The Maid by Nita Prose


Description

A charmingly eccentric hotel maid discovers a guest murdered in his bed. Solving the mystery will turn her once orderly world upside down in this utterly original debut.

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

“Smart, riveting, and deliciously refreshing . . . a murder mystery with tremendous heart.”—Lisa Jewell, #1 New York Timesbestselling author of The Family Upstairs

My Thoughts

If you love well-crafted mysteries with a surprising end, this is your book for January. The character of Molly the Maid is one of the most original and endearing characters I’ve come across, and the cast of characters here is remarkable.

This isn’t just a mystery. It is a sensitive and heartwarming treatment of what it means to be different and how those things that make a person “different” also make them exceptionally human. The peek into the inner life of someone who interacts with the world differently than other people, someone who is considered “weird,” is handled with such compassion and matter-of-factness that the reader feels what it’s like to be Molly and comes away knowing that “weird” isn’t “bad.”

The surprise ending is a bit jarring but I think it could generate some great discussion among book clubs regarding Molly’s aversion to liars and cheaters expressed early in the book and how the story ends.

Nita Prose is an author to watch. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: January 4, 2022
Published By: Random House – Ballantine
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo


Description

A 2021 People Magazine Best Books of Fall Winner!

From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all—for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

My Thoughts

Kate DiCamillo just keeps on writing perfect books. The Beatryce Prophecy is storytelling at it finest, with endearing characters and a compelling, folktale-like story led by a remarkable and memorable trio of characters. However, if you count the goat, it’s really a group of four!

All the elements of a story are here – characters that leap off the page; a well-constructed plot that keeps the reader turning pages; a setting defined by vivid description; and a tension that grips you by the hands and pulls you along to the very satisfying conclusion.

This would make a lovely classroom read-aloud that could be used to spark discussion on a number of topics, including equity in education.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for the review copy

Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani


Description

You think you know these stories, don’t you?

You are wrong. 

You don’t know them at all.

Twelve tales, twelve dangerous tales of mystery, magic, and rebellious hearts. Each twists like a spindle to reveal truths full of warning and triumph, truths that free hearts long kept tame, truths that explore life . . . and death.

A prince has a surprising awakening . . .                           

A beauty fights like a beast . . .

A boy refuses to become prey . . .

A path to happiness is lost. . . . then found again. 

New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani respins old stories into fresh fairy tales for a new era and creates a world like no other. These stories know you. They understand you. They reflect you. They are tales for our times. So read on, if you dare.

My Thoughts

I’ve read a lot of fairy tales retold and reimagined, but nothing – nothing! – like this. Chainani completely disrupts the old tales and rewrites them ferociously for all those readers who never once saw themselves in those stories.

There is power here – power of women and girls, power of color, power of sex – all woven together into a dark and delicious fist raised to the traditional, exclusionary tales.

Little girls with onyx skin and springy curls will see themselves here, as will beautiful boys who prefer red-haired thieves to brittle wives.

There is anger here, but there’s also righteousness. These are tales for our time.

Highly Recommended.

Publication Date: September 21, 2021
Published By: Harper Collins Childrens Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Letters of Note: Mothers by Shaun Usher


Description

A fascinating new volume of messages about motherhood, from the author of the bestselling Letters of Note collections. In Letters of Note: Mothers, Shaun Usher gathers together exceptional missives by and about mothers, celebrating the joy and grief, humour and frustration, wisdom and sacrifice the role brings to both parent and child.

A young Egyptian girl mourns her mother’s death in the fourth century AD. Melissa Rivers lovingly chides her mother, Joan, for treating her house like a hotel and taking her thirteen-year-old son to see Last Tango in Paris. Anne Sexton gives her daughter the advice to live life to the hilt, and be your own woman. In a letter to her teenage daughter, Caitlin Moran explains that some boys are as evil as vampires, and you must drive stakes through their hearts. The film Ladybird inspires journalist Hannah Woodhead to write an emotional letter to her mother. While at seminary, Martin Luther King Jr. writes that he has “the best mother in the world.” These thirty letters capture the endless range of feelings that comes with being or having a mother. Includes letters from E.B. White, George Bernard Shaw, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, Laura Dern, Baya Hocine, Louisa May Alcott, Wallac Stegner, and more.

Mothers have been on my mind so I was attracted to this new entry in Usher’s “Letters of Note” series. In the middle of all the uprising and strife worldwide in the past year, there is one thing we all have in common – we all made someone a mother by our very existence.

Usher captures great joy, fear, anger, heartbreak, disappointment, love and hate in these letters, which include mothers and children from all over the globe. There is darkness here to be true, but there is even more light and hope.

Last year, my daughter gave me a subscription to Storyworth, a service that provides a weekly writing prompt which results in a book at the end of the year. The prompts include questions about important events, people, and experiences in your life. In reading over the prompts and my responses, I noted that I mention my mother or my grandmother in nearly every one. My children never had the chance to know either my mother or grandmother, so they only have my stories. These two women, Arline and Helen, shaped me and still whisper guidance in my ear. They taught me how to strive to be a good person and I know I have been blessed to have had them in my life.

My mother’s wake was held on Mother’s Day 1984, so the holiday has never been a favored one in my family. This year, I will remember these stories and tell them again to my children so they can know, in a small way, the wisdom and love I received from my mother and grandmother.

I was not familiar with this series by the author, but enjoyed this one so much I’m going to find the others. Recommended.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner


A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge.

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time. -From the Publisher

It’s been awhile since a story intrigued me like this one. The juxtaposed stories of the apothecary in the 17th century and the woman in the 21st century blend really nicely, although I will confess I was more interested in the apothecary’s story and the action taking place there.

