Five Total Strangers by Natalie Richards

A teen thriller that keeps ratcheting up the tension, in the midst of a blizzard Iowans will understand all too well, Five Total Strangers is a suspenseful tale of not-so-chance coincidences and danger that creeps in from every direction.

For Mira, nothing has ever been the same since her aunt died last Christmas – especially since she had to leave her grieving mom to go back to school across the country. Now, it’s Christmas again and Mira is desperate to get home and be there for her mom, but the weather isn’t cooperating. Her connecting flight was just grounded, so the only way to get home in time is to accept a ride from her charming seatmate and her friends. But once underway, Mira realizes that none of her fellow passengers know each other, and she just can’t shake the feeling that something sinister is going on – especially when their things start to go missing. And all the while, the roads just keep getting worse…

The genius of this book for me is the tug-of-war between logic and instinct, as Mira struggles between what her primal, gut-level feelings tell her about a situation and what her logical, civilized brain says. I thought this brilliantly captured what it’s like to be in a scary situation in today’s world, where we know the odds of danger and catastrophe are low…but never zero. The descriptions also vividly conjure up all the unpleasantness and otherworldliness of road travel, including car sickness, dingy rest areas, and dicey gas stations, all overlaid in this case with an unspecified menace, coupled with the frustrating uncertainty and powerlessness that comes with being young. Interspersed with the chapters are ambiguous handwritten notes which suggest nothing is as coincidental as it appears, and which help the tension build to a twist you probably won’t see coming.

Those who like thrilling, suspenseful mysteries, locked room mysteries (with a mobile twist), and vivid casts of characters (all hiding secrets) will want to try Five Total Strangers – if only to remind themselves why winter road trips are an absolutely terrible idea.

This book is also available on Overdrive.

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Paula McLain has written an intense historical thriller detailing the life of a seasoned detective haunted by cases from her past. While in the past McLain has written historical fiction that takes place further in the past, this title is still set in the past, albeit the 1970s to the 1990s. This book is also sprinkled with true events, but it is a decided shift from her other novels.

When the Stars Go Dark digs into the life of missing persons detective Anna Hart. After a tragic event rocks her life, Anna is desperate for an escape. She heads to Mendocino, California to grieve and process what has happened. Mendocino is the closest town Anna has to home. Having grown up in the foster care system, Mendocino was the place where she found two of her most supportive foster parents. When she arrives, she expects comfort, safety, and most importantly solitude, but instead Anna finds that her work has followed her. A local girl has gone missing, leaving Anna feeling like she has to help.

This new missing persons case reminds Anna of her childhood when a local girl in her community went missing and was later found murdered. That case is still unsolved and has left the community changed. Anna volunteers her services to help with the new missing girl case. The more she works, the more the past and present interfere with each other. During her career as a missing persons detective, Anna focused on how victims come into contact with violent predators. Her knowledge of that process comes in handy as she begins searching for the missing girl. Her search slowly becomes an obsession. Anna will do anything to find this girl and to not let the past repeat itself, but soon realizes that she needs the help of others if she wants to solve this case and bring the girl home.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar

Mario Escobar’s latest novel The Librarian of Saint-Malo tells the story of a French librarian’s stand against the German occupation as they descend upon the small coastal village of Saint-Malo. While World War II novels are plentiful, the timeline covered as well as the perspectives shown during this particular title were refreshing and set this novel apart.

Jocelyn is determined. Having just married her high school sweetheart Antoine in August 1939, Jocelyn wishes to begin their married life in bliss. But soon after they are married, Antoine is drafted to fight against Germany, leaving Jocelyn behind in the village of Saint-Malo to manage the tiny library there. World War II brings destruction to their doors, while Jocelyn works to bring comfort and encouragement to those residents who can escape to the library to check out books.

Wanting to do more, Jocelyn begins writing secret letters to a famous author who lives in Paris. Having someone smuggle those letters to him is a great risk, but Jocelyn is desperate that her story, as well as that of Saint-Malo, lives on in the face of the war’s destruction. When France falls and Nazis start to occupy Saint-Malo, Jocelyn wants to do more. With the city now a fortress, the devastation only worsens.

