David Bell: Kill All Your Darlings

Nobody does a great set-up for a thriller like David Bell, which is not to say he’s shabby at the execution either. His latest, Kill All Your Darlings, is no exception, starting with an irresistible premise — English professor Connor Nye is on the wrong side of publish or perish when a great novel lands in his lap. It was written by one of his students who turned it in as her thesis and then promptly disappeared. He polishes it up and publishes it under his own name. Unfortunately, it contains details about an unsolved murder that only the murderer would know. And then the student shows up in disguise at one of his readings. read more

Naomi Hirahara: Clark and Division

This book is a knockout.  Hirahara, author of three different series set in contemporary Los Angeles and Hawaii, has turned her eye to 1944 and the plight of American born Japanese, as well as first generation immigrants, right after Pearl Harbor.  It is still shocking to me that we created internment camps for Japanese citizens who were simply going about their daily lives.  Hirahara brings it home by focusing intimately on one family, the Itos.

The Itos – parents and daughters Rose and Aki – are hardworking, successful citizens.  Mr. Ito manages a produce market and Rose and eventually Aki work there too.  Rose is the star, the center of the family.  Aki looks up to her and wishes she had her strength.  This book could simply be the story of Aki discovering that strength in herself, but it is so much more. read more

Denise Swanson: Body Over Troubled Waters

Denise Swanson remains one of my favorite cozy writers.  Now twenty-three books into her Scumble River series (now billed as “Return to Scumble River”), she’s still cooking with gas.  The books are packed with humor as well as real world details of main character Skye Dennison’s work as a school psychologist, a job Swanson herself held for many years.

Cozy writers have to strike a tricky balance between addressing an issue but not being too harsh with it.  In a bravura first sequence, Skye is attending a meeting with Superintendent of schools Shamus Wraige, who has unceremoniously fired the school security officer because Scumble River is a small town and “It’s not as if anyone here is going to pull a Columbine or a Sandy Hook.” read more

Dianne Freeman: A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder

This novel will be published on July 27.

The sparkling fourth installment to Dianne Freeman’s insanely enjoyable Frances, Lady Harleigh series finds the intrepid Frances on the verge of marriage to her beloved George, only to discover, practically on the eve of her wedding, that George’s wife has appeared. Of course, it’s a misunderstanding, but the social damage is done.  Irena, the woman making the claim, appears not only demented but in danger, as she’s been receiving threatening letters. read more

Caroline B. Cooney: The Grandmother Plot

This was a blast of a read, akin to the kind of great caper novels written in the past by Donald Westlake, and more recently by talented writers like Jeff Cohen and Catriona McPherson.  This is a caper novel with a broken heart at the center.  While Westlake stuck pretty strictly to the caper element, Cooney brings the reader in emotionally as well.

The story centers on sweet, stoner Freddy, who makes glass beads and pipes for a living, and who has ended up caring for his grandmother who has dementia.  Freddy is a regular visitor to his grandmother’s memory care home and knows the staff and patients well.  He slips in the back door of the facility and doesn’t sign in, doing this, like everything in his life, just off the grid. read more

Linda Castillo: Fallen

It’s amazing to me that Linda Castillo can work within such a tight construct and still, every time, produce an original and thoughtful book.  Her set up: Chief of Police Kate Burkholder, who has grown up Amish, is the insider/outsider head of law enforcement in tiny, Amish centric Painter’s Mill, Ohio.  She has connections with the Amish but they don’t fully trust her as she’s left the faith, but she still has insider knowledge of the culture that help her to solve the crimes that occur in her community. read more

Carol Goodman: The Stranger Behind You

I loved Goodman’s novel last year, The Sea of Lost Girls, and I love this one even more.  It’s very of the moment, as it involves a powerful newspaper magnate who has been sexually harassing his female employees.  Like last year’s novel, Goodman’s concern is the shame the women feel for something that is not their fault.  She expands these horizons, making the book specific (an element in every successful novel, to my mind, is specificity) by tying the shame element to her two main characters as well. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: The Hollywood Spy

Susan Elia MacNeal somehow manages to write about incredibly dark topics – WWII, the Blitz, Nazis – with a non-heavy hand.  She visits the darkness but there’s room in the world of her heroine, Maggie Hope, for light.  The last novel, The King’s Justice, saw Maggie truly struggling with the many things she’s seen and experienced since the start of the war.  It was a crie de Coeur. In this novel, while she’s about to encounter more terrors, she’s out in Hollywood enjoying the sunshine and the availability of food and drink not seen in England since the war began. read more

Guest essay: Susan Elia MacNeal on The Hollywood Spy

Today I’m really pleased to welcome Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the beloved Maggie Hope series.  Best news for readers – the new addition to this great series, The Hollywood Spy, will be published on July 6.  Susan agreed to give readers an advance look at what promises to be another great read.  You can pre-order it here.

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Lassie Who? Meet Tallulah, the newest star of The Hollywood Spy.

 The Hollywood Spy has a wide range of characters—there’s Maggie Hope, of course, and her ballerina friend Sarah Sanderson, who’s in Los Angeles to dance in the film, Star Spangled Canteen. There’s Maggie’s former fiancé, John Sterling, a wounded RAF pilot now working for Walt Disney. And there are cameos from historic figures—Cab Calloway, Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, and Lena Horne, among others. read more

Clara McKenna: Murder at Keyhaven Castle

Murder at Keyhaven Castle is the third book in Clara McKenna’s Stella and Lyndy mysteries, set in the New Forest area of England in 1905.  I had not read the two previous books, but McKenna gives the reader enough background that I had no problem getting into the book, and I enjoyed it so much that it made me want to read the others.

Stella Kendrick is the daughter of a wealthy horse farmer from Kentucky.  Her overbearing, social-climbing father, who had never shown her any love, had taken her to England, ostensibly to buy horses, but really to marry her off to Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst.  Lyndy’s aristocratic family has lost their fortune.  I was never sure exactly why, and that was probably explained in the earlier books, but it is suggested that Lyndy’s father wasted the family’s money.  Stella’s father wants the social connections an aristocratic title would bring.  Needless to say, neither of the young people was consulted at the time their fathers planned their engagement.  Luckily for them, they fall in love with each other, even though Lyndy’s snobbish, traditionally-minded parents disapprove of Stella’s unconventional ways.  Stella and Lyndy share a love of horses and, as it turns out, crime solving. read more