Feature by

Think of the traditional, often toxically masculine, romance hero. Now think about his polar opposite. Gentle rather than domineering, warm rather than arrogant male characters have grown increasingly popular in the genre. While cinnamon roll-sweet guys aren’t everyone’s drug of choice in Romancelandia, sometimes unconditional love and support is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Part of Your World

In a few short years, Abby Jimenez has become one of romance’s most acclaimed and popular authors. Her fairy tale-esque, opposites-attract fourth novel, Part of Your World, will only elevate her standing. 

Alexis Montgomery is a 38-year-old emergency room doctor who comes from a long line of Midwestern medical royalty. When her car lands in a ditch at dusk in the middle of nowhere, a tattooed, hunky mystery man in a pickup truck comes to her aid. Daniel Grant rescues her and then drives away, thinking he’ll never see her again. But thanks to the extremely limited dining options of Wakan, Minnesota, Alexis and Daniel reunite and decide to give in to their attraction and spend the night together. 

Alexis soon finds that there’s more to her hot rescuer than his looks. Gentle and kind, Daniel is something of a small-town renaissance man: He’s the mayor of Wakan, an artist and a bed-and-breakfast proprietor who caters patiently to his rescue dog and nurses his friend’s baby goat in his spare time. There’s also more to Alexis than meets the eye, but since Wakan is a two-hour drive from her work and home in Minneapolis, it’s easy to keep her weekend escapes and real life separate. The adorable town of Wakan and Daniel’s warm, accepting company provide a respite from Alexis’ struggles with a condescending ex-boyfriend who won’t accept that their relationship is over and a father who thinks she’s a slacker for not living up to the family name. 

Jimenez is an excellent storyteller, and her special blend of humor and angst is polished to perfection in Part of Your World. Despite Alexis’ accomplishments, it’s not easy for her to push back on all the expectations placed upon her, especially since her elite family, ex-boyfriend and friends wield them like a cudgel. Those tensions and their age gap of 10 years provide plenty for Daniel and Alexis to overcome. But those stark differences also lend an almost Cinderella-like feel to Part of Your World. The hospital where Alexis works is called Royaume, and she even loses a fancy slipper (high heel) on their first night together. Daniel makes a worthy modern prince in this love story, which will enchant romance veterans and newbies alike.

A Brush With Love

In Mazey Eddings’ debut, A Brush With Love, Dan Craige and Harper Horowitz have the kind of natural spark Harper’s only heard of in the movies, even though their first meeting is an absolute disaster: Harper crashes into Dan at the dental school they both attend and smashes his class project. She offers to help him remake it, and their immediate connection only gets stronger from there. 

But their romance is complicated by two distinct issues: Harper’s chronic anxiety and Dan’s ambivalence about graduate school. Full of passion and aptitude, Harper is at the top of her class and on the cusp of securing a challenging oral surgery residency. But Dan is struggling to get through his first year of dentistry school and is only attending out of familial obligation. 

As their friendship and attraction grows, so does Harper’s anxiety. Maintaining laserlike focus on school is one of Harper’s primary coping mechanisms, along with strict adherence to habits and rituals. Eddings effectively communicates that for Harper, rules are a “life preserver in the choppy storm of anxiety.” A romantic relationship would undermine many of her adaptations and strategies, but holding the line against her attraction to Dan becomes increasingly difficult. For someone so in need of control, love is both exciting and dangerous, and the result is a spiral of anxious thoughts. 

Despite the serious nature of Harper’s situation, Eddings’ characters and their relationship feel well balanced at virtually every stage. Both leads are lovably flawed; both have vulnerabilities and strengths. Anxiety doesn’t negate Harper’s talents or her competence either. When they’re working together early on in the novel, Dan is the one who’s adorably tongue-tied in Harper’s presence. It’s clear that he gets and respects Harper for who she is, even as he realizes the challenge that her anxiety presents, and their sweet connection is bolstered by meaningful conversations. 

Harper’s mental health difficulties escalate to a more harrowing point than many may expect in the context of a romantic comedy. But even though what’s on the page feels heavier than what the illustrated cover indicates, Dan and Harper’s romance is well worth the journey.

In two contemporary romances, sweet and sensitive heroes help heal ailing hearts.
Feature by

Some horror novels grab you by the throat and pull you through them, rubbing your face in the uncomfortable, terrifying things that lurk in the dark. Other horror novels can feel more sinister, slowly creeping up on you out of the banality of everyday evil. Two new novels explore these facets of fear to great effect, creating worlds that are both fantastical and terribly real. 

Black Tide

Set along Oregon’s foggy coast, Black Tide by KC Jones is the story of two strangers who are thrust together when the world comes to an end. Beth might be a disaster (even her mother says so), but her latest gig housesitting for wealthy vacationers at least keeps her from living in her car. The night before everything changes, she meets Mike, a film producer with no new projects in sight. In the early morning hours after their champagne-soaked one-night stand, they realize that something is terribly wrong. The power is out, cell phone service is down and the beach is littered with bowling ball-size meteorites that smell as if they have been pulled from a landfill in hell. Soon the unlikely pair learn a horrifying truth: Far from being an isolated incident, the meteor shower was the harbinger of an apocalyptic encounter with creatures from another world. Stranded together on an Oregonian beach, Beth and Mike must rely on each other if they are to have any chance of survival. 

