‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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