Category Archives: Queries and Conundrums

Queries and Conundrums: The Advent Book Calendar

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Sorry about the static lately but ‘tis the season!  And in honor of this frantic, wonderful holiday season, I want to share with you a very creative idea.  I was on Facebook; ah, that great time waster, and I saw a post from a former student of mine.  She wrapped up 24 holiday children’s books and each evening in December, she and her son will open one and read it together.  What an absolutely fantastic idea!  I love children’s books, especially Christmas children’s books. I research a bit and went on Pinterest, another fantastic time-waster, and discovered that one can get REALLY creative with the Advent Book Calendar idea!!

To me, the holiday season should be viewed through the innocent and excited eyes of children.  Every year, my husband seeks out a unique and unknown Christmas book for me, while I find treasured classics for my children.  When I was little, my mom always had a basket of Christmas children’s books under the tree.  I remember sitting on the floor in the glow of the fire, twinkling Christmas lights, and flashy tinsel, enjoying holiday favorites year after year.

I continued this tradition with my own family. When the kids were younger, we would read a book a night before bed.  As they got older and became proficient readers, everyone would pick a favorite and we would all take turns reading.  Five books a night, every night until Christmas . . . yes, I have that many Christmas children’s books.  Even now, I get so tickled . . . don’t tell them, they would be embarrassed . . . when my teenagers, much past the age of picture books, lie on the floor under the tree re-reading their favorites.  After the holiday is over, the books are packed up in a bin and stored away until next Christmas.  I think I get more excited unpacking the holiday books each year than I do unpacking ornaments!

The Advent Book Calendar takes that thought one step further.  Added to the excitement and anticipation of reading a holiday book is unwrapping one and not knowing which one will be found!  What a lovely tradition!!

As I thought about this, I pondered how I might use this with myself and my teenagers.  Giggling a bit manically, I thought about wrapping up books on my to-be-read pile.  I would have to read one a day to keep up with the calendar.  Nothing else would get done in my house but my to-be-read pile might shrink a bit!  Sigh . . . I guess I will stick with the children’s books.

Queries and Conundrums: The Re-Read

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It had been one of those days . . . you know the kind . . . the cat throws up, on the carpet; the teenager’s hair just won’t look right, and she lets everyone know; the dishwasher didn’t get run last night, and dishes are now piled up in the sink; and so on.  For me, once I get some semblance of balance back – cat puke cleaned up, teenager hair braided; I will often treat myself to a half an hour with a book and a cup of tea.  I mean, what else am I supposed to do while waiting for the dishwasher to finish??

More often than not, I will pick up a book that I have already read.  There are two reasons for this.  First, if it is a new book or one that I am currently reading, the likelihood that I will get engrossed in it is very good.  I’ve allotted myself a half an hour and we all know that the dishwasher isn’t going to unload itself . . . however, wouldn’t that be really nice.

The second reason is that there is something so comforting about revisiting with an old friend.  That is how I view my rereading.  Sometimes I will reread an entire book but more often I will reread favorite passages or scene.  It kind of reminds me of Christmas cards: you receive them once a year and even though you might not have had contact with these friends since last year’s cards, there is something soothing and enduring about that renewed relationship.  I find that when I re-read, I am revisiting old friends and renewing old memories.

There is a level of comfort and satisfaction knowing what is going to happen that enables me to reread and simply enjoy the plot, the characters, or the description instead of the anxious anticipation that often occurs during an initial read.  I also find that I can better appreciate the author’s prose and language when I already know what is going to happen.  The calming effect of beautiful words can be just enough to get me through the day.

How about you?  Any other re-readers out there?

Queries and Conundrums: Readers Live Longer!

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A recent article in The New York Times stated that book readers live longer than non-book readers.  The article explained that “(c)ompared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.”  Here’s the article is you are interested in how the research was done:  http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2016/08/03/read-books-live-longer/.

The article provides some evidence to what I have always felt: books improve our lives and thus our lives are better and longer because we read.  What the article does not evaluate is the “why” do readers live longer.  Therefore, I felt it was necessary to expound on this data with my own biased and unsupported finds.  Will I have any empirical data to prove this?  No.  Will my findings have ground-breaking results in the scientific world?  Yeah, no again.  Will it be entertaining?  Well, that is my hope.