Jones’ debut novel reads like a summer blockbuster stuffed with adrenaline-pumping action scenes and moments of heart-stopping suspense. Jones deftly punctuates long, tense scenes of Mike and Beth trying to avoid notice by the alien creatures with short, intense bursts of them fighting for their lives. Moments of relative calm allow for character exploration, bringing readers into Mike’s and Beth’s minds as they work through their feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Jones lets both characters take turns as first-person narrators, demonstrating the difference in how they see themselves (flawed to the point of worthlessness) and how the other person sees them (flawed but essentially good).

For readers used to tome-size horror novels, the length of Black Tide may be surprising. It’s just over 250 pages, but anything longer would have detracted from the frenetic pacing and torn attention away from Jones’ perfectly simple, extremely frightening premise: two people trapped at the end of the world, desperate to not be eaten by monsters. 

The Fervor

Alma Katsu’s The Fervor casts a wide net. It starts in 1944 during the waning days of World War II. Meiko Briggs is a Japanese immigrant and wife of a white American man. Even though her husband is serving in the U.S. Air Force, she’s still torn from her new home by the American government and forced to live in an internment camp in the remote reaches of Idaho with her daughter, Aiko. When a mysterious illness starts to move through the camp, rage and distrust rise, threatening the fragile corner of relative normalcy Meiko has tried to create for her daughter. 

Meanwhile, mysterious balloons have begun to appear and then explode across the West, leaving a similar illness in their wake. One of these bombs turns a preacher in Bly, Oregon, into a widower, driving him into the arms of hate movements cropping up across the country. A close encounter with another bomb leads a newspaper reporter to crisscross the region looking for answers, but she finds only closed doors and deep distrust. As the illness intensifies in both the camps and the surrounding towns, the sins of the past collide with the present to create an inescapable web of hatred, fear and desperation.

In light of the rash of anti-Asian violence of the 2020s, Katsu’s historical parable about the horrors—and the virulence—of racism and xenophobia feels particularly pressing. The Fervor gives readers a glimpse into one of the darkest moments of American history, and then gives the already-terrifying ethos of that time a new and frightening shape: As the disease spreads from person to person, it is often accompanied by mysterious, possibly supernatural spiders. The image of near-invisible spiders crawling from one person to another, over eyelids, mouths and bodies, is an indelibly creepy illustration of just how pervasive mistrust and prejudice are. 

The terror only grows from there. From visitations from a ghostly woman in a red kimono to midnight car chases through the prairie, The Fervor delivers a punch that’s equal parts psychological horror and jump scare. It will make you want to read into the wee hours of the morning, even though you may question that decision when the shadows start to move.

KC Jones’ apocalyptic debut and Alma Katsu’s latest eerie novel have one thing in common: They will absolutely terrify you.
Feature by

★ A Million Quiet Revolutions

“You look stunning,” one narrator thinks about the other at the beginning of Robin Gow’s A Million Quiet Revolutions. The narrators are in love and beginning the process of transitioning their gender identities. After one narrator, a history buff, reads about two Revolutionary War soldiers named Aaron and Oliver who may have been transgender, the narrators adopt these names as their own, deciding that “We’ve been erased from / so much history. / Someone needs / to write us back in.”

When a terrible event at Aaron’s church causes his family to quickly move away from their small Pennsylvania town to New York City, the narrators face being separated for the first time since they were in first grade. During this time, Oliver tries on a chest binder and wonders whether he’ll have to redo his bat mitzvah, while Aaron’s new queer friends give him strength to come out fully to his Catholic Puerto Rican family. The pair reunite in New Jersey for a reenactment of the Battle of Monmouth, where their understandings of the past meld with their hopes for the present and future.

In Gow’s free verse poems, line breaks occur in unusual places and allow for contemplative pauses: “I stay on the low branches as / you climb higher.” Through Aaron’s and Oliver’s interactions with each other, their siblings and their parents, readers will find models for supporting trans family members. Gow also thoughtfully depicts Aaron and Oliver asking for and giving sexual consent.

Aaron and Oliver are frustrated that much of history ignores “what it was like to live as someone / other than a / white / Protestant / land-owning / man,” and as they discover that life needn’t follow gender binaries, their revelations ring with authenticity. Fans of classic YA literature will enjoy a subtle allusion to Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 novel, Speak, a book that was revolutionary in its time, too.

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin

The more we understand history, the more opportunities we have to form connections with one another. Such connections play a key role in Kip Wilson’s The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin, which is set in the eponymous city just before Hitler’s rise to power.

Eighteen-year-old Hilde has just left her orphanage with a handful of Reichsmark coins and the painful memory of Gretchen, the girl who stole her heart. Looking for a job, she stumbles into Café Lila, a club where “all / kinds / of / love / are / possible,” and learns that they’re in need of a musical waitress. Hilde tries to summon up the courage to sing—which is especially difficult in front of the beautiful Rosa, whose aunt warmly welcomes Hilde to their Jewish home. Meanwhile, an important election is approaching and tensions are rising. Hitler’s National Socialists might win over desperate crowds through promises to end hunger and unemployment, but they’re also eager to find someone to blame for Germany’s problems, and they disapprove of what they consider “degenerate” establishments—places like Café Lila.

