Staff Picks Archive
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Review by Michaela
True crime fans will be happy to learn that New York Times bestselling author M. William Phelps has a new book coming out in January. Phelps, who is also the creator and host of the #1 podcast Paper Ghosts, is a masterful investigative journalist and a mesmerizing storyteller. In WE THOUGHT WE KNEW YOU, he takes readers into a small, seemingly peaceful community in upstate New York. A beloved healer, mother, and wife named Mary Yoder was killed by someone so close to her, no one suspected – until surprising evidence unmasked the unlikeliest murderer. Perhaps because his own life was touched by the murder of a loved one, Phelps portrays the family dynamics of the case as fully as he shows the law-enforcement expertise that solved it. WE THOUGHT WE KNEW YOU is a page-turning story that is fascinating, disturbing, and 100% true.
Review by Esi
That was quite the year, huh? I think we could all use a little sparkle, a little something to brighten our days. Luckily, Saranna DeWylde has launched the perfect series to bring a smile to your face. A little magic, a lot of romance, and a ton of laughs, FAIRY GODMOTHERS INC. is a perfect escape. The three resident godmothers of Ever After, Missouri—Petunia, Bluebonnet, and Jonquil—just want to bring a little love back to the world. And if that means convincing two people to get over their embarrassing breakup and fake an engagement, then that’s what they’re going to do. Add a charming town (complete with prince), an evil queen (with a heart of…well, maybe not gold, exactly), a fairytale castle, and some very vocal animal friends, and you’ve got the ideal treat.
Review by Michaela
Hello, my fellow thriller fans! Did you hear about the new series that John Gilstrap launched 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, was released as a hardcover in March to an avalanche of rave review 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 in paperback and includes a sample excerpt of the next Victoria Emerson thriller.
Review by Liz
Fans of cozy mysteries are probably familiar with Kate Collins’s Flower Shop Mysteries. The long running series was a New York Times bestseller for many years and was recently adapted into a series of films for The Hallmark Channel, starring 80s icon Brooke Shields.
But with this new series, the author has really reinvented and out done herself. The Goddess of Greene Street series is set in Michigan and follows Athena Spencer a single mom, and daughter of Greek American immigrants who moves back home with her big, loud, loving family, and stumbles across a few mysteries along the way.
When I started reading this book I was instantly reminded of the classic, cult-status film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which nearly twenty years later, is still the highest grossing romantic comedy in history. There is so much humor and heart in this book. Some of my favorite moments were with Athena’s little sister, Delphi, who may or may not have a bit of the psychic gift. Or her mother, who was trying to cook Greek food for everyone, even the prison guards. And with Athena’s ‘pet’ raccoon.
And of course, I really loved the adorable romance with Athena’s neighbor and sleuthing partner, Case. The couple have an adorable flirtation, and a ‘will they, won’t they?’ momentum that will keep any romance fan reading. But the romance never takes anything away from the mystery, and the novel unfolds with humor and twisty suspense.
I invite everyone to grab a warm drink and spend part of this upcoming cold weather season with this big, fat, delightful mystery. You won’t regret it.
Review by Ann
Anna Lee Huber’s fantastically visualized A Pretty Deceit, the latest of her Verity Kent Mysteries, is set against the backdrop of Post-World War I England. The Great War has ended, but it lingers everywhere, including the haunted memories of the protagonist.
What I love about Verity is how the author has loaded her character with juxtapositions. Verity is only 23 years old, fresh and forward-thinking, but much of her spirit still lingers in the War that has ended. She’s deeply in love with her husband, who she was told had died in battle, and hasn’t quite emotionally adjusted to his surprising return, and how this turn of events has influenced their relationship. She’s sensitive, but has had to stay strong in the face of hardship, loss, and the suffering of those around her.
Then there’s the mystery. Her nemesis, Lord Ardmore (who has been compared to a Moriarty-like character for his shadowy powers) again appears. His influence, money, and connections create a complex foe for Verity, who falls back on her strengths as a former spy and clever detective to outwit him as his own nefarious schemes.
Finally, there’s the whole of England. The reader is taken from London to East Anglia to The Isle of Wight. The narrative weaves in Britain’s complex history, back to when it was a Roman province. Buried throughout Britain’s landscape are the remnants of its past, and it only takes a bit of digging to reveal hidden mysteries lurking just below the surface.
Huber’s latest book is darker, more delicious, and the intrepid, spirited Verity even more on her game. We’re still waiting on this series to be developed by the BBC!
Review by Kait
As someone who is always up for a good Hallmark holiday movie, I really enjoyed The Brightest Star by Fern Michaels and the themes centered around family and giving. Biography author Lauren moves back home after her father is diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis to help her parents with their Christmas decoration store while her mother cares for her father. What she finds is a store on its last leg because her father refuses to step into the age of technology and create a website for the store—or even at least have Wi-Fi in the store.
Then, Lauren’s world takes another turn when she’s offered the chance to write a biography for John Gerard Giampalo—a tech giant and one of the richest people in the world. This opportunity comes with a large paycheck and offers Lauren the chance to really lean into her giving nature. And, possibly the chance to convince her father to step into the 21st century.
So, grab your coziest sweater and a cup of something warm before settling in to read The Brightest Star. Her newest book will put you in the mood for the Christmas spirit. And will have you wishing you could visit the idyllic town of Fallen Springs and check out Razzle Dazzle Décor. Plus, who doesn’t love a pinch of romance mixed into their holiday read?
Review by Larissa
What more can you want for Christmas than a page-turning, criminally delicious holiday-themed Hannah Swensen Mystery from Joanne Fluke? The Queen of Culinary Mystery herself takes us to Lake Eden, Minnesota in CHRISTMAS CUPCAKE MURDER, where Hannah must speed through a lengthy holiday checklist while dealing with family drama. But then the holiday mood gets even more dampened when a John Doe is found near death in an abandoned storefront two doors down from Hannah’s bakery, The Cookie Jar—and he can’t recall a thing about himself. Hannah must juggle frosting Christmas sweets while following the clues to the man’s identity.
CHRISTMAS CUPCAKE MURDER has everything you want in a Christmas book—a lighthearted mystery, a cozy small-town setting, all your favorite Lake Eden characters, vivid images of yummy baked goods, and of course plenty of holiday-themed cupcake and dessert recipes for readers to try. I personally recommend trying out the delectable White Chocolate Eggnog Cupcakes—a special exclusive bonus recipe from My Food and Family by Kraft Heinz—and the Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Icing.
Even though it’s not yet just the holiday season, you’ll find yourself craving all things Christmas after reading CHRISTMAS CUPCAKE MURDER!
Review by Michaela
There’s nothing like a cozy mystery to take us away from life’s stresses for a few hours. Here’s one that will do all that – while also getting you into the holiday spirit – and inspiring you to cook some tasty seasonal dishes worthy of the finest Armenian-American restaurant. MISTLETOE, MOUSSAKA, AND MURDER is the fifth book in Tina Kashian’s intriguing and popular Kebab Kitchen mystery series, set at the New Jersey Shore. Tina’s family members are former restaurant owners, and she is drawing on her own history and cultural heritage in crafting these books. You can feel the love on every page. You can also feel the drama and suspense as our intrepid protagonist, Lucy Berberian, solves the murder of a participant in the town’s annual Polar Bear Plunge. Be sure to save time to try the recipes for Azad’s Moussaka, Angela’s Perfect Pilaf, Susan Cutie’s Lemon Meringue Pie, and Niari’s Holiday Pretzel Treats. Don’t be shy about coming back for seconds!
