Check out the newest books we've read and reviewed below!
From our March 2018 Newsletter:
Magic is power. For Princess Phela, magic is the power to become Queen, the absolute and unassailable ruler of her world. For Blane, a Bajuman slave and lowest of the low, magic is the power to free his people from servitude and abuse. Blood of the Four is the story of their struggle, magic against magic, and of their bitter apocalyptic war to the death. Along the way, authors Lebbon and Golden deftly upset reader preconceptions regarding plucky kick-ass princesses and heroic freedom-fighters to bring the story to a fabulous conclusion, one wholly unexpected yet perfectly right. Highly recommended! – David
Sometimes our expectations are dashed to the ground and pummeled when faced with reality. This happens for Thomas Senlin when he and his wife Marya take a trip to the Tower of Babel in Josiah Bancroft’s debut novel. Thomas’ romanticized vision of the tower as a beautiful place full of wonders and amenities is immediately shattered when he arrives at the base of the tower and is separated from his new bride within minutes. In order to find her again, he has to start going up through the floors, or Ringdoms, of the tower. His encounters range from the surreal (such as an entire floor where visitors are cast in a play that they’ve never read or rehearsed) to the suspiciously serene (a floor dedicated to bathhouses and bars). Thomas will have to use every wit he has to find his wife or he’ll end up like all the other visitors: indentured servants or dead. Bancroft’s novel is a fun Steampunk adventure that will make you want to find out what lies on the next floor, and each one thereafter. – Emilio
It may or may not be a coincidence that you are reading this review (and possibly this book). Since every coincidence is orchestrated by the Coincidence Makers (CM), it is hard to determine if free will exists at all. Enter this world where the CM class of ‘75 consists of Emily, Eric, and Guy. “The General” leads them through the steps and the foundations that allow them to work on this parallel plane, and we will see how coincidences can be manufactured and manipulated by this highly skilled group. But to what purpose, and why? You will have to read this genre-bending, unique novel to find out. – Terry
What would the world look like if men—not women—lived in constant fear of their physical safety? The Power is a terrifying yet illuminating book that flips a very real issue on its head. Naomi Alderman will not only make you think about gender, but also race, class, war, religion, refugees, and so much more. Reading this book is powerful in itself: its basis in reality is frightening, yet the light Naomi is able to shed on that reality is a timely reminder of why we read and write speculative fiction in today’s world. A moving novel—and a call to arms for everyone to pay close attention to the power within themselves. – Kelly
The tale of the ill-fated Donner Party’s passage through the Sierra Mountains is a staple of American Western mythology. Scholars blame arrogance, a late start, an untested shortcut, and other poor decisions for the party’s being stranded by winter, leading to the deaths of about half the group, and a significant number of the survivors turning to cannibalism. But what if there was a more sinister cause for their behavior? “Turn back, or you will all die.” You’ve been warned! Recommended for fans of Dan Simmons’ The Terror and Christopher Golden’s Ararat. – Maryelizabeth
The Sandman is a brilliant, terrifying thriller by Swedish superstar Lars Kepler. It features a young police inspector, Saga Bauer, who goes deep undercover as a patient in a maximum-security psychiatric unit where Sweden’s most dangerous serial killer, Jurek Walter, is serving a life sentence. Her goal is to get him to reveal something that will help the police find one of his victims, who is still alive thirteen years after being buried. But can she outwit him? And survive? Replete with shocking plot twists and the horrifying backstories of the two detectives who caught Jurek thirteen years ago, you may want to sleep with the lights on. Connoisseurs of Scandinavian crime fiction are in for a treat. – Kim
Isaac Severy knew his death was imminent, so before he took matters into his own hands, he wrote his adopted granddaughter, Hazel, a cryptic note about his work, the need to destroy it, and instructions to deliver his final equation to a person who is unknown to her. It is a complete puzzle to her (as she has never liked math), made urgent because Isaac insists that more deaths will result. Hazel has always felt like a misfit among the Severy family of geniuses, mathematicians, and physicists, especially since her bookstore in Seattle is currently failing and she is living in the backroom because she has nowhere else to go. As Hazel searches for clues that will lead her to fulfill her grandfather’s last wish, many secrets about her adopted relatives begin to unfold. This is a fun and literary mystery from a debut author to watch. – Terry
Sometimes I Lie is a mind-bending, Hitchcockian British thriller complete with a cliffhanger ending. It features a woman in a coma with amnesia, and she is the poster child for unreliable narrators. Events from the present and her ambiguous past comprise the story. As the labyrinthine plot unfolds, the truth repeatedly unravels amid the characters’ dysfunctional relationships, secrets, and lies. The provocative and enigmatic ending has already spawned online conjecture and discussion. A beautifully crafted, taut and diabolically twisty literary thriller, Feeney’s debut is on par with best of the genre. Not to be missed, if you like surprises. – Kim
“Life only gives us as much as we can take.” So states Jackie Reed’s friend Helen.