So, going back to the science fair projects of my children and my very distant memories of the transitive property in Algebra, my hypothesis is that readers live longer because of the following factors:

Writers keep writing more books that readers want to read.
I mean, seriously, what is up with these writers?  Are they trying to make a living or something?  It’s not like the readers are demanding of writers and clamoring for the next book in the series!  I’m talking about you, Anna Lee Huber!  It is impossible for me to get “caught” up with my reading.  Every time a new book comes out, there is a great debate in my mind as to when to read it.  Of course, we always have favorite authors that immediately get pushed to the top of the pile, but do you finish the book you are currently reading?  Do you stop mid-book and pick up the anticipated book?  Do you try to read both books simultaneously?  Yeah, that would be me.  Heck, I have probably chalked up a few additional years in my life already with the time I have spent in turmoil deciding what to read next!

Life interferes with reading time.
I think I might have mentioned how annoyed I get that laundry needs to be done, meals need to be cooked, children need to be driven around.  Don’t people know that I have a book that I need to read!!  I can, on average, complete about three books a week.  Are all of them great?  Absolutely not, but they need to be read.

Limited reading time causes the To-Be-Read piles to increase.
I have a compulsion . . . anyone else have it?  If a new book comes out from a favorite author, I need to own it.  Now, I get a lot of books from the library . . . and that is a completely different post . . . but sometimes the library doesn’t have the book, sometimes the book is one I want for my own personal library, and sometimes, someone else is on the wait-list ahead of me!  Seriously, I think I may be a toddler when it comes to books.  If I want it, it’s mine.

Therefore, there will always be one more book left to read!
I have no doubt that I will be on my deathbed not ready to let go because I haven’t finished the book I’m reading or I’m waiting for the next one in the series.  So my conclusion to this highly biased and subjective analysis is that “Readers live longer” because they still have books to read!

And so if you’ll excuse me, I am off to do something good for my health and longevity!

Queries and Conundrums: AudioBooks

books on tape

Every personality or learning quiz I have ever taken always indicates that I am a visual learner.  I have to look at things to process them, so it is no wonder that I love to read.  Over the summers however, I have found that I thoroughly enjoy books-on-tape.  I am sure that I am dating myself by calling them “books-on-tape;” I supposed audiobooks is the proper time but it hearkens back to when my children were young.  When my kids were little, I remember checking out books-on-tape at the library for them to “read along with.”  They enjoyed being able to follow the stories themselves and I found that it also helped them learn to read.  I myself had never really enjoyed books-on-tape.  I think that it is because I rarely have the time to sit down and focus on the story; if I am going to enjoy a book, I want to read it.

For the past eight years, my children have attended BookPeople’s Literary Camps; a later post on that awesome experience.  Anyway, I have about seven hours of “me” time in Austin.  For the first five years, both my husband and I came down and we enjoyed sight-seeing, eating, kayaking, eating, hiking, eating . . . you get the picture.  Once our oldest moved out of the age range of the camp, we had to divide and conquer; I brought the girls down to camp and my husband stayed home with our son.  The past two years, only our youngest has been eligible to attend.

I love Zilker Park and enjoy running . . . well, mostly walking with some short bursts of energy . . . along the river.  I figured it would be a great opportunity to try out a book-on-tape; I had two plus hours of walking time each day to just listen to a story.

I found that I didn’t like it, I loved it!!!  Every year I have chosen a different book to dedicate the trip to and each time it has been a book that I have previously read.  This past summer, I listened to Anna Lee Huber’s A Grave Matter, the third Lady Darby mystery.

I found that listening to the story provides a refreshing perspective.  It is fascinating how the descriptive details of a setting or ball gown become more visual by having them read aloud.  I also love how the action comes alive, be it a fight scene or love scene, through the oral interpretation.  I appreciate the talent of the narrator to create dimension to the story through the inflection of the words and the voices they choose for the different characters.  Having a bit of a background in theatre makes me both appreciate and admire their talent.

I know that I have always loved to read aloud to my own children and make the stories come alive that way, but I hadn’t really known how much I would enjoy the same being done to me.  I have not attempted a book that I haven’t read yet, but that will be next on my list.

How about you? Any commuters or hikers that listen to books-on-tape?

Queries and Conundrums: The Harry Potter Depression

Harry Potter books

We all remember that feeling . . . we finished the last page of Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows . . . and dual emotions of elation and depression filled our hearts.  After devoting countless hours and for some of us, many years of waiting, the story had finally come to an end.  I remember how I felt and then relived it when my own children finished the series.  Now true fans are well aware of the impending release of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, but there really is nothing like the original.

A few months ago, a friend asked me for suggestions for her own 5th grade daughter who had just completed the series.  She too was feeling a sense of depression and loss as to what she could read next.  I can well relate to that feeling of “what could I possibly read, that might be even half as good, as what I finished.”

I think with the Harry Potter books in particular, it is important to look at what attracts a reader to the story and appeals to the reader’s interest.  So, I started to think about what makes the Harry Potter books so engaging and what other books might appeal to those aspects of the story.

Magic
The first appeal for me was the magic.  J.K. Rowling incorporates magic into her stories with clarity and purpose.  The magic is grounded in reality and she has not just created a world where magic exists, but also where it blends almost seamlessly with the real world that we know.  Magic has specific and unique purposes for communication, transportation, education, and all other facets of the modern world.

One of my favorite books that incorporates magic is the Castle Glower series, starting with Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George.  These books tell the story of a magical castle that rearranges, adapts, moves, and deletes rooms in the castle, depending upon who is visiting and what is needed.  When the castle is ambushed, it, along with the Princess Celie, must protect the royal family and save the kingdom.  The adventures continue in subsequent books: Wednesdays in the Tower and Thursdays with the Crown.

World Building
Very few authors can create a new world as complex and all-encompassing as J.R.R. Tolkien and Rowling doesn’t try to do that.  Her creation of a magic world is one that is believable and yet fits into the universal truths of reality.  She doesn’t contradict what is known but instead melds the two worlds.  Perfect example is the access to Platform 9 ¾ or how a telephone booth is the entrance to the Ministry of Magic.

Another author who I think does a great job at this is Rick Riordan with his blending of the mythological world with the real world.  I am a big fan of the Percy Jackson series, but I almost think that the three books of the Kane Chronicles series about Egyptian mythology do an even better job at this.  The description of the world of the pharaohs and the creation of the House of Life magicians is based on the mythology but Riordan makes it come to life and gives this world a personification of its own.

The Golden Trio
I certainly didn’t coin this word but I think it is a great description of the bond between the three main characters and the story that is told through their growth and development.  Certainly not a new concept in literature, think Scout, Jem, and Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird or Nancy, Beth, and George in the Nancy Drew Mysteries, the Golden Trio can manifest itself in a variety of gender and age combinations and take different forms, but the primary story revolves around the friendship, conflicts, and evolution of these characters.

One of my favorite Golden Trios — that isn’t in the Percy Jackson books or the Rangers Apprentice series — is from Michael Spradlin’s Youngest Templar Series.  The characters of Tristan, Robard, and Maryam aren’t initially friends, but learn to rely on and trust one another through the progression of the story.  Another fun Golden Trio is Seymour, the young boy; Mr. Grumply, the cantankerous writer; and Olive, the ghost, from the 43 Old Cemetery Road series by Kate Klise.

A Satisfying Conclusion
Even with the impending release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the multitude of fan fiction that has been written, the last Harry Potter book ends with a sense of closure and completion.  The questions are answered, the conflicts are resolved, and although the reader knows that the characters will go on and do more amazing things in their future, he feels at peace with the end.  I know that I have read many, many books that have left me dissatisfied with the conclusion.  I wanted more questions answered or more loose ends tied up; ultimately, I want to know that the characters are going to “all right.”  J.K. Rowling does this at the end of the series.  I do think that it is notable that she has stated in numerous interviews that she had the last scene written very early on in her writing process.  Many writers allow the characters and stories to take them where they want to go, but don’t always have a clear end in mind.  As a reader, I like a clean finish.

Michael Spradlin’s Youngest Templar Trilogy has a very satisfying and clear ending.  Another trilogy that finishes smoothly is Jennifer Holm’s Boston Jane books; the character arc follows the standard rising action – conflict – falling action pattern, but does so with great description and warmth.  The reader enjoys the character and feels vested in her successful outcome.  One of my favorite books as a child, The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene dubois, also succinctly finishes a multi-dimensional story with a pleasing end.

 

So, what common appeals do you find in the books that you read, and do you look for those in other books that you seek out?

 

Queries and Conundrums: Summertime Reading

Canada 2013 028

I’m not dead yet!”  Can you tell I’ve been listening to Spamalot?  I apologize for the long siesta but between the end of the school year and my son graduating from high school, life has been busy.  Finally, things have slowed down a bit.  I have been reading a lot but have had little time to write.  But now it is summer!!!

What is it that makes summer reading so different from the rest of the year?  I know that for me personally, my kids are not in school so I am not reading as much while sitting in carpool lines or while waiting for rehearsal or lessons to finish up.  Don’t get me wrong; the kids are still busy but my reading time has shifted.

During the summer, I read more in the morning, when the house is quiet and the teenagers are still asleep.  I read during the heat of the day when really it is just too miserable to do anything else.  I read in the evening when the temperature finally cools down and the fireflies are just starting to appear.  Summer seems to provide more opportunities for longer stretches of reading time, but it is more than that.  For some reason, I feel less guilty for spending time reading rather than flipping the laundry or running the vacuum or making dinner.  Seriously though; it’s 100 degrees!  Who wants to turn the oven on?!

The requirements of daily life relax a bit and time for reading take precedence over all.  Throughout the school year, I find myself hoarding books to save for summer reading.  Funny thing is that my kids do too!!  Sometimes these books are ones that I know will take more time to process and think about, sometimes they are ones that may have more challenging content, but most often they are just books that I really want to read and enjoy and have the time to relish them.

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a cabin on a small island in Canada.  I used to spend two months up there almost every summer.  The morning meant chores: baking before the temperatures got too hot, weeding the garden, bailing the boats out, and so on.  After lunch, it was my time.  Pops almost always took an afternoon nap and Granny would spend time on her cross-stitch projects.  The only television reception was one station of Canadian television, the only music was from an 8 track tape player, and there rarely were any other children around, so I read . . . a lot.  With the windows open, there was just enough of a breeze to make it pleasant as I curled up on the old cracked vinyl couch on the front porch.  I usually brought a suitcase full of books but I often resorted to pillaging my grandparents’ bookshelves.  It was the summer that I turned 10 that I read To Kill a Mockingbird.  At 12, it was Gone with the Wind and at 13, Anna Karenina.  Summer was meant for not just enjoying my reading time, but rather full immersion.

So, what is on tap for this summer?  The new John Flanagan Brotherband book The Ghostfaces just came out, and next week is the newest Lady Darby – As Death Draws Near – by Anna Lee Huber.  I also have Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer sitting on my shelf; yes, I know it was released last October.  Don’t judge; it’s been a busy year!  I also still have a pile on my to-be-read shelf and who knows what I will discover when I take a break from the heat and venture into the nearest bookstore.

So, as the temps rise, embrace the true essence of summer.  Be it on the beach, by the pool, or in your own living room, read and enjoy the season.

Queries and Conundrums: BBA Update!

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I know that it is Friday and that is usually a FOUR ON FRIDAY, but it is also April 15!!.  If you remember about a month ago, I had a bit of  a crisis; my to-be-read pile was reaching critical mass and my book buying was out-stretching my reading time.  I challenged myself to read 10 books FROM MY TO-BE-READ pile and here is the update! 

I did it and I must admit that it was quite cathartic.  My shelf looks more manageable and I finally got to read some books that had been sitting there a while.  Some I liked, some I loved, and some I gave 50 pages to and said I’m done.  Here’s the list of what I read and what I thought.

Death and the Brewmaster’s Widow by Loretta Ross
Book 2 in the Auction Block series.  I liked the first book and I really enjoyed the second!  Check out my commentary here.

Black and Blue by Emma Jameson
Book four in the Lord and Lady Hetheridge series.  I enjoyed book 4 more than books 2 and 3, and I think the series is on the right track.  Indications are that there will be a book 5.

A Heart for Milton by Tracy Brasure
A “what-happens-next” after Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel North and South.  It is always a risk when author tries to write a sequel to another author’s work.  I enjoyed North and South a great deal, but this book didn’t hold my interest.  I finished it because I was curious to see this interpretation as to how the characters’ lives played out.

Two Birds with One Stone by Sigrid Vansandt
A charming cozy mystery set in the village of Marsden-Lacey, England.  A predictable “least favorite villager gets killed” plotline but some very enjoyable characters with a unique tie to the past and a famous English author.

The Quick by Lauren Owen
Not sure I can count this one; I only made it about 130 pages.  The cover author recommendation was from Deborah Harkness, who I love, so I picked it up.  The story started out really good and I was curious to see this author’s interpretation of vampires, but the story got very convoluted and the author included scraps of chapters and unclear references.  I think if I had given it another 100 or so pages, the story would have worked itself out but I wasn’t invested enough to follow through with it.

When Falcon’s Fall by C. S. Harris  (Not on my “to-be-read pile, but moved to the front of the queue when it arrived!)
Sebastian St. Cyr’s 11th story: absolutely wonderful!!  I also just saw that the author recently was contracted to write at least three more in the series.  See me doing my happy dance!!  My commentary is here.

Deadly Scandal by Kate Parker
A new series by the author of the Victorian Bookshop series, one that I really enjoy.  This one is set in 1930’s London between the time of the two great wars.  Check out my review here.

Moonlight over Paris by Jennifer Robson
A love story with rich historical roots set in Paris.  The cover caught my eye and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  Beautiful story about a young woman who, while lying near death following a nasty engagement break-up and life-threatening case of scarlet fever, vows that if she recovers, she will not dwell on the past and instead will embrace her future.  Helena Parr travels to her aunt’s house in France and begins to study art.  There she makes friends with an eclectic group of artists and meets and falls in love with an American reporter.  This is a slightly different look for the “Lost Generation” following World War 1 but Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald all make an appearance.  I really enjoyed the beautiful story; more of a “coming of life” rather than a “coming of age” story, but included some breath-taking descriptions and a rich historical feel.

A Scone to Die for by H. Y. Hanna
A cozy mystery series set in a teashop just outside of Oxford, England.  Uh, yeah!  Fun start to a new series.  An obnoxious and loud American tourist is murdered following an altercation in Gemma Rose’s tearoom.  Gemma, her intrepid employees including a cat named Muesli, and four nosy ladies from her community worked together to try to solve the case before someone shuts down her shop for good.  Kind of predictable but very fun.

Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Reinhart
Cherry Tucker has grown up in the small town of Halo, Georgia.  As she tries to establish herself as a portrait artist after years studying at a respectable art school, the town isn’t quite ready to let go of her past.  When Dustin Branson is murdered and Cherry is asked to paint a death portrait, she discovers more about death and art than she would ever want to know.  A little predictable but some very eccentric and entertaining characters.

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen (Not on my “to-be-read pile, but it was a library book that I had been on the wait list for)
Concerned after she caught a glimpse of her husband in a movie news reel and a cryptic letter, Molly Murphy book 16 takes Molly and young son Liam on a grand adventure to San Francisco.  Check out my review here.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
London book editor Sam Clair is used to dealing with temperamental authors and prickly lawyers, but it is Kit Lovell’s new book that dishes on the latest fashion industry scandal that pushes Sam out of her comfort zone.  Detective Jake Field and Sam’s mother, an accomplished and fearsome attorney, join forces with Sam to uncover the mysterious disappearance of author Kit and his novel.

I’ll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable
As she is packing for a trip to England with her mother, Annie discovers a book that her mother had hidden about real life Gladys Spencer-Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough.  As her mother’s business deal takes more time than expected, Annie begins to read the book and embarks on a quest to understand the Duchess and her life and the people who cared for her.  Although I enjoyed the author’s previous book A Paris Apartment more, there was a plot twist that took me so completely by surprise that I was engrossed in the plot so much that I had to finish the story.

Who Glares Wins by Camilla Chafer
This is the second book in the Lexi Graves series.  I read the first one and I’ll be the first to admit it is kind-of fluff, guilty pleasure reading.  However, after reading the second book, I am hooked.  Lexi is a very likable character with a wry sense of humor and a knack for adventure.  Although the series isn’t written quite as tight as the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum books, I find Lexi a more believable and realistic character.  Her mistakes are human and her personality has more depth and less caricature.  I found myself rooting for her success, without hoping for a disaster.  I will most likely check out the next in the series.

Poldark: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
I love watching period dramas on BBC almost as much as I love reading them, so of course I am obsessed by the new Poldark series.  Starring Aidan Turner . . . yeah, that’s enough for me . . . Poldark tells the story of Ross Poldark, who once arriving home after fighting in the Americas, discovers that his father has died, his love is engaged to his cousin, his family homestead lies in decay and disuse, and his prospects are lean.  He commits himself to starting a new life for himself in his home of Cornwall.  This book is the first in a series of twelve books about the generations of the Poldark family.  The story is a bit dry but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as a companion to the television series.  It filled in some gaps and it was fun to note differences with the production.  It reminded me a bit of North & South how it provided enough detail about the mining industry of Cornwall and its influence on the people who lived there, without bogging the reader down in the technical aspects.  I am looking forward to reading more of the series.

 

SO . . .  actually I read 15 books!  One was an additional purchase and one was a library book, but look how nice my to-be-read shelf looks!  Of course to celebrate my accomplishment, I went out and bought 4 new books!