Friday, January 13, 2023

The Best Books of 2022

I’m testing the adage “Better Late than Never” with this listing of the Best Books of 2022 coming in mid January rather than in the last week of 2022. Since there’s never a bad time for a good book, I hope these titles find you when you’re hungry for a good book. The illustration atop this post is part of a series I love called “Ideal Bookshelf” by Jane Mount. This one titled “Banned Books” seems especially appropriate this year as book banning increased in schools and libraries across the U.S. Mount’s prints are available at https://www.etsy.com/shop/janemount


All of the books listed below are also listed on my Annual List with complete descriptions of each title.


The Best Fiction of 2022:

Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie was the best novel I read in 2022 that was published in 2022.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan was the best novel I read in 2022 that was published in 2021.


The Runners-Up for Best Fiction:

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Lark Ascending by Silas House

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus 

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Recitatif by Toni Morrison (1983, new release with introduction by Zadie Smith 2022)

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka 

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart


The Best Historical Fiction, also known as Pigeon Pie:

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus 


The Runners-Up for Best Historical Fiction:

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara 

Cora’s Kitchen by Kimberly Garrett Brown

The Final Revival of Opal and Ned by Dawnie Walton

The Foundling by Anne Leary

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins Valdez

The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West


The Best Debut Novels of 2022:

Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

and 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus 


The Runners-Up for Best Debut Novels of 2022:

Cora’s Kitchen by Kimberly Garrett Brown

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole

Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan


The Best Dessert, Happy, Pick-Me-Up Book of 2022:

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau


The Runners-Up for Best Dessert, Happy, Pick-Me-Up Books of 2022:

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Love & Saffron by Kim Fay

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt


The Best Mysteries, Suspense, and Thriller of 2022:

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb


The Runners-Up for Best Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers of 2022:

Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara 

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper (2017)

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny


The Best Nonfiction Book of 2022:

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz 


The Runners-Up for Best Nonfiction Books of 2022:

Beautiful Country by Julie Qian Wang (2021)

The River You Touch by Chris Dombrowski 

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Day (2021)

Up North in Michigan by Jerry Dennis (2021)

Widowland by Rachel Brougham 







 

Friday, December 9, 2022

Books to Give Your Favorite Teen or Child


It’s the time of year when I am asked to recommend book titles for children and teens. A bonus with these titles is that most of them are also wonderful reads for adults.


For Preschool through First Grade:


Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller follows a child who doesn’t know how to help when a classmate spills grape juice on herself. Showing that giving and empathy can make a difference provides a way for kids to explore those topics. This award winner is a perfect classroom addition so it might be just the right gift for your favorite child’s classroom or just for the child. I haven’t found a kid who didn’t love it. PBJ Ages 3-6 (2018)



For Kids Ages 8-13:


Odder by Katherine Applegate is a delightful tale about Odder, a playful, curious otter bitten by a shark.

Her story was inspired by a program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that places orphaned pups with surrogate mothers who teach the pups to survive in the wild. The free verse language perfectly encapsulates the joy Odder feels when playing in water and the importance of saving otters. Newbery winner Applegate is a treasure. PBJ/SN Ages 8-12(If the child hasn’t yet read Applegate’s 2012 Newbery winner The One and Only Ivan, buy that as well even if they’ve seen the movie.)


A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga is a sweet, comforting, clever, and informative story about Res, short for Resilience, a Mars rover, and the NASA scientists who built him. Res is truly resilient and he displays human emotions that make him care about Fly, the drone helicopter that accompanies him to Mars. This lovely, poignant tale offers both knowledge and a caring story. As always, Jasmine Warga writes just what kids need and want to read. She’s a treasure. Her Other Words for Home, a 2019 Newbury Honor book, is one of my all-time favorites and would also be a great gift.  PBJ/SN Ages 8-13


Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly is another delight from the great Newbery winner.

There are only twelve kids in the seventh grade at Fawn Creek and they’ve known each other all their lives. Nothing changes in their small Louisiana town until Orchid arrives. She’s lived in Paris and New York. What’s she doing in Fawn Creek? This novel exposes bullying and makes self-acceptance contagious. It’s perfect for that hard-to-buy-for tween category especially if they’ve read and enjoyed my favorite Kelly books, Hello Universe and You GoFirst. You can’t go wrong with any of her titles. PBJ Ages 9-13


For Teens:


Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults by Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith with illustrations by Nicole Neidhardt takes the 2013 classic book of “indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teaching of plants” and mixes in questions for contemplation along with illustrations that make it real. It will speak to teens and tweens who want to save the planet and wonder where to start. The statements shown in green circles surrounded by sweetgrass braids offer great discussion starters. I was drawn to several of them including: “To be heard, you must speak the language of the one you want to listen” and “In some Native languages, the term for plants translates to ‘those who take care of us.’” My adult book club was so impressed with it that we’re reading and discussing it in January. 


I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys brings 1989 Romania and the cruelty of the Ceaușescu regime to life.

Cristian is 17 and wants to be a writer but is forced to be an informant to save his family. Later he exposes the truth to the world and works for change with other youth. Brilliant! Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray has long been one of my favorites and it and this book are wonderful choices for adults and teens. DC/PP/SN Ages 13 and up. 


Passport by Sophia Glock is the true story of Sophia Glock’s transient childhood. Her parents were CIA officers and she went to high school in Central America where struggling to fit in was both unique to her situation and evocative of the universal teen experience. This graphic novel/memoir is gripping in its exploration of secrets, loyalty, and identity. DC/SN Ages 12 and up (2021)


Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice

by Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes with illustrations by Dawud Anayabwile, A finalist for the National Book Award for Young Adults, this inspiring graphic novel/memoir shares the resilient childhood of 1968 Olympic medalist Tommie Smith and his focus on ways to fight against racial injustice in the United States. When he raised his fist on the Olympic podium in Mexico City, everyone saw it. Now teens and adults can learn more about this proud, religious, courageous man and the need to stand up for justice. The powerful illustrations portray his strength and help readers see the inequalities of the 1960s. DC/SF/SN, BC Ages 12 and up



 

Friday, December 2, 2022

The Annual List—2022 Edition

 


Let the magic begin! Books teach us, nurture us, and calm us. They embed us in the past and help us understand the present.

I read over 130 books since last November, but I also gave up on several titles not because they weren’t good; they just didn’t fit what I wanted to read at the time. Two of them were titles that appeared on highly respected “Best” lists and were by two of my favorite authors, yet I gave up on both after reading over one hundred pages. Life is short; don’t spend any of it reading something that isn’t what you want at the time. 

I offer this list with the hope that some of the titles on it will provide you with “uniquely portable” reading pleasure.

Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List, 2022

©Copyright December 1, 2022, by Trina Hayes

Letters after each selection designate the book as CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides), D: Desserts (delightful indulgences), DC: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears (books for teens and young adults), G: Gourmet (exquisite writing, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that get your attention and stick with you), GS: Grits (evocative of the American south), OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten), PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s books adults will like), PP: Pigeon Pie (historical fiction, parts or all of the novel set at least 50 years ago),  R: Road Food (audio books for road trips and more), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SBP: Sweet Bean Paste (translated and international books), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), and T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, novellas, essays, and poetry). The letters BC denote books for book clubs.  Asterisks (*) depict the most outstanding titles in each designation. The plus sign (+) is for books I recommend. The number sign (#) is for books with full reviews on my blog. All books listed were published in 2022 unless noted otherwise.


