OBSESSION WITH CHILDREN’S MYSTERIES

We all have guilty pleasures, delights which take our time. My obsession is for new Middle Grade mystery novels. My quest is to find not only the best of the genre; I want to be able to recommend them to children, parents, teachers and librarians. In fact, great middle grade mysteries should appeal to all of us.

To attract these readers, books should contain all the classic mystery elements with great plots offering clues worth pursuing; amateur detectives who are creative, authentic young people, relatable to all ages; and solutions that the young protagonists reach realistically without much assistance from adults. My ideal mystery won’t be too silly, too scary, or too fantastic. The newest trend in children’s mysteries blends genres adding thrilling plots, historical mysteries, and sometimes too many fantasy elements.

The list of the new 2018 titles is getting longer. Not all of these books appeal to me, but they may interest other readers. Please help me to find the best in this list from the first half of 2018. So far I have found only a few that grabbed me, drawing me in to read them in one long sitting. I will save the best for last. And I encourage you to decide.

Some titles are continuations of series, some are debuts, and some are not my style, but here they are. Which mysteries are the best of 2018?

Balliett, Blue: Out of the Wild Night(Scholastic, 2018) This book is a confusing ghost story. Why doesn’t the ghost narrator help the children solve the mystery? Such an unusual mystery from one of my favorite authors (Balliett wrote novels featuring Chicago young sleuths solving mysteries that involve famous art works.) This book is set on Nantucket Island among the graves and homes of present and former residents, with many twists from the ghosts which are ever present.

Freeman, Martha: Zap! (Simon & Shuster, 2018) This diverse book was recommended to me by another school librarian. Spanish is sprinkled throughout the books- context clues help. Homelessness, struggling families, and use of technology for good or ill all are present in this contemporary mystery that revolves around a city’s electrical blackout. Can Luis, Carlos, and Maura restore electricity and connectivity to their community while finding the culprits? Surprisingly strong language and hurtful dialogue from these middle school students although their problems are realistic and poignant. This book may take a second reading for me to assess its worth.

Ginns, Russell: Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans (Random House Children’s Books, 2018) Adventure, Mystery and Detective, Fantasy. This title includes puzzles, drawings similar to a graphic novel and fantastical comings and goings.

Grabenstein, Chris: Sandapalooza Shakeup(Wonderland series #3) (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2018) In this author’s goofy humorous tale, you will be visiting a familiar setting in Florida where a realistic competition between two hotels has guests guessing which place to stay. Do they want superior service, live entertainment or safety from thieves and bungling?

Weyr, GarrettThe Language of Spells (Chronicle Books, 2018) Would you like to read a book about a dragon and a young girl? The mystery begins in 1803 the year when dragons cease to be born. Maggie meets Grisha decades later in a historical, fantasy mystery that mirrors events in Nazi Germany. Let me know what you think.

The book I enjoyed the most is a sequel to The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. This 2015 bestseller for middle grade readers captured my attention. What bookworm wouldn’t love books about readers searching for clues to find hidden books in parks, bookstores and famous landmarks? Of course, there is always mystery when Emily and James with their family and friends follow clues to the solution. Bertman followed her debut story with #2 The Unbreakable Codeand #3 The Alcatraz Escape. I suggest reading all three in order, but if you are pressed for time, Bertman’s The Alcatraz Escape (Henry Holt and Co., 2018) will provide great entertainment as the children have grown, show their preteen realistic anxieties, and still manage to visit Alcatraz to strive to complete all the puzzles the inventor of the Book Scavenger games provides.

The following titles are still to be read to the end or are later 2018 releases.

Abbott, Tony: Denis Ever After (Katherine Tegan, July 24, 2018) Starred reviews in BL and PW. Read how a surviving twin and his friends solve the mystery of the other twin’s death when the parents are still mute and grieving,

Auxier, Jonathan: Sweep: The Story of A Girl and Her Monster (Penguin/ Random House, Sept. 2018) Historical fiction. Mystery or fantasy or both?

Cervantes, Angela: Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring (Scholastic, 2018) rec by One More Page booksellers. Looks short and well-developed.

