My Top Ten Must Reads (Part 1)

You know those people in your life that recommend a book to you because they absolutely loved it, and you tell them politely that you’ll think about reading their pick, while secretly thinking, “there is no way on earth I’m going to read that book?”

Hopefully I’m not one of those people!

In the past, us Inkspers have written blogs on books we’re looking forward to reading in the coming months, but this time, I’m going to change it up. I want to tell you about my Top Ten Must Read books that I’ve encountered over the past 12 months. I actually keep a list of every book I read between July 1 and June 30 of each year, so these are books I’ve read since then that I highly recommend. Since I read a lot of cozy mystery series, I am only going to recommend the series that I began reading this year, instead of perhaps book 6 in an established series, to keep it simple. Also, I don’t often read brand new books, so some of these might be several years old already.

I selected a variety of genres, since I try to read widely, and I’m only listing the first five this week (in no particular order), so come back in two weeks to find out my next five! (Click on the titles for more info about each book.)

Top Ten (Five) Must Reads

Progeny

The Progeny by Tosca Lee. She’s the descendent of a serial killer. Now she’s the hunted.

I just finished this book last week, and this is one of the few books I can say truthfully that I couldn’t put down! I literally had to leave it at home one day because I knew if I took it to work to read over my lunch break, my lunch break would end up being three hours. A heart-racing thriller full of twists and turns, an intriguing mystery, and a cliff-hanger ending that left me eagerly anticipating the sequel next February.

To Whisper Her Name

To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander. A love story of hope and healing between a Confederate widow and a southerner who fought for the North set at Tennessee’s Belle Meade Plantation. 

I read To Whisper Her Name on vacation last year, and though I was sitting in a log cabin in Oregon, every time I opened the pages I was transported to Belle Meade Plantation. Alexander perfectly captured the Reconstruction era, and her love story evolved so naturally over the course of the story that I’m in awe of her skill. I admit, I fell a little bit in love with her hero, Ridley Adam Cooper! I’ve loved all of her books I’ve read, but this one in particular stood out.

Technologists

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl. A series of mysterious attacks in Boston, 1868, send four brave students at the newly established Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a race against the clock to save their city, and their fledgling school. 

I picked this one up on a whim from Portland’s Powell’s City of Books (an amazing bookstore I highly recommend!) while on the same vacation I mentioned above. The twisty plot kept me turning the pages, and I really enjoyed learning about the early history of MIT, and people’s distrust of scientific principals that we take for granted today that Pearl’s fictional “terrorist” used to his advantage. Pearl likes to take real historical incidents and write his fictional stories around them.

State of Onion

State of the Onion by Julie Hazy. First in the White House Chef Mysteries, Ollie Paras is gunning for the Executive Chef position when she unwittingly stops a would-be assassin with her frying pan, but soon finds herself in the cross-hairs of a killer. 

I read a lot of cozy mystery series, and this one stood out to me for it’s exceptional writing, tight plot, great characters, interesting setting, and a mystery that kept me guessing. I just finished the second book, and will definitely keep reading this well-done series.

THere You'll Find Me

There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones. Finley Sinclair heads to Ireland to make peace with her brother’s death, and winds up meeting Beckett Rush, teen heartthrob and Hollywood bad boy. As her grief begins to wear her down, she wonders when God is going to show up for her in this Emerald paradise. 

This one was a re-read this year. I love Jones’ writing style, her humor, and her great characters. The book was funny, and yet dealt with real problems of grief, forgiveness, and healing. One of only three books I read this year that I literally broke down in tears while reading because I was so moved. I loved how the story didn’t end with everything wrapped up in a neat bow, but on a hopeful note.

Come back next Tuesday, July 5 for the rest of my list!

 

***BONUS GIVEAWAY!***

I’ve told you my top ten reads of the year, so what are some of yours? I start my reading list over on July 1, so I’d love to hear what your favorite books are! Leave a comment on either Part 1 or Part 2 (or both!) to win a copy of any of the 10 books on my list. I’ll pull one winner on Friday, July 8.

