Detective, Mystery

Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths


Description

A murderer strikes at a school reunion—but the students are no strangers to death— in this propulsive, twisty thriller from the internationally bestselling author of the Ruth Galloway Mysteries. 

Is it possible to forget that you’ve committed a murder?

When Cassie Fitzgerald was at school in the late 90s, she and her friends killed a fellow student. Almost twenty years later, Cassie is a happily married mother who loves her job—as a police officer. She closely guards the secret she has all but erased from her memory.

Until her husband persuades her to go to a school reunion. Cassie catches up with her high-achieving old friends from the Manor Park School—among them two politicians, a rock star, and a famous actress. But then, shockingly, one of them is found dead in the school bathroom, supposedly from a drug overdose. As the victim was an eminent—and controversial—MP and the investigation is high profile, it’s headed by Cassie’s new boss, DI Harbinder Kaur, freshly promoted and newly arrived in London. The trouble is, Cassie can’t shake the feeling that one of them has killed again.

My Thoughts

Griffiths is already one of my go-to authors and I am so pleased to see her ramping up the Harbinder Kaur series at the same time she ends the Ruth Galloway series.

Kaur is a magnificent protagonist – wry, funny, brave, and well-able to hold her own in the male-dominated world of London CID. In this new entry, Kaur has moved from Sussex to London and is trying to acclimate herself to the big city. Her social awkwardness is endearing and familiar to anyone who has found themselves in a new, unfamiliar, but exciting city. That awkwardness has no effect on her ability to solve a murder, and this one is a doozie!

As usual, Griffiths’ writing is on pointe – a perfect blend of dialog and description, witty, and clever. This series is a winner and I really, really hope we see Harbinder on the screen sometime soon.

Makes You Think, Psychological, Fantasy

Sign Here by Claudia Lux


Description

A darkly humorous, surprisingly poignant, and utterly gripping debut novel about a guy who works in Hell (literally) and is on the cusp of a big promotion if only he can get one more member of the wealthy Harrison family to sell their soul.

Peyote Trip has a pretty good gig in the deals department on the fifth floor of Hell. Sure, none of the pens work, the coffee machine has been out of order for a century, and the only drink on offer is Jägermeister, but Pey has a plan—and all he needs is one last member of the Harrison family to sell their soul.

When the Harrisons retreat to the family lake house for the summer, with their daughter Mickey’s precocious new friend, Ruth, in tow, the opportunity Pey has waited a millennium for might finally be in his grasp. And with the help of his charismatic coworker Calamity, he sets a plan in motion.

But things aren’t always as they seem, on Earth or in Hell. And as old secrets and new dangers scrape away at the Harrisons’ shiny surface, revealing the darkness beneath, everyone must face the consequences of their choices.

My Thoughts

This is one of those books that is hard to characterize. Is it a mystery? Horror? Weirdly devised chick/bro lit? Bitingly witty workplace angst? This is ALL that! The author offers brilliantly imagined facets of Hell, ranging from the C-suite to never-ending puddles, and every page offers some new observation about daily life.

Keeping everything straight was a little chaotic, but well worth the effort. This is a multi-layered book that I can see generating some really lively book discussions about what it means to live a decent life. There is a lot to unpack here in terms of what it takes to tip people to the dark side.

If you’re familiar with the legendary story of Dr. Faust, you’ll recognize some of that. There is more of Marlowe’s original Faust here – the successful but unsatisfied man who sells his soul to the Devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasure – than Goethe’s intellectual Faust. Why do people want more and what is it about those in our society who are obscenely wealthy and fortunate that makes regular people idolize them? What kind of person would sell their very soul for unlimited wealth? Timely questions I’d say.

Final word – this is some of the best modern satire I’ve read in a long time.

Books About Books, Makes You Think, Mystery

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett


Description

Forty years ago, Steven “Smithy” Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. When he showed it to his remedial English teacher Miss Iles, she believed that it was part of a secret code that ran through all of Twyford’s novels. And when she disappeared on a class field trip, Smithy became convinced that she had been right.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Smithy decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. In a series of voice recordings on an old iPhone from his estranged son, Smithy alternates between visiting the people of his childhood and looking back on the events that later landed him in prison. But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code holds a great secret, and Smithy may just have the key.

