The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves


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On the first snowy night of winter, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope sets off for her home in the hills. Though the road is familiar, she misses a turning and soon becomes lost and disorientated. A car has skidded off the narrow road in front of her, its door left open, and she stops to help. There is no driver to be seen, so Vera assumes that the owner has gone to find help. But a cry calls her back: a toddler is strapped in the back seat.

Vera takes the child and, driving on, she arrives at a place she knows well. Brockburn is a large, grand house in the wilds of Northumberland, now a little shabby and run down. It’s also where her father, Hector, grew up. Inside, there’s a party in full swing: music, Christmas lights and laughter. Outside, unbeknownst to the revelers, a woman lies dead in the snow.

As the blizzard traps the group deep in the freezing Northumberland countryside, Brockburn begins to give up its secrets, and as Vera digs deeper into her investigation, she also begins to uncover her family’s complicated past.

This is Cleeves (and Vera) at her best with snappy dialog, well-drawn characters, and the gorgeous Northumbrian scenery we’ve come to expect in the series. Cleeves take time to further develop not only Vera’s character but also DC Holly Jackman, who is becoming an increasingly interesting character. Cleeves brings the rural English village and country manor to life in a way that feels real. This isn’t the idealized village of Christie or Beaton, but one of gritty, sometimes boring real life.

Fans will surely read this one in a single sitting as I did. If you haven’t read Cleeves’ “Vera” books before, start at the beginning and work your way up to this one.

Recommended.

Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Published By: St. Martin’s Press Minotaur Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay


8F336876-C457-4438-91E5-BBE856C38066From Netgalley & the Publisher:

From award-winning author Hilary McKay comes a beautiful, enchanting story about a girl adjusting to her new family and their new house—which just might be magical.

When Abi’s father marries Max and Louis’s mom, their families start over together. Abi suddenly finds herself the middle child, expected to share far too much—especially with grubby little Louis. Then they move into an eerie, ivy-covered house, big enough for all of them.

But for the children, strange things start to happen in that house. Abi reads alone, and finds herself tumbling so deep into books, they almost seem real. Louis summons comfort from outdoors, and a startling guest arrives—is it a cat or something else? Max loses his best friend…and falls in love. Meanwhile, Louis’s secret visitor is becoming much too real. Now Abi, Max, and Louis must uncover the secrets of their new home—for there can be danger in even the most beautiful magic.

Moving into a new home can be very traumatic for children. Moving into a new home with a new family can be even harder.

The Time of Green Magic is more about the intricacies of family dynamics than it is about magic. The three children in this blended family all struggle with some serious emotions. Abi feels unwelcome in her new blended family, resenting sharing her Dad with her two new brothers and missing her grandmother terribly. Max and Louis are also struggling to accept Abi and her Dad as parts of their lives with mom Polly. Louis especially has issues with separation and anger.

Moving into a new house, completely covered with ivy, sets in motion a series of events that results in the family being renewed and bonded, but not without some excitement along the way. Truly, this is about the children coming to grips with love, loss, and fear.

McKay does a good job of telling a captivating, exciting story that seamlessly blends fantasy and reality. As a librarian and reader, I especially appreciate that books are the vehicle used to introduce magic to the children’s lives.

Kids exploring fantasy will enjoy this, and I expect it will lead them to other, more complex stories.

Recommended.

Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Published By: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; Margaret K. McElderry Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Lineage Most Lethal by S.C. Perkins


978ED838-924E-4337-A09E-5F02906CBE90From Netgalley & the Publisher:

Lineage Most Lethal is the captivating second mystery in S. C. Perkins’ Ancestry Detective series, in which Texas genealogist Lucy Lancaster grapples with murders in both the past and present.

It’s the week before New Year’s Eve and genealogist Lucy Lancaster is mixing work and play quite nicely at the boutique Sutton Hotel in Austin, Texas. After two months of research she’s finalizing her presentation for hotel heiress Pippa Sutton, her latest client.