Books are Blossoming!

Oh, there’s nothing like lounging in a chair outside, a glass of lemonade on the table beside you, the scent of lilacs in the air, and a book in your hand. Don’t you agree? And, as usual, spring is fragrant with new releases.

On my Just-Read list is Joseph Courtemanche’s debut release, Assault on Saint Agnes. Now this book isn’t for the light romance or cozy mystery reader, rather for those who love a good page-turning thriller. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I highly recommend it.

Assault on Saint AgnesAbout Assault on Saint Agnes ~

When terrorists assault Saint Agnes Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, they expect to find a congregation of lambs: they get Bobby Kurtz instead. An unrepentant Cold Warrior, Kurtz destroys the terror cell with violent finality. Against his will, Kurtz is pulled back into the life he left behind decades before. He reluctantly picks up the burden of hunting the terrorists in our midst. He risks his life, and his marriage, in a single-minded pursuit of victory over evil. Working with a shadowy government agency, Kurtz uses all of his skills and experience to foil a plan that would plunge the Twin Cities back into the Stone Age. The final battle rages across the plains during a Christmas Eve blizzard in a story that will leave the reader pleading for more of Kurtz and his team of experts.

On my Read-Next list is Jennifer Slattery’s latest release, Breaking Free. Word has it, this book is a gritty, meaty read, so it’s perfect for me.

Breaking FreeAbout Breaking Free ~

Women’s ministry leader and Seattle housewife Alice Goddard appears to have it all. But when her credit and debit cards are denied, she begins an investigation into the family’s finances—and discovers her husband trapped in a downward spiral of lies. Can they break free from his deception in time to save their marriage?

And finally on my Not-Yet-Released-Yet list is Becky Wade’s Her One and Only, book four in her Porter Family series. Since Becky broke out on the not-your-average-Christian-romance-writing scene with My Stubborn Heart, her books have topped my to-read list.

Her One and OnlyAbout Her One and Only ~

When NFL tight end Gray Fowler is threatened by a stalker, his team hires a professional bodyguard to watch him. But when Gray’s “protection” turns out to be a woman half his size, he’s indignant. Will Dru—a former marine and expert markswoman—prove to be up to the job? And meanwhile, who’s guarding Gray’s heart?

Now this blog post would be a mile long if I included every book on my spring reads list, but we’re asked to limit our words here on the Inksper blog so that you have more time to read books. So go pull out your lawn chair, poor yourself a glass of lemonade (or sweet tea if you live in the South), and dive into a book!

What books will be enjoying next?

Friendly Future Reads

The life of an author has so many perks, even before the big goal of publication is achieved. One of those bonuses is that you get to rub elbows with wonderful writers.

My “to be read “pile is full of titles by ladies I have actually met. The physical stack on my nightstand forms a cute little book stack poem- “Room for Hope, Robin. Eat Ice Cream for Supper.”

Room for Hope is a historical by one of my favorite Kansas authors, Kim Vogel Sawyer. Her characters are always memorable, their struggles real. The only thing I don’t like about Kim’s books is reaching the end of the story. She has also been gracious enough to critique my own work in progress. Priceless!

Robin is the first book by a lady who this year was in charge of the Called to Write conference that takes place in my childhood hometown. She is an inspiration to me, because her first published novel is happening at a time in her life when she is, well, let’s say, mature. Like me! Love me some Julane Heibert.

I’ve owned Eat Ice Cream for Supper by Kathy Manning Gronau for a few years. It is all about her encounter with cancer. Because my Mom’s battle is still fresh in my mind, I have yet to read it. But, I so admire Kathy for writing it, and when the time is right, I know I will love this book.

