The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot by Amy Poeppel

While not all the characters are likeable, at least at first, Lauren and Leo Shaw’s extended family are the heart of this contemporary novel. No one is the lead in this ensemble cast, as the point of view changes from revenge-seeking Melinda to social influencer Felicity to ceramic artist Lauren, then Lauren and Leo’s three hilarious children, her prickly mother, his biological father, and more. In addition, there’s a gerbil and a dog, a private school and a bar, The Sweet Spot, in the basement of the Greenwich Village brownstone that Leo and Lauren are living in. Their house is owned by Phillip, and still has all the 1970s décor that desperately needs updating. The group of characters, including Melinda’s ex-husband, all come together to take care of baby Horatio, also known as Hank. I laughed aloud several times, and read parts of it out loud to my family. I thoroughly enjoyed this chaotic and joyful novel. The library’s book group is discussing Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel on February 28, another up-lit novel.


Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story

Varina jacketVarina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story by Terri-Lynne DeFino

Four generations of an Italian American family in suburban New Jersey gather often for dinners at which the noise level is set at an 11, with frequent arguments between Varina’s grown children. Varina, 70, loves her family and the Italian grocery store she runs, but would like a calmer life that’s also more adventurous. Her mother Sylvia tries to set Varina up with suitable men yet ends up finding romance at 92 with a nice man who loves dancing, in the sweetest part of this engaging novel. Visiting a travel agency to book a European river cruise, Varina makes friends with Ruth, and enjoys her friendship more than the dinner dates she’s having. Son Dante remodels buildings with help from family friend Paulie, who has a crush on Dante. I really enjoyed Sylvia, Varina, and Paulie’s points of view, though not as much that of colorful and disruptive Donatella. Each chapter begins with a few Jersey Italian words and phrases, which slightly disrupted the flow of this otherwise compelling read. Adriana Trigiani is a good readalike author, and I’m strongly reminded of the movie Moonstruck.


The Inn at Tansy Falls

tansy falls jacketThe Inn at Tansy Falls by Cate Woods

London accountant Nell Swift has recently lost her best friend to cancer. Megan asks Nell to visit Tansy Falls, Vermont, where she spent summers growing up, and follow a two-week itinerary taking Nell to all of Megan’s favorite places and people. Nell, who works from home and never really got over a bad breakup, dislikes adventure and meeting new people, but agrees to Megan’s last request. Tansy Falls, in late winter mud season, amazes Nell, despite some weather-related mishaps, and she finds the people of Tansy Falls mostly quite friendly. Nell learns more about Megan, and despite missing her dog Moomin, wishes she could start over in Vermont. Reading this heartwarming contemporary novel is like drinking hot cocoa–very comforting. Readalikes include The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler, Book Lovers by Emily Henry, and books by Abbi Waxman.


Small Game

small game jacketSmall Game by Blair Braverman

Do you have what it takes to survive months in the wilderness? What about a grueling reality television show? Blair Braverman explores both scenarios in “Small Game.”

Mara never set out to be a celebrity, yet she found herself cast in a survival reality show called Civilization, with four others who are desperate to win a million dollars. The gist of the show is that five strangers turned teammates will need to survive in the wilderness with limited supplies and no modernized technology, for a whopping six weeks if they hope to win big. Mara’s parents raised her to live off of the land, which ultimately led to her career as a survivalist instructor, and consequently, she seems to have the game in the bag. That is, until strange events begin occurring, and Mara and the remaining contestants are left wondering how much of the show is fabricated, and what is truly at stake.

Survival and adventure novels are not the stories that I typically reach for, however, the reality television aspect drew me in. I’m so glad that it did, because I enjoyed this title immensely. Braverman’s prose is relatable (regardless of whether you’re a camping aficionado) and captivating, to the point where I wanted to consume the novel in one sitting. The well-developed and richly written cast of characters includes LGBTQIA+ representation, which plays a small role throughout the plot. Quickly paced, “Small Game” brings suspense, while raising existential questions and themes that left me reeling long after turning the last page.

Readalikes include “Patricia Wants to Cuddle” by Samantha Allen, “The Last One” by Alexandra Oliva, and “The River at Night” by Erica Ferencik.


