Dead and Gondola by Ann Claire


Description

In this series debut, a mysterious bookshop visitor dies under murderous circumstances, compelling the Christie sisters and their cat, Agatha, to call on all they’ve learned about solving mysteries from their favorite novelist.

Ellie Christie is thrilled to begin a new chapter. She’s recently returned to her tiny Colorado hometown to run her family’s historic bookshop with her elder sister, Meg, and their beloved cat, Agatha. Perched in a Swiss-style hamlet accessible by ski gondola and a twisty mountain road, the Book Chalet is a famed bibliophile destination known for its maze of shelves and relaxing reading lounge. At least, until trouble blows in with a wintry whiteout. A man is found dead on the gondola, and a rockslide throws the town into lockdown—no one in, no one out.

The victim was a mysterious stranger who’d visited the bookshop. At the time, his only blunders had been disrupting a book club and leaving behind a first-edition Agatha Christie novel, written under a pseudonym. However, once revealed, the man’s identity shocks the town. Motives and secrets swirl like the snow, but when the police narrow in on the sisters’ close friends, the Christies have to act.

Although the only Agatha in their family tree is their cat, Ellie and Meg know a lot about mysteries and realize they must summon their inner Miss Marple to trek through a blizzard of clues before the killer turns the page to their final chapter.

My Thoughts

This is a fun, light mystery centered around a bookshop in Colorado, with a general theme of vintage crime novels. There are the usual quirky villagers, the plucky heroine and her sidekicks, and the requisite kitty cat.

All the cozy boxes are ticked, but what gets a recommendation from me are the capable writing, decent plotting, generally witty dialog (I especially loved Gram!) and the first round of character development in this series debut. This is one to watch.

Publication Date: November 1, 2022
Published By: Random House Publishing: Bantam & Ballantine
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Man Without Shelter by Indrajit Garai


Description

Lucy, a young lawyer, is on the fast track to partnership in her firm. Arnault, a convicted felon, leaves prison after two decades through a new piece of evidence in his favor. The two of them come together during a rescue operation at the centre of Paris, and then go on with their separate lives. Months later, their paths cross again at a camp for migrants on the edge of Paris, where their stories merge in a surprising way.

My Thoughts

This book came to me at a time when I was reviewing spending proposals for the Rochester (NY) Peace Collective project. Several of those proposals involved services and programs for people re-entering the world after incarceration, so the opening chapters describing Arnault’s challenges after release resonated with me.

Garai goes on to weave an intricate story about the unexpected connection made between two unlikely people, and how that connection stretches, unbroken, over time. The themes of redemption and forgiveness are layered with intense description and skillful storytelling leading up to a satisfying ending.

The challenges faced by people re-entering the world after incarceration are very real, and Garai accurately describes the seemingly endless circle of frustrating experiences faced by former prisoners.

This would make a good book club selection. Recommended.

Published By: the author
Publication Date: September 5, 2022
Thanks to the author for the review copy

The Girl in White by Lindsay Currie


Description

For fans of Small Spaces and the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine comes a chilling story about a twelve-year old girl who must face down the most notorious ghost in her haunted East coast town to stop a centuries-old curse that threatens to destroy everything.

Mallory hasn’t quite adapted to life in her new town of Eastport yet. Maybe it’s because everyone is obsessed with keeping the town’s reputation as the most cursed town in the US. And thanks to the nightmares she’s had since arriving, Mallory hardly sleeps. Combined with the unsettling sensation of being watched, she’s quickly becoming convinced there’s more to her town. Something darker.

When Mallory has a terrifying encounter with the same old woman from her dreams, she knows she has to do something—but what? With Eastport gearing up to celebrate the anniversary of their first recorded legend Mallory is forced to investigate the one legend she’s always secretly been afraid of . . . Sweet Molly.

My Thoughts

There’s always one spooky middle grade book published every autumn that completely blows me away. The Girl in White is that book for Fall 2022. Currie spins a riveting and eerie story that will make even the bravest reader shiver and check their closet.

The ghost of Sweet Molly is at once scary and sad. Her connection to Mallory and Joshua is visceral and very frightening at times. Currie does an excellent job of developing her characters, building tension with floor creaks, lost time spent digging holes, and lots of unexplained and disturbing incidents that all come together in a wild, apocalyptic ending.

