Top 5 Wednesday • Debut Novels

Le thème de cette semaine met en avant le premier roman publié d’un auteur. Quels sont mes cinq préférés ? J’ai essayé de me le limiter à ceux lus depuis le début d’année.

The Lost Apothecary • Sarah Penner

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

The lights of Prague • Nicole Jarvis

In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of otherworldly creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – a secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavice, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek find solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischerová– a widow with secrets of her own.

When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady – a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp, a mischievous spirit known to lead lost travellers to their death, but who, once captured, are bound to serve the desires of their owners.

After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavice that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.

The lost village • Camilla Sten

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened.

But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice:

They are not alone. They’re looking for the truth… But what if it finds them first?

The Miniaturist • Jesse Burton

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

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The Year of the Witching • Alexis Henderson

A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her. 

Top 5 Wednesday • Halfway there!

Je reviens avec le Top 5 Wednesday (et un article en retard). Les thèmes de Juillet ne m’ont guère inspiré, contrairement à ceux d’août. Le premier est Halway there! Il consiste à présenter les cinq meilleurs livres publiés depuis le début d’année. Je ne les ai pas forcément rangés dans un ordre d’appréciation.

Don’t tell a soul – Kristen Miller


J’ai adoré ce roman d’un bout à l’autre. L’ambiance est parfaite, bien dosée avec le suspens. Ce dernier est présent et parfaitement maîtrisé. Impossible de mettre le livre de côté pendant quelques secondes.

Sistersong • Lucy Holland


Un très bon roman sur trois soeurs très différentes. Des jalousies, des drames, le tout sous fond de Bretagne historique et mythique… J’ai vraiment beaucoup aimé et j’ai vraiment envie de lire d’autres ouvrages dans cette veine.

The lost village • Camilla Sten


Un thriller psychologique avec énormément de suspens et de tension. Il est haletant et un vrai page-turner. Il est juste dommage que la fin ne soit pas à la hauteur de mes espérances.

Near the bone • Christina Henry


Christina Henry est une de mes auteurs préférés et chacune de ses nouvelle publications finies entre mes mains. J’avais très envie de découvrir celui-ci et je ne suis pas déçue. Encore un livre avec une ambiance sombre, des passages pas toujours facile. Un autre mythe est exploré.

The Lights of Prague • Nicole Jarvis


Je découvre une nouvelle auteur avec ce roman. Prague est une ville que je rêve de pouvoir visiter, et encore plus après cette lecture. J’ai adoré l’univers, l’ambiance et les personnages. Je serai bien partante pour un deuxième tome.

Sorties VO • Mai 2021

The Radio Operator • Ulla Lenze • Harper Via • 4 mai • 304 pages

At the end of the 1930s, Europe is engulfed in war. Though America is far from the fighting, the streets of New York have become a battlefield. Anti-Semitic and racist groups spread hate, while German nationalists celebrate Hitler’s strength and power. Josef Klein, a German immigrant, remains immune to the troubles roiling his adopted city. The multicultural neighborhood of Harlem is his world, a lively place full of sidewalk tables where families enjoy their dinner and friends indulge in games of chess. 

Josef’s great passion is the radio. His skill and technical abilities attract the attention of influential men who offer him a job as a shortwave operator. But when Josef begins to understand what they’re doing, it’s too late; he’s already a little cog in the big wheel—part of a Nazi espionage network working in Manhattan. Discovered by American authorities, Josef is detained at Ellis Island, and eventually deported to Germany.

Back in his homeland, fate leads him to his brother Carl’s family, soap merchants in Neuss—where he witnesses the seductive power of the Nazis and the war’s terrible consequences—and finally to South America, where Josef hopes to start over again as José. Eventually, Josef realizes that no matter how far he runs or how hard he tries, there is one indelible truth he cannot escape: How long can you hide from your own past, before it catches up with you?

The woman with the blue star • Pam Jenoff • Park Row • 4 mai • 336 pages

1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents amid the horrors of the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous sewers beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. Scorned by her friends and longing for her fiancé, who has gone off to war, Ella wanders Kraków restlessly. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by harrowing true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an emotional testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive. 

Luck of the Titanic • Stacey Lee • G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers • 4 mai • 304 pages

Southampton, 1912: Seventeen-year-old British-Chinese Valora Luck has quit her job and smuggled herself aboard the Titanic with two goals in mind: to reunite with her twin brother Jamie–her only family now that both their parents are dead–and to convince a part-owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus to take the twins on as acrobats. Quick-thinking Val talks her way into opulent firstclass accommodations and finds Jamie with a group of fellow Chinese laborers in third class. But in the rigidly stratified world of the luxury liner, Val’s ruse can only last so long, and after two long years apart, it’s unclear if Jamie even wants the life Val proposes. Then, one moonless night in the North Atlantic, the unthinkable happens–the supposedly unsinkable ship is dealt a fatal blow–and Val and her companions suddenly find themselves in a race to survive.