Across the country, Nazis begin to destroy libraries. Armed with lists of unsuitable books, Nazis burn books and even steal the priceless and more rare books. Jocelyn refuses to let her library be destroyed, so despite the risk to herself, she manages to hide the books the Nazis seek to destroy. While terror reigns around her, Jocelyn waits for news from Antoine, who is now a prisoner in a German camp.

The more Jocelyn writes, the more readers see that all she wants is to protect people and her beloved books. This novel tells the story of those who were willing to sacrifice anything to save the people they loved, as well as the true history of their lives.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I recently read the gentlest of all gentle reads. If you like beautiful art, dragons, and stories of friendship and found family, this series may be for you.

In volume one, The Tea Dragon Society, a young apprentice blacksmith named Greta encounters her first tea dragon – a miniature, domesticated dragon which grows tea leaves from its horns – and brings it back to its home. There she joins the small family devoted to the care and keeping of tea dragons: healer and teamaker Hesekiel, his partner Erik, and their recent houseguest Minette, who’s troubled by a lack of memory. Greta and Minette learn not only about tea dragons, but about friendship, craftsmanship, and how to honor ancient traditions.

In volume two, The Tea Dragon Festival, we’re seeing an episode from Hesekiel and Erik’s younger days, as they go home to Erik’s mountain village for the Tea Dragon Festival. The main character of the story is Rinn, a skilled gatherer of vegetables and herbs that grow in out-of-the-way places. One day as they’re out gathering, Rinn discovers a full-size sleeping dragon. When he wakes, the dragon Aedhan says he’s the guardian of their village, mysteriously asleep for eighty years. Rinn helps him honor the past and learn how to be a part of the village, while Erik and Hesekiel investigate the cause of Aedhan’s long sleep.

Volume three, the Tea Dragon Tapestry, is out now in our Rivershare libraries, and picks up the story of Greta and Minette as they learn about growing up. Greta is still working hard to learn blacksmithing, while trying to bond with tea dragon Ginseng – and her challenges give her lots to learn about craftsmanship and grief. Minette, meanwhile, learns more about her past, her gift of prophecy, and her future. All the while their family and friendship gives them each the support they need to find their paths forward.

For a devoted tea drinker like me, the whole concept of tea dragons was utterly charming, and the slow, unhurried pace of the story was deeply restful. I think the author also works in some good meditations on craftsmanship, progress, tradition, and friendship. If you need a healing break, read these graphic novels! While the first two volumes are available on Overdrive, I do recommend the physical copies for the full immersive experience.

In Deeper Waters by FT Lukens

Did I just pick up this book because of its beautiful cover? Yes. Yes I did. But luckily it turned out to be as lovely a story as its cover.

In Deeper Waters by FT Lukens is a coming-of-age story, a romance, an imaginative fairy-tale-inspired fantasy, and a rollicking adventure. Tal is the fourth in line to the throne, and he’s on his coming of age tour around the kingdom. The kingdom is tense and war is threatened, which doesn’t help to ease Tal’s anxiety: he secretly has magic which he fears will be used as a weapon. Just as his tour is getting underway, his ship encounters a mysterious derelict with an abandoned prisoner inside – the mysterious Athlen. Athlen treats Tal more like a person than anyone has in a while, but before they can explore this connection, Athlen makes a shocking escape. When he reappears miraculously in a later port, Tal follows him, determined to get answers. And it’s not a moment too soon, as Tal is then kidnapped by pirates. He must escape if he wants to prevent a war, and he needs all the help he can get.

The familial love is on-point, messing with some stereotypes, the magic is captivating, and in my opinion the world-building is expert. In some fantasy novels, a page or three at the beginning of the story is taken up by explanations of what the world is and how it works and who the players are; in this case the story starts right up and details about the world are revealed gradually and organically, so that your picture of the world your in grows and gets colored in as you read. I found that very effective for keeping readers hooked and sharing just enough detail so things make sense as they’re happening.

