‘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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‘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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‘Best in Snow’ by David Rosenfelt is the 24th Andy Carpenter mystery

Best in Snow by David Rosenfelt

In the Andy Carpenter mysteries, author David Rosenfelt has created an irascible yet lovable attorney and dog lover who only agrees to represent accused murderers after much kicking and screaming. He’s inherited a lot of money from his father, so he doesn’t need to work, and he certainly doesn’t need the stress of having someone’s life in his hands. But in each novel, there is a reason that Andy is compelled to once again dust off his briefcase, call his employees into the office, and use their combined talents to save someone by solving another mystery. Reluctantly.

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‘The Wish’ by Nicholas Sparks is a two-hanky read

The Wish by Nicholas Sparks

True to form, Nicholas Sparks’ latest novel, “The Wish,” covers the gamut of emotions from love to loss and will have readers crying gently into a tissue before the end. In this story, we meet Maggie Dawes, a noted photographer who is dying from melanoma. So from the very start, Sparks is upfront that this book is about someone who will probably die by the end of the story. We are forewarned. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some surprises in store for us.

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‘Billy Summers’ by Stephen King is a brilliant study about what makes a “good” person

Billy Summers by Stephen King

How do we know whether an individual is a good person or a bad person? Children like my five-year-old grandson know that there are heroes and villains — interestingly, he chooses to be the villain in his fantasy play. But we adults know that there is more to “goodness” than a superficial title. And in “Billy Summers,” Stephen King forces us to consider whether a hired killer can be a good person or must always be a villain by virtue of his profession.

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‘The Ballad of Laurel Springs’ by Janet Beard is historical fiction about the songs that might just define us

The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard

“The Ballad of Laurel Springs” by Janet Beard is historical fiction that begins in the present and gives us context for the ballads that are repeated through each woman’s tale — for this is a story that runs for over century, told about and by women all related by blood or circumstance. Each woman shares her story, some taking place in a year, some over many years, in first person narrative. At times, it almost feels like they are speaking directly to us. Pearl’s first sentence to us is, “I don’t believe in witches…Seems to me folks just like to blame their troubles on someone. If your cow stops giving milk, it’s probably sick, and if your horse up and dies, it’s probably gotten old. It’s not a witch’s fault—just bad luck.” That attitude changes horrifically later in her story.

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‘It’s a Wonderful Woof’ by Spencer Quinn is another thrilling Chet and Bernie mystery with lots of holiday charm

It’s a Wonderful Woof by Spencer Quinn

Chet and Bernie (in that order; Chet the dog always comes first!) have appeared in eleven mysteries before this one, and their fans adore them, especially Chet, the intrepid almost K-9 who can smell fear, grab a gun, dig out important clues, and accidentally uncover evidence. Of course, he doesn’t admit that the evidence uncovering is accidental—it just looks like he’s brilliant. But Chet is the first to admit that he leaves the heavy thinking to Bernie, the human part of the private investigation team of the Little Detective Agency.

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‘Drown Her Sorrows’ by Melinda Leigh is the third mystery in her Bree Taggert series

Drown Her Sorrows by Melinda Leigh

I’ve really enjoyed books about women sheriffs, and Melinda Leigh’s Bree Taggert series fits the bill nicely. The third book in the series, “Drown Her Sorrows,” can be read as a stand alone book, but the whole series is so good, why not start with the first one, “Cross Her Heart” and then continue with “See Her Die.” Bree Taggert has returned to her hometown, Grey’s Hollow, where her abusive father killed her mother as eight-year-old Bree cowered under the porch with her four-year-old sister and infant brother. In the first book, Bree returns to solve her sister’s murder, and she stays when she is offered the position of county sheriff.

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‘The Matzah Ball’ by Jean Meltzer is a perfect holiday almost-fairy tale romance

The Matzah Ball
by Jean Meltzer

Matzah balls are soft and filling and satisfying in warm soup. However, “The Matzah Ball” by Jean Meltzer might better be compared to the rugalach that her characters love to nosh on, sweet and sometimes nutty, but made with love (and honesty) and with a texture that melts in your mouth. This story is filled with lots of love in the best tradition of any romance novel, but it’s also much more. Meltzer provides us with an inside look at a main character who is strong and successful, and at the same times struggles with a chronic disease.

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‘See Her Die’ by Melinda Leigh is the second in the Bree Taggert series

See Her Die by Melinda Leigh

“See Her Die” is the second book in Melinda Leigh’s Bree Taggert series that started with “Cross Her Heart.” I had not read any of Leigh’s previous mysteries (which I plan to rectify), but I knew from the first page of the first book in this series that I was hooked. This second book is no different. While it works better to have read the first book to understand completely the family dynamics, this does work as a stand alone novel. But I enjoy seeing how relationships change and mature, so I’m glad I started the series at the beginning.

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‘Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook (From APHRODITE to ZEUS, a Profile of Who’s Who in Greek Mythology)

Greek Mythology by Liv Albert

With this compendium of Greek myths, “Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook (From APHRODITE to ZEUS, a Profile of Who’s Who in Greek Mythology)” Liv Albert presents an engaging and comprehensive book that provides information about both the well-known and some lesser-known Greek Gods and demigods and even just Greek royals. The language is very accessible. For example, each chapter begins with the heading “What’s Their Deal?” or “What’s His Deal?” The next part is “The Story You Need to Know” and then “Now You Know.”

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‘An Observant Wife’ by Naomi Ragen gives readers an inside look at the Ultra-orthodox Jews in Boro Park, Brooklyn

An Observant Wife by Naomi Ragen

No one writes about observant Jews as well as Naomi Ragen, and her new novel, “An Observant Wife,” follows Leah Howard and Yaakov Lehman, a story that Ragen began in “An Unorthodox Match.” This sequel, which works as a stand alone book, begins with their Orthodox Jewish wedding, where we learn a lot just by reading that Leah’s mother, wearing a red dress with shockingly high red patent leather heels, walked her up the aisle. To say the least, Leah does not come from an Orthodox background.

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