Fiction Review

Hot Book of the Week – The Summer Country

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Lauren Willig was just at The Poisoned Pen, so she had an opportunity to sign the current Hot Book of the Week. The Summer Country is her latest novel. You can order her books, including signed copies of The Summer Country, through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of The Summer Country.

A brilliant, multigenerational saga in the tradition of THE THORN BIRDS and NORTH AND SOUTH, New York Times bestselling historical novelist Lauren Willig delivers her biggest, boldest, and most ambitious novel yet—a sweeping Victorian epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Barbados, 1854: Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous English merchant clan– merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day.  But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned. 

When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.

Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins?  Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills? The answer lies in the past— a tangled history of lies, greed, clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.

THE SUMMER COUNTRY will beguile readers with its rendering of families, heartbreak, and the endurance of hope against all odds. 

Martin Walker in Conversation

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Perhaps Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police novels are not as well known in the United States as they are in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In his recent conversation with Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, he comments that last year’s title is currently #1 on the bestseller lists in all three of those countries. However, American readers are lucky enough to have the new one available, The Body in the Castle Well. Walker was at the Pen recently to discuss his books with Peters. You can find copies of the books, including signed copies of The Body in the Castle Well, in the Web Store.

Here’s the description of the latest Bruno book.

An aging art scholar and a visiting student, haunting echoes of France’s colonialist past, and a delicious navarin of lamb–Bruno is back, and his latest case leads him from the Renaissance to the French Resistance and beyond by way of a corpse at the bottom of a well.

When Claudia, a young American, turns up dead in the courtyard of an ancient castle in Bruno’s jurisdiction, her death is assumed to be an accident related to opioid use. But her doctor persuades Bruno that things may not be so simple. Thus begins an investigation that leads Bruno to Monsieur de Bourdeille, the scholar with whom the girl had been studying, and then through that man’s past. He is a renowned art historian who became extraordinarily wealthy through the sale of paintings that may have been falsely attributed–or so Claudia suggested shortly before her death. In his younger days, Bourdeille had aided the Resistance and been arrested by a Vichy policeman whose own life story also becomes inexorably entangled with the case. Also in the mix is a young falconer who works at the Château des Milandes, the former home of fabled jazz singer Josephine Baker. In the end, of course, Bruno will tie all the loose threads together and see that justice is served–along with a generous helping of his signature Périgordian cuisine.


Whenever you have time, you might enjoy the Martin Walker event at The Poisoned Pen.

Michael Stanley & Shoot the Bastards

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Tuesday, June 11 is release date for Michael Stanley’s latest book from Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press, Shoot the Bastards. Authors Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears set their books in Africa. In this one, they introduce a new protagonist. You can order copies of their books, including Shoot the Bastards, through the Web Store.

The authors were recently interviewed for the International Thriller Writers’ magazine, The Big Thrill. You can catch Dawn Ius’ interview with them here.

Michael Sears (left) and Stanley Trollip

Here’s the summary of Michael Stanley’s Shoot the Bastards.

“From Minnesota to South Africa to Mozambique to Vietnam, Michael Stanley’s Shoot the Bastards is an extraordinary tale of the extreme measures taken to combat international poaching and smuggling.”—C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wolf Pack

The black market feeds all appetites…

The dark winter nights of Minnesota seem to close in on investigative journalist Crystal Nguyen as she realizes that her close friend Michael Davidson has disappeared while researching a story on rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling in Africa. Crystal, fearing the worst, wrangles her own assignment on the continent. Within a week in Africa she’s been hunting poachers (“Shoot the bastards,” she’s told), hunted by their bosses, and questioned in connection with a murder—and there’s still no sign of Michael.

Crystal quickly realizes how little she knows about Africa and about the war between poachers and conservation officers. What she does know is she must find Michael, and she’s committed to preventing a major plot to secure a huge number of horns… but exposing the financial underworld supporting the rhino-horn market is only half the battle. Equally important is convincing South African authorities to take action before it’s too late—for the rhinos, and for Crystal.

Michael Stanley, author of the award-winning Detective Kubu Mysteries series, introduces an intriguing new protagonist while exposing one of southern Africa’s most vicious conflicts in Shoot the Bastards.

Shamus Award Nominees

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Private Eye Writers of America just announced the nominees for the 2019 Shamus Awards, for works published in 2018. The winners will be announced at the PWA banquet at Bouchercon in October. Check the Web Store if you’re looking for these titles.

Congratulations to all of the nominees.

Best First Private Eye Novel

The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco 

Broken Places by Tracy Clark

Last Looks by Howard Michael Gould

What Doesn’t Kill You by Aimee Hix

Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne

Best Private Eye Short Story 

“Fear of the Secular,” by Mitch Alderman, AHMM

“Three-Star Sushi,” by Barry Lancet, Down & Out

“The Big Creep,” by Elizabeth McKenzie, Santa Cruz Noir

“Game,” by Twist Phelan, EQMM

“Chin Yong-Yun Helps a Fool,” by S.J. Rozan, EQMM

 Best Private Eye Novel 

Wrong Light by Matt Coyle

What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

Cut You Down by Sam Wiebe

Best Original Private Eye Paperback

She Talks to Angels by James D.F. Hannah

No Quarter by John Jantunen

Shark Bait by Paul Kemprecos

Second Story Man by Charles Salzberg

The Questionable Behavior of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

Tea with the Authors

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Saturday tea at The Poisoned Pen is special, a time to listen to authors, have books signed, and enjoy the tea and baked goods by John Charles. It’s 2 PM this Saturday, June 8.

This Saturday, tea is with Jennifer Ashley, Kate Carlisle, and Lauren

Ashley, Jennifer. Death in Kew Gardens (Berkley $15 June 8). This is a truly terrific Upstairs/Downstairs Victorian London mystery with evil housekeepers, a surprisingly stalwart butler, the murder of Sir Jacob-a mad collector of all things Chinese including plants, visits to Kew
Gardens, a Chinese gentlemen on a quest, and wonderful depictions of the meals prepared by Kat Holloway, the cook.  The third in the Death
Below Stairs series begins when Kat Holloway bowls over a Chinese
dressed in gorgeous but dirty silk while on her way home from market.Later that night when she steps out to share leftovers among the poor down the street, he appears and presents her with a beautiful box filledwith tea. Two days later when the kitchen erupts with the news that
Lady Cynthia’s next-door neighbor has been murdered. Known about
London as an “Old China Hand,” Sir Jacob claimed to be an expert in
the language and customs of China, acting as intermediary for
merchants and government officials. He also had a passion for plants
and frequented Kew Gardens. But Sir Jacob’s dealings were not what
they seemed, and when the authorities accuse Mr. Li of the crime, Kat,
the household, and her interesting friend Daniel find themselves
embroiled in a world of deadly secrets that reach from the gilded
homes of Mayfair to the beautiful wonder of the gardens. Read the
whole series

Carlisle, Kate. The Book Supremacy (Berkley $25 June 8). Here is lucky #13 in the Bibliophile Series. Newlyweds Brooklyn and Derek are enjoying the final days of their honeymoon in Paris. As they’re browsing the book stalls along the Seine, Brooklyn finds the perfect gift for Derek, a first edition James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me. When they bump into Ned, an old friend from Derek’s spy days, Brooklyn shows him her latest treasure. Once they’re back home in San Francisco, they visit a spy shop Ned mentioned. The owner begs them to let him display the book Brooklyn found in Paris as part of the shop’s first anniversary celebration. Before they agree, Derek makes sure the security is up to snuff-turns out, the unassuming book is worth a great deal more than sentimental value. Soon after, Derek is dismayed when he receives a mysterious letter from Paris announcing Ned’s death. Then late one night, someone is killed inside the spy shop. Are the murders connected to Brooklyn’s rare, pricey book?

Willig, Lauren. The Summer Country (Harper $26.99 June 8). Willig has written many sorts of books, all rooted in history-she’s a meticulous researcher. She has outdone herself with a book she describes as her “full out M. M. Kaye” (one of my favorite authors who did the British Empire well). It takes you to Barbados where English sugar barons and local planters wrested fortunes from the cane and their slaves. She bookends her two-track tale with the fiery rebellion of 1816 on the island and the lead up to it from 1812, and with the cholera epidemic that struck in 1854. I learned so much from both (excellent Appendix with sources) along with following the absorbing narrative. It opens in 1854: Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous English merchant clan-merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day. But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados-a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned. When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts. Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins? Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills? As we zigzag from one set of characters to the other, we find out. This excellent standalone is not truly mystery but is so rich, moving, and relevant to today that it is our June Historical Book of the Month.


If you can’t make it on Saturday, you can still order a signed copy of any or all of the books through the Web Store.

Hot Book of the Week – On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

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The current Hot Book of the Week at The Poisoned Pen is poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. There are signed copies of the novel available through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by VultureEntertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe,, Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, Nylon, The Week, The Rumpus, The Millions, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and more.

“A lyrical work of self-discovery that’s shockingly intimate and insistently universal…Not so much briefly gorgeous as permanently stunning.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard. 

With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.

Robin Burcell & The Oracle

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On Thursday, June 6 at 7 PM, author Robin Burcell hosts David Ricciardi, author of Rogue Strike and Matt Goldman, author of The Shallows. Copies of both books are available through the Web Store.

However, today it’s Robin Burcell’s book that I would like to mention. Burcell is Clive Cussler’s co-author of The Oracle, the eleventh Sam and Remi Fargo adventure. Release date is June 11, and it’s available for pre-order.

Here is the recent review of The Oracle, published in Publishers Weekly.

“In the prologue of bestseller Cussler’s exceptional 11th Sam and Remi Fargo adventure (after 2018’s The Gray Ghost, also coauthored with Burcell), Gelimer, the king of the Vandals, consults an oracle in a North African town in 533 C.E. Gelimer must retrieve a stolen scroll and return it to its rightful owner if his kingdom is to survive. The kingdom falls before he can find the scroll, whose location remains a mystery until the present day, when some clues turn up in an archaeological dig sponsored by Sam and Remi’s foundation. Meanwhile, the theft of a shipment of supplies to the girls’ school the Fargos support in Nigeria prompts the couple to travel from California to Africa to deliver replacement supplies. The subsequent kidnapping of Remi and some of the school girls by robbers appears to be related to the missing scroll. Witty dialogue, loads of detail about the local culture and food, and plenty of red herrings will delight Cussler fans. This entry may be the best yet in the series.”