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The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (2013)

lastThis novel details the journey of Honor Bright, a young Quaker who leaves England to follow her sister, who was about to start a new life in Ohio with her betrothed. Things don’t turn out as planned when Honor’s sister dies en route. With nowhere else to go, Honor moves in with her sister’s fiancé, Adam, and his sister-in-law, and struggles to deal with his family.

Along the way, Honor befriends a local milliner named Belle who makes good use of Honor’s excellent quilting skills. Working in the shop, Honor meets Belle’s brother, a slave hunter, and witnesses some movement along the Underground Railroad, giving her insight into both those who seek to uphold the law and those who sought to help slaves to freedom. The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is a thought-provoking and leisurely-paced historical novel that is filled with interesting characters, loss, and a unique look at slavery in America through the eyes of the Quaker community.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017)

firesLittle Fires Everywhere begins with a blazing fire in the Richardson family home. Everyone suspects their troubled youngest daughter, Izzy, is responsible for starting the fire. The reader is taken back in time to before the fire to understand the events that have led up to this moment. The Richardson family lives in the affluent town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and rent their smaller, second home out to artist Mia and her daughter, Pearl. The two families—and the town—are torn apart when a mother returns to take back her abandoned baby from its new adoptive family, beginning a divisive legal custody battle.

Told through multiple viewpoints, this angsty novel looks at the complex relationships of families and community members, and the influential roles people can play in each other’s lives. Vivid, complex characters and multi-layered story lines make this a great choice for book clubs. Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel follows her well-received debut Everything I Never Told You.

 
 
 
 

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

senseI was looking for a short, yet thought-provoking audiobook to act as a sort of palette cleanse between two light-hearted, popular works of fiction, so I opted for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It turned out to be the perfect choice.

In less than five hours, we journey through the life of the narrator, Tony, and the story of two relationships from his youth, one a friend and one a lover. Now in his sixties, Tony is confronted with the truth of those relationships and forced to reevaluate his past behavior and his own carefully curated story of self. The audiobook narration (by Richard Morant) was terrific—the voice you hear becomes Tony, which really brings the story to life. This character-driven book examines the importance of memory in shaping self and questions what we remember as truth. I recommend it for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro and Marilynne Robinson.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (2018)

bellesCamellia is a Belle. Belles are the most important people in the kingdom, other than the royal family, because they control beauty. In the world of Orléans, everyone is born a "gris": gray skin, red eyes, straw colored hair. Only the Belles can grant a person a new look, using their magic to change appearance, manner, and control age.

Camellia wants to become the Favorite Belle—to work in the palace and work for the royal family. But is that life really what it seems? When dark mysteries arise, like crying girls in the middle of the night and former Belles being veiled, Camellia must decide to find her own truth in beauty.

I've listened to The Belles on audio twice. Rosie Jones, the narrator, does a wonderful job with voices and accents. She makes the city of Orléans come to life, and her take on Princess Sophia's voice still sends shivers up my spine.

I love Dhonielle Clayton's descriptions of the world of Orléans – the post balloons and petit cakes and teletropes – the world building is fantastic.

The last few pages of this book will keep readers on the edge of their seat. And when they read the last line, they'll be clamoring for the sequel The Everlasting Rose, out March 5, 2019. [Beware! There are spoilers on the linked page for The Belles.]

In the meantime, you can join me as I start my third re-listen.

Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis (2018)

not_our_kindIn 1947, an accident between two cabs brings Eleanor Moskowitz into the world of Patricia Bellamy and her family. Eleanor, who is Jewish, has just left a position at a prestigious school in Manhattan. Patricia offers her a job teaching her daughter, Margaux, who had polio, thus has trouble walking, and is very reluctant to go back to school—hence the tutor.

Margaux takes an immediate shine to Eleanor, but in the upper class New York society, Eleanor is encouraged to keep her religion a secret. Things get even more complicated when Eleanor falls for Patricia's older brother, Tom, and Patricia's husband, Wynn, becomes increasingly angry about Eleanor's presence. Told through the eyes of Eleanor and Patricia, Not Our Kind explores the two women's very different lives in a time of change. Check out this debut from Kitty Zeldis.

The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley (2018)

judgeThis read is a fun tour of the British and Dutch colonies of North America in the mid-17th century. The principal character, Balty, although young and inexperienced, is charged with finding the two judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I of England. Balty links up with Huncks, an experienced agent of the Crown, who guides Balty through the new world territories populated by Puritans, Quakers, Native Americans, and finally the Dutch.

Meanwhile, back in England, Balty’s cousin, Samuel Pepys, fears a war with the Dutch might be imminent and Balty might be in great danger. Almost miraculously, Balty survives and New Amsterdam gets a new name.

Check out The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley today.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood (2016)

bookthatmattersAva decides to join a library book club after her husband of 25 years leaves her for another woman. At the end of the year, the club decides that each member will lead a discussion based on the book that mattered most to them during their life. Ava has chosen an esoteric book that is hard to find, but it was the book that helped her work through the death of her sister and, shortly after, her mother’s suicide. Meanwhile, Ava’s daughter Maggie is living in Paris, supported by an older, married man, and is lying to her mother about her life.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood alternates between Maggie and Ava’s perspectives and is full of well-developed characters. The best parts are the book club discussions, which the reader gets to listen in on. They can open you up to new reading options and build your TBR list. A good choice for book clubs, this is an issue-driven book with family and heart.

 
 
 
 

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (1999)

daughterforestWeaving Celtic mythology and classic fantasy together, Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest is an enchanting book that you won’t want to put down. The story follows Sorcha, a young Irish girl living with her warlord father and six older brothers who love their sister fiercely. Their lands house fair folk and ancient magic that help keep them safe from the Britons trying to invade.

Though safe from humans, her father soon remarries a sorceress that curses her and her brothers, turning the six boys into swans and forcing her into silence until she can break the spell. Over the next few years, Sorcha must try to fulfil the curses requirements while not uttering a single sound, writing anything down, or conveying any part of her story. After being taken in by a Red, a British lord, she must try to save her brothers and her one true love.

This story reads like a classic fairy tale bolstered with captivating details and great character development. While Daughter of the Forest stands on its own, you can check out the rest of the series to revisit the magical world.

 
 
 
 

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/

Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis (2018)

poppyWhen retired actress Poppy Harmon discovers that her recently deceased husband left her bankrupt, she wonders what type of job would be suitable for her. After a little thought, she decides to open the Desert Flowers Detective Agency with her best friends Iris and Violet. They find that no one wants to hire three women in their sixties, so they recruit Matt, who is Poppy's daughter's boyfriend (and a very good-looking actor) to join their team. With the addition of Violet's twelve-year-old grandson, Wyatt, in charge of all the computer (i.e. hacking) work, they are good to go.

Their first case is finding out who is responsible for a series of burglaries at a local retirement community. With lots of humor and very vivid characters, Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis is a perfect read for those who love cozy mysteries.

 
 
 
 

Twenty-One Days by Anne Perry (2018)

twenty-one_daysAuthor Anne Perry introduces a new generation of Pitts: Daniel, a junior barrister in 1910 London, assists in the defense of an arrogant biographer whose work may touch on and stain the career of Dan’s father. The biographer has been convicted of the murder of his wife and sentenced to hang in 21 days. Pressured by a senior member of his firm, Dan risks using his underground connections to exhume the dead wife’s body for possible answers to the contradictions he has found.

First in a spinoff series, Twenty-One Days can be read alone—and may be enjoyed by fans of the long-running series featuring Daniel’s parents, Inspector Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte.

Long-running series: https://www.goodreads.com/series/40488-charlotte-thomas-pitt

 
 
 
 

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson (2018)

meet_meWhen Englishwoman Tina Hopgood was a child, a Danish archaeologist, Professor Glob, dedicated a book he wrote to Tina and her friends. Tina and her best friend, Bella, always vowed they would visit the museum in Denmark where the Tollund Man (one of Professor Glob's finds) is housed. Fifty years later, Tina has still not visited, and Bella has passed away from cancer. Tina decides to write to Glob, yet finds he has also died. She gets a letter from the curator of the museum, Anders Larsen, instead.

Meet Me at the Museum features the correspondence between Tina and Anders as they find themselves confiding in each other their deepest thoughts and feelings, even though they live far apart. As their friendship grows, one wonders will Tina and Anders finally meet? Anne Youngson’s novel is a great readalike for Letters from Skye and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

 
 
 
 
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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (2017)

beforeI especially enjoy novels based on real life events and/or people, as well as stories that alternate between the past and present. This has both!  Before We Were Yours is an eye-opening look at disturbing events that took place at Tennessee Children's Home during the 1930s and ‘40s. This orphanage kidnapped children from poor families so that wealthy families, willing to pay high fees, could adopt them. The children were gravely mistreated while living in the orphanage, many of them dying before being adopted.

The story focuses on a set of five siblings who were kidnapped from their river houseboat in 1939. The oldest child does everything in her power to try to keep them together. It alternates between their journey in the past and present day, where we meet Avery, who discovers that her grandmother has something in her past that she’s never shared with her family. Avery’s mission is to uncover this mystery. The chapters that focused on the past were emotionally intense with authentic, complex characters. This is the first book I’ve read by Lisa Wingate, but it won’t be the last.

 
 
 
 

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.

 
 
 
 

Intercepted by Alexa Martin (2018)

interceptedA modern romance featuring a delightfully snarky heroine. In Intercepted, Marlee vows not to date another athlete after her 10-year relationship with an NFL player goes south. Then she meets quarterback Gavin, and you can guess what happens next. What makes this story shine is Marlee's independence and individual growth, her witty inner dialogue (coupled with hilarious hashtags), and her fabulous support system.

Alexa Martin is a new author perfect for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jasmine Guillory, and Julie James.