Fans of forensic thrillers should not miss Lisa Black’s savvy, suspenseful Gardiner & Renner series, which features forensic expert Maggie Gardiner and her tangled relationship with Jack Renner, who’s a police detective, vigilante, brooding loner, bad, mad, and dangerous to know, and – okay, I’ll just say it – a serial killer. But a good guy, like Dexter. (Isn’t Dexter a good guy?). It’s hard for me to describe EVERY KIND OF WICKED without giving away the kind of spoilers that could turn even the nicest reader into a serial killer, too. Lisa Black always delivers twists and turns and surprises, but this book really knocked me off my chair. Lisa is a forensic expert herself, and her insider’s look at cops and criminals and crime-solving is always spot-on. I urge you to get out your blood-spatter evidence kit, your Luminol, your fingerprint dusting powder – and your reading glasses – and enjoy EVERY KIND OF WICKED. It really lives up to its title.
Review by Susanna
I have been a fan of Charlie Donlea’s since his debut Summit Lake and I know it’s cliché, but I think he just keeps getting better and better with every book! As a fan, I was even more ecstatic when I learned that Donlea would be doing his first sequel to continue following the cases of deeply interesting forensic reconstructionist Rory More and her psychologist partner Lane Phillips (first seen in his recent novel Some Choose Darkness). As a fan of both retro suspense story lines and Scandinavian-style thrill rs, I was excited to see that THE SUICIDE HOUSE would be following the mysterious and twisted killings at a prestigious and secluded private school.
On the wooded campus of Westmont Preparatory School one year ago, two students were slaughtered in an abandoned boarding house as part of a secret club ritual. Now, while the killings were supposedly solved and a teacher was convicted, the mysterious events have become the subject of a very popular podcast. Lane, a prominent psychologist and profiler who specializes in serial killers, was asked by the reporter running the podcast to come and offer his opinion. Rory, his anti-social partner and an expert in reconstructing cold cases, becomes equally intrigued – feeling something is amiss with the details of the case. She begins recreating the night of the killings in order to find answers that have eluded the school, the town, and the police. The more she learns, the more she believes something sinister is still happening at Westmont Prep.
If you’re a suspense reader like me, this is the perfect book for some dark, twisty, escapist reading and is ideal for fans of Riley Sager. While I don’t think you need to read Some Choose Darkness first to understand and appreciate THE SUICIDE HOUSE, they’re both so good – why wouldn’t you?!
Review by Esi
I’ve wanted to work with Vanessa Riley for years, so this has really been a publishing dream come true for me. A DUKE, THE LADY, AND A BABY, the first of the Rogues and Remarkable Women series, has everything I love in a historical romance: great research, immediately engaging characters, and sharp wit. The bravery of Patience as she comes up with new and creative ways to protect her son and their livelihoods; the (reluctant, lol) openness of the Duke of Repington to incorporating an infant into his soldier’s life; The Widow’s Grace—women helping women at a time when they had very few rights. And of course, as Vanessa always does, a story that highlights the complexities and complications of race aren’t a brand-new invention. If you like well-written, adventurous, historically accurate romance, then this is the book for you!
Review by Michaela
When you pick up a thriller by John Gilstrap, you can be sure you’ll get certain things. A fast plot, high-stakes action, authentic details, and compelling characters are a given in many thrillers. But with John Gilstrap, you also get a personal, visceral connection to the story that is rare in any genre. Gilstrap’s hero, Jonathan Grave, has a personal stake in every mission he takes on. When two boys are kidnapped on their way to Resurrection House – a sanctuary Grave founded for the children of incarcerated parents – it’s as though members of his family have been abducted. Grave sets out to get the kids back, and he’s not taking “no” for an answer. HELLFIRE, the twelfth Jonathan Grave thriller, starts out in high gear and quickly goes ballistic. I recommend it for all thriller fans.
Review by Kristin
GHOSTING: A Love Story has everything that I adore about New York City all wrapped up into one adorable Rom-Com. Both Miles and Zoey are characters that I can relate to, as different as they are from each other. They’ve both been hurt in the past and are nervous about making new connections…so they help others find love instead! In a comedy of errors, they both fall into the position of being ghost writers for competing companies focused on writing dating profiles. Unbeknownst to them, their clients match and the ghost writing turns into actual feelings. But will Miles ever realize the person he’s really falling for is Zoey? And vice versa?!
