Lauren Emily Whalen

“Those were the good old days” is a phrase people love to say as they wax poetic about bygone eras. It’s understandable to feel nostalgic given our current chaotic landscape, but as The Lunar Housewife points out, it’s not necessarily merited. Caroline Woods’ historical thriller, set in the final days of the Korean War and the onset of the Cold War, spins a tale of big-city intrigue as it follows a promising young waitress-turned-writer and the increasingly disturbing secrets she uncovers. The result is an addictive binge of a read that’s equal parts intelligent introspection and nail-biting suspense.

It’s 1953, and Louise Leithauser has come a long way from Ossining, New York. The 25-year-old daughter of a housecleaner is now rubbing elbows with the likes of Truman Capote and Arthur Miller in New York City as a writer for the hip literary magazine Downtown. Louise is writing political pieces for Downtown (under a male pen name, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?), dating the magazine’s handsome co-founder, Joe Martin, and penning a sci-fi romance novel, The Lunar Housewife, in her spare time. She’s also certain her twin brother, Paul, who is missing in action in Korea, will come home any day now. But when Louise overhears a conversation between Joe and his colleague Harry regarding mysterious surveillance and their magazine’s dangerous connections, she begins to wonder if anything in her carefully constructed existence is really what it seems.

Coming off her critically acclaimed debut Fräulein M., Woods takes the reader into the tangled web of American-Soviet relations and the dark secrets underneath the New York literary scene’s sparkling surface. Even Katherine, the protagonist of Louise’s novel-in-progress, isn’t immune. A former World War II pilot who voluntarily defected from the States to go on a groundbreaking mission to the moon, Katherine starts to suspect all is not well on Earth or in space. Both Louise and Katherine live in a world that is run by men, but these smart, capable women are not going down without a fight.

The Lunar Housewife will have readers thinking long and hard about how good the “good old days” really were.

The Lunar Housewife is an addictive read that's equal parts intelligent introspection and nail-biting suspense.

Some people deserve to die. At least, that’s Ruby Simon’s mindset. The protagonist of Sascha Rothchild’s Blood Sugar isn’t your typical suspected murderer. She’s a Yale graduate and a successful psychologist in her home city of Miami, and she was happily married until her diabetic husband, Jason, passed away. Now Ruby is accused of Jason’s murder, with plenty of time to think back on her checkered history as she waits in a police station. What follows is a Promising Young Woman meets “Dexter” thriller that’s both highly suspenseful and strangely empowering.

Ruby’s always been a Type A personality, pulling top grades and volunteering with animal rescues even during her wild teen years of club-hopping, snorting cocaine and hooking up with older men. Every now and then, she’s brought it upon herself to correct the injustices she saw around her. When Ruby was 5, she made sure her older sister’s bully drowned beneath powerful ocean waves. In high school, she fought back against her friend’s father, whose hands would never wander again after that. But Ruby genuinely loved Jason, a gentle Georgia native she met at an antique shop—so why is she under suspicion for his untimely demise? Could it have something to do with Jason’s aptly named mother, Gertrude, who has never hidden her disapproval of their marriage?

Rothchild is both a memoirist and an Emmy-nominated screenwriter for shows such as “The Bold Type,” “The Baby-Sitters Club” and “GLOW.” Her debut thriller successfully executes all the elements of a crackling mystery: page-turning plot beats, snappy dialogue (especially between Ruby and Roman, her narcissistic college bestie-turned-defense attorney) and vividly drawn characters. Readers will root for Ruby’s acts of vigilante justice toward toxic male figures while also questioning her reliability as a narrator. For those who love a fascinating, complicated female lead with more than one ax to grind, Blood Sugar is an absolute must.

Promising Young Woman meets “Dexter” in this highly suspenseful and strangely empowering thriller from an Emmy-nominated screenwriter.

What does it mean to be known? For a group of women in the South American art world, that seemingly simple question leads to more questions. In María Gainza’s Portrait of an Unknown Lady, unknown ladies abound—the nameless narrator, her enigmatic late boss and a long-gone painter—but only one ties them together: a master forger who may or may not still be alive, whom the narrator has vowed to track down. As Gainza follows her on her quest, she also offers a spare but vivid peek inside a female-dominated environment that’s both fascinatingly specific and deeply universal.

Thanks to family connections, the 25-year-old narrator lands a job in a prestigious Buenos Aires auction house and is immediately fascinated by her employer, Enriqueta Macedo. A nationally renowned expert in art authentication, Enriqueta runs the narrator ragged at work but also takes her to the spa on weekends. Enriqueta soon confides a major secret of her success: She sells certifications of authentication for artworks that she knows are forgeries. “Can a forgery not give as much pleasure as the original? . . . Isn’t the real scandal the market itself?” she asks the narrator in justification.

After finding Enriqueta dead of natural causes, the narrator’s grief-fueled breakdown inspires a covert mission. Donning Enriqueta’s black fur coat, the narrator checks into a hotel in hopes of locating Renée, a forger best known for her replications of the works of Mariette Lydis, a portraitist from the 1920s with her own colorful past. Enriqueta hadn’t seen Renée in over a decade, and as the narrator follows leads from Enriqueta’s and Renée’s ex-classmates and colleagues, she asks herself what she is really hoping to find, and why.

For these women, art is less occupation and more religion. Mariette, Renée, Enriqueta and the narrator have their own reasons for creating and selling art, as well as their own obstacles to fulfillment, but it’s the art itself that unites them. Through catalog descriptions, court transcripts and the narrator’s own introspective voice, acclaimed Argentine author Gainza, an art critic herself, deftly explores the quest for truth, both in brushstrokes and within oneself. Portrait of an Unknown Lady offers no easy answers but provides immense pleasure in the journey to find them.

This spare but vivid peek inside the South American art world is both fascinatingly specific and deeply universal.

Do we ever really know those close to us? Author Kieran Scott probes this question deeply in the sharp and stylish Wish You Were Gone. A bump in the night leads to the horrific discovery of a loved one’s body, and the secrets just keep spilling out as suburban wife and mom Emma Walsh tries to unravel the complex web of lies that made up her “perfect” life.

When a noise jolts Emma awake in the wee hours, she doesn’t expect to find her husband James’ car crashed into the garage—and James deceased inside it. Though Emma’s life appears ideal, with a beautiful house in a tony New Jersey suburb, a spouse who runs a successful sports PR firm in Manhattan and two beautiful teens in private school, only Emma and her kids know it’s all a facade. James had alcoholism and was prone to fits of rage, getting into a physical altercation with his own children mere hours before smashing his prized BMW. But is his demise more than a simple case of drunk driving? Meanwhile, one of Emma’s best pals, single mom Lizzie, is struggling with her finances, while Emma’s other close friend, successful lawyer Gray, is dealing with a suddenly scarily unpredictable spouse. Are their problems intertwined, tied up in James’ complicated legacy?

In her debut thriller, Scott, who has previously published romance and YA, displays a whole new talent for complex adult suspense. Though Wish You Were Gone is a quick read, it’s also thought provoking and relatable. Emma’s not the only one hiding things; everyone has secrets behind closed doors, whether it’s a pile of unpaid bills, trouble with a peer group or a partner struggling with unexpected mood swings and irrational actions. Through bite-size chapters from the perspectives of her teenage children and her two closest friends, we learn the personal issues they all fight to cover up until it’s almost too late.

Each of Scott’s characters is multifaceted and realistic, from inquisitive Emma to relentless, Type A Gray, to Emma’s children: Gifted athlete Hunter is traumatized by his final encounter with his dad, and artistic Kelsey longs to escape a school she doesn’t fit into and harbors her own guilt over her father’s last day. Though we don’t get her perspective, Lizzie’s youngest daughter, Willow, a proud outsider and gifted magician with a penchant for taking what doesn’t belong to her, shines as well.

Wish You Were Gone has a fascinating mystery at its center, but it’s ultimately a character-driven story featuring real people with real problems.

Wish You Were Gone has a fascinating mystery at its center, but it’s ultimately a character-driven story featuring real people with real problems.

Nothing is more mysterious than the family we were born into. Amateur sleuths Lena Scott and Claudia Lin don’t quite fit in with their blood relatives, but the solutions to their respective cases may lie within the bonds they’ve known their whole lives.

“I found out my sister was back in New York from Instagram. I found out she’d died from the New York Daily News.” These arresting first lines of Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister alert the reader that this family-oriented thriller is anything but ordinary. 

Lena Scott and her younger half-sister, Desiree Pierce, have little in common. Lena’s a serious grad student living with her grandmother’s widow in the Bronx, while Manhattan-based ex-reality star Desiree blows through men, clothes and substances as fast as she can spend the money from their father, music industry titan Mel Pierce. But when Desiree sees the newspaper headline, she knows there’s more to her sister’s death than a simple heroin overdose. Desiree was afraid of needles, and why was she found shoeless near Lena’s own neighborhood, when the women have been estranged for two years? 

Garrett wrote for the television show “Cold Case” before publishing her award-winning debut novel, Hollywood Homicide, and its follow-up, Hollywood Ending, and in Like a Sister, she incorporates issues of race, class and, most of all, the complicated ties that bind into a twisty murder mystery with nuance and heart.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Claudia Lin knows she’s a complete disappointment to her family. The narrator of Jane Pek’s The Verifiers, Claudia has neither a nice Chinese husband nor a lucrative job. She likes women and hasn’t yet told her mother, and unbeknownst to her successful older brother, Charles, she has left the full-time position he’d helped her snag. Instead, as the newest staff member of Veracity, a top-secret firm in glamorous Tribeca, Claudia helps would-be lovers uncover the true identities of online paramours and expose any skeletons in their closets. 

When one of Claudia’s first clients, Iris Lettriste, is found dead in her apartment, Claudia discovers that Iris had her own secret: She wasn’t Iris Lettriste at all. Who was “Iris,” and could her online presence and virtual network be the keys to figuring out who killed her? 

Claudia is a scrappy, resourceful protagonist. She’s a dedicated cyclist who can and will bike anywhere, she’s a huge fan of a fictional mystery series starring the brilliant Inspector Yuan, and thanks to Veracity, she has invasive but effective tracking devices at her fingertips. Pek’s beautifully paced debut offers a hard look at our digital lives and the people we surround ourselves with IRL. It’ll have readers asking, along with Claudia, “Could a dating app, and the forces behind it, actually kill me?”

New York City is full of mysteries—and two smart amateur sleuths are on the case.

Everyone loves a legend—until it ends in murder.

“Don’t stare too long at the Witching Tree / Defile it not, or cursed you will be.” So goes the saying behind the spookiest landmark in Burning Lake, New York, a small town with a dark past and an even darker present. Alice Blanchard’s The Witching Tree follows detective and lifelong Burning Lake resident Natalie Lockhart through a murder mystery that deftly addresses what happens when personal trauma and professional responsibility collide in a town steeped in complicated history.

The third book in Blanchard’s award-winning series begins with a horrific awakening. Beloved local Wiccan priestess Veronica Manes awakens from a drugged sleep, dressed in a Halloween-esque witch costume and chained to a railroad track with a freight train quickly approaching—a train she is unable to escape in time. At the same time, Natalie is enjoying a cozy morning with her wealthy boyfriend, Hunter Rose. She’s ready to leave cop life behind after working two disturbing cases, including one that involved her own family. When Natalie learns of Veronica’s murder, she’s as baffled as the rest of Burning Lake, but she knows she can’t quit the force until the mystery is solved.

Natalie is a smart, believable heroine. She’s a skilled detective with an admirable sense of duty to the place that has raised her, even though it spectacularly failed her family. Indeed, Blanchard’s writing shines the brightest when depicting all her characters’ gray areas. Despite the macabre elements of the murder and setting, the people who populate The Witching Tree are realistically drawn: No townsperson is all good or all bad. Could eccentric Marigold Hutchins, who runs the town’s Wiccan shop, be gunning for Veronica’s leadership position in the local historic coven? What about the young couple Veronica befriended, who were dealing with drug addiction and dabbling in dark magic before they disappeared completely? Natalie also can’t forget the legacy of the town, whose the citizens burned three accused witches at the stake in the 18th century. Blanchard crafts a spectacular sense of place, and though readers may fear Burning Lake, they also won’t want to leave.

While it’s the third in a series, The Witching Tree offers sufficient background information for new readers and a town full of complex, dynamic characters, making it an enjoyable novel that stands easily on its own.

Though readers may fear Burning Lake, the creepy small-town setting of Alice Blanchard’s mystery, they also won’t want to leave.

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