Friday, December 1, 2023

Dead Sweet by Katrín Júlíusdóttir

It's December, readers! And today I'm kicking off the Random Things blog tour for Katrín Júlíusdóttir's Dead Sweet!

Óttar Karlsson's girlfriend is thrilled to throw him a surprise party for his 50th birthday. She's hired out caterers to make an American barbecue feast, in honor of Óttar's having earned his degree in the States. She's even gone to the trouble to track down old friends from school. And no on is more shocked than her when the guest of honor fails to show up. 

Then Óttar's body is found on the beach. After making quite a name for himself in Icelandic politics, the police are sure someone must have wanted revenge for one of his policies. And yet his coworkers all sing his praises and the polls showed support from many of voting citizens. In short, the police are a bit stumped. 

Sigurdís has been working the beat for a while and is eager to prove herself and move up in the rankings at the department. But she's sidelined early on in the investigation. That is until she discovers a hidden safe in the victim's condo with some very interesting evidence. Soon the police have a number of motives that could have prompted the killing. But which one will pan out?

This is the first in a brand new Icelandic crime series! Interestingly, the author has a background in politics, making her well informed for the kind of plot she's built in Dead Sweet. Or at least part of it!

Because politics isn't the only thing driving this mystery. As Sigurdís ensures she's heavily involved in the case, she uncovers more and more secrets about the acclaimed politician. As the reader would expect, the man is anything but squeaky clean. But it's well hidden. And in some cases, deeply hidden!

And yet part of Sigurdís's strength as an investigator is the fact that she has a keen intuition when it comes to investigations. It's earned her the respect of her colleagues, even after an incident that lands her in very hot water with the department. 

All of that said, she can't understand why her boss keeps relegating her to the sidelines. 

But Sigurdís and her boss have a history that soon comes to light as well, making it clear that he feels an obligation to the young officer. 

As Sigurdís's personal story unfolds, so does the victim's. And the author does a very good job building parallels between multiple characters and their varying stories. To say more would, I fear, give too much away, but after the final page I couldn't help but reflect on each parallel that led up to that point. And it makes Sigurdís a very interesting character indeed!

I look forward to seeing what will happen next and how the events of this book will affect the determined young officer down the line!

Shout out to translator Quentin Bates! He's done another excellent job bringing the author's words to us English readers. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Wolf by Samuel Bjørk

Good morning, readers! Today I'm super excited to be a stop on the Random Things tour for the latest in Samuel Bjørk's Munch and Krüger series, The Wolf!

As an aside, over a decade since I was introduced to this series with the amazing I'm Traveling Alone and to this day it remains one of my favorites!

The Wolf is actually a prequel to the existing series. It is the story that starts it all: Mia Krüger being recruited to Munch's team at the ripe old age of 21. Her dreams to be the first female Delta sidelined when she's approached with an offer that turns out to be too tantalizing to resist. 

Two boys have been murdered. Their bodies found in a bizarrely laid out scene with a dead fox placed between them. It mirrors a still unsolved case from Sweden with one exception: the animal there was a hare. 

As Munch and his team comb the growing crime scene as well as case files from outside of Norway, the head of the police academy flags Mia Krüger as a potential candidate Munch who might interest Munch. And while he's not looking to expand his team at the moment, Mia's skills of observation prove to be truly unique. After just forty minutes with the crime scene photos, she's made an observation everyone missed. 

Solving the case is anything but easy. No trace evidence at either scene, no connection between the victims in Sweden and Norway, and an eight-year gap between the crimes complicates things, to say the least. And yet, Munch's team is determined.

Bjørk, aka Frode Sander Øein, excels in creating dark and disturbing puzzles of plots for his characters to unravel. And he also excels in building fascinating and well-rounded characters. 

I've noted before that although this is commonly referred to as the Munch and Krüger series, it is in fact a larger cast of characters, all of whom get a careful amount of focus and build. (Though Munch and Krüger do take the spotlight.)

In the case of The Wolf, Bjørk even adds a bit of a forward that sent me on an internet search to see if it was in fact real, which is actually something I love. It means the author has done such a great job at putting together their story that it does feel as though it could be seated in reality!

I will warn you that this series is dark. And by dark I mean it probably needs ALL of the trigger warnings. But if you're a fan of Nordic Noir, this is truly one of the best series I can recommend!

To date there are actually five installments in the series. The fifth has only just released this year and has yet to be translated (so I don't have a title), but the reading order now is:

The Wolf
I'm Traveling Alone
The Owl Always Hunts at Night
The Boy in the Headlights
Book 5 

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things blog tour for Jean Kwok's latest, The Leftover Woman

Jasmine has left her life behind and come to America in hopes of finding her daughter, Fiona. But first, she needs to find a way to pay off the people who got her out of China. And stay out of notice of anyone who can alert her husband, Wen, of her whereabouts. Which is why it's a shock to run into her old friend, Anthony, while job hunting in the city. 

