Off the Shelf: Bones, a baby, and two dogs … and more (did I mention the witch?)

There are a lot of glowing reviews surrounding “A Borrowing of Bones” by Paula Munier. I have to admit I was coaxed in by the promise of dogs and I did find myself grinning idiotically when reading about them. If Kris were writing this with me, it’s just about here that she would probably ask: Were there any charming two-legged characters? And I’d laugh and have to answer: As a matter of fact, there were.

Here’s the backstory. Mercy, ex-military, has returned home to Vermont to recover with her deceased boyfriend’s bomb sniffing German shepherd, Elvis. Each of them is dealing with visible and invisible wounds, having both lost the person most important to them. They hike the woods together as exercise and therapy. That’s where they stumble upon a deserted baby and some bones. Reporting their discoveries, they meet Troy, local Game Warden and his dog, Susie Bear. That’s how the mysteries begin.

Here’s what I liked: The characters were engaging, and yes, so were Elvis and Susie Bear. The mysteries were interesting and there were enough shady characters to make it a puzzle. Munier gave the book a down-home quality, introducing characters with little descriptions that made it seem like you were walking around an unfamiliar village that was very welcoming.

I also related to how much the author loves her home state when describing characters, (“…but memories in Vermont were long and hard, just like the winters.”) And I liked how Mercy wasn’t pretentious, for example, when her grandmother comes to check on her and finds the shepherd’s pie done around the edges but still frozen in the middle, saying, “You’re supposed to defrost it first.” She (Mercy) shrugged. “I just secure the perimeter and eat around it.” First in a projected series, I look forward to see what happens next for Elvis and Mercy.

Back in the day, gothic novels were all the rage. Having just read “The Witch of Willow Hall” I can safely say that it checks all of the gothic romance boxes. Gothic romances always involve a big manor house (Willow Hall, check), and have a newly arrived troubled young woman (Lydia Montrose, check), who meets an attractive, mysterious stranger (John Barrett, check), someone creepy (oh! check, check) and buried family secrets (check).

Lydia and her family have reluctantly moved to the country after being disgraced in Boston. Jilted by her fiancée, Lydia tries to hold her family together and make the best of things. Enter John Barrett, her father’s new business partner, who is smoking hot and has secrets of his own. Author Hester Fox juggles all of the secrets and mysteries well, and inserts a supernatural element to keep the suspense building, through all the tragedies and the (sometimes) very dark secrets.

Jeff Abbott turns up the action and suspense in his newest thriller: “The Three Beths.” Mariah’s mother Beth has been missing for over a year. Then a blogger tells Mariah that a woman named Bethany has also vanished. It is a tenuous connection but Mariah is willing to grasp even the weakest thread to try to track down what exactly happened when her mom disappeared, including a mysterious friend named LizBeth who she cannot locate either. Secrets build up as the police pressure her father to come clean about murdering his wife, and Mariah puts herself in jeopardy to find her mom and clear her father. It was hard to put this one down.

Made up of drawings and brief notes, the junior book “Dear Sister” written by Minnesotan Alison McGhee and illustrated by Joe Bluhm, relates the woes of a reluctant older brother as he critiques his new baby sister. When “they” (his parents) tell him to write a note for the baby book he writes: “Dear Sister, It’s not looking good so far.”

Sister is never named. This is because the narrator had a good name picked out, but “they” wouldn’t listen to him. So he writes to sister that he “would tell you what the name was but then you would love it so much and wish it was your name…instead of the name you ended up with that you would cry even more than you cry now. Which is a ton.” Very relatable for siblings, this cute, quick read is consistently funny. I was smiling all the way through it.

Colder weather means you might want to pick up a little (or not so little) stack of books to have next to your favorite chair. These are a few that I liked; come in and check something out.