The ups and downs in this book had me flipping pages faster than I can catch a cab in Times Square! I couldn’t get enough of how fun this book was. I rooted for Miles and Zoey to realize they were perfect for each other the entire time. The story paired with the fantastic background of NYC made this such an incredible read.
Review by Susanna
Tash Skilton’s debut rom-com Ghosting is an adorable, quirky, layered story in the vein of a modern-day NYC Sophie Kinsella with a touch of You’ve Got Mail for good measure.
30-year-old Miles and Zoey are both living in NYC, working as online Cyranos for dating companies: they are both available to be hired to help you online date – anything from reworking your dating profile, to even chatting online as you! Miles is in a bit of a dark place: his fiancée just left him for another man and he has been relegated to couch surfing for the past few weeks as he tries to land on his feet. Zoey has just moved to New York from LA in an attempt to force herself to work on her screenplay, but is instead just dealing with an incredible amount of anxiety.
One early morning, at the local café, Zoey and Miles reach for the same day-old free biscotti – and chaos ensues. The two instantly become frenemies, exchanging sharp banter and witticisms every day while vying for the best seat at the café and for the last of the free day-old baked goods. As their real-life friendship slowly starts to form, the two don’t realize that they have also been exchanging messages online – as other people through their day jobs. Before they know it, Miles and Zoey have both fallen for each other without even realizing it.
This layered, quippy story is a real gem. It manages to have laugh-out-loud moments and fantastic banter while still having a lot of emotional depth. If you’re missing the fun of rom-coms in theaters, are intrigued by the antics of online dating, or even want to experience a bit of NYC from the comfort of your couch, this one is for you.
Review by Kait
A fake romance? Check. A dream destination? Check. A hunky firefighter? Check! And a romance that will have you fanning yourself? Double check!
Set in the beautiful Key West, Island Affair by Priscilla will have you believing that you’re really there and the location becomes as big of a character in the book as Sara Vance and Luis Navarro. Halfway through reading, I decided to add Key West to my list of future vacation trips!
What added an extra layer to this rom-com was the healing that happened between Sara and her family, and Luis and his brother. I loved the dive into the different family relationships, and how Priscilla showed that things are not always what we think. And that everyone is going through something, even when it might not seem like it.
Island Affair has everything you need in a good summer read! From the get-go, the tension building between Luis Navarro and Sara Vance is off the charts. But, their relationship is more than flirtatious quips and steamy kisses. Throughout their charade, the couple really push each other to open-up and trust each other. Which, had me swooning even more about the couple!
Review by Wendy
What would you do if, out of the blue, you inherited a fortune from a stranger?
This is exactly the situation that Minerva Hepplewhite faces in HEIRESS FOR HIRE, the debut of a dazzling new historical romance series from the legendary New York Times bestselling Madeline Hunter.
An elderly duke has died under mysterious circumstances. For reasons no one can fathom, he has left his vast wealth not to his family, but to three unrelated women no one’s ever heard of.
Minerva can’t fathom the reason for her good fortune either...but she now has the means to open “Hepplewhite’s Office of Discreet Inquiries”—basically, a regency version of a private detective agency! And her first case is going to be to figure out how the old duke even knew of her existence, and also whether or not the duke was murdered. She has a feeling that the outraged family—especially the duke’s very attractive nephew Chase Radnor, would be only too happy to pin the murder on *her*.
But when the simmering chemistry between Minerva and Chase ignites into passion, now the fun has really begun. Can they trust each other? Does their unexpected romance have any shot at a happy ending? How did the duke really die? And why did he choose Minerva, of all people, as one of his heirs?
HEIRESS FOR HIRE is just brimming with riveting story elements and plot twists. Madeline Hunter has long been one of today’s most distinctive and beloved historical romance authors. She is an author who has actually inspired other authors to begin writing—I know this for a fact 😊
Any new Madeline Hunter book is cause for celebration, but this one is extra special because it’s the launch of a new series. If you’ve never read Madeline before, this would be a great place to start!
