The Marlow Murder Club

marlow murder club jacket

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood

At 77, Judith Potts is perfectly happy with her solitary life. She lives in a cluttered mansion along the Thames in Marlow, creates crossword puzzles, has a nightly scotch, walks through her neighborhood in a cape, where she thinks her age makes her invisible, and enjoys swimming nude in the Thames. While swimming one evening, she hears a gunshot in her neighbor Stefan’s garden. The police find nothing, not even the body she discovers the next morning, complete with a medallion inscribed Faith. Soon, Judith connects with two other Marlow residents, vicar’s wife Betts and dog walker Suzie, to investigate. After another murder with a different medallion, the trio look into whether the victims are linked by a fondness for rowing or a valuable modern painting sold cheaply many years ago. Their favorite suspect, smug auction house owner Elliot Howard, unfortunately has a solid alibi. The women become friends, though not sharing all their secrets with each other, or with DS Tanika Malik, heading the investigation due to budget cuts. I look forward to a return appearance with The Marlow Murder Club. Readalikes include The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton, Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, and The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman.

 

Brenda

The Littlest Library

littlest library jacket

The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander

What Anglophile hasn’t dreamed of buying a cottage in a charming English village? Made redundant when her public library closes, Jess impulsively buys Ivy Cottage in a small Devon town, and opens a little library in a red phone booth with 10 boxes of books left to her by her beloved grandmother Mimi. Soon she’ll need a paying job, but for now she’s weeding the lush garden, making friends, and falling for handsome neighbor Aidan and his tween daughter Maisie. Charming and well-written; perfect summer reading. Readalikes includes novels by Jill Mansell, Jenny Colgan, Jojo Moyes, and Katie Fforde

Brenda

Fencing with the King

fencing with the king jacket

Fencing with the King by Diana Abu-Jaber

In 1995, King Hussein of Jordan is about to turn 60. Gabe Hamdan is invited to his homeland for the festivities, including participating in a fencing match with the king. Gabe’s daughter Amani, a recently divorced poet in upstate New York, offers to accompany her father. Scraps of poetry written by her grandmother make Amani curious to learn her family’s history, and eager to finally visit Jordan. One of Gabe’s brothers, Hafez, works with the king and is delighted to host his relatives, but with the ulterior motive of reclaiming an ancient family dagger.

There is some intrigue, complex family dynamics, and even a potential love interest for Amani. The real highlight of the novel for me was the beautifully described scenery and historical sites of Jordan, including a Bedouin camp. Amani overcomes her writer’s block, uncovers family secrets, and even ventures alone into the desert in this compelling and atmospheric story. The author’s father is Jordanian and fenced with the king in their youth.

Brenda

A Desolation Called Peace

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Literary science fiction that concludes the duology begun with A Memory Called Empire.  While sometimes described as space opera, Martine’s writing is more descriptive and complex than most adventure filled space operas. If you enjoyed Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie or Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor or The Witness for the Dead, you may find this a very satisfying read. The world building, characterization, and writing are all top-notch, and there are feline-like creatures that purr. However, there are also aliens so dangerous that just an audio recording of them can make listeners ill. In this first contact story, there are multiple narrators from two very different cultures. Young ambassador Mahit Dzmare has most of the memories of her predecessor, and is in some danger back home on Lsel Station. Her former liaison to the Teixcalaan Empire, Three Seagrass, spots an emergency request from Nine Hibiscus, in charge of the fleet facing these aliens, and travels with Mahit, her potential love interest, to Nine Hibiscus’s fleet to try to communicate with the aliens. Back on Teixcalaan’s capital world, young imperial heir Eight Antidote, 11, is exploring the tunnels and back ways of the palace complex, where he is encouraged to observe and learn how the empire is governed. While observing quietly, Eight Antidote picks up information that may help Mahit and Three Seagrass, and keep Nine Hibiscus from escalating the conflict. While there are several main characters and multiple plotlines, the author skillfully draws the reader in with beautiful prose and an ever-intensifying pace. A finalist this year for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, this story may also appeal to fantasy readers of Guy Gavriel Kay. Future books are planned in the Teixcalaanli Empire, but they will not be sequels.

Brenda

Love & Other Disasters

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Dahlia Woodson, a self-taught chef, is feeling stressed and finds her fellow Chef’s Special competitors intimidating, and sometime grumpy. London is dealing with having come out as non-binary on television, and they are distracted by Dahlia’s energy, klutziness, and long wavy hair. Of course, the pair become friends, feel attraction, and begin a romance. That’s about all that’s predictable in this warmhearted yet snarky romantic comedy set on a fictional cooking show, Chef’s Special. Readers will enjoy spending time on the set with Dahlia and London, along with armchair travel as they explore greater Los Angeles. The descriptions of the cooking and baking competition are fun, and the memorable characters make for very good company. Readalikes include Battle Royal by Lucy Parker and Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers.

