From the Booking Desk:

I am trying something new this year, sprinkling my longer reviews with some posts that gather a handful of shorter reviews together in one convenient place. My hope is that the cross-pollination of fans will inspire readers to pick up books they may have otherwise passed on. We shall see.

The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore

While she has previously written YA, The Companion is Kim Taylor Blakemore’s introduction to historical crime fiction geared for adults. This story of a woman accused of murder in 1855 reminded me of both The Unseeing, Anna Mazzola’s Edgar-Award-winning debut and Margaret Atwood’s classic Alias Grace, but Blakemore adds enough new twists to the theme to keep it from seeming derivative. Blakemore’s skill at bringing the past to life is used to great effect with the depressing ambiance of the proceedings. The 250+ page book is a slim volume that packs quite the punch, while adding more diversity than often shown in historical mysteries. 

Thief River Falls by Brian Freeman

Reading this new stand-alone from Brian Freeman brought to mind another novel featuring an adult/child dynamic – Sara J. Henry’s debut, Learning to Swim. Just as with that novel, this author crafts both characters with such authentic detail that readers will wish they could call them real-life friends. As best-selling novelist Lisa Power is forced to go on the run with her stow-away companion, readers will feel the tension as the danger gets ever closer. The success of one element in this novel will depend on each readers overall familiarity with the genre, but the good news is that even for those to whom the surprise feels less-than-revelatory, the strength of the characterizations and quick-paced plotting keep Thief River Falls on the must-read list.

Purgatory Bay by Bryan Gruley

It’s another solidly-plotted outing for Gruley in this Bleak Harbor follow-up, in which readers are constantly kept in the dark – in only the best meaning of that phrase – until maximum impact can be achieved. As always, Bryan Gruley’s characters are as complex as his plots – with no one being completely good or bad. Easily enjoyed by those that missed the first book in what appears to be a loosely-linked series, it is the new character of Jubilee Rathman readers will find themselves drawn to – she’s multi-faceted and fascinating, while never becoming a caricature. 

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

By necessity, Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X series needed to shift gears a bit after a long-running storyline arc came to conclusion in the previous novel, so Book Five does just that. Readers find Evan Smoak getting embroiled in case with forensic accounting at the core. That may not sound like the most action-packed of plotlines, but this task is going to require all of Smoak’s skills. Some thrillers present invincible heroes, but Hurwitz always tries to mitigate the distance between escapism and realism. Readers unfamiliar with the series can easily enjoy this book as a stand-alone.

The Committee by Sterling Watson

Set during the 1950’s when the United States was still in a state of turmoil after the McCarthy Committee shenanigans. This novel focuses on the years when the Johns Committee turned their attention to the University of Florida and the professors working at that institution. Sterling Watson imbues the lives of these closeted gay men fearing exposure to the masses with gravitas and humanity. Historically relevant and as timely-as-ever, Sterling Watson’s narrative both entertains and informs in equal measure. 

Turn to Stone by James Ziskin

Each of James Ziskin’s Ellie Stone novels has a different feel. Rather than repeat himself, Ziskin finds clever ways to relocate Ellie with each book. This time out, Ellie travels to Florence, Italy circa 1963 to accept an award for her father, when a disease outbreak causes her to be sequestered with some other scholars. The novel’s structure is inspired by Boccaccio’s Decameron, but rather than sitting around telling tales, Ellie uses this time in seclusion to investigate yet another mystery. Ziskin brings vintage Italy to life for readers so vividly that one longs to book passage immediately – minus the rubella outbreak and murder, of course.