Vikki Valentine

What is the nature of magic? What is the nature of reason? Must one cancel out the other? And which is cloaked in a greater illusion?

In her new novel Piranesi, British writer Susanna Clarke limns a magic far more intrinsic than the kind commanded through spells; a magic that is seemingly part of the fabric of the universe and as powerful as a cosmic engine — yet fragile nonetheless.

Let me start by saying I mean no disrespect to Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. They are the lure, there is a reason they get top billing. (And while I have never fantasized about being Poirot, I have more than once wished I was Miss Marple.)

What is lurking beneath Herbert Powyss' house?

That's the question at the center of British author Alix Nathan's novel, The Warlow Experiment. Powyss is a country gentleman. He prefers gardens and books to people; spends his days designing hothouses for his estate, growing exotic seeds, grafting pear trees and submitting minor horticultural findings to the world's preeminent scientific body, the Royal Society.

How far would you go to get away from a narcissistic mother?

If you're 20-year-old Betty Braithwaite, you'd rather face the London Blitz than go back home. But then Betty's mother heads straight for the bombs to fetch her back.