The shadow in the glass • J.J.A. Harwood • Harper Voyager • 4 mai • 416 pages

Once upon a time Ella had wished for more than her life as a lowly maid. 

Now forced to work hard under the unforgiving, lecherous gaze of the man she once called stepfather, Ella’s only refuge is in the books she reads by candlelight, secreted away in the library she isn’t permitted to enter. 

One night, among her beloved books of far-off lands, Ella’s wishes are answered. At the stroke of midnight, a fairy godmother makes her an offer that will change her life: seven wishes, hers to make as she pleases. But each wish comes at a price and Ella must to decide whether it’s one she’s willing to pay it. 

Madam • Phoebe Wynn • St Martin’s Press • 18 mai • 352 pages

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs—not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor—a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere—than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany • Gwen Strauss • St Martin’s Press • 4 mai • 336 pages

The Nine follows the true story of the author’s great aunt Hélène Podliasky, who led a band of nine female resistance fighters as they escaped a German forced labor camp and made a ten-day journey across the front lines of WWII from Germany back to Paris.

The nine women were all under thirty when they joined the resistance. They smuggled arms through Europe, harbored parachuting agents, coordinated communications between regional sectors, trekked escape routes to Spain and hid Jewish children in scattered apartments. They were arrested by French police, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. They were subjected to a series of French prisons and deported to Germany. The group formed along the way, meeting at different points, in prison, in transit, and at Ravensbrück. By the time they were enslaved at the labor camp in Leipzig, they were a close-knit group of friends. During the final days of the war, forced onto a death march, the nine chose their moment and made a daring escape.

The Cave Dwellers • Christina McDowell • Gallery Scout Press • 25 mai • 352 pages

They are the families considered worthy of a listing in the exclusive Green Book—a discriminative diary created by the niece of Edith Roosevelt’s social secretary. Their aristocratic bloodlines are woven into the very fabric of Washington—generation after generation. Their old money and manner lurk through the cobblestone streets of Georgetown, Kalorama, and Capitol Hill. They only socialize within their inner circle, turning a blind eye to those who come and go on the political merry-go-round. These parents and their children live in gilded existences of power and privilege.

But what they have failed to understand is that the world is changing. And when the family of one of their own is held hostage and brutally murdered, everything about their legacy is called into question.

They’re called The Cave Dwellers.

The lights of Prague • Nicole Jarvis • Titan Books • 18 mai • 416 pages

In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of otherworldly creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – a secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavice, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek find solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischerová– a widow with secrets of her own.

When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady – a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp, a mischievous spirit known to lead lost travellers to their death, but who, once captured, are bound to serve the desires of their owners.

After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavice that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.

The whispering dead • Darcy Coates • Poisoned Pen Press • 4 mai • 256 pages

Homeless, hunted, and desperate to escape a bitter storm, Keira takes refuge in an abandoned groundskeeper’s cottage. Her new home is tucked away at the edge of a cemetery, surrounded on all sides by gravestones: some recent, some hundreds of years old, all suffering from neglect.

And in the darkness, she can hear the unquiet dead whispering.

The cemetery is alive with faint, spectral shapes, led by a woman who died before her time… and Keira, the only person who can see her, has become her new target. Determined to help put the ghost to rest, Keira digs into the spirit’s past life with the help of unlikely new friends, and discovers a history of deception, ill-fated love, and murder.

But the past is not as simple as it seems, and Keira’s time is running out. Tangled in a dangerous web, she has to find a way to free the spirit… even if it means offering her own life in return.

KERR Philip • Prague Fatale (2015)

Berlin, 1942. Bernie Gunther, capitaine dans le service du renseignement SS, est de retour du front de l’Est. Il découvre une ville changée, mais pour le pire. Entre le black-out, le rationnement, et un meurtrier qui effraie la population, tout concourt à rendre la vie misérable et effrayante. Affecté au département des homicides, Bernie enquête sur le meurtre d’un ouvrier de chemin de fer néerlandais. Un soir, il surprend un homme violentant une femme dans la rue. Qui est-elle ? Bernie prend des risques démesurés en emmenant cette inconnue à Prague, où le général Reinhard Heydrich l’a invité en personne pour fêter sa nomination au poste de Reichsprotektor de Bohême-Moravie.


Depuis ma première rencontre avec Philip Kerr et son personnage atypique, Bernie Gunther, cette série reste une des rares qui a su garder ma fidélité. Déjà huit tomes de lus pour onze de parus et jamais je m’en suis lassée. Qu’est-ce qui peut expliquer qu’au bout de tant de livres, je reviens toujours vers cet auteur et son détective ? Pour ma part, je continue à lire dans l’ordre de parution et non dans un quelconque ordre chronologique. L’auteur avance ou recule dans le temps au fil des livres, mais sans pour autant qu’elle soit impossible à reconstruire. Dans Prague Fatale, il s’intéresse à ce que son personnage a fait durant les premières années de guerre.

Il doit exister une recette « Philip Kerr » qui réussit à tous les coups. Pour moi, le premier ingrédient magique est le mélange entre la réalité et la fiction qui est exécuté d’une manière absolument parfaite. Il est toujours difficile de savoir où s’arrête l’une et où commence l’autre. Si j’ai conscience que Bernie Gunther est un personnage fictif, il y a parfois d’autres protagonistes, plus secondaires généralement, où la question peut être légitimement posée. Il m’arrive quelques fois de faire des recherches, par pure curiosité pour découvrir qu’il ou elle a réellement existé ou non.

Lire un Philip Kerr, c’est aussi l’impression d’apprendre de nouvelles choses sur la Seconde Guerre mondiale alors que je pensais avoir fait le tour depuis longtemps. Derrière chaque roman de la série, il y a un incroyable travail de recherches qui permet de faire revivre la société nazie à différentes périodes de son existence ou ses principaux dirigeants. Dans Prague Fatale, il s’intéresse aux premières années de guerre et les quelques mois avant l’assassinat de Reinhard Heydrich, le Reichsprotektor de Bohême-Moravie. Le temps d’un tome, une ambiance glaçante est mise en place car il est véritablement décrit comme une personne froide et calculatrice, à qui personne ne peut faire confiance. Même en tant que lectrice, je n’avais pas très envie de le voir apparaître. Je n’avais plus ressenti cela depuis un autre tome où Philip Kerr faisait croiser le chemin de son détective avec celui de Joseph Mengele. Il y avait également un travail fantastique réalisé sur l’ambiance.

Une autre constante est la qualité d’écriture et de l’intrigue, notamment lorsqu’il s’agit de retranscrire les émotions des personnages et leurs caractères, donnant ainsi plus d’épaisseur à ces derniers et de réalisme à l’intrigue. Bernie Gunther est toujours un des personnages que je préfère avec son humour noir et son ironie. Il n’a pas sa langue dans sa poche et dans Prague Fatale, c’est l’une des rares fois où il reste silencieux. Pour des lecteurs qui le connaissent bien, cela renforce l’ambiance lourde de ce tome. Nous ne sommes pas devant n’importe quel officier de la SS et j’ai d’autant plus l’impression de côtoyer les différents personnages au côté de l’ancien policier.

De plus, l’intrigue policière est menée d’une main de maître d’un bout à l’autre. Parfois, Philip Kerr met en place plusieurs enquêtes policières et c’est le cas dans ce huitième tome. Entre celle menée par Bernie Gunther à Berlin, puis une autre ordonnée par Heydrich, il y a une autre enquête menée par la Gestapo qui recherche des terroristes tchèques… Premièrement, je ne me suis pas emmêlée les pinceaux car l’auteur arrive parfaitement à les intégrer dans l’intrigue et elles trouvent toutes plus ou moins une fin. En deuxième lieu, Philip Kerr garde à l’esprit que l’histoire doit rester plausible, comme si elle aurait pu réellement avoir eu lieu. Il reste toujours une dimension réaliste dans chacun de ses livres. Il n’y a pas toujours de coupables ou, comme c’est parfois le cas, Bernie Gunther trouve le coupable mais ce dernier ne sera jamais inquiété par la justice dans la mesure où cela n’arrange pas le pouvoir en place. Le cadre de l’intrigue est un régime politique totalitaire où la notion même de justice est biaisée.

Toutefois, ce que je retiens de ce Prague Fatale, ce sont les influences de l’auteur. Outre le fait que j’adorerai connaître les ouvrages dont Philip Kerr s’inspire pour construire sa série, cette huitième enquête menée par Bernie Gunther n’est pas sans rappeler les romans d’Agatha Christie, transposés dans la société du Troisième Reich. C’est un peu incongru, mais clairement revendiqué, même par le coupable du crime. Au final, cet emprunt fait au classique de la littérature policière fonctionne à merveille dans ce contexte et j’y ai vu un bel hommage aux maîtres du genre, faisant de ce tome un de ceux que j’ai préféré… Même s’ils sont tous incroyablement bons.

Philip Kerr reste une très bonne référence pour les romans policiers historiques. Ce sont des oeuvres de qualité sur tout un tas d’aspects différents : l’écriture, l’intrigue, les recherches documentaires pour donner plus de réalisme. Prague Fatale est déjà le huitième tome, mais je me réjouis de savoir qu’il m’en reste encore à lire. Une des dernières raisons faisant que je continue est qu’il n’y a jamais de redondances. Je n’ai, pour le moment, jamais eu l’impression de lire toujours la même chose et je croise les doigts pour que ça continue ainsi. L’auteur aborde toujours des points différents de l’histoire et de la vie de son personnage principal. Il arrive à me passionner à chaque fois et j’en redemande. Encore un tome qui s’est lu en un claquement de doigts.