Alliteration (“languidly, leisurely, lovingly”), onomatopoeia (a clock counts “ticktack”) and words that travel across the page as Hilde moves around Café Lila (“tables / bar / floor / round and round”) add aural and visual interest. Hilde’s realization that she can decide what kind of person she wants to be strikes a quiet note of rightness. Although there’s no on-the-page sex, there’s plenty of acceptance, found family and sweet romance between two girls who know they’re “different from the others” in a time and place where being different means being in danger.

Both A Million Quiet Revolutions and The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin use poetry to sidestep pronouns. The former makes dexterous use of “you” and “we,” while Ute, the “perfectly androgynous pianist” of the latter, is never referred to with pronouns at all. Both novels also use changes in layout to denote shifts in voice. Words are aligned with the left margin when Oliver and Hilde narrate, and with the right margin when Aaron, Rosa and Rosa’s aunt speak.

Readers in search of insight into the lives of queer teens throughout history—and inspiration for their own lives today—will find plenty of it in these books. As Oliver writes to Aaron about his history project on the gay rights movement during the late 1960s, “It makes me feel like / revolutions are still possible.”

These novels in verse offer stories about LGBTQ people in two eras, illuminating truths about the past and offering touchstones for teens today.

Stories have the power to change the world, especially in these captivating fantasy tales. The heroes of these books will enthrall and inspire as they battle dark forces and find their paths. 

The Legend of Brightblade by Ethan M. Aldridge book cover

The Legend of Brightblade

Prince Alto lives in a castle perched on a cliff above the seaside village of Dawn’s Bay. His mother is Lady Brightblade, ruler of the land of Skald, a setting splendidly depicted on a map at the beginning of The Legend of Brightblade, a standalone graphic novel by Ethan M. Aldridge.

Skald is enjoying an era of harmony thanks to victories immortalized in song by Master Eluvian, a gifted magical bard, but Lady Brightblade knows that conflict simmers beneath the surface. She’s determined to reach an agreement with Chief Dagda, leader of the trolls, to ensure that their peoples can safely work together toward continued peace and greater prosperity.

Alto, however, finds all of this boring. He just wants to play his mandolin and refine his magical musicianship abilities so he can be a hero someday, too. He’s fortunate to have Master Eluvian as his teacher, but he’s grown impatient with all the practicing. Alto feels ready to make his mark on the world now! After a frustrating conversation with his mother about his princely duties, Alto sneaks out of the castle, a wide grin on his face as he runs headlong into the life he’s been dreaming of.

At a bustling marketplace, Alto is delighted to meet Ebbe, a troll who also creates magic with her music. He’s less delighted when he crosses paths with an angry bard named Fell, who seems to have malevolent intentions. Soon, Alto feels torn between fulfilling his dream of forming a troupe with Ebbe and another bard, Clarabel, and following his instincts about Fell’s sinister plans alone. 

As Ebbe, Clarabel and Alto embark on a cross-country journey, questions mount: Just how angry will Lady Brightblade be at Alto for shirking his royal responsibilities? Will he, Ebbe and Clarabel work well as a trio? And can they stop Fell together before he destroys Skald’s fragile peace? 

Aldridge’s detailed watercolor and ink illustrations bring his tale’s magical jam sessions to life in scenes that burst with color. Each musician’s magic has its own shape and hue. When Alto and Ebbe perform together for the first time, their joy is tangible as the swirling green flames of Alto’s magic swoop and dive around the diamond-shaped notes that flow from Ebbe’s cello. It’s just as affecting when Alto witnesses the purple coils of Fell’s magic surround the objects of his wrath.

Fans of fantasy graphic novels, including Aldridge’s Estranged duology, will revel in The Legend of Brightblade’s gentle humor and spirit of adventure. It’s thrilling to watch these young bards compose their own magical destinies.

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill book cover

The Ogress and the Orphans

Newbery Medalist Kelly Barnhill’s The Ogress and the Orphans is at once a lovely fairy tale and a striking allegory, a fantastical story imbued with wonder and warmth that pointedly holds a mirror up to societal dysfunction.

The tale unfolds in the little town of Stone-in-the-Glen, which was a wonderful place to live until its library mysteriously burned down. That devastation proved to be a turning point in the town’s history: After the library, other buildings burned, too. Trees died, floods came, and eventually, the omniscient narrator says, “The whole town seemed to scowl.”

When a dashing newcomer arrived and slayed multiple dragons in short order, the beleaguered townspeople of Stone-in-the-Glen were so relieved that they elected him Mayor. Yet he did not rebuild the town nor foster connections among neighbors, and so the residents of Stone-in-the-Glen became entrenched in their isolation and ennui. 

At the Orphan House, however, things are very different. Thanks to Matron, Myron and the 15 children they care for, love still flows through all of its rooms. At the Ogress’ farm on the edge of town, things are different, too. After roaming the world for many human lifetimes, the Ogress has settled down in the hopes of someday feeling that she has found a place to belong. Her best pals, a murder of hilariously self-impressed crows, accompany her on her nighttime trips to anonymously deliver gifts to residents’ doorsteps, a gesture in keeping with her guiding principle, “the more you give, the more you have.” 

The orphans’ and the Ogress’ lives collide when young Cass runs away from the Orphan House and is returned safely by the Ogress. To the orphans’ shock, the Ogress is accused of kidnapping, and the townspeople, led by their devious Mayor, are determined to drive her away. They seem immune to facts and evidence, not to mention completely unwilling to listen to children. Barnhill’s solution to this pernicious problem is an exercise in creativity, strategy, kindness and the power of storytelling that is magnificent to behold.

The Ogress and the Orphans is a delight from start to finish. Barnhill writes at a steady, measured pace, and her magic-infused narrative thoughtfully invites readers to ponder the nature of truth, generosity and community.

Two fantastical books for young readers, Kelly Barnhill's The Ogress and the Orphans and Ethan M. Aldridge's The Legend of Brightblade are captivating enchantments.

Nothing is more mysterious than the family we were born into. Amateur sleuths Lena Scott and Claudia Lin don’t quite fit in with their blood relatives, but the solutions to their respective cases may lie within the bonds they’ve known their whole lives.

“I found out my sister was back in New York from Instagram. I found out she’d died from the New York Daily News.” These arresting first lines of Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister alert the reader that this family-oriented thriller is anything but ordinary. 

Lena Scott and her younger half-sister, Desiree Pierce, have little in common. Lena’s a serious grad student living with her grandmother’s widow in the Bronx, while Manhattan-based ex-reality star Desiree blows through men, clothes and substances as fast as she can spend the money from their father, music industry titan Mel Pierce. But when Desiree sees the newspaper headline, she knows there’s more to her sister’s death than a simple heroin overdose. Desiree was afraid of needles, and why was she found shoeless near Lena’s own neighborhood, when the women have been estranged for two years? 

Garrett wrote for the television show “Cold Case” before publishing her award-winning debut novel, Hollywood Homicide, and its follow-up, Hollywood Ending, and in Like a Sister, she incorporates issues of race, class and, most of all, the complicated ties that bind into a twisty murder mystery with nuance and heart.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Claudia Lin knows she’s a complete disappointment to her family. The narrator of Jane Pek’s The Verifiers, Claudia has neither a nice Chinese husband nor a lucrative job. She likes women and hasn’t yet told her mother, and unbeknownst to her successful older brother, Charles, she has left the full-time position he’d helped her snag. Instead, as the newest staff member of Veracity, a top-secret firm in glamorous Tribeca, Claudia helps would-be lovers uncover the true identities of online paramours and expose any skeletons in their closets. 

When one of Claudia’s first clients, Iris Lettriste, is found dead in her apartment, Claudia discovers that Iris had her own secret: She wasn’t Iris Lettriste at all. Who was “Iris,” and could her online presence and virtual network be the keys to figuring out who killed her? 

Claudia is a scrappy, resourceful protagonist. She’s a dedicated cyclist who can and will bike anywhere, she’s a huge fan of a fictional mystery series starring the brilliant Inspector Yuan, and thanks to Veracity, she has invasive but effective tracking devices at her fingertips. Pek’s beautifully paced debut offers a hard look at our digital lives and the people we surround ourselves with IRL. It’ll have readers asking, along with Claudia, “Could a dating app, and the forces behind it, actually kill me?”

New York City is full of mysteries—and two smart amateur sleuths are on the case.
Feature by

There’s a saying you might have heard: Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Fortunately, two authors—one veteran, the other new to fiction—have ignored this warning and written novels about classical music, and we readers are luckier for it. 

The Great Passion by James Runcie, author of the acclaimed Grantchester Mysteries, is a beautiful coming-of-age novel set in 18th-century Germany. In 1726, 13-year-old Stefan Silbermann is mourning the death of his mother. His father makes arrangements for Stefan to attend a music school in Leipzig, an especially useful education for a boy whose family’s business is building and repairing church organs. At school, lonely Stefan is tormented by the other students, finding solace only in singing and in the presence of the demanding but empathic choir director, Johann Sebastian Bach. 

Stefan’s heavenly singing voice and sensitivity endear him to Bach, who enlists Stefan as a soloist in many of his cantatas. But Stefan remains deeply unhappy, and when he runs away from the dorms, Bach invites him to live at the Bach family home. There, Stefan basks in the warmth of domestic life, assisting Bach’s children with chores and working as a copyist for the great composer. 

When another tragedy strikes, this time in Bach’s family, Stefan is a firsthand witness to the way grief can be a catalyst for musical genius, watching and then performing in the work that will become one of Bach’s most celebrated compositions, “The Passion According to St Matthew.” Stefan’s exposure to Bach’s creativity, family and devotion to God is the restorative balm that the young man needs in order to move forward with his life.   

On the other end of the spectrum is Brendan Slocumb’s debut novel, The Violin Conspiracy, a fast-paced thriller about a young Black violinist and his search for a priceless instrument, set against the backdrop of systemic racism within the world of contemporary classical music.

Ray McMillian has a dream of becoming a concert violinist, and nothing will stand in his way: not his unsupportive mother and uncles, his disinterested teachers or the industry’s inherent racial bias. When Ray’s beloved grandmother gifts him with her grandfather’s violin, it brings him a step closer to his dream, and when the instrument is revealed to be an extremely rare and valuable Stradivarius, his star really begins to rise. 

Ray is on the verge of attending the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow when the prized instrument is stolen and held for ransom. Suspects range from members of Ray’s own family, eager to claim the insurance money, to his musical rivals in Europe. Even the descendants of the family who once enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather are claiming the instrument belongs to them. As Ray travels the globe, not sure whom he can trust, music remains the only constant in his life, supporting him no matter the situation. 

