‘Lights Out in Lincolnwood’ by Geoff Rodkey is a “what if” nightmare about life after an end-of-life-as-we-know-it event

Lights Out in Lincolnwood by Geoff Rodkey

In the world of children’s books, author Geoff Rodkey’s books stand out as quirky and filled with fascinating characters. His adult novel, “Lights Out in Lincolnwood,” is filled with characters who are not quirky or comical, but rather all-too-real and all too relatable. The Altman family seems to have it all. Dan was a very successful attorney, a partner at his firm, when he chucked it all to take a gamble writing for a television series. Luckily, he was successful at that, but when we first meet him, he’s struggling to think of new ideas for the show. We also meet Jen, his wife. She was once also very successful, but for several reasons decided to stay at home and raise their two children. Max and Chloe, those very children, are also successful in their own rights. Chloe is a talented tennis player, applying to impressive schools, but her anxiety is commensurate with her application to top schools, her upcoming semi-finals in tennis, the essays she needs to write for early admission to a top college. Max, on the other hand, is not athletic at all. He shows great promise because of his creativity and at his summer camp created a film that was a hit. However, Max is being bullied and has become addicted to vaping. Addiction runs in the family makeup. Jen is coming to the unpleasant realization that she is an alcoholic, something she has kept from Dan, but which the kids are completely aware of.

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‘Sisters of the Resistance’ WWII fiction by Christine Wells is fascinating and engrossing from the first page

Sisters of the Resistance by Christine Wells

“Sisters of the Resistance” is an apt title for this historical fiction that’s partly based on real events and real people and in which women are the main characters. What is unusual about how Christine Wells, the author, chooses to share the events is that the story is told in two different timelines, which is not so unusual, but they are only three years apart. We meet Yvette, the main character, in 1947, as she returns to Paris after the war to testify in the trial of a movie star accused of collaboration with the Nazis and treason. She has not been to Paris nor communicated with her mother and sister since she was smuggled out of France in the final days of the war. Then the action changes to 1944, in the final days of the war.

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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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‘Rescue’ by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a riveting middle grade historical fiction set during the Holocaust

Rescue by
Jennifer A. Nielsen

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s middle grade historical fiction novels are wonderful examples of books that teach kids about history while sandwiching that information in thrilling, emotional stories that will hook them. “Rescue,” her newest release, is no different. In this story we meet Meg, whose father is British and her mother French. Meg grew up speaking both languages and when the Germans, before WWII, became aggressive, they began to teach her German as well.

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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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‘The Paris Apartment’ by Kelly Bowen is a gripping historical fiction that has it all: suspense, sacrifice, loss, and ultimately, love

The Paris Apartment
by Kelly Bowen

Ready for a thrilling trip into the heart of Europe during WWII to see, vicariously, how two daring women best the Nazis in the name of freedom and justice? “The Paris Apartment” by Kelly Bowen will grip you from the first page, the first sentence, even. “The woman was nude.” Pretty gripping, right? It’s actually a painting that is in the titular Paris apartment that Lia Leclaire inherits from her grandmother. What we learn immediately is that Lia is confused. As far as she knew, Estelle Allard, her grandmother, had never lived in Paris, but rather spent her whole life in Marseille. But here is a Paris apartment, untouched for almost 75 years, filled with exquisite furniture, couture clothing, and paintings by the masters. Who was her grandmother and why was this secret?

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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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‘Six Weeks to Live’ by Catherine McKenzie dissects a woman’s life as she is dying

Six Weeks to Live by
Catherine McKenzie

It seems macabre—to meet a woman in the final six weeks of her life to uncover a mystery. Who tried to kill her? But in “Six Weeks to Live” by Catherine McKenzie, it’s somehow not macabre at all but rather fascinating. She peels away the layers of Jennifer’s life as if it were an onion, layer by layer. Some layers are revealed by Jennifer herself, in first person narrative. Others are revealed by her three daughters, the triplets Aline, Emily, and Miranda.

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‘The Box in the Woods’: Maureen Johnson brings Stevie Bell back to solve the mystery of the summer camp murders

The Box in the Woods
by Maureen Johnson

“The Box in the Woods” is a murder mystery by Maureen Johnson, and in it we see the return of Stevie Bell, the super sleuth who solved the “Truly Devious” murders at Ellingham Academy in Maine in the three books that constitute that series. While this mystery features Stevie and her friends, it definitely works as a stand alone mystery, also. The setting is a summer camp where decades ago, four teenage camp counselors were murdered in the nearby woods. Three of the bodies were found in a hunting box on which the word “Surprise” had been painted. It was gory and gruesome and remained unsolved.

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‘The Woman with the Blue Star’ by Pam Jenoff is a story of survival, compassion, and friendship

The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff is known for her meticulously researched historical fiction, and “The Woman with the Blue Star” is no different. In it, we read a fictionalized account of an historical occurrence. In at least one town in Poland, Jews descended into the sewers to live in hiding when the Nazis began emptying the ghettos and implementing their “final solution.” As difficult as living in a sewer must have been—and Jenoff describes it in such detail we can see it, feel it, and smell it—that horrible existence was still better than the alternative.

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Incredibly — ‘Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice’ by Yusef Salaam an inspiring read

Better Not Bitter by Yusef Salaam

The set of blazing emotions provoked by Yusef Salaam’s memoir, “Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice,” includes strong doses of disgust, shame, anger — and inspiration. In 1989, five teenagers, all Black or Hispanic, were convicted in the notorious case of a young White female jogger who had been raped, beaten, tortured, and left for dead in Central Park. Salaam was one of those five teenagers.

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‘That Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner is about two Dianas whose lives intersect in an unexpected way

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

In “That Summer,” Jennifer Weiner returns to her beloved Cape to share the tale of two Dianas, who each in her own way have had her life’s ambitions destroyed by one man. The difference is that one Diana has her life destroyed—almost—when she is fifteen while the other Diana is seduced into choosing a life of postponed dreams and belittled ambitions.

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