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Top Ten Books of 2023

I read 60 books this year, and there were so many standout titles I feel blessed with an embarrassment of riches.  However, I’ve narrowed it down to my top 10 that I can wholeheartedly recommend. These weren’t just fantastic stories, but ones I find myself revisiting in my head or telling others about most often.

10 – The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson: What a powerhouse of a book! There is so much to unpack here: racism, colorism, classism, reproductive rights, female ambition; matriarchal families, mother/child relationships… but at its heart are two amazing young women, Ruby and Eleanor, who will capture your heart and have you rooting for them to not just persevere but ultimately triumph. It’s a riveting, heartbreaking, unputdownable read that will stay with you long after the book is over!

9 – Things Past Telling by Sheila Williams: This is a spellbinding, gorgeous page-turner that paints an intimate portrait of Maryam’s life – all 100+ years of it. Incredible attention to dialect and diction and exacting pacing made for an immersive experience…from the first page right to the last. This is a story about a woman who was enslaved but not defined by slavery, who had adventures and used her talents to better her life even in the direst circumstances. It’s a story of love and loss, of joy and sorrow, and demonstrates why we need #ownvoices authors to write these stories so they are not lost.

8 – The Paris Daughter by Kristin Harmel: THE PARIS DAUGHTER examines the power, strength, and frailty of motherhood through Elise, Juliette, and Ruth, women who suffer during WW2 for various reasons but are bound together through their roles as mothers. Until disaster strikes, changing everything forever. It’s a story about lives being shattered and then finding the pieces and putting them back together again – just as Harmel broke my heart and mended it in the end. My favorite title of Harmel’s to date, and simply breathtaking.

7 – A Botanist’s Guide to Flowers and Fatality by Kate Khavari: All the things to love about a Victorian mystery – but set in 1920s London! We have a women in a STEM profession who is also our sleuth, a delicious mystery where the victims were sent poisonous flowers before their deaths, and a love triangle because who doesn’t love a smart, capable woman? Saffron Everleigh is a botanist studying poisonings with her research partner, Dr. Lee. When she’s asked to help with a current investigation, she and Lee descend into a shady social circle filled with drug abuse and dysfunction. The closer they get to solving the murders, the more Saffron finds herself in danger.

6 – A Dreadful Splendour by B.R. Meyers: What an amazing read! Full of twists and turns, fast-paced and tightly plotted, A DREADFUL SPLENDOUR kept me guessing right to the very end! A haunted estate, a spiritualist on the run, and a murder to solve drive this story to a surprising conclusion, especially when an unexpected arrival (or 2!) to the final seance sends the stakes soaring. Brilliantly done, and highly recommend!

5 – Angels of the Resistance by Noelle Salazar: A gripping and unflinching story that explores the lengths Resistance fighters would go to to fight back, as well as the physical and emotional toll on those involved. We meet Lien and Elief when they are fourteen and sixteen, and Salazar does a brilliant job of making us care for two girls who are concerned with typical teenage things: school, boys, family, a social life. The sisters are “eased” into the resistance movement with non-voilent tasks, but before long they are training for tougher missions. It’s brilliantly done, shining a light on the bonds of family, the courage of fighting back, and the long-reaching consequences of doing the right thing no matter the personal cost. Absolutely riveting and unputdownable!

4 – The Paris Housekeeper by Renee Ryan: THE PARIS HOUSEKEEPER is a riveting tale of risk and redemption. Within the glamorous walls of the Ritz, Vivian secretly helps Jews obtain false papers to escape France. But when the Paris occupation begins, and Nazis move into the hotel, her strategy must change. To anyone outside looking in, she’s a Nazi sympathizer. But Camille, one of the housemaids, knows her secret, and together they hatch a plan to save another maid, Rachel, by hiding her – right under the Nazis’ noses. Full of danger, bravery, resilience, and sacrifice, the story tension builds until the very last moment in this WW2 page turner.

3 – Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner: Harrowing, brave, resilient, and stunning, ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL paints a bleak and sometimes brutally honest picture of what humanity does to justify its hateful actions. It tackles the topic of eugenics not only in Germany, where it’s easy to point a finger at the villain in the 1940s, but also in the US long after the war is over. With two incredibly likeable heroines, we are taken on a journey that is painful yet somehow never loses its hope. It’s brilliantly done, with an ending that is absolutely perfect.

2 – The Porcelain Moon by Janie Chang: Simply beautiful writing, wonderful characters and a compelling plot will keep you turning the pages in this story that breathes life into a part of history that has been untold for too long. With a backdrop of World War 1 and the Chinese Labour Corps in France, we fall in love with Pauline, whose uncle owns an antique shop in Paris, and who is destined to be sent back to Shanghai to be married; we feel for Theo, who is also burdened with the weight of expectation and tradition; and it’s impossible not to root for Camille, a young wife who is desperate to escape an abusive marriage. Obedience wars with personal autonomy, family expectations with a search for happiness, and Chang examines the lengths people will go to to find their own lives.

1 – The Cuban Heiress by Chanel Cleeton: My first by Cleeton and absolutely not my last! I loved this story so much – I didn’t want to put it down! The setting is both glamorous and mysterious – the opulence of the Morro Castle ship as it cruises from NYC to Cuba and back again, and the steamy heat and dark corners of Havana, giving it film noir vibes. Our main characters, Catherine and Elena, are themselves enigmatic and not what they seem, and the author does an outstanding job of peeling back the layers of character, which in turn ratchets up the tension of the mystery in a perfect pace. It all builts to a fever pitch as the ship nears its destination, only to founder in a storm – a true event that provides the perfect backdrop for the climax. One of my favorite parts is the relationship between Catherine and Harry, which is so perfectly 1930s and “Bogart-ish”.

 

There were so many other amazing stories by Bryn Turnbull, Beatriz Williams, Madeline Martin, Julia Kelly and more on my list – so if you want to see all my reviews you can check out my Goodreads challenge at https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/39648837!

The House on Blackberry Hill – FREE for a limited time!

My Christmas gift to you – the first book in my Jewell Cove series, THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, is FREE for a limited time! Get it on Amazon from today until December 27 and begin my most popular series!

A family mystery, a ghost from the past, and new-found love will draw readers into this compelling story, first in the Jewell Cove series by NYT Bestselling Author, Donna Alward.

Abby Foster never expected to inherit an old family mansion. Her plan is to refurbish it, put it on the market, and head home to Nova Scotia. But the house—and the dark family secrets hidden within it—catch her in its spell. And before long she’s drawn into the close-knit town of Jewell Cove and falling for her sexy contractor, Tom Arseneault.

Tom hides away in his secluded cottage where he can nurse his grief and broken heart in private. Then Abby arrives in town, and the restoration job at Blackberry Hill is too tempting to resist, much like its determined and beautiful owner. Soon Tom’s heart to begins to thaw…and love comes knocking.

When Abby’s search for the truth leads to dangerous consequences, she realizes Tom isn’t over his broken heart. Will she choose to stay and take a chance on a man still in love with another? Or will she leave Jewell Cove—and heart—behind forever?

Are you in Prime Reading?

 

Are you an Amazon Prime member? Did you know that Prime members also get access to books enrolled in Prime Reading?

SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, the first book in my Darling VT series, is available in Prime right now! You can get it at this Amazon link, and if you’re not in Prime, it’s also available in Kindle Unlimited, as an ebook for purchase, in paperback, and in audio!

 

New Historical Fiction coming your way!

While still in the early stages, I’m happy to announce I’ve signed on with One More Chapter/HarperCollins for another historical fiction, tentatively titled THE COLDEST NIGHT.  It’s set on board the Titanic, the Carpathia, and also in Halifax as my characters find their secret plans suddenly altered when the Titanic hits an iceberg – clearly changing the trajectory of their lives forever. There are secrets and lies, and the startling realization that riches and fame are no guard against tragedy – or a way to escape justice. I’m super excited about it!

It’s slotted for a 2025 release, so I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

Kindle Monthly Deal: Deck the Halls

Are you looking for a great holiday read but finding your budget a little stretched? (I get it. Between presents and parties and groceries and decorations, December can get a little tight.) Never fear – one of my Christmas books, DECK THE HALLS, is on for half price all month long as a Kindle Monthly Deal! Get it for just $1.49 at Amazon.

I wrote this one after readers kept telling me how much they loved George from Somebody Like You and asking if he would have his own happy ever after. If you like redemption stories, Christmas spirit, and small town holiday settings, you’ll LOVE this one!

Strength, forgiveness, and holiday spirit abound in this Darling, VT Christmas romance with shades of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Amy Merck has been searching for closure about her brother’s death for years, and when she tracks down his brother-in-arms in Darling, she’s sure she’ll finally get the answers she seeks. But George is still dealing with PTSD, and seeing his best friend’s sister reminds him not only of the friend he lost, but the girl he kissed before leaving on that final deployment.

As the holidays draw near, Amy’s kindness and patience reach in and loosen grief’s hold on the veteran’s heart. But why would a successful, beautiful woman like Amy want to be with a man who is still broken and a mere step up from homelessness?

Amy sees how George cares for the people in the cozy little town, and before long she’s lost her heart to the kind, generous warrior. Can she convince the town to show George how loved and valued he is in time for Christmas—and his own holiday miracle?

Information Wanted – The Halifax Explosion

I’m a bit late posting my blog on this, as life got a little crazy and I decided that I needed to add my first bout of Covid to the mix (4 days after my latest vaccination. UGH!). However I really wanted to highlight the 106th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, which is the setting of my next book, WHEN THE WORLD FELL SILENT.
I learned so much while researching this event that happened in Halifax, NS – a place I now call home. Fun fact: despite growing up only a province away, I didn’t learn about the explosion until 12th grade, and I learned about it in a literature class, not history! In Atlantic Lit we read BAROMETER RISING by Hugh McLennan. I LOVED it and through the characters learned about this massive tragedy in Canadian history – the largest manmade explosion until the US dropped the atom bomb on Japan.
It was a natural choice for me to choose this period in Halifax history as the time setting for my book. As I created characters who navigated this tragedy, I also looked for real events and information I could use in developing my story. And while searching for bits and pieces about babies and orphans, I came across this ad from the Evening Post on December 18. The word baby is highlighted, as that was a search term I used at Newspapers.com (what a fabulous research tool!)
Granted, I took a small liberty and used the date of December 23 when one of my characters spies this ad in the paper. But think of it: this child is in the hospital, no one knows her name or who were parents are or where she came from. It is now twelve days after the explosion and no one has come to claim her. Was she orphaned? Separated from her parents? Is someone trying to find her?
The papers were full of these kinds of advertisements and requests for information, and reading through them was, I think, my favorite part of my research process. WHEN THE WORLD FELL SILENT will hit shelves in August 2024… I can’t wait for you all to read it!

Today is BOOKAPALOOZA!

ANNOUNCEMENT! It’s December and that means BOOKAPALOOZA is finally here – today only! Head on over to My Book Friends FB group for this year’s event which features over 50 authors and special giveaways! Join the group, read the posts, and enter to win – winners will be announced tomorrow, December 4!

ONE DAY ONLY: Someone to Love is half price!

For one day only, SOMEONE TO LOVE, book 2 in my Darling VT series, is on half price at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca! You can snag this emotional story of healing and forgiveness for just $2.99 – but only on November 30. This deal disappears when we flip the calendar into December! Grab it here! 

And in case you missed it, this is also the last day to get book one, SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, also half price in November!

SOMEONE TO LOVE:

A widower with two adorable boys and a Bohemian beauty who owns the local café are brought together in this emotional, heartwarming novel in Donna Alward’s Darling, VT series.

Widower Ethan Gallagher’s biggest challenge is just making it day to day. A firefighter and single father to two adorable boys, he juggles work and parenthood with the help of his family. When he volunteers at the temporary food bank site, he finds himself face to face with Willow Dunaway, owner of the Purple Pig Café. He’s still not over his wife’s death, but the carefree beauty has him thinking about living again…

Willow has worked hard to find inner peace and serenity, but Ethan challenges her at every turn, and before long the broody single dad gets under her skin. The passion between them is incendiary, and she also finds herself falling for his little boys, which resurrects all sorts of painful memories she thought she’d put behind her and disrupts her carefully calm existence.

But when Willow’s deepest secret is finally revealed, their fragile happiness is threatened. Ethan knows love is impossible without trust—but trusting is hard when falling in love is the most frightening thing of all.

Coming Soon: Bookapalooza!

GOOD BOOKS.  GOOD VIBES. HOLIDAY CHEER & GIVEAWAYS GALORE!

I’m part of a HUGE DAY OF GIVEAWAYS and want you to join in the fun and a chance to win books from over 50 authors. My Book Friends is hosting their annual SEASON OF GIVING BOOKAPALOOZA on Sunday, December 3rd! Tell all your reader friends and join My Book Friends today and then mark your calendar for the fun that takes place all day long.

Here’s a sneak peek of our participating authors!

Get your preorder on: Promise at Refuge Point

Promise at Refuge Point is up for preorder! Buy this final book in the Jewell Cove series now and have it automatically delivered to your Kindle on January 15.

 

The Jewell Cove books can be read in order, OR they can be read on their own. In other words, you don’t have to have read the first books to enjoy this one! Just go to Amazon and get clicking! Incidentally – I think this is my favorite cover of the entire series! I ADORE it!

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