Fiction

“Kiss My Cupcake," by Helena Hunting

It’s cupcakes and cocktails vs. beer and pub grub in this delicious romantic comedy about feuding Seattle bar owners from Hunting (“Meet Cute”). Determined entrepreneur Blaire Calloway’s new bakery/bar is off the ground running, until yummy-looking Ronan Knight moves his pub next door and steals away her customers. Blaire’s desire to succeed without assistance from her wealthy but dysfunctional family makes her instant competitiveness with Ronan understandable and urgent, especially since they’re both in the running to be named the best bar in the Pacific Northwest by a social media influencer who’s holding a contest. As their rivalry ramps up amid increasingly brazen strategies to bring in business, their feud turns increasingly flirtatious and they eventually realize they’ll have to work together in order for either to succeed. Their romance develops at a convincing pace, and their relationships with their families round out the plot, with Ronan’s close relationship with his grandfather serving as a stark contrast to Blaire’s outlandish family. Though the plot stays relatively breezy, Hunting knows when to crank the heat and when to tug at readers’ heartstrings to keep the pages turning. Light and fluffy with the perfect balance of sweetness and spice, this is a winning confection.

— Publishers Weekly

“How Much of These Hills Is Gold," by C Pam Zhang

Zhang’s extraordinary debut, a beautifully rendered family saga, centers on a pair of siblings, Lucy, 12, and Sam, 11, who are left orphaned in the wake of the American gold rush. When their father—a former prospector and coal miner whom they call Ba—dies after a short, hard life of toil and drink, Lucy and Sam want to bury him properly, according to Chinese burial traditions. This means two silver dollars to cover his eyes, but it’s two silver dollars the two don’t have. Clever Lucy attempts to appeal to the townspeople’s sympathy, but it’s hotheaded Sam, armed with their father’s pistol, who understands that it takes force to make things happen. With their father’s decomposing body, the pistol, and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam disappear into the hills. As they search for a burial site and look forward to a future for themselves, Lucy and Sam reckon with how gold, ambition, and desire shaped the lives of both their Ba and their beautiful, beloved, and long-departed Ma, whose womanhood never dampened her hunger and ambition, and how that greed has been passed down to them. Gorgeously written and fearlessly imagined, Zhang’s awe-inspiring novel introduces two indelible characters whose odyssey is as good as the gold they seek.

— Publishers Weekly

Nonfiction

“The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place," by David Sheff

Sheff (“Beautiful Boy”) draws from research and personal correspondence to tell the stirring story of Jarvis Jay Masters, a convicted murderer awaiting execution on California’s death row who converted to Buddhism and has found a kind of freedom despite the death sentence looming over him. Masters was 19 years old when he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to California’s San Quentin State Prison in 1981. Nine years later, he was convicted of the murder of a prison guard and sentenced to death. After being advised by a criminal investigator working on his case to perform breathing exercises to help with anxiety, Masters became interested in Buddhism. He discovered that practicing the faith allowed him to change the ways he related to himself and to others, and Sheff captures the difficult, powerful realizations Masters gained as a result of his practice (“Buddhism is about how we’re all the same, in this world together, struggling. Life is hard for everyone—we’re all suffering together”), leading him to become a comforting, beneficial presence to his fellow inmates. In an epilogue, Sheff asks readers to consider how one’s perspective can turn a situation of “sadness, pain, and regret” into “light and joy and love.” This Buddhist Dead Man Walking will pull at the heartstrings of any reader.

— Publishers Weekly

“Agent Sonya: Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy," by Ben Macintyre

Macintyre (“The Spy and the Traitor”) recounts the life and career of Soviet intelligence officer Ursula Kuczynski (1907–2000) in this fascinating history. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Germany, Kuczynski was an active communist by the time she was 17. In 1930, she married a young German architect and moved with him to Shanghai, where she was recruited by (and became the lover of) infamous Red Army intelligence agent Richard Sorge, who gave her the code name Sonya and made her a “trusted lieutenant” in his spy network. After further training in the Soviet Union and divorce from her husband, Kuczynski liaised with communist partisans in Manchuria, providing material assistance and sending regular radio messages to Moscow. She also managed operations in Poland and Switzerland before arriving in England in 1941, where she transmitted atomic secrets to the Soviet Union from Klaus Fuchs, a German physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. Upon Fuchs’s capture, Kuczynski fled to East Germany, but soon grew disillusioned with Stalin’s paranoid brand of communism. After a 20-year career, she became one of the few Soviet agents allowed to leave the spy game alive. Macintyre’s richly detailed account, though a bit ponderous at times, shines a new light on two of WWII’s most notorious spy rings. Espionage fans will be thrilled.

— Publishers Weekly

Others

“Fortune Favors the Dead," by Stephen Spotswood (fiction)

“Eliza Starts a Rumor," by Jane L. Rosen (fiction)

“Magdalena: River of Dreams," by Wade Davis (nonfiction)

“Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir," by Rebecca Solnit (nonfiction)