The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

Spouses Livia and Adam spend 24 hours building angst over not sharing their respective secrets regarding their children. Paris’ writing style saves her story here, as the heightening emotions of the couple not communicating draw the reader in despite the repetition, until finally the damn breaks and secrets are spilled, but dear reader was already aware of all the secrets. I received a digital copy from the publisher St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley.

The Lost Diary of Venice by Margaux DeRoux

A descendant of Giovanni Lomazzo brings his art treatise to a book restorer, who discovers the palimpsest, Giovanni’s journal of his illicit love affair. DeRoux beautifully portrays the artist’s impossible romance amidst the terror of the Ottoman Empire. The attraction between between Giovanni’s descendant and the book restorer pales by comparison, and is not as interesting. Perhaps this is because it’s too familiar, or it may be that the mores of the time are more mundane, a simple married man and single woman. In any case, this historical fiction is worth it for Giovanni’s tragic romance with the courtesan of Venice’s powerful military commander. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Ballantine Books through NetGalley.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

Ashna Raje fears losing her restaurant, her connection to her late father, his legacy. Ending up on a reality cooking show with her first love was not her solution, nor his preference, as he’s moved away from that life to become soccer star Rico Silva. Old wounds open and heal in this second of the Raje series, a standalone novel in itself. If you like Jane Austen or not, Dev’s take on her work is fresh and delicious, with moments that take your breath away, as when Rico saves Ashna’s toes from being severed by her dropped chef”s knife, diving across the room and damaging further his career-ending injury. Dev makes romance novels more accessible to those of us who don’t prefer them by making the stories credible and the characters delightfully flawed, yearning and yet drawing back, again and again until dear reader is just as frustrated. I didn’t read romance until I won a set of novels by Sonali Dev. There’s so much more going on than the steaminess and sexual tension, although there’s plenty of that amongst the dynamics of family and friendship and careers. I highly recommend this book and basically anything by Sonali Dev. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher William Morrow Paperbacks through NetGalley.

Pale by Edward Farmer

This story is an excellent example of how slavery didn’t end, but only transitioned to slave wages, as the white plantation owners continued to hold power over “free” blacks. In the mid 60s, In a country rife with racial tension, Bernice takes the advice of her brother to work as a domestic servant at the Kern plantation along with him when she finds herself alone. Secrets seep out slowly from this plantation, and Bernice strives to protect her own. Farmer represents well the horrors domestic servants faced (face?), especially black women at the mercy of white men, and the power that a white woman can wield is enough to damage the lives of those she considers inferior, as we see today in “Karens.” I highly recommend this book, as you have to continually tell yourself how far away from legal slavery it was, and yet the horrors remained (remain). Farmer is a powerful writer, who draws the reader into an increasingly frustrating tale. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Blackstone Publishing through NetGalley.

Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Patriarchy and colonialism force strong-willed, 18th-century Trinidadian Rosa Rendon eventually to the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana. Circumstances cause her to take her son back to her beginning, both of them outsiders everywhere. This is a tale of what happens when strangers dictate the life of a young woman with an independent mind, a woman who becomes a fierce mother. It’s a good read, an excellent portrayal of fighting against cultural norms and bracing historical eras. I recommend it. I also recommend researching the cultures and peoples in the story. I received a digital copy from the publisher Atlantic Monthly Press through NetGalley.

The Bright Side of Going Dark by Kelly Harms

Social media influencer Mia Bell transitions cold turkey to real life, unaware that a fan’s sister takes over her account to save her sister, who believes in Mia. Harms leads her troubled characters to a fated collision in order to eventually find balance in their lives. This story is a brilliant look at how powerful social media can be, and the expectations of followers, as well as the integrity (or lack) of those they follow. Though this book feels like a quick, easy read, it delves deep enough into the dangers to show that the lives of real people are affected by seemingly casual posting. It also shows the connections that can be made online and IRL. I highly recommend this book and pretty much anything written by Harms. Fans of Ann Garvin and Kelly Simmons will appreciate her style. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful story from the publisher Lake Union Publishing through NetGalley.

The Apartment by K.L. Slater

Freya accepts a too good to be true offer of an inexplicably affordable luxurious apartment in a desperate moment, exposing herself and her daughter to nefarious landlords. Slater leads the reader on a curving, dipping trail of hidden agendas and friendly facades, reminding us that we are never truly alone and nothing is ever truly private. Fans of Catherine Steadman and T.M. Logan will love the suspense and wicked reveal. I highly recommend this thriller. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher Thomas & Mercer through NetGalley.

The Essence of Darkness by Tom Clearlake

FBI Special Agent Elliott Cooper investigates five unexplained child disappearances from a small town. He uncovers something beyond the FBI’s jurisdiction, something that literally changes him. Although this novel has a few inconsistencies, such as things working when the story requires them to work, it’s a fun tale of evils beyond the hand of man, the importance of loyalty, and astonishing graphically detailed descriptions of physical transformations and emotional turmoil. I recommend it for anyone who likes the stuff of nightmares born from the mind of a horror writer like Straub or Koontz. I was fortunate to receive a review copy from the publisher Moonlight through NetGalley.

The Dark Continent by Scott Reardon

An incredible tale of an attempt to create the super soldier meets the Island of Dr. Moreau is an interesting read. The main characters are fully flawed, sympathetic saviors of humankind. Though the author lays out a save the world kind of trope, the story focuses on the US being attacked. I received this graphic, violent drama from NetGalley for an honest review, but NetGalley summaries don’t inform reviewers if the book is part of a series.