Six contestants. An idyllic setting. Baked goods. And…murder?
The Golden Spoon is the coveted award for the Bake Week competition. Hosted by baking royalty and America’s Grandmother Betsy Martin, production is ready to shoot the popular show. Six bakers- Stella, Hannah, Lottie, Gerald, Pradyumna and Peter move into the west wing of Grafton Manor, Betsy’s beautiful Vermont estate. Her personal wing is off limits to everyone but her new co-host, Archie Morris.
Betsy isn’t pleased to share the spotlight, and each contestant seems to have their own motivations. As the youngest, Hannah wants to prove herself. Stella is a fangirl who wants nothing more than to have afternoon tea with Betsy. But Lottie seems more interested in the house than baking, wandering around looking for who knows what. Gerald’s precise and measured baking reflect his rigid personality. Pradyumna is already a millionaire and everyday man Peter is just here the journey. The tent is full of tension and delicious baked goods, but sabotage and suspense play out on the grounds of Grafton Manor.
First things first, this book draws *heavily* from the beloved Great British Bake Off. If you love GBBO or Clue, you will love this book. This cozy mystery is a light-hearted romp where everyone has ulterior motives.
The Golden Spoon comes out on March 7. Request a copy here.
*I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss. This is my honest review.
When Lenna Wickes starts investigating her sister Evie’s mysterious death, she ends up on the doorstep of spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire. Vaudeline takes her calling seriously, specializing in contacting the spirits of murder victims. Lenna hopes that her sister’s former teacher can give her the skills necessary to conjure her sister’s spirit. The spirit world that captivated her sister lures her in with incantations, flickering candles, and mystery at every turn.
Together they end up at the London Séance Society, run by Mr. Morley, who runs the Department of Spiritualism at the exclusive gentleman’s organization. Mr. Morley has called on Vaudeline to investigate a death of a society member. When Lenna spots Evie’s handwriting in the organization’s guest book, her shock gives way to curiosity. How did her sister end up at the society? And why was she there?
Lenna and Mr. Morley are the narrators of this story, but rest assured that the deceased Evie makes her presence known throughout the book as well. Nineteenth century London is on full display in this gothic mystery that will draw you into the world of skepticism and spiritualism.
Sarah Penner follows her debut The Lost Apothecary with another atmospheric read. I’ll be honest, the author’s first book was a bit of a disappointment for me. But I loved the idea behind this book so I picked it up. The book’s strength lies in its subject and setting. I was pleasantly surprised by the book and found it to be a riveting read. It was still missing *something* for me that I can’t put my finger on, but it was an engrossing, fun read.
The London Séance Society comes out March 7. Request your copy here.
*I received a review copy from HarperCollins and Edelweiss. This is my honest review.
What do you get when you combine a survival show, wannabe influencers, and a jaded outdoor survival expert? A drama-filled romp through a landscape filled with danger. Small Game is a debut novel that reads like a combination of Castaway, Survivor, and Man vs. Wild.
Mara is used to living life with less than she needs. Living with doomsday prepper parents led Mara to work as an outdoor survival expert at a survival school. When reality TV producers come to the school to scout for talent, Mara signs up with only one thing on her mind: The $100,000 prize.
She lands on a remote island and meets her teammates and the filming crew. As she puts on her rugged tunic and picks her tool, she embraces the TV gimmicks. After all, if it means a payout, she can put up with some cheesy scripted sentences. Time goes on, rations grow short, deadly animals appear, and crew members start mysteriously disappearing. And at the center of it all is Mara and her fellow castmates.
But who will remain standing after the six weeks pass?
This book isn’t quite a true thriller and reads more like a mystery. But if you’ve ever enjoyed outdoor adventure writing, you’ll enjoy this book! Blair Braverman’s debut novel will certainly keep you guessing. And can we talk about Blair’s name for a second? I’m not sure if there’s a better name for an author who writes such adventurous fiction. Braverman’s writing clearly draws from her life as a dogsledder and outdoor adventurer, which adds an interesting component to the book.
Request a print copy here or download a digital copy here.
Newlyweds Jane and William are enjoying their honeymoon at the beautiful Tevendon Resort. But when William’s ex-wife Lucy shows up with her new partner Pete, Jane accuses them of ruining their getaway. Jane receives a note to “beware of the couple at the table nearest to yours.”
She immediately blames Lucy, but at dinner that night she’s surprised to find that the tables are all equally spaced…which means that every other couple is also a potential suspect. In a tirade Jane leaves the dining room only to end up dead within hours.
Sophie Hannah brings her loveable crime-solving duo Simon and Charlie back for another case, and this time they’re witnessing the crime firsthand. As guests at the resort, Simon and Charlie quickly pack up their vacation vibes and step into the role of investigators.
This book is a whodunnit-style mystery where motive, means, and opportunity are explored through multiple narrators. Sophie Hannah is one of my must-read authors, and while this book wasn’t my favorite, it was still an enjoyable read!
Request a print copy here or download a digital copy here.