General Fiction and Poetry


+Adams, Sara Nisha, The Reading List is a poignant look at the power of books and reading to help people connect during difficult times. Mukesh misses his beloved wife and his children worry about his isolation. Aleisha is a smart teen who works in their local West London library and is concerned about her mother who isolates herself in their apartment. When Mukesh asks Aleisha to help him find a book to connect with his granddaughter, a reading list Aleisha finds brings the community together. This debut novel cleverly shows how books can help with grieving and mental health issues. It’s a caring, simple read that isn’t sappy. Trigger warning for suicide. GPR/SN/SBP, BC (2021)

Allende, Isabel, Violeta is told as a letter from 100-year-old Violeta to her grandson. She documents the dictatorship of her unnamed South American country and the changes later. She also describes her romantic relationships, her connection to the land and the indigenous people, and why she becomes a feminist. It felt forced particularly as she rationalized her wealth and her relationship with the father of her children. Allende fans may appreciate her long descriptions. I wanted more character development. OC/PP

*#Backman, Fredrik, The Winners is the third entry in the Beartown trilogy and at 688 pages, I still want more as I’m not ready to leave these characters. Maya, Benji, and Amat return to Beartown and Matteo seeks revenge for his sister’s death while the hockey club is investigated for embezzling. The “aha” moment and ending are just what this reader wanted despite my tears. GPR/SBP, BC

*Blau, Jessica Anya, Mary Jane is a maraschino cherry atop a hot fudge sundae of a book. In 1970s Baltimore, Mary Jane is fourteen, sings in the church choir, cooks with her mother, and obeys rules. Her summer job as a nanny for the five-year-old daughter of a local doctor upends her life when the doctor’s patient, a rock star being treated for drug addiction, and his movie star wife move in. Mary Jane becomes everyone’s Mary Poppins: cooking, cleaning, singing; she’s practically perfect in every way. Yet, it’s Mary Jane who learns joy and self-acceptance in one dream of a summer in a home filled with sex, drugs, and rock & roll. You’ll read it in a day. CC/D/GPR/PP, BC (2021)

+Bradbury, Ray, Something Wicked This Way Comes, the 1962 classic, is a sinister tale describing the arrival of a midnight carnival. It’s packed with luminous sentences and is worth reading as a caution against the seductive powers of evil. I can’t call it enjoyable, but we need to read similar books to understand the power of fascism and demagoguery. G/PP/S, BC (1962)

*#Brown, Kimberly Garrett, Cora’s Kitchen illuminates the 1928 life of Cora, a Black librarian in Harlem who wants to be a writer but has no time due to family responsibilities. When a wealthy white woman becomes her patron and gives her a copy of the novel The Awakening, Cora wants to write about women’s fears and yearnings. Langston Hughes’s imagined letters to Cora enhance this debut gem. PP/SN, BC

+Center, Katherine, The Bodyguard, Sometimes you need a tug-at-the-heart rom-com to get you through a dreary day or exhausting year. Hannah, a recently dumped, highly trained personal protection agent (a.k.a. bodyguard), gets assigned to protect Jack, a gorgeous movie star, from a stalker. Jack’s mom is recovering from cancer surgery and begs him to stay with the family at their Texas ranch so Hannah fakes being his girlfriend as cover and the sparks ignite. It has a happy, but not sappy, ending readers love. D

*Chan, Jessamine, The School for Good Mothers is original, phenomenal, terrifying, and heartbreaking. Frida Liu is a mess. Her husband left her and her beloved toddler daughter isn’t sleeping so sleep-deprived Frida makes an egregious mistake. The state wants to send her away to learn to be a good mother, but the Big Brother training is unimaginable with AI children that spy on the “mothers“ learning to care for them. This debut is so taut and propulsive that you won’t stop reading even when you don’t want to know. The dark exploration of patriarchy, power, and expectations of motherhood is frightening because it feels so real. Book club! GPR/S, BC

+Chen, Katherine J, Joan tells of Joan of Arc when she’s a larger-than-life soldier leading men into battle to beat the English and to secure the crowning of the Dauphin as King. This novel relates the real Joan, not a cardboard Saint. This Joan is a strong, courageous woman who could have saved her country if only the King had listened to her. Atmospheric and real!   GPR/PP/SN

*Cole, Lee, Groundskeeping, Owen, a poor aspiring writer, returns to his Kentucky hometown and takes a job as a groundskeeper at the local college so he can audit a writing workshop. He meets Alma, a published author and the daughter of wealthy Bosnian immigrants, and they fall for each other despite their differences. The writing is spectacular and the minor characters are realistic and make you care. This one deserves a prize. It’s a stellar debut about writers and families. G/GS, BC

+Colgan, Jenny, Christmas at the Island Hotel is a whimsical, witty Christmas romance set on the fictional island of Mure in the North Atlantic between Norway and Scotland. A disheveled French chef and a rude Norwegian with no skills arrive on the island to help open a world-class hotel. The setting, clever repartee, a bizarre little girl, and kindness win the day. A frothy delight. D 2020

+Day, Fiona, The Lions of Fifth Avenue is recommended for library and book lovers. It takes place primarily in 1914 in the New York Public Library where Laura, a would-be journalist, lives with her children and her husband who’s the library’s Building Superintendent. A parallel story takes place in 1993 focusing on Sadie, Laura’s granddaughter, who works in special collections at the library. Several thefts including one of an Edgar Alan Poe first edition in 1914 have ramifications in 1993. Some plot points don’t seem realistic and character development isn’t strong, but the library scenes make up for the book’s deficiencies. GPR/PP/SN (2020)

+Di Pietrantonio, Donatella, A Sister’s Story is an expressive tale told by an unnamed narrator, a professor in Grenoble, who is called to her hometown in Italy where her sister has been in a serious accident. The narrator recalls her sister’s complicated past along with her own life and marriage. Precise and haunting language invigorates the tragic, yet hope-filled story of sisters who first appeared in A Girl Returned. G/SBP, BC 

*Duan, Carlina, Alien Miss is a brilliant, lyrical poetry collection that highlights identity and family history as it documents the complexities of belonging. It’s a challenging and beautiful ode to heritage and culture. G/T (2021)

+Ernaux, Annie, Happening is a short introduction to the 2022 Nobel Prize winner’s work. In 1999, a writer recalls being a pregnant graduate student in search of an abortion in 1963 Paris when abortion was illegal. With legal abortion threatened in the U S, seeing a woman’s actions and feelings while securing one is compelling. Her remembrance of the song “Dominique” brought back many memories. “Imagining and memory are the very essence of writing.” Ernaux’s details make the reader feel the student’s turmoil. G/PP/T (2000)

*Fay, Kim, Love & Saffron, set in the 1960s, this charmingly poignant, delightful epistolary novel blends friendship, food, and life. When Joan sends Imogen a fan letter regarding her “Letter from the Island” column along with a packet of saffron from a trip to the “Far East,” a correspondence blossoms with shared recipes, advice, and kindness that will melt even the hardest heart. Taking risks in friendship and love makes for one fine escape of a novel you’ll devour in a day. One sentence seems meant for today: “The less we cement ourselves to our certainties, the fuller our lives can be.” D/GPR/PP, BC

*#Garmus, Bonnie, Lessons in Chemistry Is a fast-paced, character-driven tale that’s long on humor and filled with wisdom and nuance. You’ll chuckle as gifted Elizabeth refuses to act dumb to get ahead and cheer as the bad guys get their comeuppance. Even Elizabeth’s brilliant, protective dog is a delight. Elizabeth is a chemist working at a private lab in the 1960s. She falls in love with brilliant chemist Calvin and after he dies, she’s fired and needing money takes a job hosting a TV cooking show. I adore this novel and found it realistic because I lived through such misogyny. GPR/D/PP/S, BC

+Ginder, Grant, Let’s Not Do That Again is a clever romp that skewers politics while examining family loyalty. Nancy’s running for the Senate when her daughter decamps to Paris and embarrasses her while her gay son remains loyal. With sentences like this one calling the US “a country that prioritizes showmanship over facts. All you have to do is bark the loudest and they’ll give you your own television show,” the novel is wryly observant. The author’s experience as John Podesta’s speechwriter makes it feel true. S, BC

+#Guard, Anara, Like a Complete Unknown embeds the reader in technicolor 1970 Chicago where you hear the roar of the El overhead, feel the growing pains of young Katya as she embraces her dream despite having no say about her body, celebrate a widowed doctor’s emergence into a world where he can help others and experience love, grasp the fears of 18-year-olds hiding from being sent to die in Viet Nam, and see the world change. A debut winner. GPR/PP/SN, BC

*Gunty, Tess, The Rabbit Hutch, winner of the National Book Award, is an imaginative debut that’s a terrifying and brutal reminder of how power corrupts and communities decline. Set in a rust belt town similar to South Bend where the author grew up, it’s a postmodern look at the devastating results of climate change and lack of jobs. Gunty is a gorgeous, poetic writer and Blandine is a magnificent character, but this is an emotionally difficult book. I could ruminate for hours over the significance of the rabbits. G/S, BC

+Guterson, David, The Final Case, See Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers for a hybrid literary novel and courtroom drama that confronts major themes.

