Omega Factor by Steve Berry


Description

The Ghent Altarpiece is the most violated work of art in the world. It has been vandalized, dismantled, or stolen thirteen times! Why? What secrets does it hold?

Enter UNESCO investigator, Nicholas Lee, who works for the United Nations’ Cultural Liaison and Investigative Office (CLIO). Nick’s job is to protect the world’s cultural artifacts—anything and everything from countless lesser-known objects to national treasures.

When Nick travels to Belgium for a visit with a woman from his past, he unwittingly stumbles on the trail of a legendary panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934 under cover of night and never seen since. Soon Nick is plunged into a bitter conflict, one that has been simmering for nearly two thousand years. On one side is the Maidens of Saint-Michael, les Vautours—the Vultures—a secret order of nuns and the guardians of a great truth. Pitted against them is the Vatican, which has wanted for centuries to both find and possess what the nuns guard. Because of Nick the maidens have finally been exposed, their secret placed in dire jeopardy—a vulnerability that the Vatican swiftly moves to exploit utilizing an ambitious cardinal and a corrupt archbishop, both with agendas of their own.  

From the tranquil canals of Ghent, to the towering bastions of Carcassonne, and finally into an ancient abbey high in the French Pyrenees, Nick Lee must confront a modern-day religious crusade intent on eliminating a shocking truth from humanity’s past. Success or failure—life and death—all turn on the Omega Factor.

My Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I read a Steve Berry adventure. I’d gotten a little tired of the Cotton Malone series, so was intrigued by this new story featuring Nick Lee. I was not disappointed. This is a gripping, action-packed adventure which mines more of one of Berry’s favorite topics – Vatican secrets.

Ninja nuns, the Cult of Mary, and an inventive plot that blends art history with religious intrigue, all rolled up into a fine story that will keep you turning pages. I hope Berry will continue to spin tales about Nick Lee’s adventures.

Recommended.

Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Published By: Grand Central Publishing
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All by Josh Ritter


Description

From singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, a lyrical, sweeping novel about a young boy’s coming-of-age during the last days of the lumberjacks.

In the tiny timber town of Cordelia, Idaho, ninety-nine year old Weldon Applegate recounts his life in all its glory, filled with tall tales writ large with murder, mayhem, avalanches and bootlegging. It’s the story of dark pine forests brewing with ancient magic, and Weldon’s struggle as a boy to keep his father’s inherited timber claim, the Lost Lot, from the ravenous clutches of Linden Laughlin.

Ever since young Weldon stepped foot in the deep Cordelia woods as a child, he dreamed of joining the rowdy ranks of his ancestors in their epic axe-swinging adventures. Local legend says their family line boasts some of the greatest lumberjacks to ever roam the American West, but at the beginning of the twentieth century, the jacks are dying out, and it’s up to Weldon to defend his family legacy.

Braided with haunting saloon tunes and just the right dose of magic, The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All is a novel bursting with heart, humor and an utterly transporting adventure that is sure to sweep you away into the beauty of the tall snowy mountain timber.

Advance Praise

“I loved this mythic American story. My heart overflowed with affection and raced with terror for Weldon Applegate! Josh Ritter’s lyrical imagination frolics unfettered on page after fast-turning page.”

–Anaïs Mitchell, author of Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown

My Thoughts

This is a hard book to pigeonhole. It is part adventure, part tall-tale, part memoir, part I-don’t-know-what. The story is glorious – it’s everything a little boy dreams of when wishing for an exciting life. Peopled with crazy, larger-than-life characters, a delightful protagonist, an awful arch nemesis, and plenty of wild and wooly action, this is a story to be told around a roaring fire or in a bar over lots and lots of drinks.

I will also say, though, that this is a story with a slow burn. It moves along like a float down the river – faster at times, then a slow drift, and back again. This takes some persistence and attention in reading, but it is well worth the effort. As I was reading, the rhythm and the story often reminded me of David Wallace’s novel “Big Fish” and the subsequent Tim Burton film of the same name. I would love to see this story on film. Such fun!

Publication Date: September 7, 2021
Published By: Harlequin; Hanover Square Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull


Image showing cover of book No Gods, No Monsters: a Novel by Cadwell Turnbull

Description*

The first book in The Convergence Saga, a new series from Cadwell Turnbull, the award-winning author of The Lesson

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.

