Category Archives: Four on Friday

Four FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK Librarians

mike's house Library Lion all of a kind family library lil

I have always felt that truly good librarians are magic makers: they inspire readers to follow their passions and ignite new ones by introducing book selections that might not have been considered.  I love to check out books from the library and have the librarian give his or her thoughts or ask for my opinions.  As helpful and encouraging as librarians are to adults, I think their true spark comes from their interaction with children. 

The librarian at my children’s New Hampshire elementary school and the Amherst town librarian took on the role of an adult confidant and mentor to my own children.  She (in both cases) assumed the role of an adult who wasn’t there to evaluate or to reprimand (usually), but someone who the children could share their thoughts, questions, and inspiration about the books they read.  As much as I enjoyed teaching, I often admired and envied the role of a librarian: to be able to read and share books and authors without worrying about grades or projects or state requirements.

Now I know that good librarians do so much more than that!  They seem to possess a unique gift to recognize what type of book a child wants or needs and be able to find a suitable title to fit just that purpose.  Although a librarian’s work with technology has changed over the years – from microfiches and film strips to ebooks and websearches – I’d like to think that their passion lies truly with the books themselves.

Here are four of my favorite librarians from children’s literature.

Miss Merriweather from Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
I have to admit that this is one of my all-time favorite children’s picture books and I have to thank a librarian for sharing it with me and my children – thanks, Miss Jackie!  One day, a lion wandered into the library and sat down for a snooze in the children’s section.  As he wasn’t breaking any rules, he was allowed to stay.  He became a soft pillow during story-time, helped dust the shelves with his tail, and licked the overdue notice envelopes.  When something happens that requires the lion to break the rules, he must leave the library.

This is a beautiful story about rules and when to break them.  And more importantly, it is about the friendship between a librarian and a four-legged patron.

Lil in Library Lil by Suzanne Williams
Every since she was a child, Lil loved books and loved the library. One time she even checked out the entire set of encyclopedias and read them from cover to cover; so of course, she grows up to be a librarian.  Unfortunately, the people of Chesterville were not avid readers.  When a storm knocks out all the power in town and the television service is cut off, Lil jumps at the opportunity, pulls out the bookmobile, and inspires the town to read.  Life in Chesterville is good until Bust-‘em-up Bill and his motorcycle game come to town; they discover that they are unable to watch their favorite shows on Tuesday night because there are no televisions in town and they seek out the culprit behind this heinous act.  Lil stands firm and converts them all to be book lovers.

This very fun book is illustrated by the immensely talented Steven Kellogg.  The vivid and detailed illustrations just add to the humor and depth of the story.  Younger readers can appreciate the passion for reading that Lil inspired.  My favorite part is when the motorcycle gang members get in a fight over who will check out The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

The Library Lady in All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
This is a delightful book about five sisters who live in New York City with their parents at the turn-of-the-century.  This chapter book series was one of my favorites as a child and tells an engaging story while still teaching the reader about the city, the time period, and the customs and traditions of a Jewish family.

One chapter has the girls going on their weekly visit to the library, but Sarah can’t find her book.  When they inform the library lady, her kindness and generosity warms the readers’ hearts.  A mistake can be made by anyone and her compassion and problem-solving truly make her an exemplary librarian.  Although her part in the whole story is small, her impact and influence on the lives of these young girls is memorable.

Mrs. Mullan in Mike’s House by Julia L. Sauer
This enchanting picture book was first published in the 1950’s and truly captures the humanity of the time.  Four-year-old Robert gets lost on his way to Picture Book Hour at the Public Library.  He really just gets a bit confused and a young policeman rescues him.  Unfortunately, Robert’s explanation that he was going to Mike’s House is unclear to the officer; some hilarity and charm ensue as he realizes that Mike’s House is where the book Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel lives.

My admiration of librarian Mrs. Mullan is how she able to enchant a young child that books can be personified; that a reader can have such an emotional attachment and a vested interest in the characters and story that the book can have its own personality.  A book or story can have feelings, create emotional ties with others, and live in its own house!  I remember this book as a child and was thrilled to discover a very old, worn, and well-loved copy at our library’s rummage sale.  A treasure find for me!

So in honor of all the wonderful librarians in your lives, what literary librarians do you admire?

 

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Four THINGS I LOVE ABOUT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES on Friday

BookPeople

I’ve spent every afternoon this past week wandering, reading, and writing in the wonderful BookPeople Independent Bookstore in Austin, Texas.  I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of bookstores and I know what I like, and don’t like, in a bookstore.  Here are four things that I love about independent bookstores.

Four THINGS I LOVE ABOUT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES on Friday

Lots of books but specific specialties
A bookstore needs to have books, obviously, but too often the larger chain books stores have a huge variety of different genres but little depth within the genre.  BookPeople has an amazing children’s section; Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, highlights new fiction; and Murder by the Book in Houston . . . well, that is self-explanatory.  What I love is that these bookstores realize that they can’t be everything to everyone so they embrace one or a few genres and really provide great depth and understanding to that genre.

I have also found the even if a certain genre isn’t their genre, independent bookstores can provide books that a bit off the beaten path.  I find the mystery section at BookPeople to focus less on cozy and mainstream mysteries, but instead I have found more international authors or less known series.  It was at BookPeople that I discovered Mark Pryor, Brad Parks, and M. L. Longworth.

Employees are true book lovers
I think there is a box on the application for independent bookstores that states employees MUST love books.  I find that employees that I have spoken with are well-read and happy to share advice or suggestions, but they also understand that sometimes customers just want to peruse.  Some employees of the larger chain bookstores are knowledgeable, but I often find that they aren’t as passionate about what they selling as I am about what I am reading.

I love to talk to a bookseller and state a few of my favorite authors.  A good bookseller can understand the interests of a reader based on favorites and provide ideas for new authors.

Not extraneous “junk”
Independent bookstores sell books . . . not covers for Nooks, not Harry Potter Legos, not action figures or educational games . . . books.  Precious floorspace is filled with books.  Now, you will find the occasional writing journal, books themed t-shirts, and quirky tchotchkes that compliment a book purchase or book gift, but the real reason anyone enters the door is to look at books!

Welcoming places to read, enjoy, and get lost in the books
Chairs and couches stuck in odd corners, quiet nooks to settle in, stools to ascend tall shelves or sit on as you investigate the lower shelves.  The environment has soothing classic music playing and the atmosphere is one of relaxation and enjoyment.  Not as quiet as a library, but still soothing and inviting.

Independent bookstores also seem to have the best cafes!  Tasty treats and delectable drinks to enjoy while reading.  Books, chocolate, and tea . . .  ah, perfection!

How about you?  What are your favorite independent bookstores?

Four EASTER FAVORITES on Friday

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Four EASTER FAVORITES on Friday
Time to bring out the next set of holiday books!  Easter is this weekend and if you are in my family, old EB brings books, along with chocolate and eggs, in his Easter baskets.  Of course, Peter Rabbit is a family “bunny” favorite but here are four other Easter themed children’s books.

The Easter Egg Artists by Adrienne Adams
“There are Abbotts and there are Abbotts.  These Abbotts are rabbits.” And so the story begins of the Abbott family of rabbits who also happen to make the designs on Easter eggs. Father and Mother Abbott are hoping that son Orson might follow in their footsteps but he seems uninterested, until Father suggests that the car needs a paint job before their annual vacation.  Orson suggests they paint it to look like an Easter egg and he is hooked.  His painting passion leads him to decorate houses, airplanes, and even bridges.  When the family returns home, he finds his egg painting passion lies in comic Easter eggs.

This delightful story was one of my favorites as a child . . . yes, it is old.  I think it came as part of the Weekly Reader program; anyone remember that?  The pictures are simple but beautiful and the story is touching as the family bonds together while still maintaining a lot of humor and fun.

Happy Easter, Little Critter by Mercer Mayer
The Critter family’s Easter festivities, including baskets at home, church, a church picnic, and hunting for Easter eggs, are chronicled by Little Critter with his honest and entertaining narration.

My family has always loved the Little Critter books; perhaps we could relate to them so well!  In fact, when I was pregnant with my youngest, I was sure she was going to be a boy because I felt that our family truly emulated the Little Critter family.  The adorable illustrations and straight-forward story-telling of the Easter day events that are common in so many families make the reader chuckle and nod with understanding and warmth.  Best line is when Little Critter details the contents of his Easter basket and then notes, “The Easter Bunny gave my little sister the same things.  Dad says that’s so we won’t argue.”  Oh so true!!

The Best Easter Eggs Ever! By Jerry Smath
Easter Bunny invites his helpers Willa Bunny, Jellybean Bunny, and Bella Bunny to participate in an egg decorating contest.  They take their eggs out into world and visit the seashore, the forest, and the country searching for painting inspiration.  Each bunny’s eggs are so creative that Easter Bunny choose all of them to be part of the year’s holiday baskets.

I love this sweet little paperback because it talks about art and design and inspiration.  My children enjoyed reading this book and then drawing and coloring eggs to show the different things that inspired them.  I am not sure where we discovered this book but it has always been a favorite.

The Gold Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown
A little bunny is all alone until one day he discovers an egg.  He dreams of all the things that might be inside and grows very impatient for it to crack open.  Finally, it opens and a little duck comes out and neither is alone again.

Although this isn’t a traditional Easter book, it was always put this our holiday books.  I remember reading this book at a child but I didn’t make the connection that the author was the same who wrote Goodnight, Moon until I had children of my own.  The illustrations are beautiful and the story is a very simple one about friendship.  My children loved the part when the bunny tries to guess what is inside the egg.  How silly that a boy might fit!

Of course, now the Easter bunny brings slightly different books but there is always at least one in everyone’s baskets.  Other Easter favorites from your family?

 

 

Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday

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Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday
So a few weeks ago, I did a Four on Friday about BOOK HOOKS.  That got me thinking about what is inside the book.  Obviously, the best part is the story itself (hopefully!!) but I love when there are extra surprises.  It is like getting a Chick-fil-A with an extra pickle or a piece of cheesecake with an extra dollop of whipped cream . . . can you tell that it is lunch time?  It is something beyond the expected.  Here are four BOOK BONUSES that get me particularly excited.

Family Trees
I love when an author puts in a genealogical tree to show how all the characters in a story are related, especially when it goes back a few generations.  Now, I am not talking about a “cast list.”  Honestly, if an author has to put a list of characters and who they are at the beginning of the book, there are either too many characters or they aren’t well represented in the story and that just does not bode well for the book.  A family tree is especially interesting when a story covers several generations or the plot references back to previous generations.  I love to see how all the characters are inter-mingled and related and appreciate that “a-ha” moment when I get how everything works together.

Maps
I love, love, love maps!!!  Seriously, in a previous life, I think I was a cartographer on a sailing vessel that traveled through uncharted territories.  I am a visual person and a map helps me to see where the characters are and where they are going.  I think it can help clarify the plot and move the story along if the reader can visualize the progression of movement of the action by looking at the locations on a map.  Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid/James novels always have a map on the inside cover of the book for the particular part of London in which the story is based.  It is also helpful to have a map when an author creates a fictitious land: John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice series includes maps to show the reader the layout of the countries.   And of course, who doesn’t love Tolkien’s detailed maps of Middle Earth.

Author Notes
As I read a lot of historical mysteries and novels, I enjoy when an author includes the research behind the events in the story.  C. S. Harris does an amazing job with her Sebastian St. Cyr books as she relates the events to the history and the politics of the time.  Her protagonist has a unique ocular condition – not going to explain it, you must read these books!!  She detailed in one book the science and history behind the condition; it was fascinating.  I think the historical and research background really adds depth and credibility to the story.  It is one thing to have a great plot, but when that plot is interwoven into real historical events, the circumstances and conflicts that the characters face become much more real.

Chapter Titles
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a bit of a quirky sense of humor.  I love when authors title their chapters.  Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin series includes lines from Irish folklore and history and Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson chapter titles are sayings found on t-shirts.  I love when an author can have fun with the story but also create even more anticipation by having unique chapter titles.  My all-time favorite has to be Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books.  I mean who does not want to read “just one more chapter” when the title is “We Take a Zebra to Vegas.”  Any wonder why I can’t put books down!?

How about you?  What book bonuses trigger your fancy?

Four BOOKS TO PACK on Friday

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Four BOOKS TO PACK on Friday
Yesterday, my friend and fellow blogger at SmartGirlsRead posted a meme from Good Reads about choosing which book to read next.  She commented how appropriate it was as she was trying to pick which books to pack for an upcoming trip.  As I am also getting ready to head out for Spring Break, I started to think about which books I was planning to pack.

I honestly think I spend more time choosing which books to pack than which clothes!  There are strict guidelines and criteria for every travel adventure and the books chosen must meet those standards.  I usually put out a pile of books on the bed and evaluate each: hardcovers are cumbersome and heavy in a carry-on, library books are ripe for getting left or lost, and ebooks . . . well, that is a completely different blog post!  Anyway, as I look at the stack, I realize that there are four main types of books that I pack for a trip.

The one I’m currently reading
This is the book that I intended to finish prior to the trip.  You know, the one that just has about 50 pages left and I am going to sit down and finish it as soon as I finish packing . . . folding laundry. . . cleaning out the fridge.  The one, despite my best intentions, does not get finished.  I can’t wait the three days, five days, or week until I get home to finish it!  Then I will be busy unpacking . . . doing laundry . . . restocking the fridge.  You get the picture.  It doesn’t matter how many pages are left; it has to get thrown into the carry-on bag and most likely will be completed in the waiting area before I even board the flight.

The one I can’t wait to read
This is the one I’ve been saving.  The one that I’ve put aside special for the trip.  The one whose anticipation gets me just as excited as the trip itself.  When I was young, my mom would purchase books for us whenever we traveled.  She quickly realized that I would read them before the trip, and she started to wrap them and they couldn’t be unwrapped until the vacation started.  For me, as soon as the car was backing out of the driveway, the spine would be cracked open and I would start reading.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree because I have to do the same with my own children!!  I often remember these books as I remember the trip:  California 1983 – Trixie Belden 12:  The Mystery of the Blinking Eye, New England 2009 – C. S. Harris’ What Angels Fear, Austin 2014 – Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life.  See what I mean.

The one I’m not sure about reading
This is the book that involves a psychological game with myself.  This is the book on my shelf that either I am not sure that I want to read or that I am afraid to read.  For whatever reason – a new author, a major plot twist, an uncomfortable conflict – I am apprehensive about starting this book.  My thought is that if it is with me, I will be forced to try it.  I may like it, I may not; but I will try it because I have it with me and there are no other options.  This way, I have found books that I have loved and books that I have given 50 pages to and said forget it.  For some reason, books are easier to let go of without guilt when you are on vacation!

The one for the flight home
I very intentionally pick a book that I plan to read on the flight home.  It is almost always a fluff book that requires little to no brain-power, an author or plot-line that I know I will enjoy, and one that can be completed easily within the flight timeframe.  I know that when I get home, reality will hit me in the face and my reading time will become non-existent.  If I don’t finish the book on the trip home, it won’t get finished.  This is my detox downtime reading before the transition back to real-life.  These are my guilty pleasure books that will make me laugh-out-loud but won’t remember days later.

As an additional note, I usually budget a book a day.  I rarely complete that, but as you know, one must be ready for a zombie apocalypse . . . or a delayed flight . . . so it is best to be prepared!   Yes, this makes my suitcase heavy, and yes, I will sacrifice shoe space for books.

So, what kind of books to you pack for travel?

Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday

Book Hooks

Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday
Book Hooks . . . also known as, the things that attract me to a book before I read the synopsis teaser.  There are so many books on the market, and even though you can narrow down your choices by interest and reading the backs of the books, the sheer number is still rather daunting.  As I have mentioned previously, I love to wander bookstores to see what might strike my fancy, and I started to think about what attracts me to pick up one book to peruse the back synopsis and not pick up another.  To use the old cliche, I guess I do check out books by their covers.  So, here are four things that I look at BEFORE I read what the book is about.  A shout-out to my youngest for coming up with the title BOOK HOOKS; thank you, peanut!

Author
I almost always look first at the author of a book . . . of course it helps that most stores arrange their books alphabetically by author!!  Although, I noticed recently, that a local Barnes and Noble separated cozy mysteries from other mysteries.  Hmmm.  “Cozy” mysteries is somewhat of an ambiguous term and I don’t like that they are telling me what is cozy and what isn’t.  Rather annoys me; kind of like when they pushed the mysteries to the back of the store.  Kind of gets my goat . . . but I digress.

I have a list . . . of course I have a list . . . of about 50 favorite authors that I follow and read regularly. Sometimes I add new ones and sometimes I have to break up with them, but if I see a book by one of “my” authors, I am going to pick it up.  Now, I don’t always read every series by each of the authors, but I am more likely to try something new from an author I like.  I do this with movies too; I follow certain actors, regardless of the film itself.  Richard Armitage is in a movie . . . yup, I’m gonna see it.

Cover Art
I suppose this is the cliche at its finest, but if a book has a castle and a character in period clothing, I am going to pick it up!  I know that was how I found both of my two most favorite authors – Anna Lee Huber and C. S. Harris.  Huber’s first cover indicates a period mystery set in Scottish Highlands (uh, yeah!) and Harris’ cover shows a darker, more gothic environment.

I will admit that the cartoon-y, cutesy covers tend to turn me off though and some books covers just don’t give the right feel for the book.

Title
I appreciate a good play on words and enjoy a creative title.  Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile series attracted me with the title Homicide in Hardcover, and I enjoyed the contradiction of Anne Cleeland’s Murder in Thrall.  A newer series by Loretta Ross (check out my review next week!) has Death in every title, but it is the name of main character.  Most of Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries are Irish phrases and song titles – In Like Flynn and Oh Danny Boy.

Because I tend to be a bit detailed oriented . . . you kind of figured that out, right . . . I really enjoy titles that have a pattern.  C. A. Belmond’s series all starts with “A Rather . . .,” as in A Rather Lovely Inheritance and A Rather Curious Engagement.  Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series titles all have clothing references in the title: A Toxic Trousseau and Hexes and Hemlines.  When I see a series of titles on the shelf that seem to follow a pattern, I will pick them up.  Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery series and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series appeal to my sense of organization.

Endorsements
Finally, I look at endorsements.  I figure that if an author that I enjoy likes the book, there is a reasonable chance that I might also enjoy it.  I will get especially excited when more than one of my favorite authors comments on the book!  Both Anna Lee Huber and Deanna Raybourn commented on the Simone St. James books and that was clincher for me to try her out.  I have often wondered though how an author is asked to comment on another author’s book; is there an insiders secret code?  Hmmm.  Might have to research that.  Finally, once I have found a possibility based on one of these four draws, I will then read the synopsis.

Of course the real challenge starts next; how do I choose which to purchase from the stack that I have assembled?!  Ah, the life of a reader!  How about you?  What attracts . . . or detracts . . . you from picking up a book?

Four FAVORITE LOVE STORIES on Friday

Love

Four FAVORITE LOVE STORIES on Friday
Ah, Valentine’s Day.  I think most people have a love-hate relationship with this particular holiday.  Don’t get me wrong; I fully admit that I am, and always have been, a hopeless romantic.  I am the one sobbing at the end of a book or movie while my children slowly edge away, pretending not to know me.  I also have a bit of sarcastic wit and quirky view of life.  This creates a bit of a paradox when it comes to love stories.  It’s like love songs – Bryan Adams’ “Everything I do, I do for you” melts my heart but I also have a true appreciation of Meatloaf’s “Two out of Three ain’t bad.” 

There are countless stories out there and although I appreciate a bit of cynicism and conflict, I am a sucker for a happy ending.  Here are four of my favorite “love” stories.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop, a witch, and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire, do the unthinkable; they fall in love.  While researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she discovers a bewitched alchemical manuscript.  Inadvertently, the reappearance of this manuscript, which has been hidden for centuries, reignites the age-old conflict between witches, daemons, and vampires.  Over 1500 years old himself, Matthew is drawn to this young, inexperienced witch who is defiant and dismissive of her powers and the secrets that she doesn’t know that she possesses.

My cousin recommended this book to be and I admit I was very hesitant.  I’m confessing here; I have never read The Twilight Saga.  Shocker, I know, but I’m just not a huge vampire fan.  The Discovery of Witches, and the two other books in the All Souls Trilogy – The Shadow of Night and The Book of Life — completed changed my attitude.  This series is an intelligent perspective on the various creatures that could live in our world and Harkness’ detailed research and historical accountability make it a fascinating read.  I enjoyed the love story that brought two different creatures together, despite both of their denials, and what they must endure for themselves, their families, and their world.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Buttercup and Wesley are in love but are poor.  He goes off to seek his fortune, is captured, and is killed by pirates.  Buttercup is despondent and years later becomes engaged to Prince Humperdinck.  She is kidnapped and rescued by none-other-than Wesley.  True love must save the day, along with giants, Sicilians, and a revenge seeking Spaniard.

If you haven’t seen the movie The Princess Bride, well then I am sorry, we cannot be friends because it is quite honestly one of the best ever.  If you have seen it, you must read the book.  I loved the movie and when I picked up the book, I was in for the shock of my life.  The book is the movie . . . plus all the boring stuff that is in the original S. Morgenstern’s tale.  William Goldman injects hilarious and entertaining commentary throughout the entire novel about how his father “left out” parts when he read the story to his son as a small boy.  As good as the story is, the “outtakes” are even better.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, along with their mother and youngers sister, are rudely pushed out of the family homestead when their father passes away.  As they are the children of his second marriage, his son from the first marriage is heir and owner of all of his father’s possessions.  As they attempt to find themselves in their new and much reduced circumstances, the reader sees the strong differences between the two sisters.  Elder Elinor is practical and reserved; Marianne is impulsive and emotional.  Both of them discover love and learn a great deal about themselves.

You know I had to include a Jane Austen, and my favorite of hers is Sense & Sensibility.  Linguistics lesson here – sense refers to perceptions and sensibilities refers to emotional responses.  I love how the title applies to both sisters and the claim Austen makes that both are required for love and companionship.  Emma Thompson’s version of this as a movie is also one of my favorites.  This film does a great job at making the story poignant and relatable without being sickeningly sweet.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Returning home from war, Benedick and Claudio are ready to celebrate their victories.  Claudio is in love with the beautiful Hero and through some comedic interplay, woes her for his wife.  Her cousin, Beatrice, and Benedick have past history of witty and often caustic banter; although secretly, they slowly begin to discover their affection for one another.  When Hero is maliciously maligned, Beatrice and Benedick work together to clear her name.

I love Shakespeare’s comedies but my all-time favorite is Much Ado About Nothing.  I love the varying views of love and how intelligence and humor are keys to a successful relationship.  I have a soft spot also for this show because I played Hero in a college production and it was one of the roles I have enjoyed most playing.  The Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson film version of this play is fabulous and absolutely beautiful to watch.  Joss Whedon, of The Avengers fame, did a modern version that shows how Shakespeare’s themes are truly universal and timeless . . . yes, that is me as an English teacher speaking.  There is a new book out called Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato that is a fictional telling of what occurred between these two characters before the story begins, and yes, it’s on my wishlist!

So, these are only four of mine; what are your favorite love stories?