Review by Ann
For mystery lovers, armchair travelers, and those longing to immerse themselves in a place other than the familiarity of their own homes, STONE CROSS by bestselling author Marc Cameron ticks off all the boxes. A tense thriller set in the Alaskan bush, this newest installment in the Arliss Cutter series is a deft follow-up to the series debut – but if you haven’t read the first book, definitely dive into this one.
Like the book’s author, Cutter is a U.S. Marshal with long experience tracking fugitives and murders. Settling in Anchorage as part of their Fugitive Apprehension Team, he and his deputy – Lola Teariki, a polished professional of Maori origin – have been assigned security detail to a federal judge who must arbitrate a local case in the bush. The judge has been living under threat of harm and reluctantly accepts their help. Before the Marshals even arrive for duty, there is trouble: the disappearance of a couple overseeing the local lodge’s premises for the winter, and the murder of the lodge’s handyman.
Triply tasked with security detail, a murder investigation, and as caretaker for his widowed sister-in-law, the remoteness of Stone Cross adds even more tension and difficulty to Cutter’s already full plate. In the isolated community, transportation, communication, and a regular food supply are all unpredictable. The locals rely on hunting caribou and moose to fill their coffers during the unforgiving and dark winter months. The weather and the wilderness can also be volatile. A dense and looming fog is as oppressive as the sense of panic in the Inuit community, and a looming storm all thrillingly, dangerously combine, with Arliss in the eye of the storm.
With a realistic view of the remote communities in the Alaskan wilderness, along with a complex protagonist who is highly skilled, flawed, and layered, plus a spate of female characters who are tough as nails, STONE CROSS is transportive as it is gripping.
Review by Michaela
Few authors have touched the lives of others to the extent that Dr. Elaine Aron has. Her ground-breaking research in the 1990s led her to identify the personal trait of high sensitivity, which she described in her classic international bestseller, THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON. Highly sensitive people feel things more deeply than others, may feel overwhelmed by excessive noise or activity, and need to balance time with others with time alone. Their high sensitivity enables them to quickly empathize with the feelings of others and live a rich emotional life. As parents, they can use their special trait to advantage in dealing with their children, with other parents, and with teachers – if they know how. Dr. Aron’s newest book, THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PARENT, fills the need with thoughtful suggestions based on research and case histories.
Review by Jackie
If you are a fan of historical romance, then Sabrina Jeffries needs no introduction. She is the reigning queen of the genre and she keeps getting better and better. If you aren’t a fan of historical romance or have never tried it, Sabrina’s Duke Dynasty series would be a fabulous place to start. It has everything: family drama, mystery, gorgeous period details, witty dialogue, and of course, plenty of romance. The series follows the children of an often widowed aristocrat in Regency England who are all searching for information about their fathers while learning to be a blended family in adulthood after having spent their childhoods apart. It has family drama of every stripe for every reader and it adds a lot of depth to the larger romances that we see in each book.
In The Bachelor, we get the story of Gwyn, a twin, and the daughter of the family. Hiding a secret, she has long been sheltered away at the family’s estate left longing for a season in London. When she is finally ready to make her debut in society, some past drama (you’ll have to read it to find out what!) causes fear that she won’t be safe in London, so the family’s groundskeeper, Joshua, a returning veteran of the Napoleonic Wars with demons of his own, is hired to protect Lady Gwyn in London. They already have some history and this bodyguard role soon turns to something more. But before they can find a happily ever after there are mysteries to be solved! Scandals to avoid! Demons to conquer! All this and more with Sabrina’s trademark wit and heart. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Review by Elizabeth
Who doesn’t love a good bodyguard romance—not to mention one set in Regency England amid glamorous balls and charming scenery? Sabrina Jeffries’ latest in her Duke Dynasty series brings us smoldering hot tension between Lady Gwyn Drake and her protector, Major Joshua Wolfe. When a former suitor of Lady Gwyn’s threatens to go public with their scandalous affair from years ago, independent Gwyn knows she must take matters into her own hands to save her reputation and that of her family. The trouble is: how to pay off the rogue without her family knowing, and in the midst of the tumult of her London debut, no less? Not to mention, she’ll have to find a reason to dodge Major Joshua Wolfe, assigned by Gwyn’s duke brother to protect her from the very scoundrel Gwyn is determined to handle on her own. A conundrum indeed, especially as it becomes clear that the more time Gwyn and Joshua spend together, the harder it is to deny the attraction between them.
