#FridayReads 2021-05-07 ‘Starr Sign’, ‘Fire Keeper’s Daughter’ and ‘The Khan’

This week’s books are quite diverse. All that they have in common is that they were all published this year, they have striking covers, they’re written by women and each of them has a hook that I couldn’t resist.

The first book is the second instalment in a series about a retired contract killer whose family background brings her into conflict with the Detroit Mob. The second is a First Nation Young Adult story that’s topping the charts. The final one is about the daughter of a Northern England Pakistani crime syndicate boss looking for justice for her murdered father.

I’m hoping for strong voices, some fresh perspectives, diverse characters and writing that keeps me turning the pages.

‘Starr Sign’ by C. S, O’Cinneiede (2021)

I pre-ordered ‘Starr Sign’ because I enjoyed C. S. O’Cinneide‘s two previous books, ‘Petra’s Ghost’ and The Starr Sting Scale’.

‘Petra’s Ghost’ was one of the twelve books I picked for my 2020 Best Reads. It was an emotionally powerful book about guilt and forgiveness. It followed a recently widowed man as he walks the Camino de Santiago. Burdened by guilt over his wife’s death, he begins to doubt his own sanity and we are left to judge how much of his reality we share. It’s wasn’t an easy book to classify (mainstream? horror? thriller? – Yes to all of those, which may explain why my local bookseller had to search three shelves for it when I bought a second copy) but it was accessible, engaging and memorable.

‘Starr Sting Scale’ initially seemed easier to classify. It was a slick, witty, action-packed story about a wise-cracking, female assassin who is trying hard to retire but isn’t quite getting there. But that turned out to be too glib of an assessment. Although it has all those characteristics, the book focused on Candace Starr’s history and the events that made her who she is: a deeply scarred woman, who trusts no one, is comfortable killing for money and thinks that friendship is a consensual delusion that wouldn’t survive under pressure. The Starr Sting Scale of the title measures the amount of pain received from stings from large insects. Candace’s story is one formed by periods of great pain. It was a fun book, with a complicated but plausible plot and a lot of action but when the dust settled, I found I wanted to know more about Candace and what she would do next.

I’m hoping to find out in the second book of the series, ‘Starr Sign’ which takes Candace back to her family, the sources of so much of that pain, and into a confrontation with the Detroit Mob.

‘Fire Keeper’s Daughter’ by Angeline Bouley (2021)

‘Fire Keeper’s Daughter’ must be one of the most heavily promoted Young Adult books in 2021 so far. Its striking cover is everywhere, as are the author interviews. The messages all look good. A new First Nation voice. A contemporary coming-of-age story with accents of thriller and ancient Ojibwe legends and beliefs and staring a strong young woman of mixed-race.

If it works, I’ll be singing its praises as loud as I can. I’m aware though, that sometimes Young Adult novels work well for me and sometimes they just make me feel old.

I’m hoping that I won’t get preached at and that I can believe in and care about the young woman at the centre of the story. If those two things are true, I’ll be in for a good time.


‘The Khan’ by Saima Mir (2021)

As soon as I saw this book, I had to have it. I loved the cover. The opening pages were written in vivid, muscular prose that pulled me right in. The biggest hooks though were the writer and the subject matter.

Saima Mir is a journalist who is often on BBC TV, usually talking about issues that affect British Muslims or the British Pakistani community, or even doing something simple like explaining Ramadan on ‘Good Morning Britain’. So I was intrigued when I found that, for her first novel, she’d written a gritty Yorkshire gangland crime story featuring gangsters in the Pakistani community. It’s a fascinating idea but it’s also likely to be a controversial one.

I went looking for interviews with Saima Mir about her book. The best one I found was at http://www.Dawn.com in an interview entitled ‘The Things We Do To Survive’. where Saima Mir explains what her book is about, saying.:

“At the end of the day, the book is about family and loyalty and it’s about love and the things we have to do to survive when we are not on a level playing field.”

You can find the whole interview here:

I’m looking forward to seeing the world Saima Mir has drawn. I’m hoping it will work as a crime novel and as a novel about life in Britain.

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