‘The Sign for Home’ by Blair Fell is a touching, compelling story of love, independence, and helping others in the face of incredible cruelty

The Sign for Home

Novels like “The Sign for Home” are powerfully important reading experiences for many reasons. It’s often through reading that we are exposed to people whose lifestyles, culture, or religion are vastly different from ours. Author Blair Fell accomplishes that sometimes difficult task of introducing us to a community of DeafBlind in a seemingly effortless manner by relating the story of Arlo Dilly, a DeafBlind young man who lives with his guardian, an elder in Jehovah’s Witness. The story is told from a dual perspective: from Arlo’s point of view, and the point of view of Cyril, who is an ASL interpreter, and who ends up working with Arlo. It’s that experience that changes both their lives.

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‘The Echoes’ by Jess Montgomery is the 4th novel in the wonderful historical fiction ‘Kinship’ series

The Echoes by Jess Montgomery

Somehow, “The Echoes” seems a softer story than the first three novels in this fabulous historical fiction series about a woman sheriff and the problems she encounters in the rural Ohio county she protects at the start of the last century. While there are crimes in this story, the focus is on the people who live in this part of Bronwyn County, Ohio. It’s July, 1928, and both the weather and emotions are running hot. The narration is in third person, and author Jess Montgomery shares both Sheriff Lily Ross and her mother, Beulah’s points of view. Each is clearly labeled. Both women are widows, and Lily’s mother had a late-in-life child who is the same age as one of Lily’s children. What Lily does not know at the start of this story is that her mother has arranged for Lily’s brother’s child, Esmé, who was born in France during WWI, to come to live with them.

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‘City on Fire’ by Don Winslow is the first installment in a trilogy about mobsters, Italian and Irish, in an epic takeoff of Homer’s classic tale

City on Fire by Don Winslow

Homer wrote about it first in The Iliad, and Don Winslow openly borrows the theme of a stunningly gorgeous woman causing a war. In “City on Fire,” the war is between two sets of mobsters; the Irish mob and the Italian mob, who heretofore had enjoyed a tenuous peace. That peace ends when the lovely Pam is introduced as she emerges from the ocean like Aphrodite, beautiful beyond description. Everyone notices her beauty, and the beginning sentences in the novel say it all, “(S)he’s real and she’s going to be trouble. Women that beautiful usually are.”

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‘The Homewreckers’ by Mary Kay Andrews is a sweet Savannah mystery

The Homewreckers

Mary Kay Andrews (MKA) is known for her sweet Southern summertime stories that are filled with slow-moving tides, warm beaches, a mystery, and plenty of romantic drama. “The Homewreckers” brings us to Savannah, with its beautiful avenues and lovely historic homes. We meet Hattie, who works in her late husband’s family construction business with her father-in-law, her best friend Cass, and Cass’s mother, who runs the office. As the story begins, Hattie has poured her life savings into a beautiful old home, hoping to restore it and make a profit. But the historic home needs a much larger than expected infusion of cash to bring it to the point where it will make money, and Hattie is forced to sell at a loss.

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‘The Wrong Woman’ by Leanne Kale Sparks is a gripping murder mystery

The Wrong Woman by Leanne Kale Sparks

It’s an unusual mystery that leaves you with perhaps more questions than you had at the start. “The Wrong Woman” is a gripping murder mystery featuring Kendall Beck, an FBI agent whose best friend and roommate Gwen is brutally murdered, and Adam Taylor, a police detective investigating that murder. He is also investigating a recent murder that appears to be linked to a serial killer. Beck is investigating the disappearance of a five-year-old child when Gwen goes missing, and in her desire to find Gwen, Beck’s own investigation into why the child disappeared is paused. We think of the title when we wonder if Gwen was mistakenly killed because she was driving someone else’s car. Was she, indeed, the wrong woman?

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Nonfiction picture books to inform and entertain

Picture books aren’t just for little kids. Savvy educators and parents use picture books as a way to share information with kids as old as middle schoolers. Because picture books are fun, quick, and colorful. And like the picture books listed below, they can be filled with information. Reading a picture book about something like, say, mushrooms, just might lead to a curious child’s exploration into the world of fungi. Here are some great choices that might just pique inquisitive minds.

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‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus is not just delightful, it’s a lesson in the reality of being a woman in the 50s and 60s

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

It’s not necessary to love chemistry, or even science, to enjoy “Lessons in Chemistry.” Debut author Bonnie Garmus takes us back to the late ’50s and early ’60s as we experience life through the eyes of a capable, intelligent, scientist who happens to be a woman. The fact that she’s a woman? It’s important because in that time, opportunities for women were extremely limited. Let’s face it, 60 years later we are still proud of the fact that we (finally) have a woman vice president. Sixty years ago, women weren’t accepted into what were typically thought of as “male” endeavors. Chemistry was definitely a field for men, no matter how brilliant, how dedicated, how hard-working a supremely qualified woman may have been.

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‘The Wrong Victim’ by Allison Brennan is the 3rd thriller in the Quinn & Costa series

The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan

Reading mysteries and thrillers is addictive because in addition to solving puzzles, we love getting the opportunity to delve into the motivations behind people’s actions. Often, authors share the motivations of not just the criminals or perpetrators of the crimes, but also the emotion and reasoning behind those who are trying to solve the crimes.

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‘Woman on Fire’ by Lisa Barr is a thriller about the worlds of art and censorship

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

In “Woman on Fire,” author Lisa Barr immerses readers into the world of art—now and during the Holocaust—and how the art world, the buying and selling of paintings by famous artists, even today is impacted by what the Nazis did. Barr begins the story with one of the main characters, Jules Roth, in danger during an art exhibit. The story then takes us back 18 months in time and cleverly provides the background for that event. It also shares the fascinating story of lost artwork, Nazi theft and destruction of artwork, hidden identities, psychopathy, drugs, artists, and journalism.

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‘The Cage’ by Bonnie Kistler is a very enjoyable mystery that will keep you reading until late

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler

I stayed up way too late finishing “The Cage” by debut author Bonnie Kistler. Because of the promo material, I was expecting a sort of “escape room” mystery. That’s not at all what I got, and I’m not disappointed at all. I loved how Kistler alternated past and present, first and third person. The dated entries are clearly to show events leading up to the present predicament in which Shay Lambert finds herself. One Sunday evening, she and the head of HR, Lucy Carter-Jones, both leave the office at the same time and find themselves sharing an elevator. Shortly after they begin their descent, all power goes off, and their only communication with the world outside the elevator is a short 911 call. When they arrive at the first floor, Carter-Jones is dead. But was her death, from an unregistered handgun, murder or suicide?

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‘Nectar of the Gods: From Hera’s Hurricane to the Appletini of Discord, 75 Mythical Cocktails to Drink Like a Deity”

Nectar of the Gods by Liv Albert and Thea Engst

First a disclaimer: I don’t really drink much. But after reading and reviewing author Liv Albert’s “Greek Mythology: The Gods, The Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook,” I knew that I wanted to see “Nectar of the Gods: From Hera’s Hurricane to the Appletini of Discord, 75 Mythical Cocktails to Drink Like a Deity” as well. You see, I have a five-year-old grandson who is obsessed with Greek mythology (and other mythologies). He loved the handbook which we read (with a few quick edits when appropriate) to him. And he loves this book as well. While he already knew a lot of the information, he still liked to hear about Calypso, who “was a nymph best known for keeping Odysseus “captive” on her island of Ogygia for seven years.” Because he listens to the Odyssey and Iliad, he knows that “Calypso was the daughter of the Titan Atlas.” He finds the information and the illustrations fascinating.

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‘The Younger Wife’ by Sally Hepworth is an intriguing story about manipulation and how we deal with our imperfections

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

With “The Younger Wife,” Sally Hepworth has created a story that at first seems like a simple tale of an older, wealthy man marrying a much younger woman—she is actually younger than his two daughters. To do so, he must divorce their mother who is suffering from dementia. They are devastated and prepared to hate the new “younger wife.” But Hepworth’s talent is in making this seemingly innocuous novel one that grows and becomes more complex the further you read.

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