Lucy has just arrived back at the hotel after a day of research when a strange man comes staggering toward her. She barely has time to notice his weak, sweaty appearance and broken tooth before he presses a classic Montblanc pen into her hand, whispers, “keep them safe,” and collapses at her feet, dead.

Lucy only knows one person who might be able to explain the significance of the pen: her grandpa, who is a collector. But Grandpa has an odd reaction to the sight of the pen, and Lucy can’t help but feel that it might have something to do with his experiences during World War II.

When Lucy becomes convinced that her hotel room has been searched and that there’s more to the pen—and her grandpa—than meets the eye, she begins to draw connections from the present-day deaths and suspicious behaviors to a group of spies in World War II. Secret codes, old grievances, and traitors seem to hide behind every corner, and as Lucy begins to connect the dots someone seems determined to make sure the Lancaster line ends once and for all.

Genealogy fans will enjoy this new cozy mystery in the Ancestry Detective series. I loved the first chapter where genealogist Lucy instructs a starry-eyed but confused family researcher in the proper way to treat old gravestones. Important information, folks!

The story is interesting and clever in places, especially in the backstory of Lucy’s grandfather. The writing is breezy and uncomplicated, and the solidly plotted mystery is enhanced with lots of information on family history research and a cast of likable characters.

This will be a good book to read while on your porch this summer. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Published By: St. Martin’s Press; Minotaur Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Daughters of Foxcote Manor by Eve Chase


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From Netgalley & the Publisher:

An isolated forest estate.
A family with a terrible secret.
The discovery that changes everything.

England, 1970. On the one-year anniversary of the Harrington family’s darkest night, their beautiful London home goes up in flames. Mrs. Harrington, the two children, and live-in nanny Rita relocate to Foxcote Manor, ostensibly to recuperate. But the creeping forest, where lost things have a way of coming back, is not as restful as it seems. When thirteen-year-old Hera discovers a baby girl abandoned just beyond their garden gate, this tiniest, most wondrous of secrets brings a much-needed sunlit peace, until a visitor detonates the family’s tenuous happiness. All too soon a body lies dead in the woods.

Forty years later, London-based Sylvie is an expert at looking the other way. It’s how she stayed married to her unfaithful husband for more than twenty years. But she’s turned over a new leaf, having left him for a fresh start. She buried her own origin story decades ago, never imagining her teenage daughter would have a shocking reason to dig the past up–and to ask Sylvie to finally face the secrets that lead her back to Foxcote Manor.

Readers of Lisa Jewell and Simone St. James will delight in this haunting, touching story of mothers, daughters, and belonging–and the devastating lies families tell themselves in order to survive.

Eve Chase has given us this summer’s Family Upstairs with this twisted, tangled tale of love, loss, infidelity, betrayal, and the power of family.

The story moves between present time and a fateful summer of 1971. At the center of the story is Big Rita – nanny to a troubled family in 1971 and mother to the present-day protagonist. Rita’s story is unfolded gradually – the heartbreak and horror of that 1971 summer juxtaposed against the family disruption in in the present-day and Rita’s own health.

The full complexity of the connection is not revealed until later chapters, and Chase does a remarkable job of weaving in little hints of what’s to come here and there throughout the narrative. She strings you along so that you simply can’t put this book down. Several chapters end with a mini-cliffhanger, and I found myself skipping ahead to find out what happened, then going back and reading through.

As she did in Black Rabbit Hall, Chase has constructed a complex story that is rife with unbridled emotion held in check until it isn’t. She writes relationships with a deft hand and develops her characters in ways that evoke a visceral response. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Published By: Penguin Group Putnam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Big Love Cooking by Joey Campanaro


1AEEABAF-4322-47F8-B1A5-DEE8076B56CBFrom Netgalley & the Publisher:

What is Big Love Cooking? For Joey Campanaro, Italian-American chef and owner of venerated Greenwich Village restaurant Little Owl, big love cooking is his mother and grandmother hovering over the stove every Sunday, nursing a bubbling pot of red sauce, and filling the house with the familiar, irresistible scent of garlic, tomatoes, and carne.

