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With her mischievous debut novel, The Extinction of Irena Rey, Jennifer Croft draws readers deep into a gnarled forest in which eight translators search desperately for their beloved, vanished author.
With her mischievous debut novel, The Extinction of Irena Rey, Jennifer Croft draws readers deep into a gnarled forest in which eight translators search desperately for their beloved, vanished author.
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Sasha LaPointe’s memoir in essays, Thunder Song, continues the work of her foremothers, in a Native punk mode all her own.
Sasha LaPointe’s memoir in essays, Thunder Song, continues the work of her foremothers, in a Native punk mode all her own.
Literary luminaries unearth stories of family, food and grief in seven satisfying memoirs by Sloane Crosley, Andres Debus III, Leslie Jamison and more.
Literary luminaries unearth stories of family, food and grief in seven satisfying memoirs by Sloane Crosley, Andres Debus III, Leslie Jamison and more.
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This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew by Daniel Wallace is an electrifying look at how to navigate loss. Wallace considers the nature of grief and connection as he tells the story of his brother-in-law William Nealy, who died by suicide at 48. After his death, Wallace grapples with unresolved feelings and troubling questions about Nealy’s life. Writing with compassion, reflection and self-scrutiny, he explores his own personal demons and the boundaries of friendship.

In A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of Secrets, Lies and Family Love, Mohsin Zaidi recounts the challenges of his conservative upbringing in London. Raised by traditional Muslim parents, Zaidi has a difficult time coming to grips with his sexual identity. As a student at Oxford, he is able to live an authentic life as a gay man, but he finds himself at a turning point when his father and a witch doctor attempt to alter his sexuality. Exploring family, community and self-love, Zaidi’s bold, revealing book will spark inspired dialogue among readers.

Leta McCollough Seletzky investigates the complex life of her father, Marrell McCollough, in The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. McCollough belonged to the Invaders, a Black militant group in talks with Martin Luther King Jr. prior to his assassination, and he was on the scene when King was killed. Yet he led a surprising double life: He was also a police officer secretly charged with gathering information on the Invaders. In this powerful memoir, Seletzky struggles to accept the truth about her father and to reconcile it with her identity as a Black woman.

In Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings, Chrysta Bilton examines the remarkable circumstances of her parentage. During the 1980s, Bilton’s gay mother, Debra, decided to have children. With a handsome man named Jeffrey Harrison serving as a sperm donor, she became pregnant and gave birth to Bilton. Decades later, Bilton makes disturbing discoveries about Harrison, who harbored secrets about his donor experiences. Discussion topics such as identity, honesty and traditional parenting roles make this a standout pick for book clubs.

4 intriguing memoirs explore the nature of family secrets.

Who doesn’t love a pretty village? In these two debut mysteries, rolling countryside, cobbled streets and grand medieval manors create perfectly pastoral backdrops for murder most foul. 

The Antique Hunter’s Guide to Murder

Freya Lockwood is at loose ends: Her ex-husband is forcing the sale of their London home; their daughter, Jade, has left for university; and it’s been years since Freya’s been enthused about anything aside from motherhood. 

She once worked as an antiques hunter alongside her mentor, the debonair and wickedly intelligent Arthur Crockleford. They returned stolen antiquities to their rightful owners, a pursuit both exhilarating and fulfilling. But after a trip to Cairo ended terribly, Freya cut contact. She hasn’t spoken to Arthur or returned to her hometown of Little Meddington in the 20 years since.

As C.L. Miller’s The Antique Hunter’s Guide to Murder opens, Freya’s beloved and fabulous Aunt Carole calls with news of Arthur. He’s been found dead in his Little Meddington shop, and Carole’s convinced he’s been murdered. To add to the emotional upheaval, Arthur left Freya a letter imploring her to find the culprit using cryptic clues he’s set out for her.

The quest begins at an antiques enthusiasts’ weekend at nearby Copthorn Manor. The ivy-covered mansion is set on beautiful grounds, but inside the house, things are far from pretty. The shifty cast of characters present is filled with likely suspects, all of whom are ill-mannered at best and dangerous at worst. Can Freya and Carole untangle the deadly connections between past and present before the killer strikes again?

