Slow Horses – Mick Herron

When MI 5 intelligence agents screw up, they are banished to a London location known as Slough House, and the disgraced agents are referred to as “slow horses”.  The story is devilishly complex: everyone has ulterior motives, like a Le Carre story. And the Slough House leader”, Jackson Lamb, is a deliciously wicked man with gross personal habits. This is an excellent spy story with 6 more to follow. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

Seven – Farzana Doctor

Sharifa is an Indian American woman living in New York. She accompanies her husband and 7-year-old daughter to India for an 8-month visit to Mumbai. In India, she researches the life of her great-great-grandfather, but increasingly becomes involved in a movement to ban female genital mutilation (khatna) in her Muslim religious community. This is a very strong story of kinship and community, and the damage to women’s bodies in the name of religion.

Devolution – Max Brooks

Brooks wrote the very excellent World War Z (skip the 2013 Brad Pitt movie). In this new book, Greenloop is a high-tech enclave that is completely isolated by a Mount Rainier volcanic eruption. What follows is a survivalist story that is complicated enormously by an attacking Sasquatch/Bigfoot tribe. The horror of discovering this predatory danger is revealed slowly but inexorably, Stephen King-like. Some of the survival instincts reminded me of Lord of the Flies. Be warned: there is graphic bloody violence. Overall a compelling story, a nice companion to The Centaur’s Wife.

The Thursday Murder Plot – Richard Osman

Four 70-80-year-old members of an upscale retirement village in SE England meet on Thursdays to discuss unsolved cold cases. The murder of a local developer suddenly affords the the opportunity to apply their talents to a “live” case. Their manipulation of the police to share information is sublime. The writing exhibits wit and intelligence, and the diabolical plot is riddled with red herrings. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

The Centaur’s Wife – Amanda Leduc

Heather has just given birth to twin daughters when a meteor shower destroys much of the world. So, on one hand, this is a post-apocalyptic survival story. How do you cope: with optimism (if we work together, we will survive) or pessimism (we are going to starve and die)? But there is a second key element in this book, that the nearby mountain has supernatural power, ground magic, and yes, that centaurs exist on the mountain. Fairy tales are interspersed with a stark realty. This is a compelling fable for our uncertain time.

The Water Dancer – Te-Nehisi Coates

A novel examination of slavery in Virginia. Hiram Walker has a mysterious power, so he is recruited for the underground. Overall, a powerful story of families separated by duplicitous acts such as the sale of individuals into slavery, with the resulting conflict between the slavers and enslaved. Harriet Tubman is introduced as someone who shares Hiram’s power. This is Coates’ first novel, and predictably his writing is superb.

Miss Benson’s Beetle – Rachel Joyce

Ms. Joyce has written some unabashedly sentimental books (e.g., The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) and this book follows in this genre. In 1950s London, Margery Benson, a 46-year-old spinster, flees her teaching job to commence an obsessive journey, a quest for a never-discovered golden beetle in New Caledonia. She recruits a travelling companion, Enid Pretty, who is wildly inappropriate as a research assistant. But this unlikely odd couple eventually develops a close friendship, as one might predict, despite many hilarious frustrations. But all is not sweetness and light in this story: there is a murder sub-plot and a deranged stalker. Some laugh-out-loud sections are coupled with some truly poignant moments. Above all, this is a superb literary example of the transformative power of friendship.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Kim Michelle Richardson

The setting is rural Kentucky in 1936. Cussy (aka Bluet) has a rare genetic condition that produces blue skin (met-hemoglobinemia). Without marriage prospects (by choice), Cussy joins the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering books to remote desperately poor hill communities. The transformative power of books and literacy is offset by shocking prejudice against “coloreds” and some crushing poverty. So be warned, readers will shed some tears. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The angel Aziriphale and demon Crowley are viewing the oncoming Armageddon with trepidation as they both enjoy England despite their contrasting missions. Also, Crowley has “misplaced” the Anti-Christ (spawn of the devil) who will reign triumphant after the apocalypse. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are bikers as added colour. In short, this is a wildly imaginative story; in particular, the author’s capture perfectly the mannerisms of 11-year-old children. This is a gem; thanks, Elliott, for this recommendation.