This is a major understatement in the life of Jackie and her two sons, Wade and Connor. A high school boy is killed trying to prevent a carjacking. As the investigation moves forward, the story reveals that everyone involved has dark secrets and has lied to family, friends and the police. Wade is the crux of the story as it becomes clear that he is troubled. Wade becomes the focus of the inquest, which begins to take a tremendous toll on his family. Cyber bullying, intimidation, low self-esteem, over valued sense of worth, unconditional love, all of these powerful emotions are rolled into this compelling mystery. I was compelled to keep reading but yet felt trepidation as to what the next chapter might bring, right down to the very last reveal. Great read! – Christine
The Echo Killing is the first book in a sparkling new series featuring crime reporter Harper McClain. Sharp and spirited, yet vulnerable, Harper is haunted by the memory of her mother’s brutal, unsolved murder fifteen years ago. After she views a crime scene virtually identical to her mother’s, she begins investigating them both, hoping to find a connection between them that will lead to the killer. In her increasingly desperate and obsessive quest to solve the murders, Harper breaks all the rules, and the law, eventually losing her career, her home, her friends and her lover. Daugherty’s portrayal of crime journalism is fascinating, and her depiction of lush and languid Savannah is glorious. But it is her superbly drawn characters and their engaging dialogue that make this new series a standout. Highly recommended for fans of suspenseful, atmospheric mysteries and strong female protagonists. – Kim
Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in Tomi’s Legacy of Orisha young adult fantasy trilogy, introduces readers to the West Africa-reminiscent kingdom and its once common, now persecuted minority magic wielders, the divîners. Tomi interweaves the point of view of divîner Zélie Adebola, who is both eager and fearful to embrace her heritage, and fanatically anti-maji King Saran’s offspring, Princess Amari who questions the established narrative, and Crown Prince Inan, torn between fulfilling his father’s expectations and determining his own values. At times as graphically brutal as it is compelling, this stellar new fantasy will have an enduring legacy. Highly recommended. – Maryelizabeth
Beauty is power. Beauty is a necessity. Beauty is everything.
In a society where beauty is not just what you look like but who you are, the Belles are the greatest treasures of a cursed kingdom. They are “goddess blessed” with gifts that let them shape your very flesh, like clay, into any shape or color. But has their power made them honored servants of the kingdom or puppeteered prisoners in gilded cages with fine dresses nibbling on dainty macaroons?
Fantastically crafted, The Belles brings to life a richly imagined world that harkens back to the American South and decadence of Louis the XVI. The author vividly paints detail into every nook and cranny, while throwing you into the middle of a court filled with lies, cruelty, and a sick darkness slithering underneath a thin veneer of rosy lips and flawless skin. Sometimes the most beautiful monsters are the ones to fear the most, for they smile at you while tearing you apart. A truly unique read compared to many in its genre and a must read of 2018. – Constance
Inkmistress is just your standard “demigoddess with the power to alter reality by expressing how she’d like to see the world in her blood accidently catalysts her girlfriend’s transformation into a dragon, setting off deadly consequences for the inhabitants of their country fairy tale.” Asra, who has been raised in very sheltered circumstances by the local healer, must not only deal with trying to rein in Ina’s quest for vengeance, but also question her own mythological heritage, determine whether a group of assassins are allies or adversaries, and muddle through everyday interactions with other beings in a far more concentrated form than she has previously experienced. Recommended for fantasy readers who like their magical creatures interspersed with plenty of kissing. – Maryelizabeth
From Our February 2018 Newsletter:
Tom Miller’s The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully engaging alternative history, in which the great technological and political exploits of early 20th century America were accomplished by magic instead of science, and by women instead of men. So it is that the novel’s hero, Robert Weekes, aspires to attend Radcliffe College, there to study magic, in the hope of joining the Army’s elite flying squad, despite the fact these are all the preserves of women. The story is well-told and gripping, as Robert battles gender prejudice, bonds with his fellow students, and falls in love with war hero Danielle. Author Miller impresses as much with his command of historical detail as with his ability to imagine a fully-realized and absorbing literary world. Highly recommended! – David
I didn’t quite know what to expect from this book when I first read its title. The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and I was wary that Carey might force something into the story that wasn’t there. But this book has my wholehearted recommendation. This is a soft and tender version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest that delicately tells the story of Miranda and Caliban growing up on the island with magician Prospero and his servant Ariel. As the only two young people on the island, Miranda and Caliban begin to form a deep friendship. But Prospero has dark secrets and a mysterious magic that threatens everything Miranda might know about herself and the island she inhabits. Carey takes Shakespeare’s characters and the events of the original play and weaves her own tale that explores themes of monstrosity and sexuality, isolation and companionship, magic and reality, knowledge and ignorance. A simply beautiful book. – Kelly
I’ve always been fascinated by tales of immortality, and this book delivers! While stories of folk like Nicholas Flamel or The Count of St Germain are full of magic and whimsy, this book takes a more pragmatic view of the situation. Our hero, Tom, was born in 1581, and he’s lived a very lonely existence since, losing first his mother, and then his wife. When he moves back to London, the weight of the past nearly overshadows his life in the present. Matt Haig weaves an incredible tale of history, love, and loss through the centuries. Tom’s introspective nature, coupled with the ultimate warning — “Never fall in love” — gave this story a weight that I haven’t encountered in other immortality stories. I love it, and you will too! – Gary
Sue Burke’s debut novel, Semiosis, is a fascinating and totally original take on that old science fiction chestnut, human colonization of a new world. Burke’s innovation is to insist on telling her story from the standpoint of biological, environmental, and Darwinian realism. As her characters struggle to survive in the alien world, they must inevitably give up their old earth-derived ideologies, social institutions, and finally their very biology. Immigrants into a new natural reality, they undergo the most radical of melting pots, and become something wholly other and strange. Brilliant and thought-provoking. – David
“Luke Skywalker? I thought he was a myth.” – Rey. A motley crew of characters huddle around each other in Canto Bight exchanging stories of the mysterious and mythical Luke Skywalker. Some think he’s a hero, some think he’s a hack. This book holds an interesting place in the Star Wars canon, introducing new tales to readers that may — or may not — be true. The stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker are fun and thoughtful, and they play with our own conception of what Luke has been up to since Return of the Jedi. At times, the tales reward readers who know the Star Wars films well with inside jokes. At other times, it challenges us to rethink what we do know. Overall, a fun and unique Star Wars read. – Kelly
Sunburn is a modern rendition of a classic noir crime novel. It is the summer of 1995, and Private Investigator Adam Bosk follows the woman he was hired to investigate, Polly Costello, to a sleepy Delaware town. They begin a torrid love affair, and a cunning game of cat-and-mouse unfolds. Polly is a formidably complicated femme fatale, and the plot slow-burns for awhile, then ignites. This retro novel has it all: seduction, deception, corruption, greed, murder, betrayal, and plenty of moral ambiguity. One of Lippman’s best. For fans of psychological thrillers, hardboiled detective novels and classic noir. – Kim
Force of Nature is an outstanding atmospheric thriller set in the remote Australian bushland. It involves five women who go on a corporate wilderness survival retreat. Only four of them return. The missing woman is a whistle-blower in a money-laundering scheme involving the accounting firm she works for. The tension builds slowly as the story alternates between the police investigation and the women’s recollections of the harrowing retreat. None of them tell the same story, but it was clearly a cold, wet and terrifying experience fraught with the dangers of both mother nature and human nature. Secrets gradually unfold in this twisty, layered novel, and Harper’s measured reveal and gorgeous prose are a treat. For fans of psychological suspense, wilderness survival, the Australian Outback, and Harper’s previous novel, The Dry. – Kim
A grisly murder in the past draws a chalk line around the future of four 12-year-old boys, and Nicky, the only girl in their “Losers’ Club.” In this stunning debut thriller by C.J. Tudor, Eddie (Munster) meets the “Chalk Man” in 1986. The teacher, who suffers from albinism, helps Eddie save a girl’s life after a horrific accident at an amusement park, and inspires a secret code of chalk stick-figure men. When a series of chalk man clues lead to the dismembered body of a girl in the woods, the Chalk Man is assumed to be the killer. But 30 years later, the Fab Five are brought together by letters containing chalk figures that suggest the wrong man paid for the crime, and as Eddie tells us, children have their secrets. Fans of Stephen King’s “The Body” (Stand by Me), It, and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, will love the intimate characterization of the kids. Eddie’s hoarding and fetishism as an adult show how PTSD can blossom into a poisoned garden. The grue is thick, the plot riveting. This haunting book will linger on the blackboard of your mind. – R.J. Crowther Jr.
Embracing one’s true self is the all the fashion in Wang’s charming alternate 19th-century Paris tale of underappreciated seamstress Frances and her inspiring mysterious model, Lady Crystallia, who is the secret alter ego of the crown prince. While Prince Sebastian is delighted to find someone who can craft the gorgeous creations for Lady Crystallia, his dedication to keeping his secret from his family and the fashion world inhibits Frances from achieving proper recognition for her designs. This book is both a visual treat, and also a great positive affirmation of acceptance and love. – Maryelizabeth
I quite simply loved this book. There is a graceful timelessness to it that captures a beautiful world filled with well-imagined characters. There is forbidden romance, revenge, war, and scheming, but all done with such a delicate hand that you are enveloped in the story as you fall in love with it. Rebecca Ross is a passion of wit who has woven a remarkable debut that is well worth your time. This is a book I would pick up and reread for its beautiful language; it left me wanting to highlight countless sentences and its characters easily find a home in your heart. – Constance
New Mexico has a reputation as the home state to a significant number of human / alien encounters, but none may be as strange or heart-wrenching as the encounter between extraterrestrial Luz and the Vasquez children. Hank, Ana, and Milo and their mother, Maggie, are preparing to navigate the unfamiliar territory of their first summer without the kids’ father as part of the family when Luz enters their lives. Luz interprets the three children as discrete parts of a single entity, and observes the world through their senses – semi-appropriating and enhancing their perceptions through their hands, eyes, and ears, respectively. Leah’s story intertwines multiple perspectives in a moving tale of family, loss, and recovery. – Maryelizabeth
Witty Banter? Check!
Daring Adventure? Check!
Alien planet with the key to humanity’s survival? Check!!!
Unearthed by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman is a great read that I recommend anyone pick up just for the pure fun of it. Imagine all the awesome elements of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft mashed together and placed on an alien planet – and voila! Meagan and Amie are a deadly duo that will have you smiling from ear to ear, while also rapidly flipping the pages to find out what happens to the unlikely partners of this tale who will just have to somehow figure out how to trust each other to make it off Gaia alive. – Constance
Granted, I was predisposed to like this before I cracked the cover. “An action-packed tale full of romance, royalty, and adventure, inspired by the story of Anastasia” is right up my alley! But Ashley applies the same geeky insights and charm that made Geekerella a fun update to the tale, with plenty of scoundrels, rogues, and charmers to root for … carefully, with an eye on one’s valuables, and a protagonist whose most interesting trait is not that she may be space royalty. – Maryelizabeth
From our January 2018 Newsletter:
And we’re back. There’s no such thing as “happily ever after.” Ten years have passed since the events in Morning Star … and the beat goes on. And on. War. The Forever War. Same old crap, different day/week/month/year/celestial body. The same, sure, but this time out there are four points of view. Heroes? Villains? Time will tell. But everyone’s the hero of their own story, are they not?