Gibbs, Stuart: Waste of Space (Moon Base Alpha Series)(Simon & Shuster, 2018) Sci-Fi, Mystery…

Haddix, MargaretChildren of Jubilee(to be released) (Simon & Shuster, November, 2018)

Hale, Shannon and Dean: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious (Marvel Press) A format so different that I am having trouble relating. Maybe I am too old for modern, graphic novels…

Johnson, Varian: The Parker Inheritance (rec by Booklist Reader) (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018) I did not finish this book because the dialogue is stilted….

Lloyd, NatalieThe Problim Children(Katherine Tegen, 2018) [Seems like Lemony Snicket family so far, to me, but my 11-year-old niece wanted to read it!] Check out the spellings of the names of Problim family children!

Ray, AmitThe Mansion Mystery(the Sen Kids) (Independently published, 2018) Indian mystery, very short, mostly digital publishing. Brothers in Kolkata, India, solve a mystery in their home.

Sands, Kevin: Call of the Wraith (Book 4 of Blackthorn Key series, (Aladdin, Sept. 2018)

Sedgwick, Julian: The Wheel of Life and Death (Mysterium, 3) (Hatchette UK 2014 and Carolrhoda, US, 2018)

      Happy reading in Summer of 2018!

 

 

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FAVORITE NEW AND CLASSIC CHILDREN’S MYSTERIES

I love reading children’s fiction and especially mysteries.  Why?

Like most of us mystery readers and writers, as a youngster when I became bored with Dick and Jane, Spot and Fluffy, I started reading The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Vicky Barr (Air Stewardess), and other mystery series titles for children.  When I began to write my myself, I realized I knew mysteries and especially children’s mysteries better than most other genres.

Do you remember Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, and Trixie Belden? Few plots stayed with me, but one title was memorable. The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May prompted me to beg my mother for a baby sister when I was ten and then eleven. Surprise! I do have a sister who is 12 years younger than me. (I found out recently that my favorite Bobbsey Twins’ book was highly regarded by the famous children’s author, Lois Lowry.  Read her The Willoughbys for allusions to many juvenile titles we all enjoyed).

Being a big sister made me want to grow up even faster and I began to read adult mysteries such as Perry Mason by Earle Stanley Gardner plus the MacDonalds, both Ross and John D., then I progressed to psychological thrillers such as Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.

After my children were born I volunteered in the school library where my hidden love emerged. I realized I always wanted to be a librarian:  to talk about and share books with readers of all ages. I obtained my MLS and realized my goal of being a children’s librarian in a public school in Montgomery County, MD, in 1992!

Now the titles we have available are not as formulaic as the early mystery series were written. If you haven’t read books for this age, you are in for a treat. Clues, red herrings, and meaty plots with unique characters are found in every bookstore and school library.

Where to begin? One of the standard classic children’s mystery novels, a Newbery medal winner, is The Westing Game. Written in 1978 by Ellen Raskin, I haven’t read it yet.  Here are Raskin’s intriguing first lines: “The sun set in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!”

Speaking of children’s book awards, Joan Lowry Nixon won the coveted Edgar, given out by Mystery Writers of America membership, three times in the 1980’s with titles as varied as The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, The Séance, and The Other Side of the Dark.

Even in the 1970’s, children’s mystery authors were introducing diverse characters, which is the newest trend in children’s literature. Skip ahead to my time as a school librarian. Blue Balliett’s art mysteries set in Chicago grabbed me when I as an elementary librarian. learning the newest titles to share. I followed up her debut Chasing Vermeer (2004) reading the other three in her series about art heists solved by a multi-cultural group of pre-teens. Balliett’s mysteries include boys and girls from a middle school, their creative teacher, and a math game called Pentominoes. I cannot explain how these plastic pieces help one protagonist, Calder, but the author will make you understand why these manipulatives are central to solving clues.

Many mystery writers are now mixing genres, adding adventure, historical fiction, humor, and maybe some fantasy to their novels. Two examples of current titles I enjoyed in 2017 include Kate Milford’s sequel to The Greenglass House, The Ghosts of Greenglass House,  and a debut by Caroline Carlson called The World’s Greatest Detective. It would be a spoiler to mention which genres are mixed in these mysteries! I am proud to mention Carlson’s novel (and my grandson’s favorite detective novel) has been nominated for an Agatha this year!).

Chris Grabenstein’s fun series adds gaming and holograms as well as competitions to his Lemoncello Library books. Boys and girls compete in a modern-day Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like contest. Another great children’s mystery, recommended to me by my favorite mystery Indie bookseller, is The Book Scavenger. Do you know children who enjoy geocaching? Jennifer Chambliss Bertman combines the idea of searching for clues in geographic locations with the concept of book titles. The setting is everyone’s favorite: San Francisco. Think Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Allen Poe and Jack Kerouac. Children learn about these famous authors while reading Bertram’s books and scavenging along with the characters. I hear there is a great sequel to The Book Scavenger!

Another favorite author includes Mary Downing Hahn, a Children’s Book Guild member in the Washington, DC chapter. Her ghost stories are deliciously scary according to the students where I volunteer. They loved Took and One For Sorrow (2017). Sometimes Hahn adds time travel elements to her books. She won the Edgar Award for Juvenile mysteries in 2010 for Closed for the Season, now on my TBR list. I can recommend her earlier books such as The Doll in the Garden, Wait Till Helen Comes: a Ghost Story, and A Time for Andrew (especially appealing to guy readers.)

 How about contemporary topics introduced in a mystery?  Gordon Korman has penned a series which explains the complications of cloning in his Masterminds series. This intriguing set of books reminded me of Nancy Farmer’s science fiction mysteries, such as The Eye, the Ear and the Arm as well as The House of the Scorpion for YA readers.

Wesley King shared true-to-life experiences in a mystery featuring Daniel who suffers from OCD without a diagnosis. His Edgar, Silver Birch, and Bank Street Best Book of the Year awarded title, OCDaniel for high school students, provides a great adventure in eighth grade and on the football team with clues surprising even Daniel and his new friends. The author astonishes us when Daniel receives an unsigned note which reads,  “Help me.” I agree with the Booklist starred review that OCDaniel, “a perceptive, first person narrative is sometimes painful, sometimes amusing, and always rewarding.”  The mystery sneaks up on the reader as “a bonus” to this unusual novel which will appeal to older middle schoolers and high school readers.

If you readers enjoy pets in your novels, try Spencer Quinn’s series about Bowser and his owner Birdie. Quinn’s adult series about Bernie, the dog, will remind you of the author’s  fun and unique technique of solving mysteries when the main detective’s sidekick cannot “speak” out loud. Another Agatha nominated author in other years, Quinn has written Woof (2015), Arf (2016) and Bow Wow (2017) in the Birdie and Bowser series.

The Harlem Charade is a children’s mystery debut nominated this year for an Agatha. Natasha Tarplay, author of I Love My Hair, creates a contemporary mystery with diverse young protagonists: a homeless boy, a Hispanic girl living above a bodega, and a secretly rich female friend, all of whom find community spirit along with Harlem’s art history. (By the way, Gordon Korman provided his “thumbs up” blurb on the cover of this new book as he complimented the twists and pacing of Tarplay’s novel.

When I don’t read mysteries, I love historical fiction. York: The Shadow Cipher (Book 1) by Laura Ruby is a distinctive NYC historical mystery. Beginning in the 1800’s with a prominent fictional family, the action moves into the present. I cannot even describe the elevator in the current family’s historic home. You will have to discover the fantastic way the contemporary twins leave their apartment to solve this intriguing family mystery.

What is my conclusion?  SO MANY BOOKS; SO LITTLE TIME!

I am looking forward to meeting and greeting new and old author friends at Malice Domestic 30, a great fan conference in Bethesda, MD at the end of April. One new mystery author I just met online is Cindy Callaghan, whose novel  Sydney Mackenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead, a 2017 Agatha nominee for best children’s mystery, I found very appealing for the middle grade audience.

I urge you to find time for these titles, many of which can be read in one to two days. Check out the mystery award lists for new favorites. You won’t be disappointed at the variety and the craftsmanship of the children’s mystery authors.

I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana to a reading and writing family. MY grandfather published two books and a play; my mother was the women’s editor and later one of the first city editors of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in the 1950’s and 1960’s; and my uncle wrote for The Stars and Stripes. Our grandsons love to read and write mysteries, too. After retiring from a school librarian position in 2007 at an elementary school where I taught Marcia Talley’s grands, this school librarian was encouraged by Kathy Harig of Mystery Loves Company Bookstore and author Marcia Talley to attend Malice Domestic!

www.BESTBOOKSBYBETH.COM for more recommendations of children’s literature

 

HAPPY READING IN 2018!!

 

 

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Reading, ‘Riting and Rumination

When you spend your year reading more than one book a week (novels, book club books, and children’s mysteries), they sometimes blend into each other.

When you begin a book, reading like a writer, the fun can evaporate.

When you find a book you must share with someone you know will appreciate the mystery, humor, the thrill of the writing, the plot, and the characterization, you keep savoring that gem.

When all those feelings emerge as you are on your reading challenge, your own writing, including your blog, suffers.

2017 was a whirlwind of reading and sharing books. I searched for memorable children’s mysteries and adult novels to sink into and share with others. Conferences, workshops, book clubs and critique sessions gave me ideas for my own writing and blog post surfing provided great writing advice.

Ok, Beth, stop ruminating and share!  The five best children’s mystery novels I read:

  1. The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
  2. Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarplay
  3. First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
  4. Vanished! by James Ponti
  5. The Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Those exemplary novels will appeal to children ages 8-12. Additionally, I read a few YA novels for 13-18 year old readers. I recommend The Shadow Cipher (York #1) for both ages, The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein and Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman.

Cannot end this post without some honorable mentions. Your students and grandchildren will enjoy Tom Angleberger’s Inspector Flytrap: The Goat Who Chewed Too Much, One for Sorrow, a deliciously scary ghost story by Mary Downing Hahn, Yours Truly by Heather Frederick, Masterminds: Payback by the prolific Gordon Korman, and Spy School: Secret Service by Stuart Gibbs.

Now I can concentrate on Cosy mysteries nominated for Agatha awards along with adult thrillers and literary fiction!

Happy Reading in 2018!

 

 

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Writing, Writing, Writing

This month of June I have pledged myself to write each day and submit a story, essay, poem or chapter each week.  So the blog is going to suffer this month.

I am still reading many mysteries, both adult and children’s titles. Ask me for a recommendation in the comments below if you are looking for a great title for fun

summer reading.

Happy Reading in Summer of 2017!

Challenge yourself.

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Another World: Children’s Lit

For the first months of 2017, I was immersed in reading children’s books.  They soothe my soul; they provide mentoring for my own writing; and I have the opportunity to share the best with my blog readers. 2016 provided a variety of excellent children’s titles, but I am most excited about sharing the best nominees of Easy Readers and Early Chapter books.  What a surprise when I met prize-winning authors in competition with new authors.

The creativity of well-illustrated books with original texts was obvious in this judging assignment.  Mo Willems and Kate DiCamillo were nominated in this eclectic mix of 10 titles for me to choose the “Best Of,” as shared with children’s bloggers in CYBILs (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards). I was honored to be among teachers, parents, and fellow bloggers led by the creative Jodie Helliker Rodriquez, whose “Growing Book By Book” blog has always amazed me with her own creativity and sharing.

Wait until you get the winning book for Early Chapter Books in your hand.  It is appealing from the cover illustration featuring Mango Allsorts and her new pet. Look for a black and white and lavender cover!  Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig begins a new series by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy.  What originality!  Faber’s endearing new character Mango Allsorts finds a Malaysian tapir stuck in the middle of a traffic jam. The setting is a busy city and Mango, on her own most of the time, discovers a strange sight as she walks home from karate class.  It’s “not a pig” is lying down on the busy street camouflaged in the white stripes of the highway!  This book of four experiences with new friends, Mango and her tapir Bambang, is difficult to describe. It would not be the same without the original illustrations by Vulliamy.  I want to purchase all the Mango books in the series. Each new book uses a different palate than the original lavender highlighted in this debut.

