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The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues

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A “hugely entertaining” (Wall Street Journal) mystery starring “a Royal Tenenbaums-esque clan of geniuses” (Martha Stewart Living)—perfect for fans of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

In this “riveting…brilliant” (Booklist) debut, Hazel Severy, the owner of a struggling Seattle bookstore, receives a letter from her adoptive grandfather—mathematician Isaac Severy—days after he dies in a suspected suicide. In his puzzling letter, Isaac alludes to a secretive organization that is after his final bombshell equation, and he charges Hazel with safely delivering it to a trusted colleague. But first, she must find where the equation is hidden.

While in Los Angeles for Isaac’s funeral, Hazel realizes she’s not the only one searching for his life’s work, and that the equation’s implications have potentially disastrous consequences for the extended Severy family, a group of dysfunctional geniuses unmoored by the sudden death of their patriarch.

As agents of an enigmatic company shadow Isaac’s favorite son—a theoretical physicist—and a long-lost cousin mysteriously reappears in Los Angeles, the equation slips further from Hazel’s grasp. She must unravel a series of confounding clues hidden inside one of her favorite novels, drawing her ever closer to his mathematical treasure. But when her efforts fall short, she is forced to enlist the help of those with questionable motives.

“A novel that is anything but clueless, filled with consideration and compassion” (The Washington Post), The Last Equation of Isaac Severy proves that, like Hazel, you don’t have to love math to fall under the Severy spell.

368 pages, Paperback

First published March 6, 2018

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About the author

Nova Jacobs

2 books158 followers
Nova Jacobs has an MFA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and is a recipient of the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her debut novel The Last Equation of Isaac Severy was named a Best Mystery of 2018 by The Wall Street Journal and was nominated for a 2019 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. She is a co-writer with Donnie Eichar on the New York Times best-seller Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident . She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Jeremy.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,222 reviews
Profile Image for jessica.
2,509 reviews31k followers
June 12, 2018
i dont normally pick up books randomly, but this was showcased at my local library and i have been in a mood for mystery books this past week - so i thought ‘why not?’

for this book to be described as ‘a novel in clues,’ i was expecting more of a ‘whodunnit’ like premise, but it felt more like general contemporary fiction to me. the writing style and storytelling reminded me a lot of jonathan tropper and cynthia d’aprix sweeney. i wish there had been more of a mystery element to this, but the family dynamics and drama in this book werent too bad. for a debut book, i was quite content with this.

3 stars
Profile Image for Leslie Ray.
175 reviews95 followers
April 3, 2018
This book begins with an intriguing opening line, "On the morning he was to die, the old man woke early and set about making breakfast". The book did not fail to deliver and I found myself not wanting to put it down but yet wanting to make it last as long as possible. A famous mathematician, Isaac Severy, is found dead, but leaves a cryptic note to his granddaughter Hazel with instructions regarding the last equation he was working on. This equation is of interest to several people as it proves that everything is predetermined, including the exact time of death. There appear to be side plots involving several of the family members but as you read it, you come to realize it has all been intricately woven by the author with a setting in contemporary Los Angeles. One of the reviewers mentioned that she started this book all over once she finished it. I could have done the same thing. I look forward to future books from this author as this was truly an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
April 11, 2018
When I first started reading this, it seemed as if was going to be a treasure hunt of a novel. The treasure belonging to a highly touted mathametician, and the treasure a brilliant equation, which many seek. When Isaac died under suspicious circumstances his granddaughter is left a letter containing clues as to where this equation is, and also to whom he wants it given.

But....this is not exactly a treasure hunt, it is also or maybe more about a family with the majority of family members having a certain type of genius. The few that don't are somewhat dismissed, not valued as highly. Many of them have secrets, are more or less than they seem. A rather dysfunctional group of characters.

