‘A World of Curiosities’ by Louise Penny is a brilliant and gripping mystery with many twists

Louise Penny’s latest entry in her Chief Inspector Gamache series is brilliant and addictive. While it begins slowly as Penny is creating the backstory, that narrative becomes all-important later in the novel when the action and the connections are so fast and furious that it’s almost impossible to put the book down. We feel compelled to keep reading to see what clues will be uncovered next, who will die or be in danger, and what connection to the past an item or person has that we are just learning about.

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Two must-read middle grade novels are ‘Attack of the Black Rectangles’ and ‘Island of Spies’

Two books published in 2022 that on the surface seem quite different, but share an important theme, are “Attack of the Black Rectangles” by Amy Sarig King and “Island of Spies” by Sheila Turnage. Both are about children who are determined to deal with problems that they are told are best left to adults. One of the books is about censorship and speaking out for what is right; the other is a WWII historical fiction in which kids are told they have nothing to contribute even as spies come ashore and ships are sunk on the east coast of the US by German submarines. In both novels, we meet kids who are strong and not afraid to speak out against wrongdoing. We see adults who want to shield the children from unpleasantness only to find that the children are determined to understand the truth and deal with it. We see girls being underestimated and adults who think only they know best. The children know otherwise. Both books are inspiring, and both definitely deserve a place in every library and classroom bookshelf.

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‘Big Chicas Don’t Cry’ by Annette Chavez Macias is about family, forgiveness and following your path

“Big Chicas Don’t Cry” by Annette Chavez Macias is a sweet tale about four cousins who were once as close as sisters, but through life experiences, romantic relationships (or lack thereof), and professional pursuits have lost a bit of that closeness. One of them, Marisol, is not speaking to her cousins. Erica was just dumped by her boyfriend of two years (and right at Christmas!), Selena is frustrated by the blatant racism she encounters at work and wary of entering into a romantic relationship because of a past breakup, and Gracie would love a relationship but has no prospects.

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‘Furysong’ by Rosaria Munda is the conclusion of a brilliant fantasy trilogy

With her latest novel, “Furysong,” the last fantasy in the trilogy that began with “Fireborne” and continued with “Flamefall,” author Rosaria Munda has claimed her place as a first class writer who can plan, plot, and execute a series of books wherein each approaches 500 pages—not one page of which feels unnecessary. Yes, the novels are lengthy, but they are chockfull of fascinating characters with whom we empathize, nonstop action, unexpected twists, heartbreaking turns, and dragons who bond to their specific humans. Be forewarned that if you start with the first one, you will probably want to read all three books in a row, and this situation might affect your performance at work or school.

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‘Odder’ by Katherine Applegate is a poignant and thoughtful story filled with joy

Odder by Katherine Applegate

In her newest novel, “Odder,” we see why children’s writer Katherine Applegate is a Newbery medalist and New York Times bestselling author—it’s because her writing touches readers’ hearts, fills us with emotion, and often shows us a new way of observing the world around us. In “Odder,” we meet a sea otter whose antics fill us with happiness as she dances and twirls and dives joyfully in her ocean environment. At the same time, we glimpse the danger that otters face, and the greater danger that imperiled them in the past—humans. Now, aside from terrible storms, their greatest foes are hungry sharks.

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‘The Thread Collectors’ by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman is Civil War historical fiction through the eyes of two women

The Thread Collectors
by Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman

In “The Thread Collectors,” authors Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Richman combine their familial histories to create a fictional Civil War narrative that is about two women. Stella is a light-skinned woman who was bought to be the mistress of a plantation owner. She falls in love with one of the man’s slaves, William. William, an extremely talented musician, performs for his owner, Frye, and is desperate to escape his bondage to build a better life for himself and Stella. Lily, a Jewish woman in New York City, is married to musician Jacob. They both love music, and her father is a very successful music publisher. Lily is an ardent abolitionist, as well, and completely supports her husband when he enlists to fight for the Union.

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‘Sugar and Salt’ by Susan Wiggs a story of strength and sacrifice and love

Sugar and Salt by Susan Wiggs

“Sugar and Salt” by Susan Wiggs is a touching and important read. The novel is rather provocative and significant as it deals effectively with many vital women’s issues. What is a tad perplexing is that the book is billed as a romance, but actually the romance plays second fiddle to the more important issues regarding misogyny and race that Wiggs quite effectively raises. The cover image also seems to not reflect the actual novel; in the story, Wiggs cleverly reverses the stereotype of male barbecue cook and female baker. The person who would be making the pink-iced, flowered, decorative cake on the cover is not main character Margot Salton; she’s actually the pitmaster who learned barbecue in Texas and opened her restaurant in San Francisco next to a bakery. The baker is her romantic foil, Jerome Sugar, which seems an entirely appropriate name for someone who makes sweet bakery goods all day.

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Dogs, dogs, dogs — especially in the classroom

What’s the next best thing to having a real, live, sweet dog in the classroom? Having lots of books about dogs in the classroom! And even if you are lucky enough to attend a school where a dog is available in the classroom, lots of dog-themed books are the perfect complement to the pup. Here are some great book choices for elementary age readers — all of which promote the notion that every child should have a dog (and every dog should have a child) and the idea of rescuing a dog. I highly recommend all of these.

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‘Flirting with Fate’ by J. C. Cervantes is a lovely story of destiny, love, and family

Flirting with Fate by J. C. Cervantes

While “Flirting with Fate” by J. C. Cervantes is a young adult fantasy about love and fate, it’s not quite as light and frothy as that might indicate. It’s a touching story, and I actually needed a tissue as I finished reading it because of the evocation of strong emotions at the ending. As might be surmised from the title, the story is about the fickle nature of fate, and whether there is something like destiny and “meant to be.”

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‘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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