When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen


Description*

A haunting novel about a black woman who returns to her hometown for a plantation wedding and the horror that ensues as she reconnects with the blood-soaked history of the land and the best friends she left behind.

More than a decade ago, Mira fled her small, segregated hometown in the south to forget. With every mile she traveled, she distanced herself from her past: from her best friend Celine, mocked by their town as the only white girl with black friends; from her old neighborhood; from the eerie Woodsman plantation rumored to be haunted by the spirits of slaves; from the terrifying memory of a ghost she saw that terrible day when a dare-gone-wrong almost got Jesse—the boy she secretly loved—arrested for murder. But now Mira is back in Kipsen to attend Celine’s wedding at the plantation, which has been transformed into a lush vacation resort. Mira hopes to reconnect with her friends, and especially, Jesse, to finally tell him the truth about her feelings and the events of that devastating long-ago day.

But for all its fancy renovations, the Woodsman remains a monument to its oppressive racist history. The bar serves antebellum drinks, entertainments include horrifying reenactments, and the service staff is nearly all black. Yet the darkest elements of the plantation’s past have been carefully erased—rumors that slaves were tortured mercilessly and that ghosts roam the lands, seeking vengeance on the descendants of those who tormented them, which includes most of the wedding guests. As the weekend unfolds, Mira, Jesse, and Celine are forced to acknowledge their history together, and to save themselves from what is to come.

About the Author

Dr. LaTanya McQueen has an MFA from Emerson College, a PhD from the University of Missouri, and was the Robert P. Dana Emerging Writer Fellow at Cornell College. She is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Coe College in Iowa. Check out her website at https://latanyamcqueen.com

This is one of the few books I’ve read this year that I absolutely could not put down. There’s everything here – a mysterious backstory that is slowly revealed, characters who experienced trauma in the past and are now thrown together again after years apart, an old nightmare re-emerging, and the uber-spooky setting of an old South plantation haunted by the spirits of enslaved people.

McQueen is skilled at building tension by introducing just enough information to keep you turning pages. Her storytelling is electric and spine-tingling, with excellent character development and vivid descriptions of people, things, and places. Her use of the shameful past of the torture, murder, and degradation of enslaved people is horrifying enough, but the concept she introduces here about the spirits of those same people is terrifying (hence the title).

Fans of atmospheric horror will swallow this one whole. Check the libraries & bookstores for it this summer.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Published By: Harper Perennial
Thanks to Netgalley* for the review copy

Kevin Belton’s Cookin’ Louisiana by Kevin Belton


Description*

Kevin Belton’s fourth cookbook and television series focuses on the amazing food found throughout Louisiana. The star of New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton heads to multiple parishes found across Louisiana to explore dishes and unique flavor profiles associated with each area of the state. Kevin Belton’s Cookin’ Louisiana has 78 recipes (3 from each episode of the coordinating TV series) along with a generous helping of Kevin’s captivating stories and humor. Recipes include Smoked Meat Loaf with Sweet Glaze, Louisiana Fish on the Half Shell, Cane Syrup Cake, Pumpkin Soup, Fried Alligator Bites, and Shrimp Scampi Risotto.

The thing I enjoy the most about Kevin Belton is his down-to-earth authenticity, and that shines through every page of this delightful book.

The book is a wonderful blend of Belton’s storytelling about his home state of Louisiana and a collection of delicious recipes. Heavy on seafood, but including plenty of meat for the carnivores, Belton serves up stews, gumbos, stuffed veggies, and even some desserts.

I was happy to find a recipe for his Creole seasoning, too, and made that straightaway. I’ll be trying out a few of the recipes and expect that my Great Lakes born & bred husband will devour every one.

ARCs of cookbooks are often difficult to follow because the formatting and photos often aren’t fully correct, so there were a few recipes jumbled together, but I was able to figure them out.

Belton’s stories about the different parishes in Louisiana are charming and informative, but sometimes did not really connect with recipes offered in the chapter. I’m guessing that may be an editing issue that will be corrected prior to publication.

Overall, an excellent cookbook from a guy who cooks real food with history and meaning and who, like all excellent cooks, has a story for everything!

