Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

A Few International Reads

December 11, 2015

On my bookshelf, I have all sorts of outdated Rick Steves guidebooks from the days my husband I roamed around Europe with our kids. Product Details In one of his books, he recommended that parents have their kids watch movies to help get them excited about different locations before they arrived.  I remember picking up the Italian-dubbed version of Anastasia at the library in Merano where we lived.  My Saving the Griffin could be a good choice for kids visiting Tuscany. While most of the book is set at a villa there, several chapters take place in Siena.


Here are a few titles that really brought me back to France and Italy after I returned to the U.S.:




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A Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet (Paris)
A Box of Gargoyles by Anne Nesbet  (Paris) Previous book’s sequel


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Black Radishes
by Susan Lynn Meyer (Opens in Paris)





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The Thief Lord (Venice)

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Bloomability by Sharon Creech (Much takes place just north of Italy, but there’s a trip to the Dolomites)



Regional Reads for Christmas

December 9, 2015

How do you pick out a Christmas present or birthday gift for a young reader?  There are all sorts of ways to choose, but sometimes I like to pick out a book set in a place where those readers live or featuring characters from the same locality. Readers have enjoyed recognizing places from Suspect, my mystery set in Missouri with scenes that take place in St. Louis and Augusta. Defending Irene might be set in the Italian Alps, but it features a young American soccer player from the St. Louis area. Saving the Griffin is set in Tuscany, but it features characters from Minnesota.

What are some other fun regional reads?  Here’s a mix new releases and old favorites that I could think of off the top of my head during the busy holiday season. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments. I’ll be adding, updating and annotating as time allows even after the 2015 holiday season wraps up.


Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan (YA)


One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia (Oakland)
Quad by C.G. Watson
Millicent Min: Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (San Francisco)
One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin
Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle  (A boy whose mother has been arrested for dog fighting goes to live with his great-uncle, who is a forest ranger and has a wilderness search and rescue dog.)


Katerina’s Wish by Jeannie Mobley
Searching for Silverheels by Jeannie Mobley


The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck


Cynthia’s Attic by Mary Cunningham (Southern Indiana)


Do You Know the Monkey Man by Dori Hillestad Butler



A Voice for Kanzas by Debra McArthur (Lawrence)



Harvest Moon by Tonya Coffey (recommended by the author, a former student, which is always fun)



Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith



Sanctuary by Jennifer McKissack
Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross


The Dirt Diaries by Anna Staniszewski



Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw
Copper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson (Fictional town on Lake Michigan)
Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis


Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck
Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz  (St. Louis and Augusta)


Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson



Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman


New Hampshire

Any Way You Slice It by Kristine Carlson Asselin



Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick

New Mexico 

Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways to Fly by Conrad Wesselhoeft (YA)

New York

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
Eighth-Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Pucker Up by Rachele Alpine  (Lakewood, a place near Cleveland)



The Caged Grave by Dianne Marenco Salerni (In 1867, a girl returns to her hometown and discovers her mother and aunt are buried in caged graves.)

The Eighth Day by Dianne Marenco Salerni (A boy discovers a secret day of the week hidden between Wednesday and Thursday.)

South Carolina

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Palace Beautiful by Sarah Deford Williams (Salt Lake City)



Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith
Golden Girl by Mari Mancusi (A snowboarding prodigy tries to reclaim her standing as the “Golden Girl” at her elite winter sports academy. )



Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj



Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft (YA) Seattle



Finders Keepers by Shelley Tougas


Faithful by Janet Fox (YA) Set in and around Yellowstone



Flying the Dragon

June 25, 2012

I suspect that one of the reasons that I’ve written two cross-cultural books is that I like reading them.  That’s why I’m excited about the launch of Natalie Dias Lorenzi’s Flying the Dragon.  For a behind the scenes look at how this book came to be, you can visit Emu’s Debuts for the first installment.  


Revisiting the Top 100 Chapter Books

June 17, 2012

Betsy Bird decided to revisit her Top 100 Children’s books poll on her Fuse#8 blog.  She made a few rule changes to tweak the results.  If I remember correctly, she wound up putting together a separate poll for kids.  She also asked that people vote for the first book in a series as the representative unless there was something exceptional about a later book in the series. Both THE HIGH KING by Lloyd Alexander and THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by J.K. Rowling were among the sequels that made it. 

There actually was quite a bit of shifting.  I know that I made some different decisions in order to help my favorite books move up the list.  On the first time through, I went almost exclusively on love based on the number of times that I checked out a book when I was a kid.  On this occasion, I did shift votes to the first of the series.   I also tilted toward the books that I adore now as well as giving a bit of extra love to books that I wanted to see move up.  It wasn’t a pure best of the best list. 

So here was my first round:

1. The Grey King by Susan Cooper (It’s the fourth book in her DARK IS RISING series, but I read it first because that was all the local library branch had. I loved it all the same.)

2. Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager (Edward Eager’s books are so much fun. SAVING THE GRIFFIN can trace its literary roots back to KNIGHT’S CASTLE, HALF MAGIC, THE TIME GARDEN and their siblings.)

3. The City of Gold and Lead (This is the second book of John Christopher’s original TRIPOD trilogy. THE WHITE MOUNTAINS comes first, but this one hit me the hardest.)

4. The Silver Chair C.S. Lewis (Jill Pole was my hero!)

5. Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth….Konigsberg (I could relate to Elizabeth, and I had my own Jennifer.)

6. My Side of the Mountain (Great adventure. A wonderful survival story.)

7. Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (I also adored BLACKHEARTS IN BATTERSEA and NIGHTBIRDS ON NANTUCKET. I’m afraid the others in the series left me a bit cold.)

8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (My most recent title on the list. For the rest of this list, I was going by the books that I had a deep and abiding passion for back in elementary school.)

9. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein. (I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS when I was eleven also, but it really doesn’t fit in as a chapter book.)

10. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol. (I also liked ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS very, very much.)


While the book titles changed, eight of the ten top authors kept their same places. Two books dropped off entirely. Two others jumped on.   

1. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

2. Half Magic by Edward Eager

3. The Westing Game by Raskin

4. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis

5. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me Elizabeth….Konigsberg

6. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

7. Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

9. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

10. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol.

Literary Rambles

April 23, 2012

I was so delighted to see that Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre received some well-deserved recognition for their fabulous blog, Literary Rambles. It made theWriter’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers in the May/June issue.  They came in at #13 under “Everything Agents.”   In addition to spot-lighting agents, they also profile writers.  So this is a great place to get more information on new releases.

Ghosts I Have Been

April 15, 2012

A hundred years ago today, the Titantic went down with more than 1600 souls lost. Sure, I’ve seen the James Cameron movie, but my favorite depiction of that horrific moment of history came out 25 years ago with the publication of Richard Peck’s GHOSTS I HAVE BEEN.   

Blossom Culp, the story’s main character, made her first appearance in Peck’s THE GHOST BELONGED TO ME as a member of the supporting cast.  I could certainly understand why Peck wanted to spend more time with Blossom. In fact, GHOSTS I HAVE BEEN was probably one of my favorite books in elementary school.  The first 120 pages or so are concerned with Blossom’s various activities from playing a ghost in a privy in the opening chapter to revealing the ‘shady dealings of a seance medium doubling as a con-man” in Chapter 10.   Miss Spaulding, Blossom’s formidable teacher and principal, invites a local newspaperman, Lowell Seaforth, to come to school in hopes that Blossom will “settle down to a quiet life and be a team player” after she receives some attention for her activities.  But Miss Spaulding is less than pleased by some of the details.

