Current Picks: Book Reviews

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (2016)

At the beginning of this compelling novel, a private plane crashes 16 minutes after takeoff from Martha’s Vineyard; only 2 (of 11) people survive. The rest of the story alternates between the investigation of the crash and the stories of those on board leading up to the crash (we get a chapter from the perspective of each person on board).

Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley writes a compulsively readable novel, revealing bits of information until you unravel what happened and why. Before the Fall is an excellent choice for a book group, inspiring discussions about truth, technology, the media, and flawed characters.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig (2018)

At the start of this riveting Gilded Age mystery, a man is dead. What happened? One thread of the story follows his sister Janie in her quest for answers; another details his courtship of his wife five years earlier. With a compelling combination of historical detail, strong characters, and intricate plot, The English Wife will grab you immediately and keep you guessing until the shocking end. Lauren Willig's latest novel is darker than her previous works, but so worth a read.

The Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson (2017)

runninginheelsRachel Gibson sparkles in her return to sports romance. Lexie Kowalsky (daughter of the characters of 1998's Simply Irresistible) flees her wedding to a groom she met on a reality TV show. Her escape comes via a floatplane heading from Seattle to a remote town in Canada. Also aboard is hockey star Sean Knox, who decides Lexie doesn’t need to know who he is just yet. When they return to Seattle, Lexie concocts a plan to deal with her recent notoriety—and keeps Sean involved by bombarding him with detailed lists and memos.

The Art of Running in Heels, a sweet and sassy contemporary romance with witty banter, is perfect for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, and Julie James.

Big Mushy Happy Lumpy by Sarah Andersen (2017)

bighappymushyAfter reading Heather’s review of Adulthood is a Myth, I immediately whipped through the first in the “Sarah Scribbles” collection. Sarah Andersen’s comic strips offer sparse drawings and humorous relatable insights. Big Mushy Happy Lumpy, the second book in the collection, is also a quick and enjoyable read—but it takes a different turn, highlighting struggles with social anxiety. This shift in tone brings to mind Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

I can’t wait to read Herding Cats, a new collection out next month.

The Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard (2018)

womanleftbehindLinda Howard again successfully balances humor and romantic suspense (a la Mr. Perfect). Tech expert Jina starts a G. I. Jane-like quest to join a special ops group in the field. Her determination to conquer physical and mental challenges is inspiring. As leader, Levi ensures the team is at top preparedness—and because of his guidance, sparks fly between the pair. Jina’s interactions with her teammates are hilarious. But it all takes a serious turn when a mission goes haywire. With immensely likeable characters, strong relationships, and a compelling story, The Woman Left Behind will grab your attention—just hang on for an exhilarating ride.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole (2017)

extraordinaryunionSet during the American Civil War, An Extraordinary Union features spies working on behalf of the Union. Alyssa Cole’s historical romance features adventure, intrigue, period details, and memorable characters.

Born into slavery, Elle Burns is now a free woman. In 1862, she goes undercover, working as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator in Richmond, Virginia. She meets Pinkerton Secret Service Agent Malcolm McCall, a Scottish immigrant, and the pair form an uneasy alliance. As their relationship (both professional and personal) grows, Elle and Malcolm must navigate the uneasy world of race, politics, and war.

For other historical romances featuring spies, try Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Beverly JenkinsThe Winds of the Storm, or Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (2018)

This fun and flirty debut novel is a charming contemporary romantic comedy. After Alexa and Drew are stuck in an elevator, she agrees to be his fake girlfriend for his ex's wedding. Hilarity ensues between the lawyer-turned-mayor’s chief of staff and pediatric surgeon from opposite ends of California as they navigate their relationship in this multicultural romance.

Pick up The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory when you’re in the mood to laugh (although it’s not all fun and games as they overcome obstacles). For other contemporary romances featuring smart protagonists, try The Thing About Love by Julie James or our new list of recommended romantic comedy novels.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018)

kissquotientPretty Woman with a twist: The Kiss Quotient is a delightfully frothy and hot romantic comedy. In her debut novel, Helen Hoang introduces two lovable yet troubled characters. 30-year-old Stella excels professionally (as an econometrician) yet struggles socially, in part due to her Asperger’s Syndrome.

