‘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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‘The Homewreckers’ by Mary Kay Andrews is a sweet Savannah mystery

The Homewreckers

Mary Kay Andrews (MKA) is known for her sweet Southern summertime stories that are filled with slow-moving tides, warm beaches, a mystery, and plenty of romantic drama. “The Homewreckers” brings us to Savannah, with its beautiful avenues and lovely historic homes. We meet Hattie, who works in her late husband’s family construction business with her father-in-law, her best friend Cass, and Cass’s mother, who runs the office. As the story begins, Hattie has poured her life savings into a beautiful old home, hoping to restore it and make a profit. But the historic home needs a much larger than expected infusion of cash to bring it to the point where it will make money, and Hattie is forced to sell at a loss.

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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 Younger Wife’ by Sally Hepworth is an intriguing story about manipulation and how we deal with our imperfections

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

With “The Younger Wife,” Sally Hepworth has created a story that at first seems like a simple tale of an older, wealthy man marrying a much younger woman—she is actually younger than his two daughters. To do so, he must divorce their mother who is suffering from dementia. They are devastated and prepared to hate the new “younger wife.” But Hepworth’s talent is in making this seemingly innocuous novel one that grows and becomes more complex the further you read.

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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 Forgotten Five: Map of Flames’ by Lisa McMann is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series

The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames

In her new series, “The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames,” Lisa McMann creates an action-filled fantasy with children who have supernatural powers but must survive on their own after the last adult in their group dies. The five children have always lived in a secret hideaway far from civilization as their parents were master criminals who barely escaped with their lives after a heist gone bad. But gradually, the parents have disappeared after returning to civilization, the first few to gather supplies, and then others left to search for the first three adults who disappeared. The last adult, Louis, got sick and died, leaving his daughter a secret message.

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‘The Way From Here’ by Jane Cockram is about family connections and family mysteries

The Way from Here by Jane Cockram

A touching story filled with family secrets, “The Way From Here” takes us on a journey both in time and place from Australia to France to England as we witness family interactions now and decades in the past. Jane Cockram’s story of two sisters whose lives were separated by a mere two years but a huge chasm in terms of personality begins with the death of one sister, Susie. Camilla, the older sister, has received letters from Susie written to Mills, as Camilla is known, and to be read after her death. Susie died unexpectedly from a fall while preparing for her 40th birthday, and the preparation of such letters seems very unlike the rash sister Mills had known. But she is the good sister, and even though it puts her marriage at risk, she is determined to fulfill Susie’s last wishes and travel from Australia to England where she is directed to read the second letter.

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‘Truth and Other Lies’ by Maggie Smith is a story about women and the secrets they hold close

Truth and Other Lies by Maggie Smith

Packed into this engaging debut novel by Maggie Smith are many women’s issues. In “Truth and Other Lies,” she introduces us to Megan Barnes, who has just moved back to her mother’s home in Chicago after getting fired from her job as an investigative reporter in New York and breaking up with her boyfriend there. Her mother’s house, the house she grew up in, has not changed. Everything is Martha Stewart perfect, as is her controlling, conservative, unemotional mother. But paradoxically, that same person is overly smothering and worries about Megan constantly. We see her advising Megan to take an umbrella because of possible rain and wanting her to be safe in other ways that Megan, sometimes unreasonably, sees as intrusive. While Megan loves her mother, they are practically polar opposites in their beliefs, and she can’t wait to get a job and move out in order to regain her independence.

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‘Wish You Were Gone’ by Kieran Scott is a powerful story of family and friendship

Wish You Were Gone by Kieran Scott

In “Wish You Were Gone,” author Kieran Scott forces us to confront a marriage that has shattered into so many pieces that it would take a magician to put them back together. In fact, as we learn later, Emma Walsh had been planning on meeting with her husband James on the evening before his fatal accident to talk about their marriage, but he never showed up. The Walshes are an example of a seemingly perfect family: huge perfectly decorated home, expensive cars, a son who excels in sports, a daughter who loves theater, and a wife who does nothing but keep their house lovely and her husband’s suits cleaned.

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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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