Despite their differences in literary styles, locations and eras, these novels are connected by more than just their musical themes. Resilience is a powerful presence in both stories, whether in the face of personal pain and grief or against the constant pressures of embedded prejudices. Music is the conduit through which two young men learn to overcome loss and fight against insurmountable odds, offering not only a reason to live but also a way to thrive.

Classical music is a powerful force in new novels from James Runcie and Brendan Slocumb, inspiring their heroes and illuminating the way forward.
Feature by

The Lady of Galway Manor

Set against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence, Jennifer Deibel’s second novel, The Lady of Galway Manor, springs from the fascinating legend of the origin of the Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish band that features two hands clasping a crowned heart, symbolizing friendship, loyalty and love. 

In 1920, Lady Annabeth De Lacy is the British daughter of the new landlord of Galway Parish in Ireland, and she is excited to begin her jewelry apprenticeship with the descendants of the creators of the Claddagh ring. Although jeweler is an unusual pursuit for an aristocrat, Anna takes on this new opportunity with great enthusiasm. 

However, Anna’s trainer, Stephen, resents the British and is irritated to have her around. He’s also lost his faith in the ideals and promises of the Claddagh ring’s imagery, especially the love it symbolizes. But as Anna and Stephen work together, their bond grows, and they begin to recognize the misconceptions in their beliefs about each other.

Deibel beautifully re-creates Galway’s sights and sounds, from the allure of the Claddagh area in Galway to the magnificence of its famed Spanish Arch and the locals’ appreciation of traditional Irish music. She also couches the bitter enmity between the Irish and British in the personal struggles of her characters. Stephen is unwilling to let go of his pain caused by past events, including atrocities committed by the British. And Anna is conflicted, torn between following her heart, which would risk alienation from her family, and accepting an advantageous marriage proposal devoid of love.

In their divided world, the characters of The Lady of Galway Manor become open to each other’s cultures, soon making way for acceptance and love.

Count the Nights by Stars

Much like privileged Anna, Priscilla Nichols, the daughter of a wealthy and influential railway investor in Michelle Shocklee’s fifth novel, Count the Nights by Stars, enjoys a cushioned life, shielded from the plight of people who are disadvantaged. In 1897, Priscilla travels with her mother to Nashville to attend the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. They stay at the Maxwell House Hotel, where she meets an Italian immigrant named Luca Moretti. Priscilla appreciates Luca’s poise and confidence but is aware of the strict societal rules that dictate who her “appropriate” partner would be. Meanwhile, she must decide whether to accept a proposal from another man who comes from a wealthy background similar to her own.

After meeting Luca, Priscilla is introduced to a new world where she learns about the challenges facing destitute young women and children who are lured into a prostitution ring run by powerful forces. She quickly becomes an inspiring lead character who fights for the rights of the underserved and advocates for raising the legal age of consent. 

The impact of Priscilla’s actions is heightened by a parallel story. In 1961, Audrey Whitfield, the daughter of the Maxwell House Hotel manager, finds Priscilla’s scrapbook. Audrey, who had previously dismissed the eccentric and now elderly Priscilla living in the hotel, is captivated by the woman’s earlier life. She draws encouragement from Priscilla’s lifelong work of activism for women’s rights.

Along with the historical intrigue of both storylines, Count the Nights by Stars also includes appealing mysteries and delightful romance. In 1897, Priscilla and Luca face danger as they try to solve the disappearance of Luca’s sister. In 1961, Audrey welcomes a striking young man into her life, and together they embark on an investigation into Priscilla’s stories and photographs—but it’s clear that someone else is set on having the scrapbook destroyed.

In Shocklee’s novel, the important lifelong work of a daring woman inspires another to follow her dreams. It’s sure to stir such feelings in the reader as well.

Across the ages, it’s always inspiring when women speak up for what is right. In these Christian novels, two affluent women endeavor to understand and rectify disparities within their societies.
Feature by

★ Grist

James Beard Award-winning chef Abra Berens and her collaborators have created a most magical combination of aesthetics, soul and practical guidance in Grist, a cookbook focused on humble stuff: beans, legumes, grains and seeds. Let it be said that I love beans, and I really love the way Berens provides, along with specific recipes, a number of templates to follow for any combination of ingredients you crave or happen to have on hand. For example, a bean + vegetable + flavor + texture chart starts with beans (any kind), then lists four suggested ingredients for each step: add veg, add flavor, add extra texture and serve. Elsewhere, she walks us through a week’s worth of lentils without boredom, and her recipes regularly include three or more variations. Topping it all off are Lucy Engelman’s beautiful illustrations, which make this a true work of cookbook art. 

Where They Purr

A bedroom decked out in lush linens and pillows—and a cat, luxuriating on the bespoke duvet. A kitchen with floor-to-ceiling windows—and a cat, nonchalantly surveying the room from atop the dining table. This is the fabulous world of Where They Purr: Inspirational Interiors and the Cats Who Call Them Home, in which images of sleek interiors foreground the homes’ feline overlords. Photographer Paul Barbera got the idea for a cat-centric home design book while working on a previous project, Where They Create, and the result takes those “how they styled it” shots we’ve all seen while shopping online—a sofa, say, captured with the owner’s pet proudly lounging—to the next-next level. The homes featured here are mostly high-end and very modern, full of sharp angles and long lines. You might be inclined to call some of them cold, except how could you when fluffy Pud or Pippi or Gustov is lurking or perched or sprawled in their midst? As a cat lover, my only quibble with this purrfectly delightful book is that there are too few orange tabbies in the mix. I suppose we all, like our cats, have our own prefurences.


As I prepare for a solo journey to the Southwest, I’m happy to have in my pocket Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo, a guide for women, by women, and geared toward solo travelers. Whether you’re going it alone for the first time or planning a girls’ trip, the editors from Unearth Women have assembled in this colorful book all the resources, hacks and advice you could ask for, including tips for traveling while pregnant and specific recommendations for women of color and travelers who are trans, lesbian or queer. The writers also offer an outline for creating your own Feminist City Guide, which centers women-owned businesses; if you like, you can pitch your guide(s) to Unearth Women for possible publication.

From the humble bean to the high and mighty feline, the books in this month’s lifestyles column colorfully celebrate the joys of food, art and travel.
Feature by

Joanna Schaffhausen’s fifth book in her Ellery Hathaway series, Last Seen Alive, focuses on the horror of its central sleuth’s past. As a child, Ellery survived being kidnapped by the notorious serial killer Francis Coben—she was the only person to ever do so. Decades later, she’s changed her name and found purpose as a police officer, but she has never escaped the nightmares about her time as Coben’s captive. Now on death row, Coben makes an offer to reveal the location of the remains of his other victims, but only to Ellery and only in an on-camera interview. She initially refuses, disgusted with Coben’s desire to manipulate her even behind bars. But when a woman is found killed in Coben’s style, Ellery realizes that he is working with someone on the outside and that their meeting will affect more than just cold cases.

This gritty police procedural doesn’t flinch at violence, but spends as much if not more time exploring its effects and how they are compounded by sensationalist media. Ellery knows she must agree to the interview but struggles to reconcile this fact with the approach of the Nancy Grace-esque broadcaster, who is desperate to conduct it. While the special purports to celebrate Ellery’s survival, the coverage focuses on the torture she endured, to the point of zooming in on Ellery’s physical scars. 

Schaffhausen keeps the reader firmly in Ellery’s perspective as she follows Coben’s twisted clues, making the tension nearly unbearable. Fans of darker mysteries that don’t shy away from the gory details will enjoy this well-crafted and thoughtful whodunit.

Like Ellery, Micah Wilkes is looking to leave the past behind in Catch Her When She Falls by Allison Buccola. When Micah was in high school, her boyfriend, Alex Swift, killed her best friend, Emily Winters. Alex has spent 10 years in prison, and Micah has spent that time trying to escape being known solely as the ex-girlfriend of a murderer, a footnote in true crime history.

Alex was convicted on largely circumstantial evidence, and now a podcast is revisiting the case. Soon internet commenters are questioning her stoicism during the trial and wondering if she had something to do with the crime. When she receives threatening texts and someone breaks into her apartment, Micah starts to wonder if the media attention on Alex’s case has driven someone to harass her or if Emily’s real killer is still out there. She begins her own investigation, even as those closest to her criticize her need to unbury the past, making her feel attacked by both those she loves and those she’s never met. 

Buccola dives into the anxious, painful workings of Micah’s mind as she pieces together the bits of her past that she’s locked away. Readers will find themselves doubting reality along with Micah as she questions the narrative she’s always believed about her friend’s death. While not scary, Catch Her When She Falls is wildly suspenseful and almost gothic in tone, making it the perfect book for a reader looking for thrills without any gritty or gory aspects.

Both Last Seen Alive and Catch Her When She Falls show incredible empathy for the mental and emotional toll the media takes on not only victims of a crime, but also their friends and family. It’s a humanizing view of women’s trauma that’s not always found in a genre practically built upon their pain.

These two mysteries thoughtfully examine how the media commodifies female trauma, resulting in whodunits that are equal parts thrilling and empathetic.
Feature by

★ The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament

I like to imagine the process of assembling the exquisite compendium that is The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament. What a dizzying and delightful task! London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of decorative and designed objects in the world, and in this tome, one can peruse thousands upon thousands of images adapted from the museum’s holdings. Spanning pottery, textiles, paintings, wallpaper, sculpture and pretty much any other patterned thing you can imagine, the contents are arranged into four categories—plants; animals; earth and the universe; and abstract patterns—with most pages featuring a grid of three or more images and a succinct set of captions identifying the source objects and their makers. As you page through swiftly or slowly, the effect is kaleidoscopic. It’s a veritable feast of patterns for the eyes and mind, full of color, intricate details and beautiful repetition. You’ll wish for two copies: one to keep and savor; one to cut up for collage art. Frankly, I’m besotted.

Sketch by Sketch

I recently purchased my first iPad and began exploring Procreate, a digital tool that, when paired with the Apple Pencil, opens one up to a new realm of two-dimensional artmaking. I’m finding a daily drawing practice to be a profoundly joyful and meditative pursuit. Sheila Darcey, founder of the SketchPoetic community on Instagram (@sketchpoetic), knows all about the therapeutic potential of low-stakes sketching, and in Sketch by Sketch, she encourages readers to try 21 exercises designed to help them dig deep internally and work through difficult emotions. Darcey doesn’t care how well you draw, and her exercises are not meant to build artistic skill. If you create something that makes you smile, all the better, but self-discovery, not technical mastery, is the goal. “This is not art,” she writes. “It is a visual learner’s version of freewriting.” Testimonials throughout from SketchPoetic acolytes demonstrate how the process has worked for others.

Snails & Monkey Tails

Speaking of details . . . it’s an interesting time for punctuation, isn’t it? Texting has completely upended the rules, such that a period now suggests a hostile vibe to some (my teenager confirms this), and even the meaning of certain emoticons seems to be shifting with the generations. But these symbols persist in print matter, and they are lovingly and fetchingly celebrated in Snails & Monkey Tails, graphic designer Michael Arndt’s spiffy salute to the “tiny designs that run interference among the letterforms.” If you don’t know what a grawlix is, you sure as $@%!* will if you read this book. Afterward, you may never call @ an “at” symbol again. Rather, try “little duck” as they do in Finland, or “cinnamon bun” like the Swedes. From silcrows to pilcrows to guillemets and the dinkus, Arndt’s book will up your word-nerd quotient, and it will do so with impeccable style.

Design takes center stage in this month’s lifestyles column, from intricate filigrees found in museums to the elegant curve of a silcrow.
Feature by

Focusing on emotional intelligence and self-awareness, these titles offer insight for managing emotions, handling stress and boosting communication skills. Here’s to a transformative new year!

Readers looking to cultivate a more peaceful mindset will find helpful strategies in Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? Smith is a clinical psychologist, educator and writer who has been featured on CNN and the BBC. After gaining a robust social media following with her content about mental health, Smith decided to write a book so that she could delve deeper into some of the issues she often addresses with her patients in therapy.

In her warm, welcoming book, Smith focuses on weighty topics that we all contend with, such as stress, grief, fear and self-doubt, and provides suggestions for how to work through these feelings. She also encourages readers to find out what motivates them so they can use it to implement important life changes. Throughout, she takes a proactive approach, offering methods for dissolving anxiety, using stress for positive ends and managing low moods. She includes writing prompts and easy-to-do exercises to help readers explore how they respond to criticism, how they can confront anxious thoughts and more.

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is briskly written and seasoned with compassionate insights. “When we understand a little about how our minds work and we have some guideposts on how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way,” Smith writes, “we can not only build resilience, but we can thrive and, over time, find a sense of growth.” Readers who are eager to achieve emotional balance and make a fresh start in 2022 will find the direction they need in Smith’s empowering book.

Popular science writer Catherine Price offers more ideas about how to start this year off on the right foot.

In Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, Leonard Mlodinow considers the seemingly diametrical relationship between emotion and logic and shows that these two facets of human nature are not as opposed as we might imagine. A theoretical physicist and mathematician, Mlodinow has previously co-written two books with Stephen Hawking. So what can a physicist tell us about emotional intelligence? Taking a science-supported approach, Mlodinow examines the nature and usefulness of our everyday feelings. He demonstrates that, when it comes to important processes such as goal-setting and decision-making, our emotions play as key a role as our ability to think critically.

“We know that emotion is as important as reason in guiding our thoughts and decisions, though it operates in a different manner,” Mlodinow writes. Over the course of the book, he explores the way emotions work by looking at how they arise in the brain and inform our thought processes. He also investigates the history and development of human feelings, including how they’ve been regarded by different cultures in the past. Mlodinow shares a wealth of practical advice and guidance on how to monitor, and even embrace, emotions in ways that can lead to self-improvement. The book includes questionnaires that allow readers to determine their own emotional profiles, as well.

Synthesizing hard research, lively personal anecdotes and input from psychologists and neuroscientists, Mlodinow tackles complex topics in a reader-friendly fashion to create a narrative that’s wonderfully accessible. Understanding our emotions is a critical step in the journey toward personal growth, and Mlodinow’s remarkable book will put readers on the right track.

If you’ve resolved to get in touch with your feelings in 2022, then we have the books for you.
Feature by

The Redemption of Philip Thane

A self-described wastrel gets a chance to change in The Redemption of Philip Thane by Lisa Berne. In exchange for a hefty sum, the low-on-funds titular character agrees to deliver a speech on his wealthy aunt’s behalf during Plough Day, a local holiday in the small village of Whittlesey. On the journey there, he picks up the beautiful and brainy Margaret Allen. She needs a ride due to a broken carriage; he needs distraction from the boring task ahead. Margaret doesn’t succumb to his wiles, and after giving his speech, Philip can’t wait to leave town . . . but then he wakes up the next morning and discovers that it’s Plough Day all over again. And again. And again. In this Groundhog Day-style story, Philip realizes he’s fated to repeat both the speech and his attempts to woo Margaret, all without success unless he can mend his selfish and arrogant ways—and maybe also fall in love. Berne has penned an extremely clever and entertaining addition to the canon of “rake redemption” romances, and readers are bound to find it smart, tender and surprisingly sweet.

Weather Girl

Matchmaking goes awry in Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon. Meteorologist Ari Abrams teams up with sports reporter Russell Barringer to bring together their feuding bosses, who are also ex-spouses. But as they work to spark a do-over for the pair, they find themselves also feeling a little amorous—toward each other. The gun-shy Ari, who’s recently broken off an engagement and is unsure how to share her experiences with depression, begins to take a chance on single dad Russell, but can they stay the course and really commit? This is mainly Ari’s story, and it’s told in her engaging first-person voice, with Russell filling the role of the wonderful guy who hopefully isn’t too good to be true. Secondary characters add sparkle and fun, and there are brief but deeply enjoyable glimpses of newsroom life in this delightful romance.

The Rebel and the Rake

An aristocrat and a well-educated lady’s companion try to maintain their distance—and their disguises—in Emily Sullivan’s Victorian romance The Rebel and the Rake. Rafe Davies, the second son of an earl, plays the role of charming dilettante while actually spying for the Crown. His latest mission is to discover the source of anonymous threats made to John Wardale, a very wealthy self-made man, while attending a house party at Wardale’s Castle Blackwood in the Scottish Lowlands. Posing as a callow rogue has never bothered Rafe before, but then he meets Sylvia Sparrow, a quiet bluestocking whom he wishes to impress with more than his good looks and facile conversation. While Sylvia is similarly attracted to Rafe, she knows nothing can come of a relationship. She’s hiding aspects of herself, the most damning of which is that she was once imprisoned on suspicion of being an anarchist. But hearts cannot be denied, and the pair are soon sharing steamy love scenes while their true natures are gradually revealed. Danger and desire intertwine in this tale of deception and injustice, an engrossing read that follows two characters who deserve their happily ever after.

Two historical romances twist tropes to their own clever ends in this month’s romance column.
Feature by

In romance, the teaching occupation transcends time and subgenres. Reasoning with a kid, whether it’s a toddler or a teen, can require some unshakeable persistence, and the teacher heroines of these two romances are patient, empathetic and just a bit stubborn. It’s no wonder that when faced with these determined women, two guarded heroes finally take a chance on love.

The latest installment in Marie Harte’s Turn Up the Heat series, Hot for You, finds multiple meanings in the phrase “hot for teacher” as a love-shy firefighter meets a charming teacher and her daughter amid disastrous circumstances. 

Firefighter Reggie Morgan first encounters Maggie Swanson when she’s lying unconscious on the side of the road. Minutes earlier, Maggie and her 6-year-old daughter, Emily, had stopped to rescue a stray puppy, and the young teacher was clipped by a passing car. When Reggie responds to the hit-and-run call, he finds a distraught girl, one ugly dog and a woman in need of medical attention. 

Maggie’s injuries aren’t serious, but thanks to a fracture, her dominant arm has to be in a sling for several weeks. Reggie can’t help but check up on her, which puts him at risk of breaking his personal rules about avoiding serious romantic relationships. Maggie, on the other hand, is quickly and uncomplicatedly attracted to Reggie. After all, he made quite an impressive knight in shining armor, and Emily and Reggie get on like a house on fire. But Maggie senses there is something beneath the affable firefighter’s exterior that holds him back. 

Reggie is an attentive and kind hero whose previous relationship with another single mother ended with him nursing a seriously broken heart. Maggie slowly coaxes him to trust her and their feelings for each other, giving this tender love story an emotionally resonant arc as Reggie learns to be vulnerable again. As an added bonus, Harte throws some wonderful puppy hijinks into the mix of this sizzling and sweet contemporary romance.

Author Anna Bennett offers a Regency take on the teacher heroine and kicks off a new series with Girls Before Earls, an angsty historical romance between a headmistress and a slightly curmudgeonly earl.

Gabriel “Blade” Beckett, Earl of Bladenton, has had it with his teenage niece and ward, Kitty, who has been kicked out of several schools. His attention is firmly set on making an advantageous match in London, and Kitty’s scandalous behaviour is driving him to distraction. He hopes to find her another school, far away from his life and London, and sets his sights on the seaside Bellehaven Academy.

Hazel Lively, the headmistress of Bellehaven, has settled into her spinsterhood (she’s practically ancient, having reached her late 20s) and dreams of turning her struggling school into a success. Hazel and Blade immediately lock horns when he arrives to enroll Kitty in Bellehaven, as Hazel correctly senses that Kitty is acting out because of her distant relationship with her uncle. Hazel declares that she’ll agree to admit Kitty on one condition: Blade must visit every two weeks. 

That two-week space between encounters places Girls Before Earls firmly in the delicious slow burn category. Readers who love a bit of banter and antagonism between the leads will especially love this romance, as Hazel and Blade are natural opposites with diametrically different approaches to life. Hazel is a dreamer who wants to nurture the minds of young women and help them on their paths to greatness. Meanwhile, Blade is pragmatic and dry, with a mind for business and structure. Bennett keeps the relational momentum going with each new scene Hazel and Blade share and with every obstacle they need to overcome. It’s quite the uphill battle to happily ever after, but despite her lofty ideals, Hazel is a tenacious force to be reckoned with. Blade may be stubborn, but he never stood a chance against a headmistress who dedicates her time to teenage girls.

Bennett knocks it out of the park while also setting up plenty of opportunities for side characters to get their own love story in future installments. The entertaining Girls Before Earls is an utter delight until the very last page.

Two teacher heroines give their respective heroes lessons in love.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

Trending Features

Reading recommendations delivered
to your inbox

Stay up to date on the latest releases
and receive reviews of new books in all your favorite genres.