Rebecca is a high-powered editor who wants to have it all: family and a successful career. But after an embarrassing incident with one of her authors, she's finding it more difficult than ever to balance those variables. If she can land a big author at auction, she can get her career back on track. But she can't help feeling like she's losing her grasp on things at home. 

One thing connects Jasmine and Rebecca: Jasmine is the biological mother of Rebecca's adopted daughter. 

The Leftover Woman is a character-driven suspenseful narrative that explores oh so many things! Primarily womanhood, motherhood, and Asian culture. Which is a terrible simplification of the book. 

Jasmine is a daughter from a country that historically does not value its daughters. In spite of this, women are a commodity as wives. And her parents essentially sold her into marriage. And at first things are ok. But when she discovers her husband has betrayed her in the worst way imaginable, it marks the end of their union in her eyes. 

Rebecca is a legacy in the publishing world. And determined to stay that way. But if she can't land a hugely desirable author, she may be in danger of losing her job. It doesn't help that she feels disconnected at home. Jealous of her daughter's affection for her nanny and concerned that she's losing ground in her relationship, she soon finds that juggling all of these pieces is harder than she'd imagined. 

There is a mystery involved here (which I've not gone into). And a definite underlying tension that makes what is sort of a slow burn, utterly gripping. And all of that wrapped in a lovely lyrical package. The Leftover Woman isn't a pretty story, but I have to say that Kwok's writing is. 

The Leftover Woman is one of those magical books that's perfect for a broad range of readers: a cross-genre read with lots of emotion. At times it made me sad and at others it stressed me out. Throughout, I found myself rooting for these two very different women, unsure how things could possibly work out for both of them but very much wanting it to be so. 

The Leftover Woman is out now in the UK from Viper!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett

Happy Thursday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Janice Hallett's delightful novella, The Christmas Appeal

The Fairway Players are back and up to their old tricks. With the loss of their leaders, Sarah-Jane MacDonald and husband Kevin are co chairs of the organization, much to the dismay of Celia and Joel Halliday. Mustn't forget that's Joel Halliday, OBE.

It's Christmas now and they're prepping for their annual pantomime. This year it's to be Jack and the Beanstalk—all money raised will go to fixing the church hall roof after an unfortunate bat incident. And Sarah-Jane is determined that this will be the best production yet, going all out and even securing a massive beanstalk set piece. 

As it turns out, the beanstalk itself could be a problem with rumors of asbestos swirling around the emails and apps behind the scenes. But it's the dead body that's discovered the night of the play that's the real issue!

So apologies, readers, as I've not posted a review of The Appeal, this book's predecessor as of yet. But I will do so very soon as it is quite fun and highly recommended!

The Christmas Appeal is wonderful! Literally laugh-out-loud hilarious at parts and overall a very lighthearted read. 

If you've read The Appeal, the characters you know and love are back and feisty as ever. 

Sarah-Jane has a new baby, which hasn't slowed her down at all. Celia is at her throat, at least passive and not so passive aggressively. And the Players are recruiting new members now that they're down quite a few. It's a good thing two new housing developments have gone up even though some of the members would rather not recruit from the other side of the Tesco. 

As with The Appeal, the book is built through texts, emails, and WhatsApp, and other ephemera with Charlotte and Femi once again reading alongside trying to untangle the various clues to determine a. what crime has actually been committed and b. who committed said crime. 

Honestly, delightful only begins to describe this one. The Christmas Appeal is out and out fun! Definitely recommended, though if you haven't read The Appeal just yet, you might want to dive into that one first so you can get to know the characters and the first case a bit more!

The Christmas Appeal is out now in the UK and in the US. Happy reading!

Monday, October 23, 2023

Stigma by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I'm am super excited to be a stop on the Random Things tour for the latest in the Blix and Ramm series by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, Stigma!


Things are grim for former cop now inmate Alexander Blix. Losing his daughter has been such a blow that serving time for killing her killer barely even registers. He's lost weight. He's lost interest. And Emma Ramm is one of his only regular visitors. 

But when his former boss approaches him for help, he can't resist. 

It seems a serial killer has escaped prison in Germany and may be on his way to Norway. How do they know this? Their one clue is the name of a man serving time alongside Blix. In fact, it's the one inmate he's had the most trouble with since arriving. 

Meanwhile, Emma ends up looking into the same escaped prisoner, by way of looking for an advantage for Blix with his problematic inmate. And the case is all kinds of twisted. 

With threads that stretch back to 2004 and a tourist camping spot, Emma becomes entangled in a web on the outside while Blix faces the challenges of investigating from behind bars. 

I have reviewed the majority of the books in this series and I don't know how many more ways I can sing its praises! I love Blix and Ramm!