I thought this was written very well, in fact the writing drew me in more consistently than the story. The story itself, started out strong, kind of lagged and lost me in the middle, and then picked up again in the latter third. Except for a few, I found the majority of characters unlikable. All in all for me it was an okay read, a different read, with some wonderful writing.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Fran (apologies...way behind).
628 reviews577 followers
March 3, 2018
Mathematical genius and patriarch of the dysfunctional Severy family has died of apparent suicide by electrocution. The Severy family of geniuses is undone by Isaac Severy's sudden death. Adopted granddaughter Hazel receives a letter, dated before his death, asking her to perform a daunting task. Isaac entrusts her with a cryptic assignment. She is asked to safely deliver his final equation to a trusted colleague whose favorite pattern is herringbone. Is this note the disjoint ruminations of an unstable genius? Should Hazel disregard the request?

Hazel Severy feels a debt of obligation to Isaac. Isaac and wife, Lily rescued Hazel and brother Gregory from abusive foster parent, Tom who is currently jailed in L.A. She always felt uncomfortable in the company of the Severy math geniuses. She was non-mathematical. Why would Isaac trust her with this job? This is what Isaac's letter states.....I am being followed....work in room 137 must be destroyed and hard drives reformatted....do not visit the house past October....three will die...me first....tell no one. Hazel must find and unravel hidden "clues" to locate the equation secreted in a surprising place! Hazel is not the only one searching for the equation. Family members, business associates, even virtual strangers want to aid or block Hazel's efforts.

"The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues" by Nova Jacobs is an excellent debut novel. That said, this reader felt that there were too many Severy family members to follow. The novel might have been enhanced by more in-depth discussion using less characters. Nova Jacobs has provided a fun read. I look forward to her future writing.

Thank you Touchstone and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "The Last Equation of Isaac Severy".
Profile Image for Nova Jacobs.
Author 2 books158 followers
July 27, 2022
It’s been such a thrilling launch. Much appreciation to all the Book of the Month Club members who chose Isaac Severy (and are posting such gorgeous pictures!), and to all the readers out there who took a chance on the Severy family—thank you!
Profile Image for Sean Gibson.
Author 6 books5,674 followers
May 3, 2019
So, I sort of like cucumbers, but don’t feel strongly about them. Like, I like that they’re kind of crunchy, and I like the color green. They don’t really taste like anything, so I never really crave them, and I can take them or leave them. I kind of forget about them when they’re not around, but am at least moderately glad to see them when they’re there.

This book is a cucumber for me. Perhaps I had unreasonably high expectations after seeing it compared to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But, I liked it…fine. Jacobs can write, though, and I’ll certainly keep an eye out for future work. Maybe her next book will be a carrot.

(Because I LOVE carrots. Duh.)
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,113 reviews8,043 followers
March 15, 2018
This book totally surprised me. I was expecting a fun, lighthearted adventure/mystery story—which it definitely was—but also got a novel about death and the universe and family. The main characters (because the story focuses on more than just Hazel like the blurb leads you to believe) are flawed and complex and relatable. I particularly liked Philip's storyline, though I loved Hazel and Gregory too. And the mystery aspect of this novel definitely had me turning pages and guessing at what would happen next. All in all this was a delightfully fun and thought-provoking read that exceeded my expectations. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine).
189 reviews224 followers
March 14, 2018
You can read this and all of my reviews at Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is a delightfully fresh literary mystery. It was just the thing to get me out of a the little slump I'd been in. I wasn't in the mood for something terribly heavy or terribly morbid. I'm always up for quirky characters. No matter that the quirkiest character was deceased prior to Chapter One. (Of an apparent suicide. In a hot tub. With a string of Christmas lights.)

Hazel, adopted granddaughter of Isaac Severy, famed mathematician, receives a cryptic letter upon his death. It's written by Isaac and in it he asks that she complete a series of tasks. She must tell no one. She must decipher a series of clues in oder to fulfill her grandfather's last wishes. It's not going to be an easy task. Hazel is not as scientifically-minded as her grandfather. Hazel has no idea why she has been chosen to complete these tasks. More importantly, she has no idea why her grandfather wants this particular set of tasks to be completed in the first place.

