The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker


Description

In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

The Golem and the Jinni was one of my top reads in 2013 and I still recommend it to readers in my library. I was excited to discover this sequel and dove in right away.

That was a couple months ago.

As with Golem, Wecker takes her time introducing characters and floats the various storylines along a gently running river. Normally, I would find this a lovely and welcome difference to the suspense stories I usually read; in March 2021, I found it impossible to keep my attention on the story and had to put it down. This had nothing to do with the book – it was everything going on in both the world at large and my own little corner of it.

Fast forward to May and a slightly calmer environment. I picked this up again and spent a wonderful weekend immersed in the world of Chava and Ahmad. It was my time to read this.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of Chava, Ahmad, and all the people who touch their lives, as well as the way Wecker ties in the significant historic events of the times, To be sure, there are lots of stories here, but Wecker keeps them all bound together, much in the way that people interact in real life. She presents a view of community and caring among people who are very different and shows that human decency can transcend differences – a message we all need right now.

Recommended.

Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Published By: Harper
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey


Description

Two people. Infinite lifetimes. One impossible choice.

Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.

But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end.

It’s rare that I give a one word review, but this one warrants it, on repeat:

Brilliant

Brilliant

Brilliant

Brilliant

Publication Date: April 27, 2021
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear


Description

As Europe buckles under Nazi occupation, Maisie Dobbs investigates a possible murder that threatens devastating repercussions for Britain’s war efforts in this latest installment in the New York Times bestselling mystery series.

October 1941. While on a delivery, young Freddie Hackett, a message runner for a government office, witnesses an argument that ends in murder. Crouching in the doorway of a bombed-out house, Freddie waits until the coast is clear. But when he arrives at the delivery address, he’s shocked to come face to face with the killer.

Dismissed by the police when he attempts to report the crime, Freddie goes in search of a woman he once met when delivering a message: Maisie Dobbs. While Maisie believes the boy and wants to help, she must maintain extreme caution: she’s working secretly for the Special Operations Executive, assessing candidates for crucial work with the French resistance. Her two worlds collide when she spots the killer in a place she least expects. She soon realizes she’s been pulled into the orbit of a man who has his own reasons to kill—reasons that go back to the last war.

As Maisie becomes entangled in a power struggle between Britain’s intelligence efforts in France and the work of Free French agents operating across Europe, she must also contend with the lingering question of Freddie Hackett’s state of mind. What she uncovers could hold disastrous consequences for all involved in this compelling chapter of the “series that seems to get better with every entry” (Wall Street Journal).

The Maisie Dobbs series has to be one of the best historical mystery series ever written. Jacqueline Winspear has built a solid-as-stone world around Maisie, with people, places and things so detailed and well-researched that the reader is enveloped by it all.

Fans of the series will find a much-tested, more mature Maisie who is finally figuring out what really matters. She has made her peace with the past and laid to rest old ghosts while preparing to launch herself into a whole new chapter of life. This Maisie is a little less brittle, a little less compliant, and a lot more sure of herself and of what’s right. There is an interesting narrative thread throughout about fear and balancing it, as evident in the title. Fear is a balance beam – stay in the middle and you stay alive; go too far one way and you become reckless while too far the other way is paralysis. This was especially poignant given that the story occurs in Great Britain during the days leading up to the entry of the United States into World War II when Allied leaders were most definitely walking a balance beam.

We see a few peripheral characters turn up in new roles, and see some old favorites in a new light as Maisie “does her bit” for the war effort while trying to help a young lad who witnessed a murder during an air raid in London. The story moves along at a good clip and keeps the reader invested.

Series fans will slurp this up in one sitting. If you haven’t read Maisie Dobbs, get you to a library right now and start with number one!

