Quick Review: GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead (Knopf)

ShipsteadM-GreatCircleUSA sweeping, engaging story of adventure, determination, and the ties that bind

An unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost…

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There — after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates — and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times — collide.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Maggie Shipstead, and it turned out to be an excellent one to begin with. It’s mostly the story of Marian Graves, and the people who fall in and out of her life, and her (successful) pursuit of a career as a female aviator. It is also the story of Hadley Baxter, an actress in the present day who finds herself cast in a biopic of Marian’s life. Alternating between the two stories, it’s a sweeping, engaging, and immersive novel. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Excerpt: A TIME FOR SWORDS by Matthew Harffy (Head of Zeus)

HarffyM-ATimeForSwordsNext week, Head of Zeus is due to published A Time for Swords, a new historical thriller by Matthew Harffy. The publisher was kind enough to provide us with an excerpt to share with CR readers. First, though, here’s the synopsis:

When the Vikings attack, a novice monk’s life is changed forever in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

Lindisfarne, AD793.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom’s most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD 793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer… and there is a time for swords.

And now, on with the excerpt…

Continue reading

Quick Review: RED WIDOW by Alma Katsu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

When you work in a building of smoke & mirrors, everyone and everything should be questioned…

The story of two women CIA agents whose paths become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division – one that’s coming from inside the agency.

Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during an assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague — now Chief of the Russia Division — recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, where she was known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been exposed — including one of her own — and the CIA is convinced there’s a mole in the department. With years of work in question and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.

Meanwhile, fellow agent Theresa Warner can’t avoid the spotlight. She is the infamous “Red Widow,” the wife of a former director killed in the field under mysterious circumstances. With her husband’s legacy shadowing her every move, Theresa is a fixture of the Russia Division, and as she and Lyndsey strike up an unusual friendship, her knowledge proves invaluable. But as Lyndsey uncovers a surprising connection to Theresa that could answer all of her questions, she unearths a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it…

I haven’t read all of Katsu’s previous works, but as a long-time lover for espionage fiction, I knew I had to read this as soon as I could. I’m very glad to report that it is an engaging, twisty espionage novel set in the halls of Langley and D.C. I enjoyed this a lot. Continue reading

Excerpt: SHADOW OF THE HAWK by David Gilman (Head of Zeus)

GilmanD-MoW7-ShadowOfTheHawkThe seventh book in David Gilman‘s Master of War series, Shadow of the Hawk, is due out next week. Head of Zeus were kind enough to provide an excerpt to share in advance of its release. Here’s the novel’s synopsis:

Winter, 1364.

The King is dead.

Defeated on the field of Poitiers, Jean Le Bon, King of France, honoured his treaty with England until his death. His son and heir, Charles V, has no intention of doing the same. War is coming and the predators are circling.

Sir Thomas Blackstone, Edward III’s Master of War, has been tasked with securing Brittany for England. In the throes of battle, he rescues a young boy, sole witness to the final living breaths of the Queen of Castile. The secret the boy carries is a spark deadly enough to ignite conflict on a new front – a front the English cannot afford to fight on.

So Blackstone is ordered south to Castile, across the mountains to shepherd Don Pedro, King of Castile, to safety. Accompanied only by a small detachment of his men and a band of Moorish cavalrymen loyal to the king, every step takes Blackstone further into uncertain territory, deeper into an unyielding snare.

For the Master of War, the shadow of death is always present.

The excerpt is after the break.

Continue reading

Quick Review: MARY JANE by Jessica Anya Blau (Custom House)

BlauJA-MaryJaneUSA young woman finds herself during a momentous summer

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Showtunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, Impeachment: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): the doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job — helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.

This novel is pitched as “Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones and the Six” — one of my favourite movies, and one of my favourite recent novels. So, of course, my interest was piqued. After finishing it, I think it’s a pretty apt comparison, but this novel stands very much on its own, too. Mary Jane is a warm-hearted, well-written story of Mary Jane’s coming-of-age in 1970s Baltimore, during a momentous summer. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE KINGDOMS by Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury)

PulleyN-KingdomsUSIn May, Bloomsbury is due to publish The Kingdoms, the new novel by Nastasha Pulley. The author of the acclaimed, best-selling Watchmaker of Filigree Street duology and The Bedlam Stacks. It looks like an intriguing mash-up of alternative history/reality and fantasy. Here’s the synopsis:

Come home, if you remember.

The postcard has been held at the sorting office for ninety-one years, waiting to be delivered to Joe Tournier. On the front is a lighthouse – Eilean Mor, in the Outer Hebrides.

Joe has never left England, never even left London. He is a British slave, one of thousands throughout the French Empire. He has a job, a wife, a baby daughter.

But he also has flashes of a life he cannot remember and of a world that never existed – a world where English is spoken in England, and not French.

And now he has a postcard of a lighthouse built just six months ago, that was first written nearly one hundred years ago, by a stranger who seems to know him very well.

Joe’s journey to unravel the truth will take him from French-occupied London to a remote Scottish island, and back through time itself as he battles for his life – and for a very different future.

Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms is due to be published on May 25th by Bloomsbury Publishing in North America and in the UK. Really looking forward to reading this one.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: THE MAIDENS by Alex Michaelides (Celadon/W&N)

MichaelidesA-MaidensUSThe Maidens by Alex Michaelides has been getting a fair amount of pre-publication buzz. It’s the author’s second novel (his debut was The Silent Patient). The synopsis suggests an intriguing campus thriller, and certainly piqued my interest:

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike-particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

MichaelidesA-MaidensUKMariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything-including her own life.

Alex Michaelides’s The Maidens is due to be published by Celadon Books in North America (June 15th) and W&N in the UK (June 10th). Looking forward to reading this.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram

Upcoming: HELL OF A BOOK by Jason Mott (Dutton/Trapeze)

MottJ-HellOfABookUSHell of a Book, the upcoming novel by Jason Mott, has been getting some pretty good pre-publication buzz online recently (UK review copies must have just gone out). I haven’t read anything else by Mott, but this sounds really interesting. Pitched as “both incredibly funny and heartfelt”, it’s a novel that “goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans, and America as a whole.” Really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

In Hell of a Book, an African-American author sets out on a cross-country book tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives the novel and is the scaffolding of something much larger and urgent: since the novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.

MottJ-HellOfABookUKThroughout, these characters’ stories build and build and as they converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art, and money, there always is the tragic story of a police shooting playing over and over on the news.

Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind? Unforgettably powerful, an electrifying high-wire act, ideal for book clubs and the book Mott says he has been writing in his head for ten years, Hell of a Book in its final twists truly becomes its title.

Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book is due to be published by Dutton in North America and Trapeze in the UK, on August 10th, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: MALIBU RISING by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Hutchinson/Ballantine)

ReidTJ-MalibuRisingUKA superb novel about family

A lifetime holding it together.
One party will bring it crashing down.

Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over-especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control.
By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames.

But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them… and what they will leave behind.

Like many people, I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid’s previous novel, Daisy Jones & the Six. As soon as I finished that novel, I went out and picked up The Seven Husband of Evelyn Hugo, and eagerly awaited the author’s next new novel. That new novel is Malibu Rising, due out in May. I was lucky enough to get a DRC, and I read it as soon as I could. I’m very happy to report that it is another excellent, character-driven story of family, love, loss and life. Continue reading

Quick Review: AFTERPARTIES by Anthony Veasna So (Ecco)

SoAV-AfterpartiesUSAn engaging collection of short stories

Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family.

A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.

Afterparties is the first and only book by Anthony Veasna So, who tragically passed away in December. I hadn’t read any of his short stories (many of which have been published elsewhere) before learning of this collection. As someone who is fascinated by California and an avid reader of fiction set in that state, I was intrigued by the alternative perspective this collection promised. I was not disappointed: Afterparties is an engaging, oft-endearing read. Continue reading