As we follow Hazel on her journey to carry out Isaac's last wishes, we learn more about how Hazel and her brother came to be part of the Severy family.  They are an eclectic and somewhat dysfuctional bunch. All of the members of Isaac's family were carefully and fully developed. Each had a particular set of flaws and weaknesses. In most cases, these were balanced with a set of more likable traits. I really enjoyed the family drama aspect of this book; both the parts that were central to the plot and those that were not. Nova Jacobs did a remarkable job of balancing the whimsy and lightness of this book with serious issues many families face.

There was a subplot that was as intriguing as the plot. The author did a fabulous job of keeping both going at just the right pace. The farther I read into the book, the harder it was to walk away from.

As one might expect, there was a fair amount of math-y language throughout the book. String theory this and chaos theory that. If I'm honest, that was all blah, blah, blah to me but I fully appreciated what it meant to Isaac, his family, and his colleagues. I thought it added a unique twist. We read about all manner of professions and hobbies, why not mathematics?

Overall, I found The Last Equation of Isaac Severy to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. As a debut, it's even more impressive. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing what Nova Jacobs has in store for us in the future.

4.25/5 stars

Many thanks to Touchstone for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Book of the Month.
229 reviews12.5k followers
March 1, 2018
Why I Love It
By BOTM Guest Judge Sophia Bush

Everything in nature follows mathematical patterns: Planets follow elliptical orbits, flowers follow the Fibonacci sequence, and snowflakes crystallize with complex symmetrical elegance. Clues to the intricacy of the universe, if you will, and there’s nothing I like better than a finely-crafted succession of clues. Which brings me to this engaging, clever book.

Never fear, this is no tale of dry mathematical theory. It’s a sharp puzzle mystery, full of stimulating questions that make it impossible to stop turning the pages. Isaac Severy, the book’s namesake, is dead before the story has even begun. In the first chapter, his heirs—an intelligent, quirky, and fractured Californian family—have gathered to pay their last respects. What they don’t know is that, before he died, Professor Severy created a world-changing mathematical equation and left the only clue to its whereabouts with his beloved granddaughter, Hazel.

Following Hazel on her quest to find the equation is like speeding through the winding canyons of the Hollywood Hills (which does happen in this book, although no one seems to get stuck in as much traffic as I generally do). The sinister organization on Hazel’s tail keeps tension high, and the love interest she may or may not be able to trust keeps us guessing. Watching her navigate the tumultuous dramas of family, fate, and formulas had me glued to the story until the end. Isaac Severy left me with the lasting realization that mathematics is a love language. Well done, professor.

Read more at https://www.bookofthemonth.com/the-la...
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews317 followers
July 22, 2018
Imaginative premise and superb writing could not save this story from being overwhelmed by its themes. Predictive mathematical models, chaos theory, dysfunctional family dynamics, child abuse, vigilante justice and a pseudo-incestuous relationship just to name a few. Throw in a multitude of characters and an exploration of fate and you have a muddled tale I could not decipher. This is another book that I kept reading for its ambition and I thought it would all make sense in the end. Instead I was left with only one word, more a sound really…huh.

While beset with too many plot points and more drama than detecting, I’m bumping a 2.5 experience to three stars for the stellar writing and intrigue. For a debut there was much that was impressive and I’m willing to give this author another try.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,471 reviews9,378 followers
February 6, 2023
I picked up The Last Equation of Isaac Severy as book #4 for my TBR-Haul Project. I hauled this book in May 2018 as a Book of the Month selection. I was super excited for it initially, but then it fell off my radar.

Described as a Literary Mystery, it just sounded like something I would enjoy. Unfortunately, the reviews weren't drawing me to it, even though I frequently find myself in the minority opinion on ratings.

This story takes place after the apparent suicide of mathematician, and eccentric family patriarch, Isaac Severy. After his death, Isaac's granddaughter, Hazel, receives a strange letter from him in the mail.

The letter claims that a secret organization is after his final, reportedly dangerous, equation and he charges Hazel with delivering it to a colleague of his for safe keeping. But first, she needs to find it.

In L.A. for Isaac's funeral, it becomes clear that Hazel isn't the only one with her sights set on Isaac's missing equation.