Mo Willems’ titles turned out not to be written by him.  Remember Go Dog Go, the P.D. Eastman title confused as a Dr. Seuss favorite?  That little Cat in the Hat in the corner of the cover made readers think we had another Seuss winner.  Of course, Eastman had his own classic even with “I Can Read It All By Myself” series stamp on the corner of the cover. Mo Willems did the same thing, adding his name to the title page of a book series called “Elephant and Piggy Like Reading! Despite the appealing title, We are Growing  and  The Cookie Fiasco  were not my favorites. Check them out from your library and see if you agree.

In the category of Easy Readers I discovered Snail and Worm: Three Stories about Two Friends by Tina Kugler!  This debut title is definitely an easy book for new readers.  The illustrations are delightful.  Kugler’s characters share values of friendship, pride and understanding.  Her tongue-in-cheek pictures with Snail and Worm’s animated and inanimate friends will resonate with her intended audience.  Repetition in the text will help these readers. This book was the winner for the Easy Reader judges from CYBILS nominees for 2016.

My second favorite Easy Reader is a longer story. The Infamous Ratsos by Kara La Reau is at first funny, cute and endearing when the Ratso brothers try to be tough like their single Dad.  I can see why it was nominated by the CYBILs first round of judges.  Readers will identify with the bullying scene, the plans to be mischievous, and the bonding with the father.  At the second reading I wasn’t certain if parents reading with their children would find the situations funny.  Who is going to buy this book?  We judged it too long for early readers; still reluctant older readers may enjoy the high jinx of these rat hoodlums.  There is a lesson by the end and the main characters all learn that being bad is not good!

Kate Di Camillo’s latest entry in the Early Chapter books category was a fun read.  She writes about neighbors of the popular pig Mercy Watson.  Baby Lincoln and her aged sister Eugenia are unusual characters introduced in Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? Adults will understand Lucille’s need for a “necessary journey,” but I am uncertain whether children ages 6-9 will find these strange characters engaging.  DiCamillo is an expert in plot, dialogue and voice, as well as a challenging vocabulary.  This title didn’t spark my interest as much as Faber’s Mango and Bambang  book did.

What children’s books do you recommend from your reading in 2016?  As usual, your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Happy Reading in 2017!

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Read. Review. Recommend.

The first book I completed read in 2017 kept me reading so that I wanted to finish it in one sitting.  Instead of staying up all night as I wished to do, I relished each scene and word, stretching out my reading to two days.  The language is authentic teen speech which resonates for any age.

Have I grabbed your attention?  Guitar Notes by Mary Amato begins with a perfect title and cover.  Don’t you love language with two meanings?  You know this book is about a guitar player, probably a teen, and guitar music has notes.  Notes also mean communications between friends.  Paper messages, texts, or voice mails can also be short notes between the main characters- one who is almost perfect and one who has no friends. How Amato brings them together over a guitar is masterful.

How do I decide who will want to share this book?  A teen, a singer, a parent who needs to understand teen angst?  They will all enjoy it!

What a great title to begin my reading challenge of 2017.  I will be reading many easy readers and early chapter books for my assigned judging project with CYBILs, helping to choose the best of 2016.  Guitar Notes was a delightful start to my reading with a Meaty book offering genuine Language.  (Check out the CAMEL reading rating in my previous blogs.) Since Mary Amato is a local author writing about Maryland, this book also fits the setting rating, too.  (E=Exceptional time and place)

Happy Reading in 2017!  Find your own reading challenge and enjoy every word.

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Author Crushes

I have a new author crush every week.  How about you?  Do you fall in love with authors you meet from friend’s recommendations and from the new books at the library?