One thing that struck home for me was that although Tal is unsure of himself, and a lot of decisions are out of his hands, he gradually takes more control of his life and decides what kind of person he’s going to be. I always love a story where a character forges their own path. I also thought the depiction of politics, and how complicated monarchy can be depending on your perspective, was a good nod to realism without being too dark. In short, hope is a theme running through most parts of the story – and the world needs more of that.

Sweet, exciting, and thought-provoking, this book is recommended for those who liked The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Pirates of the Caribbean, or similar fantasy adventure romps.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Julia Claiborne Johnson’s works are love letters to the early 1900s, in two very different ways. I recently read her first, Be Frank With Me, and it’s so funny and heartfelt that it gave me high hopes for her second, 2021’s Better Luck Next Time.

In Be Frank With Me, a young New Yorker named Alice Whitley narrates the story of her time working for prickly and reclusive author M.M. Banning in the early 2000s. Alice spends most of her time taking care of Frank, Banning’s nine-year-old son. Frank is a sharp dresser, a destructive force, and a treasure trove of facts, especially about the golden age of film (circa 1910 through around 1960). He has two specific rules: No Touching Frank, and No Touching Frank’s Things. None of this makes it easy for him to connect with other kids (or anyone, really), but through their time together Alice comes to care deeply for him, even as her curiosity grows about who his father is – not to mention all the questions she has about his mother and her enigmatic handyman Xander.

While I’m not sure I’m satisfied with where the book ends (although it’s always a good sign to want more, isn’t it?) I loved smiling and laughing my way through it, particularly as Alice grows and learns along the way. Her dry wit and Frank’s unique voice combined into an unforgettable friendship.

If you like books about authors, quirky kids, or young adults coming of age, you might like Be Frank With Me. If you loved Be Frank With Me, and want a story of love, marriage, divorce, and dude ranches in 1930s Nevada, you might try Better Luck Next Time. Both have a sense of nostalgia and reminiscence about them in different ways.

In the case of Better Luck Next Time, two very different women arrive at The Flying Leap dude ranch in Reno, Nevada, hoping to stay the six weeks that will make them “residents” of Reno and therefore able to take advantage of its quick divorce policy. One is Nina, an heiress and pilot on her third divorce, and the other is Emily, for whom seeking a divorce is the bravest thing she’s ever done. They couldn’t be more different, and yet both strike up friendship with Ward, a handsome ranch hand. Themes include destructive love, healing friendship, and chosen family – and apparently the book is both humorous and heartfelt in good measure.

The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

Do you remember Anna’s excellent review of TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea? If you liked that book, or his newer Under the Whispering Door, you may want to try his young adult series, starting with The Extraordinaries – and followed up by 2021’s Flash Fire.

The Extraordinaries is set in Nova City, a city with an established set of superheroes (the titular Extraordinaries). Nick is their biggest fan, and is particularly obsessed with Shadow Star, a hero on the rise and constantly in the news. Writing fanfiction about Shadow Star is more enjoyable than real life, where he’s facing a new ADHD medication, an uncomfortable relationship with his ex (kind of) boyfriend, changes in his group of friends, and worries about his dad’s safety as a Nova City police officer. An attempted mugging foiled by Shadow Star makes Nick determined to be a hero too, and he drags his best friend Seth along for the ride as he chases down a spectacular destiny. But he’s got a lot to learn about what it really means to be extraordinary.

Klune is fantastic at putting a human face on a fantasy universe, without skimping on any of the breathtaking fantasy elements. In this case he shows just how wide a gulf stands between being a fan of superheroes and actually being one – to great humorous effect. Nick eventually brands himself the clueless comic relief, but he also has a great deal of emotional depth, including how his ADHD affects his sense of self-worth and self-efficacy, his lingering grief around his mother’s death, and his anxiety for his cop father’s safety. Overall, his story is one grounded in the discomforts and stupid mistakes that abound during the process of growing up, but overflowing with warmth and hope for brighter futures.

