From a Raven's Shelf: December 2022
From a Raven's Shelf
December 2022 Edition
By Sarah Young
Note: Scroll to the bottom of this article for a full list of all titles that have been mentioned!
Hello, Everyone! It’s good to be back with my “From a Raven’s Shelf” column. This is where I ramble on a bit about whatever I happened to be reading and think you might like. I hope you have signed up for the various exciting newsletters that the Raven is doing and will enjoy the great reading picks that are landing in your inbox.
It has been a busy fall for me on the mystery book beat. I attended the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Minneapolis this fall. Whew! I was overwhelmed with all the new, wonderful authors and books that must, must, must be on my shelves. I met the wonderful ladies who run the Wicked Authors blog of cozy mystery writers, rubbed shoulders with William Kent Krueger and Alexander McCall Smith, and discovered lots of new writers and books that I can’t wait to tell you all about—as soon as I can get through the pile.
There were big winners at Bouchercon for the Anthony awards. Some highlights included S.A. Cosby winning Best Hardcover Novel for Razorblade Tears; Mia Manansala winning Best First Novel for Arsenic and Adobo; and Jess Lourey winning Best Paperback Original for Bloodline. Cosby was also a winner in 2021 for Blacktop Wasteland. If you haven’t picked up Razorblade Tears yet, it is now out in paperback, and it’s a stunner. It’s the story of two fathers, one white, one Black, and both ex-cons, who band together to seek the killers of their gay sons. Along the way, they must confront their own prejudices and failures as parents. This hard-boiled, freight-train of a novel barrels its way through vengeance, death, retribution, and redemption with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy.
On the other hand, Mia Manansala is also raking in the awards with her new series that begins with Arsenic and Adobo. This is a fun read about Lila Macapagal, who moves home after a breakup to help in her family’s restaurant. Lots of food, fun, and mayhem here in this cozy mystery that breaks some of the traditions of that genre in some very cool ways.
Are you a reader of the domestic thriller genre? Bloodline follows Jess Lourey’s very successful work in that genre. Here we have Joan Harken who is thrilled to follow her boyfriend back to his small Minnesota hometown, thinking this will be an antidote to her own restless, wandering life through big cities, never calling any place “home.” The trouble is that this small town ain’t no Mayberry and something has gone terribly wrong here.
Another cozy on my favorites this fall has been Because I Could Not Stop for Death, and I was pleased to meet the incredibly prolific Amanda Flower at Bouchercon. She hits it out of the park with this new historical mystery. Willa Noble, maid to Emily Dickinson, finds herself investigating the strange death of her brother with the help of the young, enigmatic Miss Emily Dickinson. This is a thoughtful novel as well as an enjoyable mystery. Hope to see more of Willa and Emily soon.
You may think that booksellers are all blasé about meeting authors and very cool and sophisticated at author events. We try to be, but then there is the person whose books you treasure and read over and over again, and there you are standing in the autograph line, rehearsing what you want to say in those thirty seconds it takes her to sign your book. For me, at Bouchercon, this was Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes and Kate Martinelli books as well as several amazing stand-alone novels. Her most recent book, Back to the Garden, is simply stunning. It is part allegory, part thriller, part historical cultural meditation. King introduces a new leading character in Inspector Raquel Laing, who is called in to investigate the discovery of a body under a statue at a grand estate outside San Francisco because the circumstances link it to a serial killer of the 1970s named The Highwayman. The caretakers of the Gardener estate with its Hearst Castle-like house and acres of carefully sculpted gardens are shaken by the discovery under one of prized pieces of contemporary statuary—Midsummer Eves—that dates to the 1970s when the Gardener heir decided to turn the estate into a commune. Laing finds herself mired in the strange history of the place and its head-spinning transformations from Robber Baron palace to commune to museum. The subsequent juxtapositions of the past and the present expose a tangle of good and evil that echoes the Book of Genesis. This absorbing mystery is about corruption: the corruption of ideals, art, love, and the soul by power, money, lust, and jealousy.
I also had great encounters with Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the Maggie Hope mysteries that begin with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. Her new novel is Mother, Daughter, Traitor, Spy. It isn’t a Maggie Hope mystery; it is a rough-and-tumble novel about the underground Nazi organizations in Los Angeles during WWII, based on the true story of a mother and daughter, whose work as spies helped foil the Nazi’s plans in California.
I also met and had a lovely conversation with Tori Eldridge author of The Ninja Daughter. If you have been in the store in November, you will have seen this was my staff pick for the month. What a gloriously unique book with a kick-ass heroine in Lily Wong, a Norwegian-Chinese ninja. She fights for the abused and murdered women of Los Angeles while she tries to keep the peace with her over-protective tiger mom and her Norwegian father.
Before being inundated with “to-be-reads” at Bouchercon, I had a good summer of reading. I really liked Lavender House by Lev Ac Rosen. This book turns the locked-room mystery and the hard-boiled detective hero on its head. Detective Andy Mills is fired from the San Francisco police department in the 1950s after being caught in a raid on a gay bar. He is diverted from killing himself in despair by Pearl, who hires him to investigate the apparent murder of her wife at their estate, Lavender House. Behind the fortress-like walls lives her queer family who present as “normal” to the dangerous outside world but who live for themselves and each other on the inside. The novel echoes all kinds of film noir traditions but is ultimately about the protection of the family—in this case, the family you choose instead of the one you were born to.
