The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Mike Unwin, Philip Miller, and Paul Doiron.
Photographer Unwin (Flights of Passage) takes a tour of 80 bird species in this attractive volume. Unwin surveys a range of birds, from fierce predators such as the Harpy Eagle of South America to beautiful songbirds such as Myanmar’s Gurney’s Pitta. While he offers fascinating facts about, for instance, the hoatzin’s unusual anatomy (which mistakenly led some to consider it the missing link between reptiles and birds), the ornate courtship display of the bird-of-Paradise, and more, Unwin distinguishes this work with his emphasis on birds’ meanings to humans. For example, the chapter on the Bateleur Eagle of Zimbabwe opens with the 1889 discovery by a German hunter of eight sculptures of raptors, revered by the Sona people as messengers of the gods; Unwin makes a case that the statues were modeled after the Bateleur. Another chapter details changing perceptions of the symbiotic relationship between the African yellow-billed oxpecker and their mammal hosts, which is now believed to be less mutual than it was initially, while a section on white terns notes that they “have long proved a useful navigation aid for sailors.” Unwin’s evocative prose is a perfect match for the vivid illustrations. This will be a hit with birdwatchers of all stripes.
Set in Edinburgh, this outstanding mystery thriller from Miller (The Blue Horse) focuses on two damaged individuals’ compulsive search for truth as their lives disintegrate around them. Thomas Tallis, an art expert assigned to confirm the authenticity of a multimillion-dollar painting, The Goldenacre, has been fired from his London curating job under mysterious circumstances. His wife is filing for divorce, he has no access to the young son he loves, and his father—an MI6 operative—is a disembodied voicemail that never replies. Shona Sandison, an old-school crime reporter for the Edinburgh Post, is all about legwork, except that she’s semi-disabled from an earlier on-assignment attack. While Sandison investigates the murder of a local artist and then a city councilman, the Post’s spiraling demise threatens to make her expendable. Tallis digs deeper into the provenance of The Goldenacre, his path ultimately intersecting with Sandison’s. Together they unearth layers of lies, corruption, and deceit. In a style recalling the brutal dreariness of le Carré, Miller describes a pivotal character as “sharp and severe as a snapped bone.” It’s also an apt description of this biting tale of society in decline. Noir fans won’t want to miss it.
Edgar finalist Doiron’s exceptional 13th mystery featuring Maine game warden Mike Bowditch (after 2021’s Dead by Dawn) takes Bowditch and his significant other, biologist Stacey Stevens, to Baker Island after Stacey receives a request for help from her college roommate and former colleague, Kendra Ballard, who’s been working on the island as the project manager for the Maine Seabird Initiative’s restoration efforts there. Kendra is worried about her boss, Maeve McLeary, who hasn’t been heard from for several days. That disturbing silence comes shortly after Maeve incurred the wrath of local lobstermen by successfully backing a proposal to close part of the Gulf of Maine to their boats to protect endangered whales. The restoration project has since been receiving anonymous threats, and someone shot up its observation blinds. Kendra’s fears of violence prove justified as Bowditch soon has two murders on the island to solve, which may be connected to a young man’s recent death by suicide. The author is especially good at conveying the island’s creepy atmosphere, and the taut plot features numerous shocking twists while further developing an already complex lead. Doiron is writing at the top of his game.
This uncommonly vivid and vigorous sword and sorcery novel from McDonald (Blackwing) follows Raine, a rootless young woman whose only certainty is that she must never reveal that she has “spirit-sight,” the ability to see ghosts. It’s a mortal crime in her society, where people fear both the unknown and, especially, invasion by the dead. After Raine innocently aids the mysteriously ensorcelled Hazia LacFroome to rouse one of the ancient wizard-kings, she hastens to correct her mistake and is taken under the protection of Ulovar LacNaithe, head of one of the clans that make up the Draoihn, elite warriors of the “fortress-monastery” Redwinter. Inside Redwinter, Raine must navigate relationships with Ulovar’s heir, the indecisive Ovitus; Sanvaunt, a forbiddingly grim swordsman; and her new, dear friend, Esher. Then there are “Those Who See,” the skulking rabble who share Raine’s spirit-sight and who insist that the Draoihn are murderously wrong. Meanwhile, the ghostly Queen of Feathers hovers enigmatically behind everything. Raine must use all her wits, not to mention her skill with bows and arrows, to survive in this world and to find her place in it. McDonald makes familiar story and character beats come alive with imagination and energy. The result is a superior start to a promising new saga.
