Staff Picks Archive
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.