Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forget Black Friday...and a Book Give-Away

Forget the crowds and the lines and staying up all night. Give the gift of stories and reading this year. AND you don’t have to spend a lot of time sorting through all the books out there. I’ve been writing book reviews for this blog and for the Sacramento Book Review this year, so I have read a great number of books and can help you out with your list. Below are some great recommendations for everyone on your list. Enjoy! And remember, if you click on the book title, it will take you to my review in the Sacramento Book Review or to Amazon and more information about the books.

For the Littlest Ones:
King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury – Possibly the BEST bedtime story of this century. Oh, and the illustrations are perfect.
When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore and Howard McWilliam – Really taps into family dynamics and kids’ imaginations. And, BONUS, it's funny!
Pretty Princess Pig by Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple and Sam Williams – Cute rhyming picture book for the youngest of children.
There Was an Odd Princess Who Swallowed a Pea by Jennifer Ward and Lee Calderon – Funny, funny book based on an old folk song. The illustrations are funny, too. Kids will love this one.

Kindergarteners through Third Graders:
You Can’t Eat a Princess and You Can’t Scare a Princess by Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre – The most charming and funny princess books EVER with illustrations that will knock your little girl’s sparkly socks off. Not kidding! You can read a nice interview with Gillian Rogerson by clicking HERE.
Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots by Rebecca Janni and Lynne Avril – This cute book has some great lessons in it, but they don’t overwhelm. The illustrations are very sweet.
Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O’Connell George and Nancy Carpenter – Without a doubt, the BEST collection of poems for sisters. The illustrations are heart-breakingly beautiful and so is the story.
Neville by Norton Juster and G. Brian Karas – If you know a boy who is facing a move, get this book. If you know a boy, buy this book. It’s really for everyone, but boys will especially like it. It’s a perfect book for children. That’s all. Just perfect.
Small Saul by Ashley Spires – What little boy doesn’t like pirates? This is a book with some important messages well hidden in funny pictures and a terrific story.
Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri – All kids will like this funny book with even funnier illustrations, and they will want to have it read to them over and over. But you won’t care. It just as funny for the reader as for the kids.

For Fourth through Eighth Grade Girls:
Ivy’s Ever After and Ivy and the Meanstalk by Dawn Lairamore -- Girls will love these inventive stories with a clever, strong heroine. They are funny and smart. I hope there are more to come!
The Summer of Hammers and Angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky – Small town life in the south is a great frame for this sweet story that reminds us that it really does take a village. Read a full review of the book HERE and an interview with the author HERE.
Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor – This is a sweet little mystery with great characters that will keep the pages turning and warm the heart.

For Fourth through Eighth Grade Boys:
Upon Secrecy and By the Sword by Selene Castrovilla –These wonderful non-fiction books will trick kids into learning some real history. They will be so fascinated, they’ll never guess while reading these books they are learning. The first is the story of George Washington’s spy ring during the revolution. I’ll bet you didn’t know he had one. I didn’t. The second is a terrific story of the Battle of Long Island, a very personal story of sacrifice and heroism.
Big Nate on a Roll and all the Big Nate books in the series by Lincoln Peirce – Have a reluctant reader to buy for? Fool them with these “comic” books. You will hook them into a whole series of well-written books with great characters they won’t want to let go.
Magyk by Angie Sage and Mark Zug – This recommendation comes to you via my grandson, Gehrig, who said it was a really good book for kids who like fantasy. It’s on my list of to read books, but I’d trust Gehrig on this one.

For Teens and Those of Us Who Love YA:
Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story by Joyce Moyer Hostetter – This is historical fiction at its best – well researched, beautifully written, and a riveting story. I never knew much about leprosy, but now I do. Amazon says this is for fifth grade and up, but some of this is pretty mature and it’s rich enough to easy hold the attention of teens and up. Read a full review HERE.
Angry Management by Chris Crutcher – Just click HERE for the review I wrote earlier this year. Then click HERE, HERE, and HERE to read more about Chris Crutcher and some of his other books. If he wrote it, I recommend it and your teens will like it. These are mostly “boy” books, but girls will like them as well.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt – Amazon says this is for kids ten and up, but I think it’s more appropriate for teens (and adults, frankly). It takes a certain maturity to see all the richness in this beautifully written coming-of-age story. This is a real winner. Read my full review HERE.
I’m Not Her by Janet Gurtler – This is a lovely, important book that might really help kids examine their own lives and how they live them. Unfortunately, it will probably be seen as a girl’s book and boys will probably pass it by. Too bad for them. They will miss a lot.
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill – Again, Amazon says this is for younger kids, but I don’t buy it. It’s strange and intense and a little scary. I think teens would really like this odd little book.
Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards – This stunning book is written in blank verse. It takes hardly any time to read, but is so rich and so powerful, one will feel filled and sated at the end. Girls, more than boys, will love this, and believe me, they will love it. You can read a full review of it by clicking HERE and an interview with the author HERE.
I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan – This book is great for both guys and girls. It is filled with heartbreak, horror, and uncommon heroism. You can read the full review by clicking HERE.

For the Grown-Ups:
As you may know, I read a great deal of kid lit and it doesn’t leave much time for adult lit. One thing that means is I’m pretty picky on what I spend my limited time. It also means if you are a regular reader of my blog, you might already know about most of the books I’m mentioning. Some of these are books that have been around a long time, but good books are good books forever, and I don’t always get to the new books.

The Last Child by John Hart – This is such a good book, I can hardly say enough about it. It's a thriller of the first order. Read my full review from an earlier post by clicking HERE.
True Grit by Charles Portis – This is one of those books I’m going to read again as soon as I have time. The writing is amazing and the story and characters are powerful and memorable. I don’t care if this was written over sixty years ago. If you have someone on your list who loves good books, this is one worth having. Read my full review HERE.
The Lost Mother by Mary McGarry Morris – This book will break your heart, but you won’t be able to put it down. It will transport you to the Great Depression and a very real story of life in that time. Read the full review HERE and an interview with the author HERE. I also recommend A Hole in the Universe and Light from a Distant Planet by the same author. Those are the only books of hers I’ve read, but I will get to more as soon as I can. I love her writing.
The Help by Katherine Stockett – There’s a reason this has been such a red-hot best seller. It’s GOO-OOD. ‘Nuff said. Give it to yourself and anyone else who likes to read good books.
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard – I know. I know. Another book that’s been around for years. My favorite son-in-law, Gordon, has been telling me to read Elmore Leonard for a long time. I just never got around to it. I certainly will be reading more books by him. This is funny and smart and full of quirky characters. I loved it.

That should pretty much cover anybody on your shopping list. Just think, with all the time I’ve saved you, maybe you can just sit down and read a good book. If you do, let me know about it. I’m always looking for something to read. And please leave a comment with what books you would recommend for shoppers this year.If you leave a comment with a book recommendation before my next post, I will put your name in a drawing for a good book. I don't have one of those fancy-schmancy random generators. My granddaughter, Gracie, will take care of the drawing. She is very honest. I won't tell you what book I'm giving away, but I promise it will be a good one.

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. And please leave a comment. If you have trouble leaving a comment, please click on the title of the post and comments should pop up at the bottom. If you don’t have one of the accounts they ask for or don’t want to use that, please use Anonymous, but let me know who you are. Thanks. I love to hear from you.

Next post I will have some terrific links for my writing friends, so please stop by often.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chris Crutcher ... Here ... On My Blog ... OMG ... Not Kidding!!

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. And please leave a comment. If you have trouble leaving a comment, please click on the title of the post and comments should pop up at the bottom. If you don’t have one of the accounts they ask for or don’t want to use that, please use Anonymous, but let me know who you are. Thanks. I love to hear from you.

First, I’d like to blow my own horn for a moment. I mean if I don’t, who the heck will? I have two pieces of news. I had a very good week. I sold an article to Highlights Magazine and I had a little memoir accepted for an anthology that will be published by Harlequin next year. As my sweet Baboo said, this year for me as been about getting the first olive out of the bottle. Once I sold my first piece, I’ve sold quite a few. Now if I could just get an agent or editor to read my new novel! I just need to keep on keepin’ on.

Secondly, as promised, I have a wonderful interview to share with you. My writing god Chris Crutcher agreed to an email interview and today is the day! In case you are new to my blog, you can read a bit more about Chris by going HERE. I also have posted reviews of a couple of his books. You can read reviews of Angry Management  HERE and King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography HERE. (I am still having trouble with links to Amazon, so please click on the titles of books rather than pictures to be linked to them on Amazon. Thanks. I'm working on it.) I’ve been blogging less than a year, but you can see I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing about Chris Crutcher. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, get some and read them. Then you will know why I keep writing about him. Now I happily turn this blog over to Chris and his words.