Review

I am slowly beginning to enjoy more urban fantasy, and this one is only making me enjoy the genre even more. There are monsters here, for sure, and the author does a good job of conveying the fact that there are REAL monsters of the hairy, dripping-fang variety but also monsters that live within us. Which monsters are the worst would make for a great book club discussion.

The characters and action are both vividly drawn, sometimes moving so fast I had to go back and re-read passages just to make sure I caught it all! The ending appeared to set the stage for a sequel and maybe even a series. Urban fantasy fans will enjoy.

So much hype for this book!

*An Indie Next Pick

*Included in Forbes Magazine‘s 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2021 According to Independent Booksellers

*Included in Marie Claire‘s 35 Must-Read 2021 Book Releases by Black Authors

*One of Buzzfeed‘s 35 Amazing Fantasy Books Coming Out This Summer

*A GoodReads Most Anticipated SFF Novel of 2021

*Included in GoodReads’ roundup of The Year’s Most Anticipated Fiction by Black Authors

*A BookRiot Pick of 2021 Black LGBTQ Books To Preorder

*A Polygon Pick of Best New SFF Books to Read this Summer

*A Tor Pick of Most Anticipated SFF Books for the Rest of 2021

Recommended.

Publication Date: September 7, 2021
Published By: Blackstone Publishing
Thanks to *NetGalley for the review copy

The Undertakers by Nicole Glover


Description

Nicole Glover delivers the second book in her exciting Murder & Magic series of historical fantasy novels featuring Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, magic practitioners and detectives living in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

Nothing bothers Hetty and Benjy Rhodes more than a case where the answers, motives, and the murder itself feel a bit too neat. Raimond Duval, a victim of one of the many fires that have erupted recently in Philadelphia, is officially declared dead after the accident, but Hetty and Benjy’s investigation points to a powerful Fire Company known to let homes in the Black community burn to the ground. Before long, another death breathes new life into the Duval investigation: Raimond’s son, Valentine, is also found dead.

Finding themselves with the dubious honor of taking on Valentine Duval as their first major funeral, it becomes clear that his passing was intentional. Valentine and his father’s deaths are connected, and the recent fires plaguing the city might be more linked to recent community events than Hetty and Benji originally thought.

The Undertakers continues the adventures of murder and magic, where even the most powerful enchantments can’t always protect you from the ghosts of the past . . .

Review

Nicole Glover’s series debut, The Conductors, is one of the most fascinating and unique stories I’ve read in a long time, and the stars of the series, Benjamin and Henrietta Rhodes, are two of the most engaging characters put to page. Glover’s second in the series, The Undertakers, drops the reader back into the Rhodes’ Philadelphia just a few months after the conclusion of The Conductors.

Ben and Hetty are trying to get their funeral home business off the ground when a new mystery is dropped in their laps. Mysterious fires and the even more mysterious deaths of a prominent businessman and his son set Hetty and Ben on a new case. An old enemy from the past re-surfaces and raises complicated feelings and memories for Hetty, who manages to tie them all back up into a neat conclusion.

Glover does a remarkable job of interweaving stories and experiences from the past into the current lives of the Rhodes and their circle of friends. She also introduces the reader to bits of African-American history that add a depth and dimension to the plot. Here, I was prompted to research the role of early fire companies in Philadelphia and other early American cities. Fire departments today are noble organizations committed to public safety, but they weren’t always so egalitarian. Glover uses that history to depict a slice of African-American life, post-enslavement.

The magical aspect of this story continues to engage me. Celestial magic versus sorcery is such an unusual view of how different cultures approach magic. Glover creates an intricate and deep relationship between African-Americans and the elements of earth, air, fire, and water and spins that into a captivating narrative sure to appeal to fans of fantasy and magic.

If you haven’t read The Conductors, go do that between now and November when this one comes out. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment in this series!

Published by: Mariner Books
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Thanks to Edelweiss.Plus for the review copy

The Conductors by Nicole Glover


cover195487-mediumA compelling debut by a new voice in fantasy fiction, The Conductors features the magic and mystery of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series written with the sensibility and historical setting of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. 