My latest crushes are for middle grade authors Gordon Korman and Mary Amato!  Korman was recommended to me by a new reading friend when she heard I was looking for examples of dialogue from a boy’s perspective.  Both my grands are boys and I am writing several middle grade novels which my BETA readers call “girls’ books.”  I want to appeal to all genders, so I picked up Ungifted to hear a different POV on my way to meet friends for lunch 2 hours away.  Still driving last weekend, on the way to a children’s writing conference, I fell in love with Gordon Korman’s humor, character development and pacing. Ungifted is told from many different children and adults in school and home settings. What more could a reader and a writer hope to gain?  This week at the library, I picked up one more book by Korman, Schooled, and I am prepared to laugh and enjoy more of his multiple voice books. Readers of both genders and all ages can enjoy these books.

Mary Amato is a new author I met at the children’s writing conference.  What a find!  Her Our Teacher is a Vampire and other (Not) True Stories also was created with multiple characters’ voices.  Each of the students in Mrs. Penrose’s class adds letters and articles to a blank book Alexander received for his birthday.  The resulting novel is humorous and authentic, full of likeable middle grade protagonists (plus teachers and a librarian.)

An old flame grabbed me at the library:  Pam Munoz Ryan!  The Dreamer and Echo are different genres and interesting additions to her body of children’s stories that range from picture biographies to historical fiction.  I relished Riding Freedom, Mice and Beans, and When Marian Sang:  the True Recital of Marian Anderson.  In my latest read from Ryan, I discovered a fictionalized biography of the famous poet, Pablo Neruda, with illustrations by Peter Sis.  What a delightI discovered in The Dreamer and I await a different experience in Echo which is based on ancient folktales!  Many poems are added at the end of the book.  An intriguing idea they share with us lovers of children’s literature.

One more new find is Leah Pileggi, author of Prisoner 88.  I was looking for another book recommended by my ten-year-old grandson which had a similar title.  It is amazing to hear of 4th and 5th graders reading about prisoners, but they love the authenticity of these books.  Prisoner 88 is about a 10-year-old-boy who is the youngest prisoner in the history of Idaho’s Territorial Penitentiary.  In 1885 Jake has a rude awakening, as you can imagine.  Later in history, Yanek (Jack) becomes a prisoner in 10 concentration camps in Germany. He lived in a Polish Ghetto and then was imprisoned around 1939 for the sole reason that he was Jewish.  Prisoner B-3087 is the memoir of Jack Gruener, penned with his wife Ruth and Alan Gratz. These two historical fiction books are both survivor stories you will want to read.

If you are considering writing your own children’s books, I recommend you join me in a great organization:  the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Lin Oliver founded this organization and, as a realistic and personable speaker at the latest regional conference, she shared her passion and advice for us pre-published authors.  You may recognize Lin as co-author with Henry Winkler of the “Hank Zipser” series.  Thanks to Lin Oliver, I met many aspiring children’s authors, agents and editors.  Peer Critique advice was available and valuable.  New friends from my own state and region will be a fine addition for my writing friends’ network.

[Don’t forget that if you see any errors in my posts, please alert me.  A new writing friend wrote that Jane Eyre was written by Emily Bronte.  I am too embarrassed to let her know… Should I tell her.  What do you think?]

Happy Reading in 2016 and Love from Best Books By Beth!

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Links I Love

What makes me happy?

Not writing or blogging usually.  Getting new ideas delights me, but what to do with these ideas?

 Reading about new books!  That’s the best news I read all week! 

Sharing new titles makes me delirious!

 Now I just have to put these ideas into the book I’m writing.

 And I have to share with you the newest book titles I’ve read or plan to read soon.  So here I am writing…and reading so many blogs that I want to share with you. 

 These blogs are the links I love! Check out BrightlyThisKidReviewsBooksMomTrends, SunlitPages, WhatDoWeDoAllDaywww.amongstlovelythings.com, House Full of Bookworms, and Peggy Eddleman.

 I buy, rent, borrow, and download new books each week from the library, Amazon, Kindle, Indie Bookstores and from my several book clubs.  Prizes will be offered to you, my first commenters who write to me requesting a picture book, a middle grade book, or a YA book.  My book shelves and tables and desks are overflowing.  All you have to do is follow me and comment below.  Just ask for the type of book you want for a prize!