“A modern Agatha Christie” (The Sunday Times, London), Janice Hallett has constructed a fiendishly clever, maddeningly original crime novel for lovers of word games, puzzles, and stories of redemption.

My Thoughts

I’ve been searching for a book that really captures and holds my attention and makes me think about the story and the clues.

The Twyford Code is it.

The firts part of the story is told in the unusual format of transcribed recorded messages which require the reader to pay attention in order to keep to the plot. I did find this a bit difficult to follow at times and thought there could be some editing done, but it all works out in the end.

I can often predict the twist in mysteries, but this one had me completely unsuspecting the action in the last part of the story, which is AMAZING!

This book makes you work – I found myself going back and re-reading passages several times to keep everything straight, and spent a lot of time re-reading parts after I got to the end.

Puzzle aficionados will adore this and I can see book clubs chewing on this one. Very well-done.

The mysterious connection between a teacher’s disappearance and an unsolved code in a children’s book is explored in this fresh novel from the author of the “clever and often wryly funny” novel The Appeal. (PopSugar)

Publication Date: January 24, 2023
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

General, Historical, Horror, Psychological

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd


Description

Based on a true story, an epic historical novel from the award-winning author of Things in Jars that illuminates the lives of two characters: a girl shipwrecked on an island off Western Australia and, three hundred years later, a boy finding a home with his grandfather on the very same island.

1629: A newly orphaned young girl named Mayken is bound for the Dutch East Indies on the Batavia, one of the greatest ships of the Dutch Golden Age. Curious and mischievous, Mayken spends the long journey going on misadventures above and below the deck, searching for a mythical monster. But the true monsters might be closer than she thinks.

1989: A lonely boy named Gil is sent to live off the coast of Western Australia among the seasonal fishing community where his late mother once resided. There, on the tiny reef-shrouded island, he discovers the story of an infamous shipwreck…

With her trademark “thrilling, mysterious, twisted, but more than anything, beautifully written” (Graham Norton, New York Times bestselling author) storytelling, Jess Kidd weaves “a true work of magic” (V.E. Schwab, author of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue) about friendship, sacrifice, brutality, and forgiveness.

My Thoughts

Jess Kidd continues to deliver absolutely stunning novels. The dual stories here of two young people, hundreds of years apart, are horrifying and gripping. The historical and modern settings are not the usual choices and create a fascinating ambience from start to finish.

What will keep you reading this story is Kidd’s ability to take you from the absolute worst of her characters to the best of the human spirit. The characters are childlike, playful, motherly, pompous, sly, clever, faithful, sadistic, confused, and eventually, at peace. There’s a touch of Lord of the Flies here which resulted in some scenes that were difficult to read.

Warning: there is some graphic horror here and the story is not for the faint of heart. If you can handle that, this is recommended.

Horror, Psychological

Little Eve by Catriona Ward


Description

From Catriona Ward, author of The Last House on Needless Street, comes the Shirley Jackson Award-winning novel Little Eve, a heart-pounding tale of faith and family, with a devastating twist.

“A great day is upon us. He is coming. The world will be washed away.”

On the wind-battered isle of Altnaharra, off the wildest coast of Scotland, a clan prepares to bring about the end of the world and its imminent rebirth.

The Adder is coming and one of their number will inherit its powers. They all want the honor, but young Eve is willing to do anything for the distinction.

A reckoning beyond Eve’s imagination begins when Chief Inspector Black arrives to investigate a brutal murder and their sacred ceremony goes terribly wrong.

And soon all the secrets of Altnaharra will be uncovered.

My Thoughts

Atmospheric, cunning, and with surprises all along the way, this early novel by Catriona Ward is wild. She writes in her forward that this was her second novel and it challenged her considerably. Now that she has published other novels and established her residency among the best horror writers of her generation, Little Eve has made a reappearance.

This is not the first book I’ve read recently where an established author has gone back and re-worked earlier stories. To a book, these re-workings have been some of the best work I’ve read, and Ward continues the trend with this masterful and haunting story.