I warned you above and highly suggest reading these books in order. However, if you don't mind MAJOR spoilers for book three, you can dive in with Stigma

While all of the books pretty perfectly illustrate the partnership between Blix and Ramm, this one does so in such a great way! Blix is in prison. There's not much he can do beyond the connections he makes with a particular inmate. And so he is reliant on Fosse to share info and on Emma and the research she can do online and on the ground. 

Both characters shine throughout the series, but pitting them both against the challenges they face here truly does show why this is such an amazing series!

There is also the appeal of gaining insight into Norwegian law. Blix's case, which is under appeal at the time the book is set; the intricacies of chasing a convict across country lines; even the small town cops Emma has to navigate in her own digging. All of it is such a fun escape for someone like me who has never been to Norway. (Which might sound funny since this is a thriller, but it's true!)

I don't want to give too much away, but I will say this one kept me guessing. I truly did not see the twists coming!

As ever, the authors and translator, Megan E Turney, and all of the folks at Orenda have done such a fantastic job here. I cannot recommend this series highly enough! And if you'd like to start from the beginning, the series order is:

Death Deserved
Smoke Screen

Friday, October 6, 2023

Short Fiction Friday: Mama Bird by Clay McLeod Chapman

Bringing back my short fiction posts!

As I've mentioned before, I am a literary agent. So during the week, in an attempt to reign myself in and focus on work, I try to stick to short stories and novellas. ('Cause if I get into a novel, I'm going to binge read until I finish, at the expense of work I need to be doing!)

Every parent knows the worry that comes from picky eating kids. Are they getting enough nutrients and protein? Are they going to be hungry? It plagues you. 

And for this mother, whose daughter struggled to regain her birth weight and eschewed food, when she finally finds a solution, she grabs hold of it. Even if it isn't quite what you'd expect...

You're probably familiar with Clay through his novels, The Remaking, Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters, and the newly released What Kind of Mother. But this first of his chapbooks, published by Shortwave, came to my attention just before StokerCon. 

It's a short tale. One that can definitely be read in one sitting. But it is a lot to chew on. 

And as a mom, it hits on something I myself have had issues with since day one: providing nourishment for my child. Worrying about his development. And stressing about the importance of my own role in that regard. 

Course I've never quite had to deal with the things this mom experiences!

A little plug for Shortwave—they are a special indie press putting out fantastically packaged chapbooks, novellas, collections, and novels. I've been reading a bunch of their titles, so you'll be seeing more from them on the blog!

Thursday, October 5, 2023

White as Snow by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

Happy happy Thursday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for the third in Lilja Sigurdardóttir's series, White as Snow

A shipping container has been found on public land containing the bodies of five women. Except upon further investigation, one of the women is hanging on by a thread. Malnourished and suffering from terrible frostbite, the police do their best to keep news of her survival out of the press. As their main witness, they understand all too well that the people responsible for putting her there will do anything to find her and keep her quiet. 

Daníel was supposed to be spending the next ten days with his children, but a case this big can't be pawned off. But he also knows that something this dark and twisted is going to loom heavy over him for a while. 

At the same time, Áróra, still trying to figure out where she stands with Daníel, has been asked to look into his ex-wife's new partner. The man, Sergei, is quite a bit younger than Elín, an artist who happens to be Áróra's own father's cousin. Though Elín is admittedly smitten, her father is insisting on a pre-nup to protect her assets. And yet Sergei is not only pushing for marriage, under the auspices of needing to be an official resident to get a job, he's against the pre-nup as well. And so it's Áróra's job to find out if there's something shady about the Elín's love interest.

As both Daníel and Áróra's cases go on, there becomes hints of a connection. At first, it's an old case that both worked on in the past and links to the shipping container. But as they move forward, the links between the two cases become even stronger. 

So first off, the thing on just about every series reader's mind: yes, if you're new to Lilja Sigurdardóttir's work, you can start here fairly easily. You are missing character development, particular in the case of Áróra as her sister's disappearance continues to be a main focus of hers. Some spoilers, but you can easily read White as Snow as a lead in to the series. 

Technically this is referred to as the third in the Áróra Investigation Series (Cold as Hell, Red as Blood, White as Snow). But what seems to be common with Nordic Noir in particular is the fact that the series does not focus exclusively on Áróra herself, but rather a whole cast of characters. Daníel and his fellow officer, Helena, get just as much page time as Áróra herself. Which is something that I really love because you not only get backstory on all of them, but the interactions between them become more rich and detailed. 

In this particular outing, you also get Bisi, the survivor. A Nigerian cut off from her family and seeking refuge, she falls prey to the worst kind of people. Her story comes out in two parts: past (before the container) and present. And she plays her cards close, in part because she's reliant on the officers and immigration to keep her safe. 

White as Snow is an excellent addition to what is a fantastic series! If you haven't discovered it yet, do dive in here. Or start from the beginning and read them in order (my recommendation!) for the full experience!