Category Archives: Historial Fiction

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!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Clubs, Children, Children's Literature, Historial Fiction, Literary Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Uncategorized

Libraries are “Someplace Special”!

“I was scared. I was lonely. I discovered there was only one room in this school where I was happy and where I felt secure. And that room was the library.”  Anthony Horowitz, children’s author was quoted saying.

We readers love books set in libraries or bookstores. Our fun derives from being transported to the places we remember with enlightening moments of joy.  Many of us have one library or bookstore where we felt at home, a solitary or noisy place where we were surrounded by the sources of our secret habit. Our memories of the stories are intermingled with our pleasures of being in the places where the books are stored.

When authors evoke the wonder of those special book depositories filled with more books, all of which we hope to explore, we are full of awe and desire to try to satiate our hunger for more.

My fingers itch to touch each volume whether it is a huge tome or a miniature storybook.  I will list a few I devoured or I wish to relish soon. This list is eclectic: full of every genre something for each age.

  1. Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia and Frederick McKissick
  2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  3. The Bookseller by Mark Pryor (and many others used this title)
  4. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
  5. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  6. Clara and the Book Wagon by Nancy Smiler Levinson
  7. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse
  8. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
  9. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  10.  Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
  11.  Carolyn Hart’s “Death on Demand” series
  12.  Cook the Books by Marion Moore Hill

Please comment and add more suggestions to this minimal list.

HAPPY READING IN 2015!

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Literature, Book Mobiles, Children's Literature, Historial Fiction, Mystery

Enlightenment: How Historical Fiction Reveals the Truth

All the Light We Cannot See appeared in my dream the other night, so I knew this important title would be the focus of this blog post.  After mysteries, historical fiction is my favorite genre.  I am exploring what makes historical fiction so compelling and reveals the truth of our history?

All the Light We Cannot See is a perfect example to answer that question.  When an author describes using each of his senses in his setting, you are transported into the lives of the characters. You can taste, smell and touch the places the author has revealed in his words.  Many authors pepper in visual descriptions, so you can see what the characters see.  But when an author such as Anthony Doerr reminds us of the other senses, we are there during a bombing raid or living in a tenement or hearing the rush of the ocean in Ocean City.

Anthony Doerr shows exemplary skill  in this title using his senses because his main character is blind.  Marie-Laure is taught by her father to explore her sightless world so she can live an independent life.  She becomes aware of each brick, manhole cover, and scent in her neighborhood and we experience her scientific and literary world along with her.

Werner, Marie-Laure’s counterpart in this story, uses his fine sense of touch and hearing as he explores the world of radio waves.  I do not understand the science, but I was transported to the bombed out basement with Werner when he scanned “frequencies by feel.”  Read this book to see what a master Doerr is with language and sensual description!

What other historical fiction titles can compare to this new masterpiece?  I have Erika Robuck to thank for reminding me of recent evocative historical fiction titles.  Her TopTen of 2014 is a wonder and it includes Doerr’s latest title.  Check out her blog MUSE for a list you will want on your bedside table.

Since I often switch from adult books to children’s literature, I’ll recommend a few extra bonus books here.  Karen Cushman, Katherine Paterson and Avi are masters in this genre for middle grade readers.  You will be surprised at the tightness and the concepts in the writing these authors present which will interest adults as well as children.  My favorite children’s review blog will inspire you to read even more of these great ones.  www.ThisKidReviewsBooks.com

Until next time:  Happy Reading in 2015!

http://www.erikarobuck.com/Blog.html

http://www.karencushman.com/

http://www.terabithia.com/about.html

http://www.avi-writer.com/

Leave a comment

Filed under Adult Literature, Children's Literature, Historial Fiction

CHARACTERS YOU WANT TO KNOW: PART 2

Google reminded me that Langston Hughes said:  “My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind.” Google’s short biography on the anniversary of his birth reminds us that “[h]e hoped to inspire black writers to be objective about their race and embrace it, though felt the young writers of the Black Power movement of the 1960s were too angry.”  He was born on Feb. 1, 1902.   Not only an inspiration to African Americans, all writers and readers can reflect on his heart-felt comments.  My posts about “Characters You Want to Know: Parts 1 & 2” try to illuminate for all readers some memorable children in contemporary literature who will help us to understand humans who have foibles and troubles as we all do or “all human kind” as Hughes reminded us.

