Jo Baker’s engaging new novel Longbourn focuses on the life of housemaid Sarah and her fellow servants for a behind-the-scenes retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Austen’s novel will be intrigued by the lives of the underclass in Regency England, no less intriguing and dramatic than those of the gentry they serve.
Sarah, orphaned and raised almost as a daughter to housekeeper Mrs. Hill, fills her days from early morning to late night with the strenuous labor it takes to run a country household. Baker fills her novel with detailed accounts of the housemaid’s chores, from emptying the chamber pots to heading to town in the rain and cold to purchase ornamental roses to decorate the Bennet girls’ shoes. Readers will learn fascinating period housekeeping hints, like the fact that cold tea leaves sprinkled on floors will bind with dust, hair and insects, making sweeping easier.
Even as she supports the sisters in their complicated courtships, she dreams of a life of her own. She becomes flustered in her dealings with Mr. Bingley’s handsome, flirtatious footman Ptolemy, the man charged with delivering letters. His goal is to open a tobacco shop one day. Mysterious James Smith, the newly arrived servant with hazel eyes and a secret cache of seashells, intrigues her as he lightens her daily work burdens and takes an interest in her. Sarah wonders “Could she one day have what she wanted, rather than rely on the glow of other people’s happiness to keep her warm?” Longbourn is a book to savor almost as much as its inspiration.
Jill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins are two of today’s most popular contemporary romance authors. Their new novels feature pretend romances that ultimately become the real thing. Always on My Mind by Shalvis begins with a little white lie. Leah Sullivan is talking to Dee Harper, the mother of her childhood friend. Dee thinks she is dying, and is scared that she has made her son Jack afraid of relationships. Leah panics and says that she and Jack are together to give Dee peace of mind. Dee is elated, and soon the whole town has heard about the fake relationship. Leah and Jack both quickly realize that this relationship might not actually be phony, but Leah has a history of running when things get too hard for her to handle. Can Jack persuade her to stick around this time and make their relationship permanent? Always on My Mind is another great entry in Shalvis’s popular Lucky Harbor series.
The Perfect Match is the second novel in Higgins’s Blue Heron series. After her doctor reminds her that her biological clock is ticking, Honor Holland proposes to her friend and long-time crush Brogan. The night is an embarrassing disaster. To add insult to injury, Brogan announces a few weeks later that he is marrying Honor’s best friend after a whirlwind courtship. Humiliated, Honor begins searching for a man to settle down with. Tom Barlow needs to get his Green Card so that he can stay in the U.S. to be in his teenage stepson Charlie’s life. Honor agrees to a marriage of convenience to help Tom, who sees no other alternative. They move in together, and things get even more complicated. Add a strange federal agent, a feisty little dog named Spike and Honor’s crazy family, and you have a charming story told as only Higgins can.
In addition to being fan-favorite authors, Shalvis and Higgins are also good friends. Their social media banter entertains their readers and makes fans feel like these authors are their friends too. They frequently appear together on USA Today’s Happy Ever After romance blog. For a taste of their Lucy-and-Ethel-style antics, check out this recent post.
Ten years ago, Quinn Barton left her fiancé Burke Morrison standing at the altar after the best man revealed the groom’s cheating ways. Quinn’s story, told in flashbacks and in the present, is at the center of Beth Harbison’s humorous and heartwarming Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger. But Quinn’s story wouldn’t be complete without the resolution of her relationships with Burke and his family, for the best man was Burke’s brother Frank, and their grandmother Dottie has remained a presence in Quinn’s life.
Quinn and Burke began dating in high school and were set to marry following Quinn’s college graduation. Quinn thought all her dreams were coming true until Frank’s devastating disclosure. She returns the wedding presents and hits the road with Frank. The two end up in Vegas and enjoy a sizzling two-day interlude. But Quinn is still shell-shocked and not ready for a new relationship, especially with Burke’s brother. Quinn returns home, shutters her heart and retreats to a life focused on work at her bridal shop. When Dottie comes to her looking for a wedding dress, Quinn realizes that Burke and Frank will be returning to town. Old wounds are re-opened, and Quinn finds herself questioning her decision to dump Burke. Her best friend Glenn senses her turmoil and is determined to get her out of her ten-year rut. He proposes a 30-Day Challenge, wherein he will give her a daily task that she MUST complete. These include Drink All Day Day, Wear a Side Pony Day, and Go Commando Day. Hilarity ensues as does a shift in Quinn’s attitude about life and love.
Quinn finds herself once again torn between two brothers and readers will also choose sides in this romantic tug-of-war. Harbison peppers the story with pop culture references, and the succession of brides-to-be in her shop provide plenty of laughs. Quinn is a wounded but lovable character who must relive the past in order to finally create her future.
This murder mystery is a true whodunit with murder served up as the main course, while romance and comedy are definitely delectable side dishes in this new series, Rules of Murder, by Julianna Deering. Deering takes a foray into the past with Rules of Murder, which takes place in 1932 and is set in a quaint countryside town in Hampshire, U.K.
The novel opens to Drew Farthering returning to his extravagant manor house after a long vacation with his friend Nick. Drew returns home to find that his mother and stepfather are entertaining guests for this weekend including his stepfather’s beautiful niece, Madeline. It’s during the festivities that they find two people dead on the property.
Drew, being a fan of murder mystery books, is eager to see if he can uncover the plot behind the murders using Ronald Knox’s “Ten Commandments for Mystery Writers.” He soon discovers that he isn’t the only one interested in deciphering the mystery as Madeline inserts herself into the investigation. The two “detectives” make a connection at the party that blossoms as they work together to uncover the murderer.
This book felt like a combination of The Great Gatsby and a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The mystery will keep you guessing until the end though; the reader is given enough information to take a stab at uncovering the murderer, if they read carefully. There are touches of fact mixed in with the fiction that add to the realism of the book. If you enjoy Agatha Christie, this book may be for you.
When you’re set to marry a high-powered New Yorker who’s being groomed for mayor, have a satisfying law career and a comfortable life in the city, what more could life hold? Ellen Branford is about to find out when she travels to tiny Beacon, Maine to deliver a letter from her just-passed grandmother to one of her grandmother’s old flames. In The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café, Mary Simses serves up a delicious dish of chance meetings, small town living and discoveries of long-past. When Ellen’s grandmother passes away unexpectedly, she leaves instructions for Ellen to give a letter to a Chet Cummings, its contents full of apologies and requests for forgiveness. For what? Ellen doesn’t know. But her quick in-and-out trip to Beacon is delayed when at first she nearly drowns and is rescued by a handsome construction worker, and then discovers that there is more to her grandmother’s past than she or anyone in her family knew. Will the magic of this unique place pull Ellen away from a life she’s worked so hard to build? Although the answer is fairly predictable, the plot twists – especially the arrival of Ellen’s fiancé and mother – create an engaging story of love dilemmas and family drama.
Simses’ first novel, she keeps the writing light and humorous with poignant family relationships mixed in for substance. Cozy rural living springs to life through the descriptions of food, homes and one-of-a-kind quirky characters. True to its title, see if you can make it through the book without wanting to bake or eat something with blueberries. Fans of cozy mysteries, romances and anything chick lit will devour this sweet treat of a tale.
The Week Before the Wedding by Beth Kendrick shares the story of Emily McKellips, whose dreams are all about to come true. Her career is in place, she lives in a beautiful home and she has one week until she marries the man of her dreams. But anything can happen in seven days, especially when Emily’s ex-husband becomes a member of the wedding festivities.
The bride, groom and their families converge on a resort in picturesque Valentine, Vermont, customary locale for weddings in Grant’s traditional family. Emily’s family is a little less apple pie. Her mom has been married multiple times and her former stepsister is a happy-go-lucky free spirit. Both are trying to loosen Emily up and add some spice to the celebrations. Emily’s mother and Grant’s mother are at odds almost immediately, and when Ryan, Emily’s first husband, enters the picture, things go from bad to worse.
Emily and Ryan were passionately in love and married young. But the realities of life got in the way and Emily couldn’t deal with the financial instability. She left Ryan and transformed herself from party girl to career woman. Ryan, now a big-time Hollywood director, claims he is scouting locations for his next horror movie and that his appearance in Valentine is a mere coincidence. Grant’s job calls him away until the wedding day, and Ryan and Emily are thrown together with increasing frequency in the days leading up to the aisle walking. Emily was jittery when she arrived in Valentine and by week’s end her nerves are shot as she finds herself questioning her feelings for Grant and Ryan. Readers will discover seven days is a long time when true love is at stake in this entertaining romantic comedy complete with charming characters and laugh-out-loud moments.
These two hot summer romances prove that sometimes going back to where you began is the only way to find out where you’re going. Susan Mallery brings two new characters home to Fool’s Gold, California in Three Little Words, the 12th novel in her long-running series set in the town. After having his heart broken, Ford Hendrix left his hometown and joined the Navy 14 years ago. The letters that he received from his ex-fiancé’s younger sister Isabel kept him sane when the world he worked in was a very scary place. Now, he’s returned to Fool’s Gold to work at his friend’s fledgling security consulting company. After her disastrous marriage ended with her husband leaving her for another man, Isabel is back in town to help her parents get the family business ready to sell. Ford asks Isabel to be his pretend girlfriend when his mother’s matchmaking schemes become too much, but it doesn’t take long for their pretend relationship to start to feel very real.
Kate Angell takes readers back to the beach town of Barefoot William, Florida, in No Strings Attached. Sophie Saunders is taking the summer to find herself. Her life so far has been sheltered and her long list of phobias and fears made it difficult to experience much of the world. She doesn’t expect that Dune Cates, who she has had a crush on since she was a child, would be part of the equation. Dune is back home in Barefoot William while he recovers from a wrist injury and tries to figure out what it will mean for his career as a professional beach volleyball player. He thinks Sophie is sweet and is just trying to look out for her. He doesn’t expect the undeniable attraction that soon develops between them. The quirky characters and cleverly named stores on the boardwalk will make you wish you could book a stay in Barefoot William for your next vacation. Both of these small town romances are the perfect summer treat for fans of Jennifer Crusie, Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis.
They say that living well is the best revenge, and these hot new beach reads are stories of women who rebuild their lives after their marriages end. Ladies’ Night by Mary Kay Andrews is a rollicking story about a woman who starts over. When popular lifestyle blogger Grace Stanton catches her husband cheating, she retaliates by parking his Audi in the pool. That is the beginning of the end of Grace’s life as she knows it. She soon finds that she no longer has access to either her money or her blog, and she is forced to move in with her mother. While she begins to rebuild her life, Grace attends court-mandated therapy sessions until she and her therapy group ditch their “divorce coach” and begin meeting for their own "Ladies’ Night" at The Sandbox - Grace’s mother’s bar. Mary Kay Andrews is known for her laugh-out-loud funny stories, and Ladies’ Night is no exception.
Leslie Carter is a woman on a mission in Dorothea Benton Frank’s funny and relatable new novel The Last Original Wife. Among her husband Wesley’s circle of friends, Les is the last original wife. Over the years, all of Wes’s friends have traded in their first wives for newer models, leaving Les feeling lonely and adrift in their social set. Yes, Les and Wes have drifted apart over time, but they take pride in the fact that they are still married. Everything changes for Les when she falls into an open manhole and no one notices that she’s missing. Is this really the life that she is living? Les becomes fed up with her life and becomes determined to do whatever it takes to be the strong, vibrant woman she wants to be. Frank’s humor and warmth make The Last Original Wife a winner.
In Lori Nelson Spielman’s charming debut novel The Life List, Brett Bohlinger embarks on an unexpected year-long adventure that changes the trajectory of her life.
Brett thinks that she is happy with her life. She has a good job, a handsome boyfriend and a loving family. Brett’s world is rocked by the death of her beloved mother Elizabeth. Devastated and grieving, Brett is even more shocked when her mother’s will is read. Instead of bequeathing the family’s cosmetics business to Brett, Elizabeth has set an astonishing plan in motion. The terms of Elizabeth’s will stipulate that Brett has one year to earn her inheritance by completing a list of life goals that she set for herself when she was 14 years old. Each time she completes a task, Brett not only gets closer to her inheritance, she also earns a letter from her mother. Some of the tasks, like performing on stage or getting a dog, are fairly easy to complete. Others, like having a baby and having a good relationship with her father, seem impossible to Brett. As she works her way through the list, Brett begins to find her way, and the tasks her mother assigned her prove that her mother did indeed know best.
Brett’s journey is filled with heart and warm humor. In the end, she finds the true loves of her life just as Elizabeth hoped she would. Lori Nelson Spielman is an exciting new voice in women’s fiction. Readers who enjoy novels by Allison Winn Scotch, Marian Keyes and Emily Giffin will love The Life List.
Colin Firth will always be treasured by legions of devoted fans that cherish his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. For those who can’t get enough of the fabulous Firth, he is prominently featured in two charming books.
Three women are hoping for a meeting with the man behind Mr. Darcy in Finding Colin Firth by Mia March. The quaint tourist town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine is abuzz with the rumor that Colin Firth is coming to film. Three female residents are each determined to meet the man. Gemma lost her job and left her husband, but becomes convinced that an interview with Colin Firth will put her life back on track. Twenty-two year old Bea just learned that she was adopted as a baby and travels to Maine to spy on her biological mother. That woman, Veronica, is a waitress and local legend known for her healing pies. As their stories unfold in alternating chapters, readers will enjoy the quest for Colin and the dramatic life changes experienced by each of these delightful women.
In Austenland by Shannon Hale, Jane Hayes is single, with a dead end job, and a past littered with hapless boyfriends. Part of the problem is her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by the inimitable Colin Firth. When she is bequeathed at trip to Pembrook Park, a fantasy camp for Austen fans, she jumps at the chance to spend three weeks as a Regency lady. She enjoys the garb and manners, as well as flirtations with both a gentleman and the gardener. Will she finally find a Mr. Darcy of her very own? Readers will be thrilled to know that Jane’s story will soon be on the big screen starring Keri Russell, and that Pembrook Park is the setting for Hale’s follow-up, Midnight in Austenland, featuring another fun and feisty fan of Austen.