The entire Severy family is in attendance actually and oh boy, are they interesting. A family full of barely functioning geniuses left spiraling by Isaac's sudden death. What could go wrong?

In the midst of all the family drama, Hazel must follow the clues left for her in her favorite novel by Isaac in order to find the equation before it's too late. Will she be able to pull it off alone?

Y'all, I really enjoyed this; what a pleasant surprise! I'm glad I ignored the overall rating and made time for it. It's honestly like a Wes Anderson film come to the page.

I devoured this once I started. The quirky characters, Hazel's bizarre mission, it was all so much fun. I did end up listening to the audiobook and I felt it was really well done.

The writing actually reminded me a lot of some of Kate Racculia's work, particularly Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, which is definitely a bonus. It's very smart, witty and darkly engaging. It's different from pretty much everything else.

I definitely recommend this one for a change of pace. Ignore the ratings, dive in and enjoy the ride!

Profile Image for Karen R.
833 reviews492 followers
March 8, 2018
“Three will die. I am the first.”

A spark is lit in struggling bookseller Hazel’s life after she receives a surprising and mysterious posthumous letter from her mathematician genius grandfather Isaac. Isaac is thought to have committed suicide in his Jacuzzi with Christmas lights wrapped around him yet his breakfast table was set for two.

Isaac’s letter to Hazel is cryptic. “Know that I am offf (spelling is correct. hmmm, first clue?) sound mind when I ask that you destroy my work in Room 137. Burn. Smash. Reformat…” He goes on to direct Hazel to find and deliver a special secret equation to an un-named man who is into herringbone. Hazel’s life is about to get ALOT more interesting and I enthusiastically go along for the ride as she puts on her Sherlock Holmes hat.

Numerous clues, suspects, and puzzle pieces to be found in Hazel’s favorite book, and…mathematics?! Refreshing approach. This book started off a little slow during introduction of several characters at Isaac’s funeral, but got my wheels turning early about who could be the bad guy (or gal). My enjoyment of Jacobs’ snappy mystery , family drama and vivid characters grew as I read on. A fun read.
Profile Image for Cindy Burnett (Thoughts from a Page).
556 reviews972 followers
December 17, 2017
3.5-4 stars

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is an entertaining read. I majored in math in college and loved that aspect of the book. Hazel is a likeable if somewhat naïve protagonist, and her hunt for her grandfather’s secret last equation kept me reading. I waited a few days to write my review because I was not sure how I felt about the ending; two aspects troubled me a bit: the location of the equation and the identity of the vigilante. Sadly, waiting a few days didn’t help me resolve my thoughts so I guess I will just be left in a state of limbo on whether I believe either issue was resolved reasonably and realistically.

As a sidebar, I have noted before my annoyance with suggestions of “if you liked this book you will certainly like ____”. The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is billed as appealing to those who liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, both huge favorites of mine. I don’t see the comparison at all. While the main character Hazel owns a bookstore in Seattle, she is staying in Los Angeles for the entirety of the book, and the store is rarely mentioned. I am loath to use that type of recommendation except in certain unique circumstances, but if I were to do so here it would be to analogize it more to puzzle or elaborate mystery books. Hazel is charged with protecting Isaac’s life work and making sure it does not fall into the hands of the wrong parties. The catch is she that has to find it first, and the majority of the book focuses on her hunt.

Overall, I liked The Last Equation of Isaac Severy. I received this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.

Profile Image for Sue Em.
1,156 reviews49 followers
April 23, 2018
Hazel Severy has been set on a quest by her recently deceased grandfather, Isaac Severy, a renown mathematician. His letter to her stresses secrecy and suspicion of everyone else within the family and without. This charming narrative poses puzzles and clues to help her solve find his last equation and deliver it safely to his only trusted friend. Even without a facility for numbers, I found the puzzles interesting and the book enjoyable.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,013 reviews1,924 followers
March 12, 2018
I got this because I saw it described as an adult Westing Game.

It's not.

This was a huge letdown. It was messy and anti-climactic. I didn't enjoy it very much at all.
Profile Image for Touchstone Books.
36 reviews239 followers
December 5, 2017
Mr. Penumbra? A.J. Fikry? Eleanor Oliphant? If any of these names make your heart do a whimsical little flip, you're going to want to get acquainted with ISAAC SEVERY. So much love for this fantastic debut novel!
Profile Image for Vanessa.
640 reviews90 followers
January 12, 2019
Intelligence fades. Sex fades. The thrill fades. Where is the wisdom that is supposed to compensate for the loss? But if his father's death had taught him anything, it was that there was no real wisdom with age, only forced compliance.

This book was my first great read of 2019.

Isaac Severy was the paterfamilias of a family made up of exceptional scientific and mathematical minds and academic disappointments, in some cases both at once. When he is found dead of an apparent suicide at his home in Pasadena, the family gathers for his funeral, including his adopted granddaughter, Hazel.

Hazel is not only dealing with her own grief, but financial burdens from her struggling bookstore in Seattle and a letter from Isaac, mailed shortly before his death, entrusting her with his life’s work, one last complex equation. Hazel and her brother Gregory are outliers in the Severy clan, adopted by Isaac's son Tom, and later raised by Isaac and his wife after Tom went to prison. Neither Hazel nor her brother followed in the family's mathematical footsteps. Nevertheless, Isaac is adamant that she alone should be the custodian of his final work and leaves her a trail of clues with an admonition to tell no one--including the police--about her search. Or of Isaac implying in the letter that he was murdered. Or his warning that more deaths are coming.

The story is narrated in turns by Hazel, her brother Gregory, an LAPD detective, and Isaac’s son Phillip, a string theorist at CalTech. Both Gregory and Phillip have enough going on that they only brush up against the edges of Hazel’s quest.

There is a mystery at the center of the story, but it's a delicious candy coating for some bittersweet literary fiction that touches on aging, familial inheritances of many kinds, academia, and the life of the mind (and, again, in the many kinds of ways that can play out.)

This was Nova Jacobs' first novel, and she's a writer working right in my wheelhouse: full of warm, soothing empathy for her characters, twists I didn't always see coming, twists I did see coming but still somehow surprised me, and graceful prose.

Even when I wasn't quite sure that I bought everything, I didn't even mind, which says a lot for a compulsive nitpicker like me. Isaac's equation, without going into details, did not in particular seem at all plausible to me (then again, my knowledge of math falls off a cliff somewhere shortly after y = mx + b, but that equation still seems more like consulting the Oracle at Delphi than math.) But sometimes a book is just so good and reaches up out of the pages to lovingly embrace you so that you just don't care, and you are glad you bought it because you want to keep it nearby. That was this book for me.

Nova Jacobs. I'm now a fan.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,822 reviews499 followers
March 16, 2018
This book was not at all what I was expecting. I thought there would be a mystery but instead it was primarily about Isaac's large dysfunctional family. It wasn't what I was looking for. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Christie.
203 reviews21 followers
March 18, 2018

To call this book the "adult Westing game" is a farce, and is truly a disservice to both books.

The Westing Game was probably my favorite, most-read book as a child. I believe it just appeared one day in my little library and I read it back to front a million times. It was great because it had a mystery and the clues were included in the book-- you could unravel the mystery through deduction or by solving anagrams or puzzles.

This book pretends to have a mystery as the central point of the story, but really wants to tell you about a dysfunctional family. Plot threads are introduced and wrapped up neatly with a *thud.* I've never been less excited to learn the answers-- either they were blatantly obvious from the get-go or the twist came from virtually nowhere, with no foreshadowing to warrant it.

Usually with these sorts of books I can think of a way for the mystery to be more interesting or resolved in a manner that I find more enjoyable-- here I found the whole thing dull. It took me almost 3 weeks to read a 340 page book because every time I started reading it I wanted to throw it across the room for boring me so badly.

A wasted BOTM pick that will sit on my shelf as a pretty hardcover, never to be recommended or shared with anyone.
Profile Image for MaryBeth's Bookshelf.
373 reviews83 followers
April 2, 2018
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is a clever, witty, and fun novel from Nova Jacobs.