The 21st century characters are definitely of the time – a little whiny, self-absorbed, and feeling unfulfilled – while the 17th century characters seem to pop. I definitely got the feeling the author enjoyed writing the apothecary’s story more! Nella and Eliza, and even the Lady Clarence, blaze off the page, while I was left with little sympathy for our modern day characters.

Overall, though, this is a captivating and fast-paced story that will appeal to fans of historical fiction.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Park Row
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.From the Publisher

So many people have recommended V.E. Schwab to me over the years, but this is the first of her work that I’ve read. Why did I wait so long to read her work???

Put simply, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of the most unusual and enchanting books I’ve read in a very long time. Bookshelves overflow with tales of the old gods and retellings of familiar stories, but very few take those old allegorical tales and turn them into something new and fresh like Schwab has done here.

There is so much to unpack in this story – what it means to live and die, what people must do to survive, what it means to be remembered (“It is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.“), what it takes to resist temptation – but at the same time, there is the telling of a captivating story that keeps you turning the pages just to see what happens to Addie, Henry, and the green-eyed man.

I completely understand why Schwab’s work has been so highly recommended to me. Reading this story is making me seek out her earlier work, and I could see this sweeping through book clubs this fall. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 6, 2020
Published By: Tor 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

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate


cover182289-mediumFrom the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours comes a new novel inspired by historical events: a dramatic story of three young women on a journey in search of family amidst the destruction of the post-Civil War South, and of a modern-day teacher who rediscovers their story and its vital connection to her own students’ lives.

In her distinctive voice, Lisa Wingate brings to life startling stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold off.

Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous aftermath of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now-destitute plantation; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate free-born Creole half-sister; and Hannie, Lavinia’s former slave. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following dangerous roads rife with ruthless vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and eight siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage westward reignites an agonizing question: could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the seemingly limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.

Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt–until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Augustine, Louisiana. The town seems suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lies the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.

This book caught me by surprise. The concept intrigued me – parallel stories past & present about the “lost friends” letters in the Southwestern Christian Advocate that helped reunite former slaves and their families, and a modern story about descendants of some of those slaves who reconnect with their history.

It takes a skilled writer to construct a narrative that jumps between centuries but keeps a common thread running through both past and present. Often, one of the story threads is better developed and more interesting, but that doesn’t happen here. Both past and present are are equally captivating. I found myself reading swiftly through chapters because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.

The story set in the past, that of Hannie Gossett, is wrenching and raw. The unspeakable way slave families were broken up and sold and how black women and girls were treated by white men and women is hard to read, but it is an important part of the narrative which makes the end of Hattie’s story that much more satisfying.

The present day story about a naive but enthusiastic young teacher who finds a way to connect with her students through history is, at times, a bit too convenient. However, the teacher (Miss Silva), the adult characters, and the kids are well-developed and endearing.

This will appeal to Wingate’s fan base, for sure, and would make a decent book club book. It must be said that there are better novels about life as a slave out there (Beloved and certainly The Water Dancer by Coates), but The Book of Lost Friends is a good addition to that genre of books and will introduce readers to the Lost Friends letters which can be viewed online. Recommended.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Published By: Random House – Ballantine
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

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cover171999-mediumThe story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love

Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren’t really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes–in a plain, green journal–the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It’s run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves–and soon find each other In Real Life at Monica’s Café.

The Authenticity Project’s cast of characters–including Hazard, the charming addict who makes a vow to get sober; Alice, the fabulous mommy Instagrammer whose real life is a lot less perfect than it looks online; and their other new friends–is by turns quirky and funny, heartbreakingly sad and painfully true-to-life. It’s a story about being brave and putting your real self forward–and finding out that it’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it looks a lot like happiness. The Authenticity Project is just the tonic for our times that readers are clamoring for–and one they will take to their hearts and read with unabashed pleasure.

Reading this book was a balm for my soul during a particularly difficult time. I’ve spent my career believing in the power of words to reveal and heal, and Clare Pooley accomplishes that in this heartwarming story. Being authentic, truly authentic, is terrifying for most people. Would you ever reveal your deepest secret, and if you did, would it be in a notebook that you leave on a table in a coffee shop for a complete stranger to read? That’s what happens here, but instead of strangers remaining strangers, the people who find the notebook and read the contents become friends who help each other move on from particularly difficult parts of their lives.

This will make a great book club selection and will be a popular read for those who are craving happiness and human comfort.

Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Published By: Penguin Group Viking; Pamela Dorman Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card


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A transporting debut novel that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations, in the tradition of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

Stanford Solomon has a shocking, thirty-year-old secret. And it’s about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley, a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend.

And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead.

These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present day Harlem. There is Vera, whose widowhood forced her into the role of single mother. There are two daughters and a granddaughter who have never known they are related. And there are others, like the house boy who loved Vera, whose lives might have taken different courses if not for Abel Paisley’s actions.

These Ghosts Are Family explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is an engrossing portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret. This electric and luminous family saga announces the arrival of a new American talent.

A man steals another man’s identity and lives a whole new life over decades. What happens to his first family and how do his actions shape their lives? Maisy Card’s debut novel is bursting with the stories of all the people touched by Abel Paisley’s split second decision to become Solomon Stanford. She skillfully weaves all the stories together and lets the lives of so many bleed out on to the pages. You won’t like all the characters, but you will be drawn into their stories nonetheless.

Stories like this always make me think about the decisions we make and how they affect others. There are so many paths we could all walk down throughout our lives – whose path did we affect and what did it mean? Card doesn’t pull punches. There are some ugly things in this books, but the characters feel real and raw so that you can’t help but feel their pain, sorrow, and joy.

This will be one of the best of 2020. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy