‘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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‘Dog Eat Dog’ by David Rosenfelt takes intrepid Andy Carpenter to Maine where he performs his legal/investigative magic

Dog Eat Dog by David Rosenfelt

Every Andy Carpenter mystery has a dog in it—usually more than one, and “Dog Eat Dog” is no different. The dog is often the device by which the main character, Andy Carpenter, gets dragged, kicking and screaming (figuratively, at least) into representing someone charged with murder. Someone we readers know is innocent. In this case, the accused murderer meets Andy when they see a dog being abused by its owner. The poor dog is being kicked and dragged on a leash, and before Andy’s intrepid wife Laurie can reach the abuser to stop the abuse (Andy allows her to be the enforcer as she is a former cop), another man steps in. After telling the abuser to stop, the abuser punches the would-be rescuer who then punches back. The police arrive and arrest both men. The dog savior tells Andy it’s not going to go well for him, and Andy doesn’t know why. It was clearly self-defense.

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‘Tender Is the Bite’ by Spencer Quinn is the latest lovable entry in the Chet and Bernie series

eTender is the Bite by Spencer Quinn

There’s a reason that in the title of this series, “Chet and Bernie,” the dog’s name comes first. As with all the other mysteries in the series, in “Tender is the Bite,” Chet, the almost-K9 shepherd, narrates the tale of his and Bernie’s adventures. Quinn presents this narration brilliantly, and it seems that with each new Chet and Bernie book, Chet’s narration gets better and better. Through Chet’s eyes (and ears and nose, which—no offense—are far superior to ours), we simultaneously know more and less that Bernie does. It’s a delicate balance, writing from the dog’s point of view, and Quinn has it nailed.

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‘What a Dog Knows’ by Susan Wilson is about the connection we have with the animals we live with and about searching for family

What a Dog Knows by Susan Wilson

In “What a Dog Knows,” author Susan Wilson gives us an entirely relatable main character who is not a young woman, and who has been dealt a tough hand since birth. While she is a grandmother, she is certainly not your typical grandmother, although she does, on occasion, knit. Ruby Heartwood, formerly known as Mary Jones, was left at a Canadian convent as an infant. Her only family is a daughter, conceived after Ruby was raped as a young teenager, and a dog who found shelter with her after a thunderstorm.

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‘Dog Days: A Novel About Love, Loss and What It Is To Be Human’ by Ericka Waller

Dog Days by Ericka Waller

The novel “Dog Days” by Ericka Waller is kind of like what might happen if Fredrik Backman decided to write a novel with Jenny Colgan. It has Backman’s sardonic view of life and the people we might encounter and Colgan’s setting on the coast of England with blustery weather and beautiful views and muddy dogs. In this novel, we meet several important characters: Dan, a counselor who is OCD, and who has not had the courage to come out as gay; Lizzie, who lives in a women’s shelter with her son, Lenny; and George, an irascible old man whose wife has died and who doesn’t know how to cope.

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‘Rez Dogs’ by Joseph Bruchac is a touching, timely, terrific middle grade novel about life during COVID on the reservation

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

“Rez Dogs” by acclaimed author Joseph Bruchac is not only a timely story about life on the reservation during COVID, it’s also the story of a girl and her dog, as well as a brief overview of the history of the government’s treatment of Native people even recently. All this in Bruchac’s evocative verse, succinct yet poetic and lovely.

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‘Seven Perfect Things’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Seven Perfect Things by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Before we even open to the first page, the cover reveals the mystery of the title. The jacket of “Seven Perfect Things” by Catherine Ryan Hyde is adorned with adorable, sleeping puppies. And when thirteen-year-old Abby’s abusive father tells her that nothing in life is perfect, and even dares her to “name one thing in this life that’s perfect,” she responds that she could name seven. We know that these seven perfect things, the “things” that changed Abby’s life, were once so unwanted and considered so imperfect that someone put these precious puppies in a bag and threw them off a bridge to drown in a river.

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‘Legacy’ by Nora Roberts is the story of strong women and the men who love them — and a lunatic poet with murderous intent

Legacy by Nora Roberts

In “Legacy,” author Nora Roberts takes us on an epic journey into the life of Adrian Rizzo. We meet Adrian at the tender age of seven when she first meets the man who is her biological father. He’s angry, drunk, and crazy and tries to kill her. He ends up dying. We learn a lot about Lina, Adrian’s mother, and how she started a fitness empire through determination and hard work. We see the town, Traveler’s Creek, where Lina grew up and where her parents still run the family business, Rizzo’s Italian Restaurant. They live in a beautiful house on a hill with gardens and mountains in the distance. It’s beautiful, and it’s where Adrian spends the summer after the horrific event with her father. It’s that summer that she makes friends in town, including her first best friend, Maya. Her grandparents teach her to cook, and how to pick herbs and vegetables in the garden. It’s that summer that causes Adrian to grow roots in the small town, and it becomes home. It’s not, however, her mother’s home or where her mother feels comfortable. Her mother couldn’t wait to leave Traveler’s Creek behind, and she hasn’t looked back since.

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Simon Garfunkel and Investigative Friends

Animal Instinct by David Rosenfelt

David Rosenfelt’s latest suspenseful and witty mystery opus is “Animal Instinct,” the second in what will surely be another long-running hit novel series, this one featuring the “K Team,” three human investigators plus a very important canine operative, former police dog Simon Garfunkel. Yes, that is his name, which I cite here in full because I laugh so hard every time I see it.

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‘Connect the Dots’ by Keith Calabrese is a wonderful middle grade novel

Connect the Dots by Keith Calabrese

Want to get your child a fabulous novel to read over the summer that’s filled with relatable characters, a genius who has disappeared, and a mystery that is solved by three intrepid children? “Connect the Dots” is Keith Calabrese’s second novel, and it’s filled with the same wonderful messages that his first book, “A Drop of Hope,” was. This one—dare I say it—is even better.

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‘Poppy in the Wild’ by Teresa J. Rhyne a story of love and determination

Poppy in the Wild by Theresa Rhyne

The title of the story, “Poppy in the Wild: A Lost Dog, Fifteen Hundred Acres of Wilderness, and the Dogged Determination that Brought Her Home” by Teresa J. Rhyne is a bit misleading. It’s not really just the story of a beagle from China who escapes from her foster family and gets lost in a California wilderness area. It’s also the story of Teresa (I feel as if we are on a first name basis) and her love for animals. 

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‘The Wild Huntsboys’ by Martin Stewart is a tale of intrepid boys, a girl, and the fairies who want to kill them

The Wild Huntsboys by Martin Stewart

In “The Wild Huntsboys,” Martin Stewart makes sure we understand that fairies are not beautiful, kind, generous magical beings who grant wishes. There is no fairy godmother that will provide a ballgown and carriage. Rather, if you make one misstep, you might be hunted down and killed in a manner almost too gruesome to consider. Those are the fairies that Luka must confront after he fails to do the one thing his sister asked of him before she was evacuated during a war.

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