Unexpected heroes are featured in short stories by twelve popular writers of urban fantasy. They vary considerably in tone, setting, and type of narrator, including a sprite, a troll, a werewolf, and an Irish wolfhound. If you read urban fantasy, you’ll rejoice at the list of authors; other readers may find new favorite. I regularly read Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop and Patricia Briggs, but I also enjoyed Kerrie L. Hughes’ story about a troll who works at a train station, the poignant “Train to Last Hope” by Annie Bellet and the valiant dogs in “Fire Hazard” by Kevin Hearne. Enjoy!
Four friends and longtime coworkers Billie, Natalie, Mary Alice and Helen are on a cruise to celebrate their early retirement when they spot another coworker and find a bomb. So much for a relaxing vacation! 40 years ago, when the women were 20, they were recruited to work for a nongovernmental organization that provides justice outside the law. In other words, they are assassins selected and trained to take out the very worst criminals and leaders. Flashbacks to their training and early missions make for compelling reading.
In the present, the foursome go on the run, after evacuating the ship. The only ones that could have targeted the group are the directors of their organization, known as the Museum. Boltholes in New Orleans and rural England lack the luxury of the cruise ship, and there’s tension among the group. Missions in New Orleans and the catacombs of Paris are well described, along with an art auction. As expected, there is a fair amount of violence, narrated from Billie’s point of view, along with clever detecting and planning, and an intensifying pace. This is an appealing group of very smart and dangerous women. While Helen seems a bit frail for only 60 and Billie has daily aches and pains despite doing yoga two hours every day, it’s refreshing to read about middle-aged protagonists who still move like action heroes when needed. I feel like the women probably know Elizabeth of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club. Will there be a sequel? Unknown, but I think there’d be plenty of interest. To be published September 6.
A long awaited novel of magical realism by the author of Garden Spells and Lost Lake. The residents of the Dellawisp condos on Mallow Island, South Carolina include a few ghosts. Zoey Hennessy inherits her mother’s studio and moves in for the summer before starting college. She is hired by the manager to help clear out another condo, and befriends henna artist Charlotte and young chef Mac. All three have secrets and some healing to do, as does a legendary local author. Memorable and intriguing, you’ll wish you could visit magical Mallow Island. Other Birds will be published August 30.
Giovaninno Speranza, vacuum repairman and mayor of tiny Prometto, Italy, is distraught. He has to tell the other 213 residents that they have 60 days to come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s plumbing, or else. When his cousin tells him about the sudden increase in tourism his city had when it was rumored a major movie star was there, Signor Speranza comes up with a mad scheme. Perhaps if they pretend that actor Dante Rinaldi is coming to Prometto to film a movie, the town’s fortunes will improve. With the help of his assistant Smilzo, they start casting and actually filming a movie that Smilzo writes, with his crush Antonella as co-star. Speranza’s daughter Gemma and young granddaughter Carlotta are so happy that even temporarily housing an overweight Pomeranian diva can’t dim his sudden happiness or that of his elderly uncle, who starts building an outdoor amphitheater to screen the movie. Wise advice from wife Betta, benevolence from priest Don Rocco, and comic relief from goats and miniature schnauzers all enliven this warmhearted first novel. Offbeat and often hilarious, this is an engaging and uplifting read. More, please!
While not a typical armchair travel read, this short novel about the connections people make on 12 flights will take the reader around the world, touching down in five continents. The author has lived in five countries, including some mentioned here. In case you’re wondering, no planes crash, and I remember only one significant flight delay. More than just the flights are covered; this book details the interactions of those traveling together on a plane, traveling to or from an airport, and between those arriving in a city and someone else who will be traveling onwards. Wealthy and poor, urban and rural, healthy and not, even different views of a traffic accident are all covered. Cities flown to and from include London, Madrid, Dakar, Sao Paulo, Delhi and Kerala, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Doha, Budapest, Seattle, and Toronto. I had to look up more than one of those! Sisters, parents and their adult children, an author, lovers and others meet and connect and the reader is left to ponder the effects of these connections on each other. A quick yet memorable read.
A companion novel to Liardet’s 2019 debut, We Must Be Brave, this covers three different times in vicar James Acton’s life. As a young pilot in the Second World War, he meets his future wife Yvette in Alexandria, Egypt. The war separates them, and then they marry after the war and settle near Liverpool in a poor parish. A pregnancy loss early in their marriage threaten to divide them again, and James doesn’t care where Yvette finds support on her long drives in the country. Later Yvette keeps a diary before her death in the 1960s. In 1974, with son Tom a college student, James moves to a new parish in Upton, where he has a leaky roof, a study full of the last vicar’s papers, and a crisis of faith. Tom and James quarrel over Yvette’s diaries, then James starts meeting people who knew Yvette. Not as sad as We Must Be Brave, with a puppy and Tom providing comic relief, and a stern archbishop providing unexpected support, the plot keeps the reader guessing in this compelling read. The Alexandria setting is unfamiliar and has links to the author’s family. I also enjoyed the English countryside setting and the scenes of daily life of a 1970s English vicar.
This historical novel is based on the remarkable life of Black fashion designer Ann Lowe. Fourth in a family line of dressmakers, Ann was born in Alabama in 1898. Her grandmother was born a slave. Ann was designing and making fabric flowers as a young girl, and she finished a commission to make four dresses for Alabama’s first lady at 16, after her mother died.
Married extremely young, Ann had one son. Discovered by a Tampa socialite, Ann and young Arthur lived with the family in Tampa, where she designed and made dresses for the family. At their suggestion, Ann studied at a design school in New York City, where she wasn’t allowed to sit in a classroom with the white students. Racism also hampered her ability to open a dress shop in the south near where her wealthy clients lived. Later, Ann designed dresses in New York City for the rich and famous, sometimes in her own shop and sometimes in a department store, struggling with finances, her eyesight, and especially, for recognition of her talents. Among Ann’s notable designs were the gown Olivia de Havilland wore to the Academy Awards when she won an Oscar, and Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding gown, which had to be made twice.
A compelling read, well researched, and with a good sense of time and place. A moving and thought-provoking novel about an extremely talented artist; well worth considering for book groups. Readalikes include The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and The Gown by Jennifer Robson.
Sequel to Witness for the Dead, this is a stunning shorter fantasy mystery set in a steampunk world where technology is mostly in the background, with Thara Celahar traveling the city of Amalo with his new widowed apprentice Velhiro Tomasaran by tram and sending notes by pneumatic tube, and rarely, airship. Thara is a cleric who has the ability to read the thoughts and feelings of the recently dead, which helps in investigating the cause of death, location of a will or treasured item, or even identity or religion. His new cases involve him with all classes of society in Amalo. He is elven, many of his clients are all or part goblin. I like how the set of a character’s ears show their mood or energy level. His friends, including admirer and new friend Pel Thenhior, a composer and director of opera, often aid his investigations. Thara is not well paid, and has a single room, taking all his meals and tea out, and visiting bathhouses. When his secondhand black coat of office needs extensive mending, he gratefully trades with his female apprentice. Thara is frequently asked if he is well after a dramatic confrontation with a monster in an underground tomb, and he is clearly shaken up, having lost something very valuable in the process. Readers, along with Thara’s allies, will hope his health and fortune improve in the promised final book in The Cemeteries of Amalo trilogy, set in the world of The Goblin Emperor.
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.
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