When Isaac Severy, patriarch of the rather eccentric Severy family, is found dead of an apparent suicide, it is up to Severy's adopted granddaughter, Hazel, to untangle the clues he has left behind. Severy is a world-renowned, brilliant mathematician who leaves a cryptic note for Hazel that leads her on a chase to solve when the next murder will take place.

Jacobs also weaves in the stories of Gregory, Hazel's brother, and Phillip, Hazel's grandfather - both of whom seem to failing in life and love to push the story along.

Overall I enjoyed this fast-paced, creative read. I did find it confusing sometimes because there are so many characters to keep track of, but I definitely recommend this book for people who enjoy a good mystery.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,311 reviews658 followers
April 10, 2018
I LOVED this novel! It’s a debut by author Nova Jacobs and I hope to see more from her. From the description, that a mathematical clue was left to a granddaughter, Hazel, I thought I’d get a sweet novel of a young adult trying to unravel her Grampa’s mystery. That is NOT what this is. Hazel is in her 30’s and sweet, it is not.

Isaac Severy is a noted mathematician from Southern California with Cal Tech roots. When he dies, he leaves a note to his granddaughter Hazel, entrusting her to find the equation and give it to the proper person. The Severy clan is noted for their mathematical genius. Isaac feared his mathematical equation would get into the wrong hands and harm mankind. Hazel who is a bookstore owner has no mathematical proclivities and loves her grandpa with all her being. She is innocent and doesn’t see the harm that math can cause on humanity.

Clues are left for Hazel to find the formula. Different family members are trying to find the formula as well. Some family members are being wooed by the evil industries that try to make money off the formula. Meanwhile, the Severy family is a bit of a mess. So, beyond the clues to the formula, the reader is given clues to the family dysfunction. There is family sadness to this caper.

I will say that I guessed correctly what the mathematical formula was about, yet I didn’t feel “cheated” that I correctly guessed. Jacobs paced the novel well with the mysteries of both the formula and family. One doesn’t need to be a math major to understand this. The math references are basic and even the commoner (such as myself) can keep up. It’s a fabulous mystery read.
Profile Image for Stephanie Anze.
657 reviews112 followers
September 24, 2018
"The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make evrything the way it is."

After attending the funeral of her adoptive grandfather, Isaac, Hazel Severy receives a cryptic letter from him. Dated before his supposed suicide, Isaac asks Hazel to find his last equation and deliver it to a colleague. The Severy clan are mathematically gifted and their patriarch, Isaac Severy, particularly so. Hazel owns a bookstore, is not one of the family's geniuses and is surprised Issac would choose her for this task. As hazel runs down the clues left behind by Isaac, she realizes that she is not alone in wanting to find that equation.

As I sit here, I still do not know how to properly explain what exactly is it that I feel about this book. Usually, I pick the books I am going to read based on the genre, theme and/or author. 'The Last Equation of Isaac Severy' was a choice made entirely on a whim. The premise sounded quite intriguing. Hazel (and her brothet Gregory) was adopted by Isaac Severy from an abusive situation. The Severy clan are mathematical geniuses that hold valuable academic positions and are respected in the community. However, they are quite dysfuntional as well. They understand numbers and equations but not each other. The death of Isaac sets into motion a series of events that further unravel their unsteady bonds. Truthfully, not one character was likable but they were not exactly villains either. Their actions were driven by their circumstances. I did find the book difficult to get into as there are several Severy family members and various subplots to keep track of. Ultimately, it was not as an entertaining book as I thought it was going to be as much as it was tedious. Still, I appreciated how the storylines ultimately converged.

