July 2024


Olubas, BrigittaHazzard and Harrower

Hazzard and Harrower by Brigitta Olubas

Those who read the extract from Hazzard and Harrower in the April Readings Monthly will not be surprised to see it recommended here in the month of its release. While that small sample could hardly convey the astonishing scope of the book, it did give a taste of the distinct voices of the two Australian authors whose four decades of curated letters it contains. Although Shirley Hazzard and Elizabeth Harrower were contemporaries, their long friendship began in 1966 when Harrower was introduced to Hazzard’s mother, Kit, by Norma Chapman, the owner of the Macleay Bookshop in Potts Point. Harrower and Kit warmed to one another quickly, and when Kit travelled to visit Hazzard in New York shortly after, Hazzard added a note to one of Kit’s letters. This began a correspondence between the authors that predated their actual meeting by six years. In addition to discussions regarding the welfare of Kit, whose mental health was variable and often troubling, the two women primarily wrote about the challenges and joys of their writing (and that of Hazzard’s author husband), politics, reading and travel. To lose yourself in this book is to gain a fly-on-the-wall view of the bookish ecosystems in Sydney, New York, London and Capri during the years it encompasses. It is also to ponder the influence of caregiving on creative life, and unusual friendship dynamics. The two authors encouraged each other in their writing and were both keen readers; their skill in examining why some works delight and others disappoint is one of the book’s many pleasures. Brigitta Olubas and Susan Wyndham bring deep expertise and insight to their task. This is an exceptional and comprehensively fascinating contribution to literature and history. Readings, April 2024

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Lord, MelodyVintage knits
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Callaghan, DeborahThe little clothes
Chambers, EssieSwift river
Clements, RoryMunich wolf
Crichton, MichaelEruption
Docker, SandieThe lyrebird lake ladies choir
Greenwood, KirstyThe love of my afterlife
Iles, GregSouthern man
Kliewer, MarcusWe used to live here
Mellors, CocoBlue sisters
Moriarty, NicolaEvery last suspect
Perez, KristinaThe many lies of Veronica Hawkins
Summers, SinaTelling
Takano, KazuakiGenocide of one
Wales, MarkOutrider
Wolhuter, LouiseShadows of Winter Robins

Swift river by Essie Chambers

A biracial teenager longs for a different future as she faces her family’s past and the buried secrets of her hometown. “When you have a terrible thing happen that everyone knows about,” 16-year-old Diamond Newberry tells us, “you can be laid out flat by anyone.” It’s 1987 and she’s stuck in Swift River, a decaying New England mill town, laid out flat by just about everyone. At nearly 300 pounds and the only person of color in town, Diamond has been lonely most of her life. The “terrible thing” that hangs over her is her father Rob’s mysterious disappearance in 1980. Rob, who is Black, had been the subject of police scrutiny in the time just before his sneakers were found by the riverside, and Diamond struggles to separate rumors of his fate from fact. Since seven years have passed, Diamond’s mother, Annabelle, who is white, tries to get Rob declared legally dead in order to receive desperately needed life insurance money. But when a letter for Diamond arrives from Rob’s cousin, Diamond realizes how disconnected she’s felt from her father’s family and her “people,” having grown up hearing whispers about a single night in the early 20th century known as “The Leaving,” when all the Black mill workers planned to flee Swift River en masse. Chambers toggles between 1980 and 1987, while also immersing readers, via family letters, in Swift River Valley circa 1915, to tell a coming-of-age story that shows that our entry into adulthood carries with it all the weight of our family history and that of the places we come from. Despite a somewhat inelegant handling of Diamond’s weight, this novel’s assured plotting and emotional resonance should render it a breakout book. Call your book club: This symphonic debut is your next read. Kirkus Reviews, May 2024

Eruption by Michael Crichton

Two master storytellers create one explosive thriller. Mauna Loa is going to blow within days—“the biggest damn eruption in a century”—and John “Mac” MacGregor of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory leads a team trying to fend off catastrophe. Can they vent the volcano? Divert the flow of blistering hot lava? The city of Hilo is but a few miles down the hill from the world’s largest active volcano and will likely be in the path of a 15-foot-high wall of molten menace racing toward them at 50 miles an hour. “You live here, you always worry about the big one,” Mac says, and this could be it. There’s much more, though. The U.S. Army swoops in, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff personally “drafts” Mac into the Army. Then Mac learns the frightening secret of the Army’s special interest in Mauna Loa, and suddenly the stakes fly far, far beyond Hilo. Perhaps they can save the world, but the odds don’t look good. Readers will sympathize with Mac, who teaches surfing to troubled teens and for whom “taking chances is part of his damned genetic code.” But no one takes chances like the aerial cowboy Jake Rogers and the photographer who hires him to fly over the smoldering, burbling, rock-spitting hellhole. Some of the action scenes will make readers’ eyes pop as the tension continues to build. As with any good thriller, there’s a body count, but not all thrillers have blackened corpses surfing lava flows. The story is the brainchild of the late Crichton, who did a great deal of research but died in 2008 before he could finish the novel. His widow handed the project to James Patterson, who weaves Crichton’s work into a seamless summer read. Red-hot storytelling. Kirkus Reviews, June 2024

