Category Archives: Book Clubs

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

CATEGORIES OF BOOKS

Most genres of fiction interest me from mysteries to historical fiction. There are many categories to relish as I have found from Book Page, a magazine provided by the Friends of the Library in my vacation spot.  Where to begin to find the next book to read?  I am changing my blog to include books I want to read but have not read yet.

                         Which are your top choices from this list?

New titles on my TBR list include one from each of these categories:

  1. Literary Fiction: The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith. This one includes three narrative threads, intriguing for a reader and a writer.
  2. Family Saga:  Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlan.  She is a favorite author since I read her Black and Blue, a realistic view of domestic violence.
  3. Coming-of-Age:  Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. Begins in the 1960’s.
  4. Memoir: Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith.  About her life in Appalachia.
  5. Middle Grade Fiction: A Bandit’s Tale by Deborah Hopkinson.  A historical tale beginning in 1887 NYC with an Italian Oliver Twist-like character.
  6. Picture Book: The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield.  Starts in a forest and progresses to Broadway!
  7. Historical Mystery: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye.  For adults and especially lovers of Jane Eyre (and no vampires!)
  8. Mystery:  Plantation Shudders by Ellen ByronAn Agatha nominee for best debut cosy mystery.  I confess I read this one first as I am going to the Malice Domestic conference later this month.
  9. Audio Memoir:  On My Own by Diane Rehm, read by the author.
  10. Historical Fiction: The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.  If you loved Major Pettigrew’s Land Stand, you have been waiting five years for her next novel.   I think we will be pleased from the several reviews I have read so far.

Trisha Ping’s review in book Page of #10: “Full of trenchant observations on human nature and featuring a lovable cast of characters, The Summer Before the War is a second novel that satisfies.”  Isn’t this premise the reason we read?  I know it rings true for me!

 

Let me know what you recommend currently in comments.

I hope you are having fun with your own 2016 Reading Challenge!

 

HAPPY READING IN 2016!!

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Filed under Adult Literature, Book Clubs, Children's Literature, First Novels, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Malice Domestic, Mystery, Reading challenges, Uncategorized

CONNECTIONS IN LITERATURE

If you love To Kill a Mockingbird as I do, you have read all the news about Harper Lee’s writing, her friendships, and her death.  But have you read the latest novel Tru and Nelle by G. Neri? You will recognize the characters immediately, but are they Scout and Dill or Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee?  Their adventures, as imagined by Greg Neri, who usually writes urban fiction, will amaze and delight you.  Did you know both writers, Truman and Harper were neighbors in Monroeville, AL; that they both loved to read Sherlock Holmes stories (in book form); and that both assisted each other in their adult writing.  Be prepared for surprises and clues to the plot, characters and setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.  You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this book is written for middle grade  readers of ages nine to twelve, but you adults will get the allusions and gain knowledge you didn’t know you wanted to realize about these favorite authors.   Writers will “find the fun” in learning the “backstory!”

Happy Reading in all Genres for 2016!

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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

MY GIFT FOR 2016

What is my gift? I share it with you and myself.  I read; I remember; and I pass the memories on. Books, food, musical plays:  the magic is all around us.  Let’s find the optimism in the New Year of 2016 together.

My writer friend, Erika Robuck, offered her 10 favorite titles in historical fiction. Her list on her blog Muse https://erikarobuck.wordpress.com/, a great readers’ and writers’ blog, was brilliant.  Recommendations from writers you respect help to whet your appetite for a To Be Read List. The library will be my next stop to find these gems she and others have selected for our reading pleasure.

I hope you readers who follow this blog will share your favorites that you loved in 2015 and more titles you plan to read in 2016! The list will be eclectic, I know, just the type of reading we enjoy.  My Good Reads challenge was fun and my goal was realized and even as a personal contest, it will be a competition I savor each year.  52 + adult books was manageable for me this past year reading all genres; I added to this list with many great children’s literature titles.  75 may be a pleasurable challenge for 2016.

New reading review blogs inspire me each month. Readers who recommend the many genres we love provide entertaining reading and great new titles to read and share.            Follow my new friends who suggest books and share your thoughts about the books you read. Erica at www.whatdowedoallday.com and my Book Lover’s friend Sarah at https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com enlighten me each time I open my emails.

I found writing a novel exasperating, so I will continue to write this blog and gift my book suggestions to you. Out of the 57 Adult titles I read last year in my reading challenge, I choose these 6 exemplary, unforgettable novels:

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (WWII HF)
  2. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (Literary Fiction)
  3. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Mystery)
  4. The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland (HF)
  5. The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck (HF)
  6. Tomorrow’s Vengeance by Marcia Talley (Cosy mystery)

Happy Reading in 2016!

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Filed under Adult Literature, Book Clubs, Children's Literature, gifts, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

SO YOU WANT TO START A BOOK CLUB

SO YOU WANT TO START A BOOK CLUB

By Beth Schmelzer and Marcia Feliciano

Once upon a time there were two good friends who loved to read. Whenever Beth and Marcia got together, their conversations always included a chat about books they were reading, books they had read, books in untidy stacks that they looked forward to reading, and lists of recommended books.

When Beth moved to Annapolis, the “book chats” became more frequent, leading to the decision to start a book club.  Starting a book club isn’t rocket science, but it is science in a way, as there should be good chemistry among the participants; there should be a certain degree of open-mindedness regarding book selections, flexibility regarding scheduling, and a willingness to let a member “slide” on occasion for not reading “the book.” We all know how life can get in the way of good intentions, and we should recognize the fact that not everyone will like every book choice.  Just the same, the best discussions often come from the least popular titles.

To start, we each invited one book-loving friend to participate. Our first meeting was in February 2008 and we have met monthly ever since. Our group now consists of approximately 13 women who originally bonded over books while sharing a cup of tea or a glass of wine. We shared our thoughts about books by local authors who graciously came to our meetings to talk about and autograph their books. We talked about books of a controversial nature, non-fiction books, first novels, memoirs, mysteries, histories and more. At this size, we can fit in everyone’s house, and if we lose a few, we still have enough for a good book talk. The hostess of the month picks the book of the month. Hostesses and books are announced at least a month in advance so everyone has plenty of time to read each selected book. The group endeavors to be cost-conscious, selecting books readily available at local bookstores, libraries, on an e-reader or from Amazon.com. Sometimes books are obtained on a field trip to independent bookstores that are delighted to give a book club discount. The indie bookstores encourage the purchase of local authors such as Marcia Talley, Thea Lindauer, Stephanie Verni, Lucia St. Clair Robson, Erika Robuck, and Bill Eggert. Authors who can’t make it in person will sometimes do a conference call-in during a meeting to connect personally with their readers. Additionally, some writers will offer a Skype call.  Contact information can be found on their websites. We even have plans to make a road trip to Boonsboro to visit Nora Robert’s Turn the Page Bookstore!

Meetings range from casual to elaborate, from silly to serious, and are mostly held in the evenings for no more than 90 minutes. Sometimes members who love to cook invite everyone for a dinner reflecting the type of food enjoyed by the characters in the book of the month, which we could call a literary feast.  More typically, the hostess will  provide a simple buffet of snacks, light appetizers, drinks and a small dessert.

Now in its seventh year, it should be mentioned that Beth and Marcia’s book club decided on a name reflective of our sense of humor and our location – the Annapolis Book Bag Ladies Book Club.

Beth, the unofficial secretary, records the books and hostesses in a journal so there is an ongoing history. In the summer, there is a potluck pool party meeting. In deference to the busy holiday schedules, the reading assignment is eliminated at December meetings and the group gets together at a local restaurant. In lieu of gift-giving, we have a “sock it to me holiday dinner” and everyone brings new socks that are donated to the local Lighthouse Shelter for the homeless.

We are still reading and discussing books, even when some members escape to Florida, the Bahamas or Hawaii. We also show up to support a member working on a play, going through chemo, having a daughter get married, burying a parent, celebrating a new baby, losing a job, or starting retirement. Starting a book club really is simple. Like the Nike folks say, “Just do it!” And if you need a little encouragement or a book list to get your group started, contact Beth at www.BESTBOOKSBYBETH.com or Marcia  at felician@rcn.com

We are glad to help anyone to start a book club!

This essay was previously published in Outlook by the Bay (Spring, 2014) in a different version.

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