The Cookie Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


Description

The ultimate cookie cookbook, from best-selling author of The Baking Bible Rose Levy Beranbaum

This is your must-have cookie book, featuring nearly every cookie imaginable, from rustic Cranberry Chocolate Chippers to elegant French macarons, and everything in between—simple drop cookies, rolled-and-cut holiday cookies, brownies and other bars, pretty sandwich cookies, luxurious frosted or chocolate-dipped treats, and much more. With legendary baker Rose Levy Beranbaum’s foolproof recipes—which feature detail-oriented instructions that eliminate guesswork, notes for planning ahead, ingenious tips, and other golden rules for success—it’s easy to whip up a batch of irresistible, crowd-pleasing cookies anytime, for any occasion. Standout classics and new favorites include: Rose’s Dream Chocolate Chip Cookies, Lemon Lumpies, Black Tahini Crisps, Peanut Butter and Jelly Buttons, Double Ginger Molasses Cookies, Caramel Surprise Snickerdoodles, Mom’s Coconut Snowball Kisses, Chocolate Sablés, Gingerbread Folks (with a special sturdy variation for gingerbread houses)Pecan Freezer Squares, Brownie Doughnuts, Brandy Snap Rolls, Plus “extra special” details including homemade Dulce de Leche, Wicked Good Ganache, Lemon Curd, and more.

I usually don’t get emotional about cookbooks, but this one is special to me. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s seminal Rose’s Christmas Cookies was the book I turned to when I was newly married and trying to bake after my mother’s death. That book has pride of place on my bookshelf and is obviously well-used with dog-eared pages stained with drops of egg and batter, some even falling out. Some of the cookies in that book have become part of the holiday traditions for my family and friends, and are baked with love every single year.

The Cookie Bible is a welcome addition and update to Rose’s Christmas Cookies. Beranbaum includes old favorites, even recounting the same stories as she used in Christmas Cookies, which feels like rediscovering long-lost relatives. Some of those recipes are absolute classics and do not need updates (like Rose’s Crescents and Coconut Snowball Kisses) while others have been updated to include trendier ingredients like pistachios and tahini. And, of course, there are a whole lot of new recipes. Hurray!

The instructions included here are pretty much fool-proof, and Beranbaum kindly provides them for multiple methods of mixing. She includes hints and tips gleaned and learned from decades of cookie making, and provides useful information in a chatty but knowledgeable “basics” section in the front. In fact, she solved an issue that’s been driving me crazy – I did not know that there is more protein in unbleached flour and that makes your cookies browner and more cake-like – both things that have been wrong recently with my tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie recipe.

I’m telling my family this book is the only thing I really want for Christmas this year! Highly recommended.

Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Published By: Cooking, Food & Wine
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves


Description

Ann Cleeves—New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—returns with the extraordinary follow-up to The Long Call, soon to be a major TV series too.

North Devon is enjoying a rare hot summer with tourists flocking to its coastline. Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder–Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed with a shard of one of his glassblower daughter’s broken vases. Dr Yeo seems an unlikely murder victim. He’s a good man, a public servant, beloved by his daughter. Matthew is unnerved, though, to find that she is a close friend of Jonathan, his husband.

Then another body is found–killed in a similar way. Matthew soon finds himself treading carefully through the lies that fester at the heart of his community and a case that is dangerously close to home. DI Matthew Venn returns in The Heron’s Cry, in Ann Cleeves powerful next novel, proving once again that she is a master of her craft.

Cleeves’ second in the Matthew Venn series is just as twisty and slick as her first, featuring skillful character development as well as engaging description and dialog. Cleeves is by far one of the best mystery writers practicing today, including intricate plots with lots of little off-shoot stories meant to deceive the reader until the final reveal.

The peek into the relationships that have shaped Matthew, Jen, and Ross lead to emotional investment in the story and characters while the detective work keeps you turning pages. Fans of Louise Penny and Martha Grimes (and of Cleeves’ other series – Vera and Shetland) will thoroughly enjoy this one.

Recommended.

Publication Date: September 7, 2021
Published By: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn


Description

A princess is missing and a peace treaty is on the verge of collapse in this new Veronica Speedwell adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club–an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women–Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela’s chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves–and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica’s resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica’s own family–the royalty who has never claimed her.

The Veronica Speedwell series continues to entertain. In this new entry, we find a newly intimate Veronica and Stoker, still saucy and arrogant and still learning each other fully. The duo encounters another raft of colorful, larger-than-life characters who lead them on another hair-raising, mind-bending adventure involving alpinists, cut ropes, missing princesses, the growing threat of Germany, and those who wish to stem the tide of progress.

Raybourn’s writing is sharp, with the witty dialogue we’ve come to expect in the series coupled with a well-researched and fascinating plot. Why isn’t this a TV series????

Recommended.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Gesethmane Brown Series by Alexia Gordon


If you follow this blog, you know that I read mostly mystery and suspense novels. Events of the last year have prompted me to become more aware of who is not represented in the books I read, and I have noticed a lack of black and brown characters and authors in the mysteries I tend to read.

I was was happy to discover the Gesethmane Brown series by Alexia Gordon a few weeks ago, and have spent some quality time burning through the 5 books in the series.

The first in the series, Murder in G Major, introduces us to Gesethmane Brown. Gesethmane is an accomplished African-American violinist and conductor, a Maestra, who finds herself stranded in the small Irish village of Dunmullach where she accepts temporary lodging in a quaint cottage formerly owned by one of her musical heroes, Eamon McCarthy. Little does she know that she will soon become acquainted with McCarthy’s ghost, who convinces her that his death and that of his wife did not happen as reported.

Gesethmane also accepts a position as music teacher to a group of unruly boys who need a firm hand to get their orchestra in shape for an all-county competition. As she navigates the school, village, and her ghostly roommate, the series structure is slowly built. Gesethmane quickly becomes the (fond) thorn-in-the-side of local garda (police) Iollan O’Reilly, and makes friends with the local parish priest Fr. Tim and with fellow teacher Frankie Grennan. These three, along with Eamon, form the basis of Gesethmane’s support team in the series.

There are 5 books in the series with each titled using a musical term. Gesethmane’s work as a musician is acknowledged throughout the series as being world-class, and she is clearly the one in charge in each book. She is smart, funny, loyal, and determined.

Gordon builds upon Gesethmane’s relationships in each book, revealing more about her past life and that of the village. The addition of the ghost is a fun aspect to the series, which places this in good company with other paranormal mysteries. The writing is skillful and the plots interesting. These are fun, cozy mysteries that will provide a few hours of entertainment for the reader.

I listened to the audiobooks of all 5 and preferred the narrator of 2-4, although the “southern” accent attributed to Gesethmane seems contrived (she’s from Virginia) and was often jarring. City of Rochester readers, all 5 titles are available in audio form through Hoopla. All you need is your library card.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan


Description

From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes an unforgettable novel of a BBC-sponsored wartime cooking competition and the four women who enter for a chance to better their lives.

Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses: The Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest—and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the competition would present a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it’s a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. For a kitchen maid, it’s a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For a lady of the manor, it’s a chance to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it’s a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all—even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together only serve to break it apart?

Any book about cooking is one I’m probably going to pick up and in The Kitchen Front I found a delightful examination of the relationships of 4 women in a small English village during World War II. There are the usual colorful village characters but it’s the four women – sisters Audrey & Gwendoline, Nell, and Zelda – who are the beating heart of this story.

Ryan does an exceptional job of untangling and renewing the relationships between the women but also of dissecting the patriarchal culture of mid-century Britain where an accomplished female chef is given no respect, an ambitious woman is cast as a bitch because she has a logical mind, a woman who chose a chaotic family life is looked at with derision, and a woman having a child out of wedlock worries her entire life is ruined. Ryan explores the fear and frustration each woman experiences, but also dips into the joy and sisterhood they find through the Kitchen Front contest.