I was a little worried going into this one. After all, how does one follow the #bloodydamn awesomeness that was Red Rising? Simple: Add three more points of view, up the stakes and the scope by an order of millions, and ramp up the action to “Holy Crap!” When’s the last time you had to catch your breath reading a damn book? Four points of view. Each would be great by itself; together they are remarkable. Start getting into Darrow’s point of view, then we’re on to Lyria. Start getting into Lyria and we’re on to Ephraim … and then to Lysander. It just doesn’t let up. You can’t put the #bloodydamn thing down! And it ain’t over. Now you have to wait a #bloodydamn year for the next #bloodydamn installment. Stuff escalates. – Guest Reviewer Patrick Heffernan
Los Angeles screenwriter Tarkoff’s debut near-future SF novel is set in a world with a near-global acceptance of a single religious being, the Great Spirit, following the apparent manifestation of individual’s morality in their physical appearance. People’s interior values are reflected in their looks, ranging from the healthy clear skin and appealing faces of the “good,” to physical distortions among the Outcast so severe as to result in fatalities. Preacher’s daughter Grace Luther is a believer, but she begins to question the reliability and apparent capriciousness of the judgments. An interesting examination of the values society sets on beautiful people. – Maryelizabeth
How would you live your life if you knew the exact date you would die? In 1969, the four children of Gertie and Saul Gold— Vayra (13), Daniel (11), Klara (9), and Simon (7)—spend what may be their last summer together in the heat of New York City’s Lower East Side. When they hear about a traveling psychic who can tell them the day they will die, they cannot resist the draw to go to her. The Immortalists is the story of this family, each of the four siblings, their lives and deaths, and the love that binds them together. It is told against the background of our own history and weaves Jewish heritage and traditions seamlessly into the story narrative. It is a moving journey through life’s choices, the acceptance of who you are, and ultimately, what is most important in life. This is an exceptional book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. – Terry
This book is stunning. Alluring from its first page to its very last, The Immortalists is exquisitely written and intimately told, a book that will both break and heal your heart as you explore the nature of destiny and human action. – Kelly
Tom Hazard is 436 years old, though he looks like he is in his 40s. He was born in 1581 and, unlike the rest of us; he ages only one year every 15 years. Not only does his condition keep him young, it protects him from illness. This may sound like the ultimate immortal life, but for Tom it has been a lonely and sad existence since his wife died of The Plague in 1623.
In the late 1800s, Tom discovers that there are other people in the world with the same condition and he joins their “society” for his protection (and theirs). He finds himself living by rules that make his life, well, unlivable. But, what keeps Tom going is the hope that he will be reunited with his daughter Marion, who he believes, has inherited his condition.
The story of Tom’s life through the centuries and the famous people he meets (Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald!) is mixed seamlessly with the narrative of his current life as a history teacher (of course!) in London. Tom’s observations are a poignant commentary about the current issues of the day and the meaning of life. This is an engaging and fun read for everyone. – Terry
This Is What Happened is a mesmerizing psychological thriller with a strikingly clever plot. It begins when an ordinary young woman is recruited by MI5 to install a surveillance program onto a London company’s computer network. The riveting account of her attempt to do this is followed by a shocking plot twist that completely shape-shifts the story. More surprises follow. Mick Herron’s talent is on full display in this compulsively readable book, which includes spies, misogyny, Stockholm Syndrome, missing people, and sisterly love. For fans of psychological suspense and dark, literary thrillers. – Kim
It is not a (complete) spoiler to tell you that Vivian Miller’s husband is a Russian spy. You will know this within the first 30 pages. But for Vivian, this revelation is beyond uncomfortable, because it is her job at the CIA trying to uncover the Russian spy network of sleepers that have assimilated themselves into life in the U.S. And while comparisons to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” are inevitable, you are in entirely different territory here. Vivian and Matt have been married for 10 years and have four small children. The discovery of Matt’s background and duplicity puts Vivian and her children in jeopardy as she tries to find a way to save her family and her job. The turbulent storyline is interspersed with a recounting of her past memories of falling in love with Matt and starting their life together.This is a hard-to-put-down ingenious suspense thriller . – Terry