Published By: Gibbs-Smith
Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Thanks to *Edelweiss.Plus for the review copy

The Promise Witch by Celine Kiernan


Description*

Third in a darkly enchanting trilogy after Begone the Raggedy Witches and The Little Grey Girl, The Promise Witch opens in a time of heat and thirst. The deposed old tyrant of a queen sent a cursed winter to bury Witches Borough in snow. Months later, the clouds have vanished, but an equally cursed drought has settled over the castle and its river, now bone-dry. Witches Borough is dying, and though Mup is the pathfinder, the stitcher of worlds, is she strong enough to mend a scorched landscape and bring the water home? Enter a raggedy witch trailing a storm of ashes: Magda, Crow’s mother. She wants Mup to fulfill a promise. She wants Mup to help her. And woe betide any who stand in her way. Irish storyteller Celine Kiernan’s breathtaking tale of family, loyalty, and risk caps a timeless trilogy brimming with drama and danger—and heartbreaking resonance to the struggles of today.

I discovered Celine Kiernan’s series quite by accident while browsing online. I was thoroughly captivated by Begone the Raggedy Witches and eagerly read the follow-up Little Grey Girl. In The Promise Witch, Kiernan brings the family through the hardest of times, guiding Mup and Mam and the people through terrible thirst and vengeance from a power in decline.

As in the two previous stories, Mup is the center, the “stitcher of worlds” who provides the path for the new through the terrible landscape of the old.

Kiernan’s characterization is outstanding. Mup, wise beyond her years and powerful beyond belief, is still a little girl who needs her Mam. And Mam is a little girl all grown up finally understanding her role in this magical world.

This can be read as a straightforward fantasy for middle graders, but also as an allegory for climate change. Kiernan layers magic, friendship, and loyalty over top of environmental changes similar to what’s happening in our world. Her story implies that good change can happen when people come together, trust one another, and make decisions that may involve sacrifice for the benefit of others.

This is storytelling at its best. Highly recommended.

Published By: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: June 15, 2021
Thanks to *Edelweiss.Plus for the review copy

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker


Description

In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

The Golem and the Jinni was one of my top reads in 2013 and I still recommend it to readers in my library. I was excited to discover this sequel and dove in right away.

That was a couple months ago.

As with Golem, Wecker takes her time introducing characters and floats the various storylines along a gently running river. Normally, I would find this a lovely and welcome difference to the suspense stories I usually read; in March 2021, I found it impossible to keep my attention on the story and had to put it down. This had nothing to do with the book – it was everything going on in both the world at large and my own little corner of it.

Fast forward to May and a slightly calmer environment. I picked this up again and spent a wonderful weekend immersed in the world of Chava and Ahmad. It was my time to read this.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of Chava, Ahmad, and all the people who touch their lives, as well as the way Wecker ties in the significant historic events of the times, To be sure, there are lots of stories here, but Wecker keeps them all bound together, much in the way that people interact in real life. She presents a view of community and caring among people who are very different and shows that human decency can transcend differences – a message we all need right now.

Recommended.

Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Published By: Harper
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey


Description

Two people. Infinite lifetimes. One impossible choice.

Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.

But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end.

It’s rare that I give a one word review, but this one warrants it, on repeat:

Brilliant

Brilliant

Brilliant

Brilliant

Publication Date: April 27, 2021
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear


Description

As Europe buckles under Nazi occupation, Maisie Dobbs investigates a possible murder that threatens devastating repercussions for Britain’s war efforts in this latest installment in the New York Times bestselling mystery series.

October 1941. While on a delivery, young Freddie Hackett, a message runner for a government office, witnesses an argument that ends in murder. Crouching in the doorway of a bombed-out house, Freddie waits until the coast is clear. But when he arrives at the delivery address, he’s shocked to come face to face with the killer.

Dismissed by the police when he attempts to report the crime, Freddie goes in search of a woman he once met when delivering a message: Maisie Dobbs. While Maisie believes the boy and wants to help, she must maintain extreme caution: she’s working secretly for the Special Operations Executive, assessing candidates for crucial work with the French resistance. Her two worlds collide when she spots the killer in a place she least expects. She soon realizes she’s been pulled into the orbit of a man who has his own reasons to kill—reasons that go back to the last war.