This cookbook is an ode to the generous, comforting dishes of that big love cooking. With helpful, conversational advice and 75 crowd-pleasing recipes, this cookbook is a return to hearty platters and comfort food. Welcome home.

Recipes include Gravy Meatball Slider Buns, Pork Chop with Parmesan Butter Beans, Ricotta Cavatelli with Tomato Broth, Bacon, and Fava Beans—accessible, delicious meals to make at home and serve to loved ones.

About the Author:

Joey Campanaro is the owner/chef of Little Owl Restaurant, and co-owner of Market Table and The Clam in New York. He is the winner of the Food Network Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge, and has appeared on The Today Show, Iron Chef, Vice Munchies, Chopped and many more. He has also contributed to Bon Appetit, Esquire, Slate, and the New York Times, among others.

Joey was raised in an Italian-American household in South Philadelphia where the food of his childhood inspired him to make cooking his vocation. With a culinary approach firmly rooted in his Italian grandmother’s kitchen and honed in a range of America’s top restaurants, he brings a lifelong affinity for Mediterranean cuisine to every dish he creates.

Little Owl is a corner gem with a big porkchop and an even bigger heart. Celebrating 13 years in Greenwich Village (New York City), Little Owl offers bold Mediterranean cuisine with friendly yet professional service that captures neighborhood dining in NYC. Understated yet elegant, an intimate room, it’s your home away from home.

I don’t often recommend cookbooks for Reader’s Advisory or Library Reads lists because, well, they’re cookbooks and usually not all that interesting to fully read.

Big Love Cooking is different.

Joey Campanaro has produced a cookbook that is fun to read as well as full of delicious recipes. Reading this is like being invited to the warmth, noise, and chaotic love of the Campanaro Sunday table. I married into a family much like Campanaro’s where food traditions reign supreme. The family has changed in the 35 years I’ve been with my husband, but the food remains the same.

There is a great balance of story and instruction here, with many of the recipes containing little asides from Campanaro regarding how to prepare the food. It makes you feel as though he’s right there next to you and encouraging you to try a little of this, or taste a little of that. This approach is entertaining for the experienced cook, but also very helpful for the new cook who may not have the confidence to deviate from the recipe. Campanaro “Big Love” approach just might help that new cook become more confident.

The personal stories of Campanaro’s family are entertaining and endearing. I think every Italian family has a set of “Uncle Frankie’s wine glasses” (and an Uncle Frankie!). For my family, they were individual hourglass-shaped glasses that originally held little shrimp cocktails. My father-in-law would fill them with his homemade wine and pass them out every holiday. And the “Old-School Salit” is my mother-in-law 100% – I *still* haven’t mastered the ratio of oil and vinegar poured directly on the “salit.”

The recipes, though, are the stars here. The “Little Owl Gravy Meatball Sliders” and “Sesame Seed Breadsticks” are amazing, and the directions for the “Sunday Gravy” are authentic and easy to follow. What really makes this book shine, though, are the recipes from Campanaro’s Little Owl restaurant. Horseradish Crusted Cod, Asparagus Homefries, Crab Cakes with Beefsteak Tomatoes, Little Owl Pork Chop, and so many more.

This will make a lovely gift for the cook in your life. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Saint in Swindon by Alice Jolly


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When a stranger arrives in town, with a bulging blue bag and a whiff of adventure, the neighborhood takes notice. When he asks for his meals to be sent to his room and peace and quiet for reading, curiosity turns to obsession. Each day he stays there, locked in his room, demanding books: Plath, Kafka, Orwell, Lawrence, Fitzgerald, James, Bronte (the eldest), Dickens, Dumas, Kesey – on and on, the stranger never leaving his room. Who exactly is he? What is he reading? And will it be able to save us from the terrible state of the world?

