I picked this book up to read a romantic comedy set in a small town about home renovation, but what surprised and delighted me are the well-developed supporting characters, the theme of found family, and the very funny dialogue. Also a goofy dog who adopts two kittens. I find watching home renovation shows on television to be relaxing, but it’s probably not at all relaxing to produce them. Maggie and her best friend Dean renovate houses and have a popular YouTube channel. When they finish a project they move on, usually to another state. Dean would like to settle down in one place, but not Maggie. Then Maggie buys a Victorian mansion in Kinship, Idaho, where she visited as a girl. She has an instant attraction to Silas, a local landscape designer. Silas introduces her to his big, messy family and is interested in more than a summer fling. The town of Kinship is best known for a nearby stagecoach robbery and there are rumors of buried treasure. Laugh out loud funny and a memorable read; I will have to check out some of Lucy Score’s other novels. Readalike authors include Tessa Bailey, Jen DeLuca and Jennifer Crusie.
In this historical novel of female friendship set on the home front in England during World War II, three very different women become friends. One night fashion designer Cressida Westcott escapes her flat during a bombing raid, and loses both her home and nearby business in one night. Without a dress to her name, she leaves London for the Westcott manor she hasn’t visited in decades. Cressida is welcomed by her niece Violet and nephew Hugh, who’ve never met her. Violet is a socialite, ready to marry a man from the right sort of background, and reluctant to report for training for war work, even though she will be able to live at home while chauffeuring American officers. Dutiful Grace, daughter of the widowed vicar, visits parishioners and joins committees, and will soon marry another vicar, who likes but doesn’t love her. Her mother’s wedding gown needs repair, and the local sewing circle, now including Cressida, works to repair and alter the dress, which, unexpectedly, was made in Paris. With clothes rationing, women are having trouble even getting a new dress or dress fabric for their wedding, let alone a white gown. With Cressida’s help, the sewing circle begins to collect older wedding gowns, and starts an exchange to help women, especially those in the military, borrow an updated white wedding gown. The three women grow and change tremendously, with Violet making friends of all classes during her training while Grace learns to have fun again, and learns about dress design from Cressida. I enjoyed this engaging, uplifting novel. Readalikes include Ryan’s Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce, Until We Meet by Camille Di Maio (which uses the same photo on the book jacket), and The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester.
Miranda and her best friend Ian run a literary agency, which she helps support with her teen fantasy series, written under a pseudonym. Miranda’s fans are angry because she killed off a character, and now she has writer’s block. When her younger sister Cordelia, a pastry chef, asks Miranda’s help in dealing with their mom, she goes home to Bard’s Rest, New Hampshire, to work remotely for the summer. Miranda, Cordelia, and lawyer Portia’s mother, an organizer for the town’s annual Shakespeare Festival, is putting off some medical procedures. Perhaps Miranda can either talk some sense into her mother or bribe her with the first look at Miranda’s manuscript, when it’s finally finished.
Miranda and her large dog Puck visit the local animal clinic, only to find Adam Winter subbing as veterinarian for his dad. Adam is great with animals, and is helping Miranda’s sweet father build the sets for the festival, but took Portia to their high school prom instead of Miranda. Is she still mad at Adam? Will her mother stop procrastinating her health needs? Will the whole town and many tourists go mad for the Bard’s plays? Also, will Miranda find the inspiration to finish her book? It’s not hard to answer these questions, but the charming festival town setting makes for a very appealing first novel about sisterhood, the life of a writer, the magic of Shakespeare’s plays, and a little romance. Readalikes include Well Played by Jen DeLuca, The Fixer Upper by Lauren Forsythe, and The Falcon Always Wings Twice by Donna Andrews.
This blend of mystery and science fiction from the author of the award-winning Lady Astronaut series and the Glamourist Histories makes for an entertaining read. Tesla Crane and Shal Steward are on their honeymoon on a luxury spaceship en route to Mars, along with Tesla’s therapy dog Gimlet. Tesla is traveling incognito, and Shal is a recently retired detective. When Shal witnesses a murder, he becomes a suspect, and Tesla, who has wealth and great tech skills, goes into action to clear his name. Tesla has anxiety and back pain from a lab accident years ago, and Gimlet both helps with her anxiety and charms almost all the passengers and crew. The spaceship has different levels with Earth, Martian, and lunar gravity, a fancy bar, an auditorium with a spectacular magic show, and plenty of staff corridors for Tesla to try to search for answers. Tesla and Shal enjoy spending time together, trying a variety of imaginative cocktails (with and without alcohol), and very much resemble a future version of Nick and Nora from the 1934 film The Thin Man. There is plenty of witty banter, a funny and indignant remote lawyer, and plenty of drama as well as security personnel with varying levels of detecting skills. Tesla is famous as well as wealthy and walks a fine line between asserting her privilege and needing accommodations for her disability. The mystery is clever and certainly kept me guessing. This book will be published October 11.
In the second Monk & Robot novella, we meet up again with Mosscap and Sibling Dex. Mosscap is a robot who is curious about humans. For a very long time, humans and robots on the moon Panga have lived separately. In the first novella, Mosscap befriended Sibling Dex, a traveling tea monk. Mosscap wants to know what humans need. In this solarpunk science fiction story, humans live simple lives, in harmony with nature, either in small villages or in The City. Dex and Mosscap travel to different communities in settings that resemble those in northern California. Dex and the reader learn more about the culture of robots, and Dex takes Mosscap to visit their large extended family, who don’t quite understand how Dex has grown and changed. Chambers’ intent with this short series is to give readers a chance to take a break, to read a story that may make you think, but without causing anxiety. The Monk & Robot series is as charming and refreshing as pausing to make and enjoy a cup of tea. I plan to reread the first novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built.
Jacqueline Bouvier, before she met JFK, spent her junior year of college in Paris. This well-researched biographical novel brings postwar Paris to life in rich detail. In 1949 and 1950, Paris is still very much in recovery mode. There is still some rationing, the food is not yet plentiful, and Jacqueline is often served soup by her host mother, Comtesse de Renty, along with bread and cheese. The apartment, shared with the Comtesse’s two daughters, young grandson and two other American students is also very cold, with the repairman unable to get parts for their heater.
Jacqueline’s family has connections in France, and she often spends weekends in the countryside, riding horses. Gradually, Jacqueline learns more about the sacrifices and suffering of the Parisians during the war, and has a political awakening as well. Described as intelligent, introverted, observant, and a bit naïve, she is also charming. Her first serious romance does not go smoothly, but she learns much from the relationship. Author Mah walks a fine, smooth line between biography and fiction, making this novel a sure bet for fans of historical fiction or Francophiles.
Other than watching movies with her friends and going running, Olive Smith spends all her time in Stanford’s biology lab. A third year Ph.D. student, Olive wants her friend Anh to date her ex-boyfriend Jeremy. To convince Anh that she’s completely over Jeremy, Olive impulsively kisses hot and grumpy professor Adam Carlsen, then convinces him to fake-date her. Olive is Canadian, and has no remaining family other than her grad-student friends. A fear of public speaking has her questioning if she can make a career in academia. Adam, who also enjoys running, is known for his blunt evaluations of his students, and has a reputation for rudeness. He is nothing but kind to Olive, and is happy to fake-date her for his own reasons, usually on weekly coffee dates, though he can’t stand the smell of pumpkin spice lattes. They are in different departments, so dating is allowed. When forced to share a room at a conference in Boston, things heat up, and Olive struggles with how to handle another professor’s harassment. Witty, snarky banter enlivens this engaging romantic comedy written by a female neuroscientist. Hazelwood’s Love on the Brain is the top Library Reads pick for August, and another book is scheduled for January. Readalike authors include Talia Hibbert, Denise Williams, Jen DeLuca, and Suzanne Park.
Iona Iverson, 57, is a larger than life magazine advice columnist. A former It girl who covered major social events, Iona has had an amazing life, but needs to modernize her column to keep her job. Regularly commuting to London on the train, she enjoys observing the other commuters, but never, ever talks to anyone except her French bulldog Lulu. One day there’s a (nonviolent) crisis on train car #3, and the travelers finally meet and connect. I enjoyed learning their nicknames for each other, especially teen Martha thinking of Iona as magic handbag lady. While Iona tends to steal the scenes she’s in, everyone except David and Jake gets their turn to narrate the story. Sanjay the anxious nurse, impossibly pretty Emmie, and trader Piers in his expensive suits all need Iona’s advice at some point, including Martha, who ends up getting coaching for a theatre audition from Iona and math tutoring from Piers.
Happily, the commuter train to London isn’t the only setting in this contemporary novel, letting readers glimpse homes, workplaces, Martha’s school, and the maze at Hampton Court Palace. I listened to the audiobook narrated expertly by Clare Corbett while commuting in my car; I’d love to see someone reading this on the train. While I liked the author’s first book, The Authenticity Project, I didn’t find it memorable or outstanding. This heartwarming and uplifting story about the riders on the train is one of my favorite reads so far this year. Readalikes include The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore.
On the tiny Scottish island of Mure, Flora MacKenzie is planning her wedding to Joel. They have a baby, Douglas, who is taking his sweet time learning to walk, at least according to the other MacKenzies. Flora dreams of a gorgeous wedding at her family’s hotel, but Joel wants a micro wedding with only immediate family. When former islander Olivia MacDonald, a social influencer, gets engaged, she arrives on Mure with a wedding planner to organize a lavish midsummer wedding.
When Flora agrees to share her hen night with Olivia, she is dazzled by the Alice in Wonderland themed extravaganza and rethinks her own wedding plans. Both Flora and Olivia’s maids of honor are having their own struggles. The (fictional) island is full of colorful characters, rapidly changing weather, a visiting whale pod, lots of charm, and some humor. How all the tangled plotlines get resolved make for an enjoyable summer read. While the Mure books start with Café by the Sea, a lengthy introduction brings new readers up to date. Readalike authors include Jill Mansell, Felicity Hayes-McCoy, Sarah Morgan, and Sheila Roberts.
Unexpected heroes are featured in short stories by twelve popular writers of urban fantasy. They vary considerably in tone, setting, and type of narrator, including a sprite, a troll, a werewolf, and an Irish wolfhound. If you read urban fantasy, you’ll rejoice at the list of authors; other readers may find new favorite. I regularly read Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop and Patricia Briggs, but I also enjoyed Kerrie L. Hughes’ story about a troll who works at a train station, the poignant “Train to Last Hope” by Annie Bellet and the valiant dogs in “Fire Hazard” by Kevin Hearne. Enjoy!