Fiction

BENEATH HIS SILENCE by Hannah Linder

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Ella arrives at Wyckhorn Manor hoping to succeed in the soul-consuming mission her late father did not live long enough to complete: proving that Lord Sedgewick murdered her sister.

From the moment she meets Lord Henry Sedgewick, it is clear her sister made a mistake in marrying him. He is cold, aloof, and admits he never even loved Lucy. Ella assumes a false name and takes a position as governess to Henry and Lucy’s young son, hoping to get to know her nephew and gather proof of Henry’s iniquity. Yet under his distant exterior, Ella is surprised and somewhat alarmed to find a compassionate, generous, devoted Christian who begins gently prodding her doubting soul back toward the faith. But Henry and Wyckhorn Manor hold dark, guilty secrets, and though neither Henry nor Ella know it, they are both in grave danger of losing their hearts, their lives, and everything they hold dear.

This Gothic, Bronte-esque Christian Regency Romance packs suspense and emotional drama alongside a sweet (clean) courtship and each protagonist’s arc toward self-forgiveness. The Christian elements are prominent—a journey toward conversion—making this title ideal for readers who enjoy both Christian Fiction and Regency Romance rather than either in isolation. If you are a reader of both categories, I can highly recommend this story as immersive, exciting, and emotionally satisfying.

HER LAST BETRAYAL by Pam Lecky

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Sarah Gillespie has survived a year of wartime tragedy. Her sister died in a German air raid which she later learned was facilitated by her own father, an IRA operative who faked his death to continue secretly collaborating with Nazis in return for their aid with the Irish republican cause. As if that suffering and betrayal weren’t enough, her fiance’s ship is attacked by the Nazis, leaving him missing in action.

When MI5 approaches Sarah for her help undermining her father’s spy mission and bringing him to justice, she can’t say no. Unfortunately, they pair her with insufferable American operative Tony Anderson, suspicious of her due to her Irish heritage and dismissive of her espionage skills. An undercover mission takes them to Wales to track down Sarah’s father, but German moles have infiltrated their operation and as Sarah’s sparring with Anderson gives way to attraction, she will need to decide whether the surly American can be trusted–or whether he might be the sinister double agent they’ve been hunting.

Twisty with just a touch of enemies-to-lovers romance, HER LAST BETRAYAL is a quick, fun read for fans of the historical thriller genre. Lecky packs her story with colorful secondary characters and enough red herrings to keep you guessing to the climax. The second in a series, an open ending teases more adventures from Sarah Gillespie in the future.

THE DUKE IN QUESTION by Amalie Howard

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Desperate to use her privilege as a white noblewoman to contribute to the fight for racial justice, Lady Bronwyn Chase accepted the clandestine identity as “the Kestrel,” a spy not exactly in the employment of the Crown. Unfortunately, she has caught the Crown’s notice, and on her first transatlantic mission to help turn the tide of the American Civil War, the Kestrel is pursued by one of their most stoic former agents, Lord Valentine Medford, the Duke of Thornbury and best friend to Bronwyn’s half brother, the mixed-race Duke of Ashvale.

Bronwyn has long been attracted to Lord Valentine. Valentine on the other hand can’t imagine being romantically interested in the superficial personality Bronwyn projects–and he would never guess that she was the elusive Kestrel. Yet, Valentine finds himself drawn inexplicably and inexorably to Bronwyn, and when her assignment goes wrong, he is there to save her life–and arrest her. Bound together by conflicting duties, Bronwyn can no longer escape their smoldering attraction to one another. But will they be able to let one another go to save their reputations–and Bronwyn’s neck?–or will an unavoidable, passionate affair ruin them both?

Immediately following RULES FOR HEIRESSES, this sizzling enemies-to-lovers romance continues Howard’s nuanced exploration of gender, class, and race in the Victorian Era with the same perfect execution of historical romance tropes that will thrill fans of the genre, plus a dash of romantic suspense a la Sherry Thomas’s HIS AT NIGHT and MY BEAUTIFUL ENEMY. Wrestling with their privilege and desire to be allies, the white hero and heroine consistently run up against barriers of systemic racism, while injustice constrains characters of color–even those advantaged by wealth and title. Yet like all satisfying romances, the plot ends with hope and love–plus a thick cloud of steam. Highly recommend to readers of the genre and fans of the Netflix adaptation of BRIDGERTON.

IN THE SHADOW OF A QUEEN by Heather B. Moore

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Like all of Queen Victoria’s children, Princess Louise adored her compassionate, attentive, and fun-loving father who often provided a buffer between the free-spirited girl and her strait-laced, duty-focused mother. But when the devoted husband and father succumbs to typhoid fever, both mother and daughter find their lives irrevocably altered. As the queen becomes more severe and rigid in her mourning, Louise throws herself into her unconventional artistic pursuits, determined to find a balance between familial love and responsibility and the deepest desires of her heart.

