Fiction

THE LAST GOODNIGHT by Kat Martin

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When they pull Kade’s estranged wife’s car from the lake, old wounds reopen. It’s been eight years since she was murdered, and the cops have given up on solving the case. But no matter how painfully their marriage ended, Kade can’t live knowing her killer hasn’t been brought to justice. Though his last attempt at hiring a PI went nowhere, he hopes new evidence from the recovered vehicle could revive the cold case. But he didn’t expect the PI to be a woman–an attractive and charismatic woman who makes him feel things he swore he’d never give into again.

Eleanor was eager to take the job at Kade’s ranch and confident that she could find his wife’s killer. But she soon realizes she made a mistake. She’s still confident she can find the killer, but she’s not confident she can resist her employer. Her lust is reciprocated and the two soon fall into a torrid affair. But as a mysterious enemy begins a violent assault on the ranch and Eleanor’s resolve to stay emotionally detached falls victim to Kade’s charms, she doubts either one of them will get out of this unscathed…

This suspenseful, lust-at-first sight romance will satisfy many fans of the genre. The majority of the tension and conflict in the plot comes from the external dangers while the relationship faces only superficial and easily-overcome obstacles. For romantic suspense readers who like their characters to have to fight as hard for their love and personal growth as they do to survive, this novel will fall short. But for readers who like a thriller plot with a hearty dose of steamy sex scenes, this new series-starter is a solid pick.

ALL THE FEELS by Olivia Dade

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Alex is being punished. The showrunner for the wildly successful fantasy cable show Alex has acted in for the past nine years doesn’t even ask him whether the tabloid stories about a drunken bar fight are true (which, for the record, they aren’t…mostly). He just assigns Alex a babysitter. Lauren Clegg–or Nanny Clegg, as Alex prefers to call her–is joyless, unless she enjoys killing Alex’s joy, in which case she must be overflowing with well-disguised mirth. Because Nanny Clegg is in charge of making sure Alex doesn’t do anything fun or interesting (read: embarrassing to the production) for the next nine months until the final season of the show airs.

After leaving her job as an ER therapist, Lauren had been looking forward to a break. But when her mother asks her to do her cousin a favor, she can’t exactly say no–not without causing family drama–and so she ends up as the babysitter of a TV star who is by all accounts a wild, irresponsible party boy. Within a few days of knowing Alex, however, she begins to suspect that the tabloids–and her cousin–have gotten him all wrong. In fact, with the exception of some impulsive behavior stemming from his ADHD, Alex seems like a responsible and compassionate person. As their relationship develops from something purely professional into a real friendship, Lauren’s loyalties are tested. But it is Alex’s devotion to Lauren (surely just friendly devotion, right?) that ends up causing the next scandal, costing Lauren her job and Alex his career. With their professional relationship over and both of them steeped in guilt over the fallout, Alex and his one-time nanny will have to figure out how much sacrifice their friendship is worth–and whether friendship alone is really enough.

This hilarious, swoon-worthy, steamy romcom picks up the love story of two secondary characters in Dade’s bestseller, SPOILER ALERT, and if it’s possible, I think I liked this one even better(?!). Mostly because Alex, but also because the issues of self-worth and sacrifice were so powerful and accessible. Also, despite Alex’s occasionally juvenile sense of humor, the relationship was extremely mature: gradual to develop and always respectful, without the kind of lies and deceptions that often provide the tension in romance plots. I certainly enjoy lie/deception based suspense, but sometimes it’s nice to sink into a romance where the relationship is actually pretty healthy throughout and it’s the characters’ need for individual growth that creates the obstacles to their relationship’s success.

FYI, you do not need to have read SPOILER ALERT to read this one. You can read them in either order. If you have read SPOILER ALERT, you will notice that ALL THE FEELS has less fanfic but don’t worry: it still has plenty of amazing references to fanfic romance tropes (and, of course, pegging).

THE UNHEARD by Nicci French

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Tess and her ex have been effective co-parents since they split. He is happily married, and Tess is content in her relationship with Aidan, even if she’s not comfortable letting him spend the night yet. (At least not when her three-year-old daughter is home.) But when Poppy comes home from her dad’s house with a drawing of a woman being pushed out a window–and the cryptic message “he did kill and kill and kill”–Tess begins to fear that she witnessed something terrible. The police dismiss her as paranoid, but when a woman that Tess met at a cafe who claimed to know her (and Poppy) is murdered in the exact manner of her daughter’s drawing, Tess is certain that it must be connected. And if the murderer is someone that Poppy knows, then all of the men in Tess’ life are suspects–and she and Poppy are in very real danger.

Fans of psychological suspense won’t want to miss this mystery with a possibly-crazy narrator and an edge-of-your-seat climax. The protagonist gives us every reason to mistrust her judgment–and yet as we know there’s a murderer on the loose (and we are reading a thriller), we are left to calm our own anxieties over whether one of her many male acquaintances is truly a villain, or whether her obsession is blinding her to another lurking danger. Another triumph for Nicci French, and an excellent addition to any collection of adult mysteries and thrillers.

