‘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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‘Grave Reservations’ by Cherie Priest is a cleverly amusing paranormal murder mystery

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

“Grave Reservations” by Cherie Priest is a perfectly charming paranormal mystery that features a slightly flaky but very personable main character. There’s nothing that says self-deprecating like a travel agent who calls herself “ninety-nine percent worthless as a psychic.” Leda Foley runs Foley’s Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy, a travel agency. In the first chapter, she changes a client’s connecting flight without letting him know in advance. When he calls her as he’s rushing to get to the original gate, she tells him that if he wants to get home that evening, he must take the rebooked flight. Priest explains that Leda “didn’t know why she’d changed his flight. It’d been a feeling, hard as a fist in her stomach.” After being sorry in the past when she ignored those feelings, she doesn’t ignore them now. And when his original flight explodes, he’s thankful for Leda’s feelings.

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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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‘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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‘Billy Summers’ by Stephen King is a brilliant study about what makes a “good” person

Billy Summers by Stephen King

How do we know whether an individual is a good person or a bad person? Children like my five-year-old grandson know that there are heroes and villains — interestingly, he chooses to be the villain in his fantasy play. But we adults know that there is more to “goodness” than a superficial title. And in “Billy Summers,” Stephen King forces us to consider whether a hired killer can be a good person or must always be a villain by virtue of his profession.

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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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‘Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals’ by Laurie Zaleski is touching, charming, and humorous

Funny Farm by Laurie Zaleski

“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals” by Laurie Zaleski is not what I was expecting at all. We know from the first page, the Prologue, that it’s about how Zaleski rescues animals, but what is unexpected is that more than half the book is about her childhood, her parents’ abusive relationship, and how her mother left and raised them in a tiny, dilapidated house where she also took in animals of every size, shape, and need. This book is the best kind of nonfiction—it’s nonfiction that reads like a novel, and it’s hard to put down. We want to know more about Zaleski’s family and how they will survive in the shack where they end up after leaving their very nice suburban home. We also want to know how Zaleski ends up with a farm and over 600 animals.

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