April Micro-Reviews


unforgotten

The Unforgotten by Laura Powell – What a ride! This is a book that forces you to pay attention, which really isn’t a problem because you will want to keep turning those pages. The story begins with Betty Broadbent, a young girl who suddenly finds her quiet life in a small Cornish village turned upside down by a series of grisly murders. The local hotel run by Betty’s mother becomes de facto headquarters for the journalists who descend on the town, and that’s where Betty meets Gallagher. The two fall into an unlikely and unpredictable relationship/friendship as the search for the “Cornish Cleaver” goes on. While I expected a tightly written mystery, I got that plus a really well-crafted story about obsession, madness, and guilt. I found the characters charming at first, then a little irritating, then a little scary and suspicious. The author does a good job of blending past and present, and skillfully demonstrates how the past never really leaves you. I’m not often surprised by endings, but this one had me gobsmacked. Really, really good.

Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

islandIsland of the Mad by Laurie King – I’ve been a fan of Laurie King’s Mary Russell series for years, but the last couple felt a little played out. This one, unfortunately, continued that trend. Here, Mary is contacted by an old, dear friend whose beloved Aunt Vivian has disappeared. Vivian, who has been a resident of an asylum for years, was visiting family when she disappeared along with some jewels and other items from her brother’s safe. Russell is called upon to find the Lady Vivian and recover both the lady and the jewels. This involves an undercover stay in Bedlam (the asylum where Vivian lived for years), fascism in Britain and Italy, and Cole Porter. While the story was entertaining enough, it didn’t spark like previous books. The younger Russell would have twigged on the reason for Lady Vivian’s “madness” long before this Mary Russell figured it out. I found myself shaking my head at her thickness by chapter 4. I think it’s time to move on.

Publication Date: June 12, 2018
Published By: Random House Group/Ballantine/Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

darkangelDark Angel by Elly Griffiths – I’ve loved Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series from the first, and was eagerly anticipating this next entry in the series. “Was” is the keyword in that last sentence. Griffiths has gone from writing top-notch mysteries focusing primarily on Ruth’s role as a forensic anthropologist to writing sappy relationship novels that focus on Ruth as the “other woman” in a love triangle, successfully reducing her to a cliché. Why do writers do that? Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series suffered from the same issue, but Winspear is finally bringing Maisie back around to detecting. Griffiths needs to do the same. Ruth Galloway is so much more than Nelson and Kate. Bring her back! Please!

Publication Date: May 13, 2018
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

168987AA-65EE-4C22-828E-3AD4FE97BFE7The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe – Another highly anticipated series entry from Alex Bledsoe that more than lived up to the anticipation. Begun with the Hum & the Shiver and concluded here, Bledsoe’s Tufa series is one of the most creative and well-written modern fairy tales out there. Bledsoe beautifully wraps up the story arc of an exiled tribe of Tuatha de Danaan living in Tennessee, providing closure to a number of stories included in the earlier books. We finally learn the one story that Bledsoe has never told – the origin story of the Tufa – and it’s fascinating, especially the little nugget of info from the King of Fairyland regarding the bet that landed the Tufa in Tennessee.  While I am sad that this is the last in the series, I am very much looking forward to the tales Bledsoe will spin next. I highly recommend the entire series.

Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Published By: MacMillan/Tor-Forge
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

westawayDeath of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – Ruth Ware has done it again. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is an un-put-downable tale of family turmoil, long-buried secrets, and deception that will keep you up at night, reading just one more chapter…until you’ve devoured the whole thing in one sitting. Harriet “Hal” Westaway is a young woman making her living as a tarot reader on the Brighton Pier. She’s all alone in the world, having lost her mother in an unexpected accident when she was 18. Not only is she alone, but she’s also in debt. So when she receives a letter from an attorney informing her that she is a beneficiary in the will of  her grandmother Hester Westaway, she packs up her few belongings and heads to Cornwall, even though she believes the letter was sent in error. Her arrival sets in motion a chain of events begun decades earlier and brought to a grim conclusion here. Ware gives us an appealing protagonist, shifty characters, a questionable will, and the de rigeur treacherous housekeeper all wrapped up in a brooding Cornish mansion right out of Agatha Christie. One of the best I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: May 29, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery/Scout Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Bear & the Nightingale and Girl in Tower by Katherine Arden


82F05A68-C6D8-4CBF-9BE8-79BC4F3D83F7Folktales speak to us of ancient people, places and things. Dark caverns, spooky forests, mysterious voices that carry on the wind, power over life and death, and so much more. All these things confounded our ancestors, so they created stories to explain the “why” of things like snow, waxing and waning moons, flight of birds, and luck. Those long ago ancestors also believed that there were guardians, or house gods, or chyerti who protected the family from evil…as long as they were fed and cared for and believed in. And that’s where Katherine Arden’s glorious Winternight Trilogy begins.

In Book 1, The Bear and the Nightingale, we meet Vasilisa, the youngest daughter of Pyotr of Lesnaya Zemlya. Vasya, as her family calls her, can see the chyerti who are beginning to fade as the new Christian religion takes hold in Russia. Warned to always care for the chyerti, who keep evil away from the family and village, Vasya continues to practice the “old ways” until her father brings a new stepmother home from Moscow. Anna is a devout Christian who sees evil at every turn, but especially in Vasya, making it hard for Vasya to honor the chyerti. As the chyerti are neglected, an old evil awakens in the form of a monstrous Bear and terrible things begin to happen in the village. Vasya invokes Morozko, the Winter King, to help save her family and village from the Bear and his horrible minions, but also to save herself from a vengeful priest who seeks to burn her as a witch.

Girl in the Tower picks up where Bear & the Nightingale leaves off – with Lesnaya Zemlya safe, and Vasya setting off on her own with the magnificent horse Solvey, gifted to her by the Winter King. Her only wish is to see as much of the world as possible, but she quickly comes to realize just how difficult that will be without assistance. She seeks out the Winter King, who reluctantly helps her on her way, disguised as a boy. Along the way, Vasya stumbles upon her older brother, Sasha, and their cousin Dmitri, the Grand Prince of Moscow and joins forces with them to defeat a greater evil, Kaschei the Deathless. Their quest takes them back to Moscow, where Vasya is reunited with her older sister Olga, the Princess of Serpukhov. Olga lives in Moscow with her husband and children, one of whom has inherited the ability to see the chyerti. Vasya’s adventures in Moscow end in a thrilling showdown with Kaschei, and a very satisfying ending which foreshadows the final entry in the series.

Throughout both novels, Vasya struggles with her intense desire to be free. She doesn’t want to marry, nor does she wish to enter the convent which are the only two options for young women of her time. She relishes the danger and thrill of her relationship with Morozko, the Winter King, and Arden has done a masterful job of creating tension and attraction between the two. Arden has created interesting characters in Bear & the Nightingale, and has spent considerable time fleshing them out in Girl in the Tower. Vasya, Sasha, Dmitri, Olga, and now Marya create a world that will pull you in and envelop you with their spirit. While the story is captivating on it’s own, Arden’s writing is icing on the cake. Lyrical, lush, and full of magic and mystery, it will keep you reading well into the night. Truthfully, I haven’t loved a series as much since I first read Harry Potter. Highly recommended.