So, I only got through seven books in December, but in my defense, I have four great excuses for my lack of production:
- Coming in at well over nine hundred pages, Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone counts for at least two books;
- I had a wicked stomach bug for a week;
- Grammies have gifts to buy;
- Jesus is the reason for the season.
Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone
by Diana Gabaldon
The ninth book in Gabaldon’s Outlander series finds the Fraser family reunited during the American Revolution. It’s 1779, and Claire and Jamie Fraser have found each other across time and space and are living peacefully in North Carolina. Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall were torn apart by the Jacobite Rising in 1743, and it took them twenty years to find each other again. Yet even in the North Carolina backcountry, the effects of war are being felt. Jamie knows loyalties among his tenants are split and it won’t be long until the war is on his doorstep. Brianna and Roger have their own worry: that the dangers that provoked their escape from the twentieth century might catch up to them. Sometimes they question whether risking the perils of the 1700s—among them disease, starvation, and an impending war—was indeed the safer choice for their family.
Hi, my name is Amy, and I am an Outlanderaholic. I’d never read a novel more than once… until Outlander came along. I read books 1-8 twice and watched the series, so as soon as the next installment in the book series was announced, I preordered it. At over 900 pages in a teeny tiny font, the hardcover was daunting, but the length wasn’t the issue, it was the weight. Holding it hurt my arthritic hands, so I put it on my bookshelf next to the rest of its family and splurged on the eBook. Much more manageable!
Diana Gabaldon’s gift for imparting historical detail—from food, nomenclature, clothing, hairstyles, culture, music, tools, dwellings, etc.—blows my mind. She must spend nearly as much time researching as she does writing. She does an impressive job of blending real people and places with the fictional. Most of the people on Fraser’s Ridge are not actual historical figures, but many other characters were involved in the Revolutionary War. Her use of accents lends an authenticity to her books, especially the Gaelic. I speak in a Scottish lilt for days after closing the cover of one of her novels.
In her last few books, the author focused overmuch on Roger and Brianna, and less on Claire and Jamie. That made sense for the continuation of the series, but fans were disappointed. In Go Tell the Bees, she returned to why I love the series… the star-crossed, time-traveling lovers. For the first time in my outlandish tenure as a super fan, however, I have a few couple minor criticisms (reading was more blissful before I started editing full time). First, it’s ridiculous that the Jamie and Claire, are experts at everything to which they set their minds. Second, it is important for writers to vary the length of their sentences to avoid sounding choppy, but in many instances, Gabaldon wrote crazy long sentences with multiple semicolons and dashes, and I got lost in them. Third, I’m hoping she avoids having Claire say, “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ” so often. It was offensive.
Just my two cents—she clearly doesn’t need my accolades or criticisms. Before #9 was published, she’d already sold 26 million books, not to mention the greenbacks she’s making from the series. The ending of Go Tell the Bees was disappointing, but the good news is that she clearly set up the next installment. 4.5 stars.
Publication Date: November 2021
Genre: Historical fiction
Read-alikes: The Dutch Girl by Donna Thorland, Savage Liberty by Eliot Pattison, Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati
by Catherine Coulter
Seven years ago, Mia Briscoe was at a frat party with her best friend Serena when a fire broke out. Everyone was accounted for except Serena. She was never heard from or seen again. When an old photo taken at the frat party gives her clues, Mia realizes she knows just where to look. She enlists FBI agent Sherlock’s help to uncover a sinister string of events going all the way back to that disastrous party. But some very powerful—and very dangerous—people will do anything to keep the past buried.
CIA Operative Olivia Hildebrandt is a team leader on a mission in Iran to exfiltrate a betrayed undercover operative. She’s nearly killed by an exploding grenade and saved by a team member. After leaving Walter Reed Hospital, not only has that team member disappeared but two men come to her house to kill her. Savich believes their attack on Olivia is a direct result of the compromised mission in Iran.
You: What? You’ve never read a book by Catherine Coulter?
Me: No, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it.
You: Well, my friend, better late than never!
Me: Yikes, I’m talking to myself again.
Here I am talking to myself again. I don’t know how I missed this writer… after all, there are 25 books in this series alone (she’s written 86 novels altogether). I love a good thriller, and Vortex checked all my boxes. What are those boxes, you ask?
- Well-developed, likeable characters
- A unique, interesting plot
- Great pacing
- The perfect amount of description vs. action
- Minor pulse pounding.
In other words, a real knockout! Will I be reading other books in this series? You betcha! 4.5 stars.
Publication Date: August 2021
Genres: Thriller, Suspense
Read-alikes: Heartbreaker by Julie Garwood, A Perfect Evil by Alex Kava, The Wrong Hostage by Elizabeth Lowell, Honeymoon by James Patterson
The Heron’s Cry
by Ann Cleeves
North Devon is enjoying a rare hot summer with tourists flocking to its coastline. Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder—Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed with a shard of one of his glassblower daughter’s broken vases. Then another body is found—killed similarly. Matthew soon finds himself treading carefully through the lies that fester at the heart of his community.
Ann Cleeves’ 30+ books have been translated into twenty languages. She is wildly popular in the UK and two of her book series have been made into multi-season television series, another into a movie. Somehow, I’d never heard from her.
I enjoyed The Heron’s Cry immensely, which I received as a review copy from NetGalley and the publisher. I wish I would have read the first book in the new Two Rivers series, The Long Call (now on my TBR list), but The Heron’s Cry was fine as a standalone. The characters were richly drawn and flawed, and the plot was complex, twisty and suspenseful. 4 stars.
Publication Date: September 2021
Read-alikes: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, The Blackhouse by Peter May
The Lost Apothecary
by Sarah Penner
One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose – selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who wished to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.
In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago.
I made the mistake of reading the reviews of this book on Goodreads and I have to say that I’m baffled. It’s rare to find 1-star and 2-star ratings mixed in with 5-stars ones, especially when the critical ones are scathing. First, giving a book only one star is suspicious; if a book is that bad, why not stop reading it? Second, writing a book is difficult, especially one that is traditionally published. Issuing a one-star rating is just plain mean. (Incidentally, the book is being translated into forty languages and Fox is developing it as a drama series—not too shabby for a debut novelist). 1 star? I don’t think so.
The Lost Apothecary was an atmospheric page-turner and if I didn’t need to work and sleep, I would have read it straight through. My heart pounded at the delightful twists and turns that were frightening without being gory. Of course, I don’t advocate poisoning your mate to get out of a bad marriage, but the plot was ingenious and well-conceived. In Georgian-era England, women were powerless, and I appreciated how one woman protected others in one of the few ways she could. The three narratives were nicely developed, but the contemporary one was the least effective, a common issue in this genre. I loved the historical detail, the author’s ability to engage my senses, and her vivid depiction of the characters. Although it wasn’t up to my 5-star standards, it was a solid 4.
Publication Date: March 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read-alikes: The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor, The Necklace by Claire McMillan
by Joy Fielding
Someone on a quiet, unassuming cul-de-sac will be shot dead in the middle of a sultry July night. A diverse group of neighbors, to be sure. Yet all harbor secrets. All bear scars. And all have access to guns.
Cul-de-sac was interesting as I was reading it, but fairly forgettable within days after the last page. I wouldn’t call this a thriller as Goodreads suggests. It read more like suspense or domestic fiction, heavy on the psychological. Fielding did a great job developing her characters, all of whom had series issues (but hey, that’s life, isn’t it?). After reading Cul-de-sac, I’m awfully glad I don’t live in a neighborhood… too much drama. 3.5 stars
Publication Date: August 2021
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Read-alikes: Part of the Family by Charlotte Philby, Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, Raven Lane by Amber Cowie
The Women’s March: A Novel of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession
by Jennifer Chiaverini
Twenty-five-year-old Alice Paul returns to her native New Jersey after several years on the front lines of the suffrage movement in Great Britain. Weakened from imprisonment and hunger strikes, she is determined to invigorate the stagnant suffrage movement in her homeland. Nine states have already granted women voting rights, but only a constitutional amendment will secure the vote for all.
On March 3, 1913, the glorious march begins, but negligent police allow vast crowds of belligerent men to block the parade route—jeering, shouting threats, assaulting the marchers—endangering not only the success of the demonstration but the women’s very lives.
It’s always frustrated me it took women so long to gain the vote. More than a dozen countries gave us the right to vote before the United States; that’s mind-boggling to me. I’d like to think I would have been a suffragist back in the day, but I’m a sissy. The leaders of the movement—including Alice Paul, Maud Malone, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Lucy Burns, and Jane Adams—risked life and limb to secure passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.
I was excited to read this novel and learn more about the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, but what I got was a boring book by an author who couldn’t decide if the book was about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession or slavery and racial injustice. Ida’s story seems out of place… interesting for sure, but it departed from the overall premise of the book. The two storylines would have probably made great books had been they treated separately. There were so many incredible suffrage events that preceded and followed the March that could have been added to the plot to round out the narrative. It stunned me to learn there were women’s organizations whose sole mission was to oppose women’s suffrage, The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, for example. Employing a dual narrative between leaders on both sides of this contentious issue would have been far more interesting. My apologies to Jennifer Chiaverini fans out there; this one just wasn’t good. 3 stars.
Publication Date: July 2021
Genre: Historical fiction
Read-alikes: The Woman’s Hour by Elaine F. Weiss, Leaving Coy’s Hill by Katerine A. Sherbrooke
The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child: How Persistence, Grit, and Faith Created a Reluctant Healer
by Tana Amen
I read Tana Amen’s book just after Thanksgiving and was inspired by her journey toward emotional and physical health. Her memoir about growing up in poverty, neglected and abused with God’s help. It was also to discover that her husband, Daniel Amen, developed The Daniel Plan for Saddleback Church.
Although I found the book to be well written, there were a couple of major flaws. First, including Covid and the riots that took place in 2020 was unnecessary and detracted from her life story. Second, parts of her narrative sounded like commercials for her other books and those of her husband. 3 stars.
Publication Date: January 2021
Read-alikes: Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey, Walking Through Fire by Vaneetha Rendall Risner