Miller adds authenticity by name-checking real antiques with help from her late mother, the author and “Antiques Roadshow” expert Judith Miller. Readers will enjoy following the trail of clues alongside Freya and Carole, who must also contend with their conflicting feelings about Arthur. This series kickoff capably combines a treasure hunt, a murder mystery and complex relationship dynamics, and is sure to keep readers curious and engaged, while perhaps pining for their own special antique, too.

How to Solve Your Own Murder

Kristen Perrin’s How to Solve Your Own Murder also centers on amateur sleuths who are aunt and niece. Although in this lively, twisty tale, Great-Aunt Frances is the recently deceased victim, found in the library of her stately mansion in the village of Castle Knoll.

Her 25-year-old great-niece and aspiring mystery novelist, Annie, is present for this sad discovery, being one of the family members and advisors Frances summoned to Gravesdown Hall to discuss her will. But while Frances’ demise is a terrible shock to the group, it wouldn’t have surprised Frances herself: In 1965, a fortuneteller told the then-teenager, “All signs point toward your murder,” and she’s been trying to preemptively solve her own murder ever since.

Castle Knoll residents have long scoffed at Frances’ belief in the prophecy, and bristled at her investigations of their foibles and indiscretions—all of which are detailed on a floor-to-ceiling murder board. That board will come in handy, since Frances left Annie and the other guests at Gravesdown an assignment: Whoever solves Frances’ murder within the week will be the sole heir to her money and property. If the police crack the case first, the estate will be turned over to real estate developers, thus destroying the charm of the village filled with those who doubted Frances.

Those drawn into Frances’ game include Saxon, her nephew and the village coroner; handsome and enigmatic Detective Crane; and Walter, her lawyer and friend. There are secrets and conflicts of interest galore, plus multiple ways to access Gravesdown Hall undetected, making for an absolute pile of red herrings. And while Castle Knoll is “like a picture on a biscuit tin,” there’s plenty of ill intent roiling beneath its delightful surface. Can Annie stay safe and find the murderer before week’s end? 

Perrin juggles characters and clues with aplomb, sketching in the past via teen Frances’ journals and immersing readers in the present through Annie’s determined, good-hearted point of view. Readers will root for her as she gains hard-won confidence in this entertaining exploration of family secrets.

All whodunit fans know that little country towns are really dens of sin.
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This Could Be Us

In Kennedy Ryan’s satisfying This Could Be Us, a woman rebuilds her life and finds an unexpected love. Soledad Barnes prides herself on her homemaking and family-tending prowess. But then her husband’s betrayal and their ensuing divorce puts it all at risk. Armed with determination and love for her daughters, as well as a posse of fabulous sisters and girlfriends, Soledad figures out a way to use her domestic goddess skills to keep a roof over her family’s head. When the incredibly sexy Judah enters her life, he feels so right—but Soledad doesn’t know whether she can trust her heart again. Ryan’s vibrant characters and delightful descriptions of food and friendship perfectly complement Sol’s story. Readers will want to eat at her table and be one of her best pals, cheering her on to a very deserved happy ending. This tender, sensual and sigh-worthy tale also includes nuanced glimpses of Judah’s joys and concerns as the father of twin boys with autism.

Happily Never After

Two cynics change their minds regarding matters of the heart in Happily Never After by Lynn Painter. Desperate to stop her wedding to a cheating groom, Chicagoan Sophie Steinbeck turns to Max Parks. An architect by day, Max has fallen into a side gig of showing up to nuptials and pretending to be a lovelorn objector. Sophie and Max hit it off right away, and soon they’re teaming up to help others at (off?) the altar. Though they stubbornly resist the idea of a relationship with each other, their chemistry is off the charts and the fun they have together—whether they’re objecting or just hanging out—will leave the reader wondering why Sophie and Max try so hard not to fall. With smoking love scenes and memorable secondary characters, Happily Never After is a delight.

