Check out the newest books we've read and reviewed below!
From our April 2018 Newsletter:
Space Opera! Exactly what Catherynne Valente’s new brilliant hoot of a novel is about! Aliens arrive (weird and nutty ones), and they have serious doubts if humans are really civilized. Their test: a human band has to compete in the galactic version of Eurovision and not finish dead last. Our champion: Decibel Jones, a washed out glam-rock David Bowie has-been. The result: great lunacy and fun! And, along the way, an unending stream of the best bon-mots since Christopher Moore! Space Opera has the funniest opening line of any novel I know of. And that’s just the beginning. Enthusiastically recommended! – David
Beautifully composed and deeply compelling, Circe is hands-down one of the best novels of 2018. As she did in Song of Achilles, Miller recreates the ancient and enchanting world of Greek mythology, this time focusing on ocean nymph Circe. Cast out of her home and exiled to the island of Aiaia, Circe turns not only to her enchantments, but also to the world of Mortals, becoming close with legendary figures like Daedalus, Odysseus, and Penelope. Miller’s delicate, yet stunning prose swept me off my feet — I wanted to savor every moment with Circe in her immortal world. Introspective, soft, at times simply breathtaking, but always beautiful. So, so beautiful. – Kelly
By now many of you have probably seen The Shape of Water in theaters and know the story of the mute janitor, her African-American friend and coworker, her gay artist neighbor, and the reluctant Russian spy who conspires with them. All of them outcasts of society, coming together to save an amphibian man plucked from the Amazon by a manic soldier to be dissected and weaponized in the name of the US government. The novelization of this year’s Best Picture, having been written concurrently yet separately from the film, truly takes advantage of its medium, allowing us a more profound insight into the characters we love – and love to hate – from the film, with enough lush details and differences for it to stand out on its own. Get ready to dive into the pages and fall in love all over again. – Darcy
With war-shamans, Chinese mythological monsters, and a fully-realized social world and back story based on Chinese history, Rebecca Kuang’s The Poppy War is a stunning, distinctive, and completely original debut. Her lead character, Rin, is now the type example of the kick-butt heroine. An outsider — orphan, peasant, dark-skinned — she claws her way into and through the elite military school at Sinegard. Armed with terrible powers taken from the gods, she faces the most extreme moral quandaries of how far she will go to protect her country and to avenge her people. Open the front page, and the story sweeps you away. I can’t believe this is the author’s first book: so accomplished, so powerful, so wonderful! And so, so recommended! – David
The Cutting Edge is a masterful forensic thriller, featuring quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme. After a gruesome triple murder in Manhattan’s diamond district, Rhyme is recruited by his former NYPD partner to help with the investigation. The killer left no clues, and the single witness who called 911 has disappeared. Rhyme and his partner, Amelia Sachs, begin investigating, and numerous plotlines unfold. Geothermal drilling, diamond-rich kimberlite, Manhattan earthquakes, gas-leak fires, a captured Mexican drug lord, a Russian lunatic, and a villainous mastermind in Paris all feature. Rhyme and Sachs use their Sherlockian deductive skills, vast knowledge of forensic science, field expertise, and state-of-the art technology to connect the dots in this intricate thriller. The final plot twist is spectacular. Another home run in the Lincoln Rhyme series, this installment will appeal to fans of puzzle mysteries, page-turning thrillers and C.S.I. – Kim
Immersive action scenes and nuanced understandings of persuasion, power, and manipulation inform the second novel featuring kidnap and rescue expert Thea Paris and her allies, adversaries, and family members (some of whom fall into more than one camp). From its nausea-inducing opening scene of a skyjacked plane being forced to land in the Libyan Desert to its explosive dramatic multi-agenda actors finale, Skyjack never loses sight of the very human motivations and foibles of its protagonists and antagonists. My favorite new thriller series. – Maryelizabeth
Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth is a violent, propulsive thriller based on Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. It involves the struggle for power in an industrial 1970’s Scottish town reeling from unemployment, drug addiction and corruption. A young and ambitious Macbeth becomes the unwitting pawn of a manipulative drug lord, and his descent into drug-fueled brutality drives the action. Layers of treachery, betrayal, guilt and love are woven into the murderous plot, and constantly shifting viewpoints narrate the story. Filled with complex characters, unrelenting violence and technicolor action scenes, this drama is pure Nesbo. For fans of moral dilemmas, Scottish noir and the Bard’s famous play. – Kim
The Perfect Mother is an ingeniously plotted domestic noir thriller with a generous side of spot-on social commentary. The action begins when a group of Brooklynite new mothers are enjoying a baby-free “moms’ night out” and one of their babies is abducted. The story focuses on three of these young mothers as they are engulfed by the ensuing police investigation and media frenzy. Marriages are stressed, careers are in jeopardy, painful secrets become public media fodder, and no one is getting much sleep. Intermittent chapters feature an unreliable mystery narrator, providing more clues to the case. Molloy’s meticulously crafted puzzle ends with a shocking plot twist that deliciously confounds the reader. A movie version is already in the works. Highly recommended for fans of psychological suspense and astute social commentary. – Kim
This was an intense dark read that delves into what desperation and the will to survive can turn a person into. The main character is a fractured person who has to rebuild her identity to not only save herself but her kingdom before it is destroyed by the monstrous king who slit her mother’s throat and took her crown.
This isn’t a story about swords and epic battles. It is about the war we wage internally with ourselves and how intelligence and manipulation can be a woman’s greatest set of skills. These characters engaged with me because they show how neither life nor people are black and white. We all have the capacity for cruelty as well as kindness and the line that keeps us from becoming that which we hate can be a very fragile thing. I loved this book.
From Our March 2018 Newsletter:
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
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