In addition to the terrifying elements of the story, Currie also builds some nice relationships between Mallory and her new friends, and also between Mallory and her parents. It’s the power of friendship, though, that really shines here

Those readers who revel in the crisp air and strange stories of autumn will surely enjoy this one. Recommended!

Publication Date: September 6, 2022
Published By: Sourcebooks KIDS
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Amari & the Great Game by B.B. Alston


Description

Sequel to the New York Times bestseller Amari and the Night Brothers!

After finding her brother and saving the entire supernatural world, Amari Peters is convinced her first full summer as a Junior Agent will be a breeze.

But between the fearsome new Head Minister’s strict anti-magician agenda, fierce Junior Agent rivalries, and her brother Quinton’s curse steadily worsening, Amari’s plate is full. So when the secretive League of Magicians offers her a chance to stand up for magiciankind as its new leader, she declines. She’s got enough to worry about!

But her refusal allows someone else to step forward, a magician with dangerous plans for the League. This challenge sparks the start of the Great Game, a competition to decide who will become the Night Brothers’ successor and determine the future of magiciankind.

The Great Game is both mysterious and deadly, but among the winner’s magical rewards is Quinton’s last hope—so how can Amari refuse?

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this magical second book in the New York Times and Indie bestselling Supernatural Investigations trilogy—perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

My Thoughts

B.B. Alston’s sophomore Amari story is FIRE, my friends!

Amari and the Night Brothers was one of my favorite middle grade books last year, and the Great Game is a worthy successor to that romp of a book.

Here, we find Amari in some trouble. She’s still trying to bring her brother Quentin out of the cursed coma he’s been in, and she’s trying to navigate a summer without her best friend, plus anticipating a new school year without her as well. Then the world turns upside down and it appears Amari may lose everything unless she can figure out how to stop a war.

There’s excitement beyond measure here, and a cliffhanger ending that will have fans eagerly waiting for the next installment. Alston’s writing is some of the best I’ve read in middle grade fiction and I find myself hoping he’s got an adult fantasy-adventure or two waiting in the wings.

The kids are gonna love this one!

Publication Date: August 30, 2022
Published By: Harper Collins Children’s Books, Balzer & Bray
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

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Description

Alice Feeney, the New York Times bestselling Queen of Twists returns…with a family reunion that leads to murder.

After years of avoiding each other, Daisy Darker’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party in Nana’s crumbling gothic house on a tiny tidal island. Finally back together one last time, when the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the rest of the world for eight hours.

The family arrives, each of them harboring secrets. Then at the stroke of midnight, as a storm rages, Nana is found dead. And an hour later, the next family member follows…

Trapped on an island where someone is killing them one by one, the Darkers must reckon with their present mystery as well as their past secrets, before the tide comes in and all is revealed.

My Thoughts

While the dysfunctional family with the terrible secret is a familiar trope, Feeney turns it on its ear here by pairing it with an atmospheric, creepy setting reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s masterwork, And Then There Were None. She does a fantastic job of creating a serious claustrophobic tension that puts every single character on edge. The pre-pub comparisons to Christie’s work helped me guess one of the two big twists, but that did not disrupt my enjoyment of the story. Feeney explores the lifelong consequences of bad decisions and mixes karma with gleeful revenge.

Feeney has a way of peeling back the layers of her characters to reveal the worst. She writes some pretty horrible humans into her books, and gives us a couple of doozies here. (Daisy’s sisters are the worst.) Daisy’s relationship with her sisters reminded me a bit of the Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley, except Daisy’s relationship with her sisters is far darker. There’s a lot that’s been written about “unlikable characters” in books, but I think Feeney *wants* us to dislike these characters and, in the end, it doesn’t matter if we like them or not. It’s their actions that started the story and it’s there actions that will end it. None of the action would have been possible if the characters were likable!

Fans of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins will enjoy this dark and twisty mystery. I’ll be recommending this one a lot.

“Wow! Echoes of Christie’s And Then There Were None but turned into something wonderfully original and wrapped in a genuinely creepy dysfunctional family fairy-tale of a novel, this takes Feeney to the next level. I LOVED IT!”
—Sarah Pinborough, bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes and Insomnia

Publication Date: August 30, 2022
Published By: Flatiron Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott


Description

In the tradition of modern fairy tales like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver comes a sweeping epic rich in Eastern European folklore—a debut novel about the ancestral hauntings that stalk us, and the uncanny power of story.

