Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Read. Review. Recommend.

The first book I completed read in 2017 kept me reading so that I wanted to finish it in one sitting.  Instead of staying up all night as I wished to do, I relished each scene and word, stretching out my reading to two days.  The language is authentic teen speech which resonates for any age.

Have I grabbed your attention?  Guitar Notes by Mary Amato begins with a perfect title and cover.  Don’t you love language with two meanings?  You know this book is about a guitar player, probably a teen, and guitar music has notes.  Notes also mean communications between friends.  Paper messages, texts, or voice mails can also be short notes between the main characters- one who is almost perfect and one who has no friends. How Amato brings them together over a guitar is masterful.

How do I decide who will want to share this book?  A teen, a singer, a parent who needs to understand teen angst?  They will all enjoy it!

What a great title to begin my reading challenge of 2017.  I will be reading many easy readers and early chapter books for my assigned judging project with CYBILs, helping to choose the best of 2016.  Guitar Notes was a delightful start to my reading with a Meaty book offering genuine Language.  (Check out the CAMEL reading rating in my previous blogs.) Since Mary Amato is a local author writing about Maryland, this book also fits the setting rating, too.  (E=Exceptional time and place)

Happy Reading in 2017!  Find your own reading challenge and enjoy every word.

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Filed under Children's Literature, Reading challenges, Realistic Fiction, Uncategorized

CHALLENGING BOOKS

Challenging Books

I love finding reading challenges such as Good Reads and one shared on Facebook by reading teachers.  My own personal goal for 2016 is 75 books.  One fun Reading Challenge of 2016 reminds us of the interesting categories of books we could choose to reach our reading goals.  For those readers who find a large number unattainable this year, you will love the 12 book categories of the Reading Challenge and the 30 categories of a children’s summer challenge to help you choose your next great read.

What do you do when you cannot find the “next great read”?  I go to the 12 category Reading Challenge of 2016 and try to remember those books which

  • Intimidate me
  • Were written in 2016, or
  • One written before I was born!

In fact, I read several books this past month that I had picked up and put down several times, because they were “Challenging books” in genres I don’t usually choose to read.

I hope you are now intrigued to find out books I found intimidating.  The Thirteenth Tale beckoned to me from the Audio book section of my public library.  Two narrators were listed on the cover and the summary was partially hidden from view.  So I tried this gem which I had abandoned in 2010.   Jill Tanner and another reader made me listen every time I hopped in my car.  The only problem was not being able to jot down the great reading and writing quotes. So I found a hardback copy of the book to re-read sections of this Gothic tale of a supremely dysfunctional family living in the moors like Wuthering Heights.  One memorable section was when the protagonist, a young biographer, became ill and her doctor asked her if she had been reading and re-reading Bronte and the like.  His prescription was to change reading habits.  What did he recommend?  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes!

Speaking of Gothic terrors, I also read a contemporary Gothic tale which takes place in a local neighborhood in Maryland.  Severna Park, MD is not what we would consider a scary place.  The setting of Devilish is not the usual one Lucia St. Claire Robson chooses for her historical fiction titles, so I was curious.  The red cover grabbed me; plus the uniqueness of a book with devils and writers and suburban housewives should draw readers who are looking for something new and humorous.  If you enjoy Janet Evanovich books, I think you will howl with the demons and sylphs and the main characters as they solve the mystery of how to rid their block of sneaky ghosts as well as save themselves from a serial killer with help of two handsome police.

What could top a book about devils and writers?  The Lives We Bury by Allen Eskers was recommended by a bookseller in Tampa, FL.  The foul language of a college student along with another dysfunctional family headed by an uncaring mother did not interest me at first, but I was hooked on “Challenging Books” for my reading in June.  My husband is the next to try this mystery which crosses genres with diverse characters and exceptional writing. Let me know what you think of this unusual contemporary thriller far different from the cosy mysteries I usually recommend.

Many mixed reviews, but mainly great ones highlighted book review literature in 2016 about The Nest.  Two recommendations by good reading friends encouraged me to read another tale of a dysfunctional family.  Why keep reading this one?  You will want to know what happens to each member of this family, hopefully so different from your own. The author sets up a great premise when she explains the inheritance four siblings expect to receive in the future when their youngest sibling reaches the age of 40.  The “nest” is what they call it their whole lives, but that inheritance is disrupted by unforseen happenings. Read Cynthia D’Apix Sweeney’s novel to find out how they learn to live with the changed circumstances of these usual and unusual lives.

Because I was tired of the same old themes of abandoning mothers and sulky teens, I read my friend Martha Crites’ debut mystery Grave Disturbance. When you meet Grace, a mental health evaluator, in the interesting setting of the Cascades foothills near Seattle, you have found a unique novel with diverse characters we hope to meet in a series about the people of the Pacific Northwest. Grace is not a detective by profession, but she takes the clues she finds and solves an unusual set of crimes to the setting and the characters in her world.

Another fascinating world is the arena of health clubs and the connection with deaf patrons and sign language interpreters in B. K. Stevens’ mystery Interpretation of Murder.  Lighter than the previous recommendations, B. K. (Bonnie) Stevens keeps you engaged in her story with reluctant sleuth Jane Ciardi, who will take any job from sign language interpreter to private detective assistant to waitress and even weekend office cleaner. Jane even learns martial arts, a new theme in Stevens’ books, to help her solve the crimes committed in the story.  I want to read more stories about this determined character as she tries to erase her debts and help anyone who needs her assistance.

 

Happy Reading in the summer of 2016!

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CATEGORIES OF BOOKS

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

                         Which are your top choices from this list?

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

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

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

 

Let me know what you recommend currently in comments.

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

 

HAPPY READING IN 2016!!

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

My Reading Challenge for 2016

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

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

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

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

THRILLS AND CHILLS

Do you enjoy thrillers? I have a fun surprise for you from a great thriller writer!
I just finished Libby Fischer Hellman’s latest book Jump Cut and she has an offer for you readers out there. I know you will love this page-turner. It can be read so quickly, but that doesn’t mean there is not substance in her writing. You will be amazed with the currency and thrills she has put in her latest book! We have included her link to her books, so find them soon so you don’t miss out on the excitement! Here’s the link:
http://libbyhellmann.com/my-books/jump-cut

Look above for a partial view of the offer. I cannot get the picture to paste into this blog, but here is the scoop:  Pre-order Jump Cut for 99 cents at the link above and you will also receive a copy of another Ellie Foreman book, An Eye for Murder!

What more can I say? This page-turner is intriguing and scary with just the right amount of details and secrets any thriller reader will want to read! Readers like me who love mysteries and thrillers will want to read all the Ellie Foreman books, from her adventures referenced in Jump Cut. Hellmann’s description of the characters, her well-thought out clues, the pace, and the many mysterious plot twists kept me reading to complete the novel in one thrill-packed  weekend.
Looking for a lighter read? Florida is the setting for Checked Out! Had to try this one that takes place in a library! What would you do if you heard $1,000,000 was lost in a library book? Helen Hawthorne, a PI with her husband Phil, takes a dead-end job to help the Friends of the Library and her client discover a famous painting which was left in a book donated to the library. Elaine Viets adds her usual humor in this 14th book in her series in FL. (I love her mystery shopper series which is set in St. Louis suburbs, too.) Being a library volunteer doesn’t sound like a Dead-End job to me, but Helen is not paid a salary in this caper, only she does get a commission as she follows all the clues to catch the culprit. Cosy mysteries are the best reads on the beach or vacation.
Maybe you are looking for a mystery for your child or grandchildren. The latest one I can recommend is a new author for me. Lisa Papademetrious created a unique title which reminds me of So You Want to Be a Wizard! Similar to Diane Duane’s series, A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic features a magical book. The settings of USA and Pakistan with two young girls who do not know each other adds so much intrigue, you will be drawn in to discover how their stories relate to one another. Clues abound and you will be amazed at the similarities of their lives and adventures throughout this short book. Thank you to Erik at http://www.ThisKidReviewsBooks.comfor his recommendation of this title.

Happy Reading in 2016! I am well on my way to a new Good Reads goal for the year!

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

FRIENDSHIP

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading in 2015!

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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

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