Ward’s work often examines horror emanating from a human source. There are no mysterious monsters here – the monsters are all carried within the hearts of the characters. What will people do when driven to a point of madness? While there have been a few excellent tales told in recent years that feature remote villages and what can happen when even just one person becomes unstable and evil, Ward takes that trope and builds a fleshy, gruesome story that will haunt you.

Put simply, this is a goddamn great story. Read it on a cold, gray weekend and I bet you won’t sleep for a couple of days.

Fairytales, Fantasy, Folktales, Magical, Romance

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett


Description

A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love in the start of a heartwarming and enchanting new fantasy series.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party—or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones—the most elusive of all faeries—lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all—her own heart.

My Thoughts

This was exactly the book I needed in place of the negativity out in the real world right now. Heather Fawcett has given us a fabulous heroine who inhabits a world many of us fantasy fans only dream of – scholarly study of faeries. I mean, who wouldn’t love that job??? There’s no suspension of disbelief here. These things are REAL!

Fawcett’s writing is peppered with high-level vocabulary that incredibly flows through the text without bogging down the narrative. She tosses out words like “inchoate” like candy left as offerings for the fae. Main character Emily Wilde is delightful. She knows who she is and she definitely knows her value, even if she’s socially awkward. It’s refreshing and comforting to find a character who isn’t perfect and who lives in her skin no matter how odd that feels sometimes.

The only thing that keeps this from being a 5 star read for me is the goofy and IMHO unnecessary romantic entanglement that happens in the last half. However, I expect that will appeal to fans of romance/fantasy of which I am not one.

UPDATE: I’m re-reading this for a book club and I have to admit that my previous statement was off the mark. The relationship between Em and Wendell is, indeed, the very heart of the story. They seem to understand each other in ways others cannot, and I have begun to suspect that Emily may indeed be more than she seems.

Otherwise, this is a supremely fun read. I look forward to more of Fawcett’s stories.

Publication Date: January 10, 2023
Published By: Random House Publishing Group; Ballantine, Del Rey
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

General, Mythology, Witches

Macbeth’s Spinners by Justine Johnson Hemmestad


Description

Macbeth’s Spinners begins in 11th century Scotland with the supernatural transformation of the three Greek fates, but witchcraft only serves as a cover for their true mission. To thwart their ancient nemesis, the Greek god Apollo, they consolidate their power to help the warlord Macbeth, though Apollo is aware and tries to crush Macbeth in favor of the Northern invaders. But the purpose of the Fates and Macbeth are intertwined, and in the depths of secrecy and devotion the dominant Fate, Clotho, takes Macbeth into realms beyond himself to set him on his true path.

At its heart, Macbeth’s Spinners is a story about love that withstands place and time. Redemption seeps through the corners of the story and shows innermost vision to be a trustworthy guide. Haunting and sublime, the story follows the shift of mythic personalities at the most important points of their lives.

My Thoughts

This is definitely a niche book for those who enjoy highly unusual and imaginative re-tellings of well-known stories. Here, the story of Macbeth is merged with an unusual backstory for the three Fates involving Greek mythology and Apollo.

The writing is lush and evocative, full of beautiful words and language, which made me read passages aloud just to feel the words roll off my tongue. It is not, however, easy reading. This takes commitment and attention, but in the end is worth it.

This can’t be pigeonholed into any single genre because it is so original. That will likely limit its appeal to a small audience, who will likely read it again and again.

About the Author

Justine Johnston Hemmestad is an editor, the author of three novels, and is included in several anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries. She is a graduate of The University of Iowa and has also graduated from the English Literature Master’s Degree program at Northern Arizona University. Learn more about her at https://know-your-craft.webnode.page/.

Antimony and Elder Lace Press is donating part of the profits of Macbeth’s Spinners to Laughing at my Nightmare, a charitable organization that helps people with disabilities make the world more accessible.

Ghosties, Horror

Gallows Hill by Darcy Coates


Description

The Hull family has owned the Gallows Hill Winery for generations. Their wine wins awards. Their business prospers. Their family thrives. People whisper that the curse has awakened once more.