Meet Hetty Rhodes, a magic-user and former conductor on the Underground Railroad who now solves crimes in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Hetty Rhodes helped usher dozens of people north with her wits and magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy have settled in Philadelphia, solving murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch. When they find one of their friends slain in an alley, Hetty and Benjy bury the body and set off to find answers. But the secrets and intricate lies of the elites of Black Philadelphia only serve to dredge up more questions. To solve this mystery, they will have to face ugly truths all around them, including the ones about each other.

In this vibrant and original novel, Nicole Glover joins a roster of contemporary fantasy writers, such as Victor LaValle and Zen Cho, who use speculative fiction to delve into important historical and cultural threads. 

Nicole Glover is being lauded as the next Octavia Butler, and the comparison isn’t far off the mark. While Butler is recognized as a giant in the fantasy & science fiction worlds and forged the way for socially conscious Black fantasy (Kindred is probably the most perfect story I’ve ever read), Glover brings a freshness to the genre. A member of the Harry Potter generation, Glover clearly has been influenced by the flood of magic and mystery that erupted in the wake of the HP mania of the 1990s and early 2000s. However, her use of fantasy and magic to reimagine the lives and abilities of Africans both during and after enslavement is new to me and absolutely fascinating.

Riffing off the use of the night sky by enslaved Africans escaping the American South, Glover creates a new magical infrastructure wholly separate from the HP universe. Here, Africans practice Celestial magic, drawing on the power of nature and the universe. Whites, on the other hand, rely on sorcery enabled by wands. The Celestial magic is considered “simple” but the reader learns quickly that simple does not mean weak.

Glovers main characters, Hetty and Benjamin Rhodes, are the titular Conductors – those who guided enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Now, post emancipation, they function as detectives. They solve problems, they find people and things, and they right wrongs. They also navigate a multi-segregated society – white and black, rich and poor, men and women – where old wrongs are never forgotten and hatred runs deep. Below the surface of magic, however, is a story about people building new lives after living through unimaginable trauma. There is courage and bravery in this story, but also sheer determination from unforgettable characters.

This should be one of the hottest books of 2021, and I really, really hope it gets picked up for television or the big screen. I can see this sitting in teen sections of libraries and bookstores, but I really hope adult fantasy readers give this a chance.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
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

The Last Odyssey by James Rollins


9780062892898_e4facFor eons, the city of Troy—whose legendary fall was detailed in Homer’s Iliad—was believed to be myth, until archaeologists in the nineteenth century uncovered its ancient walls buried beneath the sands. If Troy was real, how much of Homer’s twin tales of gods and monsters, curses and miracles—The Iliad and The Odyssey—could also be true and awaiting discovery?

In the frozen tundra of Greenland, a group of modern-day climatologists and archaeologists stumble on a shocking find: a medieval ship buried a half mile below the ice. The ship’s hold contains a collection of even older artifacts—tools of war—dating back to the Bronze Age. Inside the captain’s cabin is a magnificent treasure that is as priceless as it is miraculous: a clockwork gold atlas encircled by an intricate silver astrolabe. The mechanism is signed with the name of its creator, Ismail al-Jazari, a famous Muslim inventor considered to be the Da Vinci of the Arab world—a brilliant scientist who inspired Leonardo’s own work.

Once activated, the moving globe traces the path of Odysseus’ famous ship as it sailed away from Troy. But the route detours as the map opens to reveal an underground river leading to a hidden realm underneath the Mediterranean Sea. The map indicates that this subterranean world is called Tartarus, the Greek name for Hell. In mythology, Tartarus was where the wicked were punished and the monstrous Titans of old, imprisoned.

When word of Tartarus spreads—and of the cache of miraculous weapons said to be hidden there—tensions explode in this volatile region where Turks battle Kurds, terrorists wage war, and civilians suffer untold horrors. The phantasmagoric horrors found in Homer’s tales are all too real—and could be unleashed upon the world. Whoever possesses them can use their awesome power to control the future of humanity.

Now, Sigma Force must go where humans fear to tread. To prevent a tyrant from igniting a global war, they must cross the very gates of Hell.

You can always count on James Rollins for a rollicking good “save the world” adventure, but he has outdone himself with The Last Odyssey. Imagine that all those horrible monsters from Greek mythology were real AND they’ve been biding their time in an underground world, awaiting release. Then add deceitful senators & priests, smart scientists & brawny heroes and you‘ve got a winner.

Rollins has gradually filled out the stories of several characters in the Sigma series, and continues to do so here. Watching Gray and Seichan comes to terms with parenthood was very touching, but the growing relationship between Kowalski and Maria was emotional *and* heartbreaking.

The story here is unbelievably imaginative and meticulously researched. I especially appreciated the notes at the end. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: March 24, 2020
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

The Thief Knot by Kate Milford


cover168401-mediumGhosts, a kidnapping, a crew of young detectives, and family secrets mix in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the bestselling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award-winning author.

Marzana and her best friend are bored. Even though they live in a notorious city where normal rules do not apply, nothing interesting ever happens to them. Nothing, that is, until Marzana’s parents are recruited to help solve an odd crime/kidnapping, and she realizes that this could be the excitement she’s been waiting for. She assembles a group of kid detectives with special skills—including the ghost of a ship captain’s daughter—and together, they explore hidden passageways, navigate architecture that changes overnight, and try to unravel the puzzle of who the kidnappers are—and where they’re hiding. But will they beat the deadline for a ransom that’s impossible to pay?

Legendary smugglers, suspicious teachers, and some scary bad guys are just a few of the adults the crew must circumvent while discovering hidden truths about their families and themselves in this smart, richly imagined tale.

Kate Milford’s Nagspeake books just keep getting better. The world-building that began in Greenglass House continues with this latest entry featuring characters introduced in The Ghosts of Greenglass House last year. Marzana and her parents are back, as are Lucky and Emmett, in this case living a peaceful (if boring) life in The Liberty of Gammerbund. Marzana chafes at the ordinariness of her life, not understanding why her parents keep her from fully understanding their old lives as smugglers.

As the story picks up steam, Marzana finds herself making friends and taking charge, two things that have been difficult for her. Milford often includes a character who struggles with some sort of issue. For Milo in the Greenglass books, it’s anger. For Marzana, it’s shyness and anxiety that takes the form of a bear gnawing away at her insides. Milford wraps bibliotherapy into a cracking good story, which will keep kids reading at the same time it makes them feel better about themselves. Well done.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Katie Racculia


cover165004-medium

From the publisher:
A handsome stranger. A dead billionaire. A citywide treasure hunt. Tuesday Mooney’s life is about to change…forevermore. Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.

Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can’t be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.

If you like madcap mysteries featuring a cooler-than-cool heroine and her dapper sidekick, this book might be for you. Tuesday Mooney is the kind of character I so want to see transferred to the screen. She’s hip without trying to be hip, and super smart, plus she can see ghosts – all of which makes her a dangerous person to cross.

The story here is so intriguing – weird rich guy dies and leaves his fortune in a treasure hunt. Imagine all the trivia night commanders who would totally respond to this kind of challenge in your town, then amplify that into the urban environs of present day Boston and you’re in for a wild ride.

While the story is clever and well-told, it is Tuesday and her friends who make this story special. Fun, fun, fun!

Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler


cover159074-mediumWhosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.

But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?

Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave. That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else.

Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.

But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.

The Lady of the Lake is the true hero in this cinematic twist on the tale of King Arthur created by Thomas Wheeler and legendary artist, producer, and director Frank Miller (300, Batman: The Dark Night Returns, Sin City).

Look out for the original Netflix series starring Katherine Langford streaming everywhere Spring 2020!

I don’t think I’ve been as excited about an Arthurian book since Mists of Avalon!

Cursed gives a whole new take on the old legends of King Arthur and focuses on Nimue, the Lady of the Lake or, in some versions, Merlin’s lover. We first see Nimue as a child, living in a nurturing environment still following the old ways of the Druid. The first chapter is a violent introduction to the unconscionable acts of cleansing and conversion carried out by Christian priests and monks in the Dark Ages. The violence is startling, made especially so by the immediate change in tone in the second chapter as the storyline fills itself in, then pushes forward with Nimue as warrior and defender of the old ways.

All the expected characters appear, but in clever and fascinating new ways. The narrative itself moves fast and holds you tightly as you read page after page, oblivious to time because you just have to know what happens next. Complemented by magnificent illustrations, the story wraps around you until you can’t think of anything else. Arthur fans will devour this, but so will Game of Thrones fans missing that world. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy