"Mercy House: A Novel," by Alena Dillon

Dillon’s stirring, fiery debut pits a fearless nun’s full-throated cri de cœur against the abuses of predator priests and domestic violence. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Mercy House offers shelter to battered women and girls. A 69-year-old nun named Sister Evelyn (“Evie”) cares for them with two other older nuns, Sister Josephine and Sister Maria. Evie will stop at nothing to protect the sheltered women, and when an abuser shows up at Mercy House with a gun, Evie torches him with flame-lit Lysol. After a surprise visit from Bishop Hawkins, who had sexually assaulted Evie when she was a novitiate in the 1960s, she rightfully fears that he will try to use his authority to shut down Mercy House because of the Lysol incident and other infractions. Evie butts heads with Josephine over her decision to help a rape victim get an abortion, and receives censure from Hawkins for performing Reiki, lamenting how little she can do against a church that has always placed women below priests. Dillon balances her protagonist’s righteous anger with an earnest exploration of Evie’s faith and devotion to justice and community service. This uncompromising story will light up book clubs.

— Publishers Weekly

"Hillbilly Hustle: A Novel," by Wesley Browne

Browne’s wry, thrilling debut follows a Kentucky restaurateur who moonlight as a drug dealer. Forty-something Knox Thompson, the overweight owner of marginally profitable Porthos Pizza, first meets Burl, “the man who would ruin him,” after winning a poker jackpot. Burl convinces Knox to buy a pound of pot to distribute, and Knox proceeds to begin a double life: running Porthos in Richmond, Ky., while, from the proceeds of his dealings with Burl and his associates, financially assisting his parents and trying to keep his tattoo artist girlfriend, Darla, in the dark about the danger from his side hustle. Though Knox hopes to coast on a modest profit from the drug sales, a setback at the pizza business sends him back to Burl for a loan. Desperate to stay on top of the loan payments, Knox’s dealing escalates and he bungles a series of risky situations and ends up in deeper trouble. Browne drolly contrasts Knox’s misadventures with a subplot involving the comparatively capable Porthos manager, Rob, who hires a young woman named Tori to help run the shop while Knox is away on his secret side business. Scenes with Tori learning how to make pizza amid a budding romance are a well-crafted counterbalance to Knox’s bumbling. This will appeal to fans of Daniel Woodrell and Charles Portis.

— Publishers Weekly


"The Movie Musical!" by Jeanine Basinger

Film historian Basinger (“I Do and I Don’t”) returns with this exhaustive and exhilarating survey of the American musical. Basinger starts by discussing the filmed vaudeville shorts that played in theaters even before Hollywood switched over to exclusively producing sound features in 1929, and goes all the way up to 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” All the while, she examines each major development in musical film, such as how, in the early 1930s, the innovative use of sound and camera movement by directors Ernst Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian made “what formerly had been a stage-bound tradition” into a viable Hollywood genre. Basinger is informative and insightful on everything from celebrated classics such as “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” to forgotten—yet once surprisingly popular—“singing cowboy” films such as “Melody Ranch” and “Boots and Saddles.” Because of the rigorous scholarship, readers will feel they are in good hands when Basinger digresses from strict facts into opinion—for instance, her scorching dislike for the 2016 Oscar-winner “La La Land,” which, unlike classic-era musicals, is “not energetic, optimistic, or determined to pin down joy for its characters”—in short, “it’s not American.” The depth of her dislike feels telling: this is a passion project for her. That passion should be infectious for all readers of Basinger’s monumental but fleet-footed epic.

— Publishers Weekly

"If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood," by Gregg Olsen

This horrifying tale of a dysfunctional and murderous family in rural Washington State from bestseller Olsen (“A Killing in Amish Country”) focuses on Shelly Knotek and how she abused, tormented, and controlled her third husband and her three daughters. Not for the squeamish, the narrative chronicles how the girls endured beatings, bleach baths, and verbal abuse, at the same time shedding light on how and why Shelly’s family bowed to her tyranny for years. Shelly brought others into her insane world and home, including her nephew Shane, her best friend Kathy Lorenzo, and an almost stranger Ron Woodworth, all of whom ended up dead. Eldest daughter Nikki, after years of torture, fled to her grandmother’s and began a new life, while middle child Sami bargained with Shelly that she wouldn’t tell the family secrets if she could go to college. But youngest sister Tori was left at home, and when Tori revealed that she was now the target of violence, the sisters banded together and forced a police inquest that resulted in the rescue of Tori and the arrest and imprisonment of both parents. This riveting account will leave readers questioning every odd relative they’ve known.

— Publishers Weekly


"Deacon King Kong," by James McBride (fiction)

"Temporary," by Hilary Leichter (fiction)

"Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition," by Buddy Levy (nonfiction)

"Creative Alcohol Inks: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Amazing Effects--Explore Painting, Pouring, Blending, Textures, and More!" by Ashley Mahlberg (nonfiction)