 

Happy Reading in 2016

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CHALLENGING BOOKS

Challenging Books

I love finding reading challenges such as Good Reads and one shared on Facebook by reading teachers.  My own personal goal for 2016 is 75 books.  One fun Reading Challenge of 2016 reminds us of the interesting categories of books we could choose to reach our reading goals.  For those readers who find a large number unattainable this year, you will love the 12 book categories of the Reading Challenge and the 30 categories of a children’s summer challenge to help you choose your next great read.

What do you do when you cannot find the “next great read”?  I go to the 12 category Reading Challenge of 2016 and try to remember those books which

  • Intimidate me
  • Were written in 2016, or
  • One written before I was born!

In fact, I read several books this past month that I had picked up and put down several times, because they were “Challenging books” in genres I don’t usually choose to read.

I hope you are now intrigued to find out books I found intimidating.  The Thirteenth Tale beckoned to me from the Audio book section of my public library.  Two narrators were listed on the cover and the summary was partially hidden from view.  So I tried this gem which I had abandoned in 2010.   Jill Tanner and another reader made me listen every time I hopped in my car.  The only problem was not being able to jot down the great reading and writing quotes. So I found a hardback copy of the book to re-read sections of this Gothic tale of a supremely dysfunctional family living in the moors like Wuthering Heights.  One memorable section was when the protagonist, a young biographer, became ill and her doctor asked her if she had been reading and re-reading Bronte and the like.  His prescription was to change reading habits.  What did he recommend?  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes!

Speaking of Gothic terrors, I also read a contemporary Gothic tale which takes place in a local neighborhood in Maryland.  Severna Park, MD is not what we would consider a scary place.  The setting of Devilish is not the usual one Lucia St. Claire Robson chooses for her historical fiction titles, so I was curious.  The red cover grabbed me; plus the uniqueness of a book with devils and writers and suburban housewives should draw readers who are looking for something new and humorous.  If you enjoy Janet Evanovich books, I think you will howl with the demons and sylphs and the main characters as they solve the mystery of how to rid their block of sneaky ghosts as well as save themselves from a serial killer with help of two handsome police.

What could top a book about devils and writers?  The Lives We Bury by Allen Eskers was recommended by a bookseller in Tampa, FL.  The foul language of a college student along with another dysfunctional family headed by an uncaring mother did not interest me at first, but I was hooked on “Challenging Books” for my reading in June.  My husband is the next to try this mystery which crosses genres with diverse characters and exceptional writing. Let me know what you think of this unusual contemporary thriller far different from the cosy mysteries I usually recommend.

Many mixed reviews, but mainly great ones highlighted book review literature in 2016 about The Nest.  Two recommendations by good reading friends encouraged me to read another tale of a dysfunctional family.  Why keep reading this one?  You will want to know what happens to each member of this family, hopefully so different from your own. The author sets up a great premise when she explains the inheritance four siblings expect to receive in the future when their youngest sibling reaches the age of 40.  The “nest” is what they call it their whole lives, but that inheritance is disrupted by unforseen happenings. Read Cynthia D’Apix Sweeney’s novel to find out how they learn to live with the changed circumstances of these usual and unusual lives.

Because I was tired of the same old themes of abandoning mothers and sulky teens, I read my friend Martha Crites’ debut mystery Grave Disturbance. When you meet Grace, a mental health evaluator, in the interesting setting of the Cascades foothills near Seattle, you have found a unique novel with diverse characters we hope to meet in a series about the people of the Pacific Northwest. Grace is not a detective by profession, but she takes the clues she finds and solves an unusual set of crimes to the setting and the characters in her world.

Another fascinating world is the arena of health clubs and the connection with deaf patrons and sign language interpreters in B. K. Stevens’ mystery Interpretation of Murder.  Lighter than the previous recommendations, B. K. (Bonnie) Stevens keeps you engaged in her story with reluctant sleuth Jane Ciardi, who will take any job from sign language interpreter to private detective assistant to waitress and even weekend office cleaner. Jane even learns martial arts, a new theme in Stevens’ books, to help her solve the crimes committed in the story.  I want to read more stories about this determined character as she tries to erase her debts and help anyone who needs her assistance.