WELL MATCHED by Jen DeLuca

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After eighteen years as a single mom in a small town, April is ready for a change. In fact, she’s been planning it for the last decade: when her daughter leaves for college, she’ll sell the house and move into an apartment in the city. She’ll be farther from her younger sister, but closer to work. And it’s not like there’s anything else tying her to this town.

When her sister’s friend Mitch, a high school gym teacher and star of the annual summer Renaissance Faire, begs her to fake being his girlfriend at a family reunion, April sees a perfect opportunity to get some help with the repairs she’ll need to do to sell the house. She’s not sure anyone will believe she’s dating Mitch, what with him being a decade younger and the hottest man who has ever donned a kilt, but all he’s really asking her to do is show up and fake an attraction. Not that that will be difficult. But when she sees how Mitch’s family belittles him, April finds herself leaping to his defense and realizes that her attraction to Mitch might not be that shallow–or one-sided. After an unexpected night of passion, April is left wrestling with her emotions. Because in all her years of practical planning for the future, she never once considered the possibility of falling in love.

With fake dating drama and major communication fails, WELL MATCHED draws out the angst you hope for in a contemporary rom-com. Though kilts are promised (and delivered), the Ren Faire portion of the novel is comparatively small. More accurately, this story is about a divorced single mom finding the courage to let herself love again and a high school gym teacher accepting himself and his value to his community. Each has been devalued by people close to them (the hero by his extended family and the heroine by her ex) and it is through their fake relationship and real friendship that they regain their individual senses of self-worth. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one on the Ren Faire angle alone, I would absolutely put it in the hands of fans of steamy contemporary rom-coms.

THE SURVIVORS by Alex Shulman

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The police officer finds the three brothers on the front porch of their childhood home. Two of them are battered and bleeding. One of them is clutching an urn. It was Benjamin who made the emergency call, afraid that his two brothers were finally going to kill one another, the culmination of a lifetime of disagreements and tension. But as Benjamin remembers both the immediate past–the earlier hours that led to the police call–and the more distant past of a childhood with his alcoholic parents, he is forced to confront the complexities of their dysfunctional family life and the truth about a long-gone summer day that changed their lives forever.

Told by alternating the past and the present, THE SURVIVORS is a slow boil suspense-driven novel with a literary feel. Though suspense fans may grow frustrated with the novel’s gradual, relationship-centric start, readers who love stories of dysfunctional families will be hooked from the first chapter. Ultimately, the story is one of adults coming-of-age, reconciling with the consequences of their pasts on their futures. I’d recommend it to adult readers (and book clubs) who enjoy literary fiction about family dysfunction.

THE VIXEN by Francine Prose

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Simon was thrilled to be offered an editor position at a prestigious New York publishing house right out of Harvard, but he’s not off to an auspicious start. First, he had a confrontation with his disgruntled predecessor, who’d been fired for the “indiscretion” of becoming pregnant without being married. And then, his boss assigned him the manuscript: The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic, a terribly-written bodice ripper that makes a mockery of Ethel Rosenberg.

It has been a year since Ethel was executed for a crime she claimed not to commit. It didn’t matter what she claimed. McCarthyism had the country in its grip, and no one would dare suggest that the country’s most notorious Commie traitors were innocent–especially not Simon, who closely guards the secret that his mother used to live in the same tenement as Ethel. But he can’t shake his disgust at the way the deceased mother of two is portrayed in the novel. Against his better judgment, he decides to seek out the reclusive author, Anya Partridge, who is an inmate at a mental hospital, hoping to convince her to soften her portrayal of Mrs. Rosenberg. Instead, he gets drawn into a torrid affair with the enigmatic author. And when Anya disappears, the mystery she leaves in her wake is full of as much political intrigue as the Rosenberg case itself.

This literary historical novel has an immersive, noir feel that kept me turning pages throughout the slow-boil mystery. Rich characters and difficult moral questions propel a story that lingers long after the final pages. This novel has a classic feel that will appeal to intellectually-minded adult book groups and lovers of literary fiction.

Amazon.com: The Vixen: A Novel: 9780063012141: Prose, Francine: Books

ME (MOTH) by Amber McBride

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Since the car accident that took the lives of Moth’s parents and brother, she has been living with her aunt in a Virginia suburb where all the other kids (most of them white) do their best to ignore her. Moth doesn’t mind. She has been doing her best to make herself invisible. If she hadn’t lived so exuberantly before, maybe there would have been enough life available in that hospital for the rest of her family to walk out, too.

When a Navajo teen starts at her school just before summer break, Moth finds herself connecting with another person for the first time since her family’s death. Sani is a musician, always drumming on his desk, reminding Moth of her life before the accident, when she danced as easily as she breathed. And when Sani flees his abusive stepfather at the same time that Moth’s aunt vanishes, it seems like fate that the two should go on an adventure together, in search of healing and their history. On a roadtrip across the South toward Sani’s father in New Mexico, a romance blossoms as they each connect with their ancestors’ experiences and grapple with the magic and miracle of first love and their place in the universe.

This beautiful YA novel-in-verse explores the ways that our ancestral history and romantic love can both root us in the world and set us free. Poignant and surprising, the story brims with complex emotions and exquisite yet authentic poetry. Fans of Elizabeth Acevado and anyone looking for a thought-provoking, immersive literary novel will not want to miss this gorgeous debut!

UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR by TJ Klune

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Wallace Price is not a good person. He doesn’t try to be. Being a good person wouldn’t have helped him build his law firm from the ground up, and it certainly wouldn’t help him keep the firm profitable. Maybe he’d have more friends, and maybe his wife wouldn’t have divorced him, but relationships have never been as important to him as work, and that’s the way he likes it.

Until he dies.

Wallace is alarmed to find himself at his own funeral, shocked by the abysmal attendance and scathing eulogy, and terrified out of his intangible, ghostly skin when a Reaper whisks him away to a tea shop in the forest. There, a living man named Hugo identifies himself as the ferryman, the person responsible for helping Wallace transition from life to death–or more specifically, from death to whatever life awaits him after death–through the mysterious door in the ceiling of the tea shop attic. Wallace isn’t particularly eager to cross over into the unknown, but neither is he excited to continue existing in a haunted tea shop with Hugo’s annoying (dead) grandfather and exuberant (dead) service dog. Yet as Hugo helps Wallace process his grief over his own death, his attachment to the world–especially to Hugo–becomes stronger, and the thought of venturing through the door becomes less and less appealing. Because now that he’s dead, Wallace has finally begun to live…

Readers that are willing to trust Klune with their hearts will have them broken, healed, and filled to bursting through this tender exploration of the meaning of life (and death). Like Klune’s recent bestseller, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA, UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR is full of emotional swells, humor, quirky characters, love, deep thoughts, and a touch of whimsy. Wallace’s personal growth drives the plot while a quiet, mature romance blossoms along the way. It is another stunning novel that will draw in both fantasy readers and readers who tend to prefer literary fiction (add it to your adult book club list!). This novel won’t capture all of the CERULEAN SEA fans, specifically those who are craving another charming and escapist magical island. Rather than immersing the protagonist in the child-centered emotions of wonder, joy, and tolerance to catalyze his change, UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR is about the transformative experience of grief. It is hopeful, hilarious, and uplifting, but also you will cry (at least, I did). Still, Klune earned every one of my tears through the sheer immersive beauty of his story, and even days after finishing it, I am still smiling. I highly recommend this one!

MALICE by Heather Walter

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Alyce knows her place. She is the Dark Grace, not quite human enough, not quite Grace enough, tasked with mixing her potions and curses at the request of patrons from the town and then–for some reason–reviled for it. But when she discovers a castle on the cliffs and talks with the shadowy stranger imprisoned there, Alyce learns that there is a deeper magic inside her, capable of more than mixing elixirs and poisons. After a chance meeting with the princess Aurora, heiress to an ancient curse that dooms her to death by her next birthday, Alyce is shocked to learn that the princess is not searching for her true love to kiss her and break the spell. In fact, Aurora means to break it on her own–or with the help of a Vila. Alyce is skeptical; as the Dark Grace, she is capable only of destruction. But as her command of her powers grows, Alyce is noticed by another, more dangerous royal. And as her attraction to princess Aurora blossoms, Alyce will have to decide how much she is willing to sacrifice for love.

With so many fairytale twists on the market, it is a beautiful thing to find one so fresh, imaginative, and engrossing! The romance between Alyce and Aurora is believable with a strong foundation, and both teens and adults will resonate with the struggles of both young women to fit in and be true to themselves when who they are seems at odds with society’s values. (The characters are twenty years old, but the vibe is YA.) I highly recommend this one to all fans of magic-laden YA fantasy or heartfelt queer genre fiction.

Amazon.com: Malice: A Novel: 9781984818652: Walter, Heather: Books

GIRLS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Laura Brooke Robson

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It wasn’t supposed to be a Harbinger Year. The priests had assured them it would be another eight centuries before the next flood that drowned the world, killing all plants, animals, and people who couldn’t board a ship in time. But the signs were undeniable: the ice, the swarms of insects, the exodus of birds–the Flood was coming.

As one of the king’s acrobats, Natasha had been promised a spot on the fleet to survive the Flood. But when the chief Mariner sells the acrobats’ spaces to wealthy merchant, Natasha and her friends are desperate to find a way to get on board. All except the newest acrobat, Ella. She didn’t join the team to secure her future but to avenge a woman from her past. Ella is going to kill the king. When Natasha decides to try to earn the king’s hand in marriage–thereby guaranteeing a spot on a ship–she and Ella are brought into conflict. But will they be able to put aside their mutual attraction to achieve their independent goals?

Part thrilling fantasy, part queer romance, GIRLS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is impossible to put down. As the clock ticks down to the end of the world, two fierce protagonists fight to find themselves and each other. A perfect pick for fans of Rin Chupeco and Melissa Bashardoust.

Amazon.com: Girls at the Edge of the World (9780525554035): Robson, Laura  Brooke: Books