As for the "math part" of this book, it was not overwhelming (oddly enough I ended up choosing another book where math plays a significant role, I read 'Hidden Figures' recently) . I know next to nothing regarding String or Chaos Theory but I see how they tie into the narrative. The equation Hazel is tasked with finding, if it falls into the wrong hands, it will have terrible consequences. Isaac was very secretive about his latest project (not even his favorite son knew). Of a predictive nature, this equation could have various applications, not all of them noble. For this reason, Isaac's letter warns Hazel to trust no one, not even family. The mystery aspect was fine but (at least to my taste) not great. As I stated before, I have a difficult time trying to decide wether I liked this book or not. I will say this, while I do no regret reading it I am glad to be able to move on to the next book. It was an intersting read overall.
Profile Image for Bookishfolk.
159 reviews55 followers
March 5, 2018
3.5 stars.

I am the polar opposite of a mathematical person, but when I read the premise of this book, I was sucked in and knew I had to read it! Mystery, family drama and secrets, clues for the character (and for us as readers), wittiness with a side of bookstore owner?! Yes please! I enjoyed this book, was sucked into the world and was rapidly flipping pages to find out the ending. And Book of the Month?! Yay!
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,521 followers
June 14, 2018
This is an entertaining story by a new novelist, Nova Jacobs. It is the tale of a dysfunctional family and their relationships with one another. It is also a mystery. The patriarch of the family dies, and leaves behind a note to his daughter Hazel, giving her a difficult task of finding his last equation and delivering it to the right person. Others are also looking for the equation, because it is proven to be able to accurately and precisely predict the future.

The family is filled with geniuses, as well as a child abuser, a vigilante, a theoretical physicist, a photographer, and a book store owner. It was at first a bit of a challenge keeping all the characters straight; there are so many and their relationships to one another is a bit tricky to follow. Nevertheless, the story is enjoyable, and a quick read.

The author is not a mathematician, although she includes all of the right buzz-words in mathematics and physics. However, what gave me a bit of trouble is that an equation, all by itself, is not enough to predict the future. It presumably requires a huge amount of data, and the author completely skips over this issue. This was quite bothersome to me, as I've dealt with lots of equations, and they are worthless by themselves, without boundary conditions, or initial conditions, or some type of constraints.

There are so many loose threads developed along the way, that it was fun just thinking about how they would all get tied up before the end of the book. They all do get answered, along with a surprise ending that I will not spoil here. Quite an ingenious story!
Profile Image for Rebecca.
55 reviews6 followers
February 25, 2018
I received an ARC of this novel from Touchstone Books via my position as a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I picked it up mostly because the back blurb name drops Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore which I absolutely adore. Let me say up front that that comparison is wonderfully apt. If you love that or Robin Sloan's other novel, you'll fall right in love with the Severy family.

This book has everything: plot twists, family drama, mathematics, storylines that fall into each other like folding origami ... I'm truly in awe of Nova's skill, especially as a first time author. I will most certainly be purchasing my own copy and also selling it to everybody and anybody I can when it arrives in March.

(Sorry, I'm quite crap at writing reviews.)
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,459 reviews445 followers
February 25, 2018
Just right for my mood, a nice cerebral mystery. Apparently it’s difficult to impossible nowadays to describe a new novel without referencing another, however tangentially connected, but really this one is very much its own book. Seriously, yes the protagonist owns a bookstore, but it’s a relatively inconsequential detail in the grand scheme of things. It also doesn’t need to describe itself as a novel of clues, a lot (most?all?) of mysteries have clues. Going by the description I even thought maybe this was going to be something to do with actual math clues sprinkled throughout the text, but no, not at all, although math is definitely a cornerstone of this production. The eponymous Mr. Severy is the bonafide genius of the family, though the rest aren’t too far behind. He dies under suspicious circumstances leaving a mysterious letter to his adopted (nonmathematical minded) granddaughter setting her off on a pursuit to find (and solve) a treasure map (quite literally). Sounds like a quest story, doesn’t it? But really it’s a drama as much if not more so, being highly intelligent doesn’t make for a happy family and, proving Tolstoy correct yet again, Severys are unhappy in their very own particular ways, frustration, disappointment, resentment and all that. They really are a fascinating clan, from a psychological perspective, and the author did a great job creating such a variety of realistically complex individuals, swarming around their microcosms like a version of chaos theory, appropriately so for this book. Plus it’s a great premise, predictive mathematics, fate formulas essentially. Thing is at times it seemed like the author has taken her story simply too far, tried to be too clever and ended up overwhelming the narrative with serpentine twists and turns, although one of the main reveals was actually too easy to predict earlier than optimal in the book, which is quite ironic given the central theme of predictability. But that’s a reasonably minor detractor. Another one of those is the elaborately protracted denouement (about a fifth of the book), somewhat over explained (I’m writing this off as a debut quirk). So maybe not perfect, but very good and such an enjoyable read. And really too clever is always infinitely preferable to the alternative. Thanks Netgalley.
Profile Image for Robert Blumenthal.
799 reviews68 followers
August 15, 2018
This novel ended up being rather different from what I expected. Instead of a somewhat wild and exuberant romp, it was instead a measured and character driven tale more reminiscent of Allegra Goodman than Thomas Pynchon or Jess Kidd. There is quite of bit of family dynamic involved, easily as much as mathematics and academia. It was certainly more refined and emotionally compelling than I had expected. I found it to be a very strongly and confidently written novel, especially for a debut.