The remainder of my TBRs are contained on my Kindle. Chapel Springs Survival is the second book by Ane Mulligan, who offered me so much support online when I was the president of our local ACFW chapter. The first was a rollicking adventure about a modern-day Lucy and Ethel that kept me in stitches. Can’t wait to dive into this one!TBR Mulligan

Finally, one of the first friends I made at a writer’s conference, Barbara Warren, has a new cozy mystery called Deception. In addition to being a lover of fried bread at a great restaurant in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Barbara is a professional editor, and an expert at clean, tight writing. I know this one will be a great read.TBR Warren

Friends who write provide me with books who are bound to become new friends. I love my life!

Not Your Ordinary Fairy Tale

Everyone who knows me knows I love to read fantasy. Published by Enclave Publishing, R. J. Anderson’s newest book in the No Ordinary Fairy Tale series, Arrow, is just what I need for my Spring reading list. If you haven’t been introduced to this series, here it is:

 

Book 1 – Knife: Forget everything you think you know about faeries. . . .

Creatures full of magic and whimsy? Not in the Oakenwyld. Not anymore.

Deep inside the great Oak lies a dying faery realm, bursting with secrets instead of magic. Long ago the faeries mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake.

Only one young faery–Knife–is determined to find out where her people’s magic has gone and try to get it back. Unlike her sisters, Knife is fierce and independent. She’s not afraid of anything–not the vicious crows, the strict Faery Queen, or the fascinating humans living nearby. But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she realizes.

Knife is a gripping tale of lost magic, high adventure, and surprising friendship in which the fate of an entire realm rests on the shoulders of one brave faery rebel.

 

Book 2 – Rebel: The last time Timothy broke a rule, he got suspended.Rebel by R J Anderson

But when he defies the faery empress, it might well get him killed.

Timothy Sinclair doesn’t believe in faeries – after all the hardships he’s suffered since his missionary parents sent him away to boarding school, he’s not even sure he still believes in God. But when a tiny winged girl named Linden bursts into his life and begs him to help save her people, the skeptical Timothy finds himself drawn into a struggle against a potent evil that threatens humans and faeries alike. With a deadly pair of hunters on their trail, Timothy and Linden flee across country, drawn by the legend of a white stone that could be the faeries’ salvation. But the dangers that await them test their courage and resolve to the limit, threatening to tear their unlikely partnership apart. And when it comes down to one last desperate battle, they and all the people they love will be doomed unless Linden and Timothy can find the faith to overcome…

 

Book 3 – Arrow: She swore never to shed blood in violence, no matter how grave the danger.Arrow by RJ Anderson

But when a faery war threatens her home, the price of peace may be higher than Rhosmari can pay…

For a thousand years the faeries known as the Children of Rhys have lived in safety on their magical islands, protected from the evils of the outside world. Yet a deadly conflict is brewing on the mainland, as the evil faery Empress gathers an army to destroy the brave rebels known as the Oakenfolk. And when Rhosmari’s betrothed Garan steals the sacred Stone of Naming and runs off to help the rebels, she realizes that the only way to keep the Children of Rhys out of the war is to go after him and get the Stone back.

But the world beyond the Green Isles is stranger and more confusing than Rhosmari ever imagined, and Garan and his fellow rebels are not easy to find. Every step she takes leads her deeper into danger, testing her courage, trust, and even the beliefs she holds most dear. If she refuses to fight the Empress, she could end up dooming the whole rebel army… but if she breaks her oath of non-violence, she can never return to her beloved home and people again. Can her new faery and human allies help Rhosmari choose the right path, or will she only end up pointing them all toward destruction?

 

Summerlost: Great Middle Grade Fiction

Middle grade fiction will always hold a special place in my heart. Most of the stories are mature enough to have some meaty topics but innocent enough to satisfy parents concerned about appropriate reading material for their children. One such book is Summerlost by Ally Condie. It is recommend for ages 10 and up, but adults who like a book that makes them feel like a kid again will thoroughly enjoy it. I know I did.

