Category Archives: Mystery

READING FOR LIFE

June is the month of baby showers and graduations and weddings.  What better time to share a book.  In fact, some organizers of celebrations are suggesting that we add a book inscribed to the honoree instead of a card.

Here is a task not too hard/ Enclose a book instead of a card.

I received an invitation recently with these words added to the announcement of a shower.  So today, I will suggest some classics for including in your celebration presents no matter the occasion.

 Pat the Bunny is a great first book for any baby and new parents.  Don’t worry if multiple copies arrive at the party:  these books wear out with continued reading and feeling.  If you have never seen this gem, it is a pop-up book with each page a new touch for baby.  Reviews mention that the books aren’t that sturdy, but that is why you need a backup copy! Pat the Bunny Book & Plush (Touch-and-Feel)

Guess How Much I Love You is another favorite of young families.  You have heard the expression “I love you to the Moon and back,” I am certain.  This line is from Sam McBratney’s book.  Guess How Much I Love You 20th Anniversary Edition  You can guess why this title is so well-loved.  I hear children still love it when they are toddlers, so you can get your money’s worth for your gift.

Maybe you want to honor an elementary school graduate.  Some buy a thematic Dr. Seuss book such as The Lorax  The Lorax (Classic Seuss)or  Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Oh, The Places You’ll Go! You may not be the only friend giving one of these titles, so you may want a fun book for the student for summer reading such as Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Libraryor Greenglass House by Kate Milford, books I recommended in other posts this year.Greenglass House

How about high school graduates, don’t they deserve a great book to add to their library, too?  1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die1,000 Places to See Before You Die, the second edition: Completely Revised and Updated with Over 200 New EntriesI have heard that John Green’s Looking for Alaska is better than The Fault in Our Stars, so see if that book fits the need for your teen graduate. Looking for Alaska

This post was an experiment to see if I could link titles from Amazon for you to purchase easily.  Let me know if you like this service from my blog.  If you buy the books from this link, I will receive a few pennies for each item purchased. The money will help me to enter writing contests.

Happy Reading and Book Buying for yourself and others in 2015!

Let me know what you recommend and title you suggest to this blog in comments.

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Filed under Adult Literature, Children's Literature, gifts, Links, Mystery

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!

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

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. 

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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!

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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Filed under Children, Historial Fiction, Mystery

Welcome to my Blog!

There is nothing more I love to do than talk about books, except to read them! You will find lots of reviews and discussions about the latest, greatest and most interesting books for book lovers. Whether you like mysteries (my favorite), historical fiction, or children’s books, you’ll find what you’re seeking on this blog, Best Books By Beth. I welcome new authors to send me their books and I will be happy to review them!

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Filed under Children, Historical Fiction, Mystery