by | Feb 26, 2024 | News

  • The Mystery Guest, Nita Prose
  • Cirque du Slay, Rob Osler
  • Ice in the Blood, Kevin Wignall
  • Peace Talks, and Battle Ground, Jim Butcher
  • Dreaming Spies, Laurie King
  • Grave Expectations, Alice Bell
  • Hell is Empty, Craig Johnson
  • Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer
  • Starling House, Alix E. Harrow

The Mystery Guest is Nita Prose’s second Molly the Maid book. The first one, The Maid, got many awards and deserved them all. You should read it first. It’s easier to enjoy the second book if you already know Molly Gray. She’s a maid at a highly regarded New York hotel, and she’s worth ten other maids. Molly, who seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, is devoted to her job and believes all the other employees should be as highly motivated as she is. And her attention to detail is priceless in a murder investigation, as you can imagine. The victim here is J. D. Grimthorpe, a mystery writer. Pure enjoyment.

I enjoyed Rob Osler’s first book about his gay dating blogger, Hayden McCall. I was delighted to get an advance copy of Cirque du Slay. Hayden, a middle school teacher, has an expanding circle of friends including Hollister, a mohawked furniture designer. Hollister is constantly urging Hayden into adventures he’d never explore on his own, and a performance of Mysterium (a circus somewhat resembling the Cirque to Soleil) is one of those occasions. The artistic director, Kennedy Osaka, is found dead afterward with a frenemy of Hayden’s standing over the body. Naturally, he has to clear Sarah Lee’s name.

Kevin Wignall has long been one of my favorite thriller writers. Ice in the Blood keep up his high standard. Security consultant Jay Lewis lives a violent life among violent people. When a former flame deposits Jay’s son – the one he didn’t know he had – with Jay, for keeps, the astounded Jay doesn’t know how to introduce his child to a life that is best lived alone. Jay and his child develop a relationship that will surprise you, as this former intelligence officer finds a way to make fatherhood work.

Jim Butcher’s books about Harry Dresden, Chicago wizard, have the gold standard by which most urban fantasy is measured. Peace Talks and Battle Ground are two of the grimmest entries in a series that doesn’t shrink from terrible events happening to Harry, his friends, and his loved ones. If you haven’t read the Harry Dresden books before, please go buy the first one and you’ll be hooked. Then you’ll have so much to read before you get to Peace Talks!

Laurie King’s mystery series about Mary Russell, who becomes the wife of Sherlock Holmes, is another classic of its genre. Dreaming Spies is the fourteenth book, but you can dive in anywhere in these novels and catch up. However, like most long running series, it’s more enjoyable to start at the beginning, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I am convinced  Sherlock himself would enjoy these books. Mary Russell is a wonderful character.

Grave Expectations is not what I expected. The best quote I read on it was Catherine Ryan Howard’s, who said, “Knives Out vibes with added ghosts.” There is so much unexpected in this book, I was alert throughout constantly startled.  Medium Claire and her friend Sophie are invited to perform a séance at an old manor house in England. What struggling medium wouldn’t agree? But the discovery of a tragic ghost leads Claire to try to find who killed her, and with the help of Sophie, and ex-policeman named Sebastian, and a non-binary teenager named Alex, the investigation turns into a race again time.

Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire books are among the best writing in modern crime fiction. The TV show is great, too. And Craig Johnson is a great guy. Run out and buy these books, if you haven’t read them yet. Hell is Empty is one of my favorites in the series. Walt faces death from the elements and from escaped prisoners in the Wyoming mountains in a snowstorm . . .  but Walt never backs down.

Under the Banner of Heaven is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Jon Krakauer is my favorite non-fiction writer, and this older book of his will show you why. Krakauer started studying the murder of a woman and her baby by two brothers, who maintained they were directed to kill the two by God. From that starting point, Krakauer dove deeper and deeper in to an investigation of the violent side of the Mormon religion. This book is fascinating and eye-opening.

Alix E. Harrow’s Starling House is one surprise after another. Opal, poor and trying to take care of her brother Jasper, has always been obsessed by Starling House, the home of E. Starling, who wrote an underground classic, The Underland, over a hundred years ago. The current owner of Starling House, Arthur, hires Opal to help him out in the decaying mansion. But that’s hardly what Starling House is. It’s a living entity, and terrible things happen there.


I know it’s been a very long time since I wrote a column for my website, and I’m sorry. In case you aren’t up on my life (and why should you be?) I had both my knees replaced, and that pretty much took up the last half of 2023. I had two other hospital stays in the first half. So that’s my excuse. I did read a lot, so it’s going to take me a few entries to catch up . . .and that’s just on the new books. I did a lot of rereading, too.

Currently, I’m reading and enjoying L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. He wrote fourteen, but the series was continued after his death by several other people. I’m not too interested in those, but I do want to dip into the fourteen original books. Baum had a very up-and-down life, with many not too successful forays into writing and producing plays. He did write many more books for children besides the Oz books, but the majority of them have been forgotten.

Since the Oz books were fantasies for children, there are curious gaps of logic in them. If no one ever dies, why isn’t Oz crowded? Will Ozma ever grow up? Will Dorothy? Will they marry?  Obviously, the inhabitants of Oz marry and have children, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Dorothy or Ozma, or Glinda the Good for that matter.

My favorite character (appearing only in one book) is Princess Languidere, who has many heads and changes them at will. Her temperament (and presumably her intelligence) changes with each head. Don’t you have days like that?

I am trying to resume a former life I barely remember, where I had no pain when I walked and went upstairs. Someday that pain will be a memory, I believe. I try to do my knee exercises every day, and I go up the stairs at my house at least twice a week, just to prove to myself I can do it.

This is the season of Lent, and I have given up Facebook. That is easier than the year I gave up my gall bladder. I’m not saying I don’t peek at my messages, but it’s undeniably true I also have more time to work. I’m trying very hard to finish the next Gunnie Rose book, which of course should have been turned in last year. My editor, Joe Monti, has been very understanding, and I hope all my readers will be, too.

Charlaine Harris