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Fall 2023 Bookshelf

Lots of good books—especially but not exclusively mysteries—on my Fall 2023 bookshelf. Some have been on my list for a while, others have just come out, and both categories include new entries by authors I have already interviewed as well as some I am encountering for the first time but plan to speak with before the end of the year. Read on to find out more, as well as—where appropriate—the links to those previous interviews.

A woman in a coat stares at mountains illuminated by the setting sun, a moon above; cover of Isa Arsen's Shoot the Moon

Isa Arsén, Shoot the Moon (Putnam, 2023)

This debut novel, due out next week, follows the life of a young female physicist who becomes caught up in the Apollo 11 moon mission, although it sets the demands of her career against those of her heart. It’s difficult for me to consider the 1960s historical fiction—although technically they are—but this novel draws me with its echoes of Lynn Cullen’s The Woman with the Cure and the summer blockbuster Oppenheimer. I’m curious to find out what the author does with her material, and I’ll be discussing it on the New Books Network in December.

A blond woman reflected in a mirror that resembles an artist's easel, against a Paris background; cover of Rhys Bowen's Peril in Paris

Rhys Bowen, Peril in Paris (Berkley, 2022)

I love the Lady Georgiana novels, so this one has been on my list since it came out last year. It’s just been pushed out of the spotlight by the many other novels I read for interviews throughout the spring and summer. Here Georgie is pregnant and not long past the morning sickness period when her best friend, Belinda, invites her and her dashing husband Darcy to Paris, where Belinda is working on Coco Chanel’s fall catalogue. Of course, a crime occurs, and Georgie is the only one with enough time on her hands to solve it—not to mention that the Paris police believe Georgie herself to be the murderer. My conversation with Rhys Bowen on the New Books Network when the previous volume in this series came out was one of my most fun interviews, so give it a listen. You can learn all about Georgie’s history and how she came into being.

A bloody knife stabbed through a white square with indented corners against a bright blue mesh background; cover of Colleen Cambridge's Mastering the Art of French Murder

Colleen Cambridge, Murder by Invitation Only (Kensington, 2023) and Mastering the Art of French Murder (Kensington, 2023)

An old-fashioned typewriter against a gold background with spectacles, an archway, pens, a fan, and a sealed letter; cover of Colleen Cambridge's Murder by Invitation Only

Another very prolific author whom I interviewed on New Books in Historical Fiction when the previous novel in her Phyllida Bright series came out, Colleen Cambridge has since produced not only one book but two, starting an entire new series. Murder by Invitation Only features Agatha Christie’s housekeeper and plays with the plot of Christie’s A Murder Is Announced, although past experience suggests that the tribute will be subtle. As one might guess from the title, Mastering the Art of French Murder, which kicks off the An American in Paris series, features Julia Child and her fictional best friend. I look forward to reading them both in the next few weeks.

Outlines of a man and a woman in early Victorian dress, not looking at each other, against the backdrop of a fancy house; cover of Catherine Lloyd's Miss Morton and the Spirits of the Underworld

Catherine Lloyd, Miss Morton and the Spirits of the Underworld (Kensington, 2023)

I hadn’t known of Catherine Lloyd before her publicist sent me Miss Morton and the English House Party Murder last year, but in preparation for yet another New Books Network interview I tore through both that book and an entirely separate series featuring a clergyman’s daughter and her new neighbor, a veteran of the Peninsular War. You can learn about both of those from our podcast conversation. When I discovered, again by happenstance, that Miss Morton’s first sequel had just appeared, I purchased it and hope soon to discover what the very practical Miss Morton, daughter of a disgraced aristocrat, will make of mid-nineteenth-century seances (and whether the handsome if rather brusque doctor she met in book 1 will make a comeback).

A woman in Indian dress faces the ocean while a parasol covered in elephants waves overhead; cover of Sujata Massey's Mistress of Bhatia House

Sujata Massey, The Mistress of Bhatia House (Soho Press, 2023)

I first encountered Sujata Massey’s work at a library reading group, which picked The Salaryman’s Wife for one of its group discussions. When I heard that Massey had shifted her focus to pre-emancipation India, creating Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female lawyer with a specialty in helping other women living in purdah, I was intrigued. Many of the women in my own novels, after all, live in seclusion, and it can be difficult to imagine what that feels like. I’ve read the first three Perveen Mistry novels and enjoyed them, so adding this one to my reading list was a no-brainer. I’d love to chat with the author someday, but I’m not sure when or if that will happen.

A man in tophat and coat runs through a series of library stacks toward a patterned window; cover of Andrea Penrose's Murder at the Merton Library

Andrea Penrose, Murder at the Merton Library (Kensington, 2023)

I spoke with this author in 2021, when the fifth of the Wrexford & Sloane Mysteries came out. In fact, we became friends during the lead-up to that interview, and as a result, I have copy-edited a couple of her books—including this one—and have interviewed her on this blog about her related but separate Lady Arianna series. So technically I’ve already read this novel, but I couldn’t feature it then, because it was not yet available.

In brief, the “found family” of Charlotte, Lord Wrexford, the two urchins they have adopted (known as Raven and Hawk), and their various friends and relatives here encounter a pair of disconnected mysteries. While Wrexford attempts to discover who brutally murdered a college librarian, Charlotte and the boys investigate plans to build an oceangoing vessel and an apparent scheme to make money off those plans. What draws me to these novels—in addition to the appealing and well-rounded characters—is that each one focuses on a scientific development of the Regency period. Here that development is steam propulsion and its potential military applications. So while I wait for what I hope will be the manuscript of Wrexford & Sloane 8, I plan to get back in the swing of the series by re-reading this one.

A woman in a fancy red dress stares over her shoulder at a New York city street; cover of Alice Simpson's The Winthrop Agreement

Alice Sherman Simpson, The Winthrop Agreement (Harper, 2023)

So many novels about the Gilded Age focus on New York high society, the equivalent of the nobility in a country that supposedly spurned aristocrats but didn’t hesitate to marry its daughters off to dukes, earls, and marquises at the first opportunity. And many of those novels are fun to read—I’ve featured a few of them on this blog, and will be hosting a written Q&A with Clara McKenna in just a couple of weeks.

The Winthrop Agreement, however, focuses instead on the lower classes: the immigrants and sweatshop workers, who made up a large part of New York City’s population in the early twentieth century. Specifically, it follows the lives of Rivkah Milmanovitch and her daughter Mimi, who is exploited by the slum landlord and sexual predator Frederick Winthrop. With help from her mother’s friend Lottie, Mimi manages to cut a deal with the Winthrop family that lets her succeed in the fashion industry, but at what cost? I’ll find out when I read the book, and even more when I chat with the author on the New Books Network in November.

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