‘The Couple at Number 9’ by Claire Douglas is a beautifully constructed mystery

The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas

Fans of mystery author Claire Douglas expect complex plots with many twists, and her latest murder mystery, “The Couple at Number 9,” generously exceeds our expectations. Even the title, referencing the “couple” who live at Number 9 on the street with the creepy name, Skelton Place, in the picturesque Cotswold town of Beggar’s Nook, isn’t completely straightforward. There are, in actuality, two couples to whom this might refer.

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‘What Jonah Knew’ by Barbara Graham is an emotional story of a life cut short and the young boy who knows too much

What Jonah Knew by Barbara Graham

Although “What Jonah Knew” is Barbara Graham’s first novel, she is a seasoned writer. That experience is ably reflected in the narrative — we are invested in the story from the first page (I could not stop reading this book). We know something bad happens to Henry Bird, the young musician whose mother Helen has a bakery and whose girlfriend is expecting their baby, but we don’t know exactly what. His mother is bereft at his disappearance and knows he met with foul play. He also has a loyal dog, Charlie, who becomes a hero in his own right. And in the alternative narrative, we meet Jonah, the title character, who at a very young age seems bothered by things that don’t affect other children. His mother Lucie observes him becoming terrorized by fireworks and loud noises. He also occasionally references his “other mother” and “his” dog.

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‘Girl, Forgotten’ by Karin Slaughter a fabulous sequel to ‘Pieces of Her’

Girl, Forgotten by Karin Slaughter

With “Girl, Forgotten,” author Karin Slaughter pens a worthy sequel to “Pieces of Her,” which became a huge hit as a Netflix series. My slight problem with “Pieces of Her” was that main character Andrea was, at times, an incompetent, insecure, fumbling fool. Well now, two years after the events in the first book, Andrea has matured and grown into a formidable character whose insecurities have taken second place to her intelligence and a bit more confidence. She has learned to control her emotions, mostly, and is quite able to start her first assignment as a United States Marshal.

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‘Stay Awake’ by Megan Goldin is filled with mystery and suspense

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

The title of Megan Goldin’s newest thriller, “Stay Awake,” is important. We find out that those two words have been vital to the survival of the main character, Liv Reese, for two different reasons. Why must Liv Reese stay awake? Why has she written those words on her arms? On her doors? In fact, why are exhortations like that posted and written everywhere: stay awake, don’t trust anyone, don’t sleep? What we know from the first page is that Liv has problems remembering things. For example, she doesn’t know why she has a bloody butcher knife in the pocket of her cardigan. She doesn’t know why someone else is living in her apartment nor why it’s been totally redecorated. She doesn’t know why her roommate Amy doesn’t answer her phone, nor does Liv’s boyfriend, Marco.

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‘Spy School: Project X’ by Stuart Gibbs: Not just action and humor, also a beautiful depiction of disinformation

Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs

“Spy School: Project X” might just be my favorite novel in the “Spy School” series by acclaimed children’s author Stuart Gibbs. It has all of the action and humor that the previous books in the series do, but in this one, Gibbs centers the plot on a disinformation campaign designed to put a target on our main character, Ben Ripley, who attends the CIA Academy of Espionage for school-aged potential agents.

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‘The Second Husband’ by Kate White is an intriguing mystery with murders galore

The Second Husband by Kate White

In “The Second Husband,” Kate White presents us with an unusual murder mystery: the first murder in question happened over two years before the present time, in the “then,” as she labels the flashbacks. Emma was married to Derrick, who was tragically murdered while at a conference in New York City. The murder was senseless, and the culprit never found. Emma has felt guilt since that horrific act of violence because their marriage was unhappy, and Derrick had changed from the man she fell in love with. No one, not even her closest friend, knows about her lack of grief.

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‘The Thread Collectors’ by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman is Civil War historical fiction through the eyes of two women

The Thread Collectors
by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman

In “The Thread Collectors,” authors Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman combine their familial histories to create a fictional Civil War narrative that is about two women. Stella is a light-skinned woman who was bought to be the mistress of a plantation owner. She falls in love with one of the man’s slaves, William. William, an extremely talented musician, performs for his owner, Frye, and is desperate to escape his bondage to build a better life for himself and Stella. Lily, a Jewish woman in New York City, is married to musician Jacob. They both love music, and her father is a very successful music publisher. Lily is an ardent abolitionist, as well, and completely supports her husband when he enlists to fight for the Union.

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‘The People We Keep’ by Allison Larkin is about choosing our family

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

In “The People We Keep,” Allison Larkin, who also writes as Allie Larkin, shows that the family we really need in our lives is the family that’s there for us in bad times as well as good. And that the blood ties we enter the world with may not be as important as the emotional ties we form with those around us. We learn all this through a very unlikely heroine, April Sawicki.

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‘The Hotel Nantucket’ by Elin Hilderbrand is the quintessential beach read

The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand

Grab a copy of “The Hotel Nantucket” by Elin Hilderbrand, and head for the nearest beach or pool. This tale of sun and summer even has a spectre, the ghost who was killed in the hotel a century before in a fire. There are samples of star-crossed love, second chances, atonement, blackmail, and hidden wealth in this sumptuous story about a newly renovated hotel and the people who work there.

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‘Some of It Was Real’ by Nan Fischer is about believing in yourself and finding out difficult truths

Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer

Some books grab you from the first page, and reading on and on becomes almost as important as breathing and eating. “Some of It Was Real” by veteran author Nan Fischer is one such novel. How can we not fall for a young woman who has as her best friend an intimidating but lovable 145-pound great Dane named Moose? We quickly fall for both Sylvie and Moose and we want to keep reading to see how Sylvie deals with the obstacles life has placed in her path.

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‘Sugar and Salt’ by Susan Wiggs a story of strength and sacrifice and love

Sugar and Salt by Susan Wiggs

“Sugar and Salt” by Susan Wiggs is a touching and important read. The novel is rather provocative and significant as it deals effectively with many vital women’s issues. What is a tad perplexing is that the book is billed as a romance, but actually the romance plays second fiddle to the more important issues regarding misogyny and race that Wiggs quite effectively raises. The cover image also seems to not reflect the actual novel; in the story, Wiggs cleverly reverses the stereotype of male barbecue cook and female baker. The person who would be making the pink-iced, flowered, decorative cake on the cover is not main character Margot Salton; she’s actually the pitmaster who learned barbecue in Texas and opened her restaurant in San Francisco next to a bakery. The baker is her romantic foil, Jerome Sugar, which seems an entirely appropriate name for someone who makes sweet bakery goods all day.

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