I loved Gwyn and Joshua’s repartee and the way that their delight in tormenting one another slowly reveals itself as real emotion and longing. Jeffries employs her many talents to create a sparkling heroine and a ruggedly captivating hero who are each also struggling to overcome their own personal demons. The intrigue of Gwyn’s malevolent former suitor brings a further thrilling element that will keep you turning the pages. Add in a sensual archery lesson and evocative love scenes, and I dare you to resist The Bachelor.
Review by Lauren
Elves, magic, and mysteriously charming thieves…this book has EVERYTHING I love! How to Love Your Elf was an action–packed fast read that had me flipping the pages almost faster than my eyes could read the words. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but only a little one. This book is perfect for readers who want to get wrapped up in a fantastical world full of magic, and a big dash of romance that will take your breath away. Sorcha is a capable, stubborn, and strong Princess with a healthy dose of warrior attitude that makes her leap off the page. I’m always a sucker for a stubborn heroine who meets her match in a maybe not all–too–trustworthy scoundrel that can’t decide if he’s infuriated or infatuated by her antics. If you’re looking for something that will have you entertained from start to finish, this is absolutely the book for you.
Review by Norma
Author Christin Brecher made my cozy editor dreams come true with her debut novel Murder’s No Votive Confidence, the first in the Nantucket Candle Maker Mystery series.
I’d wanted to read a cozy mystery series set in a candle shop for the longest time, and Christin’s delightful (pun-intended) take on the genre surprised me in the best possible way with its humor, heart, and handy candle making tips. Her follow-up Murder Makes Scents is no exception, as candle maker and Wick & Flame store owner Stella Wright uncovers a murder mystery centered on a missing vial of perfume. I hope cozy fans have as much fun reading Stella’s adventures as I did editing them!
Review by Kristin
Reading Hart’s Hollow Farm feels like opening a book and closing the world around you (no small feat on a New York City subway). As soon I stepped into the pages of Kristen’s world, I was immediately transfixed with how connected I felt to her character. A mom who couldn’t save her only child, a woman who hasn’t let her heart feel again since, Kristen’s journey to healing goes as deep as the soil of Hart’s Hollow Farm.
As soon as she meets 73-year-old firecracker Emmy I knew neither women would be the same. Both of their losses run deep and they know the pain they carry will never heal completely, but they also understand life is meant to be lived. Enter Mitch, Emmy’s hunky yet sensitive son and my favorite part of this book. Kristen and Mitch are undeniably drawn to each other and the slow burn of their relationship had me hooked from the start. This book is a beautiful ode to the strength of community and the love a family can have for each other, whether that family is held together by blood or choice.
Review by Esi
Have you ever read a book so realistic and all-consuming that you start to forget it’s not your actual life?
That’s how I felt when I read Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn. I wanted to hang out with Meg Mackworth and friends, watching movies and sharing secrets. (I would also love to hire Meg to make me a planner that would finally organize my life). Watching Meg’s relationships—romantic and non—unfold over the course of the book felt like visiting with a great friend, the kind who you can go months without talking to, but then you get together and it’s as if no time had passed at all.
Of course, the care and detail taken with the location and descriptions just build on the realism. New York City springs off the page, so be careful if you’re the kind to make impulsive travel plans (or especially if you’re hungry, because there is a falafel description that makes my mouth water even now).
The story of Meg Mackworth, handletterer extraordinaire, and the decision she makes that upends not just her life, but that of buttoned-up, reserved, deeply thoughtful (and extremely handsome) Reid Sutherland, will make you laugh and cry, yes. But it will also make you think, make you dream, make you grateful for the people around you. Visiting the little world Clayborn has created makes it clear how wonderful all of our own little worlds are.