Another book on my summer reading stack was the wildly weird and wonderful The Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell. This novel is a strange brew of magic, mystery, and murder. Who is the enigmatic Mr. Crowe, apparently ageless and possessor of mysterious “gifts” long sought by the great artists of all time? What is his relationship to his equally mysterious young ward, Clara, whose own creative gifts are yet to be understood? Watching over the two of them is the world-weary Eustace, whose service to Mr. Crowe includes protecting him and Clara from the secretive order to which Crowe belongs and to whom he is answerable when he crosses the line of life and death. O’Donnell has created a complex narrative that bubbles and simmers through decades of secrets and lies, revealing information even as it adds more inscrutable details. It’s a puzzling novel that I could not put down.
My December staff pick is Band of Sisters. This historical novel just drew me in. Lauren Willig tells the story of the Smith College Relief Unit, a group of women from Smith College who volunteered in 1917, to help restore the battered villages of France during the worst of WWI. They were nurses, farmers, teachers, doctors, and all-around Angels of Mercy. I knew nothing about these women, and Willig has brought them to life in this fictionalized account. I couldn’t put it down. If you loved The Alice Network, you will want to read this one.
If you are in the mystery-book-of-the-month subscription, the pick for December is Dread of Winter. It’s cold; it’s twisty; it’s a bit morally ambiguous; it’s a revenge-novel of the first order. If you haven’t ordered a mystery subscription, put it on your Christmas wish list, and I’ll see that you get a great mystery in your mailbox every month.
I’ll leave you with one last book from the “Way Back Machine.” A customer in the store recently bought Crocodile on the Sandbank from me, and I never tire of introducing people to my favorite female mystery heroine: Amelia Peabody Emerson, a 19th-century archaeologist. This wonderful series by the late, great Elizabeth Peters (AKA Barbara Michaels) is smart and fun. Peters began the series as a tongue-in-cheek parody of historical romance, but ended up with a rich, full, amazing set of stories, and Amelia is a complete original. Along with her husband Radcliffe Emerson and their “catastrophically precocious” son Ramses, she strides boldly across the sands of Egypt with parasol in hand.
I hope you all are keeping warm and reading the books that make you happy.
*INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER* One of Barack Obama's Recommended Reads for Summer • New York Times Notable Book • NPR’s Best Books of 2021 • Washington Post’s Best Thriller and Mystery Books of the Year • TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2021 • New York Public Library’s Best Books of the Year • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee • Book
A RUSA Award-winning novel!
The first book in a new culinary cozy series full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer....
An ITW Thriller Award and Anthony Award winner.
Perfect town. Perfect homes. Perfect families. It's enough to drive some women mad...
A New York Times Notable Books of 2020
Like Ocean’s Eleven meets Drive, with a Southern noir twist, S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is a searing, operatic story of a man pushed to his limits by poverty, race, and his own former life of crime.
Emily Dickinson and her housemaid, Willa Noble, realize there is nothing poetic about murder in this first book in an all-new series from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Amanda Flower.
The Twentieth-Anniversary Edition of the First Novel of the Acclaimed Mary Russell Series by Edgar Award–Winning Author Laurie R. King.
An Agatha Award Best Novel Nominee • Named One of the Century's Best 100 Mysteries by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association
This book cannot be returned. Make sure what you're ordering is exactly what you want.
THE EDGAR AWARD-WINNING NOVEL
THE FIRST KATE MARTINELLI MYSTERY
A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: PopSugar
BARRY AWARD WINNER • Heralding the arrival of a brilliant new heroine, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope series comes a tantalizing standalone novel inspired by a real-life mother-daughter duo who stumble upon an underground Nazi cell in Los Angeles during the early days of World War II—and find the courage to go undercover.
Kill Bill meets the Joy Luck Club in The Ninja Daughter, an edge-of-your-seat debut novel about Lily Wong a modern-day female ninja, dedicated to rescuing women from abusive relationships while trying to hide the truth about her real life from her overprotective family.
A "Best Of" Book From: Amazon * Buzzfeed * Rainbow Reading * Library Journal * CrimeReads * BookPage * Book Riot * Autostraddle
A delicious story from a new voice in suspense, Lev AC Rosen's Lavender House is Knives Out with a queer historical twist.
A New York Times BEST BOOK OF THE SUMMER
A CrimeReads & Book and Film Globe BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A Tor.com BEST BOOK OF JUNE
“Truly bewitching.” —David Mitchell
"A crackling portrayal of everyday American heroines…A triumph."
— Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
New York Times and USA Today Bestseller
An NPR's Best Book of the Year
A Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick!
The 2017 Girly Book Club Book of the Year!
A Summer Book Pick from Good Housekeeping, Parade, Library Journal, Goodreads, Liz and Lisa, and BookBub
This book is hard-to-find or out of print and we may not be able to get it. Email for more details.
“There’s so much to love in Susan Bickford’s newest novel, Dread of Winter: a profound sense of place, the visceral evocation of a bitter winter’s cold, a dead-on depiction of the pit of despair that is the opioid epidemic, and language so beautiful on the page it’ll give you goosebumps. I’m a newcomer to Bickford’s work, but I’m putt
Meet Egyptologist Amelia Peabody in the first mystery in the Victorian-era set, New York Times bestselling "sparkling series" (Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review).
"If Indiana Jones were female, a wife, and a mother who lived in Victorian times, he would be Amelia Peabody Emerson."--Publishers Weekly