For a similar read I recommend Super Adjacent by Crystal Cestari, Hero by Perry Moore, or All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner. Less superhero-focused, but with a similar emphasis the average-citizen perspective in a world of Chosen Ones, is The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

In November every year, I try to read as many mysteries as I can. This November, I decided to focus on cozy mysteries partly because Checked In: A Davenport Library Podcast, hosted by three DPL librarians, will be talking about cozy mysteries, amongst other things, in our November episode. (You should check it out to hear myself and two other librarians talk about all things library). Cozy mysteries are considered the gentle reads of the mystery genre. They generally avoid graphic violence, sexual content, and profanity, but feature instead unlikely detectives. Right up my alley!

On my quest to read more cozy mysteries, I discovered Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. This book is the first in a brand new series called Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery. (The second title Homicide and Halo-Halo is set to come out in February 2022.)This culturally diverse title is full of sharp humor and delicious food. The author even includes a list of recipes at the end of the novel. The end of this book clearly sets you up for a sequel. You even get to read a snippet of the next book in the series.

Lila Macapagal has moved back home. This was not what she wanted to do, but after a nasty breakup and not having completed college, Lila doesn’t really have any other options. Now living back home with her grandmother and aunt, Lila must figure out ways to help save her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant. In addition to that huge task, Lila is also dealing with her big group of matchmaking aunties/godmothers who want her to settle down and be happy. They love her, but that love is tinged with judgment.

Lil’s ex-boyfriend also keeps popping up in her life too. He is a food critic that has been targeting all the local restaurants for the last couple years and is destroying businesses through his reviews. He has become increasingly nasty and has set his sights on Tita Rosie’s restaurant. While eating one day at the restaurant, he drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila. The aftermath of that has drastic consequences for the family. The local police treat Lila like she is their only suspect, their landlord wants to use the death as an excuse to kick the family out of the restaurant, and Lila’s best friend has started acting weird. Refusing to let her family be persecuted for something that they didn’t do, Lila decides to start investigating herself with the help of her family and friends. What she discovers is more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

Best Sellers Club November Authors: Catherine Coulter and Patricia Cornwell

Want the hottest new release from your favorite author? Want to stay current with a celebrity book club? Love nonfiction? You should join the Best Sellers Club. Choose any author, celebrity pick, and/or nonfiction pick and the Davenport Public Library will put the latest title on hold for you automatically. Select as many as you want! If you still have questions, please check out our list of FAQs.

New month means new highlighted authors from the Best Sellers Club! November’s authors are Catherine Coulter for fiction and Patricia Cornwell for mystery.

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Our November fiction author is Catherine Coulter. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and two cats. She is an avid football fan and loves to travel, hike, and read. Coulter is a New York Times bestselling author of more than 86 novels. She writes both historical romance and suspense thrillers. She began her career writing historical romances. Coulter is well-known for her highly successful FBI Suspense Thriller series, which has sold over 4 million copies and has spent nine weeks on the New York Times list. Coutler is frequently known as one of the pillars of the thriller genre. She also started the Brit in the FBI series in 2013 with JT Ellison.

Coulter’s newest book is Vortex, published in August of 2021. Vortex is book 25 in her FBI Thriller series.

Curious what this book is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

In the latest installment in Catherine Coulter’s #1 New York Times bestselling FBI Thriller series, agents Sherlock and Savich find themselves dealing with powerful pieces of the past that could have dire consequences in the present.

Seven years ago, Mia Briscoe was at a frat party with her best friend Serena when a fire broke out. Everyone was accounted for except Serena. She was never heard from or seen again. Now Mia is an investigative journalist covering the political scene in New York City, but she hasn’t given up trying to find out what happened to her friend that night. When an old photo taken at the frat party gives her clues, Mia realizes she knows just where to look. She enlists FBI agent Sherlock’s help to uncover a sinister string of events going all the way back to that disastrous party. But some very powerful—and very dangerous—people will do anything to keep the past buried.