Your experiences of small-town life as relayed in your autobiography certainly shaped your stories and who you are as a writer. How do you think growing up in a city rather than a small town might have affected the stories you write?

I think I would have been more likely to write stories from my history.  Setting is important.  You likely would have seen more urban settings. 

Looking back on our lives, our perspectives change as time goes on. You wrote your autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, about ten years ago. If you were to write it today, how do you think it would change?

I don’t think it would change a lot.  I plan to write a second act to that which will include more events that shaped me from different times in my life, and there will be perspectives from the last ten years, but I’d pretty much leave King alone.

After reading your autobiography, I know you base some of your characters and incidents on real people and happenings, but surely some or most of the stories and characters are fiction, aren’t they?  How do you blend these and know how much of the reality to leave in place and still avoid, well, law suits and such?

I don’t worry much about lawsuits.  When authors talk about stories coming from real life, most of the time we mean the idea came from real life, then the story is run through our imaginations.  The world of fiction is the world of “what if” and that’s how my stories are created.  I’ll experience or see a real event, a real person, etc. then start making stuff up.

Your brother certainly did some pretty cruel things to you growing up, as was his place in life. That relationship gave you great material for your books. What’s your relationship like with him now? Are you friends with him?

Yeah, we’re pretty good friends.  We have very different perspectives because of our life works, but we get along very well and do a lot of kidding about King.  Some of the things in it he doesn’t remember, or remembers very differently than I.  So I tell him to write his own damn book.

I loved Angry Management and Athletic Shorts, both of which revisited some of the characters from earlier books. It was nice for me to get back to some characters I had enjoyed so much. Do you have trouble letting go of your characters when you’ve finished a book? Which of your books and characters are your favorites? Do you think we might hear from some of those characters again?

I don’t have trouble letting go of characters.  By the time a book goes to print I’ve been over it five or six time with a microscope.  I’m plenty ready to let it go.  Much of the time if I revisit a character it’s because of something fans of my books want.  Sometimes I revisit them because it’s easier to get a story up and running when you know the main character already.  I don’t really have favorite characters.  I like all my main characters; I’ve spent years with them, and I spent the good part of a year creating each. 

Your writing has such a great, natural flow to it. Do you spend a lot of time planning your writing – outlining and such – or is it a much more organic process for you?

Totally organic.  That’s because of the way my brain works.  I don’t have the capacity to outline a story.

Writing can be a lonely business. Do you work with critique groups or critique partners? Maybe you could talk a little about your writing process.

I just sit down and write.  I have a lot else going on most of the time, so I don’t do critique groups.  I have a couple of other writers I share stuff with over the Internet sometimes; people whose stuff I read also, but that is sporadic and informal.  For me the process is just writing when I get the feeling.

Do you have an agent who represents your books or do you sell them on your own? If you have an agent, What value does the agent bring to the table? Does your agent help you with any editing and shaping before the book is sold?

She doesn’t do any shaping or editing.  She makes the deals, and she connects my work with other media, like movies, TV, etc.  In the early days she read my stuff first to see if she wanted to represent it, but we’ve been together for thirty years, so we don’t go through a lot of formalities.  She really does good work for me.

As writers, we hear so much about the editing process. Did you have to do a lot of re-writing once your books are acquired? What’s it like working with your editor?

I have a great editor and a couple that work with her.  Their first impressions mean a lot to me; they tell me what works and what doesn’t and I trust them enough to give it a look.  They don’t tell me what to do, they just tell me what works and what doesn’t and give suggestions.  None of my books would be as complete as they are without good editing. 

Do you feel your job is easier or harder now that you have so many books published? Is there more or less pressure? Does the pressure come more from yourself or others?

The pressure comes from me, but I do pay attention to how people respond to my stories.  I think people expect a certain kind of literature from me, and that’s usually what they get because so much of my work comes from my observations.  Most of the time I don’t know whether what I’ve written is good or not or how people will respond to it, so the pressure of not screwing up can be fairly intense. 

What has been the biggest thrill for you as a published writer?

Probably the opportunities to meet all the educators and all the kids I’ve been fortunate enough to meet.  I’ve gotten to travel places I’d never have gone without my writing career: every state in the country plus Canada, Russia, Poland, China, Hong Kong (I know, that’s technically China) Singapore, India, Italy, Germany off the top of my head.  That’s been cool. 

What do you hear from your young readers? Do they ever give you material or inspire stories for you?