Louise doesn’t want to go home. Home is filled with memories of the past, and they’re not all warm and fuzzy. Speaking of warm and fuzzy, Louise is dreading opening the door to her mother’s vast puppet collection. Or facing the cabinets full of dolls staring back at her. But at the top of her list of things to avoid is her brother, Mark, the golden child who never grew up.
After a tragic accident kills both of their parents, Louise and Mark are forced to look in every nook and cranny of their childhood home. But they find some oddities. Multiple pairs of eyes follow them at every turn as they find a boarded up attic and life-sized dolls watching television…even though the television was unplugged. And at the center of it all is one raggedy puppet who has always taken on a life of his own- Pupkin.
When I first heard the title of this book I was expecting the same old take on a traditional ghoulish haunting. But as I began to read this book it took a different turn. In the hands of Grady Hendrix, a haunted house in South Carolina becomes the stuff of nightmares. Hendrix sets the scene with lengthy passages describing the spooky occurrences that happen. Normally I’m not a big fan of long narrative passages but in this case it works. Childhood trauma also plays a role in the backstory of Louise and Mark’s fraught relationship. But above it all, the question remains- what is reality and what is childhood imagination?
This book is a great fit for readers who have enjoyed other books by Hendrix. If you haven’t read any Grady Hendrix before, I highly recommend starting with The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires or Horrorstor.
How to Sell a Haunted House comes out January 17.
*I received a review copy from Penguin and Edelweiss. This is my honest review.
Lenni is seventeen and terminally ill. Margot is eighty-three and awaiting a series of heart surgeries. They unofficially meet at Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital when Margot, decked out in purple from head to toe, goes dumpster diving for a letter and Lenni distracts a nurse from discovering her. Margot and Lenni officially meet in the Rose Room, a therapy space where hospital patients can create art, when Lenni adamantly insists on joining the eighty and above class. When the two discover they’ve lived an astonishing one hundred years, they set out to create one hundred paintings commemorating the key moments of their shared century. Canvases of first kisses, birthday cakes, a baby in a too-small yellow hat, a night full of stars, and more celebrate their lives. Full of tenderness and quiet observations, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one you’ll want to finish with a box of tissues nearby.
While Margot and Lenni are perceptive, funny, and witty, it’s the cast of supporting characters that make this novel come alive. Hospital chaplain Father Arthur and Lenni banter back and forth about faith, loss, watercress sandwiches, and silverfish. Margot’s second husband, Humphrey, is such an enamored astronomer that he stands in the middle of the street, risking life and limb, to better observe the stars. “New Nurse” confides her career insecurities with Lenni and “The Intern” has a satisfying, full-circle moment when it comes to the hospital and the art space. Chicken stories are scattered throughout. Whimsical and sweet, but never saccharine, the novel is a celebration of life and death.
The inspiration behind The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is personal. Author Marianne Cronin suffers from severe migraines; painting lets her temporarily escape the debilitating symptoms. Cronin also wrote her novel while earning a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics after Lenni came to her “as a fully formed voice” in her head. Cronin did an author visit with the Cuyahoga County Public Library last summer that you can watch here. She is also featured on Episode 1109 of the Author Stories Podcast with Hank Garner and Episode 509 of the Reading and Writing Podcast.
The court of King James I is a dangerous place, full of fierce political and religious rivalries. Even the slightest whisper of scandal could result in loss of land, position, and life. In the midst of this intensity, Lady Frances “Frankie” Howard marries the third Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, in a political maneuver arranged by her powerful and influential Catholic family. The marriage is a nightmare. Devereux loathes the Howard family (I suppose that’s what happens when your in-laws are partly responsible for the execution of your father) and is increasingly violent and spiteful towards Frankie despite her efforts to make the marriage work and produce an heir. Frankie forms an inseparable, intimate friendship with Anne Turner, a talented albeit struggling fashion stylist and wife of the well-respected Dr. George Turner, when her mother enlists Anne’s services to make Frankie more attractive to her husband. Frankie ultimately wishes to annul her marriage and marry Sir Robert Carr, the King’s favorite, but a difficult, snide Thomas Overbury, royal courtier and Carr’s best friend, stands in her way. After a poisonous plot, the King’s justice seems to ensnare only the smallest of fishes.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Frances Carr before (if you’re unfamiliar with the Jacobean Era or need a quick introduction to Frances, I highly recommend Dana Schwartz’s Noble Blood podcast episode “The Schemes of Countess Frances Carr”), but Lucy’s Jago’s meticulously researched novel is a fresh interpretation. Women are typically absent from the historical record, but when they do appear, they are too often cast like Frances Carr: Scandalous, deviant, and improper. At the heart of A Net for Small Fishes is the story of female friendship, female morality, and women willing to stretch beyond the limitations placed on them by society. Jago gives voice to Carr and Turner, a glimpse into what their true, complex motivations might have been during the Overbury Scandal. Jago does an excellent job of portraying how any accident of fate could send a woman tumbling into poverty or disgrace. Her depictions of Jacobean society, including forbidden magic (the amount of astrology captured in this book makes me happy), aristocratic dress, and the narrow, filthy streets of London, are vivid and immersive. Historical fiction should be this imaginative and emotional. A stunning debut.
I drove over two hours in 2016 to see Anthony Doerr, as one does when one is nerdy and obsessed with an author and in school to become a librarian. I remember clutching my copy of All the Light We Cannot See and being completely enamored. For an exercise in curiosity, Doerr presented a slideshow full of close-up pictures and asked us to guess the everyday objects. He described how a dropped call on the subway in New York City in 2004 was the inspiration behind All the Light We Cannot See, and how he spent ten years researching and writing the book, including studying the history of radio and Nazi art looting. When he signed my book, I remember him taking the time to ask about my weekend and wishing me a happy birthday. So needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Cloud Cuckoo Land is ambitious novel, spanning multiple centuries, places, characters, and even genres. There’s Anna, an orphan who lives and works in an embroidery house in 15th century Constantinople with her sickly older sister. She learns Greek in secret and during her quest to uncover even more words, she discovers a ruined library. Having a cleft palate and believed to be cursed or even demonic, Omeir is exiled to a remote part of Bulgaria and is raised by his whimsical, sweet grandfather. He is conscripted into the Ottoman army with his oxen to attack Constantinople, putting him directly in the path of Anna. Seymour lives in present-day Idaho and his only comfort is the natural world. He befriends an owl that lives in the woods behind his home but when the forest is destroyed for a new housing development, Seymour becomes a radical eco-warrior and crosses paths with Zeno in a devastating way. Zeno is an octogenarian, amateur translator, and Korean War veteran attempting to put on a play with a small group of children. Lastly, there’s Konstance. Konstance is trapped on a spaceship in the future with an infinite library meant to preserve humanity’s knowledge for a new, unspoiled planet. All five stories are connected through an ancient book following the fantastical and humorous adventures of a poor shepherd. Doerr’s writing is just as lyrical and rich as in All the Light We Cannot See. The novel is a clear ode to libraries, language, and the art of storytelling. While I wasn’t as invested in the characters as with All the Light We Cannot See, no one can illustrate the interconnectedness and beauty of our worlds like Anthony Doerr. Cloud Cuckoo Land is an epic worth diving into.
Don’t miss the chance to see Anthony Doerr this spring. Doerr is part of the 2021-2022 William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage Series presented by the Cuyahoga County Public Library. He’ll be speaking at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on Monday, May 2, 2022 at 7:30 pm. A virtual ticket option is also available. Find more information about Doerr’s visit here. Also, Doerr has a wonderful booklist on his website if you’d like to dive into worlds similar to Cloud Cuckoo Land. Check out the list here. Cloud Cuckoo Land is available at the library here.
It’s been some time since I read a novel that truly surprised me and Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street not only surprised me, it astonished me. This strikingly original, difficult, and heartfelt novel disguises itself as a horrific story about a serial killer and a missing child, leading readers down disturbing paths and in all the wrong directions as it slowly but surely reveals itself to be much more.
Told through the perspective of multiple narrators, we follow the life of Ted, a strange and lonely man who lives at the end of the forebodingly named Needless Street. He has boarded up all the windows in his house, which sits at the edge of a deeply wooded park and regularly hosts visits with his estranged daughter. His only friend appears to be his cat Olivia- who is also a narrative voice and is quite charming.
The tale opens on the anniversary of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance that Ted was initially suspected of causing, and we also meet the vengeful sister of the missing girl who is still trying to track down her sister’s potential murderer years later. This deeply layered plot is revealed little by little with each chapter, and keen readers will note right off the bat that all is not as it seems with each narrator, and we are clearly not getting a complete picture.
The final few twists of this novel are stunning, and absolutely heartbreaking, making this a standout novel of psychological horror, but also an emotional story of trauma and finally, and most importantly, hope. A detailed author’s note at the end further explains Ward’s excellent work on this story and why this is a very realistic tale of trauma. Highly recommended for fans of deeply woven mysteries, unreliable narrators, and psychological horror.
Note: There are some very upsetting and intense scenes in this novel, particularly depicting animal abuse and child abuse, so please proceed with this trigger warning in mind.
Request a copy here or snag a digital copy here!
Have you heard that (Cleveland’s own) Paula McLain has a brand-new book out? You’ll want to place your hold for When the Stars Go Dark right now.
In this novel, Anna Hart, a missing persons detective in San Francisco, is very good at her job. Having suffered trauma as a teenager in foster care herself, Anna is an outspoken advocate for young girls in trouble. After a personal tragedy, Anna takes a break from her life and work in San Francisco and flees to her one-time home in Mendocino, California to regroup. There, she rents a cabin in the woods and reunites with her childhood friend, Will, who is now the local sheriff. When Will tells her about a series of missing local girls, Anna quickly becomes engrossed in the investigation.
Paula McLain is well-known and loved as an author of bestselling, meticulously-researched novels of historical fiction. When the Stars Go Dark is more of a suspense novel, though, and is inspired by the author’s own personal experiences with foster care and abuse. With well-drawn characters, many edge-of-your-seat moments, and a satisfying conclusion, McLain delivers a truly compelling read. Just try and put this one down!