If you enjoyed the Characters You Want to Know in Part 1’s post,  here are more amazing characters which will add to your list of great books ones that teach us all empathy for children and any humans.

Another complex character I recommend is featured in What To Do About Alice?(with a long subtitle) by Barbara Kerley. (She is also the author of The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins).  We adults may remember Alice Roosevelt Longworth anecdotes from when her father was president, but this book takes a fun approach with imaginative illustrations to help us understand the point of view of a young daughter living in the White House. Some reviewers on Amazon say that this book will help to introduce a “character” children will want to read more about.  I agree especially when I read that Alice was an unhappy adult so her early life leads to her complexity.

As well as reading, I love to knit and cook.  All my hobbies require good eyesight, so I was inspired to read about the life of Laura Bridgman who held on to only two of her senses after a childhood illness.  Laura could only taste some food and could use her remarkable sense of touch after losing her sight, hearing, and sense of smell.  She could knit and tat and she learned to read and write before Helen Keller at the Perkins Institute in Boston.  What an inspirational story Sally Hobart Alexander wrote in She Touched the World: Deaf-Blind Pioneer !  This ambiguous true “character” intrigued me because she was not Helen Keller, the delightful deaf/mute writer who was loved by all who met her.  Laura was an impatient, jealous, demanding child who helped Samuel Howe become famous in the late 1880’s. I think Sally Alexander, a blind author and teacher, aptly named her book which is written for older elementary children.

How can Mia Winchell compete in school and in this character-loving post? She is the synesthetic narrator of A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Moss.  Thank you to my niece Gretchen Schmelzer for recommending this fascinating book to me.  We writers can only wish we shared Mia’s “gift,” for she can see sounds, smell colors and taste shapes.  Wouldn’t those extraordinary powers be helpful to us writers?  Since this section is about MEATY characters, I guess Mia would be uncomfortable with my language. I cannot describe the taste of this book, nor the smell of this “Meaty” child.   Mia’s “oddness” is not easy for her family to understand, but Wendy Moss shares this character’s feelings with the reader.  You will be amazed when you read about this medical condition which is rare, misunderstood, and real!

Another title with an Exceptional Setting I chose is An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi, which takes place in the White House during the 1860’s. Ann Rinaldi’s book about this unusual attachment is a historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Keckley.  There have been many books written about these two women, but I maintain that Rinaldi gets it just right. You may have seen the movie “Lincoln,” in which Lizzie has a minor role. Read An Unlikely Friendship and you will see her character revealed in the U. S Capital during this tumultuous time.

What is the special language of The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman?  The chapter titles are so intriguing!  Meg Wolitzer, the author of the adult novel The Interestings, writes for children in a language they will love. For Example, Chapter 1, “Lunch Meat and the Chinaman” and Chapter 3 “The So-Called Power is Revealed” will resonate with young readers.   Duncan Dorfman is not a typical elementary child nor are his new friends who are Scrabble geniuses at age twelve.  Her writing has been called “Juicy, perceptive and vividly written.”—NPR.org

What characters have you read recently which should be shared as “Characters You Want to Know”?  The theme of empathy is one that should resonate with many readers like youHappy Reading in 2015 as you find more characters you want to know and share with others!

Leave a comment

Filed under Different Children, Historial Fiction, Realistic Fiction

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.

Leave a comment

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

REVIEW SOURCES: YOUR HELP FOR YOUR NEXT BEST READ

Up until this post, all the titles I have recommended are books I have read.  Let’s explore, with anticipation, reviews of new titles we want to read in 2015! Newspapers and magazines print the “best of” lists to remind readers which books are not to be missed.

My favorite review sources include The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the New York Times Book Review.  Independent booksellers provide their own “Indie Bound” suggestionsMy local library offers a free periodical called BookPage.  (Look below for the online URLs.)

The book on the top of many “Best of 2014” lists is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  This title is on my Amazon.com wish list and my Goodreads “to-read” shelf.  Since it is a second novel for Doerr, I am intrigued to check out his first, About Grace: A Novel, which one personal reviewer compared to the writing of the Japanese author Haruki Murakami.   (So many books, so little time.) See the Amazon.com reviews of Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, (2010) or IQ84 from 2011.  The NYT Book Review called Murakami “a rare artist and “a magician.”  What a comparison for both authors, Doerr and Murakami, two literary authors to read and watch for further masterpieces!