Brenda

 

Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara, who narrates this introspective story set in the near future, is an Artificial Friend, designed to be an empathetic companion for a human child or teen. The beginning chapters relate her experience in a city department store, where she and other AFs wait to be chosen and long for their time in the front window, where they can soak up the sun’s rays and see the activity on the street. Happily, young teen Josie and her mother take Klara home to their house in the country. Josie has a friend, Rick, who lives nearby, but only sees other teens at scheduled parties. Everyone has remote instruction, on their tablets. Josie isn’t well, and Klara hopes that the rays of the sun will help heal her. Housekeeper Melania isn’t very welcoming to Klara, but they share responsibility for looking after Josie.

Many people are now unemployed, having lost their jobs to robots. And there is visible smog, which upsets Klara, who reasonably supposes the pollution is affecting Josie’s health. Klara sees the world differently, in a series of boxes, and her speech is very formal, deliberately machine-like. But in the end, Klara has a bigger heart than some of the humans she comes to admire and will do almost anything to help Josie grow and thrive. Described as literary science fiction, this is another thought-provoking novel by the Nobel award-winning author of The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and The Buried Giant.  

 

Brenda

Flying Solo

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes

Laurie has always admired her Great Aunt Dot, a world traveler who lived to be 93. Her home in Calcasset, Maine, was a quiet refuge for Laurie as she was a middle child with four brothers. In Calcasset to sort through Dot’s belongings, Laurie is having a mid-life crisis as she turns 40. Her best friend June is happily married with three kids, but Laurie has always enjoyed living alone. She has just canceled her upcoming wedding, but is still looking forward to returning to Seattle, where her house and garden are designed just how she likes it. Laurie’s former boyfriend Nick is now the director of the Calcasset Library, and sparks fly when they spend time together, but Nick has never wanted to leave small town Maine.

A very enjoyable part of this book is the adventure of a carved and painted wood duck Aunt Dot kept in a cedar chest. Is it valuable? Apparently not, or has Laurie been scammed by a con man? Nick helps with research and Laurie’s brother Ryan, an actor, helps in the quest to get the duck back. Laurie finally is able to decide what she really wants in this engaging read.

Set in the same town as Holmes’ debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over, this is not a sequel. Readalikes include novels by Jennifer Crusie, Mary Kay Andrews, Abbi Waxman, and Beth O’Leary.

Brenda

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Oakland private investigator Ivy Gamble is mugged on her way to work, and shortly afterwards a stranger appears in her locked office. Ivy is asked to investigate a suspicious, gruesome death at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Ivy doesn’t usually investigate possible murders, but the retainer offered is large, and she will have the chance to reconnect with her estranged twin sister Tabitha, a teacher at the school. Ivy has 14 years of experience as a PI, but feels ordinary compared to her brilliant, magical sister.

At Osthorne, Ivy wonders if it’s wrong to let staff and students think she also has magical powers. What if she dates one of the teachers? Does she want a relationship with her sister, and can she be trusted? Darkly humorous, this compelling read skillfully combines mystery, fantasy, and relationship fiction. Readalikes include Book of Night by Holly Black, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, and A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik.

Brenda

Better Luck Next Time

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Ward Bennett spent the summer of 1938 working on a dude ranch near Reno, Nevada. The Flying Leap catered to wealthy women who spent six weeks living there, then got a no-fuss divorce in Reno. Handsome cowboys Ward and Sam chauffeured the ladies to and from Reno, served meals, took care of the horses, and guided the ladies on trail rides. Max and Margaret hired the men for their good manners and their looks. When Emily drove cross-country to Reno and Nina flew her plane there, the folks at the Flying Leap know they’re in for an eventful summer. Both amusing and dramatic, this character-focused historical novel was inspired by both of the author’s parents, and is an engaging and memorable read.

Brenda

The Maid: A Novel

The Maid: A Novel by Nita Prose

Molly Gray enjoys cleaning, especially returning hotel rooms to a state of perfection. Mostly she enjoys her work as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel, in an unnamed city. While many of the guest treat Molly as though she’s invisible, other guests, such as wealthy businessman Charles Black, verge on rudeness. Molly is very naïve and socially awkward, but has a few people she trusts and counts as friends at the hotel, including a bartender and Giselle, Charles Black’s second wife.

Lately Molly has been struggling to pay her rent, since the death of her beloved grandmother, so her supervisor’s habit of swiping Molly’s tips is doubly frustrating. When Molly discovers a body in a hotel suite, she becomes a person of interest. With the help of some unexpected friends, as well as remembering her Gran’s wise advice, Molly gets ready to testify in court.

Readers will worry about and cheer for Molly in this heartwarming debut with several clever plot twists. This is not a gentle read, though it’s low in violence. Suggested for readers who like eccentric yet charming characters, with a theme of found family. Readalikes include Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little, How Lucky by Will Leitch, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Brenda