After a not-so-subtle hint from her parents about grandchildren, Stella employs her trademark logic, hiring an escort to help her improve in the sex and relationship department. Michael struggles with debt, and cynicism, and his boisterous Vietnamese family, and, well, this is a romance: happily ever after happens, but not before the pair hit a few roadblocks. Their journey is delightful, and shows a couple realistically coping with the challenges of neurodiversity. This story is a perfect summer read.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig (2017)

ginnymoonFive years after being taken from her abusive mother, 14-year-old Ginny is in a forever home. And yet, not everything is proceeding smoothly. Narrated entirely from her perspective, Ginny Moon features the inner thoughts and interactions of this lovable yet troubled young autistic girl. The adults around her don’t understand why Ginny won’t let go of the baby doll left behind in her birth mother’s apartment, and Ginny doesn’t get why the adults won’t take action—leaving the reader trying to figure out the mystery.

Debut novelist Benjamin Ludwig will capture your attention with this moving and heartwarming story. If you loved Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I think you’ll also enjoy Ginny’s story.
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I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon (2018)

iwasanastasiaLong fascinated by the Romanovs, I jumped at the chance to read a new historical novel featuring the doomed Russian royals. Did Anastasia survive the firing squad? In alternating timelines, Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson share their stories. Whether you think you know what happened, you’ll be drawn into the dual narratives—Anastasia’s story starts in 1917 and moves forward, while Anna’s narration starts in 1970 and goes backwards in time.

I was Anastasia is a richly detailed and moving tale. Try listening to Ariel Lawhon’s latest novel—narrators Jane Collingwood and Sian Thomas do an excellent job bringing the fascinating story to life.

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (2018)

dukebydefaultAnother unique and delightful romance from Alyssa Cole featuring realistic, sympathetic, and charming characters. In contemporary Scotland, Tavish is a traditional swordmaker struggling to keep his business afloat. American socialite Phoebe sees this apprenticeship as a chance to turn her life around. Sparks fly. You'll root for this pair as they navigate social issues, family challenges, and an unexpected dukedom in A Duke by Default.

1356 by Bernard Cornwell (2013)

1356A gripping historical adventure filled with compelling characters, 1356 details another segment of the fight for supremacy among England, France, and the church. While this is Bernard Cornwell’s fourth novel featuring Thomas of Hookton, you can jump right in to this standalone story.

1356 is an action-packed tale of intrigue, political machinations, and a quest culminating with the Battle of Poitiers during the Hundred Years’ War. Thomas and his band of mercenaries adhere to strong moral code, often putting them at odds with others in medieval France.

For fans of history and historical fiction, military and war stories, quests, and compelling characters. Just a warning: this novel features several battles, so includes some graphic (though not gory) violence.

Pro tip: Listen to the dramatic narration by Jack Hawkins for distinctly voiced characters, gritty battle scenes, and intense adventure.

 

Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce (2018)

dearmrsbirdIn 1940 London, 22-year-old Emmy Lake dreams of becoming a journalist to contribute to the war effort. Quite by accident, she accepts a job as a typist for a women's magazine... that soon has Emmy secretly answering letters written to an advice column. Debut author A. J. Pearce creates strong, charming characters and friendships along with a solid sense of place with London under frequent raids during the Blitz.

Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Dear Mrs. Bird is a cheerful, bittersweet, and heartwarming tale of making a difference in the world in the midst of war. We’ve created a list of novels that take place on the home front during World War II.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017)

amerstreetFabiola and her mother are leaving Haiti and coming to live in Detroit. But when Fabiola's mother is detained in New Jersey, Fabiola is left to travel onward to her aunt and cousins's home.

I fell into the world that Ibi Zoboi created; blending an American city with Haitian Vodou. Where the average person might see a homeless man on the corner, Fabiola sees Papa Legba.

Fabiola's struggles immediately draw you into the story and when she is presented with an opportunity to help her mother by spying on her cousin's boyfriend, readers will feel for Fabiola.

It's been several months since I've listened to American Street, and I can hear Robin Miles's beautiful narration when I think of the story and the characters.

This Abe Lincoln nominee (PDF) will possibly break your heart (it did for me), and everyone should read it.

 
 
 
 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

ghostGhost is the first book in the Track series by Jason Reynolds. It's currently on the Rebecca Caudill 2019 nominees list.

I absolutely adored this book (and its sequels: Patina, Sunny, and Lu).

Ghost may appear to be a simply sports-themed book, but it's not. It has a deep backstory, and I loved watching Ghost – the main character – develop and grow as his story unfurled.

While the series is definitely linked by the track team, each character really shines in their own book. I think Patina is my favorite of all four.

Definitely add this to your reading list and don't forget to vote for the Rebecca Caudills (PDF) starting in February!

Author's Website: https://www.jasonwritesbooks.com/