Ryan again showcases his gift for epic fantasy in his excellent sequel to The Pariah. Former outlaw Alwyn Scribe is now a spymaster for noblewoman warrior Evadine Courlain, who’s widely believed to be a Risen Martyr for having apparently survived death, making her a threat to both the church and the monarchy. Evadine’s new celebrity comes with increased risks, and Alwyn fears her latest assignment may be a suicide mission; King Tomas Algathinet orders her to travel to Walvern Castle and hold it in his name. The edifice is rife with breaches, and Alwyn suspects that Tomas hopes it will be overrun and Evadine eliminated. That intrigue is but one of the challenges the protagonists face, as Evadine has visions of a cataclysmic event known as the Second Scourge, which may imperil the entire world—but which Evadine believes she is destined to thwart. Ryan’s evocative prose enhances the suspenseful, intricate story, and the cliffhanger ending will have fans counting the days until the next volume. This fires on all cylinders.
Long brings the goods in her fifth Palace of Rogues Regency romance (after After Dark with the Duke). Newly released from a French prison, British spy Christian Hawkes is hired by the Earl of Brundage to find Brundage’s runaway fiancée, Lady Aurelie Capet, a Frenchwoman whose family were killed during the French Revolution. Hawkes agrees—he needs the money—but he suspects Brundage of treason and intends to simultaneously investigate any connection between the earl and his own arrest. Hawkes’s search for Aurelie takes him to the Grand Palace on the Thames, an upscale London boardinghouse with a host of colorful residents. After being stabbed on the way there, Hawkes collapses in the foyer of the Grand Palace, where he is mistaken for vicar Mr. Bellingham, who was expected. Aurelie, herself disguised as one Mrs. Mary Gallagher, helps care for him while he recovers. As the pair fall in love, Hawkes must choose between completing his mission or following his heart. Long enhances her complex narrative—loaded with wit, mystery, and sizzling romance—with attention to historical detail and the emotional depths of her characters. This may be the author’s best yet.
Poston (Geekerella) makes her adult debut with a refreshing rom-com about love, loss, and hope. Florence Day’s life is organized around two major secrets: she’s the ghostwriter for a household name romance writer, and she can see ghosts. One secret is kept out of legal obligation, the other self-preservation. A recent breakup has halted her ability to write happily-ever-afters, but when she requests yet another extension from her new—and incredibly attractive—editor, Benji Andor, she is indisputably shut down. Her looming deadline is put on hold, however, when her father dies, and Florence returns to her hometown for the first time in 10 years. She’s expecting to see her father’s ghost. She’s not expecting to see Benji’s ghost. He’s died in the time between their last encounter and her trip, and now he’s haunting Florence. As she attempts to fulfill her father’s peculiar last wishes, memories of him—the only other person in her family who could see ghosts—reignite her ability to write. And, as she and Benji grow closer posthumously, she rediscovers her belief in happy endings. Poston manages to both affirm the cynics and give hope to the romantics by simultaneously embracing and subverting rom-com tropes. The sparkling dialogue makes the characters come alive—even the dead ones. Readers won’t be able to put this down.
Teschner’s exceptional debut, a hard-edged eco-thriller, matches strong characters with a bold plot that fulfills its potential. Micah Bernt, who left the U.S. Army under a cloud, somehow avoided serious punishment, despite being charged with maltreating detainees, assault, and indecent acts. He’s trying for a new start on a remote Hawaiian island, where he’s taking a community college class and working as a salesman. Then his landlord, Clifton Moniz, turns up dead in the ocean, apparently an accidental drowning victim. Moniz’s death may be linked to another tragedy—the recent drowning of three local boys. Bernt’s unofficial investigation alternates with a look at the covert machinations of Benevoment Seed, a powerful international corporation that produces Efloxiflam, “the bestselling lawn care product in history.” Benevoment has been testing a successor product, which may be causing deadly pollution on the island’s Namahana Mountain. Michael Lindstrom, the executive in charge, is torn between his obligations to his employer and his sense of morality, and he winds up in an unlikely partnership with Bernt. The action builds to a satisfying resolution that doesn’t pull punches and is true to the book’s spirit of portraying a less-than-postcard-perfect image of Hawaii. Jon McGoran fans will hope for more from this talented author.
A fake relationship heals real emotional wounds in Avery’s sexy and sensitive second Honey Hill novel (after Something So Sweet). Widowed baker Rylee Harris impulsively claims to be romantically involved with her good friend Sheriff Canten Barnes in an effort to thwart her mother’s matchmaking attempts. Canten, a widower, agrees to go along with the charade. Each secretly harbors feelings for the other, but their lingering grief over their respective spouses’ deaths and guilt over the prospect of moving on has them avoiding acting on their connection. As their fake relationship heats up, however, their off-the-charts chemistry soon has them rethinking their roles in each other’s lives. But their fledgling romance hits a hurdle when Rylee discovers Canten’s shrine to his late wife, leaving her feeling like she’s competing with a dead woman. Meanwhile, Canten is offered a dream job in another city. Can they save their relationship or is being together simply too complicated? Rylee and Canten are charming, complex characters whose transition from friends to lovers feels wonderfully organic. The eccentric supporting cast brings on some laugh-out-loud moments that perfectly complement the heavy emotions and sizzling romance. This is a must-read.