+Heller, Miranda Crowley, The Paper Palace is the wooded Cape Cod summer place where Elle feels most at home. She narrates one 24-hour day set there that’s interspersed with the events of her life and how they have her pondering what to do next. She’s deeply troubled by two long-ago incidents. There’s much to recommend in this debut, but the details often interfere with the story. The banter between Elle’s husband and mother is delicious. The ending in this debut is one some will find ambiguous. I think it’s just right. GPR (2021)

Henley, Linda Stewart, Waterbury Winter is a light, happily-ever-after novel about a grieving artist with a drinking problem who meets two women and finds a way to overcome his debts as setbacks threaten his recovery. While I loved Barnaby, I found the plot improbable and predictable and the ending too neatly resolved. Others will find it heartwarming. Henley’s descriptions of Barnaby creating his paintings were beautifully done. GPR

+Henry, Emily, Book Lovers is a clever spin on the “uptight career woman finds love in a small town” romance archetype with tenacious literary agent Nora and her sister Libby vacationing in a small North Carolina town where Libby’s favorite romance novels are set. Literary agent Nora falls for Charlie, a sarcastic editor in town to help his parents, but the story is primarily about Libby’s and Nora’s relationship. Steamy sex scenes enliven the action. It’s the “beachiest” of beach reads, a page-turner with solid characters and lively dialogue. D, BC

+Henry, Emily, Beach Read is a novel about two writers who’ve suffered romantic and familial loss and end up living next to each other in a West Michigan beach town. I enjoyed the insider knowledge of researching and writing a novel whether a rom-com or a literary prize winner. D/SN (2018)

+Hilderbrand, Elin, Winter Stroll: Book 2 is the second in the Hallmark-style Christmas series set at a family-owned inn on Nantucket. In this edition, the owner’s son Bart has been captured by unknown forces in Afghanistan, his older son Patrick is doing time for insider trading, his wife is having trouble coping, and his sister is juggling two men who want to marry her. It’s more predictable than the first book but still offers a quick escape. D (2015)

+Hilderbrand, Elin, Winter Storms: Book 3, the third in the rom-com Christmas series set at a family inn on Nantucket, features first wife and beloved TV news anchor Margaret and her surgeon boyfriend, daughter Ava and her three suitors, son Kevin’s wedding, Kelley’s illness, and the ongoing trauma of Bart being held in Afghanistan. While it’s entirely predictable, it offers a comforting escape. D (2016)

*Hirahara, Naomi, Clark and Division, see Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers for an insightful and intriguing combination of historical fiction and whodunnit about Japanese Americans in Chicago during WWII.

+Holmes, Linda, Evvie Drake Starts Over is simply lovely. It’s a charming debut about Evvie Drake, a quirky, tender woman, who feels guilty after her doctor husband dies in an accident and no one knows that their marriage wasn’t bliss and she was about to leave him. Enter Dean, a major league pitcher, who can no longer throw straight and is deemed a national head case. Sometimes, you need a hope-filled love story and this is one. D/GPR, BC (2019)

+House, Silas, Lark Ascending is a quiet, poetic, hope-filled post-apocalyptic novel set after fires destroy much of the U.S. and religious zealots are in control. Lark and his family live off the grid for years in Maine, but when the fires arrive, they escape on a small boat bound for Ireland where things are supposedly better. Only Lark survives the journey and Ireland is no longer welcoming, but he meets a woman and one of the world’s only surviving dogs and begins a new journey. A beautiful tale of loyalty, courage, and oh, that dog. G/GPR, BC

+Huneven, Michelle, Search is a wry and clever novel that explores how committees work and how they don’t. Watching a search committee try to select a new pastor for their Southern California Unitarian Universalist church through the eyes of a member who hopes to use the experience to write a book, is an exercise in the way leadership influences decision-making. Purposefully over-the-top characters and selfish decisions wreak havoc in a novel book clubs will savor. S, BC 

+Keegan, Claire, Foster is a novella set in rural where a father takes his daughter to a relative’s home to stay while her mother has another baby. With the Kinsellas, the young girl finds love, gentle care, acceptance, and finally enough to eat. She also learns of deep family loss. Foster was originally a short story published in the New Yorker in 2010. It’s been reissued as a novella and offers classic, poignant, gorgeous writing. G/SBP/T, BC 

*Keegan, Claire, Small Things Like These is an exquisite short novel set just before Christmas in a small town in Ireland in 1985. Bill, a coal merchant and father of five daughters, works hard to support his beloved family. When he discovers a distressed girl at the convent school, he has to make a decision that could ruin their lives. Forget your Hallmark Christmas, this is a true Christmas classic and Bill is a character to remember. The nuanced writing makes you see the setting in sepia tones. The way the town is set apart from the world has an otherworldly “It’s a Wonderful Life” feeling. At 128 pages every word is perfect. I will reread this Booker finalist every December. G/GPR/SBP/SN/T, BC (2021)

*Kingsolver, Barbara, Demon Copperhead, Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver creates a hero born in a single-wide trailer to an unmarried mother, a boy who suffers through foster care, bad schools, addiction, and loss after loss. Set in an Appalachia he cherishes that’s been overwhelmed by OxyContin and its effects, Demon is remarkably resilient. A winner! GPR/GS, BC

+Korelitz, Jean Hanff, The Latecomer follows the wealthy Oppenheimer family and their triplets born via IVF. While their mother pushes family bonds, their father visits his art collection and a woman involved in a tragedy he’s never fully explored. Written in three parts, the second when the triplets are in college drifts and makes the reader wonder whether to continue, but the third section’s pacing and exploration of grief, race, identity, and acceptance ties everything together with nuance and perfect narration from the eponymous latecomer. GPR, BC

+Laurain, Antoine with illustrations by Le Sonneur, Red is My Heart is an illustrated story of heartbreak as told by a narrator trying to get over a woman who left him. The words in 28 free verse vignettes illustrated in red, black, and white with ladders taking the reader into the void of loss mimic disappointment while maintaining hope. An imaginative blend of art and prose. S/SBP/T

+Leary, Ann, The Children is set primarily at Lakeside Cottage, the decaying  home owned for generations by the Whitman family and now inhabited by Whit Whitman’s widow Joan. Joan’s daughter Charlotte has been staying there and seldom leaves the compound. Her sister Sally has moved in temporarily and their stepbrother Spin has just arrived with his fiancée. Someone isn’t who they purport to be. The family dynamics are clever and the pace is compelling, but the plot often seems implausible and was wrapped up too quickly. GPR (2017)

+Leary, Ann, The Foundling is the 1927 story of Mary who in her new job as a secretary at a Pennsylvania state home for “Feebleminded  Women of Childbearing Age” admires the woman who runs the home, a psychiatrist who she believes protects the women in the home. Mary soon learns that a girl from her childhood orphanage is one of the inmates listed as a “moron” although Mary knows she’s smart. Mary also sees the corruption and horrific treatment of the women and begins to question the methods used even though it may cost her her job. The fast pace and an ending everyone loves offer escape and a cautionary tale. My book club had a phenomenal discussion of this. Make sure you read it; the audio is dreadful. GPR/PP/SN, BC

Linfoot, Jane, The Little Cornish Kitchen: Book 1 follows Clemmie to the Cornwall coast where she’s inherited her grandmother’s flat. With her childhood best friends, she learns to bake and hosts soirées to earn enough to fix the flat and return to her job in Paris. Enter Mr. Perfect, her neighbor Charlie, and romance buds. There are several grammatical errors and not much character development, but the recipes and setting are charming. D/SBP (2018)

+Linfoot, Jane, A Winter Warmer at the Cornish Kitchen: Book 3 is a step up from Linfoot’s Cornish debut. It’s an uncomplicated Christmas romance with charm from its Cornwall setting. Pure escape with a happy ending. D/SBP 

