Still Life – Sarah Winman

Ms. Winman writes inspired novels (When God Was a Rabbit, A Year of Marvellous Ways, Tin Man). Her new book is a love letter to Florence and to Italian life in general. There is love of art, great food and wine, and love between humans with all its complications. The lives of diverse English people are detailed beautifully over 35 years, from 1944-2009. There are some remarkably eccentric characters that constitute an extended family. This is a “must read” book.

Amy adds: one of my favourites of the year so far – she’s a favourite author.

The Madness of Crowds – Louise Penny

The setting of the 16th Inspector Gamache book returns to Three Pines. Post-pandemic issues dominate, in particular a repulsive social agenda that promotes mandatory state-sanctioned euthanasia for vulnerable groups. What follows is a debate over free speech and academic freedom, that of course escalates into a cracking good murder mystery: a very enjoyable read.

All Adults Here – Emma Straub

This charming book is about complex family relationships – the good, bad and ugly. Astrid has three children and three grandchildren, and lives in the Hudson Valley in New York state. Astrid is somewhat closed and flinty: “She believed pets were useful only in teaching young children about death. She knew this was an unpopular opinion”. This multi-generational story is about delayed adolescence with some persistent poor decision making, but also about love and resilience. Finally, there are some inspired comic situations – highly recommended.

April in Spain – John Banville

Banville is a superb writer, a Booker Prize winner. This book is a mystery, so the key elements are time (early 1950s) and place (Dublin and Northern Spain). Banville writes beautifully descriptive phrases; a character is described by “petulance was a pastime”. With such good writing, the plot exposition becomes subtle and effortless – very enjoyable.

The Apollo Murders – Chris Hadfield

The accomplished Canadian astronaut has written a very good first novel about Soviet-USA cold war espionage in space in the early 1970s. As you would expect, the story is technically perfect, all about spy satellites and a rocket ship to the moon. Perhaps somewhat surprising, the plot is very good with lots of wicked villains. Very entertaining read.

The Maid – Nita Prose

Molly is a 25-year-old maid at the Regency Grand Hotel where her goal is making the cleaning of guest suites into an act of perfection. When she finds a dead body in a guest suite, her behaviour as a neurodivergent individual together with the manipulative actions of some nasty criminals raises suspicions such that she is accused of murder. Think Amelia Bedelia in a murder mystery. Entirely delightful, highly recommended.

A Marvellous Light – Freya Marske

Imagine you ae a civil servant in Edwardian London (1908) and are suddenly and unexpectedly assigned to a new position in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints, where your role is to be a liaison to magicians. What a wonderful premise for a first novel about a muggle learning that magic exists. And there is a cracking good mystery about a lost document, curses and spells, and even an enchanted malevolent maze! Overall, very entertaining.

Run Towards the Danger – Sarah Polley

Ms. Polley is a wonderful actor, screenwriter, and director, so it is not surprising that she has written this impressive collection of essays. Her stories are intensely personal and achingly candid, describing some terrifying situations. She also addresses the fallibility of memory, and the mutability of memory/reality because the person you are now is not who you were then. This is a powerful and moving book, invoking both laughter and tears: a must read.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections – Eva Jurczyk

A rare book collection at a University Library become a vehicle for prestige, resulting in cut-throat politics in academia. And when a rare book goes missing, the plot thickens to become an intriguing mystery. The politics of gender, academic rivalries, suspicions, and the uncomfortable relationship with donors are all described perfectly.