Books We Can’t Wait to Share!

Review by Ann Pryor: Senior Communications Manager

Almost three decades ago, Scott Lenga sat down with his father, Harry, and they talked about Harry’s life: how he and his three brothers had grown up in a Polish community, how the family was moved to a Jewish ghetto, then the three brothers shuttled together from one slave labor camp and concentration camp after the other during World War II.  They survived them all, including Auschwitz.

Mr. Lenga then transcribed the recordings and spent seven years turning them into a chronological monologue of his father’s own words, relating the Lenga family’s journey from Poland through the War to their liberation in 1945, and then onto St. Louis. The result is The Watchmakers, an extraordinary story of resilience, tenacity, faith, and the unique horological skills of his father and uncles that carried them through the War.

How did they survive? First, they made a vow never to be parted, in life or in death. Second, they were craftsmen bound together by the art, science, and mastery of watchmaking. This skill gave them a hand they could play to influence their fate. Plundered watches were pilfered, coveted and traded by German overseers in the black-market economy of the camps. The vast majority of watchmakers in Poland were Jews. Many of them would have been older men, or killed, or without the tools or personality traits to function in the oppressive labyrinth of the camp economy. Harry Lenga and his brothers were young men with skills, tools, and an entrepreneurial spark that would prove to bind them together and save their lives through the horrors of The Holocaust.

The power of Harry’s vow to survive was so powerful, so astonishing and steadfast, that it is rippling out through time, passing from to his son to this book, through me and onto you, the reader. Harry still has the power to instill hope and resilience. There’s a moment in THE WATCHMAKERS where Harry has everything to lose, and in an extraordinary moment, he casts his fate to the wind. I promise that when you come to this moment, you’ll hold your breath like I did.

 

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Review by Barbara Bennett: General Counsel

Amanda Skenandore writes well-researched historical novels with compelling characters facing tough challenges.  In THE NURSE’S SECRET, grifter and petty thief Una Kelly is barely scraping by as she picks pockets and steals trinkets that she can quickly sell for cash.  When she arrives in a dark alley to meet a potential fence for some the items she has stolen, she instead witnesses his murder and finds herself the prime suspect.  Una needs to lay low and avoid all the places the police might look for her, but she also must find a place to live and a way to survive.

When Una learns that Bellevue Hospital is training young ladies to be professional nurses, the program is the perfect answer to her dilemma.  All she needs to do is pass the interview and convince the program’s administrators that she is an educated, well-bred young lady; here, her grifter background stands her in good stead, and her interviewers believe that she is exactly who she claims to be.  Una is accepted into the program, and she finds that she enjoys the experience and is quite good at the practical aspects of caring for patients.

When Una notices that the deaths of several people at Bellevue (one of whom she knows from her grifter days) and the murder of the fence in the alley have some disturbing similarities, she investigates the circumstances of these deaths.  This scrutiny causes her former life and current life to collide, placing her in great danger and jeopardizing both her future in nursing and the romantic relationship she has been building with one of Bellevue’s doctors.

The indomitable Una is a fascinating character, and her story is engaging and powerful.  I’ve loved Amanda Skenandore’s previous books, and THE NURSE’S SECRET is another winner!

 

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Review by Kait Johnson: Assistant Social Media Manager

When Abigail inherits a treasure map and piece of gold from her grandfather, she finds herself pulled into an exciting but dangerous adventure. Because someone else is after the map. With the help of Gage Logan (a handsome professional treasure Hunter) she plans to uncover the treasure her grandfather was searching for before he died.

 

I was sold the minute I saw the treasure hunting aspect. Plus, the romance. Gage and Abigail are an exciting and passionate duo from the get-go, and I immediately couldn’t wait to uncover the story with them. If you love anything to do with maps, hidden treasures, and adventure this is one to check out.

 

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Review by Michaela Hamilton: Executive Editor

Thriller fans, this one’s for you.  Hostage rescue specialist Jonathan Grave is back in John Gilstrap’s newest release, LETHAL GAME.  Fans of the series know they can expect a high level of excitement from any Gilstrap novel.  For anyone new to the series, feel free to jump in, as every Jonathan Grave thriller can be read as a stand-alone.  As the story opens, Jonathan and his longtime friend Boxers are on a hunting trip in Montana when they come into a sniper’s crosshairs.  Their vehicle has been stolen. They’re cut off from all communication.  It’s getting dark, and the temperatures are sub-freezing.  But their adversaries have seriously underestimated this battle-hardened duo.  The ensuing action pits Grave and Boxers against high-level corruption and an international criminal conspiracy. Spoiler alert – the good guys win – and readers are in for a roller-coaster ride.

