Books We Can’t Wait to Share!
Review by Ann
Reading a Verity Kent mystery is a chance to go back in time, to a unique moment in British history following The Great War. In award-winning author Anna Lee Huber’s new book, Murder Most Fair, it’s been just a year since Armistice, but the war still feels painfully close, its vestiges and traumas still fresh in the mind and spirit. Huber captures the nuances of these feelings – sorrow, loss, fear, and murder.
Huber is skilled at sourcing historical touchstones and events to ground her narratives. Verity’s character is a member of what was a real-life intelligence gathering unit La Dame Blanche, which used women and even children to observe and report enemy movements and developments during World War I. Verity employs her intelligence skills, contacts, and powers of observation to brilliant use in solving complex mysteries. But that part of her life must remain in secret; because of British law, she cannot disclose the important work she has done for her country. Only her war hero husband knows the truth.
In Murder Most Fair, the story highlights the lingering effects of anti-German sentiment. Verity’s beloved Great-Aunt Ilse – a German - has spent years in her war-ravaged home country, and has returned to England to repair her fragile health along with a new young maid, Fraulein Bauer. (Her longtime maid has succumbed to The Spanish Flu.)
Even deep in the bucolic Yorkshire Dales, where she joins Verity’s family for the holidays, Ilse continues to encounter difficulties. Someone has been sending her anonymous threats, and Verity’s Secret Service contacts from her time with La Dame Blanche can only provide unsettling answers. Their arrival is met with a frosty reception. Normally peaceful neighbors are now openly hostile, seeking someone to blame for the devastating losses to their families and their country. When young Fraulein Bauer is found dead, Verity must uncover whether this is anti-German hatred taken to murderous lengths, or whether there is a more personal motive at work. When German-speaking people are spotted on the property, the picture suddenly changes.
Huber expertly pulls you into a murder mystery committed in the dark shadows of war’s end. At Kensington we hope the good folks at Netflix will catch onto Huber’s books for a series!
Review by Steven Zacharius
The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe is a beautifully told historical fiction story featuring the lives of young teenager Madeleine Force and her romance, and then marriage, to the richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor, 29 years older than her. Madeleine, who was part of an upper-class family, although not nearly in the same league as Jack Astor, captured his eye after his scandalous divorce to his first wife.
The story takes you through what becomes of her life in dealing with the paparazzi while they were just dating. The country and media became consumed with anything they could learn about the unusual romance that developed between them. Madeleine had to learn how to deal with the intrusiveness that was thrust upon her, even before her marriage to the wealthy businessman.
The constant pressure of this new lifestyle became too difficult for her to handle and she needed to escape the constant media that shadowed her for their extended honeymoon. The loving couple left their Fifth Avenue mansion to head on a trip to the middle east, where she could relax , find peace, and enjoy her new pregnancy. Unfortunately, the couple decided to cap off the trip with a return voyage on the Titanic.
This beautifully written love story about an unusual couple is a compelling read and will give you a glimpse into the life of the elite in the early 1900’s.
Review by Michaela
At a time when immigration issues dominate the news cycle, acclaimed novelist Suzanne Chazin takes us behind the headlines to explore the hearts and souls of those who bring their dreams to America. Through the eyes of Bronx-born police detective Jimmy Vega, she uses the classic elements of mystery fiction to help us understand and empathize with the single mother who fled gangs in Guatemala, the teenager in threadbare clothing working in a Mexican restaurant while attending school, the undocumented janitor who works long hours to support his family – both those with him in New York and those back home in Central America. In THE FRAGILE EDGE, a sniper attack on a judicial official propels Detective Vega to hunt down a violent criminal who preys on the immigrant community. The Jimmy Vega mystery series has won top reviews for its compassion, insight, and powerful storytelling. If you love a good mystery that packs a powerful punch, check out THE FRAGILE EDGE.