The Yaga siblings—Bellatine, a young woodworker, and Isaac, a wayfaring street performer and con artist—have been estranged since childhood, separated both by resentment and by wide miles of American highway. But when they learn that they are to receive a mysterious inheritance, the siblings are reunited—only to discover that their bequest isn’t land or money, but something far stranger: a sentient house on chicken legs. 

Thistlefoot, as the house is called, has arrived from the Yagas’ ancestral home in Russia—but not alone. A sinister figure known only as the Longshadow Man has tracked it to American shores, bearing with him violent secrets from the past: fiery memories that have hidden in Isaac and Bellatine’s blood for generations. As the Yaga siblings embark with Thistlefoot on a final cross-country tour of their family’s traveling theater show, the Longshadow Man follows in relentless pursuit, seeding destruction in his wake. Ultimately, time, magic, and legacy must collide—erupting in a powerful conflagration to determine who gets to remember the past and craft a new future.  

An enchanted adventure illuminated by Jewish myth and adorned with lyrical prose as tantalizing and sweet as briar berries, Thistlefoot is an immersive modern fantasy saga by a bold new talent.

My Thoughts

This is a remarkable story. Loosely based on the old Russian tale of Baba Yaga and full of symbolism, this tale will haunt you. Nethercott’s protagonists – brother & sister Isaac and Bellatine – are challenged to resolve trauma through generational memory as they inherit the infamous Baba’s house on chicken legs along with an age-old enemy out to destroy the house and those connected to it.

There are so many layers to unfold here – lots of references to Jewish history, family trauma across generations, magic and mayhem, and ultimately the power of story and the bond between family members.

Lately, I find my attention often wanders when I read, and there are few books that I’m unable to put down. This is one. The story is so intricate and beautifully rendered. IMHO, Nethercott immediately joins the ranks of Naomi Novik and Katherine Arden with her glorious and deadly prose and an absolutely stunning story.

Publication Date: September 13, 2022
Published By: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group: Anchor
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

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Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman Banner

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

On Tour August 8 – September 2

Synopsis:

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

The tortured spirits of the dead haunt a Regency-era English manor—but the true danger lies in the land of the living in the third installment in the Lily Adler mysteries, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn.

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, the Carroways, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family seems delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Intrigued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—only to find that tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found killed in her bed.

The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

My Thoughts

Schellman’s second in the Lily Adler series places her firmly atop the collection of authors currently writing Regency mysteries. Lily is an admirable protagonist – intelligent, resilient, curious, and determined. The mystery here includes a “ghost” which adds a Gothic element to the story; in true Gothic form, this becomes more a tale of raw human emotion than supernatural in conclusion. I read a lot of these kinds of mysteries but what stands out for me in Schellman’s books is the attention paid to building tension through the emotions and experiences of her characters. I know that’s the authors job, but some are less successful at understanding, capturing, and presenting real emotion seamlessly. When I read the first Lily Adler book, I was reminded of the first time I read Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters who was, IMHO, arguably one of the best historical mystery writers. That sense was repeated in Death at the Manor, making me think Katharine Schellman is definitely a writer to watch as she develops the Lily Adler series. I’ll be recommending this to my readers and patrons at the library.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 1639100784 (ISBN13: 9781639100781)
Series: Lily Adler Mystery #3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

As they walked, Mr. Wright fell in step next to Ofelia. “Have you ever seen a ghost before, Lady Carroway?”

“I have not,” she replied, as polite as ever in spite of the hint of skepticism in her voice. “Pray, what does it look like?”

“Like a lady in white and gray,” he said, and Lily was surprised to see how serious his expression was. His frivolous, unctuous manner had dropped away, and he shivered a little as he gestured toward the windows. “No one has seen her face. The first time I saw her she was standing right there, bathed in moonlight, when I was returning from a late night in the village. And my sister saw her in the early morning only two days ago. Some nights, we have heard her wails echoing through the halls, even when she is nowhere to be seen.”

Lily exchanged a look with her aunt, who seemed surprised by the detail in Thomas Wright’s story and the quaver in his voice. Either he believed wholeheartedly in his ghost, or he was putting on a very convincing performance for his audience.