Written by award-winning author Alice Jolly, and based on an idea by the book lovers of Swindon town, this funny and, ultimately, dystopian tale, reminds us of the importance of literature in an increasingly dark world.

I don’t really know what to say about this odd little book except that it can’t be characterized. Is it dystopian? Is it chick lit? Is it speculative fiction? Is it satire? Is allegorical?

I think it’s ALL of the above and more.

The concept is intriguing. Some guy shows up at a B&B, retreats to his room and reads for days on end. The B&B hostess and her nosy friends feel they must read what the guest reads, so they discover classics like Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad. But, they cannot shake the idea that the guest is more than he appears and that his reading is somehow subversive. Eventually, their obsession with him destroys their society.

In the end, I was left thinking if it is possible to disrupt the natural order of things through reading. Throughout history, when a civilization is threatened or conquered, the first thing to go are the books, so yeah, I think it’s reasonable to say that reading can be subversive.  This would be a magnificent selection for book clubs, who could spend hours debating the meaning behind A Saint in Swindon.

Publication Date: April 15, 2020
Published By: Fairlight Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer


cover190286-medium100 recipes for all types of cookies–chocolatey, fruity, crispy, chewy, classic, inventive—there’s a foolproof recipe for the perfect treat for everyone in this book.

Sarah Kieffer writes The Vanilla Bean Baking Blog and introduces a whole new technique for baking cookies that ensures crisp edges and soft centers for the most delicious cookies.

Recipes range from the Classic Chocolate Chip made three different ways, to bars, brownies, and blondies that reflect a wide range of flavors and global inspiration. 

As an avid cookie baker, I am always on the lookout for new cookie cookbooks. I am not, however, a fan of Instagram or food blogs, so I was unfamiliar with the author. I am very glad that she has made the transition from online to print, because this book is a delight!

Filled with luscious recipes that range from old favorites to brand new flavor combinations and techniques, there is something here for the novice to the experienced baker. Kieffer comes across as chatty, witty, authentic, and just plain fun. She doesn’t take herself super-seriously, which is a flaw in most food bloggers and Instagrammers, and she approaches baking with precision blended with a heady dose of risk-taking.

I always appreciate a book that blends sumptuous recipes with an intelligent introduction and commentary that carries throughout the book. Kieffer’s fondness for Shakespeare is apparent in the generous sprinkling of quotes throughout, making the book fun to read.

I don’t buy many cookbooks in print anymore, but I will be buying this one, along with a couple copies for family & friend bakers.

Publication Date: October 20, 2020 (just in time for holiday baking!)
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths


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Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway changed her life—until a convicted killer tells her that four of his victims were never found, drawing her back to the place she left behind.

Everything has changed for Ruth Galloway. She has a new job, home, and partner, and she is no longer North Norfolk police’s resident forensic archaeologist. That is, until convicted murderer Ivor March offers to make DCI Nelson a deal. Nelson was always sure that March killed more women than he was charged with. Now March confirms this and offers to show Nelson where the other bodies are buried—but only if Ruth will do the digging.
Curious, but wary, Ruth agrees. March tells Ruth that he killed four more women and that their bodies are buried near a village bordering the fens, said to be haunted by the Lantern Men, mysterious figures holding lights that lure travelers to their deaths.

Is Ivor March himself a lantern man, luring Ruth back to Norfolk? What is his plan, and why is she so crucial to it? And are the killings really over?

Ruth Galloway is back in a new mystery that picks up a couple years after The Stone Circle. Fans of the series might be disconcerted to find Ruth in Cambridge living with Frank and raising Kate away from Nelson. For all appearances, she has moved on.