The Mitford Murders is an engaging Downton Abbey/Agatha Christie mash-up set in the famous Mitford household in post-WWI Britain. It features the real-life unsolved murder of a war nurse who was the goddaughter of Florence Nightingale. A plucky young nursery maid, a railway policeman, and the eldest Mitford daughter, Nancy, team up to investigate the perplexing murder. The ravages of war, gender inequality, class division, and sibling rivalry are woven into the narrative. Five more books are planned for this clever series, each featuring a different Mitford sister. For fans of historical fiction, classic mysteries and Downton Abbey. – Kim
A prison van is hijacked in broad daylight, and a lone prisoner escapes into a waiting car. The fugitive is a disgraced former police Special Branch agent, accused of illegal gun trafficking. But what if he is innocent? Espionage, corruption and clever plotting make The Silent Room a gripping thriller set in northeast England. Mari Hannah’s expert pacing shines as the chapters alternate between the police, the missing prisoner and three rogue agents who secretly engage in their own investigation. Their backstories and humanity help give this thriller a soul, and the pithy British copper dialogue adds to their appeal. Swedish thugs, a Russian whistle-blower, oil rig explosions and a dead brother are part of the the intrigue. For thriller and suspense aficionados. – Kim
The Widows of Malabar Hill is a historical novel set in 1920s Bombay, introducing a Parsi, Oxford-educated woman lawyer, Perveen Mistry. Early in the book Perveen visits a polygamous Muslim household in which women are kept in total seclusion from the outside world. A murder occurs in their mansion, and Perveen gradually uncovers a complicated web of greed and deceit. The haunting traumas of Perveen’s past are revealed, also, and Perveen struggles to defend herself using deeply misogynistic Parsi law. The Widows of Malabar Hill includes a diverse array of characters and a fascinating portrayal of colonial Bombay’s rich multiculturalism. More books in this new series are planned. For fans of historical fiction and lawyer/sleuth novels. – Kim
Within the pretty pages of this book is a gritty western containing not only all the gunslinging action your heart could desire, but also a phenomenal story filled with a great cast of characters. Once you meet Serendpity Jones you will only want more of her story. Lyndsay integrates a variety of complex issues into her books with a deft hand that brings the book to life, giving flesh and bone to characters that could’ve easily fallen into stereotypes in a world that at times is painstakingly real and parallel to our own. Annie Oakley doesn’t hold a candle to Serendipity Jones, the best shot in the west. – Constance
The Arc of a Scythe series is quickly toping my list of books that I think anyone and everyone should read. Thunderhead is set a year after we last saw Citra and Rowan in Scythe and the growing tensions and divided loyalties within the Scythedom have only escalated. Now on the brink of total and devastating revolution, the Scythedom—and perhaps even all of humanity—relies on the actions of two teenagers. Thunderhead is a deep exploration of not only the perennial question of what it means to be human, but also of some of the biggest and most pressing issues of our time. Ultimately, Shusterman delivers a gripping, page-turner story, yet all the while gives us completely thought-provoking material on the past, present, and future of humanity. Thunderhead is a novel deftly written and one that is utterly absorbing to read. Poignant. Perfect. My highest recommendation and my deepest entreaty: read. this. book. – Kelly
Cosplaying teen Edan Kupferman has an easier time expressing her anger at chaotic and troubling circumstances in her life when wearing the mask of super-powered Gargantua. An insightful look into what so many of us love about comics – and some of the challenges we have to face in the field. Cecil’s latest pairs well with Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine geeky romance series! – Maryelizabeth
“Be careful what you wish for” takes on new meaning in this thoughtful YA debut. In the middle of the Mojave Desert, the town of Madison, Nevada has a secret. This is a secret they guard with great fervor and intent, as they know what will happen if this secret is discovered: Every citizen in Madison gets to make a wish on their eighteenth birthday, a wish that always comes true.
But, as we all know, wishes have consequences, and Eldon Wilkes has seen the results of these unintended consequences throughout his town and in his own family. With his birthday on the horizon, he is deeply conflicted. His parents are pressuring him to wish for money, which they believe will solve many of their problems. Eldon doesn’t necessarily believe that that this is the right wish for him, and he believes that wishing is the root of many of their problems. As the countdown to his birthday reduces the amount of time he has to figure this out, Eldon’s coming of age journey takes him to some unexpected places … all the way to a satisfying conclusion … at least for some.