After a failed escape attempt, the princess of a tiny kingdom begins to reevaluate her life.

Caroline, a former marathon runner who dropped out of school at fourteen to pursue an Olympic medal, was the perfect candidate for a tiara: shapely, disciplined, accustomed to public attention, and utterly uneducated. When she meets Finn, the handsome prince of a small European kingdom, her fate is sealed. With a collar of pearls locked around her throat, and a rope of diamonds leashing her to a balcony, Caroline uses her once-powerful body to smile, wave, and produce children with perfect grace.

But as she begins to open her eyes to the world around her – and examine her own reflection – Caroline discovers that she may have entered a bargain that cannot be undone.

Barbara Bourland’s stunning third novel is her softest, strangest book to date. Inspired by the alleged escape attempts of real-life princesses, and set in a grotesque and gaudy pre-recession 2000s Europe, The Force of Such Beauty is a heart-wrenching and compulsively readable testament to the way in which real-life power structures around the world ultimately rest on the subjugation of women’s bodies. 



The Force of Such Beauty by Barbara Bourland is a 2022 Dutton publication.

Oh, my goodness. What a chilling story!

By now, the fantasy of being a princess in real life has been tarnished. I think the reality of that life is not as hidden as it once was, and we’ve seen the tragedy of it play out in real time. That life, behind those castle walls, at the very least, is all about duty- it is not a life entirely your own, and I’m sure it is often very lonely and isolating. That duty may extend to the marriage as well- perhaps arranged- or sadly, as we’ve seen before- it could be a one-sided affair- and of course the pressure to provide heirs- but in this book we examine a situation that shows an even darker side of royalty…

Caroline is an Olympic athlete until her body gives out causing her to take a bad fall, where she lands hard, face first. This injury requires plastic surgery and lots of physical therapy, which is where she meets Finn. His stay in rehab is brief, but the two meet again, resulting in a complicated romance and engagement. But Caroline is clueless about Finn’s life as the heir of a small principality…

When reality sets in, Caroline decides to leave, only to be ambushed and ushered back to Finn, where he convinces her to go through with the marriage. Caroline learns soon enough that this is no fairy tale as her every move is monitored and her repeated attempts at escape are continuously thwarted…

Caroline’s voice is haunting and human. Her life is a nightmare, her choices limited, as she is held captive in a prison disguised a castle.

The story is cautionary in tone, powerfully unsettling and hard to come to terms with.

What makes it so difficult to absorb is that the novel is somewhat based on a real princess, and some of the elements in this novel are substantiated facts. More unnerving is that in real life this princess is struggling and that makes this tale even more troubling…

Overall, I admit I knew nothing of the real-life drama this book is based on, and now that I’ve done a little research, I have been plagued with a sense of sadness and claustrophobic foreboding I can’t seem to shake. Maybe this book should be in the thriller category!



Barbara Bourland is a novelist living in Baltimore. Her third novel, The Force of Such Beauty, follows a retired Olympic athlete who marries a prince, and will be published by Dutton in 2022.

Bourland’s novels use imaginative escapism to process an emotional condition (in chronological order: I’ll Eat When I’m Dead, the compulsion to control our appearance; Fake Like Me, the worry that we aren’t good enough; The Force of Such Beauty, the desire to be special) endemic to contemporary women’s lives. Cast in the mold of universal literary forms—the detective story, the thriller, the fairytale—they weave in and out of their genres, until the plot turns inside out and the narrative, upon reflection, appears to be something else entirely.

She’s at work on her fourth novel, Fields and Waves, forthcoming from Dutton in 2024.


A sweeping, tenderhearted love story, Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash tells the story of two families living through World War II on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and the shy, irresistible young woman who will call them both her own.

As German bombs fall over London in 1940, working-class parents Millie and Reginald Thompson make an impossible choice: they decide to send their eleven-year-old daughter, Beatrix, to America. There, she’ll live with another family for the duration of the war, where they hope she’ll stay safe.

Scared and angry, feeling lonely and displaced, Bea arrives in Boston to meet the Gregorys. Mr. and Mrs. G, and their sons William and Gerald, fold Bea seamlessly into their world. She becomes part of this lively family, learning their ways and their stories, adjusting to their affluent lifestyle. Bea grows close to both boys, one older and one younger, and fills in the gap between them. Before long, before she even realizes it, life with the Gregorys feels more natural to her than the quiet, spare life with her own parents back in England.

As Bea comes into herself and relaxes into her new life—summers on the coast in Maine, new friends clamoring to hear about life across the sea—the girl she had been begins to fade away, until, abruptly, she is called home to London when the war ends.

Desperate as she is not to leave this life behind, Bea dutifully retraces her trip across the Atlantic back to her new, old world. As she returns to post-war London, the memory of her American family stays with her, never fully letting her go, and always pulling on her heart as she tries to move on and pursue love and a life of her own.

As we follow Bea over time, navigating between her two worlds, Beyond That, the Sea emerges as a beautifully written, absorbing novel, full of grace and heartache, forgiveness and understanding, loss and love. 


Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence- Ash is a 2023 Celadon Books publication.

Beatrix- ‘Bea’ Thompson is sent to America at age eleven by her parents to protect her from the ravages of World War ll. She lands with the Gregory family in Boston and is immediately folded into this loving family, though it does take some time to adjust.

As the war rages on, Bea enjoys a life she could never have imagined. Her American mother, Nancy, grows quite attached, and Nancy’s son’s also forge a tight bond with Bea.

But on the other side of the ocean, Bea’s parents struggle with the reality of war, with missing their daughter, and the widening distance between them- not just geographically, or physically, but emotionally…

Eventually, though, despite the chasm of grief over leaving America, Bea returns home to her mother. Yet, as the years pass, the bonds she created with the Gregory’s never fully fades. They each, in their own way, stay emotionally connected, believing they must live separate lives despite the deep-seated feelings that bind them together…

What an amazing novel! I love historical sagas- and this one fits the bill- it’s sweeping- covering decades of time. In many ways it is a quiet novel, but it packs a big emotional punch. The characters each have strengths and flaws, go through many trials and changes, periods of setbacks and growth, triumphs and grief, and the reader is right there- going through it with them!

Overall, this is a beautifully written story- a love story on so many levels, and a story that will stick with me a long time to come!



Laura Spence-Ash’s fiction has appeared in One Story, New England Review, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. Her critical essays and book reviews appear regularly in the Ploughshares blog. She received her MFA in fiction from Rutgers–Newark, and she lives in New Jersey.

’Tis the season for mulled wine, mince pies, and magic under the mistletoe…

Flora loves Christmas more than anything else in the world, so she’s gutted when her Scrooge-alike boss fires her from Deck the Halls Christmas emporium. But now she finally has a chance to follow her dreams – and what better place to start than the home of Christmas?

Before she can say ‘sleigh bells’, Flora’s on her way to Lapland in a campervan-cum-Christmas-shop. She can’t wait to spend her days drinking hot chocolate and taking reindeer-drawn carriage rides, but something Flora didn’t expect was meeting Connor, a Norse god of a man who makes her heart flutter and snowflakes swirl in her stomach. There’s just one problem: Connor hates Christmas.

Can Flora convince Connor of the joys of Christmas – and will she find a festive romance along the way?


Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop by Rebecca Raisin is a 2022 HQ Digital publication.

If it weren’t for bad luck, Flora would have no luck at all. After yet another break-up, another lost job, and with her best friend moving away, Flora is urged to start her own Christmas themed business, living ‘the van life’.

It’s a great idea! She could be her own boss- so she couldn’t get fired, right? So, she heads off to Lapland with big plans to follow the Hallmark Movie guidelines, hoping she’ll not only be a great businesswoman, but will find true love, too…

Flora’s love of all things Christmas could give Buddy the Elf a run for his money, but she runs into big trouble when she meets Connor. She’s more than a little attracted to the man, but there’s this one teeny, tiny hitch…

Connor despises Christmas!

I wasn’t sure, when I started reading this book, if I was going to be able to withstand Flora’s OTT obsession with Christmas, and her strong personality. She was a little annoying, to be honest, especially for a quiet introvert.

But then we meet Connor, and I knew right then we were going to have a fantastic ‘opposites attract’ romance, and that it was going to be worth sticking around for. Not only that, but I’ve also loved this author for years, and I couldn’t imagine not being charmed by one of her books- especially one with a Christmas theme!

As it turns out, there is no better setting for a holiday story than Lapland!! If your holiday spirit needs a boost, then this book will absolutely do the trick. This is an adorable holiday romance, and Rebecca Raisin did a fabulous job of creating holiday magic powerful enough that even nonbelievers can’t resist it.

Overall, I ended up loving this story, and the homage to Hallmark Christmas movies, was a nice touch, too!

This is my first official Christmas romance of 2022 and I’d say this was the perfect book to kick off the holiday reading season!

4 stars



Rebecca Raisin writes heartwarming romance from her home in sunny Perth, Australia. Her heroines tend to be on the quirky side and her books are usually set in exotic locations so her readers can armchair travel any day of the week. The only downfall about writing about gorgeous heroes who have brains as well as brawn, is falling in love with them – just as well they’re fictional. Rebecca aims to write characters you can see yourself being friends with. People with big hearts who care about relationships and believe in true, once in a lifetime love. Her bestselling novel Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop has been optioned for film with MRC studios and Frolic Media.

Come say hello to Rebecca on her Facebook page :

Lately, Molly has been feeling that she might have fallen into a fairy tale: she’s reinvigorated the family bookshop Thomas Marlowe—Manuscripts and Folios, made friends in her new home of Cambridge, England, and is even developing a bit of a romance with the handsome Kieran—a bike shop owner with a somewhat intimidating family pedigree.

Having recently discovered The Strawberry Girls, a classic children’s tale, Molly is thrilled to learn the author, Iona York, lives nearby. But while visiting the famous author at her lovely cottage in nearby Hazelhurst, an old acquaintance of Iona’s tumbles off her roof to his death.

Then, when one of Iona’s daughters—an inspiration for the original Strawberry Girls—goes missing, Molly begins to worry this story might be more Brothers Grimm than happily-ever-after. Especially after Molly learns about the mysterious long-ago death of Iona’s husband and co-author of The Strawberry Girls…could past and present crimes be linked? Molly must put the clues together before someone turns this sweet tale sour.


The Treacherous Tale by Elizabeth Penney is a 2022 St. Martin’s Press publication.

Molly is settling into her home in Cambridge, England, learning the lingo, running the family bookshop, and enjoying a romance with a member of royalty, who lives a low-key life running a bike shop.

She has also discovered a children’s classic called ‘The Strawberry Girls’. As it happens, the author of the book, Iona York, lives in Cambridge, and is an old acquaintance of Molly’s mother.

Iona agrees to do a reading at the bookshop in celebration of a new reissue of the book.

Unfortunately, while visiting Iona, Molly discovers a dead body. At first glance it looks like the man may have fallen from the roof, but it seems too big of a coincidence that Iona’s husband died the same way.

To complicate matters even more, Poppy, one of Iona’s daughters went missing at the same time, and it’s beginning to look as if she too could have been a victim of foul play.

Her sister, Rose, has asked Molly to help locate Poppy- which will give her another chance to practice her newly acquired sleuthing skills…

At first this second chapter in the series, seemed to stall. The charm of the bookstore setting wasn’t there, and was simply a backdrop. Molly occasionally entertained some pretty silly motives for the murder, which is a cozy mystery pet peeve of mine, sometimes.

But I’m going to put the blame on myself and my own impatience because it didn’t take long for the plot to start taking shape.

Once the story started to gel, I was completely engaged. I loved the excerpts of the children’s story and enjoyed looking for hidden clues in the passages- and it was sort of a ‘story within a story’, and had a fairy-tale quality to it, which was a fun and creative way for the mystery to unfold.

The mystery wasn’t exactly a total whodunit as we know there was a criminal enterprise underway involving valuable antiquities. The big reveal wasn’t terribly surprising, though, and occasionally Molly’s epiphanies were a bit too convenient, but it didn’t really distract from the story.

I still got wrapped up in it, and appreciated the original approach, and think the author did a good job with the execution.

Overall, an enjoyable and rather engrossing cozy mystery. The series is still finding its rhythm a little bit, but shows long-term potential and I will definitely be looking out for book three!