Once in a while I might get something from a reader that inspires a story; I’m always on the lookout for that.  Mostly what I hear from them is about the emotional response they had to one or another story.  That’s also one of the biggest “thrills” as you put it; thinking a story has changed a reader’s perspective.  I love hearing that.

What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?  

Keep at it.  Study the business so you learn to get your stories into the right hands.  Get a thick skin.  Write like crazy and read like crazy.  Listen to people’s responses to your work and take it to heart.  And don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do it.

Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts.

And thank you, readers, for stopping by today. Please leave a comment and please check back next week. I promise it will be worth your while.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Please Mind the Gap…

or in this case, please don’t mind the gap between this post and the last post. My last post mentioned the coughing, blowing, energy-sapping flu I had been fighting for over two weeks before our trip to Europe and was still hanging on as we enjoyed our river cruise. Guess what? It’s still hanging on, and I have so little energy, even writing this post takes great effort. But I do feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m feeling a little better each day. I have over 200 unread emails in my box and don’t know how I’m ever going to catch up! I also have a request for a re-write for one of my stories from Stories for Children that has to be done very soon. But, I feel like my first need is to post to you. To my blogging friends, I apologize. I have put reading blogs on hold until I catch up, so hang on. I’ll get to them and you will see comments.

Ed & Margie at Schloss Schonbrunn
The rest of our trip was really quite nice, in spite of not feeling very well. If you missed the post about the first part of our trip and would like to read it, click HERE. After we left Melk, we went on to Vienna. I have to say, if there was one disappointment, it was Vienna. It was just a big city with little to recommend it. We toured Schloss Schonbrunn, home of Marie Teresa of the Hapsburg dynasty, and even that was a disappointment. It was much like many other palaces we'd seen. If you like cities and shopping, Vienna is probably fine. Nothing really sets it apart. But Budapeste – oh, my. What a beautiful, beautiful city. The architecture was amazing – spectacularly beautiful buildings, wonderful views, no disappointments. As lousy as I was feeling, I enjoyed every minute there.

Budapeste at Night
Parliament Building in Budapeste
We got up very early our last day, parting ways with our traveling companions, Tudy, Jake, Ed, and Margie, and headed to London. Our first day there we did plenty of nothing, which was just what we needed. We found a nice pub and ate well, then slept for twelve hours. We both woke up with brand new colds!! Yikes! In spite of that, we had a couple of important things on our agenda. First we wanted to see Hampton Court Palace. When we were last in London, we had been able to see the gardens, but the palace was closed for renovations. It was well worth the wait. We took the tube into London, then a train to the palace. I will say this – they sure know how to do public transportation in London. We love the tube. It’s comfortable and very efficient. I am a little baffled, though, by how they can build such a great system and never can get the trains and platforms to match up. Hence the dulcet tones of some sweet British woman over the loudspeakers saying, “Please mind the gap between the car and the platform” at every stop. It cracks me up.

Hampton Court Palace
We had spectacular weather and the palace, which sits on lovely grounds overlooking the Thames, was an easy walk from the train. Let me say this – if you can tour only one palace in your lifetime, tour Hampton Court Palace. It is the best palace tour we’ve ever taken, and we have toured plenty of palaces. It’s not the most beautiful or spectacular, but it is the best done. First, included in admission is an audio tour done by the historians who work there. When the people in the visitor center noticed my cane (yes, I was still hobbling), they fixed me up with headphones so I would have my hands free, then directed me to contact a guide at the end of each tour (there are six different tours) so I wouldn’t have to go up and down stairs at the end of each tour. Most rooms had places to sit and listen and enjoy the space, where most palace tours are nonstop walking. My knees and I appreciated that.

Part of Henry VIII's Kitchens
Every bit of this tour was fascinating and full of interesting historical facts. My favorite tour was of the kitchens of Henry VIII, although the rest was outstanding. There were separate tours for the first twenty years of Henry VIII’s years on the throne and another for his apartments. There were also three tours of the apartments of William III and Mary II and the Georgian apartments. We ended up spending about four hours in the palace and loved every minute. Fascinating stuff. The British royals give a whole new dimension to the term dysfunctional.

Our last day across the pond, we spent with my niece Gigi and her husband Bill. We met them at Heathrow and rode with them to Avebury, a most interesting and extensive area of standing stones. Bill was positively masterful driving around on the “wrong” side of the road. None of the stones in Avebury were as large as Stonehenge, but there are many, many more and the structures are amazing.

We couldn’t wait to get home and were so grateful to have our daughter Maggie pