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Five picks for May

Cindy Burnett
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WHAT TO READ This month’s selections include a nonfiction book about the Westminster Dog Show, two thrillers, a historical fiction title set in England between the wars, and a sweet story about an unlikely friendship. (Photo: Cindy Burnett)

Buzz Reads is a column about books by reviewer Cindy Burnett. Each month, Cindy recommends five recently or soon-to-be released titles.

Crow Talk by Eileen Garvin (fiction) –  Frankie O’Neill is an ornithologist working to save her dissertation about the spotted owl following trouble with her advisor. When she heads to her family’s summer home on Beauty Bay in the dead of winter, she encounters Anne Ryan, an Irish musician living in the Pacific Northwest. Anne’s 5-year-old son Aiden has stopped speaking, creating a rift for Anne with her husband and his overbearing family. Anne and Frankie’s unexpected friendship develops against the backdrop of life on this remote Pacific Northwest lake and Frankie's elaborate observations of the crows who live around her cottage. Her fascination with crows appeals to Aiden, and the two slowly bond over their shared interest. Garvin weaves in engrossing details about the sophisticated communication of crows and how engaging with the natural world is healing. I loved that each chapter is introduced by a line or two from a birding guide that details the habits and songs of birds and relates to the themes of that particular chapter. Crow Talk is a beautiful story about hope, love, grief, the importance of friendship, and the healing power of nature.

Dogland: Passion, Glory, and Lots of Slobber at the Westminster Dog Show by Tommy Tomlinson (nonfiction)Dogland is enthralling and entertaining as well as thought-provoking and educational. As a longtime dog lover, I was fascinated by some of the questions Tomlinson raises. Are show dogs happy? And what about pet dogs – are they happy? These questions sent the author on a three-year quest to better understand the dog show world and its inhabitants and to gain insight into the relationship between humans and dogs. The result is this delightful book. Dogland mainly follows a champion show dog named Striker as he competes at the Westminster Dog Show in New York, but the author includes how dog shows began, who participates and why, how the relationship between humans and dogs has evolved, and how to evaluate the happiness of dogs. This book will appeal to those who adore their dog(s) and will make a great gift for dog lovers or anyone who likes absorbing nonfiction.

A Game of Lies by Clare Mackintosh (mystery/thriller) - Clare Mackintosh is back with another outstanding thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat. Set in Wales where Mackintosh lives, the story revolves around a reality show filming on Pen y Ddraig Mountain. While the show was billed as a Survivor-styled show, the contestants learn, when filming starts, that not only are they competing for cash, but also to keep each of their very own personal secrets hidden. If another player can guess the truth, the player with the unveiled secret will be eliminated, and his or her secret will be exposed live on the air. A day after the first episode airs, a contestant goes missing, followed by a murder on set. DC Ffion Morgan and her fabulous dog are brought in to solve the case with the help of DS Leo Brady. Mackintosh’s well-crafted characters as well as the stellar sense of place contribute to the strength of the story. This fast-paced thriller also tackles timely topics including society’s obsession with reality TV, how scripted these shows actually are, and social commentary on the lengths people will go to be famous. While this is book two in a series, it can easily be read as a standalone. 

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson (historical fiction) - Helen Simonson’s wonderful new historical fiction novel centers around a group of people in England trying to find their footing following the end of World War I. With the war over and men returning home, women have once again been relegated to the sidelines, and the jobs they held during the war are no longer available to females, often by law according to the War Practices Act. The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club follows numerous individuals living in the seaside town of Hazelbourne as they come to terms with what the return to peace means for them. These characters include a woman who lost her job working on a farm to returning soldiers, a socialite who forms the motorcycle and flying club, her brother who lost his leg in the war, and a German-born, naturalized citizen who was interned on the Isle of Man during the war. As they work to recover from the horrors of war, they realize that life as they knew it has permanently changed and that their country is on the brink of significant transformation. Simonson creates a fascinating glimpse into a drastically shifting world as the reader understands how much more change is coming. 

The Return of Ellie Black by Emiko Jean (mystery/thriller) – Seventeen-year-old Ellie Black leaves a motel party in search of a bathroom and disappears without a trace. Two years later, she’s discovered alone and alive in the woods of Washington State. However, Ellie does not seem like herself and refuses to tell the police where she has been or what happened to her. Detective Chelsey Calhoun is assigned as lead detective on the case, which feels very personal to her since her own sister vanished when they were teenagers. Baffled by Ellie’s refusal to explain where she has been, Chelsey presses Ellie to talk in order to save anyone else who might also be held captive by Ellie’s abductors. This is not a fast-paced thriller; instead, it takes the reader into the minds of the monsters who prey on women and how living in fear can destroy a person’s will. The ending heads in an unexpected direction, which I always appreciate, and this dark, timely, and twisty thriller will appeal to those who enjoy missing persons cases and strong character development. One caveat – it is darker in tone and subject matter than I normally read and the books she has previously written, but I could not put it down.

Editor’s note: Southside Place resident Cindy Burnett also writes our weekly Page Turners column. She hosts the Thoughts from a Page Podcast, is co-creator of the Houston literary event series Conversations from the Page, runs the Instagram account @thoughtsfromapage, and regularly speaks to groups about books.

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