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Veronica Speedwell returns in A Sinister Revenge, the eighth mystery in a series best described as Agatha Christie in the world of Victorian science and natural history.

Natural historian and butterfly hunter Veronica has been separated from Stoker, a fellow scientist who had become her sleuthing partner and lover. But Stoker’s brother Tiberius, Lord Templeton-Vane, reunites the couple by giving them a dangerous new case to solve. 

In his youth, Tiberius ran with a group of students who called themselves the Seven Sinners, but then tragedy struck at his family’s Devon estate when one member of their party died in an accidental fall while trying to claim a fossil from a cliffside. During the following years, two other members also met an early demise, and now a threatening letter has Tiberius believing that they may all have been murdered by one of their own—and that he might be the next victim. In a Christie-esque conceit, Tiberius invites the remaining members of the Seven Sinners to an elaborate house party, where he plans to confront them and, hopefully, where Veronica and Stoker will uncover the murderer. 

As the house party unfolds, it becomes apparent that the history of the Seven Sinners is more complex than Tiberius let on, with secret affairs and bitter jealousies complicating the past. Even as Veronica untangles the web of complex relationships, she struggles to reconcile Stoker’s distance from their own romantic partnership. As usual, Veronica’s keen observations and sharp wit contrast with her own occasional lack of self-awareness (especially when it comes to romance), making for a delightful read. Longtime readers of the series will be pleased to see regulars such as intrepid reporter J.J. Butterworth and ingenious chef Julien d’Orlande return. But ultimately, Raybourn’s masterful entanglement of Veronica and Stoker’s love story with the mystery at hand makes A Sinister Revenge a standout entry in an already excellent series.

Deanna Raybourn’s masterful balance between romance and mystery makes A Sinister Revenge a standout entry in an already excellent series.
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Jenny Odell’s 2019 book, How to Do Nothing, was a massive success that established her as an authority on attention in the digital era. Since its publication, a groundswell of writers have attempted to imitate Odell’s unique combination of cultural criticism, academic research and nature writing. But Saving Time proves that no one can do Odell like Odell.

As Saving Time explores why we believe time to be scarce and how this has informed our digital-age obsession with efficiency and productivity, it adds a practical approach to the work Odell started in How to Do Nothing. These fixations, Odell explains, are not new. They’re the products of industrialized capitalism and wage labor that we’ve internalized as virtue. “Now it’s not just the employer who sees you as twenty-four hours of personified labor time,” she writes. “It’s what you see when you look in the mirror.”

Read our interview with Jenny Odell about ‘Saving Time,’ her brilliant, hopeful critique of our obsession with efficiency.

Saving Time is a fascinating book to read during the recent rise in labor organizing. Odell looks at many forms of labor rights and resistance throughout history, from 19th-century worker movements to the ongoing “lying flat” movement in China, started by a young Chinese factory worker who quit his job in 2016 to ride his bike 1,300 miles to Tibet, living off of part-time work and “chilling.” The “lying flat” movement was met with an unsurprising backlash once it made its way to the United States, similar to the anger around the recent “quiet quitting” phenomenon. In response to people who oppose these kinds of anti-work movements—people who would prefer that everyone maintain the status quo of scrambling to get ahead—Odell writes that “advice for winning the rat race assumes that you’re running in it, rather than peeling away from a vanishing dream,” identifying the gap between those who have bought into the bootstrap myth and those who have refused it.

Alongside these threads of historical analysis, Odell also makes space for her contemplative relationship with nature, her quiet reminder of the beauty and joy that exist outside of the capitalist grind. But Saving Time is not a list of flat aphorisms about mindfulness, nor is it a screed. Rather, it’s a carefully constructed vision of hope with meaningful advice that will linger. What is it that you want to do, Odell asks, and why aren’t you doing it? It is possible to free yourself from the all-devouring cult of productivity, and Odell imagines a world where we have all done so. “If time were not a commodity, then time, our time, would not be as scarce as it seemed just a moment ago,” she writes. “Together, we could have all the time in the world.”

Many writers have imitated Jenny Odell’s unique style since the publication of How to Do Nothing, but Saving Time proves that no one can do Odell like Odell.