Fans of Ryan’s earlier work and of Tracy Chevalier and Mary Ann Shaffer will enjoy this.

Off the Wild Coast of Brittany by Juliet Blackwell


Description

An unforgettable story of resilience and resistance set during WWII and present-day France on a secluded island off the coast of Brittany

Natalie Morgen made a name for herself with a memoir about overcoming her harsh childhood after finding a new life in Paris. After falling in love with a classically trained chef, they moved together to his ancestral home, a tiny fishing village off the coast of Brittany.

But then Francois-Xavier breaks things off with her without warning, leaving her flat broke and in the middle of renovating the guesthouse they planned to open for business. Natalie’s already struggling when her sister, Alex, shows up unannounced. The sisters form an unlikely partnership to save the guesthouse, reluctantly admitting their secrets to each other as they begin to heal the scars of their shared past.

But the property harbors hidden stories of its own. During World War II, every man of fighting age on the island fled to England to join the Free French forces. The women and children were left on their own…until three hundred German troops took up residence, living side-by-side with the French women on the tiny island for the next several years.

When Natalie and Alex unearth an old cookbook in a hidden cupboard, they find handwritten recipes that reveal old secrets. With the help of locals, the Morgen sisters begin to unravel the relationship between Violette, a young islander whose family ran the guesthouse during WWII, and Rainier, a German military customs official with a devastating secret of his own.

This gentle exploration of the relationships between sisters and friends provided a lovely interlude on a gray, rainy Sunday for this reader. I’ve long been a fan of Blackwell’s Lily Ivory series which is hip and witchy, but have come to appreciate her novels set in France for their relatable characters and clever plots.

Here the story flips between the present day and World War II. Each era features a female protagonist who struggles with love, ambition, and curiosity about life outside the small worlds in which they grew up. Our present day heroine, Nat, is an influencer who has made a career out of traveling the world and asking “Porquois Pas?” However, she finds that the lifestyle that landed her on a remote island off the coast of France is no longer fulfilling. Having her sister show up unannounced leads her down a different path, one that ends in truth for both of them.

The World War II era story features a previous tenant of the guest house Nat runs in the present time. Violette longs for something more than the primitive and remote island life, but the influx of German soldiers flips her reality upside down. The story of how these island women channeled the magic of earlier inhabitants and used their own imaginations and determination to trick the Nazis is one of the most enjoyable tales I’ve read in a long time.

Blackwell does a nice job of knitting the past and present together, leaving me feeling sad the story ended. Fans of Blackwell’s previous work will not be disappointed; fans of Jenny Colgan will also find this an enjoyable read.

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Description

Adapted from the adult memoir by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Water Dancer and Between the World and Me, this father-son story explores how boys become men, and quite specifically, how Ta-Nehisi Coates became Ta-Nehisi Coates.

As a child, Ta-Nehisi Coates was seen by his father, Paul, as too sensitive and lacking focus. Paul Coates was a Vietnam vet who’d been part of the Black Panthers and was dedicated to reading and publishing the history of African civilization. When it came to his sons, he was committed to raising proud Black men equipped to deal with a racist society, during a turbulent period in the collapsing city of Baltimore where they lived. Coates details with candor the challenges of dealing with his tough-love father, the influence of his mother, and the dynamics of his extended family, including his brother “Big Bill,” who was on a very different path than Ta-Nehisi. Coates also tells of his family struggles at school and with girls, making this a timely story to which many readers will relate.

Coates’ work is quite possibly the most important out there right now. His prose lifts the soul but also lays bare the inequities and injustice experienced every day by people of color. I am so appreciative that Coates and others are releasing their uplifting, brutally honest words in multiple formats that are accessible to all sorts of readers.

This book should be read by every teen out there, and by every person working with, teaching, mentoring, and loving a teen or person of color.

Teen Librarians, BUY THIS BOOK!