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The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

by Alan Bradley |

People PICK

REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

MYSTERY

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, introduced in last year’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, has a passion for poisons and a wicked wit. In this follow-up, the fearless Flavia, chucked from the Girl Guides for insubordination, is investigating a particularly nasty puppeteer whose van breaks down in her English hamlet. Flavia’s cunning connects two mysterious deaths, but the real delight here is her droll voice and the eccentric cast: her dad, whose stamp-collecting hobby is bankrupting the family, and siblings Feely and Daffy, who delight in torturing their sis until she exacts revenge, usually with something vile cooked up in a petri dish. Bradley, who made his debut as a novelist at 73, plans four more Flavia adventures. The first two are utterly beguiling.

A Thousand Cuts

by Simon Lelic |

REVIEWED BY ANDREW ABRAHAMS

NOVEL

Clad in a bland beige suit, history teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into a London secondary school assembly and opens fire, killing three students and a colleague before turning the gun on himself. In his powerful, wrenching debut, Lelic takes a sadly familiar crime and delves into the equally familiar menace at its root: bullying. Detective Inspector Lucia May, a dogged crime investigator surrounded by lecherous coworkers, is haunted by the shooting and uncovers an insidious culture of ridicule and abuse-an atmosphere so toxic that it drove a once-meek teacher to murderous rage. May’s tolerance of the sexual harassment poisoning her own workplace doesn’t ring true, given her role as champion of the powerless. But her relentless quest to hold school administrators accountable for the cruelty they’ve implicitly sanctioned makes her a timely, deeply sympathetic heroine.

Imperfect Endings

by Zoe Fitzgerald Carter

REVIEWED BY JOANNA POWELL

MEMOIR

A daughter’s tale of her mother’s suicide sounds grim at best. But Carter coaxes beauty from the bleak in this book about the months after Margaret, who has Parkinson’s, tells her three girls she plans to “end things” and wants them to be there when she does. Ultimately, in losing her, Carter finds a mother she never thought she’d know.

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger

by Lee Smith |

REVIEWED BY BETH PERRY

STORIES

A seamstress whose husband has left “forever,” as he put it, breaks out of her fog while sitting with her dog. A grandma’s racy prose gets her kicked out of an over-60 writing club. And hours after a wife learns of her husband’s infidelity, she decides not to mention it. Loss abounds, but Smith’s heroines find strength in the moments that push us all forward.

The Heights

by Peter Hedges |

REVIEWED BY MOIRA BAILEY

NOVEL

Hedges is a screenwriter and author of 1991’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. What’s eating Hedges now: issues of marital and filial fidelity, mixed up with love and loss. Tim and Kate Welch live in posh Brooklyn Heights. Quirky, middle-class outsiders in a hedge- fund universe, they’re attractive to two wealthy would-be seducers, whose attentions shake the couple’s world. The book’s characters feel underdeveloped, but the Welches’ dilemma-should they stray?-resonates.