Blackbird, Michael Fiegel
In the Crypt with a Candlestick, Daisy Waugh
Bullet Train, Kotaro Isaka
The Copper Heart and The Shadow Wing, Sarah Painter
The Last Graduate, Naomi Novik
Dead Ever After, Charlaine Harris
Under the Whispering Door, TJ Klune
Death in Castle Dark, Veronica Bond
A Royal Affair, Allison Montclair
Pandora’s Orphans, Dana Cameron
Hench, Natalie Zena Walschots
Michael Fiegel’s debut novel, Blackbird, is a stunner. From beginning to end, Fiegel picks the unlikely next step rather than the predictable one. It’s a startling approach and great writing. It’s hard to sum up this work, but it’s told from two points of view – that of a paranoid hitman and the girl he impulsively abducts.
In the Crypt with a Candlestick is a completely different kettle of fish. The characters are (to some small degree) likeable but quite flawed, from the at-loose-ends mom who’s hired to manage an estate which encourages tourism to the couple from the family who owns it, to the disagreeable ghost who comments on everyone’s private behavior. It’s brittle and snarky and fun.
Kotaro Osaka’s Bullet Train is just as vivid as Blackbird, but it’s definitely an action movie waiting to happen. The cover tells us that it’s in development with Brad Pitt and Joey King . . . inexplicably, since the book is set in Japan and the characters are exclusively Japanese. Here’s the concept – due to complicated circumstances, there are on this train a suitcase stuffed with money, a sociopathic schoolboy, the unluckiest assassin in the world, a father bent on revenge, and two thugs called Lemon and Tangerine. And more lethal characters are waiting to make their presence known.
I have enjoyed every one of Sarah Painter’s Crow Investigations books. Imagine how happy I was to discover I was two behind, so I got to catch up back-to-back. These books are set in London, but a London we’ve never seen before. Under the day to day surface of the great city are criminal and magical families: the Crows, the Pearls, the Foxes, and the Silvers. Lydia Crow, private investigator, is the new head of the Crow family, and she’s trying to make a truce with the other family leaders. It’s not working out too well. I really, really, like these books.
I’m a big fan of Naomi Novik’s, and I could hardly wait to read The Last Graduate, sequel to A Deadly Education. You really have to read Education first, or you’ll play a lot of catch-up with Graduate. After you enter this school for magically gifted teens, you cannot leave until the school kills you, or you graduate . . . and graduation day is a slaughterhouse. Literally. No matter how much magic you can command (and our heroine El can command a lot) without crucial alliances the odds are against you. Novik grows and grows with each novel.
TJ Klune has written some notable books, but Under the Whispering Door is warm and remarkable. I’m going to quote from the book jacket, because I can’t put it any better. “Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home.”
Death in Castle Dark is an entertaining traditional mystery. Veronica Bond’s protagonist, down on her luck actress and singer Nora Blake, feels she’s landed in a great spot when she’s invited to participate in the murder mystery plays written and performed at Castle Dark, a castle transported to the greater Chicago area. She gets room and board and guaranteed acting experience. It’s all good until the first murder . . .
I enjoyed Allison Monclair’s first book about a post World War Two marriage bureau run by two women, and A Royal Affair surpassed it neatly. When a very surprising customer shows up, Iris and Gwendolyn find themselves working for royalty. But the clock is ticking on the job, and the road to clearing the potential spouse is strewn with mines. Iris and Gwendolyn are up to the job, though.
My friend Dana Cameron’s collection of stores in her Fangborn world, Pandora’s Orphans, is a real treat. Dana concocted a world unlike anyone else’s to explain the existence of vampires and werewolves, and these stories with the supernaturals as the protectors of humanity are really excellent and original. You should read this!
Here’s another startlingly original book, Natalie Zena Walschots’ Hench. Anna is an office pool Hench, but she finally lands a plum job with a real supervillain. She’s set, she figures, though her dating life is hopeless. However, disaster strikes (the first of many) and Anna is lucky to survive. Miraculously, her life takes an uptick when her data probing fascinates another villain and leads to an even more interesting job. Even villains need office staff!
Looking back on the past two months’ reading is like looking back at a Thanksgiving banquet. I couldn’t even list all the books I’ve read, so I narrowed it down to the ones that gave me the biggest internal bang.
I feel I’ve read so many books in my life that it takes more and more to impress me. Though there are many other books I’ve enjoyed in the past few weeks, they didn’t have that zing of originality that excites me. That may not have been the books’ fault. As we all know, sometimes we’re in the mood for a particular book, and sometimes we want something different . . . like being handed a chocolate chip cookie when you’re craving shortbread.
I catch myself being resistant to praise I consider too universal or too enthusiastic. I can be as contrary as the next person, and if I’ve heard once too often that I “must” read a particular book, I am likely to postpone that pleasure. From time to time, I’m really sorry I did . . . because sometimes books really do live up to their hype.
It’s always confusing to be asked my “favorite” book, or my “favorite” author. Or who my “must read” writers are. There are so many in all these categories. I don’t like limiting my own enthusiasm. I could list at least twenty-five (or more) writers I think of as must-reads. And even then, I’d miss some names. They all bring something to the table that pleases me as a reader, engages me as a reader, excites me as a reader.
That’s why I keep writing my Book & Blog. I regret it’s become so irregular, and I keep making vows to be more consistent . . . but at least I’m writing it after so many years, and I hope you are casting a glance at it from time to time, and maybe picking up a book or two when I recommend them. That makes it all worthwhile.