The best compelling, character-rich reads without sex or swearing

Who am I?

Long before I earned a degree in psychology, I was fascinated by human relationships and motivations. Since reading novels is an excellent way to delve into the minds of a variety of people, the library became my second home. I well remember my first binge-read—Nancy Drew. I devoured the entire series sitting under a catalpa tree in my grandfather’s backyard. So it’s probably not surprising that I’m now the author of 60+ novels in the romantic suspense and contemporary romance genres—none of which include sex, swear words, or gratuitous violence. Because as suspense superstar Mary Higgins Clark once said, you don’t need any of those to tell a compelling story. 

I wrote...

Labyrinth of Lies

By Irene Hannon,

Book cover of Labyrinth of Lies

What is my book about?

When the daughter of a high-profile businessman disappears from an exclusive girls’ boarding school, police detective Cate Reilly is tapped for an undercover assignment. It doesn’t take her long to realize that beneath its veneer of polish and wealth, Ivy Hill Academy harbors dark and deadly secrets. But the biggest shock of all? The only man she ever loved is also working at the school. Zeke Sloan has never forgotten Cate, but now isn’t the best time for their paths to cross again. When their two seemingly disparate agendas begin to intertwine and startling connections emerge among the players, the danger escalates significantly. But who is the mastermind behind the elaborate ruse? And how far will they go to protect their house of cards?

The books I picked & why

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Before We Were Yours

By Lisa Wingate,

Book cover of Before We Were Yours

Why this book?

It’s hard to write a book this riveting and wrenching and raw without resorting to baser language and situations, but Wingate does so beautifully as she takes readers back to a fictionalized version of a real-life adoption agency in the 1930s that kidnapped and sold children to wealthy families. This split-time book also has a compelling touch of mystery, which appealed to the suspense writer in me. But mostly, it’s about resilience, determination, and the strength of family ties even in adversity and across time and distance—which is why I found this book uplifting despite the hard subject matter.

Before We Were Yours

By Lisa Wingate,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Before We Were Yours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT—Over two million copies sold! A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller

“Poignant, engrossing.”—People • “Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation’s history and weaves a tale of enduring power.”—Paula McLain

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage,…


We Hope for Better Things

By Erin Bartels,

Book cover of We Hope for Better Things

Why this book?

A powerful, riveting, and unputdownable tale of three women from different eras (Civil War to present) that frames the issue of race relations within the context of family relationships, making the subject immensely relatable and deeply touching. Bartels spins this masterful tale with a deft touch and a caring heart to create a stunning debut. Because the characters were so vivid and the emotions so real, this book opened my eyes in new ways to an issue that remains a hot button in today’s society.

We Hope for Better Things

By Erin Bartels,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Hope for Better Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2020 Michigan Notable Book
2020 WFWA Star Award Winner
2019 Christy Award finalist

***

"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"A forbidden interracial marriage, an escaped slave, an expectant mother waiting for her Union soldier to return--all of these stories are deftly told by Bartels, as she explores the hard realities of racism and its many faces during various eras of American history. . . .Compelling characters make this winning debut also appealing for fans…


The Dandelion Field

By Kathryn Springer,

Book cover of The Dandelion Field

Why this book?

This is an engrossing tale of love, loss, trust, and life-changing choices. Springer’s endearing, well-drawn characters sucked me in from page 1 as they faced a myriad of real-life challenges while struggling to both maintain old relationships and develop new ones. But as Springer demonstrates, real love—not just the romantic variety—can see us through the messiest of situations. While none of the situations depicted in this book were ones I had personally experienced, the author’s deep-dive depictions gave me exactly the kinds of character insights I look for in my reads.

The Dandelion Field

By Kathryn Springer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dandelion Field as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This handsome firefighter makes a living coming to the rescue, but Gin doesn't need a man to fight her battles.

After Raine's dad walked out, Ginevieve Lightly never lived in one place too long, a rambling lifestyle that defined her daughter's youth. When their car dies in Banister Falls, Wisconsin, Gin promises Raine they can stay until she finishes her senior year of high school. Gin will do anything to make sure her daughter has a bright future . . . a future that's compromised when Raine reveals she's pregnant.

Dan Moretti has only ever called Banister Falls home. After…


The Memory House

By Linda Goodnight,

Book cover of The Memory House

Why this book?

I expected great things from this wonderful writer and was not disappointed. This was my first-ever split-time novel, and I was hesitant to pick it up because historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre. But this beautiful tale of love, duty, honor, devotion, and second chances seamlessly wove together two remarkable love stories—one present day, one Civil-War era—in a lovely, lyrical tapestry that tugged at my heartstrings. And as you can see from my list, it opened me up to other stories that use the split-time technique to tell generational stories.

The Memory House

By Linda Goodnight,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Memory House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Linda Goodnight welcomes you to Honey Ridge, Tennessee, and a house that's rich with secrets and brimming with sweet possibilities 

Memories of motherhood and marriage are fresh for Julia Presley—though tragedy took away both years ago. Finding comfort in the routine of running the Peach Orchard Inn, she lets the historic, mysterious place fill the voids of love and family. No more pleasure of a man's gentle kiss. No more joy in hearing a child call her Mommy. Life is calm, unchanging…until a stranger with a young boy and soul-deep secrets shows up in her…


The Guardian

By Dee Henderson,

Book cover of The Guardian

Why this book?

This is the book that convinced me to dive into romantic suspense after writing only contemporary romance for many years. I’d always been tempted to branch into this genre, but I wanted to delve more into psychological suspense and character development, ala Hitchcock. Yet most of what I saw on the market took the constant-action thriller approach to storytelling, often at the expense of character development. Then I read this book. The characters were complex, the plot was compelling but left breathing space in between the action for character development, and the romance was a slow burn. So I took the plunge into suspense—and have never looked back.

The Guardian

By Dee Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Guardian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A federal judge has been murdered. There is only one witness, and an assassin wants her dead. U.S. Marshall Marcus O'Malley thought he knew the risks of the assignment . . . but he was wrong.

Introducing the O'Malleys, an inspirational group of seven, all abandoned or orphaned as teens, who have made the choice to become a loyal and committed family. They have chosen their own surname, O'Malley, and have stood by each other through moments of joy and heartache. Their stories are told in CBA best-selling, inspirational romantic suspense novels that rock your heart and restore strength and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, Detroit, and orphanages?

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