Flames flicker around the edges of Margot Douaihy’s Scorched Grace, casting light and revealing darkness, hinting at the sort of destruction that offers the possibility of a new beginning.

That’s what Sister Holiday Walsh was looking for a year ago when she joined the Sisters of the Sublime Blood after fleeing the wreckage of her life in Brooklyn, New York. Sister Holiday is not a typical nun: While she and her brother, Moose, were raised Catholic by her former-nun mom and police captain dad, being wholly reverent has never been her thing. Rather, she’s the self-described “first punk nun,” a heavily tattooed loner who hides her ink under scarf and gloves and conceals her trauma under a jauntily sarcastic demeanor.

Although she’s somewhat found her footing as a music teacher at Saint Sebastian’s, the New Orleans school the nuns oversee, Sister Holiday’s emotional armor cracks open when an arsonist strikes and Jack, a well-liked janitor and her confidante, is killed. Stunned at his loss and baffled as to why someone would commit such violent acts against the school, Sister Holiday turns to chain-smoking and recalling memories of her former lover Nina to soothe herself. 

How Margot Douaihy turned to noir’s hard-boiled past—and looked to its future—to create Sister Holiday.

But it’s not enough: She mistrusts the police, she doesn’t feel safe, and the Raymond Chandler novels she escaped into as a kid are looming large in her mind. “Sleuthing and stubbornness were my gifts from God,” she thinks, and she’s sure as hell going to use those gifts to solve the mystery on her own. 

Scorched Grace revels in its unreliable narrator and bounty of plausible suspects, from shifty authority figures to mercurial students to enigmatic women of God. Douaihy, a poet and professor who shares Sister Holiday’s punk sensibility, immerses the reader in her hyperlocal New Orleans setting and the murky depths of Sister Holiday’s tormented soul. Her prose is frequently lyrical and often lacerating, her characters layered and intriguing. 

It’s not surprising in the slightest that this series starter is the first book published by Gillian Flynn’s eponymous new imprint. Scorched Grace is both entertaining and devastating, dominated by a queer sleuth with a clever, curious mind and a fatalistic yet somehow still hopeful heart.

Scorched Grace is an entertaining and devastating mystery that introduces Sister Holiday, a queer nun with a clever, curious mind and a fatalistic yet somehow still hopeful heart.
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Following on the heels of her bestselling third novel, Dear Edward (a 10-episode adaptation was recently released on Apple TV+), Ann Napolitano offers a lively homage to Little Women with Hello Beautiful. Chronicling the lives of the four Chicago-based Padavano sisters and one of their suitors, this sprawling drama stretches from 1960 through 2008, tracing the arc of their family dynamics, including the ties that forever bind them as well as circumstances and betrayals that tear them apart. Like Little Women, Hello Beautiful also thoughtfully examines the comforts and challenges of home life, work and romantic love, but with a distinctly modern perspective.

The novel begins with William Waters, whose life has been defined by the death of his 3-year-old sister just days after his birth. The tragedy casts a permanent pall over his parents’ days, and they ignore William thereafter—to a perhaps unbelievable degree. As William realizes, “They’d only ever had one child, and it wasn’t him.” Basketball becomes his primary source of stability, and he leaves his suburban Boston home after earning a basketball scholarship to Northwestern University. At school, he meets self-assured, determined Julia Padavano, who decides during their first conversation that he’s the one for her.

The two marry, and slowly but surely, William becomes part of the Padavano clan, which also includes long-suffering mother Rose, goodhearted father Charlie and Julia’s three sisters: artistic Cecelia and nurturing Emeline, who are twins, and literary Sylvie, who kisses boys in the library stacks while waiting for a “once-in-a-century love affair.” Julia repeatedly warns Sylvie about her idealism: “The kind of love you’re looking for is made up,” she says. “The idea of love in those books—Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina—is that it’s a force that obliterates you. They’re all tragedies, Sylvie. Think about it; those novels all end with despair, or death.”

Julia’s prophecy proves to be apt, with slow-simmering events reaching a shocking culmination as a benign moment turns “dangerous, like a shining dagger.” The family is torn apart in dramatic fashion, despite the fact that the four sisters “had beat with one heart for most of their lives.” 

