‘The Winter Guest’ by Pam Jenoff is historical fiction about Poland, life in a small village during WWII, and sacrifice

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff writes historical fiction, sometimes based on real events, usually about WWII and the Holocaust. Her books provide a glimpse into how people survived in often horrific situations and reflect both the best and the worst instincts of humans. In “The Winter Guest,” Jenoff writes about Poland during the war, centering her story on a family in a small town near Kraków, eighteen-year-old twin sisters caring for their younger three siblings after the death of their father and the hospitalization of their mother for cancer. Much of the story is about their struggle to survive during this time of depredation, but Jenoff also imagines what life was like in small-town Poland.

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Fabulous nonfiction children’s books you need on your bookshelf: Part One

I know from my decades of teaching elementary students that using nonfiction picture books is an amazing way to begin discussions of events and people, and to share information with students in an entertaining way that keeps them interested in learning (and reading). Here are some nonfiction children’s books for children of all ages from picture books through some middle grade books and even a young adult choice. All of them would be great picks for gifts for your children, their teachers, or even the school library. This is a long post, but read it through. You’ll be glad you did as there are some fabulous offerings here.

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Fabulous nonfiction children’s books you need on your bookshelf: Part Two

Nonfiction books for middle grade readers are an important tool for teachers and librarians. Good nonfiction books serve multiple purposes: they provide factual information in an easier format than many websites or other informational sources; they can engage children by capturing their interest in topic that fascinate them; and they are books that don’t necessarily need to be read in one sitting. Nonfiction books can be picked up and read at one’s leisure because there’s no mystery to solve or plot to figure out. Many nonfiction books have colorful photos and graphics that further draw the eye and engage the reader. Others, like the memoirs included in this collection, read like fiction because of the first person narrative. See which books might interest the children in your life, or just pick your favorites for a teacher who might enjoy sharing them with students.

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‘Wish You Were Here’ by Jodi Picoult is a tale of COVID and life

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

It’s both fascinating and repelling to read a novel about New York during the worst of COVID, our modern-day version of the Black Plague. Many authors choose to skip any references to COVID for many reasons, but in “Wish You Were Here,” author Jodi Picoult writes unflinchingly about the worst of it, sparing us no details about the deaths, the few instances of people recovering from being intubated, and the fallout from that intubation. This novel is both delightful and horrifying, but at heart it’s what we expect from this prolific author—it’s thoughtful and life-affirming.

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‘The Christmas Bookshop’ by Jenny Colgan is just what we expect — a sweet, touching story of family and romance that warms our hearts

The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan

Jenny Colgan’s books are predictable, but we like them — a lot — nonetheless. We know that in the pages of her books, we are treated to a “vacation” of sorts in whatever exotic locale she chooses (although if you live in Edinburgh, it’s not quite so exotic), wherein ordinary people will have extraordinary adventures and end up the better for it. And those adventures aren’t epic and huge, but small events that serve to change the lives of the people involved.

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‘Grave Reservations’ by Cherie Priest is a cleverly amusing paranormal murder mystery

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

“Grave Reservations” by Cherie Priest is a perfectly charming paranormal mystery that features a slightly flaky but very personable main character. There’s nothing that says self-deprecating like a travel agent who calls herself “ninety-nine percent worthless as a psychic.” Leda Foley runs Foley’s Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy, a travel agency. In the first chapter, she changes a client’s connecting flight without letting him know in advance. When he calls her as he’s rushing to get to the original gate, she tells him that if he wants to get home that evening, he must take the rebooked flight. Priest explains that Leda “didn’t know why she’d changed his flight. It’d been a feeling, hard as a fist in her stomach.” After being sorry in the past when she ignored those feelings, she doesn’t ignore them now. And when his original flight explodes, he’s thankful for Leda’s feelings.

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‘Playing the Cards You’re Dealt’ by Varian Johnson is a wonderful middle grade read about life, family, and dealing with challenges

Playing the Cards You’re Dealt
by Varian Johnson

Varian Johnson has written some fabulous books for middle grade readers. My students loved “The Parker Inheritance,” and my first experience with his writing was reviewing “The Great Greene Heist,” both novels sparkling examples of witty middle grade reads. With “Playing the Cards You’re Dealt,” Johnson gives readers a glimpse into the world of those who plays spades, and in the Joplin family, playing spades is as close to a religious experience as they are going to have outside of church. Ten-year-old Ant, short for Anthony, had embarrassed himself at the annual spade tournament the previous year, and he’s determined that he and his best friend and spade-playing partner, Jamal, will win this year.

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“State of Terror”: a unique political/mystery novel co-authored by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton

State of Terror by
Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton

The new novel by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton, “State of Terror,” is a fascinating read in so many ways and in so many directions that it’s difficult to decide exactly where to begin the review. Since the genre of the piece, however, is aptly labelled “mystery,” we can safely assume that we should begin with that description as the first order of business.

The mystery is complex and complicated, certainly not the typical whodunit, wherein a crime, usually a murder, is committed, and the rest of the novel describes the search for the perpetrator. In this case, the first crime is the bomb placed on a crowded bus in London. The resulting explosion kills every passenger. It’s an act of terror, pure and simple — well, actually not pure at all and definitely not simple. As the plot unfolds, two more crowded buses in major European cities explode, killing all the passengers. Except one. And that escapee is an important character in the novel. All of which leads us to an accounting of the main characters.

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‘A Blizzard of Polar Bears’ by Alice Henderson is a combination of mystery, thrills, and wildlife adventure

A Blizzard of Polar Bears by Alice Henderson

It’s not often that a novel can combine thrilling action with fascinating characters and a setting that is depicted so precisely that we shiver while reading about venturing out onto pack ice in Northern Canada. Alice Henderson accomplishes all that and more in “A Blizzard of Polar Bears,” as she shares another adventure for wildlife biologist Alex Carter, who takes a job researching polar bears for a report for Canada’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Her job in Montana working with wolverines has just ended, so this job offer seems fortuitous.

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‘Flamefall’ by Rosaria Munda is the sequel to the thoughtful and thrilling ‘Fireborne’

Flamefall by Rosaria Munda

You don’t want to miss reading “Flamefall” by Rosaria Munda, the sequel to “Fireborne” and the second book in “The Aurelian Cycle” trilogy. In the first novel, Rosaria Munda created an alternate world populated by overlords and serfs. The overlords could do—and did do—anything they wanted to the peasant families they “owned” in Callipolis. These rulers were aided by their dragons, who were feared for their ability to shoot flames. The revolution that ensued was reminiscent of the Russian Revolution both for its ideals and the blood that was shed. The dragonlord families were slaughtered.

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‘Daughter of the Deep’ by Rick Riordan is thrilling and hugely entertaining

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

In an exciting leap that is just as thrilling as any twist Percy Jackson might encounter, Rick Riordan brings us a slightly different kind of adventure with “Daughter of the Deep,” his book about a group of students in a maritime academy who end up on the run for their lives and dive straight into an adventure that is based on Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” We first meet Ana Dakkar when she and her brother go for a swim in the ocean on which their special private school sits. We quickly learn that their parents died in an accident two years previously, and Ana and Dev are close. Dev is several years older than Ana, and at the end of their swim he gives her an early birthday present as she is leaving with the freshman class for a final weekend of trials.

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‘Right Behind Her’ by Melinda Leigh is the newest mystery featuring county sheriff Bree Taggert

Right Behind Her
by Melinda Leigh

While “Right Behind Her” might be the fourth installment in the mystery series featuring Bree Taggert, a former Philadelphia homicide detective turned county sheriff, author Melinda Leigh masterfully manages to give readers the backstory in a manner that is natural and part of each new story. We learn about Bree’s sister’s death and that Bree has taken over caring for her niece and nephew with the help of her now-retired former police partner, Dana. They live in a farmhouse with a barn for the horses that her sister rescued from a kill pen. And now Bree has a rescue of her own, a chubby mix named Ladybug who is a nod to Leigh’s own beloved rescue with the same name.

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