+Loigman, Linda Cohen, The Matchmaker’s Gift is a dual timeline novel about Sara, a child who moved to the US in 1918, and later about Abby, her granddaughter, in the 1990s. Sara worked secretly as a matchmaker finding ways to connect soulmates until the men who made money at matchmaking tried to stop her. When Sara died, she left written details of her matches to Abby with a challenge. It’s a lovely tale of family and women’s rights. GPR/PP, BC 

*Morrison, Toni, Recitatif: a Story is the only short story Morrison wrote. It begins with the friendship of two eight-year-old girl roommates in a children’s shelter then continues when they meet again years later. It’s Morrison’s language experiment in which she keeps the reader from discerning which of the girls is Black and which is white. Her removal of racial codes in a story about two characters of different races is both unique and challenging. The story becomes a mystery that the reader examines intimately hoping to find clues to the girls’ racial identities despite that being a construct. It’s brilliant. The book opens with a new introduction that I believe shouldn’t be read until after reading the story. G/SN/T, BC (1983 with 2022 Introduction by Zadie Smith)

+Ng, Celeste, Our Missing Hearts is a terrifyingly realistic picture of America in the near future when laws preserving American culture make people’s acts and  everything Asian frightening and illegal. Government controls everyone. Bird, who’s twelve, lives with his father in a dorm room at the college where he once taught. Bird’s mother, a Chinese-American poet, left them when Bird was nine. They never speak of her or her poem’s words: “Our Missing Hearts” that the unseen resistance uses to fight the taking of children. This is a beautiful narrative of injustice, fear, love, and art in a scary world. I adore that an underground network of librarians cleverly works to reunite families. GPR, BC

+O’Farrell, Maggie, The Marriage Portrait is based on the forced marriage of 15-year-old Lucretia de Medici to a much older Duke of Ferrara. We know from the beginning that The Duke intends to kill Lucretia and what follows is more O’Farrell’s brilliant attention to historical detail rather than a “will she survive” epic. O’Farrell completely embeds her readers in the period. PP/SN, BC

*#Otsuka, Julie, The Swimmers is a heartbreaking and tender novel of loss and fear with a touch of biting satire. Beginning in the first-person-plural, a chorus of swimmers at a municipal pool document their days and the crack that appears in the pool and frightens them all. Alice, one of the swimmers, is fighting dementia and her life is mirrored in the pool’s fissure. The book is written with dignity and restraint, but it’s still a difficult emotional read. Select it for your book club so you’ll have companions for the journey. At just 173 pages, there isn’t a single unnecessary word. It’s a master class in writing. G/T, BC

+Perkins-Valdez, Dolen, Take My Hand takes place primarily in Montgomery, AL in 1973 where Civil, a newly graduated Black nurse, works in a federally funded clinic serving poor Black women and girls. When she learns that 11 and 13-year-old sisters are being given unapproved birth control shots, she plans to intervene but doesn’t act soon enough. The novel also looks at Civil’s life in 2016 when she’s nearing retirement as an OB-GYN who can’t let go of the past. It’s a page-turner that Brit Bennett and Tayari Jones’s fans will enjoy. Read it to learn about the forced sterilization and horrific medical treatment of Black women and children and to bear witness to what we’ve allowed. GS/PP/GS/SN, BC

+Reid, Taylor Jenkins, Carrie Soto is Back is the story of Carrie, the retired holder of a record twenty grand slam tennis wins who wants to return to tennis to keep newbie Nikki Chan from breaking her record. Her trainer father brings in Bowe Huntley, a player she’d once dated, to train with her. Known as “The Battle Axe,” for her strong demeanor, Carrie may finally gain a personal life with Bowe. An enjoyable escape with a strong message. GPR, BC 

+Roorbach, Bill, Lucky Turtle begins when 16-year-old Cindra is sent to a Montana wilderness camp instead of being incarcerated for her part in an armed robbery in Massachusetts. She and Lucky, a camp employee, escape into the wilderness where Lucky’s knowledge helps them survive as they fall in love and Cindra becomes pregnant. The treatment of the Montana landscape makes the book sing, but sometimes the story slogs with multiple characters and the Native Americans often seem stereotypical. Humor and love save this novel. GPR/S

Rostad, Dianna, You Belong Here Now tells of three children who escape a 1925 orphan train and end up on a cattle ranch in Montana run by tough Nara, the ranch owner’s daughter. This debut is for those wanting a heartfelt story. It may not be deep, but it’s a decent emotional escape. CC/PP/SN (2021)

+Ryan, Jennifer, The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle is a pure romantic escape set in World War II England where rationing means that most women can’t wed in a white gown or even a new dress. Violet, the privileged and flighty aristocrat, grows up when she’s called to serve. Cressida, Violet’s aunt, a top London couturier, finds friendship when she moves to the country after her home is destroyed in the Blitz. Grace, the quiet helper to her Vicar father, comes out of her shell when the village women meet to mend and remake clothing including wedding gowns. All experience unexpected romance. While it’s predictable and somewhat clichéd, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. CC/D/PP

+Scottoline, Lisa, Eternal is the story of three childhood friends in Rome before and during WWII. Sandro is from an old and distinguished, scholarly Jewish family. Marco is Catholic and his father is a famous cyclist who now owns a popular bar. Both vie for Elisabetta, an aspiring writer, who works in a fine restaurant. The details are well researched and the novel shows the horrors of the treatment of the Italian Jews who didn’t expect Mussolini to abandon them. It’s an authentic romance and a plot-driven thriller. The recipes make the book feel truly Italian. CC/PP/SN, BC (2021)

+Sheriff, R. C., The Fortnight in September was written in 1931 and reissued in 2021. Kazuo Ishiguro selected it as his best book for the pandemic and noted it as “uplifting, life-affirming . . . The beautiful dignity to be found in everyday living has rarely been captured more delicately.” It chronicles the Stevens family on their annual two-week holiday on the southern coast of England where nothing of consequence happens, yet you fall into the rhythm of an ordinary family living a simple life with gratitude for the joy of being together on holiday. It’s a winner. GPR/PP/SBP, BC (1931/reissue 2021)

+Shipman, Viola, A Wish for Winter is set in one of my favorite places on earth—Petoskey, Michigan. The main character, Susan Norcross, is named for my friends, the family of owners of Petoskey’s Mc Lean & Eakin Booksellers, and the setting is modeled after that bookstore and the town. I love how Shipman makes the town come alive from walking the shore in search of Petoskey stones to wandering among the old homes. The story of searching for love and forgiveness is charming, but it’s the setting that’s stellar in this Christmas romance. D

+Sloan, Lynn, Midstream is set primarily in Chicago in 1974 where Polly works as an illustrations editor at Encyclopaedia Britannica on Michigan Avenue. She yearns to work in film and recalls the time she spent on an aborted film project in Wisconsin in 1962. When her closest friend becomes ill and Polly receives an unexpected letter, she reconsiders her life. I loved the setting but didn’t fully connect with the characters’ journeys in this page-turner. CC/SN

*#Slocumb, Brendan, The Violin Conspiracy, see Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers for a roller-coaster ride of a story about a young Black violinist.

+Strong, Lynn Steger, Flight shows how two brothers and their sister handle their grief after their beloved mother’s death. Set from December 22 to 24 when the siblings gather with their spouses and children at brother Henry and his wife Alice’s home, the novel shares the feelings of two of the wives as mothers, Alice whose miscarriages leave her grieving, and Alice’s clients, a young mother and her daughter Maddie. Will their squabbling over their inheritance and Maddie’s disappearance help or hinder their individual flights to find peace? GPR, BC

*#Strout, Elizabeth, Lucy by the Sea is the fourth entry in the Lucy Barton series following last year’s stellar Booker nominee Oh William! and is similar in tone in its quiet approach. In March 2020, William, a scientist, whisks Lucy off to the rural Maine coast and begs their daughters to leave New York City as well. He believes that Covid will be serious and wants to keep his ex-wife Lucy and their children safe. As they navigate their 14-day self-imposed quarantine with the help of Bob Burgess from Strout’s 2013 The Burgess Boys, they realize that they’ll long be sequestered. Lucy is every one of us who lived the emotional roller coaster that was the first year of the pandemic. She helps us see how we got to be so divided and offers us company as we ponder where the past years will lead us. I ADORE this. G/GPR, BC 

*Stuart, Douglas, Young Mungo follows Stuart’s Booker Prize Shuggie Bain with another brutal yet gorgeously composed portrait of poverty’s effects. Stuart shows who the characters are as he does with the minor character Hamish who impregnated his 15-year-old girlfriend. She wouldn’t name him as the father so the birth certificate read Unknown in fine calligraphy. Hamish tattooed the word behind his right ear. Stuart makes readers feel the effects of the Thatcher administration and the anguish of being gay in 1980s Ireland. Brilliant! G, BC

+#Stukenberg, Jill, News of the Air, Pregnant Allie and her librarian husband Bud flee from Chicago and buy a dilapidated resort in northern Wisconsin to escape checkpoints and climate problems. Now baby Cassie is a teen and the world’s problems are enveloping their refuge. Novels that can be read quickly while overlooking a stream rarely offer so much to ponder. This debut glimpse of the Northwoods of the future is eerily realistic and is also a fine character study of marriage and family dynamics. GPR, BC

*#Summie, Caitlin Hamilton, Geographies of the Heart is a compelling, complex debut novel about an ordinary family told in three voices that will capture your heart. Sarah, a responsible college senior searching for a job, meets Al, a Ph.D. student. He’s large, lumbering, and shy and I’m head-over-heels in love with him. Glennie, Sarah’s sister, a single-minded medical student, has no time for family. Sarah cares for her grandparent and her rift with Glennie grows. The sisters love each other but see the world differently. This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. It includes some characters from her magnificent collection To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts. G/GPR, BC

+Tyler, Anne, French Braid is pure delight that follows a Baltimore family from the 1950s to today. It’s funny, joy-filled, and quiet yet it sneaks up on you when you least expect it. A fiftieth-anniversary celebration broke my heart in the best way when a “loaf pan of salmon with a crusty brown top. . . Looked so cozy. . . Like I finally had a home.” Tyler makes ordinary lives sing. GPR/PP, BC

+Umrigar, Thrity, Honor, Smita left India with her family as a young teen and promised herself she’d never go back, but when her closest friend and fellow journalist falls ill and can’t write the story of Meena, a Hindu woman attacked by her family for marrying a Muslim, Smita feels compelled to tell the story. Meena and her daughter Abru captured my heart and the horrors of their lives plus the way the treatment of women and anyone a group deems “other” is beautifully but tragically told. I can’t think of another author who consistently makes readers bear witness to those treated as less than human as Umrigar also did in her magnum opus The Space Between Us. This will break your heart. GPR/SN, BC

+Van Pelt, Shelby, Remarkably Bright Creatures is a delightful, wry, debut novel featuring Marcellus, an intelligent octopus living at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. After her husband of 47 years died, Tova Sullivan began working nights as a cleaner at the Aquarium. Staying busy has helped her since her son Erik mysteriously disappeared in Puget Sound over 30 years ago. Tova and Marcellus become friends and the result is pure magic. Escape into this charmer and celebrate friendship, community, and one amazing octopus. D/GPR, BC

*Walton, Dawnie, The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is a fantastic debut and winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Written as a fictional oral history, it documents Afro-punk singer Opal and her goofy white British songwriter partner Nev from the early 1970s when a confederate flag turns their concert into a career-changing riot to today. As Sunny, the first black woman editor of a top music magazine, prepares to tell their story, the reader learns of her connection to Opal. This is a winner of a tale with fabulous characters. GPR/PP/SN (2021)

*#West, Catherine Adel, The Two Lives of Sara depicts the music, church traditions, and camaraderie of early 1960s Black Memphis. Pregnant Sara flees Chicago for Memphis where a family friend welcomes her to a boarding house where she finds acceptance and love. This prequel to Saving Ruby King stands alone. It’s a novel of love, trauma, resiliency, religion, and prejudice that’s both a page-turner and a novel you’ll long contemplate. GPR/GS/PP/SN, BC

+Wilkerson, Charmaine, Black Cake is a dual timeline novel that begins on a Caribbean island where teen swimmer Covey throws herself into the sea after her gangster husband dies during their wedding reception. Covey flees the island and the story resumes in 2018 in California where two estranged siblings are learning of their mother’s past from her lawyer after her death. The twists are delicious in this debut novel of grief, loyalty, racism, and finding your passion all tied together through a traditional cake. GPR/PP/SN, BC

+Wilson, Antoine, Mouth to Mouth has a plot twist you won’t expect, yet it makes perfect sense. In a first-class airport lounge, the book’s narrator meets Jeff, a former college friend, who tells him a wild tale of saving a drowning man’s life and then learning more about him as their lives converge. Don’t read ahead! It’s imaginative and propulsive and was on Obama’s 2022 list. CC/GPR/S, BC

*#Yarbrough, Steve, Stay Gone Days, After a tragedy in the small Mississippi town where they grew up, teenagers Ella and Caroline become separated. Ella marries and leads a conventional life. Caroline reinvents herself in Europe. This novel makes you yearn for their reconciliation. It’s an authentic rendering of a family dynamic that’s both personal and universal. It’s mesmerizing. GPR/BC

+Zevin, Gabrielle, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, showcases the lives of two teen best friends  who reconnect in college and collaborate on a video game that pilots them to stardom. Along with their close friend and business manager, they navigate love and loyalty. Who knew gaming could be so intriguing! GPR/SN, BC


Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers


+Allen, Samantha Jayne, Pay Dirt Road, winner of the Tony Hillerman Award for the best debut novel, is reminiscent of Friday Night Lights in its depiction of a small Texas town. Annie has returned to Garnett after college graduation and is waitressing at the local café. After a bonfire, her fellow waitress is found murdered in a rural area and their immigrant cook is arrested for the crime. Annie and her grandfather investigate and find ties to a company buying up land for a pipeline. Great description of land and place with a leisurely pace. GPR

+Clark, Tracy, Broken Places: A Chicago Mystery #1 is the first in the series featuring Cass, a former Chicago PD detective, who’s now a private investigator. When her mentor and father figure, Pop, a Chicago priest, is murdered, Cass’s nemesis, a CPD detective with clout, calls it a suicide, but Cass finds disputing clues among the southside homeless. Great characters. CC/GPR, BC (2018)

+Clark, Tracy, Borrowed Time: A Chicago Mystery #2 features Cass taking on the case of a supposed suicide aboard a boat that a strange young man is certain was murder. Soon Cass is in danger as powerful people don’t want her investigating the case. These characters ring true. (2019)

+Cole, Alyssa, When No One is Watching is a frightening psychological suspense tale of what could happen when ruthless people take over neighborhoods to make money. It’s as if the movie “Get Out” became real as Black residents disappear from or are forced to sell their homes in a gentrifying Brooklyn area while Sydney tries to save her grandmother’s home. The overt racism is sadly realistic. CC, BC (2020)

*Dave, Laura, The Last Thing He Told Me is a suspense-filled thriller that’s also a careful pondering of trust, marriage, and family allegiance. Hannah and Owen have only been married a year when he disappears and leaves a note saying Protect her. Hannah knows he’s writing about his 16-year-old daughter Bailey whose mother died when she was four. When the F.B.I. and the U.S. Marshall visit her, Hannah learns that Owen wasn’t who he said he was. She puts herself in danger to try to learn enough to keep herself and Bailey safe. Great twists in a book I couldn’t put down for a minute. GPR, BC (2021)

+Faulkner, Katherine, Greenwich Park is a debut suspense thriller. Helen is pregnant and it looks like she’ll finally make it to term. Her brother and her husband run the architectural firm her father started and her brother and his wife are also expecting. Helen meets Rachel, a bizarre, yet engaging single mom-to-be, in a prenatal class. Rachel is fun, wild, and needy. Helen and her husband allow Rachel to stay in their home until everything falls apart and she disappears. If you like unreliable narrators, this is for you. The upper-class London setting works, but one of the twists is too easy to detect. CC/SBP

+Foley, Lucy, The Paris Apartment follows Jess to Paris where she’s running  from her problems in England. She arrives at her half-brother Ben’s apartment just as he’d directed her the night before, but he’s missing from the posh Paris  flat she can’t imagine him being able to afford. His neighbors are standoffish and don’t want to answer her questions. What can she do when everyone is a suspect and danger lurks? The buildup felt forced, but the twist at the end was brilliant. CC/SBP