As Napolitano switches narrators throughout the book, readers become fully enmeshed in the sprawling lives of her characters, watching them change and grow over decades. They’re a likable bunch, and as with real friends and family, readers may sometimes want to intervene, or at least offer some advice, as they make life-altering decisions. Napolitano goes to great lengths to explain and justify her characters’ choices—at times, at the expense of action and dialogue. Still, William and the Padavano sisters remain memorable, and Napolitano’s sharp plotting provides a gripping conclusion that radiates love and kindness, the sort you wish that all feuding families might find their way to. 

This bighearted domestic novel reaches comforting highs and despairing lows as Napolitano examines the many ways that families pull each other together and apart.

This bighearted domestic novel from the author of Dear Edward reaches comforting highs and despairing lows as it sharply examines the many ways that families pull each other together and apart.
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It seems that everything in Kate Morton’s captivating novel Homecoming leads us back to a statement made by a character in the 2021 film The Lost Daughter: “Motherhood is a crushing responsibility.” In Morton’s world, even the longing for motherhood can be a crushing responsibility, one that can be passed along to the next generation, and the next.

The secrets around the Turner-Bridges women—Nora; her daughter, Polly; and granddaughter, Jess—are real doozies. Those secrets start to emerge, tendril by tendril, after Nora suffers a fall and Jess flies from her London home to Sydney to be with her. Neither Nora nor Jess is close with Polly, and Nora has named Jess as her next of kin, rather than her daughter. Odd, but not unheard of.

As a child, Jess had free rein of Nora’s large and beautiful home, Darling House, but was forbidden from accessing the attic. She snuck up there anyway and never unearthed anything shocking. But now, as she waits for Nora to recuperate, she discovers something so terrible about their family that it upends everything she believed about herself, her mother, her grandmother and the world in general. The echoes of the event have resounded for six decades and warped the lives of the Turner-Bridges women in ways they don’t even realize. Someone even wrote a book about the calamity, though it wasn’t published in Australia.

One of the delights for readers of a mystery is picking up little crumbs of evidence along the way. As Homecoming gallops toward its close, you may think you know what’s coming, and the foreknowledge is both ghastly and thrilling. In a book like this one, there are a lot of ways the story can take a turn toward the preposterous or at least the improbable. Just one word of advice: Find a map of Australia. It’ll be a big help.

One of the delights for readers of a mystery is picking up little crumbs of evidence along the way. As Homecoming gallops toward its close, you may think you know what’s coming, and the foreknowledge is both ghastly and thrilling.
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There are magical islands in Rachel Heng’s Singapore, replete with fish; there are competing political factions and questions of power and control; there are familial relationships and love interests in a world that is being dissolved and rebuilt. This is the realm of Heng’s second novel, The Great Reclamation, upon which she casts a remarkable story.

In 1940s Singapore, British rule is drying up—but so, too, are the fish in the novel’s small village. A curious boy named Ah Boon discovers that he has the unique power to see lively, wondrous islands that are invisible to other people. When he shares his discovery with his family and community, their fortunes change, and the fishing village is able to thrive. Ah Boon, though, is focused on Siok Mei, the spunky neighbor girl, and their lives remain entangled while growing up, pursuing education and confronting their changing political realities and global climate.

Layered beneath all of Ah Boon’s adventures and experiences are the rich landscape and the ways humans measure their lives in, around and because of it. From the magical islands’ plethora of fish to the proposal of land reclamation, the landscape acts and responds, speaks and listens, and Heng highlights these interactions in beautiful and surprising ways. Her prose is alive; each character is rich with complexity and depth, each snapshot brimming with imagery.

Heng captures the individual and collective challenges of being human, evaluates pretense and power shifts, explores what a modern country might become after the disruption and displacement of World War II, and explores our concepts of family and home—and every bit of it is a delight to witness and revel in. The best novels teach us something new and ask us to engage in worlds beyond our own. For me, The Great Reclamation did just that. I don’t remember the last time I finished a nearly 500-page novel in one day, but I could not stop reading. It’s a remarkable journey.

The prose in Rachel Heng’s second novel is alive. Each character is rich with complexity and depth, each snapshot brimming with imagery.
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Jacqueline Winspear, author of the beloved Maisie Dobbs series, has created a new character for readers to admire. Part Agatha Christie, part “The Equalizer,” The White Lady follows Elinor White, a former World War II operative unafraid to leverage her past to help those who cannot help themselves.

It’s 1947, and Elinor has settled into a home in the British countryside, one granted to her by the government as thanks for her classified service to the nation. Her bucolic life is missing one thing, though: the sense of purpose that came with her wartime career. But when Elinor sees her neighbors Jim and Rose Mackie being violently harassed by Jim’s criminal family, she decides to use her skills to protect them. 

The White Lady alternates between Elinor’s quest to bring down the Mackie crime family in 1947, her work during World War II and her initiation into espionage as a Belgian teenager during World War I. Winspear’s writing is especially effective when conveying the incredible danger Elinor and her sister, Cecily, face as they work to undermine the German military, and the wrenching moral decisions that come with such work. 

The traumas of the past, especially the difficulty of leaving violence behind, are constant refrains throughout the novel. Elinor is haunted by the premature loss of her childhood innocence and, eventually, her family, while Jim and Rose struggle to escape Jim’s criminal birthright. Elinor’s quest to bring down the Mackie family is prompted by her affection for Jim, Rose and especially their young daughter, Susie, but it also provides her with a way to seek absolution for the terrible things she did as a spy.

The White Lady doesn’t shy away from dark subjects, and historical mystery readers searching for a bit of grit and a complex main character will admire its uncompromising storytelling.

Historical mystery readers searching for a complex main character will admire the uncompromising storytelling of Jacqueline Winspear’s The White Lady.
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The second novel from Abraham Verghese, author of the unforgettable Cutting for Stone (2009), is a masterpiece. Put it on your bookcase next to A Passage to India by E.M. Forster or anything by the brave and brilliant Salman Rushdie. Indeed, put it next to any great novel of your choice.

Sprawling, passionate, tragic and comedic at turns, The Covenant of Water follows a family from 1900 to 1977 in an Indian region that eventually becomes the beautiful state of Kerala. Among the interesting things about this family is that they’re Christians among Hindus and Muslims, and once a generation, a family member dies by drowning. This tragic recurrence isn’t all that weird when you consider that their home is surrounded by water, and every year the region is all but washed away by the monsoon. Yet for this family, the drownings have taken on a near-mystical significance. Big Ammachi, the family matriarch, calls it the “Condition.”

Speaking of Big Ammachi, her story begins a few hours before her wedding. Normally a character’s wedding day wouldn’t fill the reader with dread, but in this case the bride is 12 years old. At this age she is known as Mariamma, and she is to marry a 40-year-old widowed landowner whom she’s never met. Though Mariamma’s mother is closer to this gentleman in age, she’s not eligible to marry him because she’s a widow, and a widow in this society is considered less than useless. Such is the dread hand of patriarchy in action.

But Verghese, probably the best doctor-writer since Anton Chekhov, upends all of our expectations, not just this time but again and again. The marriage of Mariamma and the thamb’ran—the boss—turns out to be a happy one. He is a gentle, stoic giant who scrupulously avoids bodies of water, even though it may take him days to walk to a place he could have reached in a few hours by boat. Mariamma and the thamb’ran’s young son, JoJo, adore each other, and it is he who gives her the nickname of Big Ammachi, which translates to “Big Little Mama.” The name sticks throughout her life. 

Big Ammachi’s first child is born with a thyroid condition, but instead of tragedy, Baby Mol’s life is one of light, joy and innocence. The second child, Philipose, born many years later, becomes the father of Big Ammachi’s namesake. This second Mariamma becomes a doctor determined to get to the bottom of the family’s Condition.

Verghese surrounds the family with a world of unforgettable characters. There’s Shamuel, the thamb’ran’s factotum, faithful till his last day. There’s the tragic and brilliant Elsie, Philipose’s artist wife, and the Glasgow-born surgeon Digby Kilgour, who’s come to India to practice medicine and who’s taken in by the saintly Dr. Rune Orqvist after a ghastly accident. There are the residents of the lazaretto (leprosy hospital) tended to by Dr. Orqvist, and an abundance of saints, scoundrels and people who are a little bit of both. There’s even an elephant named Damodaran.

All are interconnected, like the braiding waterways of Kerala. The Covenant of Water, as they say, is a lot. You won’t want it to end.