Elizabeth Penney is the author of the Apron Shop Series and the Cambridge Bookshop Series, both from St. Martin’s Press. She is also the author of women’s fiction and mysteries for Annie’s Fiction and Guideposts.

Now living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, she pens novels and tries to grow things. Elements that often appear in her novels include vintage everything, past/present mysteries, historic houses, and the arts. Oh, and usually a very cool cat.

Visit her website at to learn more.

When a woman alone in the world bravely chooses to open her heart, two lost souls have a new chance at belonging, in this intimate novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber.

A new beginning in charming Oceanside, Washington, is exactly what Hope Godwin needs after the death of her twin brother. There are plenty of distractions, like her cozy cottage with the slightly nosy landlords next door, and a brewing drama among her students at the local high school.

Despite having settled quickly into the community, something is still missing for Hope. That is, until her landlord convinces her to volunteer at his animal shelter. There she meets Shadow, a rescue dog that everyone has given up on. But true to her name, Hope believes he’s worth saving.

Like Shadow, shelter volunteer Cade Lincoln Jr., is suffering with injuries most can’t see. A wounded ex-marine, Cade identifies with Shadow, assuming they are both beyond help. Hope senses that what they each need is someone to believe in them, and she has a lot of love to give. As she gains Shadow’s trust, Hope notices Cade begins to open up as well. Finding the courage to be vulnerable again, Cade and Hope take steps toward a relationship, and Hope finally begins to feel at peace in her new home.

But Hope’s new happiness is put to the test when Cade’s past conflicts resurface, and Hope becomes embroiled in the escalating situation at the high school. Love and compassion are supposed to heal all wounds. But are they enough to help Hope and Cade overcome the pain of their past and the obstacles in the way of a better future?


The Best is Yet to Come by Debbie Macomber is a 2022 Ballantine publication.

I can’t get enough stories like this one!

Hope lost her twin brother in Afghanistan and is still working through her grief. She’s moved to Oceanside for a fresh start, taking a job as a high school teacher. She gets an invitation to help out at the animal shelter, which is where she meets Cade.

Cade is working at the shelter as a part of his community service duties. Like Shadow, one of the most challenging dogs at the shelter, Cade is a bit gruff and unfriendly, sending off definite vibes that he does not want to be social.

But before long, he and Hope develop a tentative friendship that eventually leads to deeper feelings- but Cade is still a work in progress…

Meanwhile, Hope is concerned about a special student who is setting himself up for a major heartbreak, while also fending off a star football player who is trying to intimidate him- but who always gets away with his antics…

This is a lovely story, with a sweet love story, but also has a little bit of a mystery and some suspense, as well. I was immediately invested in the characters, and had a hard time putting the book aside, reading it all in one sitting! While there is a lot of drama in the story, the pacing is brisk, but still manages to give each thread, and each character, the time and depth needed to develop.

It’s so nice to lose oneself in a Debbie Macomber novel. The topics are emotional, but the tone is not overly heavy. The characters are flawed but I cheered them on as they worked hard to overcome the issues holding them back.

Overall, I enjoyed spending the afternoon with these characters and realize now that over the years I often overlooked this author- completely misunderstanding her style. At least I have plenty of books from her back-list to enjoy- if Macomber follows through with her hints of retirement- but I think- and hope- we’ll keep hearing from her for a while to come… And I for one, am looking forward to it!

4 stars

*Lovely cover!



Debbie Macomber is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and one of today’s most popular writers with more than 200 million copies of her books in print worldwide. In her novels, Macomber brings to life compelling relationships that embrace family and enduring friendships, uplifting her readers with stories of connection and hope. Macomber’s novels have spent over 1,000 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Fifteen of these novels hit the number one spot.

Family is a feeling

There’s nothing like an important birthday to make a person realize all the things they haven’t accomplished. As Tabitha Steele blows out thirty candles, she makes a wish to take charge of her life. It’s a tall order, considering she doesn’t have much to show for herself since leaving military service. She works at a motorcycle shop but has never even ridden a motorcycle; she’s floundering in massage school; her social life consists of her aunt and her gym buddies; and her closest relationship is with Trinity, the service dog who helps her manage every day. She feels like an imposter in every aspect of her own life.

Playful and wild-hearted gym coach Chris Hobbs is Tabitha’s opposite. He likes to keep things fun and temporary, which is why he’s never tried to move the deepening friendship he has with Tabitha into anything more. But he’s the perfect person to help Tabitha discover her strengths. Then the sudden reappearance of his estranged brother forces Chris to face his past and the vulnerable part of himself behind the party-boy persona…and that means letting Tabitha in.

As difficult as it is for Tabitha and Chris to leave the old definitions of themselves behind, the journey is better with someone special at their sides, becoming who they’re meant to be, together.



Becoming Family by Elysia Whisler is a 2022 Mira publication.

After her time in the Navy Tabitha is having trouble getting her sea legs-so to speak. She works at a motorcycle shop- but doesn’t know anything about bikes- and her attempts at becoming a massage therapist has hit a snag. The bright side is she has full support from her service dog -Trinity.

Still, Tabitha has just turned thirty and needs to take charge of her life… somehow.

Chris Hobbs is Tabitha’s coach at her gym, but the most unlikely person for her to forge a relationship with. Chris is ‘happy go lucky’- enjoying a string of short-term girlfriends and keeping things light, easy, and fun. But when his brother shows up unannounced, bearing grim news, Chris will have to finally get serious about life, including his feelings for Tabitha…

I enjoyed this story and all its various elements. Tabitha lacks confidence and maybe a little direction, while Hobbs hides behind his ‘good time’ persona, which masks a world of anger and hurt. These two broken souls, with the help of some amazing animals, discover something in one another beyond their sizzling, undeniable chemistry. The story also deals with disturbing subject matter, so despite the cuteness of the cover art, be prepared for some dark topics, and some intense suspense at times.

The secondary thread is focused on Clementine, Tabitha’s friend, and her daughter, Lily, and the revolving door of animals she rescues. Clementine is still coping with the death of her husband and hasn’t quite managed to figure out how to move on without him.

While some topics explored in this novel are tough, there’s a lot of humor and warmth in the story, as well… and some awesome animals.

I confess I have not read the first two books in this series, but I think this one is easily read as a stand-alone. Hopefully, I’ll be able to backtrack someday and read the first two installments, which I’m sure are good. I hope this series will continue- because if it does- I’ll definitely continue with it going forward.

Overall, this is a terrific story with a combination of romance, suspense, and family drama.

*Light steam



Elysia Whisler was raised in Texas, Italy, Alaska, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawai’i and Virginia, in true military fashion. If she’s not writing she’s probably working out, coaching, or massaging at her CrossFit gym. She lives in Virginia with her family, including her large brood of cat and dog rescues, who vastly outnumber the humans.

After her fiancé whisks her off to the glistening shores of Southampton in June of 1957, one young socialite begins to realize that her glamorous summer is giving her everything—except what she really wants—in this new novel from the author of Summer Darlings, “one terrific summer read” ​(Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author).

Everleigh “Lee” Farrows thinks she finally has life all figured out: a handsome fiancé named Roland, a trust in her name, and a house in Bronxville waiting for her to fill it with three adorable children. That is, until Roland brings her out to the Hamptons for a summer that will change everything.

Most women could only dream of the engagement present Roland unexpectedly bestows on Lee—a beachside hotel on the prized Gin Lane—but Lee’s delight is clouded by unpleasant memories of another hotel, the Plaza, where she grew up in the shadow of her mother’s mental illness. Shaking off flashbacks, Lee resolves to dive into an unforgettable summer with poolside Bellinis, daily tennis matches, luncheons with her Manhattan circle, and her beloved camera in tow. But when tragedy strikes on the hotel’s opening weekend, the cracks in Lee’s picture-perfect future slowly begin to reveal themselves, and Lee must look deep within herself to determine if the life she’s always wanted will ever truly be enough.

From the regal inns to the farmland, the well-heeled New Yorkers to the Bohemian artists, the East End of Long Island is a hodge-podge of the changing American landscape in the late 1950s—and the perfect place for Lee to discover who she really is.


On Gin Lane by Brooke Lee Foster is a 2022 Gallery Books publication.

Everleigh’s fiancé, Roland, surprises her with a hotel he built for her in the Hampton’s. Though she didn’t ask for this, Everleigh, embraces the role, but then a fire breaks out, putting Roland in a financial bind, and both of them under suspicion, as detectives believe arson might be to blame.

Under the strain, Everleigh’s relationship with Roland, begins to fray, and she begins to second guess her decision to marry him. Meanwhile, Everleigh’s love of photography gives her an opportunity to work doing something that she loves. Yet her family, and Roland, are determined to force her to quit…

As she digs her heels in, Everleigh is becoming more and more certain she’s made a mistake with Roland, but can’t seem to find a way out of her engagement…

Although Everleigh is naïve, and comes from a wealthy family, she spends her summer in the Hamptons growing up and becoming wise. She still must fight with herself about social standings and appearances, duty, and how her decisions will affect her family, but she comes into her own, in her own good time.

There is a mystery, an investigation, and loads of questions about that fire, but for a long time the mystery runs in the background as Everleigh struggles with her failing romance, her desire to break free from the strictures of her life, as she falls under the spell of both her new photography mentor, Starling Meade, and Curtis, a doctor she keeps bumping into.

Once the revelations start pouring out, though, the surprises are stunning, and not nearly as predictable as I expected them to be…

This was a book I had intended to read over the summer-but I crammed too many ‘Beach’ reads onto my summer list, and, sadly, ran out time before I had a chance to read all of them. Usually, I packed all seasonal books away until the next year- but the premise for this one sounded so good, I had to have just one last summer fling before I pack away the summer books for good this year.

I loved the setting, the location, and the quiet way the novel unfolded, the character growth and the pioneers who paved the way for women to have more options in life and step out from behind the shadows of their fathers and husbands to gain more independence and control over their own destinies.

Starling might have been the trailblazer in this story, but though it seemed unlikely, Everleigh also became a trailblazer in her own right, as well.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed my last beach flirtation, and think this was a lovely swan song for the summer of 2022…



Brooke Lea Foster is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, People, PARADE, Parents, Psychology Today, Washingtonian, The Atlantic, among others. 

Between her business, her recent divorce and her teenage daughter who needs her right now, Zoey Hartford has her hands full. Thank goodness she has her best friend, Mike McKinnon, to keep her laughing. Zoey and Mike have gone through everything together—from chemistry class to heartbreak. They would never risk their friendship…until one unexpected but sizzling night changes everything.

Mike is torn. Funny, down-to-earth Zoey in her flannel shirts and messy ponytail always seems so in control…until she melts into his arms. But he won’t come between Zoey and her daughter. They’ll just keep it casual. No drama. No feelings. No messiness. What could go wrong?

But the meddling, matchmaking book club won’t be denied. They may not have set them up, but they recognize a perfect match when they see one. And they’re determined to help Zoey see what’s been right in front of her for so long…

In Lost in Love, single mom Andrea will do anything to make the fall festival a success…even ask the town bad boy for his help.


When Sparks Fly by Jo McNally is a 2022 HQN publication.

This is my first book by Jo McNally, and I’ve already added more of her books to my wish-list.

I’m always a sucker for a good ‘friends to lovers’ story- and especially enjoyed this one because it features mature adults, and even a later in life romance.

I loved Zoey’s occupation- the way she stayed true to herself and how she accepted Hazel’s more high maintenance style. I liked all the characters, really, and thought they were well-drawn, mature, and realistic, without over-the-top angst, which is much more my speed, these days.

Overall, the humor kept the tone light, the story flows well, with nice pacing, and has a lovely, heartwarming HEA! I’m looking forward to reading more books by this author!

*Light steam- kept to a minimum.



Jo McNally is an award-winning author who writes contemporary romances with love, laughter and hard-won HEAs.

Jo lives in Upstate New York with 100 pounds of dog and 200 pounds of husband – her slice of the bed is very small. When she’s not writing or reading romance novels (or clinging to the edge of the bed…), she can often be found on the back porch sipping wine with friends while listening to an eclectic playlist. If the weather is absolutely perfect, she might join her husband on the golf course, where she feels far more competitive than her actual skill-level would suggest.

From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere, comes one of the most highly anticipated books of the year – the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.

Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

Our Missing Hearts is an old story, made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.



Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng is a 2022 Penguin Press publication.

I had such trust in Ng that I downloaded this book without hesitation… and without reading the synopsis. My faith was tested when I finally settled in to read this book. I don’t like dystopian novels. I don’t read much science fiction- which is the way this book is categorized. I cringed, uncertain of how this was going to work out for me. But, I already had the book and this is Celeste Ng, after all, so I soldiered on and hoped for the best…

The story is set in a time after a ‘The Crisis’- after certain laws have been passed to protect America from those being blamed for said crisis. In this world, Margaret, a Chinese American poet, is blamed for stirring up protestors – so for the sake of her son, Bird, she goes into hiding, before they can take him away.

Bird is being raised by his father, who goes along with everything the government requires. He’s lost his position, and his home, and works in a library now. He keeps his head down and does his best to protect his son, by disavowing all his wife stood for.

They shuffle along day in and day out, avoiding conflict or trouble, flying under the radar, until one day Bird gets a message from his mother, one that stirs up memories and longing, and creates an urgent need to find her. His quest is a dangerous one, but it may be the journey that finally sets him free…

My concerns about the categorization of this book were unwarranted. This is an incredible novel- heartbreaking, terrifying, but ultimately empowering. There are silences and complicity- but there is also great strength and courage in these passages.

In a year when every social issue under the sun is crammed inside of every single book- from cozies to romance, to historical fiction, horror, and all points in between, I feared this book might be padded a bit too heavily, and at times Ng did overplay her hand. But the story still serves as a cautionary tale, as a reminder to be vigilant, to be on your guard, to rise to the occasion, though it is not the easiest path to take.

The book is so well-written, with much thought behind it, I could literally feel the oppression leaping off the pages, the fear palpable, but I also felt it ease, as hope eventually settles in, despite the bleakness of the moment.

That said, after reading so many ‘message books’ this year- not by choice for the most part, I don’t think I felt the full impact of this novel as I might have if I’d read it at the end of 2021, or earlier this year. It’s a dark, reflective novel, and one I might revisit someday, after my head is relieved of such weighty topics for a while.

Overall, I can’t say this is my favorite novel by this author- at least not right now- but I appreciate what she was going for, and thought she did a brilliant job at creating the world in which the story transpires and the truths behind the dystopian style fantasy. Ng is a great writer, and once again I walk away deeply impressed with her talents.



Celeste Ng is the number one New York Times bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Her third novel, Our Missing Hearts, will be published in October 2022. Ng is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and her work has been published in over thirty languages.

Simmering with slow-burning menace,  Mrs. England  is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, an enthralling tale of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception.

West Yorkshire, 1904. When recently graduated Ruby May takes a nanny position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear something is not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs. England.

Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband and is far from the angel of the house Ruby was expecting.

As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracized by the servants and increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family—she should know.



Mrs. England by Stacey Halls is a 2022 Mira publication.

West Yorkshire -1904

Ruby May is unable to immigrate to the United States with her employers, so and in dire need of funds, she accepts a Nanny position, working for Charles and Lilian England. Charles is a wealthy mill owner, but only employs a small staff. But that is not the only odd thing Ruby notices about her new situation.

It would seem that Mrs. England is mentally unwell, and her husband is a bit overly familiar with Ruby on occasion, which puts her at odds with the staff. Slowly, Ruby begins to fall under Charles’ spell, relishing the extra attention he gives her- but Mrs. England may not be as aloof as she seems…

What a terrific story. Yes, this story has some Gothic tones, which by now, everyone knows is my favorite- but there’s something deeper here than the creepy atmosphere, mystery, and intrigue. At its core it is the story of two women from differing backgrounds who are stronger than they are given credit for, but forced to work within the confines of the strictures of the society they must conform to. But they also lean on and help one another, while still maintaining their individual independence- which is a message we should all pick up on and practice.

Overall, the author did an amazing job with this book. It’s hard to capture that special Gothic atmosphere- these days- but Stacey Halls has it down to a science. Yet, she also creates fabulous characters and provides rich historical details that kept me enthralled, on the edge of my seat, and turning pages well past my bedtime.



Stacey Halls was born in Lancashire and worked as a journalist before her debut The Familiars was published in 2019. The Familiars was the bestselling debut hardback novel of that year, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Book of the Year. The Foundling, her second novel, was also a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Mrs England is her third novel.