The love of my afterlife by Kirsty Greenwood

Greenwood (He Will Be Mine) brings larger-than-life characters to a boisterous death-defying rom-com. Delphie wasn’t supposed to die at 27, unfulfilled and lonely, but at least when she wakes up in the afterlife, she immediately runs smack into Jonah, the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s only visiting on a dental-anaesthetic trip, so Delphie makes an impulsive deal with her romance-obsessed afterlife therapist, Merritt: Delphie gets 10 days to return to life and find Jonah, who may be one of her five soulmates. If she fails, she’ll spend eternity as the guinea pig for Merritt’s afterlife dating agency. With a chance at true love on the line, Delphie is ready to try anything, including talking to her grouchy neighbor Cooper, who agrees to help locate Jonah if Delphie will pretend to be his girlfriend at a family dinner. Soon she’s seeing a whole new side to Cooper and her increasingly wild schemes to find Jonah bring her completely out of her shell, showing her for the first time what it is to live to the fullest. Greenwood is working at a large scale: the emotions are sweeping, the humor feels straight out of a network sitcom, and the characters are bold. Fans of The Good Place should snap this up. Publisher’s Weekly, July 2024


Southern man by Greg Iles

The country is on fire in this expansive political thriller.Iles fans will recognize the character of Penn Cage from several of the author’s previous novels, including his acclaimed Natchez Burning trilogy. The prosecutor turned author turned mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, returns in this novel, and he’s not doing well. His mother is in poor health, having suffered a series of strokes while undergoing cancer treatment, and he himself is suffering from myeloma that he fears might kill him soon: “I must follow her sooner than she knew, and by the same route, the same dread affliction.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t have time to rest: He’s in attendance at a hip-hop concert being held at a former cotton plantation when gunfire erupts. His daughter, Annie, is injured in the shooting; one of Penn’s acquaintances, Robert E. Lee “Bobby” White, helps treat her wounds. Bobby, a disabled veteran and radio show host, also happens to be readying for a third-party run for president, but has a secret that he’ll do anything to keep hidden. All this happens as a series of arsons plagues the South, and America is plunged into heightened racial strife—which Bobby hopes to exploit to get to the White House. Penn, however, is determined not to let that happen. There’s a lot going on in Iles’ novel, but he manages to weave the many threads beautifully; nothing gets lost in the shuffle. This is a genuinely terrifying book because of its plausibility—Iles perfectly captures the tinderbox that America is in the post-Trump era. (As Penn ruefully reflects, “I watched in disbelief as businessmen voted for a repeat bankrupt…women for an admitted sexual assaulter, patriots for a draft dodger who would sell his country’s secrets for trivial gain, educated men for an ignoramus.”) This is a perfectly done political thriller with genuine resonance. Astonishing. Kirkus Reviews, March 2024

We used to live here by Marcus Kliewer

A young couple’s house-flipping hobby turns dangerous in Kliewer’s devilish debut. Eve Palmer is alone in the remote Pacific Northwest mansion she and her girlfriend, Charlie, are renovating, when she hears a knock on the door. She opens it to find the Faust family: patriarch Thomas; his wife, Paige; and their three severe-looking children. Thomas explains to Eve that he used to live in the house and would like to show his family around. Despite her misgivings, Eve invites them in, privately hoping the more forthright Charlie will arrive and interrupt the nostalgia tour. When Charlie does show up, a heavy snowstorm follows her, stranding everyone. What begins as mildly uncomfortable grows full-tilt terrifying as one of the Faust children goes missing, Thomas starts calling Eve “Emma,” and Charlie seems to transform into a different person entirely. Kliewer nods to the book’s origin as a series of Reddit posts by supplementing the main narrative with “documents” examining the paranormal “Old House” phenomenon (which posits certain abandoned buildings connect to a paranormal force), transcripts from subjects who’ve experienced it, and internet conspiracy theories about its legitimacy. Stringing the whole thing together is Kliewer’s gift for atmosphere and wicked sense of humor. This is a winner. Publisher’s Weekly, March 2024


Blue sisters by Coco Mellors

The bond of a sibling is a difficult thing to express in words. In Blue Sisters, Coco Mellors manages to communicate the tumultuous, vicious, all-consuming love that sisterhood involves. It follows three estranged sisters: Avery, a recovering addict and polished lawyer living in London with her wife; Bonnie, an almost-world champion boxer tucked away in LA following a brutal defeat; and Lucky, a young model bouncing from party to runway to party in Paris. The cracks that run through all of them seem to hinge on one thing: the death of their fourth sister, Nicky, just a year ago. When news breaks that their parents are planning to sell their family apartment in New York, the sisters are drawn back together at the source of much of their joy and trauma. Blue Sisters navigates with heart-wrenching honesty the potent combination of grief, addiction, and desire that haunts the sisters. As childhood memories resurface and interpersonal relationships are strained, each woman grapples with her own unique secrets and pain. Their love for each other, however, is palpable. This is not one of the books that seems to feign authentic sibling relationships. Instead, Mellors buries herself up to her elbows in crafting complex, dynamic bonds that do justice to true sisterly relationships. She also appears to have meticulously researched modelling, boxing, and addiction, conducting interviews across the world and training with a boxing coach for months. I would say this shines through, as nothing pulled me from the writing with disbelief. I have not truly been able to say a book has me gripped in quite the way this one did for a long time. You can see the development and maturing of Mellors’ writing since her debut Cleopatra and Frankenstein. The lovely prose in this new work made it accessible and emotional, and every single point of view had me earnestly hooked. Blue Sisters is fascinating, raw, lovable, and a downright must-read for those with siblings, and without. Readings, May 2024

Every Last Suspect by Nicola Moriarty

Nicola Moriarty’s latest novel combines the domestic drama she’s known for with a compelling hook that will draw in mystery and thriller readers. Harriet Osman lies dying on the floor, bleeding from a fatal head wound. As someone who is accustomed to being in total control, she vows to expose her murderer before she dies. Can Harriet work out who killed her before her time runs out? Readers are taken back to the events leading up to Harriet’s birthday party, the night she was attacked. Moriarty utilises alternate points of view to unravel the mystery, with chapters shifting between the suspects: her husband, Malek; her best friend (and sometimes lover), Victoria; and her daughter’s best friend’s mother, Karen. All are well-developed and compelling. Harriet’s italicised internal monologue bookends the novel and follows several of the suspects’ perspectives. Moriarty skilfully depicts Harriet as a woman who evokes strong feelings of both love and hate. Beautiful and charismatic on the surface, she is contradictory, plays games with people, and lies. As we see more of her through the eyes of others, the mystery of Harriet’s true character and who she really cares about is as riveting as identifying her murderer. This integration of character study and suspense will appeal to readers of Sally Hepworth. With a strong narrative drive and a tightly wound plot, Every Last Suspect is Nicola Moriarty’s best yet. Books+Publishing, April 2024

Shadows of Winter Robins by Louise Wolhuter

Louise Wolhuter’s second novel, Shadows of Winter Robins, is cinematic and engrossing from the get-go, spiked with suspense and twists aplenty. Wolhuter is clearly a writer in command of her craft, and one to watch in the future. In the 1990s, Winter Robins finds herself orphaned as a young girl. She is sent from wintry northern England to an isolated beach property in Western Australia to live with her unconventional (and somewhat frightening) extended family, dominated by her artist grandfather. Is it paradise, or is it hell? Strange things happen, and she can’t quite grasp the connections between people. The family abruptly disintegrates, and she moves to Perth with her grandmother. All seems well until hidden childhood traumas resurface in her adult life—snippets of memories and mysteries involving missing girls, suspicions of her uncle’s involvement, and issues of adultery, parentage, and violence. Soon, the reality she thought she knew begins to dramatically unravel. As in her first novel, An Afterlife for Rosemary Lamb, Wolhuter strongly utilises setting, this time beautifully evoking the salty tang and scrub of the remote West Australian coast. Wolhuter combines an entrancing and often startling plot—which interlaces multiple storylines—with memorable imagery and rhythmic prose, and her deft hand at drawing complex characters makes Shadows of Winter Robins a gripping and highly recommended read for fans of Liane Moriarty and Holly Ringland. Books+Publishing, April 2024

Genocide of one by Kazuaki Takano

Michael Crichton fans will welcome Takano’s exceptional thriller, the Japanese author’s first novel to be translated into English. President Gregory S. Burns, a stand-in for George W. Bush (it’s 2004, and the president has begun wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), is disturbed to learn of a dire threat in his daily brief: a new type of life form has appeared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that “may lead to the extinction of all mankind.” Takano neatly alternates among the players around the globe: the team of mercenaries hired to deal with the threat, who have not been told the truth about their assignment, and whose leader’s son is dying of a rare illness; a pharmaceutical researcher in Japan unraveling a cryptic legacy from his late father, who seemed to have anticipated not being around; and Machiavellian plotters in Washington, D.C. First-rate characterizations, even of walk-on figures, lend plausibility to the sophisticated story line. Publisher’s Weekly, December 2014


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Barrett, ShirleyMrs Hopkins
Forsyth, KatePsykhe
Geddes, KyraThe story thief
McDermid, ValQueen macbeth
Pascoe, BruceImperial harvest

Psykhe by Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth’s latest historical fiction, Psykhe, adds to her substantial body of work (The Crimson Thread, Bitter Greens) as it reimagines the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. In the novel, Psykhe’s act of reviving a sacrificed dove earns her the ongoing wrath of the goddess Venus. Rescued from her own impending sacrifice, she finds herself in luxurious isolation, believing she is with Eros, who restricts their encounters to darkness. In a bid for freedom, Psykhe undertakes tasks set by Venus, leading her on a journey to the underworld. Eventually, she successfully resurrects Eros after his death, and they begin their life together in the mortal realm. While Psykhe is well-researched, I believe the historical details could have been integrated more subtly, and while Forsyth’s straightforward writing style makes the book easy to read, I found the second half meandering at times. Psykhe emerges as a likable protagonist, her experiences of trauma and empathetic worldview endearing her to readers rooting for her success. Forsyth skillfully immerses the audience in the original mythos, tackling themes such as fate versus autonomy, female empowerment, and the power dynamics embedded in the patriarchy. With this in mind, the text offers a refreshing and modern review of the source material, including discussions of female suppression, servitude, and sexuality. Pskhe will appeal to those interested in Greek mythology and readers of Madeline Miller, particularly Circe. Books+Publishing, March 2024

Imperial Harvest by Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe’s Imperial Harvest begins with cruelty. The one-eyed, one-armed horseman Yen Se loses his wife and child to an inferno born from the Great Khan’s bloodthirsty ambition; Yen Se is to be the horse trainer for the Khan’s invasion of Europe and the Khan has ensured that he is left with nothing except this grim duty. As the Mongol horde tears west with relentless speed, Yen Se becomes an unwilling accomplice and solemn witness to the savage horrors of conquest, embarking on a strange journey that steadily takes him further and further from home. From Poland’s Oder river to the cities of Venice and Seville, the looming presence of the Khan fades away to reveal Pascoe’s more universal concern: the bitter desire to ‘take up the sword’ and conquer that is seemingly lodged within the human heart. Thick with historical texture and mythic tone, Imperial Harvest is an odyssey of sorts, propelled by a momentum that lurches between warlike urgency and peaceful contemplation, reflecting the rhythms of a world bound by conflict. Yen Se is a broken man fighting to hold onto empathy within a maelstrom of disillusionment and violence and acts as the perfect vessel for this journey and the questions that Pascoe asks as it unfolds. Yet often it is Pascoe’s cast of secondary characters who are most responsible for the story’s compelling vibrancy. From preternaturally wise children to boundlessly kind millers, the companions on Yen Se’s journey imbue it with a meaning beyond mere wandering and often provide the most insightful reflections on the story’s themes. With Imperial Harvest, Pascoe has created an ambitious and entrancing meditation on violence, as historically specific as it is universal, where moments of peace are made doubly touching by the violence that surrounds them. Readings, May 2024

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Ayliffe, TimThe wrong man
Brissenden, MichaelSmoke
Candlish, LouiseOur holiday
Carter, ChrisThe death watcher
Foley, LucyThe midnight feast
Leon, DonnaA refiner’s fire
MacBride, StuartIn a place of darkness
Murali, RamDeath in the air
Robotham, MichaelStorm child
Stevenson, BenjaminFool me twice

Smoke by Michael Brissenden

Journalist Michael Brissenden has covered the impact huge fires have on communities in his work for the ABC. This knowledge is apparent in his latest novel; an atmospheric dive into how a fire-ravaged town deals with the trauma of losing homes, lives, and livelihoods. Set in an imagined place in California, Detective Alex Markov returns to her hometown, Jasper, to work. When a fire hits the area, she becomes convinced that a family friend has been killed; left alone to burn in a locked room. To find the answers, she needs to question people she has known since her youth. It would be easier to overlook the crime, but, of course, she does not. As the consequences of her investigation begin to emerge, the townspeople’s reactions become frightening. However, thankfully, Alex knows exactly how power works. It is Brissenden’s experience as a journalist that makes this plot so believable. As a reader, you are thrust immediately into the smoky landscape and the homes of the survivors. You become privy to conversations held and learn that this is a story about more than a murder. It is a story of corruption, small-town pettiness and history. It is a portrait of what happens when isolation, grief, and racism are allowed to prosper. You could also say, on one level, that this is simply a fast-paced, good old-fashioned detective story, and fans of rural crime reading will relish the setting. Readers of Don Winslow and Chris Hammer will delight that there is a new detective on the scene, and she is harder on herself than anyone else. Most of all though, this is a novel that is a warning to us all. Smoke is an examination of what happens if we do not speak up. It is a story that endorses truth-telling. Readings, May 2024

The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley is back with another suspenseful read, The Midnight Feast. The story unfolds at The Manor, an extravagant estate promising a tranquil escape for only the most privileged, which is having its opening night. Owned by Francesca Woodland, The Manor hides dark secrets beneath its facade of serenity. Francesca’s husband, Owen, is captivated by her charm, and their whirlwind marriage, but he carries his own shadows from the past which threaten their future together. Plans for a summer solstice feast at The Manor are disrupted by Bella, a mysterious guest from Francesca’s past, who arrives and stirs up unresolved tragedies. Amid this, 19-year-old Eddie, a kitchen helper, struggles with loyalty to The Manor as his local community seeks vengeance against it, all while dealing with his own dysfunctional family. As the narrative unfolds, Detective Inspector Walker investigates the solstice’s chaotic aftermath, which culminates in multiple deaths, terrified guests, and a blazing inferno at The Manor. The events raise a barrage of questions: What transpired during the solstice? Who perished in the fire? Who bears responsibility for the chaos? Readers are drawn into a riveting game of unravelling the truth, guided by Foley’s masterful storytelling, which keeps us guessing at every turn. With its multiple points of view and intricate narrative structure, The Midnight Feast immerses readers in a world where nothing is as it seems. From its incisive commentary on the privileged elite to its exploration of class divisions, the book offers a compelling and immersive reading experience. As the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, readers are challenged to piece together the truth behind The Manor’s dark secrets, navigating through twists and turns that keeps us enthralled until the final revelation. Highly recommended for all mystery lovers. Readings, May 2024