Trouble

An unlikely heroine passes herself off as a governess in Trouble, Lex Croucher’s Regency rom-com. Her kindhearted sister is unable to take on the job and her family is desperate for funds, so Emily Laurence travels to the home of the Edwards family, hoping to disguise her identity, lack of interest in children and generally surly attitude toward mostly everything. Croucher borrows some genre conventions—a remote house, a brooding widower hero, children needing care—and adds the unscrupulous Emily, whose prickly exterior hides a fierce loyalty to those she loves. Which, surprisingly to the imposter governess, turns out to increasingly include her eccentric fellow staffers, the Edwards children and Ben, Captain Edwards himself. But secrets abound, and Emily’s own make her certain no happiness awaits her. Readers will revel in watching Emily learn to trust in this fun, funny and fast-paced story.

There’s nothing more heartwarming than watching deeply cynical or understandably wary characters find love in spite of themselves.
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The Boy Who Cried Bear

Building on the success of her Rockton series, Kelley Armstrong’s Haven’s Rock series is about a secret town in Canada’s Yukon wilderness, where people fleeing a dangerous situation can hide safely in the company of other, similarly afflicted residents. Think of it as a private witness protection program, with security provided by remoteness rather than hiding in plain sight. The latest installment, The Boy Who Cried Bear, has an absolute doozy of a setup. As you’d expect from the title, one of the residents, a preteen boy, sees a bear while on a hike. Or perhaps a yeti. Or perhaps it is just a tall tale, because he swears the bear had human eyes. But when the boy disappears into the forest, and bear fur is found near where he went missing, the search becomes a race against time to find him before the cold and the wildlife finish him off. His mother remains unconvinced.. She knows her son would not go off into the forest on his own, and she strongly suspects that one of the other members of the community is a pedophile. The truth of the matter is slightly more complicated. OK, a lot more complicated. And dangerous enough that a couple of folks will die violently before it becomes evident.

Hard Girls

J. Robert Lennon’s thriller, Hard Girls, is the story of Jane and Lila Pool, a pair of twins dealt a bad hand in life early on. When they were youngsters, their mother left one day and never came back. There were rumors about her departure, perhaps a clandestine lover or something altogether darker. Their distracted professor father didn’t keep much of a rein on them after that, and in fact paid them as little attention as possible. It wasn’t abuse, exactly, but it was certainly benign neglect. And as is often the case with twins, Jane and Lila were competitors as well as sibs, further egging each other on with each passing year, until one night a series of escalating events culminated in homicide. Justifiable? Arguably, but the actions they took after the fact muddied those waters significantly. They parted company with some recriminations, but with little choice in the matter. And so they remained for quite some time until out of the blue, their missing mother reappears in their lives, leading them on a merry chase across the continent and deep into Central America. I am just scratching the surface here: There are CIA-related complications, deadly expats, car chases, first-rate skulduggery and the weirdly resilient family ties that bind. All in all, Hard Girls is an original, multilayered and quite engrossing thriller.

★ Little Underworld

You could make a case for the prosecution that PI Jim Beely doesn’t mean to murder Vern Meyer in the opening scene of Chris Harding Thornton’s Little Underworld. It would be a hard sell, though, as Meyer molested Beely’s 14-year-old daughter, and Beely does, after all, hold Meyer’s head underwater rather longer than the world record for holding one’s breath. He thinks long and hard about how to dispose of the remains, and finally throws the body into the backseat of his car and heads back to town, with a plan to meet his undertaker friend who, for a fee, will help him dispose of the evidence. There he happens upon crooked cop Frank Tvrdik, who greets him with “Hate to break it to you—You got a dead guy in your backseat.” But Frank doesn’t much care about the body, except perhaps as leverage to get Beely’s help in taking down a corrupt politician. And nobody cares that the politician is corrupt, except that his corruption seems to be getting in the way of their corruption, and that cannot be allowed. Little Underworld is set in 1930s Omaha (of all places), with period-correct dialogue that is often darkly hilarious, reminiscent in tone of black-and-white gumshoe movies from the golden age of Hollywood. 

★ Black Wolf

The big news in mystery circles these days is Juan Gómez-Jurado’s Antonia Scott series, which has sold like panqueques (hotcakes) in its home country of Spain. Volume two of the trilogy, Black Wolf, has just been released. The temptation is strong to compare central character Antonia Scott to Stieg Larsson’s antihero Lisbeth Salander, but a) that has been done already by pretty much every reviewer up to now, and b) I think a much more apt comparison is to Keigo Higashino’s uber-talented police consultant Dr. Manabu Yukawa, aka Detective Galileo. Both Scott and Yukawa visualize connections that others miss, and both are in high demand with the police for their brainiac skills. Scott’s police contact is Jon Gutiérrez, a strong but slightly less than graceful gay man from the Basque Country. While Gutiérrez is trying (and failing) to fish a dead body out of a river in Madrid, a mafia figure is murdered in his home a half-day’s drive away on the south coast. The man’s wife is targeted as well, but she escapes, albeit barely. In hot pursuit is an assassin known as the Black Wolf (in Spanish, la loba negra). It falls to Antonia and Jon to track her down before the killer locates her. There is one area in which a comparison to Larsson is warranted: The Antonia Scott series is hands-down the best suspense trilogy to come along since Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Nothing else even comes close. The third one needs to arrive soon—make it so.

Our mystery columnist hails Juan Gómez-Jurado’s Antonia Scott novels as the best suspense series since Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.
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Found family is a special weakness of mine: From Lord of the Rings to “Stargate SG-1,” I often find myself tearing up as brothers- and sisters-in-arms share their lives and hurts with one another. Cascade Failure by L.M. Sagas and Floating Hotel by Grace Curtis are both about struggling, scrappy people making their way through a sci-fi world—and both have enough emotional heft to move even less susceptible readers. Cascade Failure makes a deep, rich investment in five characters and their adventure to save the galaxy. Floating Hotel, on the other hand, drifts from one perspective to another, almost never repeating the same viewpoint, to paint a beautiful portrait of a community.

In Cascade Failure, debut author Sagas kicks off a new sci-fi series with aplomb. A disgraced himbo of a soldier named Jal finds himself captured by the crew of the Ambit, which consists of his old lieutenant, an AI ship captain and a foulmouthed engineer. They try to take Jal in to be court-martialed, but are distracted by a distress signal that leads to a chattery, terrified programmer and a conspiracy that threatens millions across the galaxy. From there, the crew of the Ambit go on a rollicking journey, but the real draw is how the relationships between the characters unfold. Each person has a long history rife with post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse and abandonment. Sagas avoids making the party’s communication difficulties frustrating for the reader, using their inner monologues to illustrate the complicated emotions and memories that stand in the way of healing. At first, the five people aboard the Ambit are tense and uncomfortable around one another. By the end, they are inseparable.

A beautiful luxury ship that travels the galaxy, the Grand Abeona Hotel is slowly falling into disrepair. Its manager, Carl, has a penchant for taking in strays and finding them jobs. The staff is thus a group of people who happened upon one another, rather than actively chose one another. As a result, their familial relationships encompass both long-suffering irritations and radical, immediate support when needed. More than anything else, they each have a special affection for the Grand Abeona Hotel and the safety, unity and new start it provided each of them. A political mystery provides a spine of sorts—a rebellious writer has been criticizing the emperor, and various figures are hunting for the satirist—but Curtis focuses on small redemptions and triumphs. The musician finds her song, the stuttering aide finds her confidence and the bonds between a group of broken people shift from necessary tolerance into something like love (which should be familiar to anyone who has worked in the service industry for any amount of time). Melancholic and nostalgic, Floating Hotel is an ode to circumstantial companions that left this reviewer pondering old friends who now live miles away, off in their own stories.

The crews of a galactic hotel and a shambly spaceship bond in spite of themselves in these emotional sci-fi novels.

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BookPage highlights the best new books across all genres, as chosen by our editors. Every book we cover is one that we are excited to recommend to readers. A star indicates a book of exceptional quality in its genre or category.

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