Some friends ask me how I enjoy my 3 Kindles. “Don’t I long for the feel of a physical book and pages to turn and look back upon?” they query.  I know what they are saying, still I use my Kindle devices as a virtual library:  I can keep my favorites to review and peruse any time.  I can also sample books I have seen reviewed or recommended, books I may want to purchase, and I often use my Kindle to search for titles and their reviews by editors and readers on Amazon or Goodreads.

I’m most impressed when the reviews have bylines. One of my favorite reviewers is Tom Nolan who recommends mysteries in the WS Journal every Friday.  I also enjoyed reading the author Carolyn See’s mystery reviews in the Washington Post. She is the mother of the prolific Lisa See, although she has now retired. For children’s book reviews, I read Meghan Cox Gurdon’s “Children’s Books” column in WS Journal.  Gurdon’s insights are valuable to all who enjoy various genres and many grade levels of children’s book titles.  Librarians find Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly, written for professionals interesting sources to check for recommendations each week or month, although they are not always available to the general public.  We can all purchase the New York Times Book Review which is available from bookstores and libraries separate from the large daily newspaper.

They chose “10 Best Books of 2014” published December 14, 2014 (our mother’s birthday).  Five fiction and five non-fiction titles were chosen. The books reviewers gave us are a cross-section of genres including the highly-rated Doerr’s who writes “brisk chapters and sumptuous language” in All the Light We Cannot See, a metaphorical tale; a historical fiction Euphoria by Lily King about Margaret Mead; and  Redeployment, a debut story collection by a former Marine, Phil Klay.  The non-fiction list is similarly varied with a biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, a writer who published her first book at 58 (Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee); a graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast; and an environmental examination The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.  The “Best of” list concludes with a political treatise described as “profound” and “gripping” with “clashing personalities” called Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright. (I did not write about all from the Times’ list.)

“Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness!” to parrot Mollie, my favorite character in Annie.  I need to stop writing and start reading with so many great titles to consider! I am salivating over the language and creative ideas put forth by the reviewers and the authors of these new books of last year.

Three novels I still have on my own “to-read shelf” include highly recommended books published in 2013:  The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahri.  Mysteries and historical fiction, which are still my favorite genres, which are waiting for me to open are Truth Be Told by Hank Philippi Ryan, the entire “Rei Shimura” series by Sujata Massey I want to read in order (while I await her newest Indian epic), and the newest historical fiction title by Erika Robuck, The House of Hawthorne.

Share the best books and reviews you read this past year so we will all have Happy Reading in 2015!

http://online.wsj.com/public/page/news-books-best-sellers.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/features/books/bookreviews/index.html

http://www.indiebound.org/indie-next-list

http://bookpage.com/

PS:  Don’t forget to savor the advertisements in these magazines and supplements as well as the Best Seller Lists.  They will all provide ideas for choosing your next best read. 

Leave a comment

Filed under First Novels, Historial Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Award winning books, Children, First Novels, Historial 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Clubs, First Novels, Historial Fiction, Mystery

Mysterious Mysteries!

Who killed Michael Abramowitz?  There are frequent clues in Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman’s first mystery novel.  Reading blurbs on Sujata Massey’s “Rei Shimura” series books reminded me that I love to read local author Laura Lippman’s mysteries with settings in our Chesapeake Bay region. Don’t you enjoy reading books set in your own area?   I relish being reminded of the neighborhoods, restaurants, and streets I know or want to explore.  Remember CAMEL from my last posting? E=EXCEPTIONAL SETTINGS! Don’t forget about CAMEL to help you to find great books of this and any genre.

So now that we have explored EXCEPTIONAL SETTINGS in the first paragraph, let me tell you how I became enamored of mystery stories.  Mysteries were my first love from when I was an early reader in grade school beginning with “The Bobbsey Twins” series. All my allowance and birthday money was spent in my home town in northern Indiana on these and other mystery series books. I continued to collect and read any mysteries for my age group. Then in high school I subscribed to the Columbia Mystery Book Club, using all my babysitting money on Perry Mason novels. Now I read any thrillers, suspense and mystery novels recommended by reviewers, friends and family.  I love them light, such as Agatha Christie ones, to very dark, such as Steig Larssen’s books and all mysteries in between.  Please let me know your favorites in the comment section!

Returning to the concepts in the CAMEL  acronym  suggested @ Book Club Cheerleader (see below),  let’s explore some of the other traits of a great title.  What is an example of COMPLEX CHARACTERS in the mystery genre?  Sharyn McCrumb in If I Killed Him When I Met Him has two complex secondary characters, Eleanor Royden and Donna Jean Morgan, who are wives accused of murdering their husbands.  The investigators in the story are a forensic anthropologist and two lawyers, Elizabeth’s brother Bill and his partner, A. P. Hill.  You do not need to read the first Elisabeth MacPherson book in the series to understand this interesting title by MacCrumb, still I encourage you to try more books in her bibliography.

Let’s find some stories filled with A for AMBIGUITY.  This trait can be in the theme, the characters, the climax or the solution.  The author of this type of book keeps you guessing throughout the novel.  Many of you have read Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series about the Egyptian anthropologists.  Ms Peters, known as Mertz/Peters/Michaels,  was prolific; as a matter of fact, she wrote under three names.  On her website there is a quote I would like to share:  “At 85, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels [and Barbara Mertz]) is enjoying her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate, and not nearly enough gin.” One of my favorite characters she created is a librarian (surprise, surprise) named Jacqueline Kirby.  Naked No More contains a plot, themes and characters who are ambiguous!

Now I know you are ready for a recommendation of a mystery novel full of M=MEATY issues. Through the Darkness, the sixth book in Marcia Talley’s Hannah Ives series, is about the kidnapping of the protagonist’s one year old grandson.  I do not know how Marcia wrote that one, but she carried it off with her usual flair for suspense, realism and care for her characters.

Yesterday I mentioned a book with letters which covers the LITERARY DEVICES idea.  As a former English teacher and school librarian, my favorite of the entire CAMEL concept for choosing books is LANGUAGE and LITERARY DEVICES.  People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is an untraditional mystery; in fact, it is probably not listed as a mystery on many book lists.  Still this brilliant novel includes clues, an investigator and many characters hiding the facts from others as well as the reader!  This popular novel follows the provenance of an object, an illuminated text from the current times back to the beginning of its inception. This technique has been used by other authors which I will explain in another post.

Here are some mystery blogs and websites I follow:

http://sujatamassey.com/blog/

http://www.marciatalley.com/

http://hankphillippiryan.com/blog.php

http://www.jungleredwriters.com/

http://www.elaineviets.com/

http://femmesfatales.typepad.com/

http://www.bookclubcheerleader.com/Home_Page.html

www.mysterylovescompany.com

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Children, Historial Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, myseries, Mystery, untraditional mysteries

Happy New Year, 2015!

This year is the first year of my own blog, Best Books By Beth.com!  I will be sharing links to reading and writing sites, reviews of children’s literature as well as great adult titles, both new and classic.  Links will be shared to other writers’ blogs.  Today,  I am motivated to write more myself as I send in stories to contests, publishers, magazines and maybe find a writing group and an agent.  Are these too many goals?  C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know we’re not alone.”  A well-known children’s writer, Richard Peck, mentioned that “…nobody but a reader ever became a writer.”  I have discovered great inspiration from his book Invitations to the World:  Teaching and Writing to the Young. (NY:  Dell, 2002) So as I work on Best Books By Beth, my goal is to share great reading and writing with my followers.
When I decided to write my own blog, I thought about my best skills. What do I love to do daily? I cannot go a day without recommending at least one book to a friend, a friend I just met or a golden one. Today I started reading one of the books in Betty G. Birnam’s series of “Humphrey” books for middle grade readers. This reading started as research for my own writing, but I fall in love with Humphrey, the golden hamster, each time I read his narration. Do you need a light-hearted read today, the beginning of a new year? I recommend Surprises according to Humphrey. If you have never been introduced to this great character, you will be in for a treat. Today may be the day you laugh out loud while reading silently or when you decide to share this book with a loved one of any age.
Maybe you are looking for a new book for your adult book club. Remember CAMEL! C= Complex Characters; A= Ambiguity; M= Meaty Issues; E= Exceptional Setting; and L= Language and Literary Devices.
Let the CAMEL acronym fill you up with the best you can find. Would you like some examples?
C= The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Spark! A= Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck! M= Still Alice by Lisa Genovese! E= Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill! and L= The Last Letter from My Lover by Jojo Moyes! You can see I enjoy reading many genres of fiction with literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries and women’s popular fiction all included in my tastes.
In the next post I will write about my favorite mystery writers for each age of reader. Until then, happy reading in this new year of potential and possibilities.

2 Comments

Filed under Children, Historial Fiction, Mystery