As Maisie becomes entangled in a power struggle between Britain’s intelligence efforts in France and the work of Free French agents operating across Europe, she must also contend with the lingering question of Freddie Hackett’s state of mind. What she uncovers could hold disastrous consequences for all involved in this compelling chapter of the “series that seems to get better with every entry” (Wall Street Journal).

The Maisie Dobbs series has to be one of the best historical mystery series ever written. Jacqueline Winspear has built a solid-as-stone world around Maisie, with people, places and things so detailed and well-researched that the reader is enveloped by it all.

Fans of the series will find a much-tested, more mature Maisie who is finally figuring out what really matters. She has made her peace with the past and laid to rest old ghosts while preparing to launch herself into a whole new chapter of life. This Maisie is a little less brittle, a little less compliant, and a lot more sure of herself and of what’s right. There is an interesting narrative thread throughout about fear and balancing it, as evident in the title. Fear is a balance beam – stay in the middle and you stay alive; go too far one way and you become reckless while too far the other way is paralysis. This was especially poignant given that the story occurs in Great Britain during the days leading up to the entry of the United States into World War II when Allied leaders were most definitely walking a balance beam.

We see a few peripheral characters turn up in new roles, and see some old favorites in a new light as Maisie “does her bit” for the war effort while trying to help a young lad who witnessed a murder during an air raid in London. The story moves along at a good clip and keeps the reader invested.

Series fans will slurp this up in one sitting. If you haven’t read Maisie Dobbs, get you to a library right now and start with number one!

The Cookie Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


Description

The ultimate cookie cookbook, from best-selling author of The Baking Bible Rose Levy Beranbaum

This is your must-have cookie book, featuring nearly every cookie imaginable, from rustic Cranberry Chocolate Chippers to elegant French macarons, and everything in between—simple drop cookies, rolled-and-cut holiday cookies, brownies and other bars, pretty sandwich cookies, luxurious frosted or chocolate-dipped treats, and much more. With legendary baker Rose Levy Beranbaum’s foolproof recipes—which feature detail-oriented instructions that eliminate guesswork, notes for planning ahead, ingenious tips, and other golden rules for success—it’s easy to whip up a batch of irresistible, crowd-pleasing cookies anytime, for any occasion. Standout classics and new favorites include: Rose’s Dream Chocolate Chip Cookies, Lemon Lumpies, Black Tahini Crisps, Peanut Butter and Jelly Buttons, Double Ginger Molasses Cookies, Caramel Surprise Snickerdoodles, Mom’s Coconut Snowball Kisses, Chocolate Sablés, Gingerbread Folks (with a special sturdy variation for gingerbread houses)Pecan Freezer Squares, Brownie Doughnuts, Brandy Snap Rolls, Plus “extra special” details including homemade Dulce de Leche, Wicked Good Ganache, Lemon Curd, and more.

I usually don’t get emotional about cookbooks, but this one is special to me. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s seminal Rose’s Christmas Cookies was the book I turned to when I was newly married and trying to bake after my mother’s death. That book has pride of place on my bookshelf and is obviously well-used with dog-eared pages stained with drops of egg and batter, some even falling out. Some of the cookies in that book have become part of the holiday traditions for my family and friends, and are baked with love every single year.

The Cookie Bible is a welcome addition and update to Rose’s Christmas Cookies. Beranbaum includes old favorites, even recounting the same stories as she used in Christmas Cookies, which feels like rediscovering long-lost relatives. Some of those recipes are absolute classics and do not need updates (like Rose’s Crescents and Coconut Snowball Kisses) while others have been updated to include trendier ingredients like pistachios and tahini. And, of course, there are a whole lot of new recipes. Hurray!

The instructions included here are pretty much fool-proof, and Beranbaum kindly provides them for multiple methods of mixing. She includes hints and tips gleaned and learned from decades of cookie making, and provides useful information in a chatty but knowledgeable “basics” section in the front. In fact, she solved an issue that’s been driving me crazy – I did not know that there is more protein in unbleached flour and that makes your cookies browner and more cake-like – both things that have been wrong recently with my tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie recipe.

I’m telling my family this book is the only thing I really want for Christmas this year! Highly recommended.

Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Published By: Cooking, Food & Wine
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves


Description

Ann Cleeves—New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—returns with the extraordinary follow-up to The Long Call, soon to be a major TV series too.

North Devon is enjoying a rare hot summer with tourists flocking to its coastline. Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder–Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed with a shard of one of his glassblower daughter’s broken vases. Dr Yeo seems an unlikely murder victim. He’s a good man, a public servant, beloved by his daughter. Matthew is unnerved, though, to find that she is a close friend of Jonathan, his husband.

Then another body is found–killed in a similar way. Matthew soon finds himself treading carefully through the lies that fester at the heart of his community and a case that is dangerously close to home. DI Matthew Venn returns in The Heron’s Cry, in Ann Cleeves powerful next novel, proving once again that she is a master of her craft.

Cleeves’ second in the Matthew Venn series is just as twisty and slick as her first, featuring skillful character development as well as engaging description and dialog. Cleeves is by far one of the best mystery writers practicing today, including intricate plots with lots of little off-shoot stories meant to deceive the reader until the final reveal.

The peek into the relationships that have shaped Matthew, Jen, and Ross lead to emotional investment in the story and characters while the detective work keeps you turning pages. Fans of Louise Penny and Martha Grimes (and of Cleeves’ other series – Vera and Shetland) will thoroughly enjoy this one.

Recommended.

Publication Date: September 7, 2021
Published By: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn


Description

A princess is missing and a peace treaty is on the verge of collapse in this new Veronica Speedwell adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club–an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women–Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela’s chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves–and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica’s resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica’s own family–the royalty who has never claimed her.

The Veronica Speedwell series continues to entertain. In this new entry, we find a newly intimate Veronica and Stoker, still saucy and arrogant and still learning each other fully. The duo encounters another raft of colorful, larger-than-life characters who lead them on another hair-raising, mind-bending adventure involving alpinists, cut ropes, missing princesses, the growing threat of Germany, and those who wish to stem the tide of progress.

Raybourn’s writing is sharp, with the witty dialogue we’ve come to expect in the series coupled with a well-researched and fascinating plot. Why isn’t this a TV series????

Recommended.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Gesethmane Brown Series by Alexia Gordon


If you follow this blog, you know that I read mostly mystery and suspense novels. Events of the last year have prompted me to become more aware of who is not represented in the books I read, and I have noticed a lack of black and brown characters and authors in the mysteries I tend to read.

I was was happy to discover the Gesethmane Brown series by Alexia Gordon a few weeks ago, and have spent some quality time burning through the 5 books in the series.

The first in the series, Murder in G Major, introduces us to Gesethmane Brown. Gesethmane is an accomplished African-American violinist and conductor, a Maestra, who finds herself stranded in the small Irish village of Dunmullach where she accepts temporary lodging in a quaint cottage formerly owned by one of her musical heroes, Eamon McCarthy. Little does she know that she will soon become acquainted with McCarthy’s ghost, who convinces her that his death and that of his wife did not happen as reported.

Gesethmane also accepts a position as music teacher to a group of unruly boys who need a firm hand to get their orchestra in shape for an all-county competition. As she navigates the school, village, and her ghostly roommate, the series structure is slowly built. Gesethmane quickly becomes the (fond) thorn-in-the-side of local garda (police) Iollan O’Reilly, and makes friends with the local parish priest Fr. Tim and with fellow teacher Frankie Grennan. These three, along with Eamon, form the basis of Gesethmane’s support team in the series.

There are 5 books in the series with each titled using a musical term. Gesethmane’s work as a musician is acknowledged throughout the series as being world-class, and she is clearly the one in charge in each book. She is smart, funny, loyal, and determined.

Gordon builds upon Gesethmane’s relationships in each book, revealing more about her past life and that of the village. The addition of the ghost is a fun aspect to the series, which places this in good company with other paranormal mysteries. The writing is skillful and the plots interesting. These are fun, cozy mysteries that will provide a few hours of entertainment for the reader.

I listened to the audiobooks of all 5 and preferred the narrator of 2-4, although the “southern” accent attributed to Gesethmane seems contrived (she’s from Virginia) and was often jarring. City of Rochester readers, all 5 titles are available in audio form through Hoopla. All you need is your library card.