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Five picks for July

Cindy Burnett
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WHAT TO READ This month's selections include a cutting-edge science fiction/thriller, a mystery centered on art and a long-missing artist, historical fiction about Queen Elizabeth and her favorite corgi Susan, a fabulous romantic comedy set in the UK, and a thriller focused on heir property laws. (Photo: Cindy Burnett)

Buzz Reads is a column about books by reviewer Cindy Burnett. Each month, Cindy recommends five recently or soon-to-be released titles.

The Family Experiment by John Marrs (science fiction) – Due to overcrowding and a financial crisis, an ever-increasing number of people cannot afford to start families. As an alternative, in the U.K., a company has created virtual children to raise in the Metaverse. To advertise this product, the company launches a reality TV show that follows 10 couples raising virtual children while competing to win the right to keep their virtual child or be given the money to raise a real baby. Marrs’ use of short chapters that frequently end with cliffhangers propels the story along, and his premise feels all too real. He also addresses our obsession with reality TV and its impact on society, as well as our mental health. This unique plot line kept me captivated.

The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby by Ellery Lloyd (mystery/thriller) – This twisty mystery by husband and wife duo Ellery Lloyd revolves around a cursed wealthy family and the Surrealist painting which is linked to three suspicious deaths over the course of many years. The book weaves together mystery/thriller elements, art history and the world of art, love affairs and tragedy, family history, and the strong driving force of obsession, along with an examination of how women’s stories are often left out of history. I thoroughly enjoyed the focus on an artist whose one famous work went missing, as well as the strong characters and numerous engaging mysteries. This one will appeal to readers who enjoy multiple-timeline tales, art, and clever mysteries.

The Queen's Faithful Companion: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth II and Her Beloved Corgi, Susan by Eliza Knight (historical fiction) – This endearing and unique novel is told in three perspectives: that of a young Queen Elizabeth; that of Hanna Penwyck, the fictionalized Keeper of the Queen’s dogs; and that of Susan, the Queen’s Corgi, who was Elizabeth’s beloved companion. Susan is the actual dog that originated the long line of the Queen's corgis and her exploits in the story are fictional but based on real events and history. Telling a portion of the story from Susan’s perspective worked surprisingly well, and Knight weaves in fascinating details about Elizabeth’s early years while showing a more human side of the Queen. The Queen's Faithful Companion will resonate with those who have beloved pets or who follow the British royals.

Under Your Spell by Laura Wood (romantic comedy) – The daughter of a self-absorbed older rock star finds herself unexpectedly “babysitting” the most popular (and handsome) musician in the world and is unsettled when their relationship becomes more personal – especially since she swore she’d never, ever date someone famous. This book is so much fun, and I adored the focus on music as well as the forced proximity story line. Wood’s dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny without feeling forced, and the main characters’ banter is spectacular. The sibling dynamic among the three sisters is a great addition to the book as well as the way Wood crafts a strong sense of place with the English countryside setting. This will be my favorite rom-com of the year. Those who like engaging and sweet romances, as well as well-crafted characters, will really enjoy this one.

What You Leave Behind by Wanda M. Morris (mystery/thriller) – This engaging thriller follows a lawyer who returns to her hometown and finds herself caught up in the disappearance of a local resident whose sister recently died. She uncovers an issue that dates back to the Reconstruction era. I was unfamiliar with heir property rights until I read this book, and I am glad Morris is shining a light on this issue, which still exists in the U.S. today. Heir property refers to land that is passed between generations of family members without a will or formal estate plan and often impacts those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. Co-owners often have limited rights over the property, and a sale can be triggered when any co-owner wants to sell. In addition to the property issue, I enjoyed the ghostly perspectives and the low country setting. 

Editor’s note: Southside Place resident Cindy Burnett also writes our weekly Page Turners column. She hosts the Thoughts from a Page Podcast, is co-creator of the Houston literary event series Conversations from the Page, runs the Instagram account @thoughtsfromapage, and regularly speaks to groups about books.

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