The publisher’s blurb reads:

summerlostIt’s been a year since the devastating car accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are spending the summer in her mother’s hometown of Iron Creek and trying to mend their broken pieces. Memories surround Cedar, including strange gifts that begin to appear in the night–the type of small household items her brother Ben used to collect.

Until one day a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike, and everything about Cedar’s summer changes. Soon, Cedar not only has a job working at the renowned Summerlost theater festival, but also a growing friendship with Leo that will blossom as they piece together clues about the short and tragic life of one of Iron Creek’s most famous residents.

Emotionally resonant and rich with understanding, “Summerlost” is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that explores the strength of family and the transformative power of friendship in the face of tragedy.

Springtime Reading List

I have some eclectic reading tastes at times, genre hopping from historical love stories and inspirational fiction to steam punk fantasy and cozy whodunits with ease. What can I say? I must be a great conversationalist! So, here’s a few books I can hardly wait to get my hands on this spring, from two new-to-me authors, and one whose cozy mysteries I adore!

The Red Door Inn

By Liz Johnson

Book 1 in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series

Red Door InnMarie Carrington is running from a host of bad memories. Broke and desperate, she’s hoping to find safety and sanctuary on Prince Edward Island, where she reluctantly agrees to help decorate a renovated bed-and-breakfast before it opens for prime tourist season.

Seth Sloane didn’t move three thousand miles to work on his uncle’s B&B so he could babysit a woman with a taste for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes past her. He came to help restore the old Victorian–and to forget about the fiancée who broke his heart.

The only thing Marie and Seth agree on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just three months will take everything they’ve got. Can these two wounded souls find hope, healing, and perhaps a bit of romance on this beautiful island?

I haven’t read any of Liz Johnson’s books before, but a book that takes place on picturesque Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of my beloved L.M. Montgomery, and home of Anne of Green Gables? And it features a beautiful inn, hope, healing, faith, AND a love story? Take my money now!

The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder

 by Rachel McMillan

Book 1 in the Herringford and Watts Mysteries

The-Bachelor-Girls-Guide-to-Murder-Herringford-and-Watts-Mysteries-by-Rachel-McMillanIn 1910 Toronto, while other bachelor girls perfect their domestic skills and find husbands, two friends perfect their sleuthing skills and find a murderer.

Inspired by their fascination with all things Sherlock Holmes, best friends and flatmates Merinda and Jem launch a consulting detective business. The deaths of young Irish women lead Merinda and Jem deeper into the mire of the city’s underbelly, where the high hopes of those dreaming to make a new life in Canada are met with prejudice and squalor.

While searching for answers, donning disguises, and sneaking around where no proper ladies would ever go, they pair with Jasper Forth, a police constable, and Ray DeLuca, a reporter in whom Jem takes a more than professional interest. Merinda could well be Toronto’s premiere consulting detective, and Jem may just find a way to put her bachelor girlhood behind her forever–if they can stay alive long enough to do so.

Again, Rachel McMillan is a new author to me, but I adore period murder mysteries, especially ones in which the “proper” ladies do all sorts of improper things in the name of sleuthing. Plus, it comes highly recommended by a friend!

Vanilla Beaned

by Jenn McKinlay

Book 8 in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series

VanillaBeanedMelanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura are taking a gamble by opening their first franchise of the Fairy Tale Cupcakes Bakery, so where better to hit the jackpot than in Vegas? Business manager Tate Harper has lined up a meeting with Holly Hartzmark, a former showgirl who’s looking to bring Mel and Angie’s sweet treats to Sin City, but Mel isn’t so sure she’s ready to hand her recipes over to a complete stranger—especially one as brash as Holly.
 
But after the potential bakery location gets blown up, Mel begins seeing another side to Holly—one that reminds her very much of herself. Determined to help a kindred spirit, Mel sets out to discover who is trying to keep the bakery from cashing in. But with a murderous mischief maker on the loose, the odds are stacking up against a happy ending for Mel and her friends…

Jenn McKinlay is one of my absolute favorite cozy mystery writers. She writes three different series (I’m currently reading all of them!), but Vanilla Beaned is her newest release. She has a wonderful way of blending humor and great characters with compelling mysteries. She’s one of those writers I hope to emulate with my symphony murder mysteries!