CIA Operative Olivia Hildebrandt is a team leader on a mission in Iran to exfiltrate a betrayed undercover operative. She’s nearly killed by an exploding grenade and saved by a team member. After leaving Walter Reed Hospital, not only has that team member disappeared but two men come to her house to kill her. Savich believes their attack on Olivia is a direct result of the compromised mission in Iran. What intelligence was at stake? Who betrayed them? Savich quickly finds he is now a target himself and unseen enemies will stop at nothing, including murder.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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Our November mystery author is Patricia Cornwell. She is a New Tork Times bestselling author who has sold over 100 million books in thirty-six languages in over 120 countries. Cornwell’s first novel was Postmortem, the first forensic thriller. Cornwell is most well known for her Kay Scarpetta series. These novels focus on medical examiner Kay Scarpetts as well as her tech-savvy niece Lucy and her fellow investigator Pete Marino. She has also begun two other series based on Win Garano, a Boston detective, and Andy Brazil, a Charlotte reporter. In addition to her adult ficiton, Cornwell has also written  multiple nonficiton titles, including one about Jack the Ripper and two cookbooks. She has also written a children’s book and a biography of Ruth Graham. Cornwell currently lives in Boston, but was born in Miami and grew up in North Carolina.

Cornwell’s latest book is Autopsy, which is to be published on November 30, 2021. Autopsy is book 25 in the Kay Scarpetta series.

Curious what this book is about? Below is a description provided by the publisher.

Scarpetta is back! In this twenty-fifth in the electrifying, landmark #1 bestselling thriller series chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta hunts an ingenious killer who has mastered cutting-edge science for the most nefarious ends.

Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta has returned to Virginia as the chief medical examiner. Finding herself the new girl in town once again after being away for many years, she’s inherited an overbearing secretary and a legacy of neglect and possible corruption.

She and her husband Benton Wesley, now a forensic psychologist with the U.S. Secret Service, have relocated to Old Town Alexandria where she’s headquartered five miles from the Pentagon in a post-pandemic world that’s been torn by civil and political unrest. Just weeks on the job, she’s called to a scene by railroad tracks where a woman’s body has been shockingly displayed, her throat cut down to the spine, and as Scarpetta begins to follow the trail, it leads unnervingly close to her own historic neighborhood.

At the same time, a catastrophe occurs in a top secret private laboratory in outer space, and at least two scientists aboard are found dead. Appointed to the highly classified Doomsday Commission that specializes in sensitive national security cases, Scarpetta is summoned to the White House Situation Room and tasked with finding out what happened. But even as she works the first crime scene in space remotely, an apparent serial killer strikes again. And this time, Scarpetta could be in greater danger than ever before.

In this latest novel in her groundbreaking Kay Scarpetta series, Patricia Cornwell captivates readers with the shocking twists, high-wire tension, and forensic detail that she is famous for, proving once again why she’s the world’s #1 bestselling crime writer.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

A light, quick read with small-town urban fantasy vibes, diverse representation, and a pacifist take on the good vs. evil struggle.

In Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, we meet Nova, a young witch who lives with her grandmothers in her hometown, working at their bookshop. She’s hard-of-hearing, skilled in magic, and passes the time with her non-magical, scientific best friend. But then she’s sent to check out a sighting of strange lights and a white wolf in the nearby woods. When she arrives she discovers the white wolf is not only real, but her long-lost childhood friend Tam. Non-binary Tam is on the run, from their family and from a sinister cult that has a nefarious use for werewolves in its quest to raise a demon. Nova and her grandmothers give Tam a safe place to stay, and much-needed allies against their mysterious enemies – and as time passes Nova and Tam’s friendship turns to romance. But the demon and the cult have to be dealt with, forcing both Nova and Tam to learn about trust and teamwork.

The wholesome atmosphere of this short graphic novel is a welcome respite, and the ultimate message of family and harmony with nature triumphing over darkness is a pleasing and hopeful read in 2021. Good interludes include scenes of Nova’s cultural heritage and her growth toward independence, alongside Tam’s healing from trauma and feeling at home with Nova’s family — and any scenes with Nova’s grandmothers. I appreciated reading a healthy, imperfect family dynamic, as well as casual representation of a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns.

Easily readable in one sitting, Mooncakes is recommended for lovers of magical realism, coming-of-age stories, and gentle reads.