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Honoring Romance Novelist Donna Kauffman

Bestselling romance novelist Donna Kauffman passed away on April 9 at the age of 60.  Alicia Condon, Kauffman's book editor, said, "Donna had a special gift for telling tender, uplifting stories while offering a uniquely insightful glimpse at the human condition,"  The prolific author of seventy novels also contributed a reality TV column to USA Today's Happy Ever After blog until 2015.

BookPage conducted an interview with Donna in 2018.

Read or listen to some of her books on Overdrive or Hoopla.

Crimson Lake

Full of suspense, suspicions, and mystery, Crimson Lake is a contemporary crime thriller set in a small town in Queensland, Australia. The complicated characters and thrilling storyline had me hooked.

This is the first in a series by Candice Fox. After I read Crimson Lake (2018), I picked up Redemption Point (2019), which did not disappoint. The third book, Gone By Midnight (2020), is next on my list.

Listen to the audiobooks of the Crimson Lake series via Hoopla today.




Series Spotlight: Owl Diaries

The Wingdale owl family (Mom, Dad, Eva, Humphrey and Baby Mo) live in a tree in, of course, Treetopolis. When Eva receives a new diary, she faithfully records all her adventures, concerns, problems, triumphs, and sadness in the diary.

Each of the 13 books (so far) in this series focus on one big event in Eva's world. The plots feature a mystery that Eva solves and most readers of this series will solve. Friendships, working together, and solving problems are what Eva and her friends do.

The digital illustrations are a major part of the storytelling. There are collage-like illustrations are on each page. The connection between image and words is very clear. It would be easy to extend activities by encouraging art projects.

The author uses clever references to owls: "What a hoot," "Anyhoot," "sticking her beak into my business," and Owliverse."Readers will enjoy searching for connections. Speech bubbles are used for dialog between characters.

These books by Rebecca Elliott have gentle plots, interesting characters, and are for readers beginning "easy readers." The first book is Eva's Treetop Festival (2015). Each book has 74 pages (Lexile 530-620). At the end of each book is, "How much do you know about…?" Questions follow and a final suggestion of further activities.

Many of the books in this series are available as e-books on Overdrive.

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Ask Again, Yes

In 1973, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are in training together to be New York City police officers. A couple of years later, they turn out to be next-door neighbors in the town of Gillam. However, Francis and Brian are not really friends. Still, Francis' youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian's son, Peter, have been close since they were born and share a deep bond. Eventually, a terrible act changes the relationships of the families forever, especially impacting Kate's and Peter's lives.

Ask Again, Yes (2019) tells the story of two families over many decades. Mary Beth Keane's book is a great read for book clubs and those who enjoy novels about family relationships. Looking for the next book to discuss with your group? Check out our lists.


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Series Spotlight: Eerie Elementary

Strange events are happening at Eerie Elementary School (note the name of the school). Third graders Sam, Lucy, and Antonio find themselves in very scary situations as they work together to keep the school safe from the evil Orson Eerie. Their job as hall monitors is to protect the students of Eerie Elementary School by using their magic sashes. Mr. Nekobi, the janitor, knows what is happening and why, and aids the children with clever ideas. Illustrations of Orson Eerie show that obviously he is a scary, evil man!

Children who can suspend disbelief, believe that the physical Eerie Elementary School is alive, who likes "scary" books, and who are ready for unusual adventures will enjoy this series. Start with The School is Alive! (2014).

Each of the 10 books in the Eerie Elementary series by Jack Chabert is 90 pages with black and white drawings on each page. It is clear from the covers that the books are scary, strange, unusual…for sure. The final page of each book has discussion questions and sometimes craft ideas. Lexile range is 430-600.



The Family Upstairs

Libby Jones has long known that when she turns 25, she inherits something from her birth parents' trust, but she is stunned to discover that it turns out a be a decaying mansion in one of the most expensive areas of London. It also is where her birth parents, Henry and Martina Lamb, died in a cult-like situation when she was ten months old.

The Family Upstairs (2019) recounts Libby's journey of discovering what happened in the family home all those years ago, interspersed with Henry Jr.'s retelling of the years when his family's status went from wealth and privilege to being prisoners in their own home. In the novel, the reader also meets Lucy, who lives a meager existence in France with her two children, but longs to get back to Britain, now that the baby (aka Libby) is now 25. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is a creepily unputdownable read. Perfect for those who love Ruth Rendell's psychological novels, Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent, and the books of Erin Kelly.

Series Spotlight: The Last Firehawk

Owls are determined to save their home – the island of Perodia – from the evil Thorn, a vulture who is destroying the island with the help of his army of tiger bats and prickle ants. Rivers are dry, trees are being destroyed, and no flowers are blooming. Heroes of this animal fantasy early chapter book are Tag, an owl who uses a magic map; Skyla, a squirrel who uses a slingshot; and Blaze, the last surviving firehawk who uses his wings. When Tag, Skyla, and Blaze are successful in the quest to find all the pieces of the ember stone, their home might be saved.

The first page of each book explains where Tag, Skyla, and Blaze are in their search for the ember stone so the books do not have to be read in order…but in order would be best. Start with The Ember Stone (2017).

