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Gardening Can Be Murder  

Horticultural expert Marta McDowell has explored the links between writers and gardens in previous books about Beatrix Potter, Frances Hodgson Burnett and U.S. presidents. It’s only natural that she’s turned her attention to the ways in which gardens have played a role in mysteries. After all, she says, “In gardens, the struggle between life and death is laid bare.”

McDowell’s Gardening Can Be Murder is as full of delights as an English cottage garden in summer. McDowell explores the connection between gardens to mysteries from all sorts of angles (as any good detective would). She provides an overview of gardening detectives from classic to contemporary, beginning with Sergeant Cuff in Wilkie Collins’ 1868 thriller The Moonstone. Cuff is a “horticulturally inclined investigator” who dreams of retiring from catching thieves to grow roses. Naturally, McDowell includes Miss Jane Marple, who often makes use of gardening and bird-watching to inform her keen-witted observations of life—and death—in St. Mary Mead. 

McDowell discusses gardens as crime scenes, as well as gardens and flowers as motives. In a chapter playfully entitled “Means: Dial M for Mulch,” she recounts examples of the deadly use of garden implements in crime fiction. Poisons, of course, merit their own chapter, and McDowell also investigates authors such as Agatha Christie, who lovingly cared for the gardens of her country home, Greenway; Rex Stout, “an indoor plant whiz”; and contemporary author Naomi Hirahara, who writes the Japantown mystery series as well as books on Japanese American gardens.

Along with photos and period illustrations, the book is visually enhanced by Yolanda Fundora’s distinctive silhouette illustrations. As an added bonus, McDowell appends a reading list of plant-related mysteries, ranging from The Moonstone to 21st-century writer Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. It’s not always possible to garden in winter, so dig into this book and enjoy! 

★ The League of Lady Poisoners

Lisa Perrin, an illustrator who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art, begins her highly entertaining and lavishly illustrated study of 25 female poisoners with this dedication: “For my parents, who really hoped my first book would be a nice children’s picture book.” And while The League of Lady Poisoners may not be for young children, it’s a sure bet that adults will eat up (pun intended) this original, thought-provoking and visually stunning book.

Perrin’s sense of color and design makes it a pleasure to simply turn the pages. The distinctive arsenic green on the eye-catching cover is used to excellent effect throughout, often as the sole color offsetting a stylized pen-and-ink illustration. For example, a skeleton with green bloodlines graces Perrin’s introduction to poisons, which includes a “toxic timeline” tracing the knowledge of plant poisons back to around 3000 BCE in ancient Egypt. There are also some gorgeous botanical illustrations of poisonous plants and creatures. (One can’t help wonder: Will they inspire some new nature-themed mysteries?)

Perrin organizes her profiles by the motives that led these women to perform their deadly deeds: money and greed, anger and revenge, and love and obsession. Each main subject appears as a full-page, color illustration, beginning with Locusta, a poison expert and assassin for hire in first-century Rome. 

While some names, such as Cleopatra, will be familiar to readers, Perrin’s well-documented research has unearthed little known stories including that of the women of Nagyrév, a small village in Hungary, who in the early 1900s sought to poison their abusive husbands with arsenic. With the aid of a midwife, the poisoning “epidemic” took hold, with at least 40 confirmed murders. Years later, when the police finally investigated, some women were sent to prison or executed while others women died by suicide to avoid such fates. 

Despite its gruesome subject matter, The League of Lady Poisoners is a beautiful book. And who knows? Perhaps Perrin will turn her attention to fictional poisoners next.

Murderabilia

Readers interested in the history of true crime will be fascinated by Harold Schechter’s clever new book, Murderabilia. The title refers to objects owned by killers or otherwise connected to their crimes—artifacts that are often sold on the internet in the present day. But as Schechter makes clear, this impulse to look at or collect grisly mementos has been around for a long time. 

Schechter brings a lifetime of research to this topic: He is Professor Emeritus at Queens College, where he has taught for four decades. Along with nonfiction works about serial killers, he’s also penned detective novels featuring Edgar Allan Poe and has a novelist’s sense of what makes a good story. And the stories here are good. As he uncovers the history of 100 grisly artifacts, Schechter provides a fascinating examination of the often unexpected and surprising ways in which crime has seeped into social history and popular culture. 

Schechter begins in 1808, with the tombstone of Naomi Wise, a North Carolina indentured servant who became pregnant by a clerk named Jonathan Lewis. Lewis promised to elope with Wise, but instead he strangled her. This sad tale was memorialized in the murder ballad “Little Omie”; in other words, we’re not the first to find the gruesome compelling.

Given the author’s deep familiarity with Poe, the master of the macabre makes an appearance here too, with Schechter linking one of Poe’s detective stories to the 1841 murder of Mary Rogers, a cigar girl. Schechter also details other kinds of murderabilia, including a hammer wielded by John Colt to murder a printer; a kind of bottled mineral water that nurse Jane Toppan laced with poison and used to kill 31 people; and a shovel used by serial killer H.H. Holmes.

Short chapters and copious illustrations make Murderabilia a great choice to leave on the night table to dip into before bed. Then again, given the subject matter, maybe not.

If you don’t have a clue what to get the true crime lovers and cozy mystery readers on your gift list, fear not—we’ve done the detecting for you.
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In Lynn Steger Strong’s stirring Flight, siblings Kate, Henry and Martin struggle to make it through the holidays after the death of their mother. Assembling at Henry’s home with their respective families for Christmas, they try to be cheerful while sorting out big issues like whether to keep their mother’s house. When the daughter of a friend disappears, the siblings offer support, and the crisis transforms each of them. Strong’s powerful novel features a range of discussion topics, including grief, inheritance and the bonds of family.

Set on the border between Texas and Mexico, Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester chronicles the marriage of Isabel and Martin. Martin’s late father, Omar, deserted the family when Martin was a boy. But every fall, on the Day of the Dead, Omar’s ghost visits Isabel and begs her to convince Martin and the rest of the family to forgive him. As the novel unfolds, Isabel learns more about Omar and his past, and her discoveries threaten her happiness. Themes like loyalty, memory and the Mexican American immigrant experience will spark spirited dialogue among readers.

In Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball, Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, successful writer of Christmas romances (an occupation she conceals from her Jewish family), is asked to pen a love story set during Hanukkah—an assignment that proves daunting. Rachel finds Hanukkah lackluster compared to Christmas, and she hits a wall while dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome. In need of motivation, she helps organize a Hanukkah celebration called the Matzah Ball, reconnecting with an old flame along the way. Meltzer mixes humor with romance to concoct a delightful holiday frolic.

December takes an unexpected turn for the Birch clan in Francesca Hornak’s Seven Days of Us. Emma and Andrew Birch look forward to spending Christmas at Weyfield Hall, their country house, but when their daughter Olivia, who’s a doctor, returns from Liberia where she was exposed to a dangerous virus, the family is forced to quarantine for a week. Despite rising tensions and the reveal of a huge family secret, the Birches become closer than ever during their Yuletide lockdown. Poignant yet festive, Hornak’s novel is a treat.

There’s nothing more fun than gossiping about fictional characters with your book club.
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In The Book of (More) Delights, poet and essayist Ross Gay continues the practice of recording everyday pleasures that made his 2019 volume, The Book of Delights, an award-winning bestseller. In Gay’s hands, the habit has become an exercise in ecstasy, a way to cultivate gratitude and develop a spirit of inquiry.   

Gay’s guidelines for compiling delights—“write them daily, write them quickly, and write them by hand”—has resulted in a collection of 81 essays that span a year. His newest enthusiasms (yellow jackets, Snoopy, paper menus) may seem simple at first glance, but they yield arresting complexities under his observant eye. Each piece in the book is a snapshot moment of relished experience that emphasizes discovery and revelation. 

Gay’s images are precise and poetic (garlic sprouts look like “little green periscopes”; a favorite spoon has “a slight impression—as though touched by an angel—on the handle”), and his reflections on aging, relationships and the passage of time are heartening. Informal yet inspired, off-the-cuff yet beautifully composed, his essays reveal the riches hidden in quotidian experience. With a reading list of works that have influenced Gay’s process, The Book of (More) Delights provides abundant avenues to appreciate our world.  

In his gem of a memoir, Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener, Gay Talese takes stock of his working life as a journalist and author—a remarkable run of roughly seven decades. Now 91, Talese entered the business as a copy boy at the New York Times. Over the course of his career, he helped define contemporary nonfiction narrative through innovative magazine pieces and books like Honor Thy Father (1971), which featured the novelistic techniques of New Journalism. 

Bartleby and Me finds Talese focusing on his early years and inspirations, most notably his fascination with the “nobodies” of the world—figures reminiscent of Herman Melville’s reticent character Bartleby, who toil in obscurity and usually never make the news. These unassuming yet oddly intriguing individuals (to wit, “a seventy-eight-year-old grandfather’s clock of a man” named George Bannon, who rings the bell during boxing matches at Madison Square Garden) have long served as subject matter for his work.  

Talese also shares anecdotes related to writing and research and reconsiders classic works like his 1966 Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” For the most part, his backdrop is New York, and the volume reads as a tribute to the city as a place of endless evolution. Wistful, understated and urbane, Bartleby and Me is vintage Talese—the exemplary work of a gentleman journalist. 

Fans with an insatiable appetite for the mysteries of Martin Walker will savor Bruno’s Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from a French Country Kitchen. Bruno Courreges, the clever, self-possessed hero of Walker’s popular series, serves as police chief for St. Denis, a rustic village in the Périgord region of southwestern France. Bruno is an exceptional detective and accomplished cook, and in each book in the series, the ritual of mealtime, whether it be a leisurely lunch or convivial dinner, proves to be an important component of his daily routine. 

Inspired by his gastronomic passion, Bruno’s Cookbook, which was co-authored by Walker and his wife, Julia Watson, has more than 90 recipes neatly categorized according to the suppliers of the ingredients, from the winemaker (le vigneron) to the fisherman (le pecheur). The volume is packed with handsome photos, insights into the food culture of the Périgord and dishes to please every palate, including intriguing menu items like Snails in Garlic and Butter, Bruno’s Meatballs with Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes and A Most Indulgent Chocolate Cake. (Of interest to the canine diner: a recipe for Balzac’s Best Dog Biscuits.) Easy-to-follow cooking instructions and copious Bruno-related anecdotes make this a delicious gift for the well-read epicure.

Transporting readers to the green moors of Yorkshire, The Wonderful World of James Herriot: A Charming Collection of Classic Stories provides a detailed portrait of the beloved veterinarian and author.

Herriot, whose real name was James Alfred Wight, published his first book, If Only They Could Talk, in 1970. In that volume, he adopted the narrative approach that made his work so popular, writing from a first-person perspective that blended fact and fiction as he detailed his rounds as a country veterinarian, all in a voice that was poetic, affable and expert. His subsequent books, including All Creatures Great and Small, served as the basis for two PBS TV series of the same name.

The Wonderful World of James Herriot is a sampler of stories from Herriot’s works with lively supplementary text by his children, Jim Wight and Rosie Page. Featuring chapters on Herriot’s career, family life and the Yorkshire region, it offers fresh perspectives on the man and his work. Herriot aficionados needn’t fret—Siegfried and Tristan Farnon put in plenty of appearances. Brimming with personal photos and enchanting illustrations, it’s a perfectly cozy collection from start to finish.

We’ve collected a quartet of treats for the bibliophiles on your list.
Book jacket image for A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand
STARRED REVIEW

October 9th, 2023

The four best horror novels of Halloween 2023

A gloomy forest, two haunted houses and a sinking city are nothing compared to the terrors of human nature.

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From ancient myth to urban legend, the uncanny valley that is the doppelganger has long terrified and mesmerized. Caitlin Starling’s latest novel, Last to Leave the Room delves deep into the realm of psychological horror, poking at our fears of what is alien in ourselves. 

Dr. Tamsin Rivers’ ruthless nature is legendary among her colleagues, as is her ability to overlook the vagaries of the law in order to get things done in the name of research. It’s no surprise to anyone when she is tasked with solving a major problem: The city of San Siroco is sinking, and no one understands why. The fact that Tamsin’s experiments on quantum entanglement began at the same time San Siroco started sinking could be pure coincidence, as Tamsin argues to her handler, Mx. Woodfield. But nowhere is sinking quite as quickly as Tamsin’s basement, the depths of which are descending into the ground at an alarming pace. And worse still, a mysterious door in the wall has spit out a perfect replica of Tamsin who has neither her memories nor her acerbic personality. She is pliable, innocent and biddable—the perfect test subject. As Tamsin begins her experiments on her double, her memory and faculties begin to falter, endangering both her professional standing and her personal safety. 

Last to Leave the Room is a study in claustrophobia and paranoia, combining the best of psychological horror and science fiction. Starling’s close perspective brings us into Tamsin’s brain, including the subtle, terrible ways it begins to falter. The effect is slow at first, with mismatched details that are easy to miss and a slow tension that ratchets up almost imperceptibly. Starling’s prose shifts with her main character, narrowing the scope of the novel as the walls begin to close in around Tamsin. This constricting perspective becomes viscerally discomfiting, as if the reader is losing pieces of their own memories. It’s psychological horror at its most terrifying, the kind of writing that makes you stop to question—just for a moment—how well you know your own mind and your own world. And that’s before Starling dives into the body horror possibilities that come with experimenting on your own doppelganger. Last to Leave the Room will deeply unsettle readers as it asks two existentially fraught questions: What exactly makes you, you? And who are you when all that is stripped away?

Caitlin Starling’s Last to Leave the Room is psychological horror at its most terrifying as it follows a ruthless scientist who experiments on her own doppelganger.
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With remakes and reimaginings an integral part of our current zeitgeist, discussion of such projects often results in a common refrain: If it was good the first time, don’t bother remaking it. Luckily, no one told Elizabeth Hand this when she set out to write A Haunting on the Hill, a brilliant queer reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 classic, The Haunting of Hill House. Hand’s work both modernizes and deepens Jackson’s setting, pulling readers into the demented halls of Hill House and the minds of its denizens.

Struggling playwright-turned-teacher Holly Sherwin has landed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the form of a $10,000 grant. The funds are her big chance, allowing her the time and flexibility to develop her newest play. When a wrong turn leads her to the isolated Hill House, renting it out as a rehearsal space feels like fate. Against the better judgment of nearly everyone in Holly’s life—her girlfriend, Nisa, her friend Stevie and even the owner of Hill House herself—Holly moves her cast into the spacious home for several weeks of strenuous rehearsals and rewrites. From momentary delusions to black hares appearing out of nowhere, things start to go wrong as soon as they arrive. But as soon as its new inhabitants consider escape, their minds are suddenly changed. Desperate pleas to flee become arguments as to why they should stay as the house insinuates itself into their wildest fears and desires. To survive, they need to leave—but they are beginning to forget why they’d want to in the first place.

While fans of Jackson will no doubt revel in some of the obvious homages, Hand’s fresh text doesn’t require deep knowledge of Hill House lore to be intelligible or frightening. And its modern setting allows Hand to play with the paranoia and worries of a new age. A Haunting on the Hill explores age discrimination and the shadows of abuse as thoroughly as it does infidelity and professional jealousy, turning each into a tool that the house can use against Holly and her friends. True to Jackson’s original and the tradition of the haunted house novel, the eeriness builds subtly before bursting into full terror. There are no rattling chains nor wheezing ghosts; Hill House plays to its inhabitants’ expectations and warps their minds, needing nothing more than a trick of the light or a bit of faulty memory to unsettle and manipulate. But rationality begins to slip away soon enough, replaced by the glorious terror of one of literature’s most iconic haunted houses.

A Haunting on the Hill is a brilliant queer reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

What would Hansel and Gretel be like as adults? Kell Woods’ inventive retelling explores the answer to this question, following Hans and Margareta “Greta” Rosenthal as down-on-their-luck German peasants struggling to make a living in a world still recovering from the Thirty Years’ War.

Greta has never felt like she fit into Lindenfeld, a little town on the edge of the Black Forest—not before she and Hans fell prey to the gingerbread witch, and not after their return. Nothing has been easy for the siblings: They’ve lost their father and endured a stepmother rotten to her core. Now, reckless Hans continually mishandles their money, and instead of considering suitable suitors, Greta deals with nightmarish visions and other strange sensations After the Forest quickly reveals how the Rosenthals have kept themselves afloat: Greta’s descent into witchcraft, aided by the gingerbread witch’s grimoire. 

When a handsome stranger emerges from the forest with seemingly good intentions, while at the same time, Lindenfeld explodes in prejudice towards the wild animals and supposed witches that plague the land, Greta must make difficult decisions about her path in life and who she can trust. At first, she confines herself to baking magically scrumptious gingerbread to sell at market, but Greta soon evolves into a greenwitch, working with the forest itself to achieve her goals and save those she loves. As her powers grow, she learns about the terrible effects of more powerful, darker spells. Naturally, Greta swears off this dangerous magic at first, but the evil forces lurking in the woods outside Lindenfeld grow ever stronger, and she might not be able to keep her hands clean. 

Readers will root for Greta to finally achieve her happily ever after while also relishing Woods’ dark, folklore-infused story. Each chapter begins with a snippet of a fairy tale about noble sisters Liliane and Rosabell, who at first seem unrelated to Greta—until Woods unravels the secrets that bind them together. After the Forest is full of enchanting references to various folk tales and truly feels like a children’s storybook come to life, albeit one with delightfully wicked and haunting twists. With its cookbooks that speak (and bite!) and enchanted gingerbread, After the Forest is a tantalizing treat.

In Kell Woods’ darkly enchanting After the Forest, Greta of Hansel and Gretel-fame has become a witch herself.

Empty nester Margaret Hartman is thrilled when she and her husband, Hal, buy a gorgeous old Victorian home. But the house soon begins testing them with annual September “shenanigans”: blood oozing down the walls, creepy spirits of 19th-century children and a demonic boogeyman that even an experienced priest can’t exorcize. Margaret and Hal weather three cursed Septembers, but Margaret in particular is in it for the long haul. When Hal disappears on the eve of the fourth September and his and Margaret’s daughter, Katherine, arrives to search for him, family secrets are brought to light.

From the ghost of a murdered maid to swarms of giant flies, the house’s antics become routine for Margaret, and her wry, witty narration will also accustom readers to these supernatural events. Despite the house’s horrors, it still provides Margaret with a haven, a purpose and an emotional connection to an eerie spirit community. But when author Carissa Orlando reveals why Margaret is so good at putting out proverbial fires and quelling very real ghosts, The September House takes an unexpected emotional turn. Margaret knows that ugly secrets can be carried well beyond the grave, and it’s better to heal, forgive and protect when you can. Her interactions with Katherine are particularly tense and anxiety-inducing as Orlando explores an estranged parent-child relationship impacted by intergenerational trauma. 

The September House pulls inspiration from classic settings such as the Bates Motel, Rose Red, the Overlook Hotel and Hill House, but Orlando’s characterization of the old Victorian is fresh and fascinating. The house serves as an analogy for the deterioration of family and mental health, with the collapse of a person’s mind being more terrifying than any specter lurking in the shadows. Some of the body horror moments may feel familiar, but Margaret’s delightfully matter-of-fact voice puts a new spin on even the oldest of tropes, and the novel’s horrifying events unfold at a furious pace. The September House is a riveting adventure that will grab you by the ankles and drag you down into the pitch-black basement you’ve been warned to avoid.

Carissa Orlando’s darkly funny and unexpectedly emotional The September House follows an empty nester who refuses to leave her extremely haunted Victorian home.

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Recent Features

A gloomy forest, two haunted houses and a sinking city are nothing compared to the terrors of human nature.
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STARRED REVIEW

October 30, 2023

The five best new haunted houses in horror

There will always be a place for Hill House and The Overlook Hotel, but these five homes offer entirely new floor plans of frights for horror fans.

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Ever since I was a kid, I have loved reading books featuring a haunted house with a creepy resident; a feisty, determined heroine; and strange goings-on that gradually turn scary. But rarely, if ever, have I read a haunted house book that features such gorgeous prose as Alix E. Harrow’s latest novel, Starling House. Early on, Harrow describes how 26-year-old narrator Opal McCoy has been dreaming of the titular house since she was a child: “I often wake up with the taste of river water and blood in my mouth, broken glass in my hair, a scream drowning in my chest. But that morning, the first one after I set foot on Starling land, there’s nothing but a deep quiet inside me, like the dead air between radio stations.” 

Opal works hard at Tractor Supply Company to try to save enough money to send her younger brother, Jasper, to a fancy boarding school. Their mother died a mysterious death, their father has never been in the picture and they live in a dingy motel room in the dying town of Eden, Kentucky. Opal is desperate to escape Eden, which offers nothing much besides two Dollar Generals and a strip-mined stretch of riverbank, thanks to the operations of nearby Gravely Power. 

The big, churning wheels of this lusciously plotted book begin to quickly turn when Opal takes a job cleaning for Starling House’s current owner, a reclusive young man named Arthur Starling. Opal finds herself increasingly intrigued by Arthur despite his odd ways and off-putting looks. But Gravely Power representative Elizabeth Baine, in hopes of obtaining the mineral rights to Arthur’s land, demands that Opal spy on Arthur and his residence, threatening Jasper’s future if she declines.

Alix E. Harrow had never written about her home state—until she left it.

Harrow invents a rich backstory for Starling House, making clever use of footnotes and even a fake Wikipedia page for 19th-century author Eleanor Starling, who married into the family and wrote and illustrated an unsettling children’s book, which may have been the source of Opal’s Starling House nightmares. Opal uncovers many different versions of the same stories about the house and its inhabitants, past and present, and the truth is hard to sort out. “The Gravelys are either victims or villains; Eleanor Starling is either a wicked woman or a desperate girl. Eden is either cursed, or merely getting its comeuppance,” she concludes.

Excellent social commentary unfolds in the matchup between feisty, sarcastic Opal and the greedy power company. Harrow has tons of fun along the way, noting in Eleanor Starling’s Wikipedia page, for instance, that “director Guillermo del Toro has praised E. Starling’s work, and thanked her for teaching him that ‘the purpose of fantasy is not to make the world prettier, but to lay it bare.’ ” Alix Harrow does just that in Starling House, a riveting fantasy overflowing with ideas and energy that clears away the cobwebs of corporate power and neglect.

Alix E. Harrow’s Starling House is a riveting Southern gothic fantasy with gorgeous prose and excellent social commentary.

Empty nester Margaret Hartman is thrilled when she and her husband, Hal, buy a gorgeous old Victorian home. But the house soon begins testing them with annual September “shenanigans”: blood oozing down the walls, creepy spirits of 19th-century children and a demonic boogeyman that even an experienced priest can’t exorcize. Margaret and Hal weather three cursed Septembers, but Margaret in particular is in it for the long haul. When Hal disappears on the eve of the fourth September and his and Margaret’s daughter, Katherine, arrives to search for him, family secrets are brought to light.

From the ghost of a murdered maid to swarms of giant flies, the house’s antics become routine for Margaret, and her wry, witty narration will also accustom readers to these supernatural events. Despite the house’s horrors, it still provides Margaret with a haven, a purpose and an emotional connection to an eerie spirit community. But when author Carissa Orlando reveals why Margaret is so good at putting out proverbial fires and quelling very real ghosts, The September House takes an unexpected emotional turn. Margaret knows that ugly secrets can be carried well beyond the grave, and it’s better to heal, forgive and protect when you can. Her interactions with Katherine are particularly tense and anxiety-inducing as Orlando explores an estranged parent-child relationship impacted by intergenerational trauma. 

The September House pulls inspiration from classic settings such as the Bates Motel, Rose Red, the Overlook Hotel and Hill House, but Orlando’s characterization of the old Victorian is fresh and fascinating. The house serves as an analogy for the deterioration of family and mental health, with the collapse of a person’s mind being more terrifying than any specter lurking in the shadows. Some of the body horror moments may feel familiar, but Margaret’s delightfully matter-of-fact voice puts a new spin on even the oldest of tropes, and the novel’s horrifying events unfold at a furious pace. The September House is a riveting adventure that will grab you by the ankles and drag you down into the pitch-black basement you’ve been warned to avoid.

Carissa Orlando’s darkly funny and unexpectedly emotional The September House follows an empty nester who refuses to leave her extremely haunted Victorian home.
Review by

Do you ever get a little creeped out when you visit your grandparents’ house? There’s something about the stillness of unused rooms and the sweet, dusty smell that can give you a slight sense of dread. But if you were to visit the Montgomery house in T. Kingfisher’s A House With Good Bones, you’d leave with more than an uneasy feeling. In fact, you might not leave at all! (Cue thunder and lightning.) 

Sam Montgomery has to move back in with her mom. The archaeoentomologist’s latest dig (she studies insects in archeological sites) has been put on an indefinite hold, but the good news is that Sam loves her mom, Edie, who lives in Sam’s grandmother’s old house in rural North Carolina. But Edie seems tired and nervous, very unlike her normal self. Sam has strange dreams about her dead grandmother, vultures circle outside all day, ladybugs spill out of the faucets and Sam swears that bony fingers touch her hair in the middle of the night. But Sam’s a scientist. Shouldn’t there be a reasonable explanation for all of this? Determined to find out the truth, Sam starts unearthing secrets about her family that were better left undisturbed. 

Kingfisher is in her element when the tension is at its highest. She keeps a narrow focus on Sam and the handful of other major characters, amplifying the sensation that threats are imminent. Danger in horror can sometimes feel arbitrary and nonspecific, but in this house, you know what’s haunting you. As things get stranger and stranger, the writing gets choppier, like Sam’s panting breath and racing heart. And Kingfisher isn’t afraid to embrace the weird: A House With Good Bones’ climax is strange, scary and unforgettable.

That being said, don’t write off this book if you’re not a horror enthusiast—A House With Good Bones is also laugh-out-loud funny. Sam’s inner monologue is full of hilarious observations about living with her mom, not having reliable internet and simply being 32. The aforementioned vultures? They have names and belong to a neighbor. The book is balanced with knife’s-edge precision between fright and humor in a way that brings Jordan Peele’s sensational Get Out to mind. You’ll be craving the next tense moment, because it means the next joke is right around the corner too. 

A House With Good Bones shares another key trait with Get Out: Both works derive their frightening power from placing reasonable people in unreasonable circumstances and forcing them to respond. It’s nerve-wracking for a character to ask “Is this real?” when faced with something strange; it’s downright terrifying when the answer is “Yes.”

Impressively weird, nerve-wracking but still laugh-out-loud funny, A House With Good Bones is another horror hit from T. Kingfisher.
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Louise Joyner left home as soon as she could, fleeing the humidity of Charleston, South Carolina, for a career in industrial design in Silicon Valley. Her brother, Mark, stayed put, his meandering and dysfunctional lifestyle patronized to his face and savaged in his absence by his family, as is so often the case with mildly disappointing scions of good Southern families. But now, Louise and Mark must figure out what to do with the relics of their recently departed parents’ lives: their father’s idiosyncratic economics research, their mother’s vast collection of Christian puppets and their house. However, some revenants will not go quietly into that good night. There are burdens this family has politely buried for far too long, and the Joyners are about to discover that some hauntings are neither stagecraft nor hellspawn. Some hauntings are homemade.

Author Grady Hendrix is a Charleston native, and How to Sell a Haunted House completely nails its Lowcountry setting. This reviewer is also a South Carolinian and can confirm that neither the idea of a Christian puppet ministry nor the actual Fellowship of Christian Puppeteers are made up. The depiction of Carolina culture is also accurate, especially Hendrix’s portrayal of how someone who grew up in it, left and then came back would perceive it: familiar and peculiar, unsettling and comforting, prompting a reckoning with how deeply strange its version of normal truly is. Hendrix only departs from this reality in one way: In no gauzy South Carolina summer that I can recall did the knickknacks acquire a vengeful sentience and wreak havoc on the strained psyches of a family’s prodigal offspring.

How to Sell a Haunted House effectively marries tropes ripped straight from the pages of a midcentury pulp magazine to a Pat Conroy-esque chronicle of Lowcountry generational trauma. Families are warm and lovely but also stifling, just like the summers; rituals are banal but also sacred, their violation the gravest of transgressions; and there are always skeletons (or puppets) in the sewing closets. How to Sell a Haunted House may be a heightened tale of horror, but it is built on something true. And it’s a lot of fun, as well.

How to Sell a Haunted House blends pulp horror with a Pat Conroy-esque chronicle of Lowcountry generational trauma—plus haunted puppets.
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A woman in search of a husband finds one with more than his fair share of deadly secrets in the latest atmospheric, well-plotted horror novel from author Caitlin Starling.

The Death of Jane Lawrence takes place in an alternate version of Victorian-era Britain, known as Great Bretlain. The eponymous heroine is headstrong, wonderfully smart and knows that to live independently, she must wed. It seems illogical, but finding the right man would allow Jane to continue her own hobbies and pursuits, as a married woman is afforded far more freedom than an unmarried maiden.

Bachelor Augustine Lawrence, the only doctor in town, seems like a fine option for Jane. He agrees without too much fuss, under one simple condition: Jane must never visit his ancestral home. She’s to spend her nights above his medical practice, while he retires to Lindridge Hall for the evening. Eventually, of course, Jane finds herself spending the night at Lindridge Hall following a carriage accident, and where she slowly and methodically uncovers the skeletons lurking in Augustine’s closet.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: The year's best Halloween reads, ranked from slightly spooky to totally terrifying.


Anyone who has ever read a gothic novel knows exactly where this is going, but Starling does a magnificent, twisted job steering clear of the obvious plot beats. There are surprises galore in the secrets these characters keep and the lengths they’ll go to conceal them. Key to many a successful horror novel is having a main character to root for, one whom readers will want to see come out of everything not only alive but also stronger. Jane is absolutely that kind of character, a beacon of light in a dark world through her sheer tenacity alone, making her exploration of Lindridge Hall a white-knuckle reading experience.

Fans of Starling’s debut, the sci-fi horror novel The Luminous Dead, will find the same steadily growing sense of eeriness here, despite the markedly different setting. Jane isn’t exploring caves on an alien planet, but her journey still feels claustrophobic, almost asphyxiated by the estate’s mysterious walls. Are the horrors she senses of a supernatural nature? Or are they merely born of a man with too many internal demons? “Both” is also an option, and Starling keeps readers guessing until the very end.

For those who crave intense and detailed gothic horror, or those who just want more Guillermo del Toro a la Crimson Peak vibes in their life, The Death of Jane Lawrence is a must-read.

A woman in search of a husband finds one with more than his fair share of deadly secrets in the latest atmospheric, well-plotted horror novel from author Caitlin Starling.

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There will always be a place for Hill House and The Overlook Hotel, but these five homes offer entirely new floor plans of frights for horror fans.
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Viviana Valentine and the Ticking Clock

New Year’s Eve: a fresh start, a clean slate. 1951, arriving in just a couple of hours, holds a lot of promise for New York City private investigators Tommy Fortuna and Viviana Valentine. Business is going well, and they are on the cusp of getting married. But as the clock ticks toward midnight, they stumble upon a murder in progress in a dark Manhattan alley. Viviana stays with the victim and attempts first aid while Tommy pursues the assailant. Both of their efforts are for naught, other than serving as the jumping-off point for Viviana Valentine and the Ticking Clock, book three in Emily J. Edwards’ critically acclaimed series. This investigation will be both on Tommy and Viviana’s own time and their own dime, as they have no client to bill for their work on the murder of the still-unidentified man. That said, they have a couple of other cases, each baffling in its own right, which will pay the electric bills and the secretary for the time being. The book is set in New York at a time when the electric shaver was new to the market, and the Polaroid camera was just beginning to be recognized as a powerful tool for investigators. Both devices actually play a small role in the story, evidencing the painstaking research that complements Edwards’ period-perfect dialogue and snappy humor.

Murder in Williamstown

Murder in Williamstown is Kerry Greenwood’s 22nd(!) installment in her long-running series featuring freethinking Australian aristocrat Phryne Fisher. (I have done the legwork of looking up the pronunciation of Phryne; it is “Fry-nee,” rhymes with shiny. You’re welcome.) Her latest case has an atmospheric milieu, a well-realized cast of characters and a rollicking plot, to boot. Phryne is something of a libertine, both in terms of her daytime investigative adventures and her amorous nighttime adventures. This time out, she is innocently swept up into the burgeoning opium trade taking place in her home of Melbourne, Australia. While visiting her sweetheart du jour, Phryne discovers the body of a Chinese man who was possibly aligned with a criminal element, and, a short time later, another murder occurs right in front of her eyes. The Chinese community in Melbourne is reluctant to involve the police, fearing anti-Asian prejudice, and the police, for their part, are pretty much okay with that. So it falls to Phryne to sort through the players and to dispense justice as she sees fit, which I must say she does in a more fair and balanced manner than any court of law I could imagine.

★ Edge of the Grave

Robbie Morrison’s debut novel, Edge of the Grave, unfolds in 1932 Glasgow, Scotland. The 1930s were a time of unrest in the industrial port city. The privations of the Great War gave way to boomtown prosperity, but the gap between the aristocrats and the working poor is as great as ever and the nights are ruled by cutthroat street gangs. Detective Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn, onetime bantamweight boxer and World War I soldier, has since advanced through the ranks of the Glasgow police. Despite being Catholic in a largely Protestant organization and despite having to practically stand on tiptoe to meet the minimum height requirement, Jimmy is a scrappy sort of guy, and not disposed toward taking any guff from anyone, regardless of their size. He is pulled off a particularly sickening murder of a young boy to investigate the death of Charles Geddes, a ne’er-do-well high society hanger-on with whose family Dreghorn shares some not entirely pleasant history. For readers who are fans of thrilling, well-choreographed violence, there is plenty to be found here. Nothing egregious by any means, but consider yourselves warned. It’s no surprise that Edge of the Grave won the 2021 Bloody Scotland Debut Prize for Crime Novel of the Year: The writing is first-rate and it is perhaps the best debut novel I have read this year. The catchall term for mystery novels set in Scotland is “Tartan Noir,” by the way. (I imagine it was first used in conjunction with the novels of Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, and then just kind of stuck.) And one thing you can be positively sure about in Tartan Noir is that somebody’s gonna get kilt. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

★ When I’m Dead

Black Harbor, Wisconsin, gets pretty chilly by late October, but the chill brought on by the nighttime murder of a popular teen overshadows almost anything the weather can deliver. Medical examiner Rowan Winthorp knows the girl who was killed; Madison Caldwell was a friend of Rowan’s daughter, Chloe, since primary school. One shudder-inducing detail? Madison’s teeth have been broken out of her jaw and scattered around her body. Rowan was at her daughter’s high school play when she got the call, and had to leave halfway through. Chloe, angry over the abandonment, lashed out with “You’ll love me more when I’m dead,” a statement echoed in the title of Hannah Morrissey’s third Black Harbor mystery, When I’m Dead. The investigation turns up several surprises early on: First off, it appears that Madison was not as well liked as some of the parents believed, but instead was one of the school’s mean girls. Also, there was no love lost between her and Chloe, come to find out. And now in the wake of the murder, Chloe has gone missing. Is she another victim? Or is it something altogether more insidious? Of all the books this month, this one, plot-driven to the max, is the supreme page turner; When I’m Dead is nigh-on impossible to put down.

Phryne Fisher and Viviana Valentine return, plus Hannah Morrissey’s third Black Harbor mystery proves absolutely impossible to put down.

The Hidden Language of Cats

Sarah Brown knows and loves felines: She has a doctorate in the social behavior of neutered domestic cats, and the dedication page of her new book simply reads, “For the cats.”

Those who said “Aww!” at that information will delight in Brown’s The Hidden Language of Cats: How They Have Us at Meow. It’s a fascinating compendium of scientific information about our furry friends’ modes of communication interwoven with interesting anecdotes about Brown’s 30 years of fieldwork (plus her own cats’ hijinks at home).

Brown traces the history of cats’ evolution from solitary wildcats to the creatures who now reside in 45 million households in the U.S. alone. A crucial step in that process: “Cats supplemented their original scent-based language with new signals and sounds, designed for life alongside humans and other cats.” In a more recent development, researchers released data in 2017 about the “Feline Five,” a set of “personality dimensions similar to those of humans” (such as agreeableness and neuroticism) that people can use to better relate to their cats. After all, Brown notes, “Just like people, cats have complex personalities.”

Whimsical line drawings by Brown’s daughter Hettie add to the fun of this informative, accessible guide to what cats are telling us, whether through tail twitches, meows or exceedingly slow blinking.

Fifty Places to Travel With Your Dog Before You Die

For many dog owners, traveling with their pooch in tow is a must, but it’s not always easy to figure out where to go or how to prepare. There are rules of entry to consider, not to mention pet-friendly lodging. If border crossing is involved, vaccines and paperwork come into play too.

Not to worry: Fifty Places to Travel With Your Dog Before You Die: Dog Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations was created by Chris Santella and DC Helmuth to demystify the process of traveling with dogs and “provide a road map and inspirational guide for those who would take Fido along wherever they go.”

The duo turned to seasoned “dog travelers” to help them compile a list of superlative spots in the U.S. and abroad. Fittingly, it begins with Anchorage, Alaska, home to the Iditarod and Yukon Quest dog races. Those who seek a slower pace may want to relax in Palm Springs, California, or visit wineries in the Margaret River region of Australia. Hiking in Yosemite National Park could be fun, or perhaps a trip to Venice, Italy, where “dogs are typically welcome on gondola rides.”

Gorgeous color photos of people and their pets accompany each detail-packed entry in this practical and aspirational world tour for dog owners.

For the Love of Dog

In the introduction to her edifying and entertaining For the Love of Dog: The Ultimate Relationship Guide, author Pilley Bianchi notes that “The New York Times alone has published almost two hundred thousand articles on dogs and is currently averaging a new one every other day.” Many were about “a member of my family . . . a world-famous dog” named Chaser.

In 2011, Bianchi’s father, Dr. John W. Pilley, and their border collie Chaser went viral for their work together, particularly with regards to Chaser’s 1,022-word vocabulary and the revelation that “dogs are not only smarter than they have been given credit for, but capable of so much more.”

Bianchi, who refers to herself as “Chaser’s coteacher, producer, roommate, and water girl,” partnered with U.K.-based illustrator Calum Heath to honor her late father and their dog while showing readers how to tap into their own dogs’ special capabilities—for learning, for fun and for love.

In service of that goal, she shares a history and philosophy of dogs that name-checks Odysseus and Descartes; deeply ponders the values of play and praise; and cautions against making assumptions about breeds, which “can often lead us to miss the individual nature of a dog.” Heath’s illustrations frolic across the pages, adding humor and beauty to this eclectic, heartfelt tribute to the dogs we love.

These 3 charming nonfiction books about dogs and cats are the perfect pet-centric holiday gifts.
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★Personal Best

Even well-loved, familiar poems can be mysterious. What if you could ask a poet to walk you through the why of one of their poems: why it matters, why they chose to share it, what’s at stake? Erin Belieu and Carl Phillips do just that in their delightful anthology, Personal Best: Makers on Their Poems that Matter Most. Including a remarkable and diverse array of contemporary poets, Phillips and Belieu assemble a collection of singular poems, each selected by its poet and accompanied by an explication of how it came to be written, illuminating the choices that make each poem sing. With poems by Danez Smith, Victoria Chang, Ada Limon, Jorie Graham, Ocean Vuong, Yusef Komunyakaa, Ilya Kaminsky and many more, there is something to appeal both to novice explorers of poetry and to writers and students hoping to deepen their appreciation for others’ work.

The anthology is full of gems. It was a welcome gift to reencounter poems I knew in fresh contexts, and it was equally enjoyable to explore poems and poets new to me and discover what I might read next. If someone you know is looking for some guidance in reading poetry, or seeking a deeper understanding of the poetic process, Personal Best would make an engaging, thoughtful gift.

Sukun

Poems of faith and doubt, wounds and wonder: The moments collected in Kazim Ali’s Sukun: New and Selected Poems are surprising and approachable. Ali moves between subjects—from prayers, fairy tales and myths to baggage claims, yoga classes, boats and rain—with an honest, searching voice. Equally engaging is the formal range of the poems. From sonnets to prose poems, from open-ended lines that propel you forward to tightly compacted end-stopped lines, the form and content come together. Mundane details are made surprising in new combinations: “a black and white film” in which “the water glows white.” Part of the wonder comes from Ali grounding these details with a sense of place, setting them against large scale images of the natural world.

“There’s an old line of Robert Frost’s—that a poem ‘begins in delight and ends in wisdom.'”

In “Exit Strategy”—part of the triptych that opens the book—Ali writes “Here’s the hardest geography quiz I’ve ever taken: / How does one carry oneself from mountain to lake to desert / without leaving anything behind?” This collection reveals the answer, taking us through real and metaphorical landscapes as the speakers gather images, moments and ideas, letting each build on the last, collaging something wholly new.

The Asking

In the first poem of Jane Hirshfield’s The Asking: New and Selected Poems, she begins: “ My life, / you were a door I was given / to walk through.” This beautiful opening is the door we readers walk through to discover and rediscover this retrospective collection of Hirshfield’s poetry. Throughout, her attention to and celebration of minute details brings readers into a space of awareness that continues even after our eyes leave the page.

The new poems that open the book examine our fractured planet and imagine better possibilities. Next, beginning with 1982’s Alaya, we move through 50 years of Hirschfield’s work, observing the ways that our planet and the interrogation of our relationship with it have evolved. Hirshfield writes in awe of the world, of science and of imagination, and she threads these ideas together with a specificity and power of observation that demands our attention. She notices the nuance of the world; so must we. There’s an old line of Robert Frost’s—that a poem “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” Hirshfield’s The Asking moves through both together, compelling the reader to wisdom and delight at interlocking, interconnected turns.

All Souls

All Souls, the posthumously published final volume of poems by Saskia Hamilton, conveys a richness of stories in beautifully captured vignettes. As Hamilton writes, “Why retell the stories of those before us? They already spoke them, or held their tongues—fell silent. . . . To say something sincerely yet inauthentically is the danger.” In this work, she avoids that danger, telling each poem in a way that is searingly authentic and resolved.

Hamilton takes bits of history and image, of story and sensory experience, and weaves them together to express something new. The poems organize around the painful, impossible moment when a mother must leave her young son. This devastation circles through the collection, asking the reader what is remembered, retold, forgotten. Remarkable shifts occur between seemingly fragmented moments—between the lyric and narrative, past and present. As you continue to read, the disparate images connect and begin to speak.

Razzle Dazzle

Traveling through Major Jackson’s Razzle Dazzle: New and Selected Poems 2002-2023 opens a new window to his work. The poems are vibrant and engaging, examining life in America, racial injustice, and the ways that humans and nature intertwine and connect. The poetic influences and legacies that echo through the poems are clear, and there’s a rich sense of community and conversation.

From the fresh images of Jackson’s latest work, like “My mouth puckered whenever lemon-colored / arches appeared five stories above the city / like golden gates to an unforeseen heaven,” we travel into the past to excerpts from Leaving Saturn (2002) before moving forward through the 21 years in between. In addition to the subjects and questions that complicate as they recur, Jackson’s voice and sense of form are impressive. Each line is carefully chosen; each stanza break opens up something new. Selections from Jackson’s The Absurd Man (2020) prove to be particularly compelling as a bookend to the opening section of new poems, titled “Lovesick.” To see Jackson’s recent poems surround and grow out of the earlier ones is a joy.

In each of these collections, from the wide-ranging anthology Personal Best to career-spanning looks at some of today’s most prominent poets, there’s something to surprise and delight every reader, as well as chances to gain insight into the writing process.
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★ 10 Things That Never Happened

A man trying to do right ends up doing one big wrong in Alexis Hall’s 10 Things That Never Happened. Sam Becker enjoys almost everything about his job managing a bed-and-bath store, except for his awful boss, Jonathan Forest. While confronting said boss, Sam hits his head and—well, the details don’t matter when the result is that he fakes amnesia to avoid being fired and moves in with Jonathan so that he can be looked after. That screwball setup leads to a poignant love story, told through Sam’s amusing first-person voice. The close perspective puts the reader shoulder-to-shoulder with Sam, who is actually holding some important stuff back. Closed-off Jonathan is a typical workaholic, yet the attraction between the two housemates grows and becomes impossible to ignore despite the boss-employee taboo. The Christmas season, Jonathan’s zany family and an important company event complicate matters, but the authentic emotion at the center of this romance will win readers’ hearts and make them care deeply about these characters and their hopeful happy ending.

The Predictable Heartbreaks of Imogen Finch

Two childhood friends explore their deep connection in The Predictable Heartbreaks of Imogen Finch by Jacqueline Firkins. Trained artist Imogen has given up her dreams to care for her mother in their small town on the Oregon coast. But when Eliot Swift, the rich-boy crush she never got over, comes back to town, she’s forced to reexamine her choices and the true state of her heart. Eliot must look within too, facing feelings and failings he’s been running from for a decade. Firkins delicately peels back the layers of her main couple to expose their raw emotions. Imogen and Eliot are multifaceted, fascinating personalities, and readers will cross their fingers for a happy ending even though it feels impossible. Love scenes of smoking passion and warm tenderness give this romance an extra sparkle. 

The Once and Future Fling

Leigh Heasley’s imaginative and adventurous The Once and Future Fling is set in a world in which time travel exists and dating people from different eras of history is a sought-after experience for the idle rich. Ada Blum, however, is anything but idle: She’s near-desperate to escape the ramifications of her high-profile relationship with state Sen. Samson St. Laurent by finding a match in another time. Regency-era bachelors aren’t catching her interest, so she takes a chance on 1920s New York City—and that’s where things turn thorny. Henry Levison, a violinist and maybe-criminal from the ’20s, catches hold of her heart, but Samson has also reentered the picture. Gangsters and more time-hops keep things entertaining while readers wonder how—and when—this heartfelt story will end.

Also in this month’s romance column, a time travel romance and a tender small-town love story will delight readers.
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In Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, the titular character, who’s a successful wedding planner, and her brother, Prieto, who’s a congressman, are both prominent members of their Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn, New York. The two were brought up by their grandmother after their mother, Blanca, deserted them to become a political activist. Their lives are turned upside down when Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico and an unexpected family reunion ensues. Gonzalez enriches this funny, stirring story with themes of loyalty, honesty and forgiveness, and reading groups will find plenty to talk about in her provocative novel.

Kimberly Duffy’s remarkable mother-daughter tale, The Weight of Air, is set in the intriguing world of turn-of-the-century circus performers. It’s 1911, and Mabel MacGinnis, known as Europe’s strongest woman, is a member of the Manzo Brothers Circus. After the death of her father, Mabel decides to find her mother, an aerialist named Isabella Moreau. When the two finally meet, Isabella must come to terms with herself, even as she and Mabel adjust to their roles as mother and daughter. Past and present collide in Duffy’s fascinating chronicle of circus life.

In Chibundu Onuzo’s Sankofa, Anna, a middle-aged woman living in London, decides to find her father, whom she has never met. Anna comes across his diaries among the possessions of her late mother and learns that he pursued politics, becoming president of a tiny West African country. After discovering that he is still alive, Anna sets out to find him in what turns about to be the quest of a lifetime. Filled with humor and compassion, Onuzo’s novel is a rich exploration of race, identity and the nature of family.

Set in Quebec, Joanna Goodman’s The Home for Unwanted Girls is a moving portrayal of family dynamics in the 1950s. When English-speaking Maggie Hughes falls for a French-speaking boy and becomes pregnant, her parents insist that she give up the child: a girl named Elodie. Although she comes of age in a miserable orphanage, Elodie’s spirit and intelligence blossom. Maggie eventually marries, and when she decides to locate Elodie, her life is changed forever. Discussion topics such as motherhood and the meaning of home make Goodman’s novel a great choice for book clubs.

These unforgettable novels explore the drama and devotion bound up with family ties.

Is the book always better than the movie or TV show? Better read these soon-to-be adaptations ASAP so you can decide.


The Changeling

By Victor LaValle

September 8, 2023

The eerie 2017 cult classic from beloved horror writer Victor LaValle is coming to Apple TV+ on September 8 as a limited series that the network describes as “a fairy tale for adults.” LaKeith Stanfield (“Atlanta”) will both executive produce and star in the series, which follows a couple whose child, well, turns out to be not quite what they expected. Read our review of The Changeling.


The Other Black Girl

By Zakiya Dalila Harris

September 13, 2023

The Hulu limited series based on Harris’ creative and satirical bestselling debut stars Sinclair Daniel as Nella and Ashleigh Murray (“Riverdale”) as Hazel, the titular second Black woman who is hired at the publishing house where Nella works. All 10 episodes will be dropping on September 13. Read our review of The Other Black Girl


Lessons in Chemistry

By Bonnie Garmus

October 13, 2023

Bonnie Garmus’ charming debut novel is receiving the star treatment from Apple TV+ and producer Lee Eisenberg (“The Office”). Actor Brie Larson will play Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant scientist in the 1960s who refuses to sacrifice her career and calling to societal expectations. Read our coverage of Lessons in Chemistry, one of our Best Books of 2022.


Killers of the Flower Moon

By David Grann

October 20, 2023

Legendary director Martin Scorcese will be taking David Grann’s 2017 National Book Award finalist, which tells the true story of the shocking murders of members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s, to the big screen. Frequent Scorcese collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert de Niro star alongside Native actors Tantoo Cardinal, Lily Gladstone and Tatanka Means. Read our review of Killers of the Flower Moon.


All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr

November 2, 2023

Anthony Doerr’s stirring and Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel is coming to Netflix as a limited series. In her first screen role, blind actor Aria Mia Loberti will play Marie-Laure, a blind French girl whose World War II-era encounter with a German soldier (Louis Hofmann) has life-changing consequences. Though most of the mainly international cast is unknown to American audiences, stars like Hugh Laurie and Mark Ruffalo will make appearances. Read our review of All the Light We Cannot See.