Review by Larissa
You don’t need to be fans of Victoria Laurie’s Psychic Eye or Ghost Hunter Mystery series to enjoy her the first book in her new spin off series starring two fan favorites, Cat Cooper and her best friend Gilley Gillespie!
In COACHED TO DEATH, Cat Cooper finds herself gouged from an unexpected and nasty divorce and decides to settle in the Hamptons for her new career as a business-savvy life coach. But her mean girl neighbor, Heather Holland, is trying to bully Cat out of town. But Cat is the wrong person to try to intimidate, and after a series of petty actions on Heather’s part, the two women have a showdown at Heather’s invite-only luncheon. But when Heather’s dead body turns up next to Cat’s shattered punchbowl, Cat gets pinned as the murderer. With Gilley at her side, Cat must scour chic Hampton boutiques and oceanfront mansions in search of the criminal who framed her.
COACHED TO DEATH is deliciously witty and fun, Cat and Gilley are the two perfect friends to spend time with. Readers will be counting down the days until their next Hamptons adventure.
Review by Esi
Nothing will get you into the holiday spirit like this collection, based around my absolute favorite story concept—being snowed in!
Fern Michaels, our resident holiday expert, delights with her tale of a a radio host who is supposed to be an expert on love, but finds herself feeling more and more lonely. But an adventure in speed dating and an unexpected snow storm may be just what she needs, in “Starry Night”. Tara Sheets brings us the story of Layla Gentry, a woman who has it all, and her nemesis, Sebastian. If there’s one thing I love as much as couples being snowed in, it’s a classic enemy to lovers story, and Tara delivers, in “Mistletoe and Mimosas”. Finally, in Kate Clayborn’s “Missing Christmas” longtime friends and business partners Kristen and Jasper make a trip to New England to finalize a vital deal for their company. But a freak blizzard may be all it takes to show them what they’ve really been missing.
These smart, funny, heartwarming tales are perfect to read while cozied under a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa—picture perfect for the holiday season!
Review by Ann
Attention, fans of Downtown Abbey, The Bletchley Circle, Home Fires – and books like The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris – meet Verity Kent!
Verity is an amazing woman, far ahead of her time. A British wife who ends up working for La Dame Blanche, a real-life intelligence gathering organization in The Great War, Verity may participate in the societal conventions of her time, but she is also an independent thinker, an intrepid spy, and a modern woman by 21st century standards. Her husband, Sidney – whom she thought dead – turns up quite alive, and the two of them sort through these successive shocks in addition to recovering from the psychic ravages and demands of the war.
What’s entertaining and educational about Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent mysteries is that they’re anchored by historical fact. In PENNY FOR YOUR SECRETS, the mystery centers on the wreck of the Zebrina, a British cargo ship whose crew mysteriously vanished, and which remains one of The Great War’s still unsolved mysteries.
Huber also drew inspiration from the life of The Duchess of Marlborough, the stunningly beautiful Gladys Spencer-Churchill, who once notoriously brought a pistol to dinner during one of her parties and flippantly threatening to shoot her husband with it. In the book, Lady Rockham is a newlywed who is confused by her marriage’s rules and decorum. The first blushes of romance are gone. The Lady shocks her guests by bringing a pistol to dinner and ponders whether she’s going to fire off one at her husband, Lord Rockham. Then Rockham turns up dead.
Verity finds herself wandering deeper into a thicket of political intrigue: Lord Rockham’s death may be connected to his shipping business. He had lost considerable cargo due to German U-boats in the English Channel and The Atlantic. Why would someone seek revenge over the sinking of a ship if the Germans were to blame? Unless they weren’t? Verity and Sidney are both drawn into the investigation, their strengths and backgrounds and marriage all coming into play as they get dangerously closer to discovering the murderer and the motive.
I love Verity, and you will, too. Until the BBC opts to make a series about her, we have Anna Lee’s books to bring her to life.