trans girl who dreams of finding a rich man to take care of her; Juanito, a quiet boy who loves fabrics and design; and Daniel, a butch queen who accidentally saves Venus’s life. The Xtravaganzas must learn to navigate sex work, addiction, and persistent abuse, leaning on each other as bulwarks against a world that resists them. All are ambitious, resilient, and determined to control their own fates, even as they hurtle toward devastating consequences.

Told in a voice that brims with wit, rage, tenderness, and fierce yearning, The House of Impossible Beauties is a tragic story of love, family, and the dynamism of the human spirit.


The Line Becomes a River:  Dispatches from the Border
Francisco Cantú
Riverhead Books - February

[from the publisher]
For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there.

Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story. Searing and unforgettable, The Line Becomes a River makes urgent and personal the violence our border wreaks on both sides of the line.

Francisco Cantú served as an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, working in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A former Fulbright fellow, he is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a 2017 Whiting Award. His writing and translations have been featured in Best American Essays, Harper's, n+1, Orion, and Guernica, as well as on This American Life. He lives in Tucson.



Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016 and was a finalist for the Shamus Award in the Original Paperback category sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.  He is hard at work on his next Chicano Noir crime novel.


Daniel Cano said...

Manuel, thank you. What concise, efficiently structured reviews. Makes me want to rush out and order them all today.

Manuel Ramos said...

Daniel, Thank you for reading the post -- these books are intriguing, for sure. Full disclosure: the text with each book comes from publicity materials from the publisher. I hope I don't confuse readers. I try to be clear when I review a book (not as concise or efficient, most likely). Manuel