Abraham Verghese, probably the best doctor-writer since Anton Chekhov, upends all of our expectations again and again in his long awaited follow-up to Cutting for Stone.
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The women of the Marlow Murder Club are back in business in Death Comes to Marlow, the delightful second installment of Robert Thorogood’s cozy mystery series.

Life is returning to normal for Judith Potts. She became something of a local celebrity after she and her friends Becks and Suzie helped solve a series of murders in their quiet town of Marlow, England. But now the 78-year-old woman is back to her usual routine: setting crossword puzzles for the local paper, swimming nude in the nearby Thames during the day and enjoying a glass of scotch (or two) at night. When Sir Peter Bailey, a wealthy Marlow resident, offers Judith a last-minute invitation to his pre-wedding festivities, something about the gesture makes Judith uneasy. Convinced something foul will occur, she attends the party but is still shocked when Sir Peter himself is killed. Local police believe his death was an accident—after all, Sir Peter was alone in a locked room when a heavy piece of furniture fell on him. When Judith, Suzie and Becks launch their own investigation, however, they find that just about everyone close to the aristocrat may have had a motive to kill him. But how did the perpetrator pull off such a seemingly impossible murder?

Judith is a charming protagonist; she’s witty, warm and bulldozes her way into a police investigation with ease. Becks, the vicar’s rule-following wife, and Suzie, a free-spirited dog walker turned local radio personality, may be unlikely companions for Judith, but their friendships are rooted in respect. The ways the trio challenge and complement one another are not only highlights of the book but also the things that help them successfully solve the mystery.

In Death Comes to Marlow, Thorogood expertly crafts a locked-room mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s well-plotted stories. Readers will enjoy piecing together this engaging puzzle alongside members of the Marlow Murder Club.

This engaging cozy mystery is an homage to Agatha Christie with a trio of warmhearted friendships at its core.

Author Holly Black returns to the world of Faerie with this highly anticipated spinoff from her bestselling Folk of the Air trilogy. The Stolen Heir follows Wren, the exiled queen of the Court of Teeth, and Prince Oak, the heir to Elfhame and Wren’s former betrothed.

Wren grew up a changeling, a faerie left in the care of a mortal family when she was just a toddler. She spent a blissful childhood among humans until her vicious faerie parents, Lord Jarel and Lady Nore, stole her away to the Ice Needle Citadel in the Court of Teeth. There, she endured years of humiliation and abuse before finally making her escape. She’s lived in isolation in the woods ever since, hiding from humans and faeries alike. 

A charismatic and beguiling young man, Oak has spent much of his adolescence in the cutthroat Faerie court learning to combat the many assassination attempts on his life. While his sister, Jude, and her husband (the central couple of Black’s previous trilogy) rule Elfhame, Oak has been trying to put a stop to Lady Nore’s growing power and the threat it poses. He has hatched a dangerous plan that involves infiltrating the Court of Teeth. To carry it out successfully, however, he needs Wren’s insider knowledge of the citadel. 

Wren crosses paths with Oak when he rescues her from a kidnapping attempt, then conscripts her into joining his plans. The Court of Teeth—her former prison—is the last place Wren wants to return to, but if she’s ever going to stop living on the run, she must confront her past and embrace her power, no matter how monstrous it makes her feel. 

Black centers The Stolen Heir, the first book in a planned duology, on the scars of childhood trauma. Wren is the rightful claimant to a throne she is too frightened to command. Although she longs to return to her human family, her pale blue skin and sharply pointed teeth are constant reminders that she can never rejoin the mortal world. Oak’s unworldly allure—his golden curls and amber, foxlike eyes—makes her doubt the sincerity of his affection. As in all of Black’s books about the world of Faerie, beauty and cruelty exist side by side, and neither is ever completely what it seems.

Readers awaiting cameos from Jude and Cardan may feel slightly disappointed that Black keeps them in the background here. The Stolen Heir belongs wholly to Wren and Oak, but their story is just as satisfying as readers could hope for, deliciously wrought with mistrust and longing. Meanwhile, newcomers to Black’s Faerie books will be enticed to gobble up everything she has ever penned.  

This highly anticipated spinoff to Holly Black’s bestselling Folk of the Air trilogy offers a tale deliciously wrought with mistrust and longing.

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