 

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Review by Barbara Bennett: General Counsel

“Hours into London’s most poorly attended ball, not a single gentleman had asked Lady Diana Harper to dance.”

When I read that first sentence of A DUKE FOR DIANA by Sabrina Jeffries, the first book in the new “Designing Debutantes” trilogy, I knew I was going to adore this book.  I wanted to get to know Diana.  I wondered why she was at a ball that very few others had attended, and why, even with such a sparse crowd, nobody had bothered to ask her to dance.  And as I devoured this book, I learned what a delightful lady Diana is, how unfairly she and her sisters have been treated by the ton because of things their parents did, and how the indomitable Harper sisters have forged their own path and are supporting themselves (and making significant contributions to several charities) by running Elegant Occasions, a successful party planning business.

Diana and her sisters Eliza and Verity, who are selective about the clients they take on, are both intrigued and confused by Geoffrey Brookhouse, who has recently and unexpectedly inherited from a distant relative the dukedom of Grenwood.  Geoffrey hires Elegant Occasions to plan his sister Rosabel’s debut and help her find a suitable husband.  Geoffrey is hiding a dark family secret, and he wants to ensure that “Rosy” will be protected and cared for by a respectable husband of means.

Diana handles matters of fashion for Elegant Occasions, and in addition to steering Rosy to styles and colors that accentuate her positive attributes, she encourages Geoffrey to abandon his country attire and begin dressing like a duke.  Diana is also the business mind of the enterprise, handling negotiations and dealing with their clients.  While Geoffrey is intrigued by Diana’s excellent instincts and inner strength and bewitched by her beauty, he believes that he cannot marry or even have a relationship until he solves the possibly disastrous problem posed by the ominous secret he has been afraid to share with anyone.

Innocent Diana isn’t sure she wants to marry, even if she can attract someone who will overlook her family’s unseemly past, but she is curious about the passion men and women can experience in a marital relationship.  Can Geoffrey help with her research?  As Diana and Geoffrey are increasingly drawn to each other, they must figure out what’s most important to them and learn to trust each other with their deepest secrets and most fervent hopes.

As I expected, I just loved this book!  I can’t wait for the next installment of the trilogy, which will see Diana’s sister Eliza finding love!

 

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Review by Larissa Ackerman: Senior Communications Manager, Cozy Mysteries, Historical Mysteries, Suspense, Crime Fiction

I don’t think that I can describe Amanda Flower’s latest Amish Matchmaker Mystery, Marriage Can Be Mischief, any better than this new review from Mystery Scene Magazine: “Flower has that special sparkle that some writers possess—that magical quality that makes the plot, characters, and setting fly through your reading fingers as fast as you can turn the pages. She makes her situations and characters truly come to life with a depth of emotion behind her characters that make them memorable.” If you’re a fan of her Amish Candy Shop Mysteries, then you’ll really love Millie and Co. from the Amish Matchmaker Mysteries—both series take place in Harvest, Ohio, the fictional town that Flower created. You’ll love amateur sleuth Millie, her best friend Lois, and—because it’s not truly an Amanda Flower cozy mystery without an adorable animal sidekick—Millie’s two rambunctious Boer goats, Phillip and Peter!

 

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Review by Barbara Bennett: General Counsel

Two widows are drawn together by happenstance and circumstance in this moving novel set in New Orleans in 1900.  Constance Halstead has set out to uncover her husband’s secrets, especially the reasons for his repeated demands for more and more of her money, which the Napoleonic Code prevents him from accessing without her consent.  And Alice Butterworth, who grew up in a prairie family, then moved to Chicago to make her way in the world, finds herself in New Orleans, alone, pregnant, and searching for the husband who has disappeared, seemingly abandoning her.

Alice, a very talented seamstress and designer, is teaching sewing skills to girls in a local orphanage when she is asked to design a Mardi Gras gown for Constance.  The collaboration between Alice and Constance fosters a deep friendship as they share their ideas for the gown and watch as it is created by Alice’s talented hands.  And as they, along with Constance’s housekeeper Analee, love and nurture Constance’s daughters and await the arrival of Alice’s child, a sisterhood is formed, and an unusual, wonderful family is created.

The story twists and turns as secrets are uncovered, and as Constance and Alice lean on each other, they find the inner strength that will sustain them as they move forward in a sometimes-dangerous city and a rapidly changing world.

 

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Review by Steven Zacharius : President & CEO

Cold Snap is the 4th  book in the fast-paced  Arliss Cutter series, featuring Deputy US Marshal Arliss Cutter and Lola Teariki, battling the brutal forces of nature in the Alaskan wilderness at the same time as trying to solve a murder and dealing with rugged maniacal felons.

The story begins when body parts start washing up on the Alaskan Coast and the police realize that they have a serial killer that is picking up the pace of his killings.  Most of the action takes place when Arliss is assigned to a routine transport assignment of four dangerous prisoners in a small prop plane that runs into trouble in treacherous weather in remote Alaska.  He has to try and survive while guarding the prisoners, until they can be rescued, because one of the prisoners has torched the plane.  With no way of making it to civilization, and no supplies left, coupled with conditions that are uninhabitable without food and shelter; it becomes a tale of man versus nature.

If you’re a fan of C J Box’s thrillers that take place in the outdoors in Wyoming, you’ll absolutely tear through Marc’s stories of the treacherous countryside and beauty of Alaska.  As a former US Marshall in Alaska, Cameron is uniquely equipped to write these stories, that are thrillers, but give you a real in-depth look at what it takes to be able to survive in the frigid weather of Alaska.

All of the Arliss Cutter books are standalone novels.  #1 New York Times bestselling author, Mark Greaney, says “Cameron’s books are riveting page-turners”, and I couldn’t agree more.

 

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Review by Kristin McLaughlin: Assistant Digital Marketing Manager

THE SECRETS WE SHARE tells a complicated and interwoven story of two sisters and a disastrous night long ago that follows them for twenty years. Even though their childhood may have appeared normal, nothing is quite what it and seems, and when young Glenn and Natalie’s father is discovered dead in the woods behind their home, this fateful night changes the course of their lives forever.  Just what happened that tragic evening and why? A shared secret will shock you.

Edwin Hill writes a complex and powerful book about what it means to be family and the lengths people will go to ensure that secrets remain hidden. I enjoyed every second of this book and guessed the ending wrong about one million times. If you enjoy a twisty suspense novel full of developed characters and great pacing, this is your next read!

 

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Review by Michaela Hamilton: Executive Editor

What could be a worse nightmare than the experience of an innocent person who is wrongly convicted of a crime and imprisoned? Innocence litigator Valena Beety takes readers into the heart of one of today’s top issues in her new book, Manifesting Justice: Wrongly Convicted Women Reclaim Their Rights. Drawing on her years of experience as a litigator, founder of the West Virginia Innocence Project, and board member of the national Innocence Network, Beety shows readers how and why things go wrong – and what we must do to protect the rights of the accused.  Mixing personal stories of actual cases with thoughtful analysis, Manifesting Justice offers solutions and inspiration. With helpful discussion questions at the end, this is a book that is sure to spark conversation.

 

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Review by Barbara Bennett: General Counsel

Honey Creek, Texas is a charming small town inhabited by people who are kind and caring … and sometimes lonely.

McCoy Mason arrives in Honey Creek jobless, abandoned by his fiancée, and recovering from an injury.  He stays with his curmudgeonly grandfather and spends his time making repairs to the badly neglected house.  He also helps his grandfather fight off developers who have their eye on his land. McCoy has never been successful in relationships, but when the town veterinarian catches his eye, he wonders whether his luck might be changing.

Jessica “Jam” Mackenzie runs a lovely and successful café in town.  While she serves romantic dinners to the town’s couples, she has been unlucky in love herself, and she thinks she will never find a special someone to fill the empty spaces in her heart.  But when Sergeant Tucson Smith saves a young woman who has fallen into the river and he and Jam try to identify her and help her recover, they are drawn to each other in ways neither of them expected.

Senior citizen Charles Winston lives a very orderly and predictable life.  He has a regular lunch date at Jam’s café with three local ladies.  When he decides to try for something more with one of the ladies, the very proper Lilly Lambert, he might upend his cherished routine, or he might find something much better.

The vividly drawn town and its kind but quirky residents are entertaining and heartwarming.  I’m looking forward to the next book in this delightful series, and I can’t wait to revisit Honey Creek!

 

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Review by Ann Pryor: Senior Communications Manager

What’s all the buzz about bees?  There are viral videos of people wearing beards made of bees; sticking their bare hands in hives; ASMR videos of drizzling honey; and delicious slow-motion shots of bumblebees in flight. All that bee love is warranted. Scientists have been cautioning humans to protect and save the bees, from banning neonicotinoids, planting pollinator gardens and trees, setting out bee baths, to serving as educators, and becoming beekeepers themselves.

Timed to Earth Day 2022, BEE PEOPLE AND THE BUGS THEY LOVE is a valentine to the beautiful honey bee, and the seemingly quirky people who serve as their stewards. This perfectly constructed, funny, thoughtful, and insightful book takes you on Frank Mortimer’s journey from hobbyist to Master Beekeeper.  “Frank the Bee Man” bumbles and stumbles as he learns to cultivate bees, attending to and growing their colonies, and aiding them in honey production. As he gains confidence and experience, he finds that bee people are a unique community, not bound by any defining trait except their love and passion for bees. At first glance, they seem positively wacky, but they should be as prized and revered as the bees themselves. Bee people are everywhere!

The book swarms warms with buzzy facts about beekeeping and beekeepers.  Bees require commitment, practice, attention, and following the advice of more experienced beekeepers – which many “new-bees” fail to do.  As Mortimer takes his obsession to the next level on his way to becoming a certified Bee Person, his world quickly expands.  His affinity for bees naturally extends to planting native bee blooms in his backyard, understanding how bees communicate (pro tip: watch their waggling bee butts), and following the unbreakable rules of beekeeping, gleaned over millennia.

If you’re curious about the honey at your grocery store or farmer’s market; the hives in your neighbor’s yard, local farm, rooftop, or botanical garden; if you want to plant a pollinator garden this spring or learn the relationship between flowers, trees, bees, honey, and the food on your table; if you know a bee person or want to be (bee!) one…. BEE PEOPLE will inspire you.

 

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Review by Michaela Hamilton: Executive Editor

There are many pleasures to be had in Nancy Coco’s cozy mysteries. Of course, like all cozies, they provide certain basic comforts – a cute and compelling heroine (in this case, Wren Johnson) with an intriguing profession (proprietor of a shop devoted to honey products), adorable pets (Havanese brown cats!), a quaint setting (a resort town in coastal Oregon), and yummy recipes (be sure to try the Apple Honey Cake!). A MATTER OF HIVE AND DEATH offers something extra that I found really special. It takes readers into the lives of beekeepers and their precious swarms, which are so crucial to the health of our planet and every living creature on it. From hive maintenance to bee behavior, honey production to harvesting, Nancy Coco skillfully weaves fascinating details into the storyline so that as you enjoy the mystery, you are also learning. I hope you’ll enjoy A MATTER OF HIVE AND DEATH as much as I did.

 

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Review by Barbara Bennett: General Counsel

In A LIGHT BEYOND THE TRENCHES, Alan Hlad has crafted an interesting, intelligent, and inspiring story.  Anna is a nurse who’s caring for Germany’s WWI wounded soldiers.  Although she is far from talented at the medical aspects of nursing, she’s very empathetic and nurturing, and it’s these qualities that see her being tapped to work at a new facility where dogs are being trained as service animals for blinded soldiers who are returning from the front.  At first, Anna is just caring for the shepherd dogs, but it soon becomes apparent that she’s very gifted when it comes to working directly with the veterans, helping them bond with their dogs and teaching the soldiers and dogs how to work together.  This is how Anna meets Max, a blinded soldier who was a talented pianist and composer before the war.  Because the facility had a difficult time finding lodging for Max (he is Jewish and nobody wanted to house him), he is living with Anna and her clockmaker father, Norbie, in their modest apartment above Norbie’s workshop.  The three develop a wonderful camaraderie as they navigate wartime hardships.

Anna’s chemist fiancé Bruno is in the German army, and unbeknownst to Anna, Bruno has been recruited to work on deploying chemical weapons, which cause gruesome, painful deaths.  Bruno struggles with his conscience, as well as with the knowledge that his family business, which in peacetime manufactures inks and dyes, is currently making a fortune from the production of the chemicals being used in these weapons.  He also grapples with whether to tell Anna exactly what he has been doing for the German army; while he doesn’t want to keep secrets from her, he is certain she will not understand or accept the terrible truth.

Although Max’s hearing was damaged in the war, Anna helps him return to playing the piano and composing music, giving him new purpose and bringing him joy.  Together, they produce a beautiful piece of music, with Max playing the notes and Anna writing the notes on musical staff paper.  And during the day, Anna works at the school with Max and his devoted service dog, Nia, whom Anna had helped recover from wounds sustained during her time as an ambulance dog at the front.

When Anna learns what Bruno’s military service entailed, she is horrified.  And when Max’s fiancée Wilhelmina gets a tiny taste of what her future would be like with a permanently disabled Max, she decides not to stick around.  We’ve seen how wonderful Anna and Max are together, how they bring out the very best of each other, and we root for them to wind up together.