 

Happy Reading in the summer of 2016!

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Filed under Adult Literature, Mystery, Reading challenges, Uncategorized

Book Clubs Take Many Forms

I have participated in several book clubs.  Some meet at friends’ homes, bookstores, libraries and online.  My latest was an entire conference of mystery writers.  Can you imagine the fun of being surrounded by mystery readers and writers, all of us fans of the cosy mystery stories? Everyone was friendly and welcoming because we all shared the love of mystery fiction and wanted to learn more about our favorite genre! Join us next spring for Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD.

After having met many authors online first, I was fortunate to meet more in person.  Ellen Byron, author of a new “Cajun mystery series” about a spooky B & B staffed by the Crozat family, brought props and everything Mardi Gras to remind us of her fun setting. Exciting clues will keep you guessing throughout her series.  Plantation Shudders is the first in the Cajun Mystery books, followed by Body in the Bayou to be released in the fall!  You will want to visit Cajun country after reading these novels!

Edith Maxwell writes 4 different mystery series.  I just finished her newest series debut book about a Quaker midwife in the time of the 1880’s. Delivering the Truth reveals the clues to the theme from a great cover.  Rose Margaret Carroll seems modern to today’s readers because the Friends Society encourages equality for all men and women. As a midwife, Rose is able to learn much about all the society in her hometown. She seeks the truth about victims and perpetrators.

Nina Mansfield intrigued me with her young adult debut Swimming Alone.  This fast-paced novel will keep you guessing this summer.  Go to the local bookstore and the beach with fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks to find the clues she and her new friends search to discover the Sea Side strangler!

Cooking and mysteries often go together. Maya Corrigan is an author from VA who combines them expertly and humorously.  Her book series offers a grandfather who wants to cook and assist his granddaughter solve local crimes.  The recipes at the back of the book offer you the chance to make some great treats! By Cook or By Crook is the first in her “Five Ingredient Mystery Series.”

My other love is plays and Cindy Brown drew me in with her new series of an actress who solves crimes unexpectedly!  Macdeath, the first in her series, was nominated for an Agatha Award for best first mystery.  The competition was fierce and I loved all the nominees in person and in print!

Historical mysteries might be your cup of tea, Agatha fans.  Try out Victoria Thompson’s “Gaslight series” which takes place at the turn of the 20th century.  I read three this spring starting with number one, Murder on Astor Place followed by Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (Agatha nominated title), and then Murder on Fifth Avenue.  Can you read them out of order?  Yes, Vicky, a delightful person, fills you in on the back story, but I know most readers like to read historical titles as they are released. There are a few plot lines you will want to follow in order.

Suspenseful cozies are becoming more popular. Hank Phillippi Ryan is bringing back her first protagonist Charlotte McNally this fall, but you may want to pick up her Jane Ryland titles The Other Woman, The Wrong Girl and What You See.  I love the puns and double entrendre in her titles! Be prepared for fast-paced plots with these investigative reporters who will remind you of this Emmy Award winning author.  Yes, Hank has won awards for her own journalism and for her books too.

Another new author I met is Martha Crites whose debut Grave Disturbance was recently nominated for a Nancy Pearl Award.  Be prepared to be scared by her realistic mystery set in the Seattle area.

My friends Marcia Talley and Sujata Massey, as well as Elaine Viets, are working on new titles set in Annapolis, India, St. Louis or Florida I hope to read in the fall when they are released. Check out your local independent book store for the latest from these fun authors.

Reading all these mysteries and more helped bring me out of a slump in finding fun books to enjoy.  Hope you discover some fun reading in this blog:  a new author, a new series, or a fun summer read!

Next post will feature literary fiction titles and will include Amazon links.

 

 

Happy Reading in 2016!

 

 

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Filed under Adult Literature, Award winning books, Book Clubs, Malice Domestic, Mystery, Uncategorized