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The Bullet Garden

After writing a trio of books about ex-Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger, author Stephen Hunter launched a second series featuring Bob Lee’s father, Earl Swagger, who is also a Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient to boot. It’s been 20 years since Hunter’s last installment in the senior Swagger series, but it comes roaring back this month with The Bullet Garden. The book serves as a prequel to the three Earl Swagger books that preceded it (Hot Springs, Pale Horse Coming and Havana), chronicling his adventures in France during the days immediately following D-Day. Swagger spearheads a secret mission to track down and kill German snipers who are systematically picking off Allied soldiers crossing the Normandy meadowlands (which the troops have nicknamed “bullet gardens”). A sniper himself, Swagger is a natural fit for the job at hand, but even his legendary skills will be sorely tested in this milieu. Fans of firearms history will find lots to like in The Bullet Garden, as will military strategy buffs, but there is truly something for everyone: a budding romance; layers of duplicity and intrigue; and an omnipresent sense of the importance of working together for a greater cause. 

Encore in Death

J.D. Robb’s Encore in Death is the (are you ready for this?) 56th entry in the wildly popular series featuring Eve Dallas, a police detective in 2060s New York City who, by my calculations, should be celebrating her first birthday just about now. Despite being set in a Blade Runner-esque future of androids, airboards (think hoverboards) and the much-appreciated automated chefs, Robb’s mysteries don’t need to rely on sci-fi trappings to engage the reader. They are straight-up classically constructed whodunits. And this case features a time-honored murder weapon: cyanide. Just as A-list actor Eliza Lane takes the stage for an impromptu song at her latest high society Manhattan party, there is a crash of glass, and Eliza’s husband, equally famous actor Brant Fitzhugh, collapses to the floor—dead, with the smell of bitter almonds emanating from his lips. The initial thinking is that Eliza was the intended victim, as Brant sipped from a poisoned cocktail he was holding for her, but as the investigation wears on, alternative possibilities present themselves. As all of the suspects have connections to the stage, there is no shortage of drama as the case unfolds. Robb is the pen name of legendary romance author Nora Roberts, and while that’s certainly evident in her descriptions of her male leads (“Those sea-green eyes still made her heart sigh, even after a decade . . .”), the suspense is also there in spades.

The Sanctuary

Of all the awful ways to die, being vertically bisected by an industrial saw like the murder victim in Katrine Engberg’s final Kørner and Werner mystery, The Sanctuary, must rank right up there at the top. The unidentified man’s left half turns up in a partially buried leather suitcase in a public park, and Copenhagen police detective Annette Werner is on the hunt for the killer. Clues lead to the remote island of Bornholm, an insular enclave where everyone knows everyone else’s secrets, but nobody seems disposed toward sharing any of that knowledge with the police. Subplots abound: a missing young man, possibly on the lam from the law, possibly the victim in the suitcase; a zealous preacher who roundly rejects the biblical teaching of turning the other cheek; a biographer whose scholarly visit to Bornholm to examine a deceased anthropologist’s letters is stirring up some old, long-quiet ghosts; a garbage bag full of money that nobody seems to be able (or willing) to account for. The identity of the culprit is an enormous surprise, but more surprising still is the emotional closure Engberg brings to long-running storylines, resulting in a very poignant moment for fans of the series in addition to a satisfying solution to the central mystery. 

The Twyford Code

Narrative conventions are cast to the four winds in Janice Hallett’s impressive second novel, The Twyford Code. The story consists of 200 fragmented voice transcriptions made by Steven “Smithy” Smith, a none-too-savvy mobile phone user who has only recently been released from prison in England. At loose ends, he decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his secondary school English teacher some 40 years back. Miss Iles (who often humorously appears in the transcriptions as “missiles”) had something of an obsession with the children’s books of one Edith Twyford, a character loosely based on real-life bestselling children’s author Enid Blyton. On a class field trip to Bournemouth to visit Twyford’s wartime home, “missiles” dropped off the map, never to be heard from again. As Smith’s belated investigation proceeds, he becomes increasingly obsessed with Twyford’s books as well, uncovering what may be hidden messages therein. State secrets, buried treasure, buried bodies? The clues are all there, but it will take a cannier puzzle-solving mind than mine to decipher them before Hallett is ready for the big reveal. The Twyford Code is easily one of the cleverest and most original mystery novels in recent memory, with an engaging main character, dialogue that grabs (and requires) your attention and more head-scratching suspense than any other three books combined.

A mystery told through voice transcriptions shouldn’t work, but The Twyford Code isn’t just this month’s best mystery—it’s one of the cleverest whodunits in recent memory.
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In many romance novels, love requires exposure: of one’s true desires and inner secrets, often of one’s most vulnerable self. In this month’s best romances, characters can only find happiness after first finding themselves—and sharing that truth with their partner.

Behind the Scenes

Karelia Stetz-Waters pens a tender love story in Behind the Scenes. Director Ash Stewart is preparing to pitch a movie near and dear to her heart—a rom-com about two lonely women who fall in love—so she turns to successful business consultant Rose Josten for help polishing the proposal she’ll present to movie executives. While the entertainment industry is not Rose’s forte, she’s intrigued by the idea of the film as well as by the cool yet vulnerable Ash. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace that suits the cautious main characters; while Rose and Ash fall fast, they don’t trust that their attraction will result in anything real. Readers will cheer for these capable, talented and mature women, both of whom have fascinating careers and interesting hobbies. They just need to find the right person to help them fill the empty spaces and heal their wounds. Rose and Ash’s feelings for each other are never in doubt thanks to Stetz-Waters’ expertly written longing and lush love scenes. And a fairy tale-perfect happy ending guarantees smiles as the last page is turned.

Not Your Ex’s Hexes

After Rose Maxwell’s sister took over her role as witch leader-in-waiting, Rose is in need of some new life goals. An ill-advised horse-napping at the beginning of April Asher’s dashing and delightful paranormal romance Not Your Ex’s Hexes results in Rose sentenced to community service at an animal sanctuary under the close supervision of half-demon vet Damian Adams. All kinds of sparks fly between them, but he’s grumpy and she’s not interested in relationships. But a friends-with-benefits arrangement seems possible and maybe even sensible until they must face danger—and all the emerging emotions they’ve vowed not to feel. In fact, Damian is sure he can’t actually be feeling them, having been hexed as a teen, but all signs are pointing to the opposite. Asher’s second installment in the Supernatural Singles series is full of action and well-constructed characters. Heart-tugging animals and steamy love scenes make this otherworldly romance a charmer.

Do I Know You?

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka have written an intriguing twist on the second-chance romance in Do I Know You? In honor of their fifth anniversary, Eliza and Graham Cutler head to a luxury resort in Northern California, hoping a vacation might revive their stalled marriage. Upon learning that there’s been a hotel mix-up and they have two rooms booked instead of one, Eliza impulsively proposes that they sleep separately. Moreover, she suggests they take on new personas so they can meet as strangers and possibly rediscover a spark between them. While hiking, eating and exercising together as their alter egos, Graham and Eliza each come to value new things about the other and recall what led to their original commitment. Readers will root for both characters in this mature and intimate examination of a relationship.

The Duke Gets Even

A happy ending seems impossible in Joanna Shupe’s The Duke Gets Even. Andrew Talbot, the Duke of Lockwood, is desperate to wed an heiress and fill his family’s coffers. But then his antagonistic relationship with free-spirited American Nellie Young transforms into a burning passion. The duke lost out on love in the previous installments of Shupe’s Fifth Avenue Rebels series, and it doesn’t seem like his luck will change: He needs to marry for money, and Nellie can’t imagine life as an English duchess. An affair with Andrew as he seeks the right bride will have to be enough, except, of course, it quickly isn’t. The appealing Nellie wants more for herself and other women of her time, and she’s not at all ashamed of her sexual appetites. Honorable Andrew feels the weight of his responsibilities, yet the fiery ardor he shares with Nellie—featured in feverish love scenes—turns his world upside down. Sensuous and sophisticated, The Duke Gets Even is a satisfying climax to a wonderful and romantic series.

Make a Wish

Romances between a single father and a nanny are a beloved genre staple, but author Helena Hunting explores the trope sans rose-colored glasses in Make a Wish. When she was 20 years old, Harley Spark worked as a nanny for newly widowed Gavin Rhodes. She fell in love with his baby daughter, Peyton, and perhaps with him, before Gavin and Peyton moved away. Seven years later, Gavin and Harley reconnect—and there is an obvious attraction between them. Their happily ever after appears inevitable, until grief, guilt and in-laws step in. Make a Wish chronicles Gavin and Harley’s authentic doubts and fears, with sizzling love scenes and sweet moments creating a sigh-worthy love story.


The Duke Gets Even was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

In this month’s best romances, characters can only find true love after first finding themselves.
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Sales of manga—Japanese comics and graphic novels—have skyrocketed in the U.S. over the last five years, with a record-setting 160% growth between 2020 and 2021. Part of the appeal of manga is the format’s wide range of genres, but this can also make it difficult to decide where to start. If you’re looking to dip your toes into manga, here are some series to try based on your favorite genre.

If you like romance, try:

Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku by Fujita (Kodansha)

This irresistible series isn’t afraid of a trope: Friends-to-lovers, relationship of convenience and workplace romance appear in the first volume alone! The sixth and final volume published this year.


If you like horror, try:

Uzumaki by Junji Ito

A triple Eisner Award winner, Ito is one of Japan’s most beloved and acclaimed contemporary horror writers, and this three-volume series is especially popular. It’s about a creepy Japanese coastal town that is haunted by “the hypnotic secret shape of the world.” (Listen, don’t pick up Japanese horror if you’re not ready to get weird.)


If you like science fiction, try:

Dinosaur Sanctuary by Itaru Kinoshita

In this series, “dinosaur reserves” exist thanks to the 1946 discovery of a remote island where the beasts still roamed. But now dinosaurs are endangered again, and newbie zookeeper Suma Suzume wants to change that. If you’re looking for a cuter, kinder version of Jurassic Park, this could be it.


If you like mystery, try:

Moriarty the Patriot by Ryosuke Takeuchi

Class conflict meets Arthur Conan Doyle in this riff on the backstory of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty, who teams up with his two adopted brothers to get justice for the proletariat. Ten volumes are currently available, with at least two more to come.

Part of the appeal of manga is the format’s wide range of genres, but this can also make it difficult to decide where to start. If you’re looking to dip your toes into manga, here are some series to try based on your favorite genre.
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A Love by Design

Elizabeth Everett’s praiseworthy Secret Scientists of London series returns with the third installment, A Love by Design. Engineer Margaret Gault has recently returned to London from Paris and is intent on opening her own firm, despite all the struggles that await a businesswoman in Victorian England. Maggie quickly finds a promising and exciting commission, but she cannot avoid George Willis, the Earl Grantham, who broke her heart years ago. Unfortunately, George has grown into an extraordinarily handsome man with extraordinary goals—including educating children, regardless of gender. But Maggie can’t allow her still-strong feelings for him to get in the way of her dreams. After all, an engineer can’t be a countess and a countess can’t be an engineer . . . or so she thinks. It’s easy to sympathize with brainy Maggie and her quest for independence, and George proves to be a hero worthy of her. The fight for women’s rights is front and center, giving heft to this otherwise lighthearted romance.

Lunar Love

As Lauren Kung Jessen’s Lunar Love begins, Olivia Huang Christenson has just assumed responsibility for the titular matchmaking business, which is based on the Chinese zodiac. Her grandmother built Lunar Love from the ground up, and Olivia is determined to put its success above everything else, including her heart. But both are at risk when she has a meet-cute with charming startup advisor Bennett O’Brien. Lunar Love relies on personal touches like dating coaching, and Olivia thinks Bennett’s app takes all the humanity out of romance. To prove whose method works best, they make a very public bet to find matches for each other. Along the way, they bond over their multiracial heritages (she’s Chinese, Norwegian and Scottish; he’s Chinese and Irish) while enjoying some absolutely mouthwatering dates, like Chinese baking classes and a dumpling and beer festival. Told in Olivia’s fresh first-person voice, this story will have readers rooting for her to realize that even though their signs are incompatible, everything else points to Bennett being her perfect match.

The Heretic Royal

A princess struggles to find her place in her family in G.A. Aiken’s latest entry in the Scarred Earth Saga, The Heretic Royal. Ainsley Farmerson has been overshadowed by her older sisters all her life—two are now queens (one is, unfortunately, extremely evil), and a third is a ruthless war monk—so Ainsley decides to step up. At her side is rugged centaur Gruffyn, and as they face down dragons, demons and her evil sister’s machinations, Ainsley and Gruffyn forge an unbreakable bond. This tale of magic and mayhem is told from multiple perspectives, and readers will need to keep their wits about them as the action speeds along and the dialogue pings among sarcastic dragons, earnest fathers and obnoxious siblings.

Need a great new enemies-to-lovers romance? How about one between two rival matchmakers, or a Victorian nobleman and a female engineer?
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Better the Blood

Maori screenwriter and director Michael Bennett’s first novel, Better the Blood begins with a flashback to a daguerreotype, an early type of photograph, being taken in 1863. The picture has a chilling subject: a small group of British soldiers posed alongside the hanged body of a Maori leader in the early days of New Zealand’s colonization. When the descendants of the soldiers in the daguerreotype begin to die violently, the case is assigned to Auckland police investigator Hana Westerman. Few investigators are better suited to the job than Hana, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of her Maori culture and history. As she gets closer and closer to identifying the perpetrator, she begins to see that the crimes are not so much a type of revenge as they are a flawed attempt to restore balance to a world gone awry. She is able to identify a couple of the potential targets, but the killer is always one step ahead. Then the unthinkable happens: Hana’s family is targeted. With plenty of suspense, sympathetically drawn characters and crisp dialogue, Better the Blood promises to be the start of a long and rewarding literary career for Bennett.

Blaze Me a Sun

On the same February night that Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme is assassinated in Stockholm in 1986, a woman is raped and murdered in the small town of Halland. Police receive an ominous phone call in which the anonymous killer says, “I’m going to do it again.” The investigation goes largely unnoticed by the media, as the attention of the nation is on the Palme assassination. For the rest of his career, and indeed for the rest of his life, police officer Sven Jörgensson is plagued by his failure to solve the crimes. In a parallel plot in the present day, a recently divorced writer whom the book refers to only by his nickname, “Moth,” has moved back to Halland, his childhood home. Somewhat at loose ends, he decides to interview some of the people who were central to the unsolved crime and possibly reanimate his muse in the process. Blaze Me a Sun, the American debut of author Christoffer Carlsson, is part police procedural, part modern inquiry into a very cold case and part sociological study of the evolution of Swedish society in the post-Palme years. The latest in a long streak of Swedish-language bestsellers for Carlsson, Blaze Me a Sun is further proof that he is a worthy heir to titans such as Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Hakan Nesser.

★ The Motion Picture Teller

In 1996 Bangkok, Supot Yongjaiyut is a mail carrier who is “somewhat economical when it [comes] to facial expressions. . . . He had feelings as deep as any, but they rarely inconvenienced his face.” His best friend, Ali, runs a video store, which allows the two to fully pursue their obsession with cinema, a love so profound that they happily watch movies without subtitles and guess at plot and dialogue. When Ali buys a new box of VHS tapes, neither suspects that one of the films will turn out to be an obscure masterpiece, Bangkok 2010. Colin Cotterill’s The Motion Picture Teller follows Supot and Ali’s efforts to unearth the film’s history, creators and especially the identity and current whereabouts of its lissome female lead. There is no real crime to be solved, per se, but that doesn’t stop the pair of intrepid investigators from pursuing leads, interviewing persons of interest and trying to answer the burning question of why Bangkok 2010 was never released publicly. Supot ventures to Thailand’s far north, the mountainous region outside Chiang Rai, and when he is relieved of his only remaining copy of the film, he is nudged into the role of reluctant raconteur, capturing the essence of the film in narrative. A motion picture teller, if you will. By turns witty, warm, charming and poignant, The Motion Picture Teller is perhaps Cotterill’s finest novel thus far.

★ Everybody Knows

Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows bounces between two protagonists. The first is Mae Pruett, known in Los Angeles as a “black bag publicist.” She keeps people out of public view, especially when they are in hot water of some sort. The second is ex-cop Chris Tamburro, whose current job title is “fist.” It could scarcely be more apropos: He roughs up whomever the rich deem deserving. When Mae’s boss is killed, ostensibly by a gangbanger, she suspects something much more complex, but the reality will be even worse. As she investigates, she uncovers a network of powerful Southern California elites pulling all the strings and pushing all the buttons in their pursuit of power. A missing pregnant teen holds the key to a conspiracy with tentacles reaching into the entertainment industry, the political arena and pretty much every law enforcement agency working the greater Los Angeles area. Fans of neo-noir will find a lot to like here, as Harper displays an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and Hollywood history as he spins a tale that isn’t just ripped from the headlines—it’s probably predicting them.

She Rides Shotgun author Jordan Harper knocks it out of the park with his sophomore mystery. Read our starred review in this month’s Whodunit column.

Discover your next great book!

BookPage highlights the best new books across all genres, as chosen by our editors. Every book we cover is one that we are excited to recommend to readers. A star indicates a book of exceptional quality in its genre or category.

Reviews

Kevin Jared Hosein captures Trinidad’s lush flora and fauna, as well as its explosive mix of cultures, races and religions, within a novel that slowly but steadily builds toward a climax of Shakespearean proportions.