Set 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 Jenkins’ The Winds of the Storm, or Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.
Linda 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.
After 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.
Rachel 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.
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.
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.
I picked up this classic British mystery after seeing a preview for the movie adaptation. My first foray into the world of Agatha Christie and Detective Hercule Poirot did not disappoint. Murder on the Orient Express has an abundance of suspects, an engrossing story, and a clever plot. Listen to actor Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey and Beauty and the Beast fame) narrate the novel (available on CD and Hoopla). Between his performance and Christie’s story, you will be hooked immediately. Stevens’ range of accents makes it easy to follow the large cast of characters. And it's only 6.5 hours long! Want more? We’ve got you covered with whichever direction you go: check out our lists of classic mysteries and audiobooks for a quick trip. Also, check out Shows ‘n Tunes in January for Corrine’s review of the movie adaptation.
Full disclosure: I didn’t think I’d like World War Z (Zombies? No thank you.) and only started the novel because I had to (yes, that still happens). Nevertheless, author Max Brooks surprised me with a unique structure and intriguingly compelling story. Set 12 years after the end of the zombie war, character Max Brooks is traveling the globe interviewing those involved in the conflict. Each character shares their experiences, relaying information on the causes of the zombie uprising, challenges of the war, and the rebuilding process. The story is not graphic or gruesome and somehow, is realistic (despite the zombies and the post-apocalypse). Listen to the audiobook: because the story is composed of a variety of interviews, a full cast narrates the immersive story—lending the book true crime and living history elements. Narrators include Alan Alda, Martin Scorsese, Simon Pegg, Alfred Molina, and many more.
What an eye-opener—investigative journalist Sam Quinones pens a compelling and horrifying tale of how a combination of factors lead to the current devastating opiate problem affecting people across the United States. In Dreamland, short chapters focus on various individuals (dealers, doctors, addicts, and their families) and corporations (marketing firms and pharmaceutical companies). Quinones weaves multiple threads together, showing how an influx of black tar heroin from Mexico (and a new delivery system) and the rise of OxyContin and other legal pharmaceuticals created today’s widespread challenges. He successfully humanizes people in this narrative, including some individuals that may surprise you. There is so much to talk about—consider discussing Dreamland with your book group.
Did you love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society? Then race to the library to get a copy of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir! Set in 1940 England, Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel focuses on the women in a small village during World War II. Told through letters and journals from multiple points of view, this charming story displays resilience, hope, and heartbreak on the home front. Try the audiobook, which features an engaging full cast. You might also enjoy browsing our lists of epistolary and WWII novels.