The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe (2019)

Sequel to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane 

temperance hobbs howe

Ten years after her wonderful, haunting book, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,  Katherine Howe has written a sequel revealing more secret stories about the women in historian Connie Goodwin’s family. When reviewing the first installment of Connie’s story, I wrote this summary; “two interwoven stories: one of a witch on trial in Salem in 1692 and one of a modern-day historian who studies colonial America, which combine into one haunting tale filled with secrets and magic.”

Since discovering that special knowledge and abilities have been passed down matrilineally in her family for centuries, Connie’s own possession of these skills was established when she had to use her ancestors’ “recipes” (or spells) to keep herself and her boyfriend safe in the first book.

In the ten years that have passed, Connie has only revealed these talents to her mother. The further away she moves from those terrifying events, the more outrageous it seems that what happened was “magic” at all. Immersed in the hectic, stressful life of an academic with thoughts of spells and conjuring far behind her, Connie she has moved on…or so she believes.

When a visit to the ancient home that has housed her female ancestors and their magic since the 1700’s, she feels a stirring of something other-worldly. Connie reveals to her mother that her boyfriend wants to marry her but she is deeply ambivalent about such a commitment. Her mother confirms that Connie is right to be fearful; after all the women in their family live under a curse that means their beloved husbands will die horrible deaths as young men, often right after they become fathers.

Despite her mother’s insistence that she break thing off with her boyfriend, Connie refuses. Curses, she rationalizes, do not exist. Although Sam had nearly died when Connie first fell in love with him, he had recovered. She wants to ignore her mother, but the warnings of curses and deaths haunt Connie.

When mysterious things begin happening, Connie soon thinks there might, indeed, be magic stirring once again. Determined to prove to her mother and herself that the curse is not real, Connie turns to the historical record left by her mysterious female relatives.

Connie is certain that facts — wills, birth records, family trees, letters, and such — will show that the curse is not real, that men in her family can and did live long, happy lives. The opposite is proven. None of the men lived long after their wives gave birth, always to a daughter.

Her worry turns frantic when she learns she is pregnant. Now Connie must reopen the recipe books of her ancestors to try to find a spell that can undo the curse before she has a baby and seals her beloved Sam’s fate.

A great sequel overall, although it does get a bit bogged down in the beginning chapters with dull descriptions of academic bureaucracy. The tempo soon picks up and resolves into a thrilling conclusion. As with Deliverance Dane, Howe uses her professional knowledge of history to paint vivid flash-back scenes starring Connie’s  relatives, which give the story depth and levity that might otherwise be missing in a book about witches.

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves (2018)

Shetland Island mystery series, book #8

Two bodies are found hanged in the same barn just a few months apart. The barn is owned by a wealthy and glamorous family who’ve relocated from London to Shetland; a family that many islanders dislike, perhaps even hate. Is someone in the family a murderer or have the bodies been placed there to disrupt their lives and force them out?

Jimmy Perez and his team arrive to investigate the second murder, the victim a young woman who worked worked nearby as a nanny. The team finds it strange that no one seems much concerned with the girl’s death. The case is full of people who are inconvenienced by the murder and not one person who is heartbroken. Is that because the families at the heart of the case are selfish and self-absorbed? Or is it that the young woman was unlikable?

The police find themselves distracted by gossip, petty grievances, lies, and omissions. The in-fighting between the neighbors is so loud it is drowning out possible clues to who is responsible for the killing. Will the answer to solving the mystery be found in learning who the girl really was or in finding out who the killer really is?

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves (2016)

Shetland Island mystery series, book #7

After a winter of heavy, relentless rains, a huge hillside on the island crumbles causing a massive landslide. The landslide crushes one house, blocks the road for days, and disrupts island life…it also exposes the body of a dead woman no one on the island admits to knowing.

From the beginning, Jimmy Perez and his team are convinced that the woman’s death is linked to her romantic life, if only because her body is found in sexy lingerie (not uncommon in summer, perhaps, but not the typical sleepwear in February on the North Sea.)

Who could the woman have been meeting? It is next to impossible to find out. No one on the island is willing to admit to even having known she was there, much less that they were meeting her for sex. Now the team must find out who she is and why she died.

Glimpses into the lives of many different romantic couples populate Cold Earth. Happy couples, miserable couples, couples locked in loveless marriages, those looking the other way as their partners cheat, and those longing to be together, but unsure if they can ever be.

Who this woman was and who she was linked to romantically is certainly at the heart of the murder; but as the days pass something much larger and more sinister than a lovers quarrel is revealed to have led to her death.

Every Summer After by Carley Fortune (2022)

Every Summer After by Carley Fortune

Beginning at the age of 13, Persephone Fraser has been infatuated with Sam Florek, the next door neighbor at her parents’ summer house. Over the course of five years, the two become best friends and — as they turn 18 — they slowly realize there is something more between them. However, the stress of becoming young adults and starting their lives, all while maintaining a long-distance relationship, proves a bit too much for the pair and their romance ends before it has really begun.

Fast forward twelve years, when Sam and Percy will see each other for the first time since their terrible breakup. Will they be able to restore their friendship? Is there a chance that they can rekindle that first love?

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (2020)

In this sci-fi, slow-burn thriller, we are transported to an elite college, hidden in the forests of rural Pennsylvania called Catherine House. Once admitted to the school, the students are promised the most elite education in the world. In exchange for the opportunity to attend, these young people must agree to cut themselves off from their lives — families, conveniences, technologies, freedom — for three years and follow all of the (at times, harsh) rules of the school.