It employs a wild and definitely fantastical use of mathematics as the basis for a tale that involves an entire family. A mathematical genius is found dead in his hot tub, either a case of suicide or murder, and he leaves a note to his foster granddaughter with instructions on what to do with a final exceptionally critical mathematical formula that he has created. Her real brother and foster uncles are involved as well, with the reader is left unclear as to everyone's motive. In addition, there is a rather shadowy organization that wants its hands on the formula. There are may twists and turns throughout, but it all comes out in the denouement rather cleanly.

The characters are all really well-drawn and interesting. There are issues of drug abuse and child abuse and neglect. There are family betrayals and other dynamics that pull at the family structure. And there is also love involved and devotion as well. Hazel, the lead character, is definitely the good girl here and the one I as a reader was really rooting for. The other characters are much more flawed, yet have their noble characteristics as well.

The plot sails along. Interestingly, my local library has this book classified as a mystery rather than general fiction. I don't agree with this. The novel is definitely an example of modern literary fiction to me, though of course there are mystery elements to it as well. It was a very enjoyable read with some poignant emotional affectations.
Profile Image for Onceinabluemoon.
2,544 reviews58 followers
March 17, 2018
4.5 rounding up. Imagine my surprise when I had just left the library placing a hold for a Nancy drew book, I read them all too many decades ago to share, but I loved the thrill of those mysteries and wanted to see what I think of one as adult now. I had no idea what this book was about, must have seen on goodreads, I just queued up at the library and as usual jump in blind. I was INSTANTLY smitten, it felt like Nancy drew all over again. It is a smart gentle mystery, none of that horrid modern edge of today in my eyes, I was drawn in fast and it felt comfortable. Totally lacking in math skills I enjoyed the families endeavors. For a debut i thought it was excellent good fun, perhaps a few too many family members to sort out, but I found it compelling and every spare moment I was back for a few chapters during the day. I found it the perfect companion for a cozy fireside read.
Profile Image for lucky little cat.
546 reviews102 followers
August 6, 2020
Cute, sometimes intricate family-mystery story with a dollop of romance. Confession: I skimmed the math-ier parts. Set in LA, complete with a faux Chateau Marmont.

Here's my low-tech family tree for anyone who, like me, kept forgetting exactly where Sybil fits in.

Profile Image for Lindsey Erickson.
226 reviews8 followers
March 16, 2018
I am a self-proclaimed math nerd and I do love the subject, though I feel a bit inadequately compared to the characters in this novel. For these reasons, it made me love this book even more. However, taking that out of the equation (ha, see what I did there), I thoroughly enjoyed this murder mystery, the way this family all tied together, and I couldn't wait to see how everything would turn out. This book kept me intrigued from the very beginning and though I couldn't wait to finish it, I'm now bummed that I can't read anymore. The mathematics talk kept me engaged and the small love story was as a surprise bonus. I hope others will enjoy this novel as much as I did!!

*Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
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