“The Map of Salt and Stars” by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
2018 Publication , 5 star , novel / October 25, 2018

Sometimes you walk past the ‘new books’ section at the library and pick up a book because the cover is pretty. And then you start reading the book and have to take frequent breaks because the book is so powerful and emotional. And then after you’re finished reading it you have to take a break and not read anything else for a while. This is what happened when I read Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s “The Map of Salt and Stars.” “The Map of Salt and Stars” is an interwoven story: that of the present day Nour and her family, and that of a 13th century apprentice mapmaker who travels the same area Nour does in order to make an accurate map as part of the first atlas of the entire world. While Rawiya faces down military forces of fighting kingdoms and is stalked by an immense Roc, it is Nour that faces more realistically deadly threats as her family attempts to flee Syria. They’d already fled New York, after their dad died of cancer. Nour’s mother took her and her two older sisters back to Syria. Well, for her mom and sisters it was “back.” Nour was born in the USA…

“Giant Days vol 8,” by various
2018 Publication , 4 star , graphic novel / October 16, 2018

I’m a fan of the series and have been following Allison’s work since the earliest days of his online comics, “Bobbins,” in the late 90s. His comic series “Giant Days” lives up to my expectations. Vol 8 continues the story of Esther, Susan, and Daisy. Preparing for the next term and the expiration of their housing lease, the three face the splintering of their cozy group as two of the three look into moving in with their significant others. As with the other volumes, the focus of the comic is on the relationship between the girls and it’s refreshing to see media about women where the women actually like each other and support each other. The comics are a quick read. I highly recommend starting with vol 1 and catching up. Allison’s writing is engaging and interesting, and overall fun, and the art is expressive and interesting.

“Giant Days,” by Non Pratt
2018 Publication , 3 star , novel / October 16, 2018

If I weren’t such a John Allison fan I’d rate Non Pratt’s prose volume of “Giant Days” a bit higher, but Pratt can’t quite measure up and doesn’t fully capture Allison’s tone. That said it’s a solid piece of work that continues to explore the relationship of Esther, Daisy, and Susan as well as go into their own histories and needs. Pratt covers some of Susan’s emotional motivation, why she closes herself off, which was very interesting. In the book, Esther tries to make a new friend who turns out to be a complete asshole; Susan grapples with her ability to maintain friendships and her history with McGraw; and Daisy trying to find a place in the world and a community and finding… essentially a yoga cult. Yes, a cult around Yoga. The book really focuses on Daisy, or at least that’s how it seems to be. I’m curious if there’s going to be other books focusing on Esther and Susan. I’d absolutely pick them up if that’s case, especially if it’s a Susan book. I feel like i’ve a good handle on Esther as I’ve been following her antics since “Scary Go Round” days. This is a solid book,…

“The Boy at the Keyhole,” by Stephen Giles
2 star , 2018 Publication , Novella , thriller / October 6, 2018

“The Boy at the Keyhole,” by Stephen Giles, is a thriller set in post-war England, at the manor house of a once wealthy family. Nine year old Samuel is a half orphan, his father dead from a tragic fall. His beloved mother has gone to the USA to try to secure investment capital in their failing business… or has she? As housekeeper Ruth gets increasingly dictatorial he starts wondering more and more whether his mother is actually in the USA… or if Ruth killed her so she can “swan about the place like Lady Muck.” If we can stomach this conceit, it’s a tightly written thriller about a hidden murder, or perhaps the spiraling insanity of a small child. Unfortunately the idea falls apart at the slightest bit of critical thinking. The problem with Ruth wanting control of the estate is that there’s nothing to control or enjoy. A woman who never wanted children, or to care for children, is left the sole caretaker of a bright but weird (and friendless) little kid. I have a 9 year old. I love him dearly. He’s also difficult to take care of in that tedious yet needy way that all (most?) 9…

“The Au Pair,” by Emma Rous
2018 Publication , 3 star , novel / September 24, 2018

“The Au Pair,” by Emma Rous, follows Seraphine Mayes as she works to untangle the true story of her parentage and the reason her grandmother seems to prefer her twin brother, Danny, over her. Is there a mystery as to her true parentage? Is that what her father was hinting at when he said he needed to talk to all the kids just before he died unexpectedly in a home repair accident? Or is she just overwrought with grief and lashing out, looking for something to keep her occupied? Or is she… going crazy? I received this book for free as part of a promotion. My opinions are my own. “The Au Pair” is a fast read, I consumed it in about a day, and follows the lives of two linked women during important times of their lives: Laura, as she au pairs for a family living on the coast of Norfolk in a palatial manse; and Seraphine who is the daughter of the family Laura au paired for up until her birth. Laura is dealing with her own trauma and mysteries, while Seraphine tries to track down who her parents actually are… although she has no real reason to…

Schrodinger’s Dog by Allan Brewer
2 star , 2018 Publication , novel , Science Fiction / August 9, 2018

“Schrodinger’s Dog” is a very fine short story stretched out over the course of a novel, filled with tedious exposition and infodumps that detract heavily from the ideas of the book which involve time travel and killing/not killing a dog. I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. “Schrodinger’s Dog,” a book with an exciting summary of its plot, fails utterly to live up to the expectations it raises. A book about time travel, and about killing/not killing a dog (as with the famous Schrodinger’s Cat never-actually-performed experiment, or thought exercise), is bogged down by nothing happening but exposition and some kissing until literally halfway through the book. I slogged through this on a kindle fire and nothing of note happened until 51% of the way through. I don’t lean too heavily on gifs outside of twitter, but this particular scene kept running through my head. When ARE they going to get to the fireworks factory? The idea of the book is an exciting one, so why does nothing of import happen until halfway through the book? Oh, things DO happen before then. The protagonist is married but separated to a woman who put her career on hold to raise…

“The Summer Wives,” by Beatriz Williams
2018 Publication , 3 star , female author , novel / July 27, 2018

“The Summer Wives,” by Beatriz Williams, is the story of new money, old money, and no money colliding on an island in the north east coast, told primarily from the point of view of the wealthy (by marrying into it) Miranda. As she spends her first summer on Winthrop Island, among people who’ve been summering their for generations and among the people who live there year round, she’s swept up in the wake of her dramatic new step-sister Isobel. In the few short months she’s there, Miranda gets caught up in a secret of the island, and in the arms of a handsome fisherman/light house keeper. I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. The novel bounces around in time a bit to build a story around specific characters and maintain a sense of mystery. The “mystery” is blatantly obvious to anyone who’s picked up a book before, leaving the reader to do a bit of math to figure out exactly how old people are at different points in the story. That said, the descriptions of the island, the residents (mostly part time but a few full time), and the drinking culture of the era(s) are…

“Caged,” by Ellison Cooper

“Caged,” by Ellison Cooper, is a fast paced thriller about FBI neuroscientist Sayer Altair, who winds up leading the hunt for an especially twisted serial killer. Said serial killer is kidnapping young women and locking them in cages, dosing them with psychoactive drugs, priming them with mythology about death and dying, and then starving them. It’s a long, slow, scary way to die. Altair and her team are eager to end the cycle of killings and prevent any more girls from being tortured and killed. I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway, but my opinion is my own. Content Note: forced outing of someone intersex/trans There’s really cliched words used to describe thrillers: roller coaster, page turner, gripping, full of twists, etc. “Caged” is all of those and more. “Caged” is a very fast read with a few great red herrings that come across not as cheap or cheating but as organic parts of the story. When I was fooled, so were the rest of the characters, in a very believable way. Cooper does a great job using our expectations against us. Cooper’s characters are interesting as well: flawed, hurting Altair and her incredible grandmother; her partner Vik; FBI…

“The Ghost Script,” by Jules Feiffer
2018 Publication , 5 star , graphic novel / June 20, 2018

Oh my god. I won “The Ghost Script” by Jules Feiffer in a good reads giveaway and my very excited opinion is honestly mine. “The Ghost Script” is the third book in a trilogy. If I’d realized that I wouldn’t have entered the contest, as I haven’t read the first two and it can be hard to jump into a series partway through without knowing what’s gone before. But I’m really glad that I entered the contest (and, of course, that I won). The noir-ish series covers the McCarthy era of anti-communism, the Red Scare, the blacklisting of folks in Hollywood and the politics of the time. There’s right wing unions, left wing unions, communists, trotskyites, and young nazis. The main protagonist is Archie Goldman, a private dick who is… not very glamorous and loses just about every fight he gets into, including fights with himself over what he should or shouldn’t do. There’s a cast of other PoV characters exploring different themes and adventures as well, including murder and revenge. The book is very well paced and even though I was a bit lost at times because I hadn’t read the previous two volumes, I was mostly able to…

“The King’s Justice” by E. M. Powell
2018 Publication , 4 star , novel / June 18, 2018

“The King’s Justice” is a medieval murder mystery/thriller by E. M. Powell, the first in a new series and thus a good jumping on point for people who are interested in murder mysteries/thrillers set in the medieval period. I won this book in a goodreads giveaway and this review is my own opinion. Content Note: threatened sexual assault to more than one party, domestic violence It’s 1176 and Aelred Barling, a clerk in the traveling court of King Henry the II, is sent to a small hamlet in the middle of nowhere to investigate a murder. As a representative of the king, he is there to make sure that proper procedures are followed and justice is served. He brings along an assistant, Hugo Stanton, a messenger that also works for the court. They don’t like each other very much but have to learn to work together… which is a common enough trope but Powell manages to make it feel realistic and organic, not a cliche. The case initially seems obvious. The suspect is locked in a cell and the townsfolk and lord are certain he’s guilty. Barling is ready to give approval for the execution and go home, until Stanton…