Eileen

By Ottessa Moshfegh

December 8, 2023

Ottessa Moshfegh’s startling debut novel heralded the arrival of a writer who would continue to shock and awe readers with works such as My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Lapvona. Up-and-coming actor Thomasin McKenzie will play the titular character, a self-loathing and misanthropic young woman who works as a prison guard. But when glamorous Rebecca St. John (played by a reportedly superb Anne Hathaway) arrives, Eileen becomes increasingly obsessed with her, falling into a deeply toxic and possibly dangerous friendship. Read our review of Eileen.

Victor LaValle's eerie fairy tale The Changeling is the latest addition to a slate of upcoming book-to-screen adaptations you won’t want to miss.

The privileged, insular art world serves as the backdrop for a pair of engrossing whodunits from debut author Alex Kenna and veteran Jonathan Kellerman.

In Kenna’s What Meets the Eye, disgraced police officer Kate Myles, now a private investigator, tackles the death of painter Margot Starling. The police have deemed it a suicide, but Margot’s father is convinced she didn’t kill herself and enlists Kate to get to the truth.

At first reluctant to take on the case and disappoint her client (most deaths suspected to be suicides turn out to be just that), Kate is surprised when she unearths enoughevidence to suggest that foul play may have been involved after all. A litany of former lovers, jealous art students and conniving agents and art dealers lend further credence to her suspicions, leading Kate to believe that Margot was the target of individuals attempting to exploit her. But the more she digs, the more Kate realizes that Margot’s ego and pride, and not just her talent, may have created a number of potential suspects as well.

Kenna ensures that Kate is similarly complex, delving into how her addiction to painkillers led to the loss of a promising job with the police department, the dissolution of her marriage and the possible removal of custody of her daughter. The vivid portraits of both women, and the absorbing mystery that surrounds them, signal a master in the making. 

Kellerman is already an accomplished artist in the medium of mystery novels. Unnatural History, the 38th installment in the author’s Alex Delaware series, finds the psychologist lending his insights to longtime partner Detective Milo Sturgis as they work to solve the murder of well-to-do photographer Donny Klement. 

Donny had recently received media attention for a project titled “The Wishers,” which featured portraits of members of Los Angeles’ homeless community as the people they fantasized about being. Several critics, however, maintained that Donny was simply exploiting his subjects for his own benefit. Alex wonders if, having given people a taste of a different life and then discarding them, Donny sowed the seeds of his own destruction. But there are plenty of other suspects to go around. The wealthy son of an even wealthier father, Donny is surrounded by an eccentric family, any member of which may have had reason to kill him. 

In typical Kellerman fashion, the story is painted in clear, linear fashion, with nothing left abstract. As such, the book is easily accessible to new readers of the series, who will immediately understand what loyal fans have known for years—that they are in the confident hands of a real artist.

The privileged, insular art world serves as the backdrop for a pair of engrossing mysteries from debut author Alex Kenna and veteran writer Jonathan Kellerman.
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In many romance novels, love requires exposure: of one’s true desires and inner secrets, often of one’s most vulnerable self. In this month’s best romances, characters can only find happiness after first finding themselves—and sharing that truth with their partner.

Behind the Scenes

Karelia Stetz-Waters pens a tender love story in Behind the Scenes. Director Ash Stewart is preparing to pitch a movie near and dear to her heart—a rom-com about two lonely women who fall in love—so she turns to successful business consultant Rose Josten for help polishing the proposal she’ll present to movie executives. While the entertainment industry is not Rose’s forte, she’s intrigued by the idea of the film as well as by the cool yet vulnerable Ash. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace that suits the cautious main characters; while Rose and Ash fall fast, they don’t trust that their attraction will result in anything real. Readers will cheer for these capable, talented and mature women, both of whom have fascinating careers and interesting hobbies. They just need to find the right person to help them fill the empty spaces and heal their wounds. Rose and Ash’s feelings for each other are never in doubt thanks to Stetz-Waters’ expertly written longing and lush love scenes. And a fairy tale-perfect happy ending guarantees smiles as the last page is turned.

Also in BookPage: Read our review of the Behind the Scenes audiobook.

Not Your Ex’s Hexes

After Rose Maxwell’s sister took over her role as witch leader-in-waiting, Rose is in need of some new life goals. An ill-advised horse-napping at the beginning of April Asher’s dashing and delightful paranormal romance Not Your Ex’s Hexes results in Rose sentenced to community service at an animal sanctuary under the close supervision of half-demon vet Damian Adams. All kinds of sparks fly between them, but he’s grumpy and she’s not interested in relationships. But a friends-with-benefits arrangement seems possible and maybe even sensible until they must face danger—and all the emerging emotions they’ve vowed not to feel. In fact, Damian is sure he can’t actually be feeling them, having been hexed as a teen, but all signs are pointing to the opposite. Asher’s second installment in the Supernatural Singles series is full of action and well-constructed characters. Heart-tugging animals and steamy love scenes make this otherworldly romance a charmer.

Do I Know You?

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka have written an intriguing twist on the second-chance romance in Do I Know You? In honor of their fifth anniversary, Eliza and Graham Cutler head to a luxury resort in Northern California, hoping a vacation might revive their stalled marriage. Upon learning that there’s been a hotel mix-up and they have two rooms booked instead of one, Eliza impulsively proposes that they sleep separately. Moreover, she suggests they take on new personas so they can meet as strangers and possibly rediscover a spark between them. While hiking, eating and exercising together as their alter egos, Graham and Eliza each come to value new things about the other and recall what led to their original commitment. Readers will root for both characters in this mature and intimate examination of a relationship.

The Duke Gets Even

A happy ending seems impossible in Joanna Shupe’s The Duke Gets Even. Andrew Talbot, the Duke of Lockwood, is desperate to wed an heiress and fill his family’s coffers. But then his antagonistic relationship with free-spirited American Nellie Young transforms into a burning passion. The duke lost out on love in the previous installments of Shupe’s Fifth Avenue Rebels series, and it doesn’t seem like his luck will change: He needs to marry for money, and Nellie can’t imagine life as an English duchess. An affair with Andrew as he seeks the right bride will have to be enough, except, of course, it quickly isn’t. The appealing Nellie wants more for herself and other women of her time, and she’s not at all ashamed of her sexual appetites. Honorable Andrew feels the weight of his responsibilities, yet the fiery ardor he shares with Nellie—featured in feverish love scenes—turns his world upside down. Sensuous and sophisticated, The Duke Gets Even is a satisfying climax to a wonderful and romantic series.

Make a Wish

Romances between a single father and a nanny are a beloved genre staple, but author Helena Hunting explores the trope sans rose-colored glasses in Make a Wish. When she was 20 years old, Harley Spark worked as a nanny for newly widowed Gavin Rhodes. She fell in love with his baby daughter, Peyton, and perhaps with him, before Gavin and Peyton moved away. Seven years later, Gavin and Harley reconnect—and there is an obvious attraction between them. Their happily ever after appears inevitable, until grief, guilt and in-laws step in. Make a Wish chronicles Gavin and Harley’s authentic doubts and fears, with sizzling love scenes and sweet moments creating a sigh-worthy love story.

In this month’s best romances, characters can only find true love after first finding themselves.

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