      “But, Blossom, is it not enough to tell us of your many actual, activities…without fabricating?”
       I opened my mouth to protest but closed it again.
       “In short, Blossom, you may play at being a ghost ,as you seem never to tire of, but you cannot see one. This flies in the face of science.”
        I’d sooner not fly in the face of science if it meant flying in the face of Miss Spaulding.  So I sat swinging my feet and examining my boots, which were my old ones.
        “And so, Blossom, for your own good and in the presence of the press, we must have on final confrontation with the truth. You have said that you have Second Sight, can see the Unseen, and have conversed with spirits.  Is this true and will you go on record for it?”
         I would and nodded.
         “Very well, Blossom. Then prove it. Now.” 

At that point, Blossom would have gladly negotiated for a thrashing but knew that Miss Spaulding didn’t make deals.  She tried to conjure up something. Nothing came.  It was not a good time for her Second Sight to quit on her until…

       Then I heard the first rumble. The sound I’d heard once before. The rasp of two great objects grinding together–iron against ice.  It was deeper than thunder and at first farther off.  But the roaring was soon in my ears and then in the room.
       The office began to throb and pound, like engines in the earth running out of control. I had hold of the chair arms to keep from pitching out.  If this was not the San Francisco earthquake, it was near kin of it….Just before the desk lamp fell over, I saw Miss Spaulding’s pince-nez glasses slip down her face. Her hand clamped over her mouth. The bulp in the lamp exploded. Lowell Seaforth’s voice came up strong: “Damnation! What have we unleashed?” 

You know that you want to find out!  I promise that anyone who liked Richard Peck’s award-winning YEAR DOWN YONDER and A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO will enjoy GHOSTS I HAVE BEEN.

Putting in the Miles

May 21, 2011

When my son started running long distance, his coach said something pretty close to the following:  “Sprinters are born, but you can be successful in long distance if you put in the miles.”  (Now, of course, the elite long distance runners are probably also born, but I’m guessing that even they need to put in some serious miles before they can fully realize that there’s something special going on.)  Yesterday, as I watched my son qualify for state in the 1600 meters with a time of 4:27 at the end of his senior year, I couldn’t help but think back to those words from his coach.   

Writing can be like that. There are born storytellers out there like Robin McKinley and Megan Whalen Turner, who essentially sold their first books to the first editor who saw them.  I’m not saying that they don’t work at their craft. They do!  World class sprinters lift weights, run repeats, and spend hours perfecting their starts.    But determined people who are willing to put in the miles with their writing can be successful.

Writing Historical Fiction

February 6, 2011

Frankly, I’ve always been terrified by the thought of writing historical fiction because of how much research need to be done in order to get the time, setting and characters right.  I’ve had a big enough challenge with contemporary fiction whether it was constructing an imaginary a realistic Italian estate in Saving the Griffin or learning the proper cleaning techniques for a classy bed and breakfast in SuspectBut R.L. LaFevers, author of the Theodosia and Nathaniel Flood Beastologist books, broke her methods down in two posts on her blog.  The first was on research in the pre-writing stage; the second, on the value and limits of historical accuracy.  I’m inclined to take her word seriously on this because I thought that she did a very nice job handling the state of Egyptology in Edwardian times for her THEODOSIA books.  I’m no expert on that era, but I am an addict to Elizabeth Peters’ AMELIA PEABODY series.  Many of those books are set in the same time period.

Holiday Reading

January 3, 2011

Ever since I was third or fourth grade, Christmas has meant new books.  And new books usually meant new places to travel from Middle Earth to Prince Edward Island.   For this holiday season, I had the chance to visit Llyvraneth  in Elizabeth C. Bunce’s STAR CROSSED.   It wound up being a seasonal book as well since it was set at midwinter.  You can read more about this YA fantasy at Ms. Bunce’s website.

SUSPECT on First Page Panda

October 19, 2010

First Page Panda is a relatively new blog  that shares the first pages of new novels. SUSPECT was posted today.  This does look like a great place to taste books by familiar and unfamiliar authors.