Anna and Max’s story is uplifting and beautiful.  The details of chemical warfare and the training of service dogs are meticulously researched.  A LIGHT BEYOND THE TRENCHES is a wonderful and moving book and I recommend it to historical fiction lovers, and to anyone who loves a vividly emotional wartime story.

 

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Review by Michaela Hamilton: Executive Editor

What if the world as we know it came to a fiery end, and only a few survivors were left to make new lives in the devastated landscape that is left? That is the intriguing premise of John Gilstrap’s new Victoria Emerson thriller series. The launch novel, Crimson Phoenix, drew rave reviews for its dramatic story of a former congresswoman and her family, as they strive against the odds to create a viable society in a small West Virginia town.  Now comes the second book in the series, Blue Fire, which takes its characters deeper into the challenges of survival.  Amid battling warlords, desperate foragers, and other deadly threats, Victoria’s natural leadership abilities put her at the forefront of a fight to rekindle American democracy.  Thriller fans will not want to miss this nail-biting what-if novel.

 

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Review by Ann Pryor: Senior Communications Manager

When society becomes increasingly conformist and authoritarian, the most dangerous thing you can do is adhere to your own beliefs. This theme drives the terrifying tension in the new period thriller BLACKOUT, set during the lead-up to World War II, where Hitler is laying the groundwork for his Nazi state. British bestselling author Simon Scarrow’s portrayal of the pervasive dread and fear of that time – with a murder mystery layered on top - made my palms sweat.

As winter approaches, Berlin has been plunged into a deep freeze. Temperatures have plummeted, coal is scarce, and the cold is deadly. But there’s another, more dangerous freeze – panic and paranoia have spread like a virus as blackouts are rigidly enforced.  The Germans have crushed Poland, and the Nazis grip the public into compliance with a combination of propaganda, constant surveillance, and fear darker than any blackout. Every night the city becomes a cloaked and dangerous place where violence could strike from any hidden corner.

Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke of Berlin’s Kriminalpolizei has been tasked with solving the murder of a film star who has connections to the highest ranks of the Nazi party. His experience is invaluable to the force, but his views of The Fuhrer and The Third Reich are continually at odds with the growing power of the Nazis. Having refused to apply for the SS, Schenke is isolated in his moral clarity, his political beliefs, and his authority.

Schenke’s enemy isn’t simply the killer roaming under cover of night, but the investigation itself, which takes him deeper into the regime’s darkest corridors, and into a deadly struggle between duty and the Nazis’ growing decree for total obedience. He’s precariously on the right side of the law – for now. Then another body turns up. Now he has to navigate between finding the murderer and protecting himself from the same fate.

Meticulously researched and utterly terrifying, BLACKOUT sets a new gold standard for period thrillers, with the Scarrow’s signature research and foreboding atmosphere. Read this one with the lights on!

 

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Review by Kait Johnson: Assistant Social Media Manager

Donna Everhart’s newest historical novel takes readers into the pine forests of Georgia and explores the lives of three individuals working in a turpentine camp called Swallow Hill. Each character has their own troubles, but throughout the novel they begin to form deep friendships and find hope. For Rae Lynn Cobb, Swallow Hill is her only hope when she flees her home after a terrible incident. She disguises herself as a man and plans to hide out in the turpentine camp. But Swallow Hill proves to be a harsh environment.

Donna truly draws readers into this world with vivid details and explores the beautiful relationships between Rae Lynn, Del Reese, and Cornelia Riddle. Personally, I had not heard about turpentine camps before reading THE SAINTS OF SWALLOW HILL, and this was an engaging read that showed me a slice of American history during the Great Depression.

 

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Review by Justine Willis: National Accounts Sales Director

OMG!!! I read this last night and I think this is her best book yet. Loved, loved, loved it. Readers are sure in for a treat!

This is a book and series that deserves to be on readers' “keeper” shelves and re-read often.

I can’t wait till Rebecca turns in book 2.

 

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Review by Michaela Hamilton: Executive Editor

Pet lovers, rejoice! Kristin von Kreisler is back with another of her wonderful novels about the power of dogs to improve and transform our lives.  Hope, a yellow lab, is a courthouse dog. Her job is to comfort and reassure people under stress—survivors and witnesses of terrible crimes who must testify about their traumatic experiences.   For bookmobile librarian Tessa Jordan, Hope’s warm presence brings the reassurance she needs—as well as a friendship, and perhaps more, with an unexpected ally. Fans of An Unexpected Grace and Earnest will again be caught up in Kristin von Kreisler’s incomparable storytelling skills as she portrays the deep connections between humans and canines.

 

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