‘The Guilt Trip’ by Sandie Jones: Is anyone NOT guilty?

The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones

After reading several novels in which people aren’t who they appear to be and the plots kind of blur together, I worried that “The Guilt Trip” by Sandie Jones would be another disappointment. I had really enjoyed her previous books: “The Other Woman,” “The First Mistake” and “The Half Sister.” I am thrilled to say that “The Guilt Trip” kept me enthralled and turning page after page till the surprising ending. And yes, there is one character who is not as he or she (no spoilers!) appears to be, but it’s not the usual kind of misleading characterization.

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‘The Therapist’ by B. A. Paris is a marvelous mystery

The Therapist by B.A. Paris

The title “The Therapist” is a big part of the mystery itself. Author B.A. Paris lets us know, first through occasional first person posts from someone who is obviously a therapist, that the identity of the therapist is a mystery. We have no idea who the therapist is, nor do we know who the clients are. But we do know that there is something off about this therapist with a “relaxation room” next door.

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‘Her Perfect Life’ by Hank Phillippi Ryan; what does it take to be perfect?

Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan

The word “perfect” has many connotations. We dream of the perfect vacation, the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect job. But for each of us, that word, perfect, has a different meaning. In “Her Perfect Life,” Hank Phillippi Ryan presents a main character, Lily Atwood, whose life seems perfect. She’s a television reporter, and her onscreen image is as beautifully perfect as her offscreen life. She lives in a beautiful house with a beautiful seven-year-old daughter and a beautiful nanny, and she scrupulously maintains her appearance to be beautiful. Everything about Lily matches the Instagram hashtag her fans have created: #PerfectLily.

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‘Spy School at Sea’ by Stuart Gibbs is the latest in the middle grade series for lovers of espionage and good writing

Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs

I asked a student who was a huge fan of the Spy School series if I could jump into the Stuart Gibbs Spy School series without having read the first few novels. He said that I’d be too confused. I believed him. Shame on me. I jumped into the series with “Spy School at Sea,” and I was not confused. At all. To the contrary, I was charmed and engaged in the fabulous writing, clever plot, and absurdly silly and yet deadly events that befall our main character. Granted, Gibbs does reference past exploits of main character Benjamin Ripley, and we know that he has a past with his nemesis, Murray Hill, but the fast-paced action and the witty dialogue, not to mention the teenage foibles, all make for a story that is funny, clever, and exciting. No preparation necessary.

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‘Defending Britta Stein’ by Ronald H. Balson: thrilling courtroom drama and history about how the Danish saved the Jews in WWII

Defending Britta Stein by Ronald H. Balson

In “Defending Britta Stein” by Ronald H. Balson, attorney Catherine Lockhart and her husband, private investigator Liam Taggert, are the actors whose actions bring about justice in an unlikely manner. Through these two characters, both well known to Balson fans, we are privy to the history of a family of Danish Jews during WWII. As is standard in Balson’s novels, there is a story-within-a-story, and Lockhart and Taggert are the vehicles through which the Holocaust story is told. The storytelling is gripping, and this courtroom drama showcases the unity and bravery of the Danish people in saving most of their population of Jews during WWII when the Germans decided to implement their final solution on the Jews of Denmark.

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‘Tips for Magicians’ by Celesta Rimington is a superb middle grade book that deals with overcoming loss, family and friendship

Tips for Magicians by Celesta Rimington

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from “Tips for Magicians,” a new middle grade book by Celesta Rimington. The title sounded cute—but I realized the book is much more than “cute.” It’s a powerful and touching story of a boy who loses his mother in an unexpected accident, and we see that the grief and the resulting damage to his family seems overwhelming. Harrison’s mother was a beautiful classical singer, and she performed all over the world. His father was her stage manager, and since her death he’s been working a lot. We don’t know if he needs to work or wants to be busy to assuage his grief, but he’s gone a lot. Since her death, Harrison’s father can’t stand to hear music in their home, and Harrison has been grieving not only the loss of his mother, but the loss of the music that both he and his mother loved and shared together.

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Two cat picture books about the joys — and the problems — of the cats we love

Cats. Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. At least some of us feel that way. I adore my black cat, Blacky, yet my other black cat Natty is a big pain in the neck. He jumps on us, delights in knocking over things on our nightstands, and eats any flowers I bring into the house (so I don’t get flowers anymore). But we love them even when they drive us nuts. Here are two picture books that celebrate those cats that can be “negative” or have “problems.” You’ll love them both as much as my grandson and I do.

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Two picture books that share uplifting memorials of 9/11

While most adults were alive and watching as the horror of 9/11 flashed before us on a television screen, there is a new generation of people, some young adults, who were not alive when the US was attacked on that infamous day. I remember that I was in my first year teaching fifth grade. When we heard what had happened, I turned on the television and we watched in horror as the second plane flew into the second tower. I remember telling my students that this was an event that would change the world, and that it was an event that they would never forget.

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‘The Family Plot’ by Megan Collins is a twisted story of a family history built on lies

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

In the very first sentence of “The Family Plot,” by Megan Collins, the first person narrator shares the fact that she was named Dahlia after Black Dahlia, an actress who was gruesomely murdered. Likewise, her siblings were named after other murder victims, including her twin brother, Andy, named after Lizzie Borden’s father. The matriarch of the Lighthouse family came from a wealthy family, and her children knew, growing up, that her parents were murder victims. Their father was distant from the two girls, but shared his favorite pastime, hunting, with Andy and their older brother Charlie.

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‘Island Queen’ by Vanessa Riley is historical fiction based on the life of a rags-to-riches story that was really slave-to-riches

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Those who start life with nothing and eventually become wealthy have nothing on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who started with less than nothing but became an extremely rich, powerful woman in her own right. How does one start with less than nothing, you might wonder? In “Island Queen,” by Vanessa Riley, we meet Dolly, as she was known, who was born a slave. Her father, the Irish plantation owner, taught her numbers and the value of money. She was determined to earn enough money to free herself, her mother, and her sister. Dolly ended up accomplishing that and much, much more.

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Spidey stories will entertain your kids and teach them something, too

It’s not often that superhero books are more than light entertainment. I’ll be honest in that I was pleasantly surprised that the Spidey Amazing Friends series of books that I read with my grandson had life lessons in addition to the entertainment value. He’s almost five, and he loves superheroes, so when he saw the Marvel board book and early readers on my coffee table, he excitedly asked me to read them to him. We now read them each time he comes to visit.

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Coco: A study in fostering a senior dog

Coco – beautiful inside and out

June, 2021: Coco is gone. Her gentle beautiful spirit left her battered body yesterday morning. My husband was with her. She had gone over 24 hours without eating, and it was clear that she was in distress. She didn’t wag her tail, she didn’t bark, she could barely make it outside to urinate. Her body trembled and shook, and she didn’t lift her head. And her eyes—her beautiful, soft, sweet brown eyes—were red-rimmed and sorrowful. Jack looked at her Sunday night and said, “it’s time.” I still gave her her diazoxide, the medicine which might have caused some of her distress, to stop her from having a seizure from low blood sugar, and just in case she’d make it through. Here’s the story of Coco’s all-too-short time with us.

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