Books We Can’t Wait to Share!

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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Review by Michaela

Do you like to sip a nice cup of English tea – or even indulge in a bit of bubbly -- while you enjoy a clever mystery? If you like your cozies with a British accent, you’ll go bonkers for the Daisy Thorne mystery series by Louise R. Innes.  Daisy’s a hairdresser, you see, so she’s got the inside line on everything that happens in her village in leafy Surrey, England.  Daisy made her debut in Death at a Country Mansion, which quickly rose to become a bestseller. Now she’s got to solve the murder of a customer found dead as a mullet, right on her doorstep.  She’ll comb through the clues and do-or-dye her best to get to the roots of the case!

 

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Review by Ann

Three teenagers, feeling stifled, overwhelmed, and powerless against forces beyond their control, took matters into their own hands…

Three Ordinary Girls is the incredible, true story of two sisters, Freddie and Truus, and their red-haired friend Hannie, who were still teenagers when the Royal Dutch Army surrendered to the Germans. Overnight, their lives changed.  Nazis began to take away the jobs, belongings, and homes of the Jewish community. Finally the Jews started to disappear.

These rebellious, brave teenagers refused to sit passively and watch evil consume their world. At the same time as another extraordinary girl, Anne Frank, and her family were going into hiding only miles away in Amsterdam, the girls started out doing small, but dangerous jobs. They passed out illegal newspapers and anti-Nazi literature.  They lifted German ID cards so they could be counterfeited.

Word got out about these extraordinary girls – they were valuable to The Resistance.  They agreed to more dangerous missions that they would have to keep secret from their families: Ferrying Jewish children to safeguard locations. Stockpiling weapons. Detonating bombs. Intelligence-gathering. Spying. Sabotage. Murder. Referred to as “James Bond on bicycles,” they performed incredible acts of bravery with a courage and pluck usually displayed by professionally trained soldiers.

Sacrifice means giving up, or surrendering, something for the sake of something else.  These girls will make you think about what belief, what cause, who to you, is worth sacrificing for.  How far would you go for the greater good?

 

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Review by Barbara

I love this book so much!  After I read Kate Clayborn’s first rom com, LOVE LETTERING, I absolutely couldn’t wait for her next book, and LOVE AT FIRST did not disappoint!  The writing is engaging and beautiful, almost rhythmic; the story draws the reader in immediately; and her characters are vibrant, delightful and quirky.  In the prologue, we learn that Will, the nearsighted hero, fell for the heroine, Nora, from a distance when they were teenagers, when he couldn’t see her and all he knew of her was the sound of her voice and her bubbly, joyous laugh.  Now, years later, they actually meet, and while there is definite attraction and chemistry, circumstances complicate their relationship.  They both had self-involved parents who didn’t nurture them as children or teach them how to build a loving relationship, and as adults, Will and Nora are uncertain and emotionally unprepared to take the next step together. They must evaluate their priorities, let go of old resentments, and figure out what’s really important to them.  Ultimately, the eccentric secondary characters help Will and Nora reconcile their differences and find their way; sometimes the charming supporting cast does this with intention and calculated purpose, and other times what they say and do as they navigate their own tumultuous lives serves as an example to our hero and heroine.  Unsurprisingly, Kate Clayborn has delivered again, and now I find myself waiting impatiently for her next delicious treat!

 

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Review by Elizabeth

Over the Holidays, like seventy million or so other households, I binge- watched Bridgerton. It’s a bit surreal and exciting to see the genre we romance afficionados have known about for years reach millions of fresh eyes across the world.

But while there was a lot I loved about the series, including the progressive casting, creative sets and costumes, and strong female characters. I was definitely reminded of some of the tropes that have pulled me away from Regency Romance in the last few years: namely the glorification of toxic relationships.

Leaving behind the trope of fetishizing a ‘bad romance’ has been something the genre has struggled with for a long time. And it’s something that was in the forefront of my mind when I edited The Wallflowers of West Lane series by A.S. Fenichel.

This series focuses on four best friends. They call themselves The Wallflowers of West Lane, reclaiming a misogynistic pejorative as their calling card. And they will let no man get in their way. When one in their group finds herself in an abusive marriage, at a time when women’s rights were at a historical low point, the other three vow never to let the same fate befall another one of their clan. Thankfully, Aurora, the character in the toxic marriage is conveniently widowed. (And to know more about that, you’ll just have to read the series J)

But that doesn’t stop The Wallflowers from looking out for each other, like reverse wing women, when one of them gets a suitor, the others do their due diligence to make sure he is really the worthy husband their friend deserves. And if that due diligence sometimes means espionage, kidnapping, and blackmail, well so be it.

One thing I love about this series is the emphasis it puts on female friendships and women supporting each other, without competition, frenemies, or the catty competition tropes longtime readers of the genre are familiar with.

So, while the world searches for something to tide them over until Bridgerton 2.0, let me recommend The Wallflowers of West Lane series. And, if you still aren’t convinced that this series is a Regency Romance that will turn the stale tropes on their head…Capturing the Earl has a Regency heroine who plays the guitar.