“And what does she do?” Ofelia asked, sounding a little more somber now, as they drew

to a halt in front of the windows. The small party looked around the corner of the hall. It was unremarkable enough, with several large paintings, and a tall, handsome curio cabinet standing in an alcove. An old-fashioned tapestry hung across one wall, though it was worn and faded enough that it was hard to tell exactly what picture it had originally presented.

“Nothing, so far,” Mr. Wright said, a sort of forced theatricality in his voice that left Lily puzzled.

She had expected, based on what Mr. Spencer had said the night before, to find an eager showman in Thomas Wright, ready to bask in the attention of curious neighbors, not a true believer in the supernatural. Glancing at Mr. Spencer out of the corner of her eye, she thought he looked equally puzzled.

“She stands and weeps, or floats around the hall and wails. Usually, if someone tries to draw close, she vanishes. But last month—” Mr. Wright’s voice dropped a little. He still glanced

uneasily toward the other end of the hall, as if momentarily distracted or looking for someone, before quickly returning his attention to his audience. “Last month she became angry when one of our housemaids came upon her unexpectedly. The lady in gray pursued her down the hall, wailing. Poor Etta was so scared that she fell down the stairs in her haste to get away. That

was when our servants started leaving.”

“I trust the housemaid has recovered?” Mr. Spencer asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“She has,” Mr. Wright replied. “But no one has tried to approach the lady in gray again. We think she wishes to be left alone.”

“Well,” Lily said, attempting a return to lightness, “as far as ghosts go, that sounds reasonable enough. I confess I feel that way often enough myself, especially after too many busy nights in a row.”

Ofelia, who had been looking a little wide-eyed, giggled, and Mr. Spencer quickly covered a cough that might have been a chuckle.

Mr. Wright scowled, his expression halfway between unease and displeasure. “I take it you are not a woman who believes in ghosts, Mrs. Adler?”

“I have never had the opportunity to find out whether or not I am,” Lily replied. “The homes I have lived in have all been stubbornly unhaunted.”

“For your sake, madam, I hope they remain that way,” Mr. Wright said. There was an unexpected note of resignation in his voice as he added, “It is not a comfortable thing to live with.”

“I would have thought you to be fond of yours, sir,” Lily said. “If you dislike her so, why go to the trouble of showing visitors around and telling them the story?”

Mr. Wright smiled, some of the showman creeping back into his manner. “Because you are here, dear ladies. And how could I resist such a beautiful audience?”

“Tell me, has your family any idea who this lady in gray might be?” Lily’s aunt asked politely.

He nodded, his voice dropping even further, and they all reflexively drew closer to hear what he was saying. “We each have our own theory, of course,” he said. “I believe it is my father’s great-aunt, Tabitha, whose bedroom was just this way. If you would care to see the spot?” He held out his arm to Ofelia, who took it. Mr. Wright, engrossed in his story once more, turned to lead them down the closest passage. “Tabitha died there some fifty years ago, of a broken heart, they say, after news arrived of the death of her betrothed in the colonies—”

His story was suddenly cut off by screaming. Not a single shriek of surprise or dismay, but a cry that seemed to go on without ceasing. Thomas Wright froze, the genial smile dropping from his face in shock. “Selina?” he called.

The screaming continued, growing more hysterical. Dropping Ofelia’s arm, he ran toward the sound, which was coming from the far hallway, past the stairs. The others, stunned into stillness, stared at each other, unsure what to do.

“I think it’s Miss Wright,” Mr. Spencer said, all traces of merriment gone from his face. “Wait here—I shall see if they need any assistance.” He made to go after, but Thomas Wright was already returning, rushing down the hall next to another man, who was carrying the screaming woman.

“The parlor, just next to you, Spencer!” Mr. Wright called. “Open the door!”

Mr. Spencer, the closest to the door, flung it open, and the hysterical woman was carried in. She was laid on a chaise longue in the middle of the dim little room, Mr. Spencer stepping forward to help settle her as the man who had carried her stepped back. Lily, glancing

around as she and the other ladies crowded through the door, thought it looked like a space reserved for the family’s private use, which made sense on an upper floor. Thomas Wright knelt next to the hysterical woman for a moment, clasping her hands.

“Selina?” he said loudly. But she kept screaming, her eyes wide and darting about the room without seeing anything. Judging by the round cheeks and dark hair they both shared, Lily thought she must be his sister. Whether they had other features in common was hard to tell when Selina Wright was in the middle of hysterics.

“Miss Wright?” Matthew Spencer tried giving her shoulders a shake. “You must stop this at once!”

But she clearly could not hear either of them. Thomas Wright took a deep breath and looked grim as, with a surprising degree of practicality, he slapped her across the face.

The screams stopped abruptly, her blank expression resolving into one of terror before her eyes latched on her brother. Her face crumpled in misery. “Oh, Thomas!” she sobbed, gasping for breath.

He gave her shoulders a little shake. “Selina, stop this—you must tell me what happened.” But she only shook her head, clutching at his coat with desperate fists and dropping her head against his shoulder, her weeping shaking them both. Mr. Wright turned to the servant who had carried his sister. “Isaiah, what happened to her?”

Isaiah was a young Black man with very short, curly hair and broad shoulders. His plain, dark clothing marked him clearly as a servant, though it was nothing so formal as the livery that

would have been worn in a great house. His wide stance spoke of confidence, and the easy way that Thomas Wright addressed him indicated long service and familiarity.

But there was no confidence on the manservant’s face as he hesitated, gulping visibly and shaking his head. His eyes were wide, and he stumbled over his words as he tried to answer, either unsure how to respond or not wanting to. “It’s . . . it’s Mrs. Wright, sir. She didn’t open her door when we knocked, and Miss Wright . . . she asked me to open it, since no one has the key . . . and she was there, sir—Mrs. Wright. She was there but she wasn’t moving. There was nothing we could do, but there was no one else there what could have done it. She’s dead, sir,” he finished in a rush. “Mrs. Wright is dead. She was killed in the night.”

Beside her, Lily heard Ofelia gasp, though she didn’t turn to look at her friend. Mr. Spencer looked up, his dark eyes wide as he met Lily’s from across the room. She stared back at him, frozen in shock, unable to believe what she had just heard.

“Killed?” Thomas Wright demanded, his voice rising with his own disbelief and his arms tightening around his sister.

“It killed her, Thomas,” Selina Wright said, raising her head at last. Now that her hysterics had faded, her cheeks had gone ashen with fear. “There was no one else who could have entered that room. The lady in gray killed our mother.”

***

Excerpt from Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman. Copyright 2022 by Katharine Schellman. Reproduced with permission from Katharine Schellman. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Katharine Schellman

Katharine Schellman is a former actor, one-time political consultant, and now the author of the Lily Adler Mysteries and the Nightingale Mysteries. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, was one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2020 and led to her being named one of BookPage’s 16 Women to Watch in 2020. Her second novel, Silence in the Library, was praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout.” (Library Journal, starred review) Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.

Catch Up With Katharine Schellman:
KatharineSchellman.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @katharineschellman
Instagram – @katharinewrites
Twitter – @katharinewrites
Facebook – @katharineschellman

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Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings

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Description

“A wild and wonderful debut, teeming with music, family and art…This book is gorgeously written, with prose I wanted to eat off the page.” New York Times

Music is magic in this vibrant and imaginative debut novel set in a fantastical version of New Orleans where a battle for the city’s soul brews between two young mages, a vengeful wraith, and one powerful song. Nola is a city full of wonders. A place of sky trolleys and dead cabs, where haints dance the night away and Wise Women help keep the order. To those from Away, Nola might seem strange. To Perilous Graves, it’s simply home.

In a world of everyday miracles, Perry might not have a talent for magic, but he does know Nola’s rhythm as intimately as his own heartbeat. So when the city’s Great Magician starts appearing in odd places and essential songs are forgotten, Perry realizes trouble is afoot.

Nine songs of power have escaped from the piano that maintains the city’s beat, and without them, Nola will fail. Unwilling to watch his home be destroyed, Perry will sacrifice everything to save it. But a storm is brewing, and the Haint of All Haints is awake. Nola’s time might be coming to an end.

Put on your dancing shoes and enjoythis song for New Orleans, the city of music, magic, and dreams.

