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Apples Never Fall jacket

Apples Never Fall

Challengers was all about competition and the drive to be the best. Competing with lovers and friends is one thing, but what if the conflict was within your own family? Apples Never Fall stars a tennis dynasty, made up of two retired stars—Stan and Joy—whose four adult children also played professionally. When Joy disappears, Stan is suspected, and Amy, Logan, Troy and Brooke must decide if they believe he’s innocent. No one does drama like Australian author Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret), and this apple is as juicy as it gets. Bonus: You can get this one on a screen too. The TV adaptation is currently streaming on Peacock, and stars Sam Neill and Annette Bening.

Carrie Soto Is Back

Carrie Soto would definitely understand Tashi Duncan, and by that we mean they would immediately try to destroy each other. (They’d probably become friends eventually, but only after almost reducing each other to rubble.) The ferociously determined tennis player at the center of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel decides to come out of retirement to one-up Nikki Chan, the new star player who just broke Carrie’s record amount of Slam titles. If you came away from Challengers wanting more Tashi, this is the book for you.

The Divine Miss Marble

If Challengers made you want to know even more about what it’s like to be a woman in tennis, Robert Weintraub’s biography of Alice Marble, one of the very first tennis greats, can scratch that itch. The Divine Miss Marble chronicles the ups and downs of her life in thrilling detail. Marble won 18 Grand Slam championships between 1936 and 1940 and rubbed elbows with Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, but her influence extended into the late 20th century as she coached greats like Billie Jean King.

Sudden Death

Did you leave the theater thinking, that was fun, but I wish the tennis matches were weirder? Have we got a book for you. Álvaro Enrigue’s bawdy, bizarre tennis novel kicks off with a match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio, and just gets weirder from there (at one point, they’re playing tennis with a ball made of Anne Boleyn’s hair). The author interjects metafictional asides that skewer the conquest of Mexico and other topics, and the book doesn’t shy away from violence, either. We can guarantee one thing: You’ll never read anything else like it.

Wicked Beauty jacket

Wicked Beauty

Let’s be real: The steaminess of the Challengers trailer, and the chemistry among its three stars, was a huge contributor to the film’s successful opening weekend. If you’re looking for a read with a similar spark, Katee Robert is the author for you. Start with the third installment in her Dark Olympus series, which reimagines Greek mythology. Wicked Beauty puts the Iliad’s Achilles and Patroclus into a polyamorous relationship with Helen of Troy. The sex scenes are scorching hot (a Robert trademark), but as in Challengers, the emotional connections are equally complex and valued.

Couldn't get enough of Challengers, director Luca Guadagnino's sophisticated and steamy story of a tennis pro love triangle? We've got some reading material for you.

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters by Cheena Marie Lo

If you were pressed to categorize a book of poetry on your bookshelf as fiction or nonfiction, would you choose fiction? Most people probably would. Poetry has a reputation for being airy and fantastical, for dwelling in the realm of emotions and dreams, not in the “real world.” Yet there is a strain of poetry that is explicitly concerned with informing readers about real events: documentary poetry. Cheena Marie Lo’s A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters (Commune Editions, $16, 9781934639191) is an excellent contemporary example, using statistics and phrases pulled from the news to trace human responsibility for the outcomes of devastating “natural” events like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Lo compares ecological processes like seasonal migration with the movement of evacuees in response both to the destruction caused by a storm and the failure of systems expected to provide help. At the same time, Lo points to the recovery of nature as a model for community recuperation through mutual aid. This is a great collection to read alongside Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler—another powerful documentary book of poems that chronicles state failure and human resilience during and after Katrina.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

I was introduced to The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, $19.99, 9781419718786) in a college English class, which admittedly isn’t the most exciting way to find a book. But as a 20-something with lots of emotions about parenting and intergenerational trauma, I found author-illustrator Thi Bui’s story at exactly the right time. This graphic memoir flows between present and past. In the frame story, Bui is anxious that her flawed relationships with her parents will define how she interacts with her newborn son. In an effort to alleviate her anxiety, she sits down with her parents and attempts to figure out how they became who they are, journeying with them through their childhoods in war-torn Vietnam, their harrowing migration as refugees and their imperfect restart in America. Told through beautiful watercolor illustrations and sparse, emotionally-wrought text, Bui’s memoir does not offer easy answers to questions about trauma, immigration and family. However, The Best We Could Do is a tremendous lesson in empathy and a testament to healing through human connection.

—Jessica Peng, Editorial Intern

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel, One Last Stop (Griffin, $16.99, 9781250244499), is a clever, emotionally resonant take on a timeslip romance with an utterly dreamy love interest: 1970s punk feminist Jane Su, who is mysteriously trapped outside of time on the New York City subway. As they proved in their already-iconic 2019 debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuiston understands that in order for readers to wholeheartedly invest in a heightened scenario, it helps to have characters who are going through things that are eminently relatable. And so, recent New Orleans transplant August Landry’s quest to rescue Jane is balanced by the travails and triumphs of her job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes (one of the best fictional diners ever?) and the slow blossoming of her relationships with her roommates into something like family. It’s an achingly sweet portrait of a closed-off loner finding community for the very first time, and an ode to being young, broke and happy in NYC. It all culminates in a perfect finale, where August must draw on her new connections to pull Jane free and secure their happily ever after.

—Savanna, Managing Editor

The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

Our whole planet is migrating in the title story of The Wandering Earth (Tor, $19.99, 9781250796844) a collection by Cixin Liu, renowned author of The Three-Body Problem. Faced with proof of the sun’s imminent death, humanity collectively seeks to escape obliteration by installing giant plasma jets to propel the Earth toward a new solar system. As mankind’s home is transformed into one massive spaceship, an unnamed protagonist watches decades of his life pass, narrating with straightforward melancholy as he witnesses tragedy and chaos. As changes to Earth’s orbit cause boiling rain to fall and oceans to freeze, the cataclysmic, sublime journey of “The Wandering Earth” will batter you with alternating waves of immense beauty and terror. And don’t expect a chance to surface for air after finishing this first story: The next nine continue to pummel the reader with Liu’s staggering imagination and rare talent for combining grandiose backdrops with personal stories suffused with aching emotion, such as that of a man climbing a mountain made of water, or a peasant boy growing up to become a space explorer. Liu’s eye for detail and mind for the poetic add a profundity to The Wandering Earth, elevating it to stand among the best science fiction.

—Yi Jiang, Associate Editor

Does warmer weather and the approach of summer have you feeling restless? Pick up one of these stories featuring journeys great and small.
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My Season of Scandal

Julie Anne Long exquisitely captures sensuous, romantic longing in My Season of Scandal. Country miss and physician’s daughter Catherine Keating is embarking on a London society husband hunt from the charming Grand Palace on the Thames boardinghouse. Living one floor above her is Lord Dominic Kirke, a fiery, justice-seeking politician with a notorious reputation. They should have nothing in common, and yet they find in each other like minds and hearts. Dominic tries to keep clear of Catherine, believing his worldliness and tarnished past will hurt her prospects, but they are drawn together at every ball. The resolution will induce sighs and perhaps a few happy tears, as what romance reader can resist a tale starring a jaded hero and an innocent but plucky heroine?

The Good Ones Are Taken

The ever-popular friends-to-lovers trope is front and center in Taj McCoy’s The Good Ones Are Taken. Maggie’s full life is only lacking one thing: a man to love. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s Garrett, her best friend, but back when they were teenagers, they decided not to cross the line into romance. But with Maggie’s duties as maid of honor for her two besties coming up, she feels pressured to find a Prince Charming and determinedly puts herself out there. She doesn’t quite fit with anyone until she takes a closer look at Garrett—yet can she risk ruining what they have? Set in Los Angeles, The Good Ones Are Taken is fun, fresh and filled with good food, great clothes and scorching love scenes. Readers will want to hang out with Maggie and company while rooting for her happy ending.

Earls Trip

Jenny Holiday’s tongue-in-cheek Regency romance Earls Trip showcases her trademark charm, humor and well-developed characters. Three aristocratic friends (two earls and a viscount) depart London for their annual sabbatical. But after a last-minute request from an old family friend, Archibald Fielding-Burton, the Earl of Harcourt, rescues sisters Clementine and Olive Morgan from a conniving blackguard—and then brings the two women along on his getaway with the guys. Archie and Clementine, once childhood friends, soon discover a passion they didn’t expect and don’t particularly welcome, at least at first. While Holiday peppers the story with amusing set pieces and cute, anachronistic chapter titles, there is true heart to this tale of a man and woman coming to understand, appreciate and admire each other as much as they love each other.

Plus, two friends-to-lovers romances charm our columnist.
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Missing White Woman

Kellye Garrett’s stark Missing White Woman offers a Black woman’s perspective on the investigation of, and public reaction to, the disappearance and subsequent murder of a white woman. Jersey City, New Jersey, may not sound like a dream destination for a romantic weekend with your sweetheart, but it does serve up some lovely views of the Manhattan skyline after dark. At first, it is idyllic for Breanna Wright and her boyfriend, Tyler Franklin, offering Bree a break from her humdrum daily life in Baltimore. And then on the last day, the idyll is totally ruined: Bree pads downstairs and finds the bloodied, badly battered and quite dead body of a blond white woman, and Tyler is nowhere to be found. Then the investigation begins, recounted to us by Bree, and it becomes painfully clear that a) the attention and dedication put in to solving the disappearance and subsequent murder of a white woman is quite intensive, much more so than if the victim had been Black, and b) when there are Black people central to—or even peripheral to—the investigation, they receive a lot more unwanted attention from the police than white people. Clear-headed and opinionated, Breanna is a compelling guide through the morass. The troubling, eye-opening but still highly entertaining Missing White Woman would be a superb choice for a book club, guaranteed to stimulate lively discussion among the participants.

Death and Glory

One would not necessarily expect a detective novel set in 1894 London to be concerned with unfinished business regarding the U.S. Civil War, a conflict that had been over for the better part of 30 years. But author Will Thomas does not let any of that stand in his way in his latest historical mystery, Death and Glory. Private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn have been called in by Scotland Yard and the crown. Their assignment? Arrange face time with the prime minister and four former Confederate leaders. Elements of the Confederacy are still alive and well in Central America, itching for a chance to rewrite history, and the four representatives hope to hold the prime minister to a past promise. In the closing months of the war, the Confederacy ordered and paid for an ironclad warship along the lines of the Merrimack and the Monitor; Great Britain was officially neutral, so it presented no diplomatic problems to take the order. However, the war drew to a close before delivery could be made. Now these so-called envoys must be dealt with in some form or fashion—a task riddled with pitfalls, some of which are deadly and not the least of which is determining if they truly are who they say they are. Fans of Thomas’ depiction of Victorian-era London and his delightful use of surprising, off-the-wall cameos by historical figures will have their expectations repeatedly exceeded.

Lost Birds

Anne Hillerman took over the Leaphorn & Chee mystery series after the death of her father, renowned Western author Tony Hillerman. The title of her latest, Lost Birds, refers to hundreds of Native American children who, under the midcentury Indian Adoption Project, were adopted by white families and separated from their tribal communities and heritage. Retired Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, now a private investigator when the mood strikes him, has been retained to find the family and birth identity of a woman who possesses nothing more in the way of clues than an old photo of a Southwestern rock formation and a hand-woven baby blanket. (Note: Have a box of tissues ready. Seriously.) Meanwhile, married Navajo cops Jim Chee and Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito pursue an investigation of their own: a huge explosion at a school and the concurrent disappearance of its caretaker, a longtime acquaintance of Leaphorn. Subplots abound, weaving the main characters together and displaying their near-supernatural bonds with one another, with their Navajo Nation home and with their history. Hillerman has shown endless respect for the work of her father in her writing, but also brings a female perspective to the stories, featuring Bernie more prominently and offering a look at the issues facing Native American women today. Tony’s legacy is in safe, loving hands.

Death of a Master Chef

Police Commissaire Georges Dupin returns in Jean-Luc Bannalec’s latest mystery, Death of a Master Chef. Dupin is visiting the Breton port town of Saint-Malo to attend an meeting about advancing cooperation among various local police forces (yawn). In a local food market where Dupin is judiciously sampling the wares, a murder takes place virtually right under the commissaire’s nez. Although he gives chase, he quickly loses sight of the suspect. But no matter; everyone knows that the murder victim was well-known chef Blanche Trouin, and everyone also knows that the killer was Lucille Trouin, Blanche’s sister and a famed chef in her own right. The pair had long stoked the fire of the longest running sister-feud since Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. This will not be the last murder: The victim’s husband meets his untimely demise soon after, followed in short order by a close friend. The case(s) will give the various Breton police departments a textbook opportunity to test out their skills at working together—let’s just say that Commissaire Dupin is not best pleased about that element of the investigation. French mysteries are like French cars (I know this from experience via my elderly but well-loved Peugeot convertible), cushy and tres confortable, a bit slow from a standing start, charmingly quirky. With Death of a Master Chef, Bannalec delivers on all counts.

A Black woman discovers the internet’s latest obsession dead in her vacation home in Missing White Woman. Plus, excellent new entries from Will Thomas, Anne Hillerman and Jean-Luc Bannalec in this month’s Whodunit column.
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Set in India, Parini Shroff’s The Bandit Queens tells the story of Geeta, who struggles to earn a living as a jewelry maker after her violent husband leaves her. Gossiping villagers believe that she killed her husband, and Geeta realizes she has entered dangerous territory when other women approach her for help in getting rid of their abusive spouses. Shroff’s compassionate portrayal of oppressed wives is enlivened by touches of comedy. Themes like domestic violence and the dynamics of marriage and family will inspire thoughtful dialogue among readers.

In Soon Wiley’s When We Fell Apart, Min, a young Korean American man, seeks clarity after the sudden death of his girlfriend, Yu-jin. When Min learns that she apparently committed suicide, he is determined to find out why. A dedicated student with bright prospects, Yu-jin seemed to be thriving, but she had secrets. As Min delves into her past and the circumstances surrounding her death, he comes to terms with his own sense of self. Wiley’s hypnotic thriller is a standout thanks to nuanced characters and a rich portrayal of the experience of being caught between two cultures.

Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo is narrated by Lila Macapagal, a young woman who returns home to Illinois to help with her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. A disagreeable food critic—and old flame of Lila’s—has been giving Tita Rosie’s bad reviews. When he dies after eating there, suspicion falls on Lila. With the backing of her meddlesome but well-meaning aunts, Lila tries to solve the mystery of his death. The first entry in Manansala’s delightful Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series, Arsenic and Adobo is seasoned with humor, drama and tasty culinary references.

In Kismet by Amina Akhtar, sinister goings-on at a glamorous wellness retreat cause an uproar in the community. Ronnie Khan’s life changes when she meets wellness influencer Marley Dewhurst, who convinces her to leave New York and spend time at a retreat in Sedona, Arizona. At first, Ronnie enjoys the healthy lifestyle, but her visit takes a terrifying turn when local influencers are murdered. Akhtar crafts a clever thriller that’s also a funny sendup of wellness culture. Book clubs will enjoy exploring topics such as self-image and ideas of perfection.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! In honor of the occasion, we’ve gathered four mysteries by AAPI authors. Book clubs will love digging in to these suspenseful reads.

Under the Storm

In November 1994, the rural Swedish community of Marback was forever changed when Lovisa Markstrom’s body was found in the ruins of a massive farmhouse fire, and her boyfriend, Edvard Christensson, was charged with her murder and the subsequent arson cover-up.

There was never any doubt he did it. As rookie policeman Vidar Jörgensson muses, Edvard’s father was a violent man, and in Marback, “sons turn out like their fathers; daughters like their mothers. Weaknesses and burdens are passed down, just like in other places. Then again, so are strengths and good traits—but people seldom consider those.”

Edvard’s 7-year-old nephew, Isak Nyqvist, does, though: He simply can’t fathom that his beloved uncle could have done such a thing. Edvard’s always been kind and attentive, and he loved Lovisa. But Isak’s parents tell him he must keep quiet about it and they must cut all ties with Edvard so they can remain in Marback and have some semblance of peace.

Carlsson demonstrates impressive character development and a knack for slow-building suspense.

And so, in Christoffer Carlsson’s intricately crafted Under the Storm, a mantle of grief settles on Isak’s small shoulders, setting him on a life path marked by unresolved anger: at his uncle, his parents and the town that sees him as just the latest bearer of his family’s tainted bloodline.

Under the Storm has three parts. The first draws readers into the initial investigation. In the second, which takes place nine years later, a more experienced Vidar reexamines the case in the wake of possible new evidence. The third section, set in 2015, brings together the tragedies and tribulations of the preceding 30 years as Isak and Vidar push toward the truth, no matter the cost.

As in his internationally bestselling American debut, 2023’s Blaze Me a Sun, Carlsson demonstrates impressive character development and a knack for slow-building suspense as he invites readers to consider the shock waves that can emanate from “One single event. That was all it took to redirect the path of a life. Like the filament of a root moving through time.”

The Hunter’s Daughter

On the opening page of Nicola Solvinic’s standout debut, The Hunter’s Daughter, Sheriff’s Lieutenant Anna Koray greets the reader with the following: “The first time I killed a man was on Tuesday.”

That terrible result to a domestic violence incident brings Anna’s past crashing into the present, opening a Pandora’s box of memories that were locked away via hypnosis 30 years ago. It’s a fascinating premise, one that becomes darker and more twisted as the pages turn and Solvinic, a career criminologist, reveals that said memories are of Anna’s father, a serial killer known as The Forest Strangler.

This engrossing, often hallucinogenic read vibrates with increasing tension and danger.

With the help of the psychiatrist who originally created her “memory vault,” Anna (re)discovers her father was responsible for the deaths of at least 27 young women, each of them bound with poison ivy and arranged in horrifying flower-filled tableaux. Anna’s been living under an assumed identity since his capture. Even as she reels from the discovery, she learns that someone is killing in their rural Midwestern county once again, with a MO very similar to her father’s. Could it be him, somehow? Or is it a copycat? Making matters even worse, the killer’s been taunting Anna with their knowledge of her true identity, the revelation of which would destroy her career and the life she loves.

Solivinic draws readers into Anna’s confused, conflicted mind: She loses time, worries that she’s descending into madness and sees shadowy supernatural figures in the dense forest surrounding her home. For most of The Hunter’s Daughter, Anna straddles the uncertain territory between a repressed state and full knowledge, unsure whether she can trust her boyfriend, her colleagues or herself. It makes for an engrossing, often hallucinogenic read that vibrates with increasing tension and danger as Anna relentlessly works to determine whether biology and destiny are one and the same.

Under the Storm and The Hunter’s Daughter explore the aftermath of murder for both the perpetrators’ families and the dogged detectives assigned to the case.

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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The Mystery Writer

I tend to be skeptical of conspiracy theorists—wait, let me rephrase that: I think most conspiracy theorists are bat-guano-crazy, howl-at-the-moon wingnuts. So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on the reading of Sulari Gentill’s The Mystery Writer. One of the main characters is a dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist caught up in an online matrix of resistance, revolution and heaven knows what else, who is led by a character named Primus, who for all we know may be a 42-year-old who still lives in his mom’s basement. Rent free. But let’s put that aside for a moment, and focus on the protagonist, Theodosia “Theo” Benton. Theo has made her way from Tasmania to her brother’s house in Kansas in hopes of becoming a writer. Against all odds, she befriends her literary idol in a local coffee shop, published author Dan Murdoch, whose presence in the corporeal world is, unbeknownst to him, racing toward a violent close. Oh, also, he may have been the aforementioned Primus. Or not. Conspiracy theories are notoriously flexible that way. But when Theo begins to look into the death of her friend/mentor, she will be forced to come to terms with the real-world consequences of internet rants. Gentill’s follow-up to The Woman in the Library is an original and entertaining read with likable characters (even some of the wingnuts), although it may put me off Kansas for a while.

The Stars Turned Inside Out

It’s been six years since author Nova Jacobs’ debut, The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, hit the bookstands, garnering an Edgar Award nomination for best American debut. And then we waited, and waited some more. I am quite happy to report that her second novel, The Stars Turned Inside Out, is well worth the intermission. Deep underground, in a secret location somewhere outside Geneva, the Large Hadron Collider goes about its business of smashing subatomic particles, allowing scientists to conduct all manner of experiments regarding the nature of the universe. When the body of physicist Howard Anderby is found in one of the tunnels, having apparently been exposed to lethal levels of radiation, security consultant Sabine Leroux is called in to determine the cause. Her investigation unearths several troubling situations that lend credence to the idea that Anderby’s death was not accidental. Sabine conducts interviews with other physicists and staff on-site, volleying scientific jargon back and forth, but it is all clearly explained, never overwhelming and will engender curiosity in the non-scientist reader. In Jacobs’ first book, the murder mystery was overlaid with mathematics; in this book, the murder mystery is overlaid with physics. I live in hope that the next one will feature chemistry or biology, and that I can further my education while doing what I enjoy—reading murder mysteries. 

Cast a Cold Eye

If violence is your cuppa oolong, look no further than Cast a Cold Eye, installment two of Robbie Morrison’s Depression-era, Scotland-set Jimmy Dreghorn series. His first, Edge of the Grave, won the 2021 Bloody Scotland Debut Prize for Crime Novel of the Year and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sequel carries on in that grand tradition. Violent crime in 1930s Glasgow tends to be domestic abuse or the result of gang-related scuffles, with fists, knives or razors as the weapons of choice. So when a boatman is executed with a single bullet to the back of the head, it is a shock. Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn and his sidekick, “Bonnie” Archie McDaid, get the case. The pair is awash in contrasts: Dreghorn is complex and unlucky in love, a John Rebus-like character out of place in the era; McDaid is a onetime Olympian wrestler who employs his martial arts skills to great advantage, often with humor that will be appreciated by readers, if not by his opponents. Morrison paints the Glasgow milieu in somber shades of gray and brown, often water-streaked and more than occasionally blood-streaked as well. The dialog is spot on, which is to say that there is a good case to be made for having a Scots-English dictionary near at hand. If you’re here for the action, the history, the brothers-in-arms camaraderie and a cracking good story, you’ve come to the right place, laddie.

Pay Dirt

V.I. Warshawski returns for her 22nd adventure in Sara Paretsky’s latest mystery, Pay Dirt. In this installment, the PI is not in her usual digs in Chicago, but rather in Lawrence, Kansas. That will not keep her out of trouble, though; she manages to find that pretty much anywhere. This time it’s in the form of Sabrina Granev, a teenage soccer player barely clinging to life after being found in a drug house, and a second woman who was not so lucky—found dead in the same house a few days later. The mystery explores financial greed; closely held family businesses; the mutual back-scratching of corporate interests, politicians, law enforcement officials and jurists; and a bunch of ripped-from-the-headlines points of contention: critical race theory (and ongoing racism in general), the specter of reparations, conspiracy theories, “wokeness” and more. And of course there are a couple of murders, and if the bad guys have their way, they will add Warshawski to that (growing) list. Warshawski remains in top form as she ages; battered some by life, perhaps a bit more acerbic and wryly cynical, but still a keen observer and first-person chronicler. As was the case with the 21 volumes that preceded it, Pay Dirt is unputdownable, a worthy addition to one of the finest series in modern suspense fiction.

Plus, the latest whodunits from Sulari Gentill, Robbie Morrison and Sara Paretsky round out a great month in suspense fiction.

When a Scot Ties the Knot

There’s unlucky, and then there’s “Surprise! Your fake pen pal is actually a real person!” Madeline Gracechurch dreamed up Captain Logan MacKenzie, an honorable Scottish soldier conveniently stationed elsewhere, to get out of making her debut and continue her work as an illustrator of naturalist texts. Maddie writes letters to Logan for years before she finally decides to kill him off, thinking herself safe from matrimony forever. And then, of course, Logan shows up on her doorstep, letters in hand, intent on getting married for real so that his battle-weary men can settle down on Maddie’s extensive property. When a Scot Ties the Knot is an absolute sugar high of a romance, complete with digressions on subjects such as why some men look hotter in glasses, how to seduce women by bathing in mountain lochs and the mating travails of Maddie’s lobsters (their names are Rex and Fluffy). Tessa Dare’s great talent as an author is her ability to root farcical silliness in emotional reality: Logan’s quest to give his men a life where they can heal and flourish is treated with utmost seriousness, as is the paralyzing social anxiety that led Maddie to start writing him in the first place. 

—Savanna, Managing Editor 

The Bee Sting

Was ever a family more unfortunate than the Barneses, the dysfunctional crew at the heart of Irish writer Paul Murray’s masterfully crafted fourth novel? Dickie Barnes is barely holding on to his auto dealership; his glamorous wife, Imelda, resents their fall in status. Their daughter, Cass, who plans to attend university in Dublin, may be jeopardizing that future thanks to too many nights at the pub, while 12-year-old PJ’s plan to escape his bullies is only leading him into more danger. Beginning with Cass, each family member takes a turn telling the story as they see it, unveiling layers of damage, secrets and bad luck. What keeps this tale of woe engaging across more than 600 pages is Murray’s tenderness for the Barnes family, despite their flaws. The voice of each character is refreshingly distinct, and there’s much satisfaction in seeing the puzzle pieces of their perspectives click together to create a full view of this fractured family, who love each other deeply but rarely manage to communicate that love in the right way or at the right moment. A heartfelt tragedy with a bravura ending, The Bee Sting is a strikingly human and empathetic read.

—Trisha, Publisher 


Surely there could be no greater misfortune than that which befalls Major Brendan Archer, who, near the end of J.G. Farrell’s Troubles finds himself buried up to his neck in sand, awaiting drowning as the tide comes in. Troubles is the first in Farrell’s Empire Trilogy, a series of masterful, bleakly hilarious eviscerations of British colonialism. After returning from World War I, the Major goes to Ireland to be with his fiancée, Angela Spencer, a woman he hardly remembers. Angela’s Protestant, Anglo-Irish family runs a once-glorious hotel called The Majestic. Even through the scrupulously polite Major’s eyes, it’s clear that the Spencers are in denial about the state of the hotel and the precarity of their political situation, as tensions with the majority-Catholic people of the surrounding area rise to a deadly pitch. Still, none of them manage to bring the danger into focus, to the point that the Irish Republicans go nameless and faceless throughout the book, even as they pack rocks around the Major’s body and leave him to die. Sadly, Farrell himself met an unfortunate end: At only 44, he was swept out to sea while fishing. We can only imagine what other great novels he would have graced the canon with, had he lived longer.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

The Odyssey

I never realized how often Odysseus wept: as Polyphemus the Cyclops wet the floor with the brains of his friends; on Aeaea when the clever witch Circe transformed his men into pigs; on the shore of Ogygia as Calypso’s captive; in the halls of the Phaeacians, as he bemoaned his misfortune. After two decades of trying and failing to read The Odyssey, I picked up Emily Wilson’s translation and saw myself in this most unlucky of men. I had long wanted to read Homer’s epic, but I found it unbearably dull and the verse too difficult to unravel. I could never even get to Scherie, let alone back to Ithaca. Wilson, the first woman to publish a translation in English, brings Homer’s epic alive. She writes in her translator’s note that other English translations render Homer’s text in “grand, ornate, rhetorically elevated English.” But the poet’s verse was not “bombastic or grandiloquent.” It was accessible, performed around the ancient world to people from all walks of life. Wilson opts instead to use straightforward language and syntax, along with good old iambic pentameter, to present a story that is full of suspense and pathos. I lost myself in The Odyssey, I found myself in Odysseus and I wept for his misfortune. 

—Erica, Associate Editor

There’s something weirdly engaging about a character who’s down on their luck. Fortunately (or not), their loss is our gain.
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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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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.
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Christa Comes Out of Her Shell

A lovably quirky heroine is at the center of Abbi Waxman’s Christa Comes Out of Her Shell. Scientist Christa Liddle is conducting research on her beloved sea snails on an island in the Indian Ocean when a family crisis requires her to return to Los Angeles. There, she’s forced to face an old tragedy and new drama while surrounded by her mother, older sisters and childhood friends and enemies. Christa begins to see herself and others differently, including her onetime teenage crush, Nate Donovan. Told in first person and punctuated with media clips and Christa’s charming drawings, the story slowly reveals the Liddle family’s history and Christa’s own vulnerabilities. While the will-they-won’t-they love story between Christa and Nate is definitely a through line, it seems safe to predict another romance too—that of readers losing their hearts to the eccentric, larger-than-life Liddle clan.

The Lady He Lost

In The Lady He Lost by Faye Delacour, Lieutenant Eli Williams returns to early Victorian London after being presumed dead—completely upending the world of Jane Bishop, an impoverished spinster who was once devoted to him. It’s been two years since he endured a shipwreck and being kidnapped by pirates, and Eli discovers his fiancée married another, his brother spent his savings and Jane, the woman he actually loved, will barely look at him. But he’s determined to make things better, despite general suspicion about why it took him so long to get home and Jane’s declaration that while she still cares for him, she can’t imagine a future as his second choice. Can their burning desire for each other overcome these hurdles? Balls and gowns and picnics in the rain add historical flavor, as does Jane’s quest for financial autonomy. With its engaging leads and well-drawn supporting characters, The Lady He Lost is a highly entertaining read.

Old Flames and New Fortunes

Prepare to swoon while enjoying the ever-so-romantic Old Flames and New Fortunes by Sarah Hogle. Romina Tempest and her sister run The Magick Happens, a mystical shop in their small hometown of Moonville, Ohio. Romina’s floral arrangements, which use the language of flowers to nurture romantic hopes, are some of the store’s most popular offerings. But after an unforgettable first love and a disastrous recent relationship, Romina avoids entangling her own heart. But when that same first love, Alex King, returns to town, he and Romina must confront what went wrong and decide if they can move forward as more mature and forgiving lovers. Told from Romina’s perspective, this love story has witty banter, steamy love scenes and heartfelt apologies, but it’s Alex’s eloquent devotion that will melt the flintiest of readers. The colorful cast includes families both biological and created, and the promise of magic in the air adds extra sparkle.

This month’s column features second-chance love stories that will warm even the most skeptical of hearts.
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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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