Lucy Checks In

lucy checks in jacket

Lucy Checks In by Dee Ernst

With over twenty-five years’ experience working in hotels, Lucy Gianetti is unexpectedly jobless after her boss (and boyfriend) embezzled pension funds from the New York City hotel she managed. Her only job offer as hotel manager is in Rennes, Brittany, in northwest France. When Lucy arrives at the Hotel Paradis, there are no rooms ready for guests. Some of the partners and future staff live in the hotel’s stable block, and Lucy’s suite doesn’t have dishes, glasses, a comfy chair or even a hook for her toiletry bag. She soon discovers that there is plenty of furniture, linens, and artwork well kept in storage. At least the café across the courtyard serves delicious meals. Raoul will replaster all of the guest rooms while Lucy, with the aid of smart aleck Bing, is expected to paint them. Resident Vera sews gorgeous curtains, another gardens, the chauffeur agrees to have his car spiffed up, and the hotel gradually comes together as Lucy also learns to build a website, then finally hires more staff. As she once worked in Montreal, Lucy’s French is pretty good and improves quickly. After the hotel opens to guests, Lucy settles into life in Rennes, and enjoys a growing friendship with talented artist Bing, until some family drama threatens to derail her happiness. Northwest France is beautifully described, and I found it refreshing to have a middle-aged main character. I enjoyed this upbeat, witty and humorous novel with a bit of romance.


Marple: Twelve New Mysteries

marple jacket

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries

A well-written short story can make for a very satisfying one sitting read. If you like traditional mysteries with a variety of mundane and exotic settings and time periods from 1930s to the 1970s, this collection is a fine choice. Agatha Christie’s iconic amateur sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, solves new mysteries in short stories by twelve acclaimed women authors, including Ruth Ware, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, and Leigh Bardugo. Miss Marple travels to Hong Kong, Italy, and New York City, and investigates crimes at a vicarage and at Christmas, sometimes finding the culprit surprisingly close at hand. If you fancy new Hercule Poirot tales, try Sophie Hannah’s four new mysteries, beginning with The Monogram Murders.


The It Girl

it girl jacketThe It Girl by Ruth Ware

Dark academia meets psychological suspense in Ruth Ware’s latest hit, The It Girl.

Hannah seems to have it all; a loving husband, a cozy job, and a baby on the way. Despite that, she is still haunted by the murder of her roommate April Clarke-Cliveden, ten years prior, as she was the one to discover April’s lifeless body in their dormitory at Oxford University, and immediately pointed her finger at the creepy and seemingly predatory staff member she had seen exiting the stairwell to their room. The staff member in question, John Neville, was ultimately charged and convicted in the death of the university student as a result of Hannah’s testimony, and spent the rest of his life in prison. Upon his passing in jail, interest in the case is instigated again and a member of the press isn’t completely convinced that John was actually guilty. Hannah is racked with worry and guilt when presented with clues that may prove the convicted man’s innocence. While stirring up decade old issues and rivalries amongst her friends from university, she proceeds on a mission to uncover what really happened that fateful evening, to the reluctance of those surrounding her. The drama doesn’t cease there though, as Hannah’s husband, Will, was dating the beautiful and poised Miss Clarke-Cliveden at the time of her strangulation.

Ware blends complex and well-developed characters as well as an engrossing setting to create a compelling read. By featuring dual timelines that are delineated as “Before” and “After,” readers are taken on a suspenseful journey to figure out who the real culprit is, alongside the story’s protagonist. While written with intensifying pace, “The It Girl’” is quite lengthy (at 420 pages) due to the amount of detail that Ware provides.

Readlikes include The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn and The Maidens by Alex Michaelides, with readalike authors being Paula Hawkins and B.A. Paris.


The Light We Carry

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The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama

In this engaging memoir, the former first lady shares inspiring and funny stories, and explores her toolbox of techniques and strategies she uses to cope and thrive during challenging times. While Michelle is very accomplished as well as famous, in other ways she’s just like many of us. She’s a worrier, is not naturally self-assured, and occasionally says things she wishes she hadn’t, and dislikes change.