The main character, Ines, arrives at Catherine House indifferent to what they have to offer her intellectually, she is just looking for a place to escape from her harrowing life for a few years. However, the school is unwilling to allow her to stay if she will not follow the rules. She sees first-hand that the punishments they threaten are all too real.

However, when Ines catches a glimpse of some of the more radical research happening in hidden labs on campus, she begins to wonder if anyone is safe and if she is the person who will pull back the curtain and reveal the horror behind it.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (2022)

Elizabeth Zott rose above the heartbreaking circumstances of her childhood and set her sights on a PhD in Chemistry. However, a woman in the sciences was rare in the 1950’s and the men in Elizabeth’s life took great pleasure in making it next to impossible for her to fulfill her dream of becoming a research scientist. Although she fought back as much as possible, the sexist, misogynist cruelty she endured throughout her career meant her dreams remained just out of reach.

Then, she met a world-famous chemist and fell in love, and her life began to change. Her work was getting noticed, her projects were funded, and her heart was full. Then tragedy struck and Elizabeth found herself unwed, pregnant, and out of work.

Battling depression and desperation, Elizabeth fights her way back to a career in chemistry, with help from her daughter and few close friends.

I have to admit, this book took a long time to warm up to and I really had to work hard to finish it. I found the story cold and hard to connect with, and at times rather boring. I am glad decided to see it through, but cannot say I highly recommend it. If we are a fan of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, you might find the two books have certain similarities

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves (2016)

Shetland Islands Mystery Series, Book #6

Six Londoners have traveled to the northern most tip of the Shetland Islands, to a tiny village on the coast, to celebrate the wedding of two in the group. In addition to the wedding, one woman in the group, Eleanor, is doing a documentary on local folktales and has been talking non-stop about a local ghost story known as the tale of Peerie Lizzie. In the early morning hours (in the endless summer sunlight and fog that are known to play tricks on the eyes) after the wedding celebration, Eleanor goes missing and another one of her friends is almost certain she has seen the ghost just before it happened.

So the police arrive to investigate the disappearance and find themselves talking — quite a lot — about a nearly 100-year-old ghost story that is on everyone’s mind. When Eleanor is found dead, posed just beneath the rock that is said to mark to spot of the Peerie Lizzie’s death, the police begin to suspect that that the ghost has played a role in the murder…not the actually ghost, but rather the fixation and fear of the ghost that has driven someone to kill.

The IT Girl by Ruth Ware (2022)

When she arrives at Oxford to start her first year at college, Hannah is terrified but optimistic. She has secured a place at one of the most elite colleges there and is ready to experience life beyond the boundaries of her small home town. For a few short months, university life is everything she dreamed of: posh friends, stimulating lectures, wild antics, cute boys, and lots of parties. She has even become best friends with her gorgeous, ultra-rich roommate April.

The only problem is that April has a bit of a harsh edge to her personality. She hates to be told no, demands to get her way, and has a reputation for pulling very elaborate, and often very cruel, pranks. When April is found murdered in their dorm room, Hannah’s life unravels. She is the star witness in the trial of a campus security guard accused of the murder and the combination of losing her friend and being hounded by police and press for months drives her back home before she ever even finishes her first year.

Ten years later, Hannah is living a small, quiet life in Edinburgh married to a man she loves and expecting her first child. She tells herself she never thinks of April’s murder, but that is lie. It looms over her life and she feels she can never escape. When the convicted murderer dies just as a journalist hosting a true crime podcast is set to reveals details that might have reversed his jail sentence, Hannah is drawn back in. This time she doesn’t just have to relive April’s murder, but face the truth that it was her testimony that put a possibly innocent man way for life.

Dead Water by Ann Cleeves (2013)

Shetland Islands mystery series, book#5

Ann Cleeves originally wrote the Shetland series to be a quartet, but I recently realized (about a decade late) that she has continued writing books in the series. In Dead Water, we return to the islands just a few short months after the devastating outcome of Blue Lightning. Our quiet, reflective, gentle detective Jimmy Perez is still reeling from his losses and as a result has been forced onto desk duty; his colleagues sympathy running low after months of angry outbursts and unreliable police work.

When the body of a murdered journalist turns up floating in a boat in one of the island’s harbors, an investigator is flown in from Aberdeen. The police force is certain that Jimmy would be unable and unwilling to handle a murder investigation. Jimmy agrees with them, at least at first but, slowly he finds himself interested and alert for the first time in months.

Tentatively, Jimmy asks for permission to be on the case — just as a support person, not in charge — and to his surprise the new lead inspector agrees. She has heard what an amazing detective Perez once was and, since she is new to the job and on her first murder case, is secretly desperate for some help.

Blackmail, betrayal, heartache, and above all else, misunderstandings have led to murder and the destruction of more than one family.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch (2022)

Blake Crouch — the author of Dark Matter (which I loved) and Recursion (which I did not) — is back with his third sci-fi novel, Upgrade. Set not very far in the future, in a world crumbling after a climate-change catastrophe has killed more than 200 million and destroyed the lives of millions more, mostly the world’s poor; we meet Logan Ramsay a scientist turned federal police officer whose job it is to locate rogue scientists using gene-editing for illegal purposes.

Logan hates his job but cannot quit: he was released from prison only if he agreed to help track down scientists acting illegally, a crime he knows a lot about since he and his mother worked on research that sparked a world-wide scientific crisis.

While raiding a lab Logan is exposed to a toxin that will nearly kills him and then completely changes who he is. The toxin re-writes his entire DNA, making dramatic improvements in his body and mind. Logan calls it The Upgrade.

For lovers of hard sci-fi, this novel has elements of Jason Bourne, the X-men, and even a dash of BladeRunner.