Fiction:  “Evvie Drake Starts Over: A Novel,” by Linda Holmes

Holmes’s debut charms, as a young widow and a former Major League pitcher learn to begin again. Evvie Drake has spent her whole life in Calcasset, Maine, and doesn’t feel as sad about her widowhood as she believe she should — possibly because she was packing up to leave her husband when she got the call about his deadly car accident. Then Dean Tenney, a former New York Yankees pitcher who has inexplicably lost his amazing pitching ability, comes to Maine to retreat from the media, and rents the apartment in Evvie’s house. Evvie and Dean grow closer, with the agreement that they not discuss her husband or his failed baseball trajectory. When Dean gets an opportunity to revamp his career with Evvie’s support, and she reveals some of the details of her difficult marriage to him, they develop trust and sparks ignite between them. But the future of their relationship depends on their ability to communicate and confide in one another. Believable, flawed characters are at the heart of this novel. At times deeply emotional yet sometimes extremely humorous. This is a satisfying crowd-pleaser.

— Publishers Weekly

“A Philosophy of Ruin: A Novel,” by Nicholas Mancusi

California philosophy professor Oscar Boatwright has his notions of free will severely tested when he’s seduced by a self-possessed student named Dawn who involves him in a dangerous drug-dealing scheme.

It’s not an auspicious time for Oscar. His mother died during a flight from Hawaii, where she was paying secret visits to a self-help guru who took all of her family savings, and left her husband, Oscar’s father, high and dry. After Oscar drunkenly sleeps with Dawn, not knowing she’s his student until he spots her in class the next Monday, he’s worried the hookup will cost him his job. But after Dawn blackmails him into retrieving a backpack of drugs from Mexico, the professor (who is 29 but seems older) is most worried about staying alive. His fears are justified when he’s captured by Mexican drug smugglers whose leader calmly tells him he has had women and children killed and Oscar is next. What would Schopenhauer say? Oscar, who believes the script for his life has already been written and he is merely acting it out, struggles “to think of some evidence ... that the essence of existence was not suffering.” Good luck with that: With the exception of his unlikely romance with Dawn, life is one wild misadventure after another for Oscar. That includes his hopeless pursuit of the shady self-help character, whose videos, he discovers, are not entirely without worth. For all its edgy, downbeat humor, the novel inspires a deep emotional investment in Oscar. The big existential questions that get asked are brilliantly framed by his antics. The payoff is, dare we say it, profound.

Brooklyn writer Mancusi’s revelatory novel is a drug tale with a difference — even the chase scenes are philosophical.

— Kirkus Reviews

Nonfiction

“Cook Mexico City: Morning. Noon. Night.” by Gabriela Cámara

Cámara, owner of the Contramar restaurant in Mexico City and Cala in San Francisco, offers recipes from those restaurants as well as her family recipes in this inviting and well-written cookbook. She provides, among many others, the recipe for Contramar’s famed tuna tostada, which can also be made with trout, as is done at her San Francisco restaurant. Another signature dish is a butterflied red snapper with fiery red salsa on half the fish and milder green salsa on the other. There are plenty of homey dishes alongside the restaurant choices, and basics are ably explained, including thorough instructions for making one’s own tortillas (“Make tortillas from masa harina,” and don’t press them too thinly). Flexibility and adaptation are emphasized: “Everything can be a taco,” Cámara insists in an essay that lauds the tacos at a tiny stand in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City. Yet, title notwithstanding, many recipes hail from elsewhere, as she defines Mexico City as a “melting pot.” A chapter on antojitos — appetizers and snacks — includes an octopus salad handed down by the author’s Italian maternal grandmother and sopa de lima from the Yucatán. Personal touches like a paean to great Mexican food writer Diana Kennedy and a meditation on mole are lovingly crafted. Cámara’s delightful cookbook offers a nuanced window into the evolving cuisine of Mexico City and beyond.

— Publishers Weekly

“Mother Is a Verb: An Unconventional History,” by Sarah Knott

An exploration of mothering, a capacious, complex, and creative experience.

Historian and mother of two, Knott (History/Indiana Univ.; “Sensibility and the American Revolution,” 2009) grounds her illuminating investigation in her own experience of pregnancy, delivery, and infant care. Drawing on a prodigious number of histories and archival sources, she teases out anecdotes and testimony from “slim shards of evidence,” sometimes “a single remark in a published diary, a stray sentence or two in government-sponsored interviews with formerly enslaved men and women, a handful of letters in manuscript, a seventeenth-century church court record.” Evidence is especially slim for enslaved or working-class mothers who were illiterate or those, such as Native Americans, who conveyed their experiences orally, but Knott has managed to include their voices — along with gay and trans parents — as much as possible as she examines assumptions about conception, how and when pregnancy was determined, and responses to miscarriage, such as hers, which left her fearful of infertility. Pregnant again, perceiving her baby’s “inner touch” inspired her search for historical mentions of quickening among 17th-century noblewomen and contemporaneous field slaves on Southern plantations. As her pregnancy progressed, she thought about terms for heavily pregnant women, ranging from “great-bellied” in the 16th and 17th centuries to “sticky-sweet euphemisms” of 19th-century working-class slang: “in the pudding club” or having “a bun in the oven.” After her son was born, Knott faced the “humiliation and excess” of nursing. From the mid-18th century and throughout the 19th, she discovered, “whose breast? remained the central concern about holding and feeding” until “sentimentalism” ushered in “a new way of venerating motherhood in popular culture” and made wet nurses obsolete. Interrupted sleep, caring for a colicky infant, and weighing advice from friends, grandmothers, and child raising manuals all propelled Knott into libraries. She wonders about who wrote and actually read how-to books. “Mothering,” she realizes, “is tangible, sensory, and material”; “it unfolds at first hand. Babies are never pure thought experiments.”

A fresh, lively narrative of personal and historical memory.

— Kirkus Reviews

Others

“How We Disappeared: A Novel,” by Jing-Jing Lee (fiction)

“Rouge,” by Richard Kirshenbaum (fiction)

“Ballpark: Baseball in the American City,” by Paul Goldberger (nonfiction)

“Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” by David Epstein (nonfiction)

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