John's Staff Picks

John McDougall, Event Coordinator at Murder By The Book since 2010

I love watching the parts of a mystery fall into place, but I think what really pulls me in is the characters. Cozies are so fun because you get to know these small towns and wish you could visit. Reading about Lady Emily in Tasha Alexander's books is like getting to catch up with an old friend. I want characters that break your heart like Marc Rochat in The Watchers, or make you laugh like Victoria Laurie and Mary Kay Andrews's characters always do. I love picking up a book like City of Dark Magic and thinking, ‘These things shouldn't really fit together, but they totally do.’ You can't help but want to hang on for the ride.

For additional cozy mystery recommendations, check out John's Cozy Corner.


John's 2020 Top 10:

1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
2. Firewatching by Russ Thomas
3. Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming
4. A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen
5. The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig
6. The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James
7. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
8. White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton
9. The Lion’s Den by Katherine St. John
10. Haunted Homicide by Lucy Ness

And my favorite discovery of the year was the Lucy Stone mysteries by Leslie Meier.

Check out John's Recommendations Playlist on the MBTB YouTube channel.

Staff Pick Badge
Lost in the Never Woods Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250313973
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Swoon Reads - March 23rd, 2021

Wendy Darling and her brothers went missing for 6 months. John and Michael were never found, and Wendy has no memory of that time. Now kids are going missing again, and Peter Pan has shown up. Peter Pan, the imaginary character she’s told stories about for years.

Lost in The Never Woods by Aiden Thomas is a beautiful and dark spin on Peter Pan. Thomas writes about grief and growing up with such urgency. This is dark fairy tale YA at its best. And how gorgeous is this cover?

This twist on Peter Pan is dark and genius. The kind of twist that will make it hard for me to see Peter Pan in any other way. Thomas has made Pan completely their own. - John 

Staff Pick Badge
The Hidden Knife Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525518525
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Nancy Paulsen Books - June 1st, 2021

Melissa Marr's new world is full of magic, friendship, and adventure. At its heart, The Hidden Knife is a story about the different ways we fight, grief, and finding the people in the world we can rely on. - John 

Staff Pick Badge
Camp Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316537773
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - May 25th, 2021

Rosen has taken the classic YA Make Over story and given it a fantastic queer twist. Del (formerly Randy) has returned to camp Outland (a camp for LGBTQIA teens) with a mission, to get his crush Hudson to fall for him. But for that to happen, Del has to morph himself into Hudson's ideal masc4masc mate. That means no nail polish, and no theater! Camp brilliantly deals with masculinity and a gay teen's struggle with his identity, and how the world views us as queers. - John

Staff Pick Badge
The Wife Upstairs: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250245496
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Press - January 5th, 2021

Jane is a dog walker in the exclusive Thornfield Estates neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. An orphan with not much to her name, Jane pockets small trinkets she thinks no one will miss and dreams of a better life. Then she meets the handsome and recently widowed Eddie Rochester. While Eddie's wife Bea was declared dead, they never found her body...

Sound familiar? It's Jane Eyre but written as a contemporary domestic suspense thriller! Instead of a beat by beat retelling, she takes elements from the story and puts her own spin on them. There's plenty of humor and plenty of moments that will leave you with your jaw hanging open. I inhaled this one, and I'm so excited to see what's next for Hawkins. - John 

Staff Pick Badge
Her Dark Lies Cover Image
ISBN: 9780778388302
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mira Books - March 9th, 2021

Claire is getting married on an exclusive island, but strange things are happening. The night before she leaves an intruder breaks into her house, her dress is ruined, and that's just the start. Is someone trying to stop her wedding to Jack? And whatever happened to Jack's first wife?

This is a delicious thriller! - John 

Staff Pick Badge
The Smuggler's Daughter Cover Image
ISBN: 9780008430160
Availability: Special Order
Published: HQ Digital - April 6th, 2021

Phoebe is a police officer who's reeling after a case gone wrong. On leave from work, her best friend offers a trip to Cornwell to help her run a pub for the summer. As Phoebe hears ghost stories about a young woman who disappeared 200 years ago she decides to solve the mystery of what happened to Emily Moon. The Smuggler's Daughter takes elements of Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn and blends them with a contemporary police procedural. I couldn't put this one down. - John

Staff Pick Badge
Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop (A Beacon Bakeshop Mystery #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781496731722
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Kensington - February 23rd, 2021

Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop has all of the elements you expect in a cozy.

Recent breakup? Check!
A heroine moving to a small town to escape her problems? Check!
Delicious recipes in the back? Check!

I love how an author can take all of those elements and make a story completely their own. Darci Hannah has done that with the start of this new series. Lindsey is finally realizing her dream of opening a bakery. Her renovations of an old lighthouse ruffle local feathers, and on the day of her grand opening her ex shows up with this new girlfriend who ends up dead. Lindsey has a great group of new friends that help her investigate, and I loved the sense of camaraderie. - John 

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Valentine Candy Murder (A Lucy Stone Mystery) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781496727015
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Kensington - December 29th, 2020

The Lucy Stone series is my new obsession. I've devoured 7 of them in the last few weeks. Lucy Stone is a mom living in Tinker's Cove, Maine. Between dropping off the kids at school, serving on the library board, and (eventually) writing for the local paper she finds herself solving mysteries. A lot of cozies feature single women who have returned to their small town, but I love that Lucy is a mom and has deep ties to her community. You see her worrying about family finances, and since the series starts in the late 90s you also get to see her adapt to technology.

These books are a little more serious than you would expect them to be based on the covers, but they're still on the cozy side. I would compare them to the Callahan Garrity books that Mary Kay Andrews wrote as Kathy Hogan Trocheck.

Digging into a log running series can be daunting, but the books in the series stand on their own so you can jump in anywhere. You can pick a favorite holiday and start there. If you want to read the series in order I recommend starting with book 3, Trick or Treat Murder (which is included in Halloween Murder). There are a few plot things in the first two books that might turn off some cozy readers, and I'm happy to chat with you about those, but you really can jump in with book three. - John