What’s on your spring reading list?

What should I read next? Spring Edition

With spring comes tulips, lilacs, apple blossoms–and books!

Of course the Inkspers want to celebrate this garden of book so that you, our dear reader friends, can pick your own bouquet of bloomin’ good reads. Join us every day in the next week and get ready to fill your “to be read” pile.

Everything’s Coming Up Novellas

Perhaps it’s because I just finished writing a novella for an upcoming collection (details to follow later), but I couldn’t help notice a number of favorite authors who have novellas coming out this spring. Some dovetail on an author’s popular series, like a mini sequel, while others introduce a new series.

Novella collections, too, have taken off in the publishing world in the last few years. This is a perfect pick for the spring when your reading time might be shorter than in the long winter months.

Here are a few novellas to consider adding to your list.

the husband manuever

If you read my friend Karen Witemeyer’s book, A Worthy Pursuit, you won’t want to miss this little jewel.

1890s Texas. Marietta Hawkins has been in love with ranch foreman Daniel Barrett since she came home from school three years ago. Unfortunately, her father’s rule about hands not fraternizing with his daughter has kept him out of reach. She believed patience would prove a virtue in winning him over–until now. He is leaving. Starting up his own spread. To have any hope of maneuvering him into a proposal, she has to act fast or lose him forever.

Available for pre-order here.

Runaway Bride

I am never disappointed by anything Mary Connealy writes and this bloomin’ good read is a great addition to Mary’s Kincaid Brides and Trouble in Texas series.

Big John Conroy is a Texas Ranger asked by a friend to assist Carrie. He catches up to Carrie and her brother Isaac and races away from a dangerous man who will stop at nothing to make the beautiful young woman his wife. Soon Big John’s feelings for Carrie turn to more than simply protective, and Carrie finally feels that she’s in the presence of a man she can respect–something she’s never known.

Available for pre-order here.

Cowboy Brides

Cowboys anyone? Who can resist a man in chaps? This novella collection of nine historical romances promises a lot of action and love.

Ride onto the open range alongside cowboys and cowgirls who embrace the adventures of living in the Old West from Kansas to New Mexico, Colorado to Texas. Whether rounding up cattle or mustangs, training horses, fending off outlaws, weathering storms, competing in rodeos, or surviving drought these cowboys work hard each day. But when hardheaded men have their weaknesses exposed by well-meaning women will they stampede away or will a lasting love develop?

Available in paperback with flaps, Kindle, and Nook.

Small town brides

In case the print is too small at the top of the cover, it reads, “9 Romances Develop Under the Watchful Eyes of Neighbors.” Is your mind already spinning over the possibilities?

Join the fun and feel the romance in various historical communities from Massachusetts to Florida, Missouri to Texas. Meet ladies who take firm stands for their work in mills, orphanages, churches, schools, hospitals, and the like as they dance through courtship with their beaus. Can the nine couples develop lasting loves under the watchful eyes of their neighbors?

This book releases May  1, 2016. You can pre-order it here.

I hope I’ve planted some spring reading seeds and that you’ll be holding your bloomin’ good reads in your hands in no time.

So, what do you think of novellas? Why do you think their popularity is gaining? Have you ready any collections lately that you’d recommend?

 

My Love Affair With Books

We’re talking hearts during heart month and I know you’re rolling your eyes, but of course, my heart turns to books every time. My romance with books is longstanding and never-ending. They woo me with their alluring covers, beguile me with their tantalizing back cover blurbs and oh…the sweet cologne of paper and ink! And one of my real weaknesses is…be still my wildly beating heart…the first sentence! There’s nothing quite as enticing as the promise contained within those first few words.  Promises of love and adventure; laughter and tears. You can tell a lot about a book by its first sentence. So, just for fun, I did a random browse of my bookshelves and came up with a few to share.

inks1

“That’s where the body was found, floating face down in the river,” an ominous voice intoned. “He was stone-cold dead.”

inks2

The last thing a bride needs to fret over on her wedding day is whether the ceremony will take place.

inks3

Her customary walk across the college quadrangle had become an executioner’s march.

inks4

There’s blood on the bottom of my shoes.

inks5

The initial step off the sheer face of a three-hundred-plus-foot drop was always the most terrifying .

ink6

“Murder and meatloaf just don’t go together,” Lizzie grumbled.

inks7

The girl with the haunted eyes re-entered his life on the other side of a lowering casket, humidity and the shrill song of cicadas tangling together in the South Carolina heat.

inks8

There was more to life than vanilla buttercream.

ink9

Fairy tales lied.

Not Your Average Romance

While straight romance reads may not be my favorite, I do like a a little romance thrown into stories. Even Steven James’ thrillers have small elements of romance. I enjoy stories with unique protagonists, stories in which the romance is secondary to the main plot, yet still vital. Below are a few of my favorites because of their uniqueness.

JANE EYRE (Charlotte Bronte) – I love the atypical heroine in Jane Eyre. Not the modelesque heroines we’ve come to expect in modern day stories, but someone plain, someone relatable.

A VOICE IN THE WIND (Francine Rivers) – Another unique heroine–Hadassah certainly wouldn’t win any beauty contests, but that’s what makes the attraction between Hadassah and Marcus Valerian so captivating.

THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE (Laura Frantz) – I could probably put all of Laura’s books on my favorite romance list, but I’ll stick to one and choose her most recent. Laura’s musical prose and her exquisite settings are enough to draw me in every time, so her multi-faceted characters and page-turning stories are like the cherry on top.

MY STUBBORN HEART (Becky Wade) – This introduction to Becky’s writing made me a forever fan. The story’s a bit edgier than your typical Christian romance, which is, naturally, why I enjoyed it so much. Her Porter series is also very good, but My Stubborn Heart remains my favorite.

DANCE OF GRACE (Stacy Monson) – The heroine is a one-legged dancer, and the hero is an ex-con. Does Christian romance get more unique than that? Seriously, that’s all I need to hear to know that this is a must-read romance.

Have you read any of these romances? What are your five favorite romances?

So Many Books — So Little Time

My TBR pile is rather unwieldy — in fact it`s in danger of toppling even though I`ve divided it into two piles. Of course, there are a few romances in the mix…oh, who am I kidding? The whole pile is romance of one sort or another. So here`s a sneak peek into the literary gems awaiting me.

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Romance – Amish style.  Especially excited about Jan Drexler`s Revell debut, Hannah`s Choice. Historical + Amish = Reader Delight. I`ve read Jan`s Love Inspired books (2 historical Amish and 1 Historical Western) and loved them all. She has a knack for storytelling and a flair for descriptive language that makes you feel like you`re right there inside the pages of the book.

IMG_0001_4

Romance – Suspense style. Be still my heart. Both Dani Pettrey and Lynette Eason are starting new series. Inside scoop — just finished Cold Shot. Amazing. I love the way the author set up the series, giving readers a glimpse into the lives of all the main characters. I can`t wait to read all their stories. And the suspense is incredible. And Colleen Coble is always a guaranteed page-turning read.

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Romance – Contemporary style.  A little drama, a little comedy and cowboys! Can it get any better than this line-up?

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Romance – Historical style. Thrilled to my toes over these two books.  Both third books in awesome series. I love settling into familiar literary landscapes. Two great authors  who know how to spin a tale.

love inspired

And then there`s  this array of Love Inspired books that arrived on my doorstep a few days ago.  A lovely mix of my favourite romance genres.

So, what do you think of my reading lineup? Any of the same books on your wishlists?