My Thoughts

This is one weird and wonderful book! I was reminded of Terry Pratchett‘s work – audacious characters and a multi-level plot that is pretty much impossible to follow so you just have to enjoy the ride. I admit it took me some time to accept this was not going to be a linear plot, but once I let go of that rigid expectation the prose just swept me away. The characters are poppin’ with siblings Perry and Brendy, each with their own special talents, but especially with Peaches, the totally badass girl who saves the day. I am hope, hope, hoping for a sequel where Peaches, Perry, and Brendy go after Peaches’ Daddy and free him from his chains.

“A hallucinatory wonder of a debut. Brimming with language and music, this phantasmagoric novel taps the deep root of multi-cultural, multi-racial life in, and beyond, New Orleans.” ―Walter Mosley

“Funny, wild, witty, and profound. The Ballad of Perilous Graves is the debut of a cosmic storm of talent.”―Victor LaValle

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


Description

Truth is found between the stories we’re fed and the stories we hunger for.

Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairy tales and cautionary stories.

But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

My Thoughts

So many great debuts this year, but this one STANDS OUT!

Anyone who loves to read will be captivated by this wholly original story centered on the concept of books as actual food, overlaid with what turns out to be a pretty harrowing and fairly dark tale.

This is one the librarians will struggle to genrify – is it fantasy? Horror? Dystopian? Women’s Lit? This spectacular, original story is all that and more. Dean’s writing is some of the best I’ve read this year – tight and descriptive then flowing and expansive – all coming together in a whopper of a story.

Highly recommended.

“A darkly sweet pastry of a book about family, betrayal, and the lengths we go to for the ones we love. A delicious modern fairy tale.”— Christopher Buehlman, Shirley Jackson Award-winning author

Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Published By: Macmillan Tor/Forge
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Back to the Garden by Laurie King


Description

A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

A magnificent house, vast formal gardens, a golden family that shaped California, and a colorful past filled with now-famous artists: the Gardener Estate was a twentieth-century Eden. And now, just as the Estate is preparing to move into a new future, restoration work on some of its art digs up a grim relic of the home’s past: a human skull, hidden away for decades.

Inspector Raquel Laing has her work cut out for her. Fifty years ago, the Estate’s young heir, Rob Gardener, turned his palatial home into a counterculture commune of peace, love, and equality. But that was also a time when serial killers preyed on innocents—monsters like The Highwayman, whose case has just surged back into the public eye.

Could the skull belong to one of his victims?

To Raquel—a woman who knows all about colorful pasts—the bones clearly seem linked to The Highwayman. But as she dives into the Estate’s archives to look for signs of his presence, what she unearths begins to take on a dark reality all of its own. Everything she finds keeps bringing her back to Rob Gardener himself. While he might be a gray-haired recluse now, back then he was a troubled young Vietnam vet whose girlfriend vanished after a midsummer festival at the Estate. But a lot of people seem to have disappeared from the Gardener Estate that summer when the commune mysteriously fell apart: a young woman, her child, and Rob’s brother, Fort.

The pressure is on, and Raquel needs to solve this case—before The Highwayman slips away, or another Gardener vanishes.

My Thoughts

Often, writers get pigeonholed into a single series. Truly gifted authors are able to transcend a single series and create new stories that are completely different. Laurie R. King has been doing this for years with the Russell & Holmes, Stuyvesant & Grey, Kate Martinelli, and her standalone novels. This new offering, featuring neuro-divergent San Francisco police detective Raquel Laing is one I hope will turn into a series, because Laing deserves more stories!!!

King tells a story here that has roots in the robber baron era of the American West that spread into a 1970s commune, and all the way to a present day California mansion. The robber baron era plays a very small part here, essentially setting background for the 70s commune and present day mystery involving bones discovered beneath a massive statue on the grounds of the Gardener Mansion.

King blends the Gardener mystery with a serial killer who operated during the same time as the commune and is only now being investigated for his crimes while he approaches death. There’s a lot going on here – plenty of story threads that somehow all converge to a very satisfying ending. King evokes the naive, counterculture, freelove of the commune perfectly and brings those characters into the present time with sensitivity and care. But, it’s the character development of Detective Laing that shines here. She’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long time and I hope we see more of her in the future.

King is a consummate storyteller, and that skills shines through here.

Highly recommended for fans of mystery & suspense.

Publication Date: September 6, 2022
Published By: Random House Publishing Group; Ballantine, Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy