Sarah Stewart Taylor: The Mountains Wild

This novel will be released on June 23, 2020.

I was a huge fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Sweeney St. George series, published in the early 2000’s.  Sweeney was an expert on gravestone iconography, and the books were beautifully written, thoughtful mysteries.  Stewart Taylor has been away from mystery fiction since 2006, and this return feels more polished, more pointed in its narrative drive – it’s a step up.  I’ll say up front it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

It’s not a total departure from the Sweeney books – the passion is there, the love of history is there, but it’s more focused.  It follows the story of Maggie D’Arcy, who, as an adult, is a homicide detective on Long Island, but who, as a 20 something, lost the cousin who was like a sister to her.  The cousin, Erin, had left the states for Ireland, and hasn’t been heard from since 1993.  There are other young women who were killed (and discovered) in the same area, and Maggie and the rest of her family are pretty sure Erin is dead, but they’d like to know. read more

Susan Allott: The Silence

This is a very melancholy novel about people who live near each other, yet in isolation, thanks to a profound lack of communication.   It’s set in Australia in the late 60’s, with a portion in the late 90’s.  Two couples live side by side in a new neighborhood, right on the ocean.  Louise and Joe, immigrants from England, live in one house with their daughter, Isla.  Next door are Steve and Mandy, who are childless.  Mandy often looks after Isla.

As the book opens, the adult Isla gets a call from her father, who says the police have been by to discuss Mandy, who had disappeared from the neighborhood many years ago.  The central nugget of suspense in the novel concerns the relationships between the neighbors and between the couples themselves.  What happened in the past that caused Mandy to disappear?  Why would Isla’s father, who seems devoted to his family, have had anything to do with her disappearance? read more

Erica Ruth Neubauer: Murder at the Mena House

Erica Ruth Neubauer’s debut novel is lots of fun, much in the vein of Kerry Greenwood’s delightful Phryne Fisher books. It’s 1926 and Jane Wunderly is on vacation with her slightly prickly Aunt Millie, from her dead husband’s side of the family.  Aunt Millie has selected the exclusive Mena House in Cairo for their trip, a place nearly at the foot of the Great Pyramids. (It’s also the spot where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile).

While this novel is steeped in all things Egyptian – camel races, pyramids, the sphinx, stolen and found artifacts, along with a visit to the museum – it is not about an archeologist or archaeology.   I thought this was an interesting choice given the time and place, but a sensible one.  It allowed Neubauer to tell a full on traditional golden age style detective story. read more

Mariah Fredericks: Death of an American Beauty

I remember when Rhys Bowen started writing her Molly Murphy series.  I inhaled them the second they were published.  I loved (and still do) the mix of the feisty Molly, her journey of discovery as a new immigrant, the clever mysteries, and the turn of the century settings.  Rhys Bowen has the gift of narrative.  I am so happy to tell you – because I want to make you a fellow fan – that Mariah Fredericks has that very same gift.

I have so far inhaled all three of her books featuring ladies’ maid Jane Prescott, who works for the wealthy Mrs. Louise Tyler around the 1910’s.  She has a way with a story, and a way of getting you to care about and be invested in her characters.  In this novel Jane is on “vacation”, so she goes home.  Home for Jane is a refuge for fallen women, run by her uncle, a Presbyterian pastor.  He takes women who come from the streets and gives them a place to live, something to eat, and a little hope for the future and a different way of earning a living. read more

A Little Comfort Reading

As we’re all stuck at home, a little (or a lot) of comfort reading is in order.  Not a re-reader?  I’ve included some newer books, and hopefully there are some authors here that are new to you as a reader.  A great resource, should you want to read whole series in order (and why not?), is Fantastic Fiction.  There you can find authors with their series listed in chronological order.  If you want to delve deeper, check out Stop, You’re Killing Me, and drill down to finding a series by occupation, location, time period or character name.  See what awards your favorite writers have won.  These two sites are essential to any reader. read more

Harlan Coben: the Boy from the Woods

Harlan Coben’s The Boy from the Woods is one of his fresher – and angrier – books in awhile.  He’s using lawyer Hester Crimstein as his main character (mostly), and as readers, we get some of the fierce Hester’s backstory, as she listens to her grandson when he tells her he’s worried about the disappearance of a bullied girl in his class.

There’s also the titular character, the “boy from the woods,” aka Wilde, a man who was discovered as a 6 or 8 year old in the woods, apparently having survived living on his own for quite a while.  He learned English from breaking into abandoned homes and watching television but as a grown man, he’s still most comfortable alone in the woods. read more

Julia Spencer-Fleming: Hid from Our Eyes

If you’re a fan of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s, you’ll be delighted to know that Hid From Our Eyes picks up right where One Was a Soldier left off.  Since it’s been awhile I’ll recap: Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband Russ Van Alstyne have welcomed their first child (read the book to find out the child’s name and sex).  Clare is in addiction recovery, and believably – for anyone familiar with addiction – she teeters from sober to wishing she wasn’t.  That’s the rich background. read more

Cara Black: Three Hours in Paris

This book will be available on April 7, 2020.

This ticking clock thriller feels like the book Cara Black has long wanted to write, it’s so explosive, so taut, and so impossible to stop reading.  The propulsive narrative follows Kate Rees, a young American sent to assassinate Hitler when he visits Paris for three hours in 1940.  The set up introduces Kate as she’s waiting with her sniper rifle for Hitler’s appearance; then it goes back in time, very briefly, to establish Kate as a person.  She’d been living in Scotland with her Welsh husband and their baby daughter when she loses them both to a German bomb, making her determined to fight the Germans with every bit of herself. read more

Carol Goodman: The Sea of Lost Girls

Carol Goodman’s luscious prose doesn’t mask her storytelling drive, and it’s a haunting and unforgettable combination.  The Sea of Lost Girls is set at a girl’s boarding school in Maine, centering on the family of Tess, Harmon and Rudy.  Tess and Harmon both work at the school; Rudy is Tess’s son and Harmon’s stepson, as well as a student at the school. The book kicks off with him texting his mother in the middle of the night, and she rushes off to find out what’s wrong.

As a reader, I was instantly drawn into the dynamic between Tess and her son, who has had some troubles but whom she loves fiercely.  Her greatest goal is that of any mother’s: to protect him.  And, as it turns out, he needs it.  His girlfriend, Lila, whom he had been fighting with, turns up dead the next morning and suspicion falls on both Rudy and Harmon in turn. read more

Serena Kent: Death in Avignon

This was a delicious slice of armchair travel – I have never personally been to Provence, but I think my new life goal might be to get there.  Serena Kent’s British heroine, Penelope Kite, has started over in Provence after a divorce and seeing her children out of the nest.  She’s rehabbed a gorgeous old stone farmhouse (I’m assuming it’s gorgeous, because, by the sound of the book, everything in Provence is gorgeous). She lives a pleasant life walking into the village for croissants, eating lots of incredible sounding meals, drinking wine that sounds just as luscious, practicing her cello, and oh yes – she has a flair for detection. read more