The Violin Conspiracy

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Ray McMillan has a dream to play the violin and possibly earn a living from his music. Only his grandmother encourages him, and has Ray search her attic for her grandfather’s violin. But as a Black teen in rural North Carolina, the odds are not in his favor. When the family violin turns out to be valuable, his mother and her siblings just want to sell it and split the money. And Ray’s family aren’t the only ones with a suspicious interest in his violin. When Ray finds a supportive violin teacher in Janice, he sets his sights higher, with hopes to be a classical and jazz violinist, and maybe even a soloist and a contestant in a prestigious music competition in Moscow.

The author is a Black violinist and music teacher who put some of his stories from his own journey to becoming a musician into this moving, suspenseful thriller; and all of his love for music. A second novel, The Composer’s Last Score, though not a sequel, is in the works. Engaging and dramatic, this memorable debut is a Library Reads pick and a Good Morning America Book Club selection.

Brenda

The Kaiju Preservation Society

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Three cheers for Scalzi’s Plan B! This is not the science fiction novel that the award-winning author meant to write during the pandemic, but it’s one that will entertain and delight his many fans. In this very funny adventure thriller, New Yorker Jamie Gray is unexpectedly fired at the beginning of a very bad year. Demoted to food delivery driver, Jamie renews his acquaintance with Tom, a frequent customer who gives Jamie a job lead with KPS, the Kaiju Preservation Society. Jamie ends up in a warmer parallel earth with a jungle full of flying insects, creatures called tree crabs, and the super colossal kaiju, whose rare visits to our world inspired the Godzilla films. Jamie’s smart, snarky coworkers all seem to have a Ph.D. (unlike Jamie), and are studying the kaiju and trying to encourage a pair to mate and produce offspring. Suddenly Jamie encounters his terrible former boss, a billionaire tourist who almost gets himself kicked off a helicopter. Soon, Jamie and his coworkers have to strategize to protect the kaiju, themselves, and a small Canadian city from danger. Pure escapist reading, sure to be a hit. Readalikes include Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth.

Brenda

Three Hours in Paris

Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

Kate Rees was raised on an Oregon cattle ranch, and became a crack shot with a rifle. In 1940, she’s testing rifles in a munitions factory in Scotland’s Orkney Islands when she’s recruited for a special mission in Paris, where she studied on scholarship at the Sorbonne. Mourning her husband, Kate agrees, and almost kills Hitler during his three hour tour in Paris. Why she is sent to Paris, after a very brief training that includes tips for quick disguises, and why she fails are just the background for what comes next. Kate wasn’t the only operative parachuting into France that June, and she makes contact with allies, an injured fellow spy, her former tutor at the Sorbonne, and the intriguing Philippe. While Kate is on the run in a beautifully described Paris, Nazi detective Gunter Hoffman is searching for a sniper, and MI6 handler Stepney is scrambling for options to salvage his operations in France. Readalikes include Munich by Robert Harris, Dragonfly by Leila Meacham, Basil’s War by Stephen Hunter, Under Occupation by Alan Furst, and the mid-20th century spy novels by Helen MacInnes. This stunning and suspenseful historical thriller is almost impossible to put down, and great escapist reading.

 

Brenda

Termination Shock

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson’s new techno-thriller is set in the near future, and describes possible effects of climate change and one Texas billionaire’s idea to reverse global warming. Action-packed, with a variety of settings that include Texas, the Netherlands, New Guinea, and the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas separating China and India. Saskia, Queen of the Netherlands, is flying to Houston when her plane is diverted by extreme weather to Waco, where a group of feral swine on the runway disables her plane. She’s traveling to Houston to meet T.R. Schmidt, who’s demonstrating a way to use sulfur to help lower temperatures and prevent a rise in sea levels. The feral swine, alligators, and the aftermath of a hurricane make for exciting travels, but this is just one plot line in this page turning novel by the bestselling science fiction author of Reamde, Seveneves, Anathem, and Cryptonomicon. Laks, a Canadian semi-observant Sikh who practices martial arts has his own adventures. Though some of the characters could be developed more, I found this to be an entertaining and informative look at a possible near future. Readalikes include New York, 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson and Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Brenda

Falling

Falling by T. J. Newman

A compelling read, this debut thriller is perfect summer reading; unless you’re on an airplane. Former flight attendant and bookseller Newman had many rejections when trying to find an agent, then ended up with an instant bestseller. Pilot Bill Hoffman of Coastal Airways has just begun a flight from Los Angeles to New York City with copilot Ben when he gets an emailed photo of his family, taken hostage. Expecting a ransom demand, Bill is instead told to crash the plane in order to save his wife Carrie, son Scott, 10, and baby Elise. Bill gets word to head flight attendant Jo, who has a contact with the FBI, and she agrees to try to protect the passengers. Chapters alternate between the points of view of Bill, Carrie, Jo, and the FBI, making the book increasingly difficult to put down. The author’s background makes the airplane setting and responses of the flight crew seem authentic. In a twist, the hostage taker informs Bill that he has a Plan B already on board the plane. Film rights have been sold. Readalikes include Airport by Arthur Hailey, Hostage by Clare Mackintosh and Airframe by Michael Crichton.

