‘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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‘The Wrong Woman’ by Leanne Kale Sparks is a gripping murder mystery

The Wrong Woman by Leanne Kale Sparks

It’s an unusual mystery that leaves you with perhaps more questions than you had at the start. “The Wrong Woman” is a gripping murder mystery featuring Kendall Beck, an FBI agent whose best friend and roommate Gwen is brutally murdered, and Adam Taylor, a police detective investigating that murder. He is also investigating a recent murder that appears to be linked to a serial killer. Beck is investigating the disappearance of a five-year-old child when Gwen goes missing, and in her desire to find Gwen, Beck’s own investigation into why the child disappeared is paused. We think of the title when we wonder if Gwen was mistakenly killed because she was driving someone else’s car. Was she, indeed, the wrong woman?

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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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‘Woman on Fire’ by Lisa Barr is a thriller about the worlds of art and censorship

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

In “Woman on Fire,” author Lisa Barr immerses readers into the world of art—now and during the Holocaust—and how the art world, the buying and selling of paintings by famous artists, even today is impacted by what the Nazis did. Barr begins the story with one of the main characters, Jules Roth, in danger during an art exhibit. The story then takes us back 18 months in time and cleverly provides the background for that event. It also shares the fascinating story of lost artwork, Nazi theft and destruction of artwork, hidden identities, psychopathy, drugs, artists, and journalism.

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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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‘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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‘The Deepest of Secrets’ by Kelley Armstrong is the twisty seventh book in the gripping Rockton series

The Deepest of Secrets

The “Rockton” murder mystery series by Kelley Armstrong has long been popular with mystery fans for many reasons. The setting — a very remote and wild area of the Yukon; the concept — a town where people needing to hide or escape from violence go for a two-year period; the characters — including detective Casey, Eric the sheriff, Mathias the butcher, Isabel, who runs the bar and brothel, and many more townspeople whom we come to know over the course of the novels. While most of the novels in the series can be read as stand alone pieces, that is not as much the case with this one. “The Deepest of Secrets” is the last novel in this gripping series. So it’s perfect timing for those who are looking for a new mystery series to read because they can start from the first book, “City of the Lost,” and immediately read each subsequent novel. There’s something satisfying about not having to wait a year to read the next book in a series.

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