I love this time of year when I get to share my favorite recent reads with you, my friends, and I get to hear about what you’re reading! I like to give you several options, spread across genres. So, get ready to add to your list of what you want to take to the beach, on the plane, or down to the pool. Enjoy!
Here are my favorite books from the past year (click on the book cover to go to its Amazon page):
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, Grace Healey finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.
Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a network of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
My thoughts: The Lost Girls of Paris is one of those books that authors such as myself long to write. With just enough truth to hook you and more than enough heart to reel you in, it’s the best way to lose an afternoon.
Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg
Lucille Howard is getting on in years, but she stays busy. Thanks to the inspiration of her dearly departed friend Arthur Truluv, she has begun to teach baking classes, sharing the secrets to her delicious classic Southern yellow cake, the perfect pinwheel cookies, and other sweet essentials. Her classes have become so popular that she’s hired Iris, a new resident of Mason, Missouri, as an assistant. Iris doesn’t know how to bake but she needs to keep her mind off a big decision she sorely regrets.
When a new family moves in next door and tragedy strikes, Lucille begins to look out for Lincoln, their son. Lincoln’s parents aren’t the only ones in town facing hard choices and uncertain futures. In these difficult times, the residents of Mason come together and find the true power of community—just when they need it the most.
My thoughts: When you wake up at 4am and feel compelled to reach for the book by your bedside, you know you’ve chosen a good story. Night of Miracles will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you know that all is right with the world no matter the outcome of your situation. All things happen for a reason. Beautifully written. Thank you.
Heart-Stopping Time Travel
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
When Carly Sears, a young woman widowed by the Vietnam war, receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970, and she is told that nothing can be done to help her child. But her brother-in-law, a physicist with a mysterious past, tells her that perhaps there is a way to save her baby. What he suggests is something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Carly has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage she never knew existed. Something that will mean an unimaginable leap of faith on Carly’s part.
And all for the love of her unborn child.
My thoughts: All writers read a book or two and think, “I wish I had thought of this story and written it.” While that might be true of this book for me, I don’t believe I could have done any better than Diane Chamberlain already did. She wove a beautiful tale of love lost and love gained, twice over, spanning decades and cultures. Be forewarned, you won’t want to put this down.
A Mystery You Won’t Be Able to Put Down
Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks
Charlotte was supposed to be looking after the children, and she swears she was. She only took her eyes off of them for one second. But when her three kids are all safe and sound at the school fair, and Alice, her best friend Harriet’s daughter, is nowhere to be found, Charlotte panics. Frantically searching everywhere, Charlotte knows she must find the courage to tell Harriet that her beloved only child is missing. And admit that she has only herself to blame.
Harriet, devastated by this unthinkable, unbearable loss, can no longer bring herself to speak to Charlotte again, much less trust her. Now more isolated than ever and struggling to keep her marriage afloat, Harriet believes nothing and no one. But as the police bear down on both women trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened to this little girl, dark secrets begin to surface—and Harriet discovers that confiding in Charlotte again may be the only thing that will reunite her with her daughter….
My thoughts: Charlotte made mistakes. Harriet made mistakes. We all make mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes cause us to lose our friends. Sometimes they cause us to lose sight of who we are. Sometimes they lead to death. And sometimes, they allow us to see what we should have seen all along. Gripping to the end, Her One Mistake will make you question every word you read. Your only mistake would be to put the book down before finishing.
Charming, Witty, Unforgettable Historical Tale
The Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
My thoughts: Sheer Perfection. Whoever thought that a book about a man under house arrest in a hotel for 40 years would be interesting? Interesting, provocative, emotionally charged, and worthy of praise, A Gentleman in Moscow more than delivers. It entertains, engrosses, and enraptures. The prose is literary intoxication while the story is literary genius.
Crime Thriller at Its Best
The People vs. Alex Cross by James Patterson
Alex Cross is on the wrong side of the law. Charged with gunning down followers of his nemesis Gary Soneji in cold blood, he is being turned into the poster child for trigger-happy cops. Cross knows it was self-defense. But will a jury see it that way?
When his former partner Sampson shows up needing his help, Cross jumps at the chance, even if it may end up costing him what’s left of his career. When a string of young, blonde women go missing, the investigation leads Cross and Sampson to the most depraved, darkest corners of the internet, where murder is just another form of entertainment.