The sprawling old house has long been perched on top of a hill overlooking the nearby town, jealously guarding the estate’s secrets.

It’s been more than a decade since Margot Hull last saw her childhood home. She was young enough when she was sent away that she barely remembers its dark passageways and secret corners. But now she’s returned to bury her parents and reconnect with the winery that is her family’s legacy―and the bloody truth of exactly what lies buried beneath the crumbling estate. Alone in the sprawling, dilapidated building, Margot is forced to come face to face with the horrors of the past―and realize that she may be the next victim of a house that never rests…

Darcy Coates brings you a brand-new horror novel that’ll take your breath away… Gallows Hill is perfect for fans of Jennifer McMahon, Simone St. James, lovers of ghost stories and anyone mesmerized by the twisted secrets of the past.

My Thoughts

You can always depend on Darcy Coates to deliver a terrifying story full of curses, ghosts, and flawed characters. She surpasses her best with Gallows Hill, which is one of the best horror/ghost stories I read in 2022.

There are familiar tropes here – the long-lost child returned to the family home, the faithful servants bound to the land, the terrible family secret, and the ghosts who won’t be forgotten. In Coates’ hands, these things blend into one of the more horrifying stories I’ve read. It’s definitely making me rethink drinking wine!

Recommended.

Action Adventure, Mystery, Suspense, Women

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn


Description

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon.

They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller by New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills.

When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they’ve been marked for death.

Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They’re about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman—and a killer—of a certain age.

My Thoughts

Red meets Kill Bill in this delicious romp featuring four of the most entertaining but deadly female characters ever put to page. This is such a different type of story from Raybourn and proves she’s one of her generation’s most accomplished writers.

Fans of her 19th century series may not appreciate the departure, but I sincerely hope they give this a chance. Every character is drawn tautly but with warmth and wit, and the story is flawless.

If you’re looking for a purely entertaining, action-packed adventure, this is your book. I will be astonished if this doesn’t get adapted to film.

General, Magical, Women

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen


Description

From the acclaimed author of Garden Spells comes an enchanting tale of lost souls, lonely strangers, secrets that shape us, and how the right flock can guide you home.

Down a narrow alley in the small coastal town of Mallow Island, South Carolina, lies a stunning cobblestone building comprised of five apartments. It’s called The Dellawisp and it is named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside its human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.

When Zoey Hennessey comes to claim her deceased mother’s apartment at The Dellawisp, she meets her quirky, enigmatic neighbors including a girl on the run, a grieving chef whose comfort food does not comfort him, two estranged middle-aged sisters, and three ghosts. Each with their own story. Each with their own longings. Each whose ending isn’t yet written.

When one of her new neighbors dies under odd circumstances the night Zoey arrives, she is thrust into the mystery of The Dellawisp, which involves missing pages from a legendary writer whose work might be hidden there. She soon discovers that many unfinished stories permeate the place, and the people around her are in as much need of healing from wrongs of the past as she is. To find their way they have to learn how to trust each other, confront their deepest fears, and let go of what haunts them.

Delightful and atmospheric, Other Birds is filled with magical realism and moments of pure love that won’t let you go. Sarah Addison Allen shows us that between the real and the imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.

My Thoughts

I rarely re-read books in ARC form (I wait until I have the final copy in hand), but I re-read this one. I’ve been waiting for a new story from Sarah Addison Allen for a long time. I found her earlier books beautiful, evocative, and soothing. Other Birds is all that and more.

The thread of mothers and daughters that winds through this tale is what hooked me, I think. Allen gives us a flawed protagonist striking out on her own for the first time and trying to learn more about the mother she doesn’t remember. She begins her new life in a place her mother loved, where she encounters other sorts of mothers and daughters and sons, all with complicated maternal relationships.

Allen weaves a rich and gentle story about ordinary people living seemingly ordinary lives, who are touched by magic for just a little while. The stories and their many pathways circle around, duck under, and weave back in to create a bubble of a world that is full of love, regret, and hope.

One of the best of the year.