Seeking Truth

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson is first in a trilogy.

Pippa decides that her senior year capstone project will investigate a murder case from five years earlier. She feels that the alleged murderer, Sal Singh, was too kind to ever commit murder. He also took his own life amidst the investigation. His family have been outcasts in their town ever since. Pip suspects foul play.

Readers are drawn into her investigation. She befriends Sal’s brother Ravi and they work to solve the case together. The suspect list includes friends, a drug dealer, police and a news reporter. Pippa carefully documents her interviews and observations. She knows she is getting close when she starts receiving threats. She builds an incredible case until eventually discerning the actual story.

This book will greatly appeal to any mystery fans. Pippa is a strong, intelligent character who you can’t help but root for along the way.

A Different Realm

Layla by Colleen Hoover is a love story with a spiritual twist.

Leeds and Layla meet and fall in love at her sister’s wedding. Their relationship progresses quickly until coming to a turning point after Layla almost dies in a terrible accident. Leeds decides they should revisit the bed and breakfast where they first met in order to get their spark back. It’s here that Leeds meets another woman, Willow. The problem is that Willow is a spirit that seems attached to the house. She has no memory of who she was before or why she ended up there.

Leeds makes contact with someone on a supernatural chat board to help him figure out who Willow really is. The answer is surprising and seemingly impossible to overcome.

Family Curse

The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker is a story of a deadly family curse.

Sylvia is a famous artist with a hidden past. She was formerly Iris Chapel, one of six daughters to the famous firearms dynasty.

The story traces how Iris’s sisters each faced an untimely death as soon as they either married or found a first love. Nobody cared to heed their mother’s warnings, and eventually she was committed to an asylum for her forebodings. Iris was the only one to believe her mother, and almost followed her mother’s path to be treated as mentally ill.

Readers are left to ponder whether the family is truly cursed in love or cursed because of the family business (or maybe something else entirely). Most importantly, how does Iris escape this fate?

Bonding with the Babysitter

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan is a relaxing read, like sitting with girlfriends for a long chat.

The story pivots back and forth between college senior Sam and new mother Elisabeth’s points of view. Sam is hired to help care for Elisabeth’s son Gil while she tries to get back into writing after her family’s move from Brooklyn to suburbia.

They develop a close friendship which blurs lines with each other’s personal lives. There are many topics, such as adapting to a new residence, financial struggle, pregnancy, friend/significant other relationships and familial conflict. This all builds toward a surprising fallout.

Characters are well written and mostly likable. The story reminds us about the fragility of relationships during our lives.

Move to the Light

Me Moth by Amber McBride is a story written in narrative verse following the terrible accident that killed Moth’s parents and brother. Moth is the sole survivor.

Moth lives a solitary existence with her aunt. She is basically unseen and she prefers it that way until meeting newcomer Sani. Sani and Moth connect and run away together. Their interests in music and the arts (Moth was a dancer) bond them. The writing exudes this artistic ethereal feeling as readers travel along with Sani and Moth.

There is a blending of Moth’s Hoodoo upbringing by her grandfather and Sani’s Native American culture. All comes to a startling conclusion when Moth realizes her truth and more about Sani’s special gift. His gift was also his illness, until meeting Moth.

This book stands out because of its unique approach and meaningful word choice.

Clutch Opportunity

Counterfeit by Kristin Chen is a story of a good girl gone bad.

Ava Wong is a corporate lawyer turned stay at home mom to her emotionally turbulent toddler Henri. Her husband is a very busy surgeon, leaving Ava and nanny Maria to care for the home front.

Ava’s former college roommate Winnie (who dropped out due to a scandal) suddenly gets in touch. Winnie slowly reels Ava into her counterfeit purse business which did very well, until they get caught.

The story is primarily told from Ava’s point of view as she explains the whole process to the female detective who infiltrated their scam. Is it possible for Ava and Winnie to pull off the ultimate story in order to outsmart the law and their high-powered bosses?

This is an engaging read that kept me turning pages until its end.

Keep Guessing

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is my final 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee!

Avery was down on her luck and living in her car when a handsome guest summons her at school. She is asked to partake in billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s will reading. It turns out that she is is his primary heir which shocks his two daughters and four grandsons.

She now owns his massive estate and possessions including his nonprofit organization. Avery gets close to a couple of the brothers as they attempt to decipher clues left in Tobias’s letter to each brother. They hope the clues will lead to Tobias’s reason for choosing someone he never met as his heir. Throughout this mystery are challenges that Avery must face as an overnight billionaire.

Keep Fighting

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam is another 2023 Nutmeg high school nominee.

This book is written in narrative verse which is fitting for main character Amal’s artistic and poetic nature. The story details Amal’s conviction and sentence to a juvenile detention facility following a racially charged fight which landed a white boy, Jeremy Mathis, in a coma. While Amal admits to throwing the first punch, he was not the cause of Jeremy’s hospitalization.

Amal uses lyrics and art to process his feelings of anger, sadness and love as he encounters people who either support or tear him down. The author’s note provides insight and parallels to the “Central Park jogger” case, in which coauthor Salaam was wrongfully convicted and charged along with four of his friends.

This story has a profound message of maintaining hope and strength in the midst of adversity.

Renaissance Man

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood is another 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee.

Danyal may be extremely handsome, but he has several struggles to overcome. Danyal is known for being a low-achieving student, so it is a major problem when he is chosen to represent his history class for the upcoming Renaissance Man competition. In this competition he will need to present a final essay on his teacher’s topic of choice- Winston Churchill. He must decide whether to tell the truth about Churchill’s part in the Bengal Famine. Doing so may jeopardize whether he passes the class, and also will prevent his lifelong crush, Kaval, from seeing him as a marriage match.

Another conflict is his choice to go against his Muslim upbringing by getting friendly with a marriage prospect who was involved in a sex tape. There is also Danyal’s love of cooking, which is considered a poor future prospect by both his dad and his crush, Kaval.

Danyal is able to navigate all these troubles with support from very different friendships, and with his own heart and mind’s guidance. East Indian religion, history and culture are important parts of this story. It also includes topics such as being true to oneself, forgiveness and standing up for what is right.

Theory of Good and Evil

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka counts down convicted killer Ansel Packer’s final hours before his execution, while also alternating among various female characters.

In the countdown, Ansel’s describes his theory on human nature, the reason for his kills, and how he was able to finally find peace within himself. Unfortunately, these latter events occur too late for him and for his victims. Now he must come to terms with his actions.

There are three women who complete Ansel’s story. All contribute different views and background about his character. Lavender is his mother, who spent four years enduring a controlling, abusive relationship before leaving her husband and two sons behind. Saffy first saw some of his disturbing behavior while sharing a foster placement together. Now she is a detective and Ansel is on her radar again. And finally there is Hazel, twin sister of Ansel’s wife Jenny.

This was a highly entertaining read that had me thinking deeply about human nature and all of the little events and choices that shape us.