 

Brenda

The Last Thing He Told Me

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

On their houseboat in Sausalito, California, Hannah receives a cryptic note from her husband Owen. All it says is “Protect her”. Her 16-year-old stepdaughter Bailey gets a longer note and a duffle bag full of money in her locker before Owen vanishes. Owen is a coder for The Shop, a technology firm. On the news, Hannah learns that Owen’s boss has been arrested for financial fraud.

Hannah is a talented and successful woodturner, crafting tables and other furniture, but struggles to connect with Bailey, who lost her mother when she was little. Hannah knows how important Bailey is to Owen, and they travel to Texas to follow up on some clues. The story goes back and forth a couple years in time, to show how Owen and Hannah met and fell in love, before Hannah realizes she knows very few facts about Owen’s past.

This is the fifth novel and first thriller by Laura Dave. I enjoyed Eight Hundred Grapes, so I thought I’d try her new bestseller. This was not the suspense book I was expecting, although it definitely lives up to the hype. The compelling story is intricately plotted, and I guessed wrong on a couple of plot twists, but this is primarily a book about relationships and priorities, focusing on resilient, quick-thinking Hannah and how her relationships with Owen and Bailey develop. Readalikes include The Expats by Chris Pavone, Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell and Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown.

Brenda

The Guide

The Guide by Peter Heller

Lush descriptions of stunning scenery combine with an increasing menace in a novel set at an elite fishing lodge in Colorado. The young guide, Jack, is well acquainted with loss, and finds his solace in fly fishing. Assigned to Allison K., a famous singer, they explore the water and grounds near Kingfisher Lodge, eating marvelous meals that include conversations about favorite Japanese haiku. No fishing experience is needed to enjoy the scenery and the pairs’ love of the sport. But no idyll is perfect, and as they explore too far and uncover a sinister plot just beyond the fence, the story becomes a heart-pounding thriller; changing from a readalike for Ivan Doig or Norman Maclean into a book perfect for readers of Robin Cook or Michael Crichton. Absolutely riveting, both gorgeous and frightening. Readers will also enjoy Heller’s companion novel The River, but this novel stands alone in its near future setting.

Brenda

V2

V2: A Novel of World War II by Robert Harris

While I haven’t been reading many World War II novels lately, I’m a fan of Robert Harris’s novels, including Conclave, Pompeii, Munich, and The Second Sleep, so I started reading V2, and found it a compelling read. In November 1944, Section Officer Kay Caton-Walsh is in the London flat of her boss, Air Commodore Mike Templeton, when the building is hit by a V2 rocket. Kay gets the cold shoulder from Templeton when she’s mistaken for his wife, so she’s happy to take an assignment in Belgium. In Medenham, England, Kay has been analyzing photographs, searching for clues to the launch site of Germany’s V2 rockets. In Belgium, she will calculate the trajectory of the missiles while they’re still in the air, and after they hit London. In this thrilling story about the race to stop the silent, insidious V2s, which threatened Londoners from September 1944 to March 1945, a parallel plot features German engineer Rudi Graf. Graf, who only wanted to work with Wernher von Braun to send rockets into space, helps launch the V2 missiles. How far is Graf willing to go, for Germany, or for his conscience and the future? Another well-researched novel from master storyteller Harris, this is a good readalike for The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, Code Girls by Liza Mundy, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal.

Brenda

 

Camino Winds

Camino Winds by John Grisham

Camino Winds follows the faster-paced Camino Island, starting with a book party and dinner hosted by wealthy bookseller Bruce Cable, followed quickly by a hurricane. Bruce and several of his friends shelter in place on the island. In the aftermath of the destructive storm, thriller writer Nelson Kerr is found dead. Fellow writer Bob Cobb and bookstore intern Nick Sutton help Bruce investigate. When the manuscript of Nelson’s next book is discovered and the topic is massive fraud at nursing homes, Bruce thinks the book may have been motive enough for murder. With business slow while the Florida island recovers from the hurricane, Bruce travels with wife Nicole, then fires the detective agency he hires to find Nelson’s murderer. I enjoyed Michael Beck’s audiobook narration, and the Florida island setting. The plot is very different from Camino Island, but both remind me of Clive Cussler’s adventure novels. For a heartwarming novel centered around a hurricane, try The Summer Guests by Mary Alice Monroe.

Brenda

 

The Andromeda Evolution

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel Wilson and Michael Crichton

Fifty years after The Andromeda Strain, a mysterious structure appears in the Amazon rain forest. Project Eternal Vigilance is activated, and an international team of scientists is sent to investigate, including an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. Fighter planes are on high alert should their exploration fail. Daniel Wilson was an excellent choice to write this sequel. The scenes in the rain forest are vividly drawn, as are the robotics on the ISS. Fast-paced from the beginning, the pace and tension intensify, and the fate of the expedition (and the planet) is always in doubt. Readers know that all the scientists will not survive, but the plot is far from predictable. This science fiction thriller is sure to be popular. Matthew Reilly’s Jack West series is a good readalike.

Brenda