‘Island Queen’ by Vanessa Riley is historical fiction based on the life of a rags-to-riches story that was really slave-to-riches

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Those who start life with nothing and eventually become wealthy have nothing on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who started with less than nothing but became an extremely rich, powerful woman in her own right. How does one start with less than nothing, you might wonder? In “Island Queen,” by Vanessa Riley, we meet Dolly, as she was known, who was born a slave. Her father, the Irish plantation owner, taught her numbers and the value of money. She was determined to earn enough money to free herself, her mother, and her sister. Dolly ended up accomplishing that and much, much more.

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‘Blind Tiger’ by Sandra Brown is an action-packed historical fiction with a fascinating female main character

Blind Tiger by Sandra Brown

Exploring the bleak times during Prohibition becomes a thrill-ride in Sandra Brown’s “Blind Tiger.” The story is set right after the “Great War,” and is filled with nonstop action as we meet Laurel Plummer, who ends up in small-town Foley, Texas, after her husband abandons her in his father’s one-room shack. Laurel is left with her sickly, premature newborn, Pearl, in a drafty cabin with no running water or electricity. Laurel, as we come to find out, is a tough character and not one to let a desperate situation keep her down.

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‘A Summer to Remember’ by Erika Montgomery is about the secrets we keep for love

A Summer to Remember by Erika Montgomery

We all have secrets, but the secrets in “A Summer to Remember” by Erika Montgomery are secrets that will rock two families to the core. At the center of the story are Frankie Simon and Louise Chandler, who live on opposite coasts. Frankie is 30 years old and lives in Los Angeles. She runs the memorabilia store her mother started, and she loves the memories that the items she sells evoke from the movies she loved watching with her mother. In Harpswich, Massachusetts, Louise Chandler lives with her physician husband and runs the Stardust Film Festival, one that she had started decades previously with movie star Glory Cartwright. She and her husband, Russ, were Glory’s friends, and her husband grew up in Harpswich with Glory’s movie star husband, Mitch Beckett.

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‘The Tiger Mom’s Tale’ by debut author Lyn Liao Butler is a story of conflicting cultures and the love of family that is at the center of both

The Tiger Mom’s Tale by Lyn Liao Butler

Lyn Liao Butler knows what it’s like to experience conflicting cultures, so the different cultures she depicts in “The Tiger Mom’s Tale” ring true. Butler’s Instagram videos of her parents demonstrating cooking traditional Taiwanese dishes show that while she lives in America, fosters dogs, has a child, and lives the American dream, her roots (her parents) are from Taiwan. Main character Lexa’s roots are American, like her mother’s. But there is also the part of her that is Taiwanese, like the father she didn’t meet until she was eight. And until a traumatic event happened in Taiwan when Lexa was fourteen, she thought that she could straddle both cultures and be lucky enough to be loved by both her American family and her Taiwanese family. We find out that’s not always as easy as one might imagine.

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‘Hostage’ by Clare Mackintosh is a seat-of-your-pants thriller about betrayal, love, and family

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

With “Hostage,” Clare Mackintosh gives us a thriller with nonstop action and not one set of hostages, but two. The family at the center of these hostage situations is the Holbrook family: Adam, MIna and Sophia. Adam is a police inspector and Mina is a flight attendant. Sophia is their adopted daughter, and we learn a lot about the harmful effects of neglect in the first year of a child’s life. Sophia has an attachment disorder which makes her difficult at times, and she is also extremely bright. Mackintosh does a fabulous job introducing the three main characters, and we learn about them from the first person narratives Adam and Mina provide, each chapter detailing the time and the narrator.

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‘False Witness’ by Karin Slaughter is a brutal and compelling account of what we will do for love

False Witness by Karin Slaughter

With her latest thriller, “False Witness,” author Karin Slaughter creates three characters we can’t stop thinking about. We meet sisters Callie and Leigh, both raised by a brutal, uncaring mother in extreme poverty. Both abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. What is different is how Callie and Leigh react to that abuse; what is the same is that the abuse ends up controlling both their lives—just with vastly different outcomes. She also explores the psychology of our brain after trauma. How do we know our memories are true? What does trauma or abuse do to our personality, our brain? And with the third character, she explores what a psychopath is capable of—in horrifying detail.

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‘Dog Eat Dog’ by David Rosenfelt takes intrepid Andy Carpenter to Maine where he performs his legal/investigative magic

Dog Eat Dog by David Rosenfelt

Every Andy Carpenter mystery has a dog in it—usually more than one, and “Dog Eat Dog” is no different. The dog is often the device by which the main character, Andy Carpenter, gets dragged, kicking and screaming (figuratively, at least) into representing someone charged with murder. Someone we readers know is innocent. In this case, the accused murderer meets Andy when they see a dog being abused by its owner. The poor dog is being kicked and dragged on a leash, and before Andy’s intrepid wife Laurie can reach the abuser to stop the abuse (Andy allows her to be the enforcer as she is a former cop), another man steps in. After telling the abuser to stop, the abuser punches the would-be rescuer who then punches back. The police arrive and arrest both men. The dog savior tells Andy it’s not going to go well for him, and Andy doesn’t know why. It was clearly self-defense.

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‘Tender Is the Bite’ by Spencer Quinn is the latest lovable entry in the Chet and Bernie series

eTender is the Bite by Spencer Quinn

There’s a reason that in the title of this series, “Chet and Bernie,” the dog’s name comes first. As with all the other mysteries in the series, in “Tender is the Bite,” Chet, the almost-K9 shepherd, narrates the tale of his and Bernie’s adventures. Quinn presents this narration brilliantly, and it seems that with each new Chet and Bernie book, Chet’s narration gets better and better. Through Chet’s eyes (and ears and nose, which—no offense—are far superior to ours), we simultaneously know more and less that Bernie does. It’s a delicate balance, writing from the dog’s point of view, and Quinn has it nailed.

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‘Bad Moon Rising’ by John Galligan is part of the ‘Bad Axe County’ series about murder in rural Wisconsin

Bad Moon Rising by John Galligan

When we think of Wisconsin, we think of Milwaukee, or Madison, where the university creates its own college culture. We don’t think of the rural southeast corner where Wisconsin rubs shoulders with the Mississippi River, where there are Amish, and where folks can literally disappear into the countryside with no one the wiser. It’s in this place, Bad Axe County, where Sheriff Heidi Kick lives with her husband and three children.

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‘Sunrise by the Sea’ by Jenny Colgan is a sweet return to the oceanside bakery with new characters

Sunrise by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

One of the strengths of Jenny Colgan’s writing is that she creates characters who seem so real and so approachable, we end up feeling as if we know them and are friends with them. In “Sunrise by the Sea,” we return to the tidal island Mount Polbearne, accessible to the mainland Cornwall at low tide only. While we meet Marisa, who has been devastated by the death of her grandfather, we also learn about Polly and Huckle, and how their lives have been changed by having twins.

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‘Choose Me’ by Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver is a glimpse into the desperation abandonment can cause

Choose Me
by Tess Garritsen and Gary Braver

Abandonment and betrayal feature predominantly in “Choose Me,” specifically as we examine the cost to those who are left suffering. Authors Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver examine how different people respond after experiencing betrayal and abandonment. How, for example, might a middle age police detective live her life after her husband dies in circumstances that can, at best, be seen as a betrayal of their marriage. How differently might a young college coed respond to being abandoned by her boyfriend after experiencing abandonment years before when her father left his family. We must also consider that the very act of having an affair, cheating on one’s wife, is certainly a kind of abandonment — an abandonment of sacred commitments, of promises, of moral values, and even of common human decency.

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‘Lights Out in Lincolnwood’ by Geoff Rodkey is a “what if” nightmare about life after an end-of-life-as-we-know-it event

Lights Out in Lincolnwood by Geoff Rodkey

In the world of children’s books, author Geoff Rodkey’s books stand out as quirky and filled with fascinating characters. His adult novel, “Lights Out in Lincolnwood,” is filled with characters who are not quirky or comical, but rather all-too-real and all too relatable. The Altman family seems to have it all. Dan was a very successful attorney, a partner at his firm, when he chucked it all to take a gamble writing for a television series. Luckily, he was successful at that, but when we first meet him, he’s struggling to think of new ideas for the show. We also meet Jen, his wife. She was once also very successful, but for several reasons decided to stay at home and raise their two children. Max and Chloe, those very children, are also successful in their own rights. Chloe is a talented tennis player, applying to impressive schools, but her anxiety is commensurate with her application to top schools, her upcoming semi-finals in tennis, the essays she needs to write for early admission to a top college. Max, on the other hand, is not athletic at all. He shows great promise because of his creativity and at his summer camp created a film that was a hit. However, Max is being bullied and has become addicted to vaping. Addiction runs in the family makeup. Jen is coming to the unpleasant realization that she is an alcoholic, something she has kept from Dan, but which the kids are completely aware of.

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