Full of anecdotes about herself and her family, I especially enjoyed reading about Marian Robinson, Michelle’s mother. Marian is best known for moving to the White House with the Obamas to be there for young Malia and Sasha. Practical and down-to-earth, she encouraged Michelle and her brother Craig to become self-sufficient as soon as they started school, but she was also an active listener whenever her children needed to talk, and told them (especially when having issues with teachers or other kids) that they would always be liked at home, and calms Michelle when she frets too much, even today.

Michelle shared that Barack is still not punctual and tends to work too hard. She often encourages him to take time to relax. Their two girls are now grown and sharing an apartment in Los Angeles, where they have finally learned to use coasters under cold drinks. Barack sent them information about earthquakes, and offered to have a government official give Malia and Sasha a briefing on earthquake preparedness (that they politely declined), which I thought was charming.

I suspect that Michelle is a champion list maker; how else could she accomplish so much? She shares that she still has two staffers to help her with her schedule and travel, and thanks those she has worked with in the White House and at the Obama Foundation. During the early part of the pandemic, Michelle taught herself to knit in order to relax, and has already learned to knit sweaters.

Part of the toolbox that she shares includes how to be comfortably afraid, and why being well prepared comes in handy when you’re giving a convention speech and two of the three screens aren’t working. She plans ahead, organizing get-togethers with her friends, old and new. Michelle also talks about coping with feeling “other” or different. For her, it wasn’t being a smart black girl that was so hard when she was growing up; it was being tall. Later, it was being a woman, and then being a famous black woman. Resilience and perseverance were helpful.

I haven’t read her 2018 memoir, Becoming, but if you did, you’ll most likely enjoy reading this book. Throughout The Light We Carry, Michelle is encouraging, inspiring, surprisingly relatable, full of hope and frequently funny.


The Measure

measure jacket

The Measure by Nikki Erlick

This compelling first novel asks a challenging, life-changing question. What if every adult could learn the length of their life? How would our priorities change? In the opening pages, all adults receive a box containing information that can measure their lifespan. There are no instruction, no proof, just the boxes. Suddenly, nothing else seems to matter.

Do we want to know? What if our partner will have a longer or shorter life than ours? Support groups are formed for those with shorter measures, and the story follows the eight members of one group, along with their family members. While the effects on society are not dystopian, they are significant, though everyday life continues. Can scientists or doctors have any effect on the measure? What if someone lies about their measure? Some people, predictably, leave their jobs to travel. Others consider whether or not to marry, or to have children. While this is definitely a thought-provoking novel, it’s also an engaging, and occasionally heartwarming read.

Readalikes include In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.


Daisy Darker

daisy darker jacketDaisy Darker by Alice Feeney

Fans of Agatha Christie’s  And Then There Were None, rejoice! Alice Feeney takes readers on a tense and tumultuous journey with this modern twist on a murder mystery classic.

Daisy Darker tells the twisted tale of the Darker family, who gather on a tidal island in Cornwall, United Kingdom, to celebrate the birthday of their beloved, if not eccentric matriarch. The party, which falls on Halloween and Nana’s eightieth birthday, proceeds as smoothly as can be expected for this dysfunctional clan until they begin to be murdered, one by one every hour, starting at midnight with the aforementioned matriarch and birthday girl. Adding to the suspense and unease is a raging storm that leaves the family stranded at Nana’s sprawling seaside mansion until morning. Seemingly no one in this deceitful crew is safe, as everyone from Daisy Darker herself to the pianist prodigy father has secrets to hide, even from those they are supposed to love the most.

Feeney expertly concocts an immersive and atmospheric setting by featuring a unique landscape and utilizing descriptive language. Said captivating language contributes to the visceral feeling of unease that readers are likely to endure, while turning page after page, as alluring settings are an Alice Feeney staple. This title is one of her more memorable works, and is chock-full of complex characters that are well-developed, snarky, and unreliable, which make the mystery all that more intriguing and onerous to solve. Told from the perspective of the title’s namesake, Daisy Darker combines short chapters, dramatic flashbacks, and an intricately crafted storyline, to leave readers feeling haunted and eager to discover who the most dangerous Darker really is.

Readalike titles include One by One by Ruth Ware,  An Unwanted Guest by Shari LaPena, and They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall.