Category Archives: Award winning books

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

My Reading Challenge for 2016

My Reading Journal is full of titles I want to read this year.  My goal is 75 books of all genres including children’s literature.  That goal was set at the New Year on Goodreads, but I am excited about a newer reading challenge that appeared on Facebook in two places.  I have been joining other reading and writing blogs for two months and I discovered a fun one called Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Of course, the title grabbed me immediately because my daughter and I are huge Jane Austen fans.

Want to hear about this fun Reading Challenge for 2016?  You only need to read 12 books per year! I plan to expand on the titles I read but I want to share the 12 categories which are intriguing.  For a mystery lover, I find I will have to do some sleuthing in the library and pick my own brain to come up with the titles which match the categories.  Here are the celebratory ideas some creative readers have shared with us (BTW, the order is arbitrary).

  1. What is a title of a book that you should have read in school.  (this category is my hardest to choose.)
  2. Choose a book you can read in one day!
  3. Read a book recommended by a librarian or bookseller.  ( I am compiling the ones I read in 2015 to match these categories, too, just for fun.)
  4. Choose a book recommended by a spouse, a sibling, your child or your BFF.
  5. Re-read a book you have read already at least once.  (What fun to re-discover a fav.)
  6. Read a book you have abandoned.  (You may want to write notes in your journal telling why you abandoned the book and what you think now.)
  7. Find a book to read that was written before you were born.
  8. Can you read a new book published in the current year?
  9. Check out a list of banned books and read one you never read.
  10.  Choose a book that has always intimidated you.  (Ulysses by James Joyce, anyone?)
  11. Look on your shelf at home for a book you own and have never read.  ( A treasure!)
  12. Read a book you have always been meaning to read.
If I had been creating this challenge, I would add a few more categories, such as
  13. Read a new book by a favorite author.
  14.  Choose a children’s classic to read.
So far in 2016 I have completed eleven adult books, with two fitting on the MMD challenge.  Jump Cut by Libby Fischer Hellmann was just published this month and available at Amazon.com.  I highly recommend Libby’s thriller for its fast-paced contemporary style.  Elle Foreman, a continuing character in one of her series, has a fascinating job as a film editor.  She discovers a mystery while handling a large project for her editing firm.  Who is that mysterious man who shows up at the film site and freaks out one of the clients when his face is seen on the video? Read Jump Cut to see.  I was fortunate to read and advance reader copy and review this gem on Amazon.
The second book I love to add to my 2016 Reading Challenge is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This non-fiction title was the subject of a great TED talk: it was recommended by readers at my local library’s Book Lover’s Book Club,  held at my local library with no assigned reading choice.  That meeting is sponsored by my local library director, Michele Noble, a great source for ecletic titles.
In addition to my adult reading, I have started to read nominees for Malice Domestic Agatha Award for the category of children’s and YA mysteries.  I completed Woof by Spencer Quinn.  He writes novels with dog characters for adults and children.  If you are a dog lover, you will love the tale of Bowser and Birdie, a mystery which will remind you of Kate di Camillo’s Because of Winn Dixie (a Newbery winner).  My favorite genre of children’s literature is usually middle grade mysteries, so I have four more checked out from the library waiting for me to tackle.
The To Be Read list is growing, providing me with fun leisure time and I hope more reviews to share with you this winter.
I mentioned book blogs and I will share some links to some more entertaining book blogs in my next post.  Please remember to follow me, send comments and tell your friends about BESTBOOKSBYBETH.com
Happy Reading in 2016!

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Filed under Adult Literature, Award winning books, Book Clubs, Children's Literature, First Novels, Malice Domestic, Mystery, Reading challenges, reading journals

FRIENDSHIP

Books are my best friends. They help me travel, have adventures, fall in love, understand others, and escape to a place where no one is my critic! Just recently I was reunited with a college friend, a fourth grade teacher who joined me at a charity book buying venue. We had such fun choosing books we both loved for her classroom library.

Then, just this week, I found a new blog site to recommend to you for the very same purpose. Find http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/ which shares book lists for parents and teachers and lovers of children’s books. Erica’s categories are easy to navigate for book choosing at the library or your favorite Independent bookstore. I highly recommend her site which I discovered from a new author who mentioned it on Facebook. Thank you to Arti Agarwal Sonthalia for introducing me to this book blog. She mentioned Erica’s list called “10 Picture Books that Nurture EMPATHY.” I was familiar with many titles, but some were new to me. “19 Book Series for kids who like MAGIC TREE HOUSE” is another with popular books to befriend.

What books have I been reading?  By Andrea ChengThe Year of the Book by Joan Bauer Squashed, by Beverly A. Ferber Julia’s Kitchen,  by Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family, by E. L. Konigsburg, The View from Saturday and a new, young author Dania Ramos’s Who’s Ju? are my newest friends. Who’s Ju? (The 7th Grade Sleuths) (Volume 1) Each book deals with friends and quarrels among friends and each one creatively and uniquely solves the problems children face as they grow up trying to learn who they want to be. I almost forgot my newest friend who is an author of many middle grade fiction books. Read Frances O’Roark Dowell to find more authentic characters who will appeal to middle grade readers. New writers will gain insights into the craft of writing for upper elementary students by reading this diverse group of titles.

Better return to my own writing where I am attempting to create characters who you will want as friends. Thank you for any suggestions and comments to make this blog more meaningful for you as a reader for your own pleasure or for the books you select for others. Check out reviews on Amazon and find the links for purchasing yourself.  Follow me and my fellow bloggers.

Happy Reading in 2015!

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Filed under Award winning books, Children's Literature, First Novels, Mystery

MYSTERY IS COMPANY!

 

At the beginning of May, I was fortunate to attend a conference called Malice Domestic where I was in the “company” of my favorite mystery authors.  Fans are very welcome to attend this annual conference in Bethesda, MD, and we were able to vote for our favorites to win the Agatha Awards. Here are some books I recommend to keep you “company” next month.  Go to Kathy Harig’s independent bookstore, Mystery Loves Company, online (www.mysterylovescompany.com ) or in Oxford, MD to order your copy of these entertaining books.

One nomination for an Agatha Award for the best children’s or young adult mystery was Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Greenglass HouseI met Ms. Milford at the Annapolis Book Festival on Saturday, April 25, 2015.  Ms. Milford won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for this exciting mystery for older elementary readers.

Another mystery in the juvenile category is Penny Warner ‘s Code Busters Club #4: The Mummy’s Curse which won the Agatha Award for best juvenile mystery this year.The Code Busters Club, Case #4: The Mummy’s Curse  I also enjoyed Andi Under Pressure by Amanda Flower. (Readers from 7 to 11) Andi Under Pressure (An Andi Boggs Novel)

Ready for some Adult suggestions?  Adult Agatha winners I chose include Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan Truth Be Told: A Jane Ryland Novel for best contemporary mystery, Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen Queen of Hearts (A Royal Spyness Mystery)for best historical, and Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey by Hank Phillippi Ryan, Editor for the best non-fiction mystery title of 2014.

The panel discussions with these writers and Margaret Maron, author of Designated Daughters,Designated Daughters (A Deborah Knott Mystery) the 18th in the Deborah Knott series, highlighted other authors I love.   Shawn Reilly Simmons, author of the “Red Carpet Catering Mysteries,” ably moderated one of the discussions.  Her light mysteries feature Penny Sutherland, a head chef on movie sets.  The setting is intriguing and I look forward to reading more of her mysteries in the future.  Read Murder on the Red Carpet to be introduced to the cast of characters in Simmons’ series.Murder on the Red Carpet (The Red Carpet Catering Series Book 1)

GM Malliet writes a different type of cosy mystery (A Demon Summer) , set in Great Britain, starring Max Tudor, a former MI 5 agent who changes his vocation to become an Anglican priest.  Romance, humor and suspense are present in these ecclesiastical mysteries.  Malliet has been compared to authors Louise Penny, Tara French, and Deborah Crombie, with Charlaine Harris weighing in with her own recommendation.

I missed saying hi to authors Marcia Talley, Sujata Massey, and Elaine Viets, but I was greeted by Hank Ryan who told a funny story about Stephen King, the down-to-earth writer and winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for 2014.  Don’t miss Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King!

I am giving you the Amazon links to these titles.  Use the links in blue to order these titles easily.

Happy Mystery Reading in 2015!

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Filed under Adult Literature, Award winning books, Children's Literature, Malice Domestic, Mystery, The Mystery Writers of America

Characters You Want To Know: Part 1

“Never be without a good book” is a motto revealed to me, one I adopted many years ago.  Today, I plan to surprise you with book characters, originally written for children, but these are titles I love because the characters create empathy in us.

To put my suggestions in a framework, I will go back to CAMEL. We want to read books with complex characters, don’t we? Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper stars Melody, an eleven year old girl with a photographic memory.  Choosing Melody to narrate this book takes you into her mind for she cannot talk, walk, or write.  Wait a minute, you ask, how can she have a photographic memory when she is as described on the first page? How can she communicate with us, the readers, and with her family and friends?   She has cerebral palsy, is placed in special needs class, forever in her wheelchair.  Melody is a complex “Character You Want to Know!”  I will not tell you the plot of this human story, because you will want to see how it unfolds.

Although we sometimes read predictable novels while at the beach, still, for lasting impact, I think we want ambiguity in our reading choices.  Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a book I will re-read many times.  The books I have chosen for today’s post will help us to understand children who are different from the norm. Willow Chance, the character I want you to know, is a twelve year old genius who reveres the number 7.  She has many unusual quirks and interests so she is not a “popular” child in school. Her life takes a tragic turn and other adults reach out to care for her and try to understand this beautiful child.    I hope you will take Willow into your heart as I have.  Hear about Willow from a young reader who posted a review on Amazon:

“I guess I really enjoyed this book because I am a gifted child myself. I am 9 years old and have recently skipped 2 years of primary school. I loved this book; it really made me cry…. I agree with Willow that sometimes in school it is hard to fit in….’”

One Meaty character you will want to know is Auggie Pullman.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which stars this main character you will want to know, has appeared on many “Best Of” lists in the past few years.  I picked it up and recommended this realistic story to many teachers and parents.  Auggie’s face is never described because, as the narrator Auggie tells us, it is indescribable.  I cannot imagine his life in middle school as others taunt and react to a new boy who has his cranial-facial differences.  Auggie Pullman will surprise you with his resilience to the bullies and those who try to ignore him.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, has an Exceptional Setting and it is about a boy who does not speak. Jacob is discovered by a childless couple on their porch one day. This setting will remind you of Anne of Green Gables; it is a small farm near a simple village.  Jacob communicates best with a cow and the dog in this quiet setting, but the couple learn much from him daily. On her blog Sharon Creech says, “It was a challenge to write about a boy who does not speak, but I hope the reader learns as much about the boy through what he does and how he affects others as we might learn if he could use words.”

Language and Literary Devices wrap up my choices for you of Characters You Want to Know: Part 1.  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is written entirely in free verse and won the Newbery Award in 1998.  It is a difficult novel for children, so I recommend that adults read this historical fiction gem first before giving it to a child.  Billie Joe is a fifteen year old who lives in the dust bowl of Oklahoma and yearns to play piano.  How can a poor farmer’s family during the Depression keep a large musical instrument such as a piano.  Hesse is remarkable when she describes the music in Billie Joe’s heart.  The lines are spare just as the land provided little, but you will love the language.

“June 1934

On the Road with Arley”

Here’s the way I figure it.

My place in the world is at the piano.”

Please read Out of the Dust yourself to get to know Billie Joe. I hope you enjoy meeting these characters who all exhibit gifts to share with readers who strive to understand human nature through empathetic literature.

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Filed under Award winning books, Children, Different Children, Historial Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Children’s Books

Children’s literature!  Isn’t reading children’s books how all readers began their love of our language and the written word?  Think back to the first story you remem-ber your parent reading aloud to you.  My first remembrance is this book published by Better Homes and Gardens (1950). My favorite story was “The Story of the Live Dolls” by Josephine Scribner Gates.  Now my family’s the favorite is my husband’s reading (in dialect, “Br’er Fox, he lay low.”) of the classic southern tale, “The Tar Baby” by Joel Chandler Harris

Following those favorites were nursery rhymes, folktales and fairy tales, and of course fiction written especially for children.  Soon I was reading “Dick and Jane” by  William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp on my own, followed by “Raggedy Ann” stories by Johnny Gruelle. “The Bobbsey Twin” series were gems I received for each birthday; Laura Lee Hope introduced me to my first mystery series.  There was only one problem with these books:  I finished each one in a day!  What should I read next?  I wondered.  Luckily for me, my mother wrote and edited a column for the local newspaper in Fort Wayne, IN.  Sue Webber was best friends with the book reviewer who passed all the children’s newest hardback books from publishers to me.  There were so many, that I do not remember the titles.

In junior high school, we lived in such a small town that the school was a junior/senior high with one library.  I remember having to ask my mother for a letter to give to the school librarian granting me permission to check out books from the high school stacks.  My first checked out book was an abridged Shakespeare.  Are there any readers out there from Leo, IN?

Why write about children’s literature now?  We love to read mysteries, historical fiction, women’s popular and literary fiction, but the best children’s writers will surprise you with their insights, the tightness of their stories and their skill in creating this shorter (?) fiction.  I actually read more children’s literature as an adult than as a child growing up, because I wanted to advance to the “good stuff” at an early age.  It was in library school at the University of Maryland that I learned to appreciate writers of children’s books.

Have you been waiting for some recommendations for yourself and your children and grandchildren?  I will highlight some popular and some lesser known titles not to be missed. Let’s begin with titles for pre-school children.  Don’t we love to read about brave, interestingly unusual characters?  The “Olivia” series by Ian Falconer will find you in awe of this outrageous pig.  I will bet you don’t know about a set of bold, imaginative characters penned by a friend of mine.  Don’t miss Amy Reichert’s While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat about Rose and Violet’s story Take Your Mama to Work.  You will love the illustrations by Alexander Boiger who discovered just the right style to portray Rose and Violet.  Reeve Lindbergh (yes, the daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh) writes for pre-schoolers as well as books for all ages.  Homer, the Library Cat is one of my favorites.  Of course, I love all books about libraries.  (Another post idea?)

Grade school children love to read about children who perform differently than the norm.  Lois Lowry writes for all ages of children and adults, but I want to recommend one of my favorite series starting with Gooney Bird Greene, which follows the antics of a new second grader who amazes her teacher and her classmates.  The series continues with six realistic chapter books suitable for children seven to ten.  Maybe these readers also like historical fiction, so I can recommend What To Do About Alice? and  Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story By Deborah Hopkinson.  She writes about many subjects such as history, lighthouses, wars, and knitting with many more interesting subjects.

Older students will like realistic fiction, fantasies and mysteries set in Maryland and Washington, D.C. by authors such as Mary Downing Hahn, Anne Spencer Lindbergh, Priscilla Cummings and Katherine Paterson.  My favorites include Hahn’s The Doll in the Garden, and Time for Andrew:  A Ghost Story, Lindbergh’s The People in Pineapple Place and The Hunky Dory Dairy, Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Priscilla Cummings’ books Face First and Blindsided. Please check the websites for ages and grade levels for these titles or send me questions in the COMMENTS section.

 

I cannot end this post without sharing some new mysteries I personally read this year which are highly recommended for middle grade readers in third through sixth grade.  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chad Grabenstein won an Agatha award for the best children’s mystery of 2014!  In contention was the first in a new series by Amanda Flower called Andi Unexpected.  I was fortunate to meet the author of The Sherlock Holmes Club by Ohio teacher Gloria Alden.  All of these titles provide me with inspiration as I construct my own children’s mystery!

 

I hope my followers will send me more great children’s titles to review and read.  If you know of any budding writers who wish to have their children’s books read, please send them my way.

 

Happy Children’s Literature reading in 2015!

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Filed under Award winning books, Children, First Novels, Historial Fiction, Mystery