Tantalizing Tales — May 2024 — Part Two

It’s the end of May, and while I’ve been able to read twenty-two books so far this month (covered either here or over at CriminalElement.com) there have still been so many gorgeous books that crossed my desk that I haven’t quite been able to fit in yet.

The first of these, and the first I’m hoping to be able to get to, is I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons by Peter Beagle. I definitely feel like I’m letting down Doug, who is a huge Beagle fan, by not immediately dropping everything and diving into this tome, especially since it’s been a dozen years since the fantasy master behind The Last Unicorn last had a book published. Now he’s back with a cozy vengeance, with this charming, whimsical fairy tale about dragons and their reluctant exterminator.

Dragons are common in the backwater kingdom of Bellemontagne, coming in sizes from mouse-like vermin all the way up to castle-smashing monsters. Gaius Aurelius Constantine Heliogabalus Thrax (who would much rather people call him Robert) has recently inherited his deceased dad’s job as a dragon catcher/exterminator, a career he detests with all his heart in part because he likes dragons — feeling a kinship with them — but mainly because his dream has always been the impossible one of transcending his humble origin to someday become a prince’s valet. Needless to say, destiny has something rather different in mind…


The next book I’m burning to dive into is in one of my favorite subgenres, the boarding school mystery. Way before Dark Academia became a thing, I was devouring every book about murderous kids I could get my hands on, spurred by my own traumatic experiences in boarding school. When We Were Silent by Fiona McPhillips is s chilling psychological thriller about a woman whose tragic secondary education experience comes back to haunt her 30 years later, when a high-powered lawyer decides to bring a lawsuit up against the school.

In 1980s Dublin, Louise “Lou” Manson earns a scholarship to Highfield Academy, a private all-girls school. Her attendance, however, is part of a personal plot to expose the deep secrets of sexual assault and cover-ups plaguing the institution. When Lou begins to fall for both the education she is receiving and a classmate, her plans for revenge become complicated. Her time at Highfield comes to an end with a lifeless body sprawled at her feet…

In the present day, Lou is 30 years removed from her dreadful high school experience. She has a career, a family, and a reason to move past what happened to her. But when she’s pulled into the lawsuit against the school, Lou has the opportunity to finally free herself and others by confronting her past, and hopefully discover for once and for all what really happened at Highfield.


Our next selection appeals greatly to my ninja mom heart. Double Tap by Cindy Dees is the high octane second installment of the Helen Warwick series. As an elite assassin for the CIA, Helen was trained to keep a low profile, to blend into the crowd, and to eliminate her targets swiftly, silently and efficiently. But now that she’s retired, Helen is forced to take on a very different and very public role as the proud mother of a rising young politician. At a DC press conference for her son’s campaign, she sees the ominous green light of a gun laser fixed on her son’s head. Her CIA training kicks in and she jumps into action, pushing her son down and saving him from a sniper’s bullet. In that moment, Helen realizes she will never escape the secrets of her past—or the deranged man she thought she killed. For he is still alive—and coming for her family.

His code name is Scorpius. A Russian mole embedded in the CIA, he recruits dangerous sociopaths ejected from the military and trains them to kill on command. None of his CIA colleagues—including Helen Warwick—know his true identity. But when members of his kill team begin to disappear, he realizes his entire operation may be at risk. His greatest threat, Helen Warwick, has agreed to rejoin the CIA to help expose Scorpius after the assassination attempt on her son. She suspects that Scorpius may be one of her colleagues, part of a vast conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of government. And now that her family has been personally targeted, she’s willing to break every rule in the CIA handbook to stop Scorpius and his trained killers. Unless, of course, they kill her first.


The Main Character by Jaclyn Goldis meshes Agatha Christie with the sinister vibes of White Lotus, as a dream vacation turns deadly on the luxurious Orient Express. I freely admit that a large part of the appeal of this book for me is my puzzle-loving brain’s insistence that their are clues hidden in the characters’ unusual names (not that I’ve figured out what they are yet!)

Author Ginevra Ex is famous for her unusual writing style: she hires real people to interview, then fictionalizes their lives into thrillers. Ginerva presents her latest muse, Rory Aronov, an extravagant thank-you gift: a trip on the Orient Express along the Italian coast. But Rory is shocked when her brother, her best friend and her ex-fiancé unexpectedly appear on board—all invited by Ginevra, all hiding secrets.

From Cinque Terre to Positano, Ginevra’s deceptions mount. Could all this have anything to do with Rory’s family heritage in Soviet-era Russia? As the secrets of Rory’s travel companions pile up, Rory fears that not everyone will make it out of this real-life story alive.


In a change of pace from the mysteries I adore comes this next collection of short stories, I’m A Fool To Want You by Argentinian author Camila Sosa Villada, translated from the Spanish by Kit Maude.

In the 1990s, a woman makes a living as a rental girlfriend for gay men. In a Harlem den, a travesti gets to know none other than Billie Holiday. A group of rugby players haggle over the price of a night of sex, and get what they deserve in return. Nuns, grandmothers, children and dogs are never what they seem.

Blurring the line between fantasy and reality, the nine stories here are inhabited by extravagant and profoundly human characters who face an ominous reality in ways as strange as themselves. I’m A Fool To Want You boldly questions assumptions about bodies and community, and shifts the lens through which we perceive gender, sexuality, identity and belonging.


Finally, we have Jack’s Boys by John Katzenbach, an ultra-modern thriller pitting not one but five serial killers against a pair of cynical teenagers and the grandparents who have dark secrets of their own.

Five serial killers who are known to each other only by codename connect through a secure internet location, encrypted and concealed. They’ve dubbed their private chat room Jack’s Special Place, in homage to their ultimate role model, the infamous murderer remembered in dark history as Jack the Ripper. They delight in each other’s crimes, and relish in taunting police around the world with odd clues and deep confusion—the modern version of the Victorian-era killer they emulate. While the original Jack sent letters to Fleet Street papers, they send pictures and online boasts and insults. In this fashion, Jack’s Boys—as they dub themselves—feed on each other’s killings, a private community of death. Arrogant. Conceited. Untouchable.

Until one day they’re hacked.

Insultingly, they’re not tracked down by law enforcement but by two teenagers lying on their bed at home. Each member of the young couple has their own issues, but they’re deeply in love and equally fascinated by the world of the dark web. When they accidentally stumble upon Jack’s Boys in their private space, they do the typical teenage thing: mock the killers unmercifully.

This triggers a landslide of anger and revenge as the killers decide to teach the two teens a lesson in humility and respect for their betters. Caught up in this web of death are the teenage boy’s grandmother—an ICU nurse and former college admissions counselor with her own hidden, murderous history—and grandfather, an ex-Marine still haunted by his time in the Vietnam War. As the web tightens and five killers all emerge from the shadows, this makeshift band of young and old will have to find a way to expose them, defeat them and somehow save their own lives.


Let me know if you’re able to get to any of these books before I do, dear readers! I’d love to hear your opinions, and see if that will help spur me to push any of them higher up the mountain range that is my To Be Read pile!

And, as always, you can check out the list of my favorite books this year so far in my Bookshop storefront linked below!

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/05/31/tantalizing-tales-may-2024-part-two/


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  1. I haven’t dropped everything to read I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons either! But now that you mention it, I just might…

    The cover of the second one totally looks like a Wayward Children novella.

    Jack’s Boys would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!

    1. Haha, I feel less bad about neglecting the Beagle now! My friend Emily is also interested in it: y’all want to bookclub it in maybe two weeks or so?

      I definitely agree about the cover of When We Were Silent, and loled at your description of Jack’s Boys. I just love the idea of bored teenagers crashing their group chat and being infuriatingly dismissive of their skibidi toilet (tho I guess that’s more of a middle school and younger thing while these kids would be Gen Z.) So many good books, so little time!

      1. “So many good books, so little time!”

        To say nothing of the Hugos…


        1. I read one short story! Might be able to take a crack at the podcasts while I’m folding zines, too: that likely won’t spike my anxiety (I hope.)

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