A refiner’s fire by Donna Leon

A tussle between two of Venice’s “baby gangs” leads Commissario Guido Brunetti into a tangled mystery whose extended reach would be remarkable for anyone but him. After all but one of the teenage boys who’ve been arrested are released to their parents’ custody, Commissario Claudia Griffoni offers to walk home the last of them, Orlando Monforte, who’s afraid to call his father. The reasons why, Griffoni learns as the two of them stop for a pre-dawn cup of coffee, are obvious. As the Hero of Nasiriyah, whose actions saved two comrades from being killed by a bomb during their service in Iraq, Dario Monforte has high expectations for his son’s probity (don’t engage in gang fighting) and masculinity (don’t get caught). Although Orlando warns Griffoni he’s heard whispers from his schoolmate Gianpaolo Porpora that something big is in the offing, trouble next strikes elsewhere, in a murderous attack on Enzo Bocchese, the Questura’s chief lab technician, whose plans to sell most of his valuable collection of sculptures are upended by whoever breaks in and destroys them. In the meantime, there’s more whispering—but this time, it’s about Griffoni, who was photographed and identified at that coffee shop by someone who tipped off peerlessly shady avvocato Beniamino Cresti. Cresti, apparently acting on behalf of the elder Monforte, threatens to end Griffoni’s career if she doesn’t accept a restraining order that prohibits her from any contact with Orlando. As usual in Leon’s books, the mystery plays second fiddle to the characters and relationships from whom hints of secret misbehavior gradually coalesce into revelations as sordid and violent as you could wish. Is all this really “the stuff of television drama,” as Brunetti fears? Only of a very high order indeed. Kirkus Reviews, May 2024

Death in the air by Ram Murali

A young Indian American man finds himself playing detective when a murder interrupts his relaxing vacation. In some possibly extraneous backstory, Ro Krishna attends a pair of birthday parties in Bermuda and in London, where we learn that he and his friends are highly educated, affluent, glamorous jet-setters. Ro is trying to recover from a mysterious traumatic experience at his most recent job, so he decides to take some time off and spend the Christmas holidays at Samsara, a luxury Ayurvedic spa in India, surrounded by friends both old and new. When a guest is murdered, Ro finds himself helping the local inspector, the hotel’s eccentric owner, and an embedded CIA agent solve the crime, as well as the subsequent ones that follow. There are tongue-in-cheek references to Agatha Christie, who may have provided inspiration for the cozy surroundings and frequent musings about class, wealth, and race, but the dialogue is fully contemporary, as is Ro. The novel takes a while to get going; the story would have benefited from a tighter, faster beginning that plunged straight into the action at Samsara. The moments of foreshadowing leading to the murder feel somewhat heavy-handed. But the easy rapport of the people at the spa creates a lovely foundation for the psychological intrigue of the mystery. One minute someone can be making off-color jokes about death, and the next Ro is dealing with very real grief. Though he often claims to feel alone, Ro’s involvement with the rest of the characters creates sympathy, humor, and complexity, and it’s the interactions within the different pairs and groups that make the narrative flow—as well as some well-timed twists. A fascinating genre mashup for the discerning—and reflective—mystery reader. Kirkus Reviews, April 2024

Storm child by Michael Robotham

Nottingham forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven investigates a mass migrant murder in his fourth outing. Cyrus and his friend Evie Cormac—born Adina Osmani—are enjoying a day at the beach when a woman screams that someone is floating in the ocean. Cyrus swims to the rescue, but he’s too late. Then more bodies float in, 17 in all with but one survivor. They had come from the Middle East, desperately trying to reach British soil. But miles out in the English Channel, another boat had rammed into their inflatable dinghy, sinking it. Who? Why? Was it an accident? Was it xenophobia, a warning to keep foreigners out? Or does it go deeper? A mysterious ferryman is said to control the human trafficking across the channel, but most people think him a bogeyman, the stuff of ghost stories. Then the lone survivor is murdered; how will police ever learn what happened now? In Scotland, Cyrus is told, “Oh, that’s a dangerous beastie, the truth, a monster in the loch.” Cyrus and Evie narrate alternating fast-paced chapters that will rivet the reader’s attention. Both have backgrounds you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Cyrus’ older brother murdered their parents and two sisters. Evie, from Albania, lost her family and has been sexually trafficked and tortured. “Coin-sized lesions” from cigarette burns pock her legs and abdomen. Cyrus fostered her, and they have become good friends. The interplay between the two main characters makes the story stand out. She’s attracted to him, but the feeling is not mutual. He cares deeply about her, but he’ll never violate his professional ethics. So she’s both jealous and happy knowing that he’s “bumping uglies” with a more appropriate woman. In his words, Evie is “damaged and self-destructive and a pathological liar, but she is also funny and feisty and intelligent and empathetic.” There’s also a great secondary character from Zimbabwe who deserves a role in Cyrus and Evie’s next adventure. Fans of crime fiction will love this one. Kirkus Reviews, May 2024

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Browning, DanielClose to the subject
Clark, AnnaThe catch
FitzSimons, PeterThe battle of Long Tan
Langton, MarciaThe welcome to country handbook
Pirotta, VanessaHumpback highway

