‘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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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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‘Memphis’ by Tara M. Stringfellow is an ode to generations of Black women and a view into the conflicting issues of motherhood

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

In her historical fiction novel “Memphis,” Tara M. Stringfellow introduces us to three generations of women. We meet Hazel, who was born in 1921; Miriam, born in 1957; her sister August, born in 1963; and Miriam’s two daughters, Joan and Mya, born in the mid 1980s. It’s through the eyes and words of four of these women that we learn the story of one Memphis family, and this family—these strong women who suffer through so much adversity yet remain pillars of strength—is based on Stringfellow’s family and her ancestors.

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‘The Deepest of Secrets’ by Kelley Armstrong is the twisty seventh book in the gripping Rockton series

The Deepest of Secrets

The “Rockton” murder mystery series by Kelley Armstrong has long been popular with mystery fans for many reasons. The setting — a very remote and wild area of the Yukon; the concept — a town where people needing to hide or escape from violence go for a two-year period; the characters — including detective Casey, Eric the sheriff, Mathias the butcher, Isabel, who runs the bar and brothel, and many more townspeople whom we come to know over the course of the novels. While most of the novels in the series can be read as stand alone pieces, that is not as much the case with this one. “The Deepest of Secrets” is the last novel in this gripping series. So it’s perfect timing for those who are looking for a new mystery series to read because they can start from the first book, “City of the Lost,” and immediately read each subsequent novel. There’s something satisfying about not having to wait a year to read the next book in a series.

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‘Must Love Dogs: Lucky Enough’ by Claire Cook is the latest entry in that popular and charming series

Must Love Dogs: Lucky Enough
by Claire Cook

Some books you read because they teach you something, some books are read for lengthy book club discussions, and some books, like “Must Love Dogs: Lucky Enough,” the eighth book in this engaging and humorous series, you read simply to escape from reality and jump into the life of Sarah Hurlihy as she navigates her at-times fraught relationship with John, with their ever-growing menagerie of pets, and with her often-crazy extended Irish family. Sarah’s life is never dull, and when you factor in her job as a preschool teacher with some very precocious children and their very suburban parents, you get lots of humor as well as many touching moments.

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‘Steal’ by James Patterson and Howard Roughan is a thriller that has layered con upon con in a deadly game

Steal by James Patterson
and Howard Roughan

This is the third James Patterson novel, written with Howard Roughan, that features Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a Yale professor of abnormal psychology. The thriller is not just filled with action and danger; it also features a plot that layers intelligence agencies with both Italian and Russian crime heads, foreign governments, stolen Nazi artwork, billionaires who think they are above the law, and Reinhart, who we learn was previously a CIA agent. As with most novels of this genre, the story features nonstop danger and people who are not what they appear to be. The most obvious case in point is the billionaire’s son, who posts a suicide note on Instagram and then disappears. His father is convinced that his son is alive, and he wants Reinhart to find him. Which of those factors are not what they appear to be? Perhaps both?

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‘Code Name: Serendipity’ by Amber Smith is a sweet doggy tale of friendship, family, growing up, and most of all, compassion

Code Name: Serendipity by Amber Smith

With her new middle grade novel, “Code Name: Serendipity,” author Amber Smith presents an eleven-year-old fifth grader named Sadie. Sadie doesn’t feel as if she fits in anywhere because now that her best friend, Jude, has moved away, she has no one at school to talk to, ride the bus with, or eat lunch with. At home, her older brother Noah is often unkind and has little time for her. Her two moms are also busy, and her grandfather’s recent declining mental health means they have worries of their own. It doesn’t help that Sadie has a learning disability, even though she prefers to call it a learning difference.

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