That notion is quickly dispelled as Ruth is drawn firmly back into a case with Nelson and rest of the Kings Lynn squad. They have also had some changes, with Clough promoted to lead his own team in Cambridge. There are lots of complicated emotions and motives here, both for Ruth and Nelson and for the intriguing cast of characters wrapped up in the ever-present murder mystery.

I was pleased to find Ruth once again written as a strong, capable, independent woman who is more than one side of a complicated triangle with Nelson and Michelle. I also found 9 year old Kate to be a delight. Griffiths has skillfully balanced the emotional, personal relationships of the story with a cracking good mystery that had me guessing right up to the very end. Griffiths’ books are ones I constantly recommend, and this one is no exception. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 14, 2020
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Hood by Jenny Elder Moke


cover182367-mediumYou have the blood of kings and rebels within you, love. Let it rise to meet the call. Isabelle of Kirklees has only ever known a quiet life inside the sheltered walls of the convent, where she lives with her mother, Marien. But after she is arrested by royal soldiers for defending innocent villagers, Isabelle becomes the target of the Wolf, King John’s ruthless right hand. Desperate to keep her daughter safe, Marien helps Isabelle escape and sends her on a mission to find the one person who can help: Isabelle’s father, Robin Hood. As Isabelle races to stay out of the Wolf’s clutches and find the father she’s never known, she is thrust into a world of thieves and mercenaries, handsome young outlaws, new enemies with old grudges, and a king who wants her entire family dead. As she joins forces with Robin and his Merry Men in a final battle against the Wolf, will Isabelle find the strength to defy the crown and save the lives of everyone she holds dear?

In Hood, author Jenny Elder Moke reimagines the world of Robin Hood in lush, historical detail and imbues her story with more breathless action than has ever come out of Sherwood Forest before. This novel is a must-read for historical-fiction fans, adventure lovers, and reluctant readers alike!

There has been a spate of creative re-imaginings of old stories, so I was curious to see how Moke reinvented Robin Hood. What I found was not a re-telling or even a re-invention but a freshly drawn sequel answering the question “so what happened to Robin and Marien?”

There is plenty of action here, featuring both men and women, and some gore which pushes this firmly up into end-of-middle-school category. Moke’s writing is crisp and lively, with memorable characters. Isabelle, daughter of Robin & Marien, sometimes is a little silly, but Moke successfully portrays her as the sheltered-girl-finding-her-spine. The climax was unexpected and sad, but Moke brings everything full-circle and sets the stage for what could be a really cool series. Well done.

Ages 12 and up

Publication Date: June 9, 2020
Published By: Disney-Hyperion
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Quintessence by Jess Redman


9780374309763_aa1faIn this heartfelt middle-grade novel perfect for fans of Barbara O’Connor, a girl goes on a quest to return a fallen star to the sky, and along the way discovers friendship, magic, and the strength of her own soul.

Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped—even though she’s told her parents that they have. Every day she feels less and less like herself. But one day she finds a telescope in the town’s junk shop, and through its lens, she watches a star—a star that looks like a child—fall from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to long for home, and decides she’ll return that star home to the sky. With the help of unlikely new friends, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self. Quintessence is a stunning story from Jess Redman about friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.

Quintessence was the first book I read in 2020 and is one of my top 10 books so far this year. The unique plot revolving around a fallen star unfolds into this lovely story about a young girl struggling with identity, loneliness, and self-worth in a new town.

There are so many good things about this book but perhaps the most touching is the message that we all have a light inside – we just need to figure out how to ignite it. Alma remembers that light and is frustrated with trying to find it again. Anyone struggling with depression will recognize that feeling and identify with Alma as she searches for her inner fire.

This is Jess Redman’s second book. Her first, The Miraculous, also featured a child protagonist struggling with a difficult time. I wrote about that book here. The Miraculous was a lovely, heartbreaking book; Quintessence is absolute joy.

So good for kids to know that they are enough.

Well done!

Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Published By: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy