LISTENING TO GREAT LITERATURE

Many of us living in the Washington, DC area or other metropolitan areas have experienced the boredom of long commutes.  I like to keep up with literature for pleasure and work, so I found listening to books on cassettes or CD’s the best way to stay relaxed in the car.  Only twice while commuting did I get so lost in the book that I made a wrong turn!

The first book on audio I recommend to all friends is Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry.  If you have seen the movie with Shirley Maclaine and Jack Nicholson, you do not know the story or the “real” characters.  You will be glad you tried the novel or the book on CD for this realistic story of a Texas widow who faces many challenges in addition to the ones highlighted by the character of Debra Winger in the film.  Movies can be fun if the book is well represented, but in the case of Terms of Endearment, the book or the CD is much better.  You’ll see when you try listening to Roses Prichard in the 1984 version which is unavailable for sale:  find it at your local library or used bookseller!

Some audio “readers” choose their titles by narrator, by favorite authors, or by bestseller titles at the public library when the waiting list for the hardback book is very long.  There is no right way:  choose any and all of the above ways and you will soon be an aficionado enjoying this pleasurable way to escape while commuting or traveling this summer!  And yes, you can still consider yourself a reader.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the heft of a book such as Chesapeake by James Michener?  As a Marylander and a Michener fan, I felt compelled to read this one, but where to find the time to read 1,026 pages?  I chose the “BOT” (Books on Tape) solution and I was not disappointed.  The director of this audio CD even recorded the sound of a blue heron squawking over the Bay and soon I was immersed in the history of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. The narrator is Larry McKeever and the cost is $95.00 from Recorded Books, so check out your local library for this selection.

Barbara Rosenblat and Davina Porter are two of my favorite narrators.  Ms Porter is a well-loved narrator at Recorded Books. http://recordedbooks.com and you can search for her titles on their site.  Did you miss Outlander by Diana Gabaldon on TV?  She and Barbara Rosenblat both read different books in this series as well as classics, romances, mysteries and children’s titles.

Barbara Rosenblat has won many awards for her “deft handling of characters and dialects” as she narrates.  Can you believe her website says she has over 400 titles so far?  She is known as an actress and a singer (“The Secret Garden” musical) in the US and UK!  Barbara reads Kathy Reichs, if you are a “Bones” fan, or enjoy Anne Frank Remembered by Mief Gies and Allison Leslie Gold, or Jeffrey Archer’s As the Crow Flies.  She also narrates Elizabeth Peters’ “Amelia Peabody series” and my favorite character by Peters:  Vicky Bliss in Borrower of the Night.

 Anne Frank Remembered (Unabridged) [Audio CD]

Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters Unabridged CD Audiobook (Vickie Bliss Series, Book 1)

Speaking of mysteries, C. J. Critt will entertain you for hours as she narrates Margaret Maron, Janet Evanovich, Patricia Cornwall, and Linda Barnes’s suspenseful novels.  C. J. Critt is the best reader of Stephanie Plum books, in my opinion.  If you find an abridged version of the audio books, you will find a different reader.

Two for the Dough Unabridged Audiobook (The Stephanie Plum Series, Book 2)

Some readers are especially adept at reading children’s stories.  Alyssa Bresnahan is the reader of The Beautiful Stories of Life by Cynthia Rylant. Search for Ms. Bresnahan and check out the links to the various audio companies to see which of the narrators I have mentioned are still reading new and old classics, children’s books, mysteries and more.  Also note that many book review magazines, such as Bookpage,  include a page on audio titles.

There are many companies to choose for pleasurable listening trips; link to my sites when ordering.

Happy Listening in the Summer of 2015!

http://www.audiofilemagazine.com

http://www.booksontape.com/

http://recordedbooks.com

http://bookpage.com/columns/

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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

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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An Affinity for Books (Teens and ‘Tweens)

You could say I have an affinity for books.  Once I read a great title, I want to recommend it and find another Read A-Like for myself and others.  What is a Read A-Like you ask?  Librarians and book review sources alert you to books by saying “If you liked this book…you will love this one!”

The biggest question I have received from parents is “What do you recommend after Harry Potter:  that series is the only ones my child will read!”

Fantasy readers of all ages will enjoy Diane Duane’s creative series So You Want to Be a Wizard?  Similar to HP books are the main characters Nita Callahan and Christopher (Kit) Rodriquez  who do not realize they are wizards until they find a book with that same title.  Duane introduces many topics appealing to readers who love this genre including bullying, voracious readers, love of animals, annoying siblings, and she includes mystery and suspense with a dash of humor, as Nita and Kit learn how to deal with their “special” gift.  There are nine books in the series with one more planned for release this year.

The latest young adult (YA) book I completed (No, I didn’t write one yet) reading this year is by prolific Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I was amazed that he wrote for young people after I remembered his imaginative adult fiction The Shadow of the Wind and its sequels.  The Midnight Palace reminds me of The Thief Lord, another favorite by Cornelia Funke, because the main characters are orphans who band together in an orphanage in Calcutta to swear allegiance forever.  They are challenged by a murderer who appears to them suddenly when they turn 16 and are ready to graduate from the orphanage.  The suspense is phenomenal, and I mean that literally! Funke uses the setting of Venice, so you can compare these two novels with settings far apart.  Ask yourself the question in each novel:  Who is the antagonist or the bad guy?

In my next post, I will review some adult Read A-Likes for you.

Please send me ideas and comments about this and my other posts!

Happy Reading in 2015!  Don’t forget the Goodreads reading challenge!

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Filed under Children's Literature, Fantasy, First Novels, Literary Fiction, untraditional mysteries

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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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/

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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!

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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

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