A map of Perodia, which is a copy of the magic map used by Tag, is on the next page after the introduction. The reader will want to refer back to the map while reading the adventure. On the last page of each book are questions and activities suggestions, which will add to the enjoyment of the reader and extend their learning. Each of the 10 books (so far) in The Last Firehawk series by Katrina Charman are 90 pages. There are black and white illustrations on each page. Lexile range is 550-640.



The Dearly Beloved

In the 1950s, we meet four characters whose lives will be intertwined for the next 50 years. Charles is from a wealthy Boston family and the son of a Harvard professor. Lily's parents are killed when she is a teenager and their absence leaves a void inside her for the rest of her life. James grows up poor in Chicago, the son of an alcoholic. Nan is the daughter of a southern minister, and sees firsthand the inner workings of being part of a family where faith and helping others is an integral part of life.

When Charles and James decide to take jobs as the co-pastors of the Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village, the men, along with their wives, Lily and Nan, must live their lives amid the turmoil of the 1960s. They find their beliefs challenged by their circumstances and the other individuals in the quartet. In The Dearly Beloved (2019) by Cara Wall, the reader is immersed in the four characters' lives as revealed through moving, emotional writing.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates

Poor Penelope Rex. It's hard enough starting at a new school, but then to be told all of your classmates are children and that it's socially unacceptable to eat them? Well, those slobbered up kids aren't excited about their new dinosaur classmate, either. Ultimately, Penelope learns a very important lesson about making friends from the class goldfish, Walter: it isn't fun to be seen as someone else's snack.

Check out We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (2018), a 2020 Monarch Award Nominee, in print or digitally via Hoopla.


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Summer of ‘69

The Nichols/Foley/Levin/Whalen families have always spent summers on Nantucket with Grandma Nichols, their controlling matriarch. The summer of 1969 is a year of change, not only for our nation, but for this family. Many of its members are caught up in the history-making events of the time. Kate Nicholas Foley Levin started drinking heavily when her son Tiger was drafted into the Vietnam War. Oldest daughter Blair's husband is a professor working with NASA on the Apollo launch, while Blair, pregnant with twins, is bedridden. College student Kirby gets a job on Martha's Vineyard at the hotel where Ted Kennedy has a room the night of the Chappaquiddick incident. Youngest granddaughter Jessie stays with Grandma and uncovers family secrets.

Historical fiction at its best, in Summer of '69 (2019), Elin Hilderbrand weaves a great family story filled with secrets, romance, and numerous historical references.


The Right Sort of Man

In London after World War II, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge operate The Right Sort Marriage Bureau, which is a matchmaking service. When one of their clients, Tillie, is murdered, and Dickie, the man they set Tillie up with, is arrested for the crime, Iris and Gwen take it upon themselves to find the killer because they know Dickie is innocent. They also know the scandal of the crime could ruin their business. Luckily, Iris worked undercover during the war, and those skills come in handy, as can having a partner like Gwen, who also can think fast on her feet.

The Right Sort of Man (2019) is a breezy, cozy mystery with colorful characters. Allison Montclair's debut is excellent for people who enjoy Jacqueline Winspear, Susan Elia MacNeal, and Alexander McCall Smith.

The Bad Guys

I read this book in one sitting with a three year old: I'd call that an accomplishment and give a lot of that credit to author Aaron Blabey. We follow Mr. Wolf and his associates, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, and Mr. Shark, on a mission to turn around their longtime reputations as bad guys. They hit just a couple bumps along the way, but are determined to make amends.

This early chapter book is part of a series, so get caught up in Blabey's sketchy characters' silly escapades. The Bad Guys (2017) is a 2020 Monarch Award nominee, recommended for grades 2-4.


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Drawing Home

Penny lives with her mother, Emma, in the Hamptons and treasures her time with Henry Wyatt, a famous artist who has made Sag Harbor his home. When Henry dies and leaves his estate, most importantly, his home Windsong, to Penny, Henry's old friend, Bea, is furious. Years ago, she and Henry agreed that when he passed away, Windsong would be turned into a museum. Bea also wonders why Henry would give his estate to a teenage girl. Leaving Manhattan, Bea arrives at Windsong, vowing not to leave until the home is in her hands. Emma is not happy with Bea's appearance, but has her hands full. She is helping Penny manage her OCD, has a job at the American Hotel and must adapt to their newfound wealth.

Drawing Home by Jamie Brenner (2019) is the story of Emma, Penny, and Bea and how Henry's bequest changes their lives. It's a perfect read-alike for the novels of Elin Hilderbrand.

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And Then There Were None

In this classic British standalone mystery by Agatha Christie, eight people are invited to a mansion on an island near the coast of Devon, England. They are greeted by two staff, who tell them that the host has not arrived but has left instructions. One by one, they are murdered like the characters in the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians.

If you are looking for a book that is suspenseful, compelling, and has a baffling, clever plot, check out And Then There Were None.

After reading the 1939 book, check out the excellent 1945 movie of the same name.

Are You Scared, Darth Vader?

Fellow parents and Star Wars fans, this is sure to please! Adam Rex writes this book in a conversational style, so I highly encourage reading in your best Darth Vader voice for an extra fun experience. Parents (and Star Wars buff kiddos) will appreciate nods to the movies and characters throughout.

All in all, Are You Scared, Darth Vader? (2019) is a hilarious book with a special twist ending. So, are you ready to find out if there is actually something frightening enough to scare Darth Vader?

Check out this book in print or digitally via Hoopla.