 

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Review by Michaela

Hello, my fellow thriller fans! Did you hear about the new series that John Gilstrap is launching this year?  Don’t worry, he will continue writing his fabulous Jonathan Grave series, now in its fourteenth book and counting. But he’s also writing a second series with different characters, fresh plot elements, and all the excitement you’d expect in a John Gilstrap book. The first book in the new series, CRIMSON PHOENIX, is being released as a hardcover in March to an avalanche of rave reviews and reader comments. The protagonist is Victoria Emerson, a Congressional representative from West Virginia who, with her teenage sons, is among the lucky survivors of a nuclear war. In its aftermath, Victoria must lead her family, her community – and ultimately, her country – into a new future. CRIMSON PHOENIX comes out this month and includes a fascinating, highly personal Author’s Note in which Gilstrap explains the nonfiction background that inspired his new fiction series.  No spoilers but you may find yourself brushing up on your survival skills.

 

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Review by Kait

At the heart of this story is friendship and I enjoyed seeing how Gina Wilkinson wove the stories and experiences of three very different women together and explored their relationships. The three women each have their secrets, and I loved seeing how the secrets of the past and the present merged to help the women connect and reconnect. Each story shines thanks to Wilkinson’s ability to delve into and explore the array of emotions each woman experiences.

Descriptive and engaging, When the Apricots Bloom instantly pulled into the story’s world and had me hooked. From the first chapter, danger and tension are simmering as Huda is forced to make a dangerous choice to keep her family safe that will end up rippling out to pull in the two other women.

 

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Review by Kristin

Paradise Peak is a book that draws you in from the very first chapter. Travis Alden was reckless as a young man and one big mistake took years from his life while he served his time in prison. As a character Travis is kind and thoughtful but racked with guilt from the car accident he caused while under the influence, resulting in a death. After his release he heads back to Paradise Peak to do his best to make amends with the community, and family, left devastated by the wreck. Nobody realizes who Travis is when he returns to town and he’s welcomed with open arms. While helping to rehabilitate a ranch, he earns the love and trust of people who he must eventually be honest with, including the victim’s mother. He knows he’s obligated to reveal his identity and apologize for his past, but he also knows the truth will very likely ruin all the relationships he’s built since his return.

I will read absolutely anything Janet Dailey writes, but this book may be one of her best. Everyone can relate to the guilt Travis is experiencing and the desperation to apologize and atone for mistakes. The characters that Travis builds a bond with are lovable and I was rooting for him the entire time. There’s some romance and action mixed into this story, but at the core this is a beautiful book about growth and redemption.

 

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Review by Michaela

February is the release month for the trade paperback edition of 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Jewish Transport to Auschwitz.  First published in hardcover in March 2020 and licensed in over two dozen countries, 999 was recognized as an important work of nonfiction by reviewers and awards committees. Recently it was named to the long list for the prestigious 2021 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. Perhaps most meaningfully, it has been hailed by the descendants of Holocaust survivors as an important book of great emotional significance and impact. Truly the world should never forget the horrors of the Final Solution and the Nazi death camps.  Through this new edition, 999 continues to share the stories of nearly one thousand remarkable young women, most in their teens, who faced unspeakable evil with grace and courage.  This new edition includes a Reading Group Guide that will facilitate discussions among students and book clubs.

 

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Review by Ann

The pandemic has thrown us curveballs everywhere we turn. Our daily routines abruptly ended, and we are collectively grieving over the loss of the lives we once knew while adapting to an uncertain and fearful one.  We’re enduring physical and financial peril, homeschooling strain, and job loss. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store or the gas station can feel hazardous. Throw in a heavy dash of contentious politics, separated families, isolation, monotony, and ceaseless anxiety, and you’ve got all the ingredients for chronic stress.

In addition to the psychological impact, many more are feeling the physical effects of chronic stress – including everything from grinding teeth, sleepless nights, fatigue, fevers, headaches and unexplained pains.

The authors of WHEN CRISIS STRIKES – a psychiatrist and neuropsychologist who have treated thousands of patients going through wrenching life traumas and losses - reveal that on-going, chronic stress impacts both your mind and body. Normally, in a sudden moment of stress – for example, happening upon a bear that wants to have you for lunch - your body and brain’s hard-wired crisis system goes into Code Red, like NORAD during a national emergency. Your body has an amazing series of chemical triggers to give your brain, heart, lungs, and muscles the power to fight or flee. Your body behaves differently in response to evolved, complex, 21st century stressors like a pandemic, job loss, bankruptcy, divorce, chronic illness, or foreclosure.  These are stressful situations that don’t quickly resolve after a few hours.  Your Code Red system never shuts off, and eventually it will tax your ability to function.

Luckily, there’s a way to handle the strain.  The first step is understanding that holistic Code Red response. The second step is examining the multiple causes of stress, making a full assessment, and breaking it all down.  What can you control, starting now? What psychological shifts can you try to make?  Who can help you – and who can’t? What in your life can you embrace and be grateful for, and what should you toss out?  In a time when everything feels momentous and overwhelming, their advice is to start with the smallest possible steps, and be kind to yourself.

Stress triggers are going to be and feel different for all of us, but these seasoned pros offer a lifeline out of crisis, with the hope that you’ll become more resilient in the process.  Their book is a reminder that we are in this together, and will get through it together, too.

 

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