The catch: Australia’s love affair with fishing by Anna Clark

Australia is a country that has always been quietly proud of its traditions, and for Anna Clark there is no tradition more Australian than fishing. Her newest book, The Catch, celebrates the universal pleasure of throwing in a line whilst interrogating the pastime’s history – a history fraught with tensions between coloniser and colonised, recreation and commercial enterprise, and inevitably, between human greed and the limited resources of the natural world. From The Catch’s very first pages, Clark invites the reader to take a proverbial seat beside her on the riverbank and share in the quiet, communitarian paradise treasured by any avid fisher. Even for the most fishing-agnostic reader like myself, Clark makes it easy to understand why fishing is so important to so many. Once she’s got you invested, she launches into a detailed and considered history of fishing in Australia, from the complex and ingenious practices of Indigenous fishers to the perilous and wasteful world of early industry. Each chapter steps forward into the present, mapping the steady growth of technology and the meteoric collapses of ecosystems that has led to the intense regulation and slow recovery we see today. Throughout The Catch, Clark takes on many voices: historian, environmentalist, cultural critic; but she never lets us forget the voice of the fisho’, a voice which animates her writing with a bevy of anecdotes and unmistakably Australian slang but also reminds us why we shouldn’t just give up on fishing. Rather than arguing in either direction, she calls for a carefully managed balance between fishers and fish, protecting nature so future generations can enjoy its pleasures. For those at home with a fishing pole, The Catch will broaden their understanding of a favourite hobby and for those like me, it’s an invitation to think more deeply about a national tradition that so often appears as people patiently waiting for something interesting to happen. Readings, September 2023

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Te Whiu, Anne-MarieWoven
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Scalzi, JohnStarter villain

Starter villain by John Scalzi

In this clever, fast-paced thriller, Hugo Award winner Scalzi (The Kaiju Preservation Society) subverts classic supervillain tropes with equal measures of tongue-in-cheek humor and common sense. For years, business reporter–turned–substitute teacher Charlie Fitzer has struggled to find purpose; his current goal is to buy a pub just for a change of pace. Then his uncle Jake, a reclusive billionaire owner of parking structures, dies. Charlie, as Jake’s closest living relative, stands to inherit everything—but what he doesn’t realize is that his uncle was really an evil genius straight out of a James Bond movie. After the funeral, to which goons show up just to make sure Jake is really dead, a bomb destroys Charlie’s house, leading him to move into his uncle’s secret island volcano lair, complete with a satellite-destroying death ray and genetically modified superintelligent cats. Danger comes in the form of the Lombardy Convocation, a coalition of fellow evil billionaires who secretly rule the world and want Charlie to join them or die. Scalzi balances all the double-crosses and assassination attempts with ethical quandaries, explorations of economic inequality, and humor, including some foul-mouthed unionizing dolphins. The result is a breezy and highly entertaining genre send-up. Publisher’s Weekly, September 2023


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New additions to eBooks at SMSA

eBooks & Audiobooks help


GeneralBuchanan, TracyVenom in the blood
GeneralCambron, KristyThe British booksellers
GeneralO’Connor, CarleneNo strangers here
HistoricalSimonson, HelenThe hazelbourne ladies motorcycle and flying club
MysteryBooth, BaileyThe bird found the body
MysteryLeitch, FionaThe cornish village murder
MysterySwanson, PeterA talent for murder
Non-FictionDank, DebraWe come with this place
RomanceSpencer, MinervaThe boxing baroness
Sci-FiTchaikovsky, AdrianService model

The British booksellers by Kristy Cambron

In this memorable blend of romance and WWII history, Cambron (The Paris Dressmaker) chronicles the devastation of the Coventry blitz and its impact on two budding couples. Widowed Lady Charlotte Terrington-Holt and Amos Darby own rival bookshops in 1940 Coventry, England, but put their competing interests aside to offer tea to residents recovering from nights spent in air raid shelters. As they work together, Amos’s feelings for Charlotte reignite: he had once hoped to marry her, but then the Earl of Harcourt swept in. Meanwhile, the arrival of Detroit lawyer Jacob Cole adds to the chaos. He’s in England to prevent Charlotte’s grown daughter, Eden, from claiming a mysterious inheritance left to her in his father’s will—but he finds himself taken with the young lady and soon joins the efforts to keep the Holt estate operating while the farm hands are off at war. Both couples hope for futures together—if they can survive the bombing. Cambron brings a great deal of authenticity to her rendering of Coventry’s “Forgotten Blitz” (which took place almost 100 miles from London), as the tumult and trauma of wartime make class disparity and past misunderstandings wash away, leaving only authentic emotion. Readers won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough. Publisher’s Weekly, April 2024


No strangers here by Carlene O’Connor

This solid series launch from O’Connor takes a more somber approach to crime solving than her Irish Village mysteries, most recently Murder on an Irish Farm. When the body of wealthy 69-year-old racehorse owner Johnny O’Reilly is found on the shores of Dingle, Ireland, Det. Insp. Cormac O’Brien investigates. When it’s determined that the victim was poisoned by a veterinary medication, O’Brien has two prime suspects: Eamon Wilde, a local vet who has been in conflict with the O’Reillys for years, and his eccentric wife, Maeve, who may have had an affair with the married Johnny. Upon hearing the news, their daughter, Dimpna Wilde, leaves her financially burdened veterinary clinic in Dublin and returns to Dingle to clear her family’s name. Through her sleuthing, Dimpna unearths decades-old secrets among the two families, including the accidental death of a prized racehorse and a person’s unsolved disappearance. Though the perpetrator’s identity will surprise few, O’Connor adds plot twists that many won’t anticipate. Judicious use of Irishisms (“I swear to ye”) adds color. Readers will eagerly await what happens next in County Kerry. Publisher’s Weekly, June 2022