+Guterson, David, The Final Case is told by a once successful novelist whose father, an elderly attorney, agrees to represent a white fundamentalist Christian mother accused in the hypothermia death of her adopted Ethiopian daughter. The narrator accompanies his father to court and then continues documenting the case after his father dies during the trial. The book examines religion, love, justice, and white privilege. It’s a literary novel examining family relationships that’s much more than a courtroom drama. Book clubs could spend hours discussing this one. GPR/SF, BC

*Harper, Jordan, She Rides Shotgun was recommended by S.A. Cosby, one of my favorite mystery writers, and wow did it deliver. The day Nate gets out of prison his ex-wife and her husband are brutally murdered and he learns that an Aryan gang that controls the local drug traffic plans to kill him and Polly, his 11-year-old daughter, so he grabs her and runs. Polly is a memorably gritty character. This debut novel is dark, yet filled with loyalty and love. Winner of the Edgar Award for the Best Debut Novel and an ALEX from the American Library Association.The pacing is incredible in this gem. CC/GPR, BC (2017)

*Hirahara, Naomi, Clark and Division is a compelling and insightful mystery wrapped in a historical fiction novel set primarily in 1944 Chicago. I lived within two blocks of the intersection noted in the title in the 1970s and had never heard of a Japanese-American neighborhood there. Aki Ito and her parents have just been released from an internment camp in Manzanar so they follow Aki’s sister Rose to Chicago where she is killed by a subway train the night before they arrive. When officials say Rose killed herself, Aki investigates and finds sinister hidden plots and bigotry. It embeds you in her story. Looking forward to reading more from this Edgar winner. (Sequel due in 2023). GPR/PP/SN, BC (2021)

+Nieh, Daniel, Take No Names is an action-packed thriller that feels like a film. Victor Li is a fugitive who with his employer, Mark, breaks into government storage units containing the possessions of the deported. When they find a rare gem with clues to selling it in Mexico, they head south where it’s impossible to discern if the villains are the Chinese or wealthy Americans who will profit by stoking anti-Chinese sentiment. Starting as a character-driven novel about Victor and Mark, it shifts to solid action and intrigue in Mexico. CC, BC

+Offutt, Chris, The Killing Hills, Mick Hardin returns to his eastern Kentucky hill country home as his estranged wife nears her delivery date. He’s officially AWOL as a criminal investigator for the Army in Germany and uses his skills to investigate the death of a widow found in the hills. His sister, the sheriff, and a cast of unique characters make this more than just a whodunnit. Appalachian noir feels like a new genre in Offutt’s skilled hands. GPR/GS, BC (2021)

+O’Nan, Stewart, Ocean State is a thriller and a literary novel. It opens with the line “When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl.” This “whydunit” rather than “whodunit” is a portrait of a 2009 working-class family with a mother trying to survive and raise her teenage daughters while looking for love. It’s not O’Nan’s best, but he makes people ring true. CC/GPR, BC

+Osman, Richard, The Bullet That Missed brings back the Coopers Chase friends and their camaraderie in this third installment in the Thursday Murder Club series. Watching as some fall in love, others make new friends, and a few face crises, it’s always a delight to be with these characters. CC

+Parks, Alan, Bloody January: Harry McCoy Thrillers #1 begins on January 1, 1973, when a young prostitute is killed and her killer immediately shoots and kills himself. The previous day, Glasgow Detective Harry McCoy is called to a maximum security prison where a dangerous prisoner warns him of the girl’s impending death. Why was he told? What does it mean? How might it be tied to McCoy’s nemesis? This first entry in the Tartan noir series offers complex criminals and cops in a gritty whodunnit with several twists. CC/PP/SBP (2017)

+Parks, Alan, February’s Son: Harry McCoy Thrillers #2, continues damaged  Detective Harry McCoy’s unusual foray into capturing bad guys. Opening with a particularly grisly murder that McCoy’s sensitive stomach can’t handle, we learn of his abused childhood and his then protector who’s now connected to recent murders and an escalating drug scene. Will they capture the killer in time or will he kill the crime syndicate head’s daughter? If you like moral ambiguity and flawed characters, this Edgar Award Finalist delivers. CC/PP/SBP (2019)

+Parks, Alan, Bobby March Will Live Forever: Harry McCoy Thrillers #3, set in 1973, opens with all of Glasgow searching for a missing girl except Detective McCoy because his nemesis and temporary boss Raeburn wants him out of the way. Drugs, the troubles in Ireland, and old wounds add to the intricately woven story. Edgar Award Best Paperback Original CC//PPSBP (2020)

+Parks, Alan, The April Dead: Harry McCoy Thrillers #4, An American sailor disappears and his father asks McCoy to find him while a series of bombings that hit Glasgow are tied to an underground organization bent on causing chaos and disruption in Scotland. McCoy’s vulnerability makes the books in this series memorable. Will he survive? CC//PPSBP (2021)

*Parks, Alan, May God Forgive: Harry McCoy Thrillers #5 begins with Harry just released from a hospital stay with a bleeding ulcer. A beauty salon has been set afire and the victims include little girls. The young arsonists are abducted from police custody and one is brutally killed with a promise to do the same to the others. Will Harry figure it out in time or will his demons win? This one almost broke my heart. Harry has become a part of me. CC/PP/SBP 

+Pavone, Chris, The Expats, winner of the Edgar Award for the best first novel, follows Kate, the mother of two young boys, who quits her job as a clandestine CIA agent to follow her husband to a lucrative job in Luxembourg. Kate’s husband may be involved in the cyber theft of an obscene amount of money and their new American friends may not be who they seem. Will Kate’s secrets ruin their lives and who can they trust? Clever and engaging. CC (2012)

*Pavone, Chris, Two Nights in Lisbon, Ariel and John, her husband of less than a year, are in Lisbon on a business trip. On their first morning, Ariel awakens and John is gone. She soon receives a demand for 3 million euros. Within two days, Ariel and John’s lives are dissected by the police and the CIA. Is what happened to Ariel 14 years ago connected to John’s kidnapping? Is Ariel in danger because of a secret about a politician? This propulsive novel of love and power will keep you flipping the pages. Who can you believe? CC/SN, BC

*Penny, Louise, A World of Curiosities: Chief Inspector Gamache Book 18 is a winner. Gamache and Beauvoir revisit the murder of a drug addict/prostitute whose daughter has now graduated with an engineering degree after being helped by the Gamaches. She and her brother are back in Three Pines when a massive doctored replica of a famous painting surfaces and brings up earlier crimes. Can anyone be trusted? This superbly paced thriller shows why Penny is the best at showcasing forgiveness and evil. How do we face and stop evil without it entering our souls? I read it almost straight through. If you haven’t heard “Three Pines,” a series based on the Gamache books, is now available to stream on Prime Video. CC/GPR/SF, BC

+Prose, Nita, The Maid is a delightful tale about a 25-year-old, neurodivergent maid in an exclusive metropolitan hotel who discovers the body of a wealthy guest and finds herself under suspicion. She’s both naive and charming and the book is clever. The last third and the ending aren’t as phenomenal as the beginning, but as a whole, this is a cozy debut mystery readers will love. Molly, the maid, is a lovable, quirky character in a Clue-like setting. CC/GPR/D, BC

+#Richard, Saralyn, Bad Blood Sisters is both a traditional whodunnit that you’ll want to gulp down in one sitting and a psychological tale of insight into the hidden costs of holding onto secrets that won’t stay buried. You’ll love Quinn’s growth and you’ll shiver at the climax of this engaging story. The characters are well-drawn, the mystery is plausible and intriguing, and the details are well-researched and realistic. CC/GPR, BC

+Richard, Saralyn, Crystal Blue Murder: Detective Parrott Book 3, I love Detective Parrott and welcome his return. An elderly, renowned Brandywine Valley hostess’s historic barn has exploded and evidence points to there being a meth lab hiding there. Why would someone “cook up” such false clues? A winner of a mystery with great characters. CC, BC

+Scottoline, Lisa, Feared, Mary is a partner in her young, mostly female law firm and she’s pregnant. When menacing attorney Nick Machiavelli sues the firm for sex discrimination claiming three men weren’t hired because they were male, John, their one male attorney, plans to resign. Then, a murder changes everything. The ending twist came out of left field, but the book was still an enjoyable romp. CC (2018)

*#Slocumb, Brandon, The Violin Conspiracy is a roller-coaster ride of a story about a young Black violinist who’s fighting for acceptance in the world of classical music. When his great-grandfather’s fiddle is found to be a Stradivarius that’s later stolen, it’s hard to turn the pages fast enough. CC/SN, BC

+Whitehead, Colson, Harlem Shuffle is the story of Carney, a Harlem furniture store owner, husband, and father, who strives to be more than his petty criminal father. When his cousin involves him in fencing stolen merchandise, Carney sees it as a quick way to realize his dreams. The resulting intrigue leaves Carney conflicted in this clever look at race, power, and humility set in early 1960s Harlem. It’s as if you time-traveled to 125th St. While lighter than his last two epics, this one still packs a wallop. GPR/PP/S, BC (2021)

+Winslow, Don, City on Fire shares the story of two 1980s crime families fighting for control in Rhode Island. Danny Ryan, son of a disgraced alcoholic and part of an Irish mob family, is called to save them. How does a man with morals explain his actions to protect his family? Looking forward to the second entry in the trilogy to tie up loose ends. Danny is a magnificent character. CC

+Winspear, Jacqueline, The Consequences of Fear, Maisie Dobbs Book 16,  It’s 1941 and 12-year-old Freddie watches a murder while acting as a messenger. Scotland Yard doesn’t believe him so he goes to Maisie who finds the crime may be tied to a French intelligence agent. A Middle East connection to the war seemed unnecessary and distracting. CC/SN (2021)

+Winspear, Jacqueline, A Sunlit Weapon: Maisie Dobbs Book 17, It’s 1942, and Jo, a ferry pilot, is shot at while delivering a Spitfire. She finds a bound and gagged American soldier nearby and two days later another ferry pilot is shot down in the same area. Meanwhile, Maisie’s husband is preparing for Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to Britain and it looks like she’s a German target tied to the soldier and the aircraft shootings. Great insight into Maisie’s family. CC/SN


Nonfiction


+Barbarisi, Daniel, Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt, Forest Fenn’s story of accumulating a million dollars worth of treasure and burying it in a hidden spot near the Rocky Mountains then writing a book of clues led Barbarisi to follow the treasure hunters and tell their story which soon involved him more than he’d expected. Listen to the audio as Barbarisi is a masterful storyteller. R/SN

+Brooks, Arthur C., From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life offers counsel for accepting change as a gift that will help us find joy, contentment, and strength through identifying our purpose. Like the words of Brené Brown and Victor Frankel, the book challenges us to accept difficulties and embrace them. “Use things. Love people. Worship the Divine.” I love his fishing metaphor: “Kid, there’s only one mistake you can make in a falling tide. . . Not having your line in the water.” Stay engaged. SF/SN, BC

*Brougham, Rachel, Widowland: A Collection of Essays on Grief shows how people who are grieving always say they’re fine, but they’re not. In 2018,  Brougham and her husband Colin and their young son were living a good life until the day Colin was struck and killed by a train minutes from their home while riding his bike home from work. This is a beautiful portrait of grieving that everyone should read. It’s poignant, wry, and wonderful. GPR/SF 

+Clark, Melissa, Dinner in One: Exceptional & Easy One-Pan Meals is so Melissa Clark with great recipes that offer unique flavors and readily available ingredients. The bonus is cooking them in one sheet pan, skillet, pot, or multi-cooker. We loved Roast Chicken Tagine with Dates, Olives, and Lemons and Spicy Stir-Fried Pork with Green Beans and Tomatoes. Looking forward to trying her Green Shakshuka with Avocado, Chile, and Feta, Tahini Roasted Cod, and Cauliflower-Carrot Soup with Smoky Paprika Shrimp. SN

*Dennis, Jerry, Up North in Michigan: A Portrait of Place in Four Seasons is another spectacular savoring of the north woods and lakes that’s both lyrical and practical in its documentation of four seasons in Michigan. It’s pure joy with lines like: “Gulls are universally slandered as flying rats, but it’s hard not to admire a tern for its sleek profile and graceful hinged wings. Gulls stand around like smart-asses with too much time on their hands, but terns are all business.” His ending meditation on reading is absolute perfection. G/SN, BC (2021)

*#Dombrowski, Chris, The River You Touch: Making a Life on Moving Water is a poetic memoir of parenthood, rivers, and place. A fishing guide, poet, and teacher, Dombrowski shares his love of his adopted home in Montana and of melding life as a writer, dad, and fisherman into a “mindful, sustainable inhabitance on this small planet.” “Slurp of an oar blade, squeak of the oar locks. Water lapping at the hull.” It’s a lyrical book meant to be savored. G/SF, BC

*Donner, Rebecca, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days makes readers feel as if they are a part of the resistance as Hitler takes power. Milwaukee-born Mildred Fish meets Arvid Harnack in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. They marry and move to Berlin where they teach and join the resistance. Arvid is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s cousin and he and other historical figures populate this masterpiece. The audio read by the author is phenomenal. It reads like a fine novel, yet it’s all true. GPR/R/SN (2021)

*Doyle, Glennon, Untamed, Doyle was a best-selling author beloved in the Christian world for her bravery and openness when she announced her relationship with soccer star Abby Wambach who’s now her wife. Read her story for sentences like “Being fully human is not about feeling happy, it’s about feeling everything.” Her insights on control and trusting our instincts feel right because she presents them with courage and honesty. GPR/SF, BC (2021)

*Evans, Rachel Held with Jeff Chu, Wholehearted Faith, Rachel died at 37 and Jeff Chu completed her exploration of living a life of faith. Finding and living life with doubt alongside wonder and then putting that faith into action is something Rachel continues teaching us. My church studied this and we are all better for it. Thank you Jeff Chu for capturing Rachel’s vision. (2021)

*Ford, Ashley C., Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir focuses primarily on Ford’s childhood and young adulthood as she examines how growing up with her father in prison and her mother unable to give unconditional love because of her own trauma had such a profound effect on her life. Her grandmother’s influence helps us see how she survived. The writing is brilliant with lines like: “My earliest memories are sunburnt Polaroids, frozen moments gone blurry at the edges and spotted all down the middle. Then, at four, the pictures become clearer and clearer, as do the voices within them.” G/GPR, BC (2021)

+Garten, Ina, Barefoot Contessa Go-To Dinners is a book I would recommend to newer cooks and those who don’t have her other cookbooks. I found many of the recipes to be riffs on ones I’ve made from her other books or ones I already know. I adore her “Easy Parmesan Risotto” from How Easy is That? and One-Pot Oven Risotto just swaps vegetables and seasonings and I don’t need a recipe for hot dogs in puff pastry. The French Bistro Salad and the Oven-Roasted Southern Shrimp Boil are deliciously new though. This would be a great wedding gift. Remember, when using Ina’s recipes, always use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt or substitute half any other salt if you must. SN

+Gilmer, Benjamin, The Other Dr. Gilmer: Two Men, a Murder, and an Unlikely Fight for Justice is a compelling true story I read in one day. Benjamin Gilmer joined the rural North Carolina medical practice where Dr. Vince Gilmer had previously practiced. The two men were not related and Dr. Vince Gilmer was serving a life sentence for the murder of his father. Ben Gilmer, the “other” Dr. Gilmer, began investigating Vince Gilmer’s life trying to reconcile the beloved doctor his patients remembered with the cold-blooded killer. He found mental illness and a botched trial and began working to free Vince Gilmer. Incarceration of the mentally ill is everyone’s problem. SN, BC

Hager, Charles with David T. Miller, Chicago Heights: Little Joe College, the Outfit, and the Fall of Sam Giancana is the personal story of a boy from West Virginia who came to Chicago Heights, IL and became an intricate cog in the Chicago Outfit and its tangled connections, murders, and schemes in the 60s and 70s. I lived near the area at the time which made it interesting. SN (2018)

+#Johnson, Maureen and Cooper, Jay, Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is a clever treat. It offers a “survival” guide to +English villages—above all, avoid the Vicar—replete with Cooper’s Edmund Gorey-like illustrations. If you want a chuckle, escape here. D/S/T (2021)

Jones, Chloé Cooper, Easy Beauty is a philosophical exploration of beauty by a new mother, professor, writer, and thinker who’s been told that her life might not be worth living. Born with a rare condition that affects her height and gait, Jones fears engaging with a world that pities and disparages her. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and it’s on several “best” lists, but I had trouble connecting with her voice despite her fine writing. SN

*Kendi, Ibrahim X., Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America: 1619-2019 presents eighty chapters each depicting events and people in five-year segments beginning in 1619. I both read and listened to this and highly recommend the audio version where you hear each author, scholar, poet, and historian tell what occurred in that period. This should be required for all citizens. Carnegie Award finalist. Truth is powerful. G/R/SN, BC (2021)

*Kimmerer, Robin Wall,  Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants weaves a beautiful tapestry of botany with native wisdom and traditions that embeds the reader (or listener) with sound ecological facts and the context with which to understand them. Kimmerer reads the audio and listening to her feels like she’s sitting by you telling you her story. Listen to this book and share it. GPR/R/SF/SN, BC (2013)

+Millard, Candice, River of the.Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile recounts the 1850s British exploration to find the source of the Nile in which the accomplished Richard Francis Burton tangled with aristocrat John Speke. For this reader, Sidi Mubarak Bombay, a formerly enslaved East African, was the tale’s hero and most fascinating character. Millard exposes the racist and empire-building tactics of the time without editorializing. Her strong character portrayals make the book sing. R/SN, BC

*Schulz, Kathryn, Lost & Found: A Memoir, Longlisted for the National Book Award, this memoir is told in three acts. The first explores the loss of Schulz’s father along with other types of loss. The second focuses on Schulz finding and falling in love and the third: the ampersand deals with all that connects us. Her examination of what it means to lose and to find is genius. When she writes, “To be prepared is not to be spared.” I felt seen. Listen to her read it. It feels both intimate and universal. G/R/SF, BC

+Totenberg, Nina, Dinners with Ruth: a Memoir on the Power of Friendships,  Totenberg’s debut celebrates her friendship with Ruth Badger Ginsberg and her husband and Totenberg’s powerful bonds with other friends. It’s a love letter to our need for friends in tough times and just for fun. Watching the two support each other when they lose their husbands and as they enjoyed shopping and gossip is revealing. It also affords a view of a time when political life was kinder. GPR/SN, BC 

*Wang, Qian Julie, Beautiful Country is Wang’s memoir about growing up undocumented and in extreme poverty in America. She came to the U.S. at age seven in 1994. In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, means “beautiful country,” but Wang and her parents who had been professors in China found only hunger, prejudice, illness, and fear. Wang’s intelligence, curiosity, and drive helped her overcome the odds, but the trauma from her early years kept her wary of making connections. The writing is both exceptional and welcoming. G/SN, BC (2021)


Peanut Butter and Jelly - Picture Books and Chapter Books


*Applegate, Katherine, Odder is a delightful tale about Odder, a playful, curious otter bitten by a shark. Her story was inspired by a program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that places orphaned pups with surrogate mothers who teach the pups to survive in the wild. The free verse language perfectly encapsulates the joy Odder feels when playing in water and the importance of saving otters. Newbery winner Applegate is a treasure. PBJ/SN Ages 8-12

*Applegate, Katherine, The One and Only Ivan, This Newbery winner is the story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla, and his animal friends in a broken-down mall circus. Ivan works to save the newest resident and teaches us about honor, art, compassion, and kindness. Kids adore this book. PBJ/SN Ages 8-12 (2012)

+Hannah-Jones, Nikole and Watson, Renée, illustrated by Nickolas Smith, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water poignantly and proudly illustrates the origin story true for many Black Americans beginning in West Africa through the Middle Passage and enslavement to pride in resistance and accomplishments. The illustrations evoke the history, mood, and vibrancy of the words and incorporate West African scarification pattern motifs. PBJ/SN Ages 7-10 (2021)

+Haughton, Chris, Shh! We Have a Plan is a laugh-out-loud, repetitive story that my then five-year-old grandson loved reading aloud. Three hunters ineptly attempt to capture a sleeping bird and hilarity ensues. PBJ Ages 3-7 (2014)

*Kelly, Erin Entrada, Those Kids from Fawn Creek is another delight from the great Newbery winner. There are only twelve kids in the seventh grade at Fawn Creek and they’ve known each other all their lives. Nothing changes in their small Louisiana town until Orchid arrives. She’s lived in Paris and New York. What’s she doing in Fawn Creek? This novel exposes bullying and makes self-acceptance contagious. Buy it for someone you love. PBJ Ages 9-13

*Miller, Pat Zietlow, Be Kind follows a child who doesn’t know how to help when a classmate spills grape juice on herself. Showing that giving and empathy can make a difference provides a way for kids to explore the topic. This award winner is a perfect classroom addition. PBJ  Ages 3-6 (2018)

+Perkins, Mitali, illustrated by Khoi Lee, Bare Tree and Little Wind: A Story for Holy Week is a beautifully and authentically illustrated tale of a dying date tree and the “Quiet Man” celebrated with palm branches then hung on a cross. Little Wind protects the tree so it can birth seeds to spread far and wide. This is a measured and fresh interpretation of Holy Week. PBJ/SF Ages 3 - 8

*Warga, Jasmine, A Rover’s Story is a sweet, comforting, clever, and informative story about Res, short for Resilience, a Mars rover, and the NASA scientists who built him. Res is truly resilient and he displays human emotions that make him care about Fly, the drone helicopter that accompanies him to Mars. This lovely, poignant tale offers both knowledge and a caring story. As always, Jasmine Warga writes just what kids need and want to read. She’s a treasure. PBJ/SN Ages 8-13


Diet Coke and Gummi Bears - Books for Teens and Tweens including Young Adult Books


Cavallero, Brittany and Henry, Emily, Hello Girls tells the tale of Winona, the daughter of a beloved local weatherman who physically assaults her, and her best friend Lucille, who is dirt poor. The two escape their small town in search of Winona’s mother who may be alive despite what they’ve been told. Teens may enjoy this “Thelma-and-Louise” style romp. I chose it because I like Emily Henry, but I believe it is more suited to adolescents. DC Ages 14 and up (2019)

*Glock, Sophia, Passport is the true story of Sophia Glock’s transient childhood. Her parents were CIA officers and she went to high school in Central America where struggling to fit in was both unique to her situation and evocative of the universal teen experience. This graphic novel/memoir is gripping in its exploration of secrets, loyalty, and identity. DC/SN Ages 12 and up (2021)

+Huerta, Lizz, The Lost Dreamer is a fantasy inspired by ancient Mesoamerican mythology. Indir, a Dreamer who dreams truth, and Saya, a seer whose mother portrays Saya’s gifts as her own, search for meaning and truth in the first in a planned duology. Older teens will enjoy Huerta’s world-building and be able to understand why there’s violence. DC Ages 14 and up

+McFall, Claire, Ferryman is a fantasy romance tweens love. Originally published in Scotland in 2013, and recently published in the US, the love story is chaste and gentle. Dylan, a Glasgow teen dies in a train crash and enters a vast wasteland where wraiths try to capture her, but ferryman Tristan guides her to safety. Falling in love with Tristan is impossible or is it? The film starring Louis Partridge debuts soon. Carnegie medal nominee.  DC Ages 12-16 (2021)

*Sepetys, Ruta, I Must Betray You brings 1989 Romania and the cruelty of the Ceaușescu regime to life. Cristian is 17 and wants to be a writer but is forced to be an informant to save his family. Later he exposes the truth to the world and works for change with other youth. Brilliant! DC/PP/SN Ages 13 and up

*Smith, Tommie and Barnes, Derrick with illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile, Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice, a finalist for the National Book Award for Young Adults, this inspiring graphic novel/memoir shares the resilient childhood of 1968 Olympic medalist Tommie Smith and his focus on ways to fight against racial injustice in the United States. When he raised his fist on the Olympic podium in Mexico City, everyone saw it. Now teens and adults can learn more about this proud, religious, courageous man and the need to stand up for justice. The powerful illustrations portray his strength and help readers see the inequalities of the 1960s. DC/SF/SN, BC Ages 12 and up