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 2021 Top 10:

  1. The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman
  2. Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
  3. Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchison
  4. Tomb of the Queen by Joss Walker
  5. The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
  6. Rhode Island Red by Charlotte Carter (This series was my favorite discovery of the year)
  7. A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins
  8. Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper
  9. Her Dark Lies by JT Ellison
  10. Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

Favorite Cozies:
Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop by Darci Hannah
Poppy Harmon and the Pillow Talk Killer by Lee Hollis
Death in Castle Dark by Veronica Bond

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

Staff Pick Badge
The Book of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series #4) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982151485
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - October 12th, 2021

This might be my favorite book of the year! It's a perfect ending to the Owens family history. - John

Staff Pick Badge
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It: A Mystery Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250241702
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Minotaur Books - February 2nd, 2021

A writer is misaken for a contract killer and hilarity ensues! - John 

Staff Pick Badge
Before We Disappear Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063025226
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: HarperTeen - September 28th, 2021

Jack Nevin is a street smart pickpocket, but he's also the assistant to The Enchantress, the stage magician who has taken Seattle’s Alaska–Yukon–Pacific World’s Fair Exposition by storm. That is until Laszlo appears. Laszlo's tricks seem impossible, even to someone who knows the business. As Jack investigates, he starts to fall for Wilhelm, Laszlo's assistant. 

Hutchinson captures the wonder and excitement of the World's Fair beautifully. Before We Disappear is part romance, part con novel, and is full of magic (both real and illusion). I didn't want it to end, and I'm still thinking of the characters months later! - John 

Staff Pick Badge
Tomb of the Queen Cover Image
ISBN: 9781948967334
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Two Tales Press - June 8th, 2021

A librarian gets recruited by the CIA to help track down rare and magical books...

Jayne Thorne has just discovered that magic is real, and the CIA needs her help. After a crash course in Magic 101 she's sent to Ireland to investigate a rare manuscripti. The start of this series is everything I love about urban fantasy. A wise-cracking heroine who diffuses tense situations with a joke, plenty of adventure, and an interesting magical world that exists alongside our own. 

I can't wait for more adventures with Jayne! - John 

Staff Pick Badge
The Wife Upstairs: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250245502
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - November 2nd, 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
Rhode Island Red (A Nanette Hayes Mystery #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593314104
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard - July 27th, 2021

I've wanted to read these books for years, but never tracked them down since they were out of print. I inhaled all three this week and they were well worth the wait. Written in the late 90s, the series follows Nan, a jazz-playing saxophonist, in New York City (with a quick trip to Paris in book 2). Nan is a force. She's emotional, she's loyal, and she's going to do things her way. You'll want to put on some of your favorite jazz albums and get lost in her world. - John 

Coq au Vin (A Nanette Hayes Mystery #2) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593314128
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard - August 31st, 2021

In the second installment of the Nanette Hayes Mystery series, Nan is on her way to Paris in search of a missing relative. . . but will she lose more than just her heart in the city of love?

Drumsticks (A Nanette Hayes Mystery #3) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593314142
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard - September 28th, 2021

In the third book in the Nanette Hayes Mystery series, Nan finds a voodoo doll is bringing her some much needed luck...until the doll's maker is murdered and Nan is dragged into the investigation.

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A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem (Ladies Most Scandalous #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781538736135
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Forever - November 10th, 2020

Newspaper columnist Lady Katherine Bascomb has ruined Detective Inspector Andrew Eversham's career after publishing a witness interview he missed. Can they work together to catch The Commandment Killer who has been terrorizing London? And what about the sparks between them?

Manda Collins perfectly blends romance and mystery together in these books. They're the perfect blend of Deanna Raybourn and Anne Perry with a little bit of Bridgerton thrown in.. - John 

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Payback's a Witch (The Witches of Thistle Grove #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593336069
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Berkley - October 5th, 2021

Emmy Harlow has returned to Thistle Grove to act as arbiter for a spellcasting tournament that will decide which magical family will run the town for the next 25 years. Can she help her town and get back at the guy who caused her to leave in the first place?

This book was SO MUCH FUN! I love the world Harper has created and I'm so excited that there's another book coming next year. - John

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

Is someone trying to stop Claire's wedding? Whatever happened to Jack's first wife? A delicious popcorn thriller with echoes of Du Maurier's Rebecca! - John 

Staff Pick Badge
Dead Dead Girls (A Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593199107
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Berkley - June 1st, 2021

Louise is blackmailed into helping the police solve a series of murders in 1926 Harlem. Full of fasion, music, and excellent crime solving! - 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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Poppy Harmon and the Pillow Talk Killer (A Desert Flowers Mystery #3) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781496730374
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Kensington - March 30th, 2021

This is my favorite in the series! Poppy Harmon played a PI's secretary on an 80s TV show, and decided to open up her own detective agency with three friends. In a Remington Steele meets The Golden Girls twist, they hire a young man to be the front for the agency.

In this installment, Poppy's landed her first acting job in years, and a murder on the set reminds her of a similar killing that happened 30 years ago. Are the crimes connected? You can easily jump in here without reading the previous books, of you can start with book 1, Poppy Harmon Investigates. - John 

Staff Pick Badge
Death in Castle Dark (A Dinner and a Murder Mystery #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593335871
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Berkley - August 3rd, 2021

Actress Nora Blake has just been hired by a murder-mystery troupe that performs in an old castle. She can't believe she gets to work and live in a castle, but things turn ugly when a cast member is murdered during a performance. How do you catch a murderer among a group of actors?

How fun is a mystery set in a secluded castle full of secret passageways? I absolutely loved every character in the book, and didn't want any of them to turn out to be the murderer. I wish Castle Dark was a real place so I could attend one of their performances. - John