Steeped in historical detail and broad in scope, Moore’s Victorian family drama will entrance readers who love deep dives into history from female perspectives. Drawing on Princess Louise’s rich, gently-unconventional life, Moore animates the historical figure and her indomitable mother, using the controlled tension of their relationship as the touchstone to track Louise’s choices from adolescence through marriage and adulthood. The plot simmers gradually, making this book ideal for readers who relish immersion in a historical time period over a focused, quick-paced story arc.

MILLSTONE OF DOUBT (THRONDIKE & SWANN #2) by Erica Vetsch

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After wrapping up a whirlwind case as an agent-in-training for the Crown, Lady Juliette Thorndike has tried her best to forget Bow Street runner Daniel Swann and the improper, impossible feelings she has for him, a man entirely below her station. Although she and her family have often flouted class barriers, she worries that Detective Swann would only be embarrassed by her interest, a girl from such a frivolous world compared to his own.

But Daniel has some improper, impossible feelings of his own, and when a murder at a local mill looks like the work of anarchists, both Scotland Yard and the Crown get pulled into the case–meaning Daniel and Lady Juliette will be working together once more. As Juliette attempts to comfort (and glean information) from the victim’s grieving daughter, Daniel does some digging into the mill’s enemies. But the case is more complicated than it seemed, jeopardizing not only their hearts but their lives.

A (sweet) Regency romance pairs with an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery in a page turner with plenty of clues to piece together. Vetsch eschews the angst and slow-burn commonly infused in historical mystery relationships, relying instead on the murder itself and secrets from her hero’s past to drive suspense while the detective couple advances smoothly toward their happily ever after. Published by a Christian house, the book’s characters practice Christianity, but spiritual elements are smoothly incorporated with a light hand. A fun read for fans of the genre!

RUST IN THE ROOT by Justina Ireland

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As a Floramancer and young woman of Afrikan ancestry, Laura has always known the Prohibition targeted her people specifically. When the Great Rust set in in the 1930s, the small-time Negro mages bore the brunt of the blame, even though white Mechomancers were the ones who’d taken the purity of the power imbued in in nature (the Possibilities) and exploited it for financial gain in their Industrial Revolution. But the Blights are getting worse, and the U.S. government has put the dangerous burden of fixing it on the Bureau of the Archane’s Colored Auxiliary.

With few options for gaining a license to practice Floramancy–or even earn enough money to live–Laura takes a new name (the Peregrine) and an apprenticeship with the Floramancer known as the Skylark who is tasked with finding the source of a particularly rotten Blight in Ohio. But when the Colored Auxiliary arrives, the Peregrine and her mentor realize something is wrong. The Blight bears an alarming resemblance to the Klan’s Necromancy–a horrific evil that touched the Skylark’s life once before. And as they travel toward the heart of the dark magic, the Peregrine realizes that there were secrets within her power she was keeping even from herself.

Justina Ireland once again proves herself the queen of historical fantasy, crafting a richly grounded world with a detailed, inventive magic system that both accentuates past evils and demands that readers recognize and analyze alarming trends in the modern world. She perfectly balances her voice with historical colloquialisms and modern sensibility and weaves a cast of nuanced secondary characters to support her heroine. This novel is a must-read for YA and NA fantasy fans! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

ALL OF OUR DEMISE by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman (Audiobook)

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Sequel to ALL OF US VILLAINS.

Seven teens were chosen by their families to battle to the death in the generational Ilvernath blood tournament for high magic. But none of this year’s champions is content to die. Some want to win. Some want to break the tournament for good. With secrets, twists, and dangers both within the tournament and without, one way or another, the blood veil will fall. The question: will any of the champions survive?

The thrilling, brutal conclusion to the All of Us Villains duology does not disappoint, with astronomical stakes, jaw-dropping twists, and a dose of doomed romance. Emotionally, the story focuses on the teens struggle to define themselves as independent from their families and grapple with the ways they’ve been abused–by parents and by society. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Billie Fulford-Brown and Raphael Corkhill, and I was riveted. Character voices felt distinct without being affected. There was one scene I personally found very difficult to listen to read aloud due to the graphic violence (torture, in this case) so be aware that if you usually skim through particularly graphic scenes, this might be one to read yourself rather than listen to. But if you have the stomach for some violence, this is a great audiobook for older teens and adults.

LOVE ON THE BRAIN by Ali Hazelwood

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For exactly one weekend, Dr. Bee Königswasser is thrilled to have gotten a temporary reassignment as the NIH neuroscience representative on a collaborative project with NASA. She celebrates with wild abandon, not only because this is the first big break in her career since she turned down a position working with her cheating ex (and the ex-best friend he cheated with) but because it will mean a three month break from her insufferable boss and his sexist bullshit.

But then she finds out who her NASA collaborator is.

Dr. Levi Ward has hated Bee since their PhD program, for reasons she’s never understood. And from the time she arrives at NASA, he seems to be sabotaging her, messing with her equipment and “losing” her emails. He seems determined to drive her away, but with her career on the line, Bee is more determined than ever to keep things professional. But when their relationship takes an unexpected twist, Bee will have to not only protect her career but shield her heart from the heartbreak she knows is inevitable.

Fans of Hazelwood’s debut The Love Hypothesis will find another, very on-brand Rom Com to fall in love with. She uses the same tropes (enemies-to-lovers, workplace romance, perfect hero who’s been secretly in love with the heroine since forever) and tops it off with her signature, laugh-out-loud STEM banter. One of few novelists in the genre writing in first person, Hazelwood effectively cultivates a distinct voice from her first novel, and while keeping us out of her hero’s head prevents us from becoming as intimately connected to his interior thoughts as a third-person, dual POV romance would, the focus on her heroine allows for a prominent subplot tackling sexism in STEM. A queer BIPOC romance subplot fills out the story and calls attention to the implicit racism in higher education admissions. Highly recommended to fans of the genre and tropes.

HOW TO DATE A SUPERHERO (AND NOT DIE TRYING) by Cristina Fernandez

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In a world of superheroes, Astrid Rose has the most boring superpower: an extreme ability to schedule every last second of her time. Technically it’s not a real superpower, like the ones of the figures in capes and spandex who fly around New York either saving or terrorizing the citizens, depending on their moral persuasion, but as a premed Cornell student, it is a very useful ability When she learns that Max, the guy she’s been dating, who she’s known since their freshman year of high school, is the legendary Kid Comet, however, her perfectly planned sophomore year suddenly shatters.

After a nasty run-in with Kid Comet’s nemesis, Astrid gets inducted into a special program for significant others of superheroes, a “prevenge” course designed to prevent the need for the superhero to seek revenge for their loved one’s senseless murder by teaching the significant other survival skills. Astrid doesn’t have time for this program, especially once someone starts sabotaging her lab samples and threatening her internship and her grades. Meanwhile, Max keeps blowing off their dates for admittedly important reasons (like saving lives), and even as she grows to love him more deeply, she grows to wonder whether she’s cut out for this relationship. When a supervillain starts stealing samples from Astrid’s lab, she and Max will both be swept up in a dangerous plot, and Astrid will have to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice: her time? her love? her career? Or maybe even her life…

Set on a college campus, this book exists in that “New Adult” space that has great appeal for both teen young adults and adult young adults (as well of some of us who are even older than that!). The narrative voice hooked me immediately (third person present tense with a tongue-in-cheek vibe that kept reminding me of Slaughterhouse Five, although the subject matter is very different). In the tradition of most great Sci-Fi, Fernandez uses her hard Sci-Fi world as a lens to explore real world issues, in this case, the uncertainty of love and commitment, the fragility of human existence, and how to stop existing and truly live in a dangerous and frightening world. I am head-over-heels for this book, and if you love both Sci-Fi and Rom Coms, you will be too!

VIOLET MADE OF THORNS by Gina Chen

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Since saving Prince Cyrus’ life as a child, Violet has lived a charmed yet precarious life as the king’s official Seer, tasked with relaying prophecies to the entire kingdom, whether they are real prophecies from her dreams or the harmless ones she invents at the king’s behest. A previous Seer predicted the kingdom’s destruction unless it is averted by Prince Cyrus’ as yet hypothetical bride, but Violet is determined that nothing will threaten her hard-won security and comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, Cyrus is the one person who never listens to Violet.

Tortured by dark dreams of the Fates and frustrated with “Princey’s” obstinacy, Violet fakes a prophecy about Cyrus’ “true love,” hoping his bride–any bride–will be able to break the curse. But the woman the king selected is wrapped in her own curse, spun by a witch of nightmares. As beasts swarm the land and fairy glamours flicker, Violet and Cyrus search for the truth behind the veil of deceit, and their mutual hatred sparks into something passionate, thrilling, and infinitely more dangerous. With her life hanging in the balance, Violet will have to decide on which side of the fairytale she belongs–the dream or the nightmare–and whether she can claim either of them without being someone else’s pawn.

Deep, dark, and immersive, VIOLET MADE OF THORNS had me devouring its pages as ravenously as the characters fed on one another. Although tastes of well-known fairytales call attention to the storytelling theme, Chen creates a wholly new fairytale, not directly a twist of any individual story. Her characters are addictive, her steamy romance writing as compelling as any master of that genre, and her world-building a perfect blend of well-worn high fantasy tropes and a new, exciting magic system. I cannot praise this book highly enough. If you read high fantasy (whether you are a young adult or not) don’t miss this exceptional debut!