As the prosecution presents its case, and the nation watches, even those closest to Cross begin to doubt his innocence. If he can’t convince his own family that he didn’t pull the trigger with intent to kill, how can he hope to persuade a jury? But even with everything on the line, Cross will do whatever it takes to stop a dangerous criminal . . . even if he can’t save himself.
Struggling to prove his own innocence and uncover the truth lurking online, Cross must risk everything to save his most at-risk patient of all: himself.
My thoughts: I’ve been a long-time fan of Patterson, beginning with my first job as a librarian back in 1992, just as Along Came A Spider was hitting the bestseller list. Over the years, Patterson has written books for adults, children, and teens, ranging from police thrillers to romance to Christmas picture books. I’ve read most of them. However, lately I find myself disappointed in many of his offerings, and the reason is abundantly clear. I’m a writer, and I know what it would mean to be taken under the wings of a prolific, award-winning author, as Patterson has done with the co-authors of so many of his books. But when it comes down it, his best books, by far, are the ones he authors himself. There is a distinctive flow, an energy, a torrent of action, dialogue, and characterization in his writing that simply isn’t there when the book is co-authored. The People Vs Alex Cross is a reminder of the brilliance that is James Patterson when he writes without the aid of someone else stringing his story together.
Best Beach Book
By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank
The Lowcountry of South Carolina is where By Invitation Only begins at a barbecue engagement party thrown by Diane English Stiftel, her brother Floyd, and her parents to celebrate her son’s engagement. On this gorgeous, magical night, the bride’s father, Alejandro Cambria, a wealthy power broker whose unbelievably successful career in private equity made him one of Chicago’s celebrated elite, discovers the limits and possibilities of cell phone range. While the mother of the bride, Susan Kennedy Cambria, who dabbles in the world of public relations and believes herself deserving of every square inch of her multimillion-dollar penthouse and imaginary carrara marble pedestal, learns about moonshine and dangerous liaisons.
Soon By Invitation Only zooms to Chicago, where the unraveling accelerates. Nearly a thousand miles away from her comfortable, familiar world, Diane is the antithesis of the bright lights and super-sophisticated guests attending her son Fred’s second engagement party. Why a second party? Maybe it had been assumed that the first one wouldn’t be up to snuff? Fred is marrying Shelby Cambria, also an only child. The Cambrias’ dearest wish is for their daughter to be happy. If Shelby wants to marry Frederick, aka Fred, they will not stand in her way—although Susan does hope her friends won’t think her daughter is marrying more than a few degrees beneath her socially. At the same time, Diane worries that her son will be lost to her forever.
By Invitation Only is a tale of two families, one struggling to do well, one well to do, and one young couple—the privileged daughter of Chicago’s crème de la crème and the son of hard -working Southern peach farmers.
My thoughts: Another winner by Dorothea Benton Frank. I laughed so hard at times, my husband told me I was keeping him awake. Other times, I needed a tissue or three. The end was just how it should be. Thank you, Dorothea Benton Frank.
Pirates, Hidden Treasure, Family Dynamics, and Unrequited Love – What More Could You Want in a Summer Read?
The Devil’s Fortune by Amy Schisler
As a child, all Courtney ever wanted was to own Riverview Terrace. As an adult, that was the farthest thing from her mind. Following a near-fatal accident and court-approved windfall, Courtney gains the funds to buy her ancestors’ colonial-era house, complete with rotting beams and a collapsing roof. The legends of pirate treasure, hidden passageways, and long-concealed family secrets intrigue Courtney, but when a vandal thwarts all progress, the house is suddenly much more than she believes she can handle. River Terrace may lead Courtney to her destiny, but will the journey be on a road paved with treasure or a dead-end street that leaves her with nothing but regret?
My thoughts: Okay, this is my latest book, but it’s my favorite of my books so far. Taken from the pages of my own family history, The Devil’s Fortune introduces readers to the infamous pirate Anne Bonny and weaves her story into those of the Tidewater Pirates who pillaged and plundered along the Chesapeake Bay, Patuxent River, and their tributaries. Anne reluctantly settles into life in the Colonies, making a home for herself on the shores of the Wicomico River. Hundreds of years later, Courtney, a caricature of my younger self, searches for many of the same things that Anne searched for, including an elusive pirate treasure. I hope you will feel as good reading this fictionalized excerpt from my family’s past as much as I enjoyed writing it!
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What I was writing about a year ago this week: “A Tremendous Thing”.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is a finalist for the RWA Golden Quill Contest and the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).