Tag Archives: Books

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

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

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