Review by Steven Zacharius
Thrillers are the genre that I devour, generally two per week. But when I had the good fortune to pick up The Second Life of Mirielle West, I was really astounded by the story and the telling of it. I’ve been reading more and more historical fiction lately and I can’t get over the history that I either didn’t know or have forgotten since studying history in high school (admittedly, it was a long time ago).
This story is about the wife of a glamorous movie star in the 1920’s as it becomes shattered when she hears from her physician that she come down with leprosy. That this would happen to someone in the social elite made it even more shocking. Mirielle West is forcibly sent off to Louisiana to the only leper colony is this country. Before I had read this book, I would not have even realized that a leper colony existed at one time in our history.
Arriving at the leper colony, she of course thinks her stature is above everyone else who is quarantined there, but slowly she begins to realize that she is no different from anyone else. Mirielle becomes transformed from socialite to just another ordinary person who may or may not ever be able to leave the leper colony. Treatment for leprosy was experimental, but Mirielle’s personality is transformed as she becomes just another unfortunate victim of this wretched disease while her attitude changes as she transforms into a caring member in the colony.
This book is another wonderful addition to the historical fiction we’ve been publishing. The rich history learned from these beautifully told stories is similar in style to our historical fiction by Ellen Marie Wiseman and Donna Everhart. If you’re a fan of Kristin Hannah’s storytelling, you’ll also enjoy this book.
Review by Esi
I have been recommending The Menopause Manifesto by Dr. Jen Gunter to everyone I encounter. Not only is it informative about this process that so often gets waved away as no more than a phase, but it revealed aspects of our history that I’d never heard before. Placing the biological process of menopause within the societal structures that have shaped our world today is eye-opening, in more ways than one. If you’re curious about menopause, about medical history and misinformation, about how even the words we use shape the experiences we have—then this is the book for you.
Review by Michaela
When two teens go missing while on a school trip, security specialist Jonathan Grave and his team head south of the border – and right into a trap. They’re up against a familiar enemy that’s full of new and relentless plans to bring America to her knees. In the thirteenth installment of John Gilstrap’s award-winning thriller series, the pace is fast, the action is nonstop, and the characters draw you into their winner-takes-all mission. Fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.
Review by Michaela
People often ask me how I can handle the emotional impact of working on true-crime books. They seem to think such violent dramas may scar my psyche. In fact, the opposite is true; I find that the best true-crime books illuminate both the good and the evil in human nature – as well as the many shades of gray within us all. Such is the case with DEATH ON OCEAN BOULEVARD, the new true-crime book by New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother, which takes readers into the twists and turns surrounding two shocking deaths in the exclusive Coronado district of San Diego. The case has all the elements of a media circus. But it’s the people who will draw you into the story: lovely Rebecca Zahau, whose body was found hanging from the balcony of her room in a historic mansion; her millionaire boyfriend, Shaknai, who was already reeling from his toddler son’s catastrophic fall in the home; the families, friends, law enforcement, forensic experts, and others who were caught up in the tragedy. Caitlin Rother takes you behind the headlines and into the heart of an unforgettable true drama.
Review by Kait
Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce follows two storylines—one about Honoree, an ambitious chorus girl in the 1920s, and another about Sawyer, a young man desperate to finish his film thesis in 2015. He believes Honoree holds the key he needs to finally finishing, but as they dive into her past Sawyer will also have to face his own grief and guilt about his sister’s death.
Denny weaves back and forth between the two times, effortlessly taking readers back to the jazz age in Chicago and then emerging back into current times as secrets come to light. And as the novel moves along, she brings together a beautiful story about love, family secrets, history, and the ways people work through grief.
From the moment, I stepped back in time with Honoree, I was hooked and think any reader who loves historical fiction will be too.
Review by Jane
Four words: Feminist Regency Robin Hoods. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what can! The Maidens of Mayhem are a secret society of women dedicated to fighting and advocating for the downtrodden and oppressed in Regency-era London. They seek to rectify social ills and bring justice to those who abuse their power. So what could be better than one of these maidens teaming up with a Duke to search for a missing woman – all the while bringing him down a peg and teaching him to use his privilege for good. Cross-class romance is one of my favorite tropes too so like-minded readers won’t be disappointed on the sizzling chemistry between the hero and heroine!
Review by Ann
Famous Hollywood friendships… before Ben and Matt, Kristin and Maya, and Sophie and Maisie, there was Elizabeth and Monty.
For classic film fans, ELIZABETH AND MONTY pulls off a spectacular feat – it’s both a meaty dual biography and a perfect beach read. This behind-the-scenes look at the famous friendship between Elizabeth Taylor and her frequent film co-star Montgomery Clift is a supremely juicy tell-all by Hollywood biographer Charles Casillo. The book tracks the trajectories of these icons as they go from stars to legends, and how their deep friendship impacted their careers and the lives.
Taylor was a childhood star, appearing in films like National Velvet and Jane Eyre, before transitioning to grown-up roles including the poignant comedy Father of the Bride. Montgomery Clift, considerably older, was a seasoned stage actor before making his Hollywood debut at 25. He had already been nominated for an Academy Award when he was cast alongside Taylor in A Place in the Sun, based on Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. His character, poor, struggling, and already involved in a complicated relationship, falls madly in love with Taylor’s more wealthy character, to tragic ends. The passage in the book where the two newly cast actors meet for the first time is unforgettable – like you’re in the room listening to their conversation!
ELIZABETH AND MONTY does a wonderful job of contrasting the public and often scandalous love life of Taylor, and the private life of Clift. Her torrid romances and multiple marriages splashed across the gossip pages, whereas Clift’s love life had to be kept in the shadows; his homosexuality was actively concealed by the studio machine. They were both tortured by the deeply private pangs of love and emotional pain, while both receiving widespread public and professional accolades. All the while, they made films that were instant classics; “the show must go on.” The book makes you think about what it takes to make it in show business, the elements and powerful people that work their magic behind the scenes, and the dark side of fame and creativity.
Their friendship survived failed marriages, box offices successes and failures, and the horrendous accident that changed their lives forever. ELIZABETH AND MONTY is an unforgettable tale, and a must-read for every film fan.
Review by Larissa
Emmeline Duncan does a lot right with her debut cozy mystery FRESH BREWED MURDER, but nothing compares to her decadent descriptions of coffee. Every time there’s a scene with coffee (of which there are many, since it IS a coffee-themed mystery) you will be thinking about the smell of fresh-roasted coffee beans.
One line, for example: “I poured a few ounces and took a sip, tasting the medium roast with notes of dark berries and spiced dates. Dark roast is my jam, but I could almost switch to this daily. Maybe it was the mix of Bourbon and Caturra beans from a Fair Trade co-op in Guatemala. Or it’s because Harley’s a genius when it comes to roasting coffee beans.” Excuse me while I get up to brew a cup…
Coffee aside, Emmeline Duncan has written an edgier cozy mystery than most. It’s not set in a quaint small town, but in the hip city of Portland, Oregon. The story also doesn’t shy away from the discussion of gentrification and homelessness. It also has a very real look of the highs and lows of starting a business venture. Duncan manages to balance all of these issues simultaneously with the story’s main mystery plot without ever overwhelming the reader.
Most importantly, however, Duncan has created a strong female sleuth and relatable protagonist in Sage Caplin. Readers will love Duncan’s breezy writing, Sage and her adorable coffee cart business “Ground Rules,” her fun business partner Harley, and the quirky characters that get involved in Sage’s life. Of course, it wouldn’t be a cozy mystery without murder, and cozy fans will find themselves with a fast-paced mystery that they won’t be able to put down until the very last page. The mixture of real-world issues, entertaining characters, a cool city setting, and a puzzling murder makes FRESH BREWED MURDER just as complex as one of Sage’s cups of coffee.