Fiction

BLAME IT ON THE BRONTES by Annie Sereno

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Athena returns to her hometown confident that she can uncover the identity of the mysterious author of classic literature-themed erotica, C.L. Garland. In fact, she has to. The chair of the English department is set to boot her out of academia if she doesn’t publish a book on this sabbatical, and she promised him something spectacular. Unfortunately, her semester away is off to a rocky start, and it’s all Thorne’s fault. She has no idea why her ex moved to her hometown, why he–a wealthy, elitist lawyer and literature snob–bought the little cafe where she would be working part-time, and why no one saw fit to warn her in advance. After their disastrous and hurtful break up, she was hoping she’d never see him again. Now, they’ll be working in close quarters nearly every day, operating under a tenuous truce that might break down at any moment, especially since he seems to disapprove for her hunt for the author of a “low-brow” erotica series. But while Athena may be an open book (for the most part), Thorne has secrets, including a bombshell about the reasons for the catastrophic end to their relationship. And as the hidden parts of everyone’s lives come to light (except the elusive Garland, of course), Athena begins to suspect that her career may be in less danger than her heart.

This book is a light, quick read with just enough of an undercurrent of secret-driven suspense to keep you turning pages without getting bogged down in drama. The characters’ mutual immaturity and reluctance to trust make them a well-suited (and entertaining) pair, and after reading about the cafe’s signature sandwiches, you will be dying for a trip to the bakery. A charming debut, this will be a perfect title to bring to the beach this summer!

NEVER A DUKE by Grace Burrowes

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Lady Rosalind Kinwood has quite given up on getting married. For several seasons, now, the Mayfair Matchmakers have deemed her quite unsuitable for the most eligible bachelors–both on account of the so-called radical political opinions she sends in to the papers and the lingering memory of her childhood stutter–and she certainly won’t be consenting to marry any of the detestable elderly gentlemen that her father hopes to pawn her off on in order to settle his many debts. She doesn’t mind so much being a wallflower, or at least she wouldn’t if people would actually take her seriously rather than dismissing her as eccentric and opinionated. But when another of her lady’s maids goes missing, Rosalind is determined to find someone who will listen to her.

Former pickpocket-turned-banker Ned Wentworth not only listens to Rosalind; he sees her. Though perhaps he shouldn’t be getting entangled with a noblewoman, even only for the sake of amateur investigations (his association with a ducal family can only lend him so much status). But as he begins his inquiries into the missing maids, Ned stumbles upon a true conspiracy that will take him and Rosalind back into the seedy parts of London Ned had hoped to leave behind with his childhood. And perhaps even more alarming is the attraction that he and Rosalind–as unsuited for each other as they are for anyone else in the Town–cannot seem to fight.

This Regency Romance has a thread of mystery and suspense that complement the easily-won affection between hero and heroine. As both Rosalind and Ned wrestle with their places within their families, the both must learn to stand up for their needs and desires–Ned to the adoptive family where love abounds, as do feelings of indebtedness, and Rosalind to the family of her birth, which claims the bonds of family duty without the love that would make such obligations worthwhile. An uplifting, triumphant conclusion to the romance and the mystery make this book a delightful addition to the Rogues to Riches series.

BLOOD WILL TELL by Heather Chavez

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When the cops question her about the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old girl, Frankie instinctively lies. No, there’s no way someone could have taken her truck last night without her noticing. And of course she had nothing to do with it. That last part was true–for now. Because the only person who could have taken her truck was her sister Izzy, and Frankie committed long ago to always helping Izzy clean up her messes.

Izzy claims to know nothing about the disappearance of the girl, but Frankie can tell she’s hiding something. She decides to investigate on her own–to find the truth before the police–so that she knows what she’ll need to do to protect Izzy. But as clues begin to point back to the fateful night five years ago when a drunken Izzy hit a deer (hopefully it was just a deer) with her car, Frankie realizes that more happened at that party than Izzy remembers. And the key to finding the missing girl might require figuring out what happened to the girl who went missing that night five years ago.

This mystery/thriller is delightfully suspenseful and masterfully paced–slow-moving enough to be torturous (in a good way) but with so many shady characters and tantalizing secrets to make it impossible to stop reading. I was genuinely unsure who the culprit was until the very end because so much groundwork had been laid for any of several suspects. This novel will make a wonderful addition to any mystery/thriller collection and a heart-stopping read for fans of the genre.

SHE LIED SHE DIED by Carissa Ann Lynch

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Chrissy Cornwall is a child murderer. She murdered a child, and she was a child when she did it. Now, she’s being released from prison and the whole town is in an uproar. Natalie, who was also a child when the murdered girl was discovered in her family’s fields, has never been able to get the case (or the image of the poor girl’s body) out of her mind. Now a struggling true crime writer, she reaches out to Chrissy, hoping the murderer will be able to fill in some of the gaps that she never understood about that horrible night.

But Chrissy shows up with a surprise declaration: her confession thirty years ago was a lie, and somewhere in this wholesome little town, there might still be a killer on the loose. The more Natalie begins to dig into the dark secrets of the town’s past, the more she starts to believe that Chrissy might have been a scapegoat–the girl from the wrong side of the tracks taking the fall on behalf of the golden children from the right side of town. But Natalie is from the wrong side of the tracks, too, and the secrets she uncovers might just tear her peaceful life to shreds.

Propelled by suspenseful secrets and clean, strong writing, SHE LIED SHE DIED is an amateur detective mystery that you won’t be able to put down. The clues are numerous (as are the complicating red herrings), and the twists are satisfying while the eerie small-town setting and character-driven narrative create a delightfully immersive experience that will snag thriller fans as well as mystery readers. I highly recommend this one to adult fans of the genre. It would also make a great pick for book clubs who don’t mind dead bodies (in their books, of course).

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley

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Daunis has always existed in two worlds: the Ojibwe community where her father is from and the community of wealthy white people in Sault Ste. Marie where she lives with her mother. She is part of both but fully accepted by neither.

When her maternal grandmother has a stroke shortly after her uncle dies of a meth overdose, Daunis knows a third disaster is coming. She tries to prevent it by deferring her college admission–pushing off her dream of becoming a doctor so that she can stay close to both of her communities–but her presence isn’t enough to stop a shocking tragedy. With her world crumbling around her, Daunis is swept up into an investigation of drug trade on the reservation as a confidential informant, taking the place of her uncle, who she learns was likely murdered. But even though she isn’t an enrolled member of the tribe, Daunis is an Ojibwe woman, and she has her own agenda for helping the Cherokee FBI agents who have infiltrated her town. She will be searching for the truth to save her people’s lives, while also protecting their culture and traditions from meddling outsiders. Unfortunately, even in the investigation, the line between her identities is blurred, and as her secrets pile up, and the fake relationship she’s developed with the young FBI rookie starts to morph into something real, Daunis realizes that the truth has the power not only to save lives but also to tear them apart.

This stellar novel hits all of the notes for a heart-wrenching YA contemporary, a brain-teasing YA mystery, and pulse-pounding thriller. Boulley immerses readers in Daunis’s communities–from Michigan “Hockey World” to her Ojibwe nation–and crafts a stunningly character-driven mystery that crescendos gradually toward the shocking conclusion. This book satisfies me as a thriller reader and as a contemporary reader, and while thoroughly accessible for its teenage audience, the mature storytelling style and pristine prose makes it a great choice for adult readers, as well. I will add my voice for the clamor of recommendations for this truly exceptional novel.

WATCH OUT FOR HER by Samantha M. Bailey

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Sarah Goldman is no stranger to hidden cameras. She had two of them in their old house, nanny cams that she intended to use to keep an eye on the new 22-year-old babysitter, Holly, nanny cams that caught the footage that turned their lives upside down. Now, in their new home thousands of miles away from Holly and her secrets, Sarah had hoped that she and her husband and son could have a fresh start.

But then she finds the camera in the ceiling.

Sarah doesn’t know who is watching her, but she knows it has some connection to Holly, to the secrets she uncovered, and to the fight that drove the girl who had become like family out of their home. Surrounded by suspicious neighbors, and living with a husband she can’t quite trust, Sarah struggles to see past everyone’s facade to find the danger. But maybe the dark secrets she should be probing are her own…

A straightforward psychological thriller that leans in hard to the paranoid wife/mother trope, WATCH OUT FOR HER will find its readers among stalwart fans of the genre. Though none of the twists were shocking, the solid foundation of clues and the broad cast of suspicious characters made for a satisfying plot and ending. I’d recommend this one to fans of GIRL ON THE TRAIN and similar thrillers with possibly-crazy female protagonists.

PART OF YOUR WORLD by Abby Jimenez

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Alexis is the last in a long line of doctors in the Montgomery family, and she’s somewhat of a disappointment. She’s only an ER doctor rather than a surgeon like her brother and parents, and she has refused to take back her cheating, abusive ex who is for some reason still her father’s best friend and golf-buddy. But now that her brother has run off to Cambodia with a wife their parents do not approve of, the responsibility of carrying on the Montgomery legacy falls squarely on Alexis’s shoulders.

Which is why Daniel is such a problem.

It was coincidence that he was the one who saw her car stuck in the mud when she was driving through his small town, but the attraction between them feels more like fate. After only a few visits to his world–so unlike her own–Alexis is falling not only for him, but for the whole community that he helps to care for. He is everything her ex wasn’t: compassionate, respectful, humble–despite his immense talent as a woodworker and cook (and, it needs to be said, lover). But Alexis knew the relationship was doomed from the first time she set foot in that town. Because how could she ever find a home in a world so different from her own?

Although abuse survivors should proceed with caution due to possible triggers, this story depicts verbal and emotional abuse and generational abuse with depth and compassion. A large part of the clash between the hero and heroine’s worlds comes from the different ways that family, community, and tradition have affected who they have grown up to be. In the hero’s small town, everyone lifts one another up as part of a respectful, communal family with deep roots that allow the characters to feel grounded, safe, and part of something larger. In the heroine’s world, however, traditions are used by abusers to control her, to keep her trapped within the structures they have created, and to take away her agency. The two settings become a powerful illustration of this dichotomy and it is not only the relationship but the uplifting community which finally gives the heroine the foundation she needs to begin forging her own path and rebuilding her self-worth. Thematically powerful with a swoony love story, this novel is a must-read for fans of contemporary romance or women’s fiction and would be a great pick for book clubs.

THE NO-SHOW by Beth O’Leary

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Valentine’s Day is perhaps the worst possible day to be stood up. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane. They don’t know each other. In fact, they don’t have much in common at all. Siobhan is a life coach who is nursing a broken heart and was looking forward to a night of passion with the hot date she sees every time she happens to be in London. Miranda lives a dangerous life as a tree surgeon and was looking forward to a quiet lunch with her boyfriend. Quiet, charity shop volunteer Jane isn’t planning to date again ever, actually, but was really hoping her friend would show up to the engagement party as her fake date so her coworkers would stop trying to set her up. But Valentine’s Day comes and goes, leaving all three women cursing the name of the man who stood them up:

Joseph Carter.

It’s Miranda who first starts to suspect that there’s something going on with Carter. Whether it’s an unexplained receipt or his mother letting slip the name Siobhan–and the fact that he seems to evade some of her most innocent questions… Could the thoughtful man she’s been seeing all this time really be a cheater? Meanwhile, Siobhan and Jane are finding their resolves to never fall in love again weaken in the face of Joseph’s charms. But there is more going on than any of them can see, and before the next Valentine’s Day rolls around, secrets are going to show up in a big way.

This is a well-crafted, moving contemporary love story about three women and one man all struggling to be true to themselves and their feelings. A heads up: if you are turned off by stories about cheating, you should know first and foremost that there is more to this story than meets the eye (or shows up in the premise on the back cover) but also that the tension throughout the majority of the book surrounding the alleged cheating makes for a stressful read if that’s not your cup of tea. So if that’s you, skip this one and pick up any other of Beth O’Leary’s fabulous books. But I will say as someone who does not like books about cheating myself, the resolution of this story (the whole last third, really) was deeply satisfying, heartwarming, and beautiful. So I do recommend this book to fans of sweet contemporary romance and “women’s fiction” provided that stories about cheating are not a major trigger for you.

FINDING GRACE by Janis Thomas

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Grace knows Louise will come rescue her from the mental hospital. It’s the whole reason she came to New York and stood up on that bridge in her underwear–to get her estranged daughter’s attention. Because the voices in Grace’s head are adamant. Someone is in danger, and this time, it’s the daughter Louise hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Melanie has been happy in her latest foster home. Happier than she was in any of the others, anyway. Her foster mom is a little weird, but her foster dad is great. And so far she’s been able to hide the messages that come to her through the voice that writes in her journal using her hand. But the latest message sends a chill up her spine and makes her wonder whether it’s finally time to let her foster parents–or at least someone in on her secret.

Because… someone is coming…

This novel sits at an unusual intersection between psychological thriller and contemporary fiction (or “women’s fiction”). The early chapters of the book focus on multigenerational family dysfunction between Louise, her estranged mother, her late grandmother, and the daughter she gave up, while the nebulous and possibly fictitious danger hinted at by the voices in several characters’ heads keeps this thriller from being truly thrilling until well into the second half. As a result, this novel is most likely to find its readers among fans of both contemporary stories of family dysfunction and psychological thrillers who will find the beginning as captivating as the final third.

BUSINESS NOT AS USUAL by Sharon C. Cooper

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Dreamy doesn’t plan to work for her micromanaging boss forever. Soon, she’ll have completed her college degree (a little later than planned, but life happens), and then she’ll be on her way to launching her own business. Once she wins the lottery, of course. And after all the years she’s been playing, that’s got to happen soon.

But meeting multimillionaire venture capitalist Karter Redford throws all her plans into disarray–especially that plan where she wasn’t going to date anyone for a while, and certainly not another rich elite like the ex that shredded her heart and her self-confidence. Even though they both have a policy of not mixing dating with business, Dreamy and Karter keep winding up in one another’s paths, and the attraction is mutual and impossible to ignore. Could it be that finding one another was something more than coincidence? As they each wrestle with their own doubts and insecurities, they might just have to accept that a love like theirs isn’t blind luck. It might just be fate.

This romance is adorable, funny, and plenty steamy. The hero and heroine are well developed and easy to love. Because they are so easy to love, their romance itself comes fairly easily with only a handful of external obstacles, none of which come from lies or mistreatment by either of the partners. This is a novel for the romance reader who is not looking for angst and suspense but instead for a lighthearted plot that is gentle on the emotions and full of smiles.