The Hazelbourne ladies motorcycle and flying club by Helen Simonson

Simonson (The Summer Before the War) delivers a thoughtful and witty tale of British men and women adjusting to a new normal after WWI. Spunky and observant Constance Haverhill worked as an estate manager during the war. Now, she’s reduced to serving temporarily as a lady’s companion for Mrs. Fog, who is recuperating from influenza in a hotel in the seaside resort town of Hazelbourne. Here, Constance meets free-spirited spendthrift Poppy Wirrall and her attractive and morose brother, Harris, who lost his leg while flying a plane in the war. Constance, timid at first, gets involved with Poppy’s effort to provide local woman with jobs as motorcycle drivers for sidecar-riding passengers. Constance even tries her hand at flying Harris’s Sopworth Camel biplane, which Poppy bought to jolt him out of his rut. While Constance’s bumpy romantic adventures with Harris form the spine of the book, Simonson neatly interweaves multiple plotlines involving the chauvinistic and condescending local gentry, the travails of a German waiter scorned because of his nationality, and the bad behavior of visiting Americans. Readers are in for a treat. Publisher’s Weekly, February 2024


A Talent for Murder by Peter Swanson

Bestseller Swanson’s brilliant latest (following The Kind Worth Saving) revolves around a newlywed’s suspicions that her husband might be a murderer. Maine librarian Martha Ratliff is feeling uneasy about her recent marriage to traveling salesman Alan Peralta. Her fear that she doesn’t truly know Alan is exacerbated when he returns from a trip to Connecticut in an unusually severe mood. When Martha searches online for details about his trip, she turns up a news story about the supposed suicide of a young woman named Josie Nixon at the same art conference Alan visited. Soon, Martha starts drawing connections between Alan’s past trips and nearby homicides. For guidance, she turns to Lily Kintner, her old friend from graduate school (and a character from Swanson’s previous novels). Together, the women stage a meeting between Lily and Alan, which only serves to illuminate that little is as it seems when it comes to Josie’s death. Swanson’s gift for well-earned yet seismic reveals is on full display, and he fortifies them with unexpected heart through the story of Lily and Martha’s friendship. This is a masterpiece of misdirection. Publisher’s weekly, March 2024


The Boxing Baroness by Minerva Spencer

Spencer (Notorious) launches her Wicked Women of Whitechapel Regency series with an outstanding romance based in part on a real historical figure. Before the start of the novel, Marianne Simpson had a disastrous dalliance with dastardly Baron Dominic Strickland, who staged a fake wedding to Marianne solely to get beneath her skirts. Unable to work as a governess after this scandal, the delightfully confident and forthright Marianne now stars in Farnham’s Fantastical Female Fayre as the Boxing Baroness. Dominic is also causing problems for the powerful and upstanding St. John “Sin” Powell, Duke of Staunton, who receives a letter offering information about his missing, presumed dead brother if Sin can convince Marianne to meet with Dominic. The traveling circus is headed on an ill-advised tour of war-torn Europe—so Sin and two friends do the only thing they can think of and join the Fayre as carnies. Marianne initially disdains Sin for his privileged background, but as he proves himself a hard-working circus employee, he earns her respect and admiration, heightening the magnetic attraction already between them. Spencer ramps up the mystery and the romance in equal measure as the threat of Dominic and the knowledge that society would be unaccepting of their relationship hover over the captivating couple. Publisher’s Weekly, August 2022

Service Model by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In this clever postapocalyptic adventure, Tchaikovsky (the Children of Time series) puts a pair of out-of-place survivors on a satirical journey to replace what they lost when human civilization collapsed around them. The Wonk hopes to identify robots who have become self-aware and with them build a new, better society. The other survivor, a sophisticated robot house servant redesignated as “Uncharles,” wants to find a job. Even a simple employment quest is horribly complicated in an environment where repair facilities are scrap heaps in disguise due to robot overpopulation, dutiful robots fatalistically attempt to follow pointless instructions, and combat bots busily scavenge parts to perpetuate endless battles with each other. Tchaikovsky hangs a banner of tragedy over his stage, with Uncharles continually worried by the glitch that killed his owner and the Wonk increasingly disappointed in the search for a robot that thinks for itself (even one called “God” turns out to be running a program). What begins as a quest for justice, though, resolves into an appreciation of mercy as Uncharles and the Wonk lose their pasts but win a brighter future. With humor, heart, and hope balancing out the decay, this glimpse of the future is sure to win fans. Publisher’s Weekly, March 2024

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BiographyWinmar, NickyNicky Winmar 
GeneralJoshi, AlkaThe secret keeper of Jaipur
GeneralMcFadden, FreidaNever lie
HistoricalJanson, JulieBenevolence
HistoricalAdina, ShelleyThe Clockwork City
HistoricalDodd, ChristinaA Daughter of Fair Verona
MysteryClaire, AnnA cyclist’s guide to crime & croissants
MysteryGray, ClaudiaThe perils of Lady Catherine de Bourgh
MysteryShapiro, IrinaMurder at traitor’s gate
MysteryThompson, VictoriaMurder on bedford street 

A Daughter of Fair Verona by Christina Dodd

Launching a new series based on an alternate ending to Romeo and Juliet, Dodd (Point Last Seen) spins an entrancing story of an ill-fated wedding engagement. It’s narrated by the star-crossed couple’s oldest daughter, Rosie, who tells of how her parents survived their suicide attempt 20 years earlier. After Romeo and Juliet insist Rosie wed the “cruel and lustful” Duke Leir Stephano, whose third wife has just died under mysterious circumstances, she’s smitten by the better-looking Lysander at her betrothal ball. During the party, Stephano is found stabbed to death, and some guests accuse Rosie of his murder. Prince Escalus, who attempted to resolve the feud in the original play, attests to Rosie’s innocence, and as the body count rises, Rosie determines to unmask the killer while holding out hope for romance with Lysander. Rosie is an amiable and witty narrator (“Brace yourself for a recap, and don’t worry, it’s interesting in a My God, are you kidding me? sort of way”) and Dodd’s roller-coaster plot careens all the way to the cliffhanger ending. It’s a strong start. Publisher’s Weekly, May 2024


A cyclist’s guide to crime & croissants by Ann Claire

Murder disrupts a French bicycle tour. After her best friend, Gemma Gooding, is killed in a bike accident, Sadie Greene ditches her boring job at Appleton Financial and her equally dull boyfriend, Al Weston. Determined to live her best life before it’s snatched away like Gemma’s, she moves to Sans-Souci-sur-Mer as owner and operator of Oui Cycle, providing bicycle tours throughout southern France. Although she’s tickled when former boss Dom Appleton—along with his wife, Judith; son, Lance; and Lance’s girlfriend, Lexi—book her Secret Southern France tour, she knows it’ll be a challenge to integrate the pastry-phobic Dom and his family into a group that includes enthusiastic Scottish sisters Philomena and Constance; philosophical Manfred, a digital nomad from Germany; and sour Brit Nigel Fox, who hosts an infamous travel review website. Dom’s constant lagging behind to check in remotely with his workplace prevents the group from noticing when he goes missing, and when he turns up dead, barely a tear is shed. His wife declares that the tour must go on, and Sadie’s more rattled that the police investigation causes her to have to rebook all her ongoing reservations than sad at losing her longtime boss. It doesn’t hurt that Det. Jacques Laurent, sent to investigate by the local gendarmerie, is cute in a muscular way. Claire gives the wondrous sites on the tour, the backbone of most travel cozies, only perfunctory attention, focusing instead on the camaraderie among the tourists. But it’s hard for a mystery to offer a plausible solution to the crime when everyone’s too nice to have done it. Aside from the rain and the murders, a good time is had by all. Kirkus Reviews, April 2024

The perils of lady Catherine De Bourgh by Claudia Gray

In her third mystery for Mr. Darcy and Miss Tilney, Gray again showcases the dangers and delights of being a Jane Austen character. This time, the bull’s-eye is trained on Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whom Elizabeth Bennet fans may have occasionally wanted to take a potshot at themselves. Gray makes the entitled heiress more sympathetic than Austen does. She’s still vain and preening, but genuinely frightened by the escalating attempts on her life. Some of the sympathy is generated by the protagonists, young Jonathan Darcy, the shy, introverted son of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Juliet Tilney, the daughter of a country parson. Having solved the mystery of Mr. Wickham’s death in The Murder of Mr. Wickham (2022), the pair are eager to save Lady Catherine from a similar fate. As readers root for the mission’s success, they will also hope for a happy resolution to the characters’ tender, tentative steps toward forging a bond closer than friendship. True to the Austen tradition, Gray celebrates love of all kinds. She explores myriad varieties of marriage—marriages of love, of convenience, even of desperation—and gives due respect to all. She also honors Austen in portraying her characters, both those invented by Austen and those of her own devising, giving each a strongly marked character but leaving them open to hidden depths that will surprise and delight readers. The puzzle is intriguing, but its solution is only part of the reward of Gray’s ingenious new franchise. A rare treat for mystery readers and Austen buffs alike. Kirkus Reviews, May 2024

Murder on Bedford Street by Victoria Thompson

In Thompson’s strong 26th Gaslight mystery set in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City (after 2022’s Murder on Madison Square), investment banker Hugh Breedlove consults Frank Malloy, an ex-cop who still works as a PI despite coming into a fortune, and his capable wife, Sarah, a midwife, because he’s concerned about his teenage daughter, Ruth. Julia, Ruth’s cousin and Hugh’s niece, has been committed to an asylum by Julia’s husband, Chet Longly, whom she was forced to marry by her parents. Hugh regards Chet as a libertine, and doubts that Julia has any mental illness, but fears that her status as an involuntary patient will cast a pall on Ruth’s reputation. Despite Hugh’s self-serving motives, Frank takes the case, and Sarah joins him in interviewing Julia at the Manhattan State Hospital on Ward’s Island. They emerge convinced of her sanity, and their inquiry into Chet leads them to probe a maid’s suspicious death at the Longly residence. The unexplained disappearance of one of his servants raises the stakes. The loving relationship between Frank and Sarah bolsters the clever plot. This long-running series shows no sign of losing steam. Publisher’s Weekly, January 2023

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