More new and upcoming releases for your consideration…
The Puppet Maker’s Daughter by Karla M. Jay
Hungary 1944. The war comes late to Budapest. Nineteen-year-old Marika, forced out of nursing school, believes she and her Jewish family will remain safe, even as Nazi soldiers fill their cobbled streets. With Russians to their east, the Allies to their west, everyone assumes the war is nearly over. Her father, once a prominent engineer, returns to his passion for puppet making. Soon, she is pulled into the resistance to rescue orphans and displaced Jews while keeping her family one step ahead of Eichmann’s extermination plans.
As the world turns dark around her, the fanatical Arrow Cross Party, a ruthless group that listens to no one including the Germans, unleashes a killing spree on the remaining Jews of Europe. One day, as peril intensifies, she must make a decision that puts her in extreme danger to save herself, her family, and the orphans she’s sheltered.
Will she regret that moment for the rest of her life?
My thoughts: As World War II draws to a seemingly imminent end, the citizens of Budapest are surprised by the arrival of the German army. At first, there is the hope that the presence of Adolf Eichmann and his troops will be a fleeting interruption to their daily lives but, as the nazi’s take control of the country, it becomes clear that things are about to change – for all of them, but especially for for Hungary’s Jewish population. As the rules targeting their community grow increasingly stringent, foreboding gives way to desperation. 19 year old Marika, a Jewish nurse who volunteers her time at a local Christian orphanage, soon finds herself struggling to safeguard her family against not only the Germans, but an equally ruthless enemy: her neighbors and fellow Hungarians.
A well-written, well-researched novel that illuminates one of history’s darkest moments – the 11th hour operation by Eichmann that saw the deportation of over 400 000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz during a two month period. The book covers aspects of this ugly history of which many may not be aware, like the equally horrific actions of the civilian right-wing Arrow Cross Party, led by a pistol-packing monk, whose brutality rivaled those of their German occupiers. Despite the grim subject matter, the very human element at the heart of this story – Marika, her family, and their supports within the ranks of a burgeoning resistance – offer hope amid so much heartbreak. Author Kay crafts a stirring story that is equal parts somber, shocking and stirring.
Autonomy by Victoria Hetherington
It’s 2035: a fledging synthetic consciousness “wakes up” in a lab. Jenny, the lead developer, determined to nurture this synthetic being like a child, trains it to work with people at the border of the American Protectorate of Canada. She names it Julian.
Two years later, Slaton, a therapist at a university, is framed by a student for arranging an illegal abortion. She follows the student to America and is detained at the border, where she meets Julian in virtual space. After a week of interviewing, he decides to stay with her, learning about the world, the human condition, and what it means to fall in love. Meanwhile, a mysterious plague is spreading across the world. Only the far-seeing and well-connected Julian can protect Slaton from the impending societal collapse.
My thoughts: “In a near future ravaged by illness, one woman and her AI companion enter a dangerous bubble of the superrich.” True, but anyone expecting Autonomy to live up to its cool sci-fi premise is in for a disappointment. The book is much more staid that one would expect given the blurb, more philosophical in its thematic explorations, more lyrical in its prose. The author establishes a near future world of mass surveillance by misogynist forces that while interesting, feels a little stale on the heels of The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Christina Dalcher’s Vox, and many other works that have covered the same well-trodden ground. A fresh attack on a familiar premise is always welcome, but this tech-driven authoritarian setting ultimately proves mere backdrop to the complicated relationship between our protagonist, Slaton, and a seemingly sentient A.I. named Julian. As our story progresses, the curious Julian begins to learn about the world through his interactions with Slaton – only to disappear partway through the novel. Slaton marries, a mysterious plague ravages society and, as communities fall, some take a mysterious pill that is supposed to grant them immortality but instead makes them very ill (one of two unrelated instances where individuals make the dubious decision to accept pills from strangers, with grim consequences) Julian finally puts in a late appearance in the novel’s closing pages at which point Slaton confesses her love to him even though there was really no satisfactory build up to this admission. The book is slow, but it is memorable for the surprisingly heartfelt connection between the oft-weary Slaton and the earnest and innocent Julian.
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho
Best friends since second grade, Fiona Lin and Jane Shen explore the lonely freeways and seedy bars of Los Angeles together through their teenage years, surviving unfulfilling romantic encounters, and carrying with them the scars of their families’ tumultuous pasts. Fiona was always destined to leave, her effortless beauty burnished by fierce ambition–qualities that Jane admired and feared in equal measure. When Fiona moves to New York and cares for a sick friend through a breakup with an opportunistic boyfriend, Jane remains in California and grieves her estranged father’s sudden death, in the process alienating an overzealous girlfriend. Strained by distance and unintended betrayals, the women float in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship both a beacon of home and a reminder of all they’ve lost.
My thoughts: This one was a mixed bag with its exploration of a friendship that, when all is said and done, was surprisingly absent from several of the stories that make up this collection. There’s lots to like here including a fascinating backstory element that informs Jane, the guilt she harbors for outing her dad to her mother, an act she believes contributed to his suicide. It offers a fascinating subtext to much of who she is and what she does, whereas Fiona feels more diffuse and mercurial, at times difficult to fathom. The first three tales that open this book are terrific, establishing Fiona and Jane, their friendship, as well as their unique family situations. As they grow older, however, they grow apart and as the focus shifts to their respective love-lives, the narrative loses steam, partly due to the fractured nature of the story-telling but mostly, I think, because of the lack of any real depth to our secondary characters. There are some exceptions in the early goings but these characters, like the delightful Won, all but disappear as the narrative evolves.
Bluebird by Ciel Pierlot
Three factions vie for control of the galaxy. Rig, a gunslinging, thieving, rebel with a cause, doesn’t give a damn about them and she hasn’t looked back since abandoning her faction three years ago.
That is, until her former faction sends her a message: return what she stole from them, or they’ll kill her twin sister.
Rig embarks on a journey across the galaxy to save her sister – but for once she’s not alone. She has help from her network of resistance contacts, her taser-wielding librarian girlfriend, and a mysterious bounty hunter.
If Rig fails and her former faction finds what she stole from them, trillions of lives will be lost–including her sister’s. But if she succeeds, she might just pull the whole damn faction system down around their ears. Either way, she’s going to do it with panache and pizzazz.
My thoughts: Author Ciel Pierlot’s clear forte is world-building as proven by the rich and carefully-crafted three-faction galaxy that provides the backdrop for a sci-fi tale with action, adventure and humor reminiscent of, obviously, Firefly, but I would add maybe Dark Matter as well. It’s a lot of fun with a lot of banter (one could argue a little much banter) as our protagonist Rig sets out to save her sister with the help of her librarian girlfriend and a mysterious bounty hunter named Ginka. Not much character development and the book is too long, but if you enjoy high-flying space opera then this may be the book for you.
The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz
Owen Mann is charming, privileged, and chronically dissatisfied. Luna Grey is secretive, cautious, and pragmatic. Despite their differences, they begin forming a bond the moment they meet in college. Their names soon become indivisible–Owen and Luna, Luna and Owen–and stay that way even after an unexplained death rocks their social circle.
Years later, they’re still best friends when Luna finds Owen’s wife brutally murdered. The police investigation sheds some light on long-hidden secrets, but it can’t penetrate the wall of mystery that surrounds Owen. To get to the heart of what happened and why, Luna has to dig up the one secret she’s spent her whole life burying.
My thoughts: A riveting 5-star read right up to its 2.5-star ending, The Accomplice shifts back and forth between two timelines, two murders, and an atypical friendship between two very different people. As far as thrillers go, I found this one unique and very compelling, but was left disappointed with an ending that fails to gracefully dovetail its parallel narratives. Instead, we are offered the logically sound but dramatically unsatisfying resolutions to the two murders, one of which was underwhelming while the other was borderline ludicrous.
The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf
True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.
As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.
My thoughts: In the summer of 2000, 12 year old Josie survives a multiple homicide that claims the lives of her parents and brother, and results in the disappearance of her best friend, Becky. Decades later, author Wylie Lark is snowbound at an isolated farmhouse when she discovers a frightened young boy, seemingly alone in the wilderness. Who is he and how is his sudden appearance related to the unsolved triple homicide that gripped the community so many years back?
The Overnight Guest falls firmly into the Women in Peril thriller sub-genre, ticking all of the expected boxes. There’s a determined and resourceful heroine with a complicated past. There’s an equally determined killer stalking her. And there’s a central mystery, with all of the requisite twists and turns, that you’ll probably figure out well before the final reveal. A quick, engaging, if not unsurprising read.
So, what are YOU reading?