Book Review: Murder at Macbeth, Samantha Goodwin

Book Review: Murder at Macbeth, Samantha Goodwin

Murder at Macbeth, Samantha Goodwin

Mystery: Murder at Macbeth, Samantha Goodwin

When aspiring actress Nikki Gowon takes the stage for her final scene as Lady Macbeth, she has no idea that it will be her final scene. As she had done countless times in rehearsal, she takes the prop knife and thrusts it into her belly. Only, someone has substituted an actual knife for the prop knife. Instead of collapsing harmlessly in her hands, the knife plunges into her body and does enough damage that the wounds eventually end her life. Murder at Macbeth takes the cursed play and ups the drama significantly.


Detectives Finley Robson and Nadia Zahra have no shortage of suspects. Anyone in the play, from the director to the cast, could potentially have done it. And as they investigate, a plethora of motives come out. Nikki was given the role late in rehearsals. Could it be Emma, the actress who lost the role to Nikki? Could it be Nikki’s boyfriend, Jimmy? Her onstage lover, Ben? The director, Neil? Or someone else entirely? Her best friend Megan and Megan’s boyfriend Peter were also in the cast. Even teenager Violet seems to have something to hide. As they proceed with their inquiries, they find that even an amateur play can have a lot of drama backstage.


Fans of Shakespeare will enjoy the constant references to his plays, in the chapter headings and in the body of the book as well. Obviously most of the references come from Macbeth, but other works get a shout out as well. And fans of mysteries will appreciate the multiple threads Goodwin weaves together in her book. She does a good job of revealing information piece by piece, so the reader is discovering information along with the detectives. I liked the way that the murderer was found using a combination of deduction and detection. Good old fashioned police work, questioning suspects, chasing leads, checking CCTV, gets highlighted in this book, and the police who do that labor never seem to get enough credit. Goodwin makes sure to note the hard work involved.


All in all, this was an easy book to get lost in for awhile. I enjoyed the characters and the story, and appreciated the hard work the detectives and uniforms did to find the killer. If you are looking for a solid mystery and for the chance to support a new author, Murder at Macbeth is a book I would recommend.

Murder at Macbeth, Samantha Goodwin

Book Review: Murder at Macbeth, Samantha Goodwin

Book Review: Zero Sum Game, S.L. Huang

Book Review: Zero Sum Game, S.L. Huang

Zero Sum Game, S.L. Huang

Science Fiction: Zero Sum Game, S.L. Huang

Cas Russell is a kickbutt math whiz. Literally. She is able to instantaneously perform the calculations in her mind that let her leverage her body or a projectile in such a way as to perform maximum damage. She can determine where and how to hit someone so that they are injured or killed. She only needs one shot to hit her target. Her body is a weapon, and weapons in her possession are deadly.


Cas is a retrieval specialist. She has been hired to retrieve a girl being held prisoner by a drug cartel. Normally this would be no problem for her, but her long-time ally, Rio, is undercover in the cartel and is not willing to break cover–even for Cas’s sake. He is perhaps the one person good enough to capture her, and he has done just that.


That is the opening of Zero Sum Game, and the thrills and stakes go up from there. Cas is not the only person in the story with extraordinary abilities, abilities that might be regarded as superhuman. Victims become oppressors, allies become enemies, and as the book progresses Cas finds that she must question herself as much as she questions anyone else.


S.L. Huang has a math degree from M.I.T., and math plays a major role in this book. But don’t let that scare you away. You don’t need a math degree to appreciate the breakneck plot. Or the breaking of necks within the plot. Cas Russell is a true thriller heroine, with a moral code (of sorts), brilliant friends and the ability–and willingness–to do whatever needs to be done.


Zero Sum Game is one part science fiction, one part action thriller, and one part geeky fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Zero Sum Game, S.L. Huang

Book Review: Zero Sum Game, S.L. Huang

Book Review: The Deceivers, Kristen Simmons

Book Review: The Deceivers, Kristen Simmons


The Deceivers, Kristen Simmons

Fiction: The Deceivers, Kristen Simmons

Brynn Hilder is trying to get out of her bad neighborhood. Her mother’s boyfriend, Pete, is a drug dealer. Her only hope is to save up money from her jobs to go to college. One of those jobs barely pays her to mop floors at night. Her other jobs, though, have more potential–and a lot more risk.


Pete may not be much of a stepfather (correction, “mom’s loser boyfriend”), but he has taught her how to grift. Brynn is good at it. She has saved up almost $2000 from conning people, enough to begin planning for a life away from home. But then Pete finds her stash, accuses her of stealing from him, and her dreams appear to end.


A lifeline appears in the form of an opportunity to attend the exclusive and private Vale Hall. The mysterious benefactor is Dr. Odin, a man who values achievement. Brynn’s achievements have been primarily running cons. This is not a problem, though, because Vale Hall is a school for con artists. Brynn is soon assigned a mark, the son of a senator. Before long, though, she begins to learn that it can be hard to separate lies from truths, and in a school of con artists not all of the marks are on the outside.


Kristen Simmons has created a complex world where nothing is quite what it seems to be. The names of characters and locations are intentionally evocative, though the ending is much happier than the myth. And hidden beneath the rapid fire dialog and fast paced plot is a deeper examination of truth and responsibility. Not that this is a lecture on honesty. It is an excellent story that does remind us that lies carry consequences. The truth may set us free, but there is a price to that freedom as well.


Brynn is a very relatable character. Despite being told in the first person, this middle-aged man was quite taken by the story of this teenage woman. The Deceivers has great characters, a complex plot, a romantic love story, and clever dialog. A fun and worthwhile read.


The Deceivers, Kristen Simmons


Book Review: The Deceivers, Kristen Simmons

Book Review: The Sea Queen, Linnea Hartsuyker

Book Review: The Sea Queen, The Golden Wolf Saga Book 2, Linnea Hartsuyker

The Sea Queen, Linnea Hartsuyker

Historical Fiction: The Sea Queen, The Golden Wolf Saga, Book 2, Linnea Hartsuyker


I follow several general rules for reading. I don’t read series out of order. I don’t start with the second book in a series. I don’t grab a book off the library recommended shelves because the cover looks cool. I seldom read historical fiction.


I violated all of those rules with The Sea Queen. I’m glad I did.


The major characters in this book were introduced in the first book of the series, The Half-Drowned King. Ragnvald is the King of Sogn, but spends much of his time fighting for King Harald who is seeking to unify Norway under his reign. His sister, Svanhild, is with her husband Solvi, who is one of Harald’s fiercest enemies. Ragnvald wants nothing more than to retire to his home and live in peace, but until Harald succeeds in uniting Norway, peace will remain elusive.


Hartsuyker bases her story on Viking myths surrounding the creation of the country, and the historical research and attention to detail shows. Viking life was gritty and often ugly. Death stalked them. Violence and disease were constants. Sewage ran in the streets and animals were housed in the same buildings as humans. The sanitized version we see at Epcot would be more foreign to actual Vikings than it is to us.


The Sea Queen is full of adventure. Sea battles and land battles. Political intrigue. Sex and violence. It is not always pretty, but the Vikings were not known for their daintiness. It is a well-written, well-researched, fun read. If you’re lying on a warm, sandy beach somewhere, The Sea Queen is a good choice to bring some North Sea cool to your vacation.

The Sea Queen, Linnea Hartsuyker

Book Review:The Sea Queen, Linnea Hartsuyker

Book Review: History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

Book Review: History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

Fiction: History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

Ask her anything about wolves. After her prize winning project on the History of Wolves, Linda knows the answers. Things she is not as sure about include people. Her classmate, Lucy. Her teacher, who was convicted of having child pornography. Her neighbor, Patra, and Patra’s young son, Paul. Patra’s husband, Leo. These vivid characters fill the life and the imagination of Linda in Emily Fridlund’s amazing book.


Shortlisted for the Man Booker Award, History of Wolves is a coming of age novel. It is beautiful, almost melodic in its prose. Linda lives in a Minnesota full of bugs and humidity during the summer, in a cabin with her parents. They used to be part of a commune, but now only her family remains. Neighbors move in, Patra and Leo and Paul. Leo returns to his job in Chicago, leaving his young wife alone for long stretches with Paul. For help, Patra hires Linda to watch Paul and keep them company.


Fridlund does an amazing job revealing pieces of the story without giving too much away too soon. We learn fairly early on there is a trial involved–but is it related to Lucy and the teacher, or is it somehow related to Patra and Paul and Leo? What is Linda’s involvement in the trial? What crime, if any, was committed? This is not a mystery or a whodunnit, but the techniques used reminded me of that.


Fridlund’s voice throughout the story is clear and crisp. Linda narrates the novel. Her memories of the hockey players and cheerleaders and debate team are vivid and sometimes painful. Linda herself was called “the freak,” and school was painful for her. Watching Paul gave her some escape, but occasionally her behavior toward the family makes the reader wonder whether she is one of the wolves she studied so hard as a child.


History of Wolves is full of pain and longing, beautiful prose, and a breathtaking plot. Emily Fridlund is an author to keep an eye out for, one with a distinct voice and hopefully many more fascinating stories to tell.


At we are happy to get book recommendations, and we want to thank our friend Ned for recommending this book to us. Ned is a local writer who is working on his first novel, and someday we hope to be reviewing it here. For now, though, he has given us a gem to read.

History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

Book Review: History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Book Review: Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Poetry: Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Poetry can slice deeply into the human heart and leave it open and vulnerable. When the poems involve an actual heart transplant, that truism may be more accurate than ever. Marjorie Maddox’s collection of poems, Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, reflects on her father’s heart transplant, on the human body in general, on faith, and on life. At times I had to put it down to catch my breath. These poems are beautiful, but they are also painful. I found that the poet not only exposed her own life to us, but at times she exposed my own as well.


Perhaps reading this collection when a loved one of my own is facing the possibility of a transplant made me more vulnerable to the concept. The very first poem talks about the stranger whose car accident killed him–making his heart available for transplant. “His heart is buried/in my father/who is buried.” What a searing, painful thing to write. Hope, loss, grief, all wrapped up in the first stanza of the book. The relief of finding a heart, of seeing the transplant done, and the agony of knowing that death was still the end result. Some might have been silenced by that tragedy. This poet instead turns her grief into eloquence and beauty.


An entire section of the book is poems about the human body. I will admit to never before reading a poem devoted to the spleen, or to the pancreas. A couple of the poems are written to not only pay tribute to the organs themselves through their words, but also in the shape and arrangement of the words. Her poem about the ribs, for example, is formatted in an oval shape, with very short lines at the top and bottom and longer lines in the middle.


Many of the poems reflect not only a deep faith but a profound grasp of the details of that faith. Two sections devote large portions to explorations of faith and its expression. If the word “transubstantiation” in the title was not enough of a clue, poems about the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Marriage, and others clearly show a deep engagement with church and its teachings. I found her comparison of marriage to other sacraments (baptism, confirmation, extreme unction, etc.) to be both thoughtful and profound.


Marjorie Maddox is a local writer, a professor at Lock Haven University, and we are very grateful she reached out to us and asked us to review her book. Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation is an eloquent and thoughtful collection, full of faith and embracing of life–up to and including its end. Whether you are a person of faith or not, this collection will help you appreciate the richness and fullness of life.

Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Book Review: Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Book Review: The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: The Wild Dead, Bannerless Saga Book 2, Carrie Vaughn


The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn

Mystery: The Wild Dead, Bannerless Saga, Book 2, Carrie Vaughn

Like the first book in this series (Bannerless), The Wild Dead is a mystery set in a dystopian future. The people of the Coast Road live by strict rules. Households must live within their means but also contribute to the good of their communities. Quotas cannot be exceeded so that the land is not overworked, but enough must be grown or gathered to share with others. When a household proves they can live within the parameters set and support another person they are given a banner. A banner signifies permission to become pregnant and have a baby. Households that do not have a banner are not allowed to have children, and there is no stigma greater in the Coast Road than trying to have a bannerless child.


Enid, the investigator we first met in Bannerless, has been sent to the estuary to mediate a property dispute. A house dating from before “the Fall” is unlikely to survive another storm without significant repairs, and the owner wants his neighbors to help restore the property. Enid and her new partner Teeg have come to check out the property and determine whether the owner’s adamance is warranted. While they are there, though, a body is discovered on the tidal flats. A young woman has been murdered…and soon they realize that the woman is not from the Coast Road at all but rather is from the “wild” people who are not part of their society.


These facts do not tell the investigators who killed the woman, but they raise their own set of questions. Do the investigators have an actual responsibility to investigate the murder of someone who is not part of their community? Is the murder of an outsider actually even a crime? How far is Enid willing to go to solve this murder…especially when everyone, including Teeg, thinks she should just walk away and leave it be?


Carrie Vaughn has worked hard building the world of the Coast Road, a world that has been shaped dramatically by the collapse of the world we readers know. The Coast Road enjoys some of the remnants of civilization: electricity is sustainably generated, food is grown in moderation, trade occurs up and down the Coast Road. But the cost is high: women receive implants preventing pregnancy upon their first menstruation and those implants can only be removed when a banner is awarded. The Coast Road society is fully sustainable, but far from free. Bannerless children are forcibly removed from their families and given to families who have banners but have not been able to conceive. And the stigma for even trying to conceive a bannerless child continues for a lifetime.


The “wild” people live with much more freedom, but they also live on the edge of starvation. No one says who or when they can have children, but they struggle to meet basic needs for those children. The Coast Road chooses security over freedom. The wild people choose freedom over security. When the two societies intersect, both are challenged to evaluate their choices.


As a reader who enjoys both science fiction and mysteries, this novel is a delightful cross-genre story. Enid is a dogged investigator who is committed to finding the truth. She is willing to do the difficult work of pursuing the truth outside of her comfort zone, even outside of her society, seeking justice for the dead woman even though she is from another culture. Carrie Vaughn has created a fascinating world in her Bannerless Saga, and The Wild Dead is an outstanding continuation of that saga. I hope there are more to come.


The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn


Book Review: The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Bannerless, Bannerless Saga Book 1, Carrie Vaughn

Bannerlass, Carrie Vaughn

Fiction: Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn

In the dystopian future, being “bannerless” could mean any number of things. Many of them are not good. On the least pejorative side of the meaning, one simply has not yet earned the right to receive a banner. Banners are given when one has earned the right to have a child. Young households, households that have not yet proven they are self-sustaining and able to follow the rules of society, are bannerless until they prove themselves. However, one can also become bannerless by violating society’s rules. Becoming pregnant without a banner can result in an entire household becoming bannerless for years. Other violations can also remove the possibility of a household receiving a banner. Possibly worst of all, if a person is born without a banner, that stigma attaches to him or her for a lifetime–although it was clearly not the baby’s fault. Being bannerless is a difficult burden to bear.


Bannerless tells the story of an investigation into a death. A bannerless man died under questionable circumstances. It might have been an accident. It might have been something else. Enid and Tomas are called in to find out.


When they arrive in Pasadan, they find a town in disarray. The council is dominated by a bully. Questions arise about other possible violations. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that no one really liked the dead man, and he did not like anyone else. In the midst of this drama, Enid finds a more personal drama at hand: her former lover is now living in Pasadan.


Carrie Vaughn walks a fine line with aplomb. Bannerless is a police procedural set in a complex future world. She manages to keep the plot moving while building this world, setting up the foundations and the rules of the Coast Road communities at the same time as she uncovers the clues and reveals the denouement gradually. Enid is a dogged investigator, able to set aside both her complex history with former lover Dak and a personal tragedy that occurs near the end of the investigation in order to find the truth. When she reveals it, the full implications of becoming Bannerless will be revealed to both the characters and the readers.


Bannerless is a fascinating book with a complex world and a compelling protagonist. I am glad Carrie Vaughn is continuing to explore this world in her work, and I look forward to reading her next novel.

Bannerlass, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn

Booklist: Reading Around the World

World Tour Booklist: Reading Around the World

"There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away" — Emily Dickinson

How is your summer going? Any travel? At, we dream of travel but most of our road trips involve visiting our three grandchildren–not that we mind doing that at all! But we do travel in our reading, and we’ve reviewed some books that take us to real places, even if they are fictionally represented. (I apologize to any locations I overlook, as I am “traveling” from my memory of the books.)


Less,  Andrew Sean Greer

Let’s start with a book we reviewed last year. Less begins and ends in the United States, but the protagonist travels around the world, with stops in (among other places) Mexico, Italy, India, and Japan. Greer’s protagonist travels reluctantly, but finds more than he thought he could during his trip.

Book Review: Less,  Andrew Sean Greer


Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitvh Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

As the series title suggests, Rivers of London is predominantly set in the capital of the UK. I love the opening line of book 2 in the series, Moon Over Soho: “It’s a sad fact of modern life that if you drive long enough, sooner or later you must leave London behind.” London itself is almost a character in the books, and to a degree the various rivers in London actually are.

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch



European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, Theodora Goss

The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

Staying in Europe for awhile, we’ve reviewed a thriller and a fantasy that take their heroines on journeys around the continent. European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (the fantasy) goes from London to the continent, hitting Vienna among other locations, while The Swimmer (the thriller) spends much of its time in Sweden but also visits Brussels and some other places.

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, Theodora Goss

Book Review: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander


Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, Mike Dash

Finally in Europe, the non-fiction Tulipomania tells about the tulip craze that bankrupted some afficianadoes in Amsterdam and other cities of the Netherlands. Fortunately we’re beyond such things now…or not.

Book Review: Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, Mike Dash


Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor

Moving south, Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant series Akata Witch and Akata Warrior is set in a modern Nigeria that adds fantasy elements to the culture. The descriptions of Lagos and other parts of Nigeria have one foot set in reality and one foot set in fantasy, and it would be fun to visit and see which elements are recognizable from her vivid settings.

Book Review: Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor


Book Review: The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young, Somini Sengupta

Modern Indian young adults are the focus of Somini Sengupta’s non-fiction The End of Karma. India is a vibrant, growing country which will soon (if it is not already) be the most populous on earth. Knowing more about this country should be a priority for everyone.

Book Review: The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young, Somini Sengupta


Music of the Ghosts, Vaddey Ratner In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner

The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo

Southeast Asia is our final stop for our world tour, with the haunting story of the Khmer Rouge revolution In the Shadow of the Banyan (and the also mesmerizing story from a more modern Cambodia Music of the Ghosts by the same author). Vaddey Ratner’s books about Cambodia evoke a strong sense of place, including the feel of the air and the smell of the flowers. And although it is set decades ago, The Night Tiger brings Malaysia to life in its wonderful pages.

Book Review: Music of the Ghosts, Vaddey Ratner

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner

Book Review: The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo



Where in the world have you traveled through books? What would you recommend to someone who wants to see another country through the pages of a favorite novel? Give us your recommendations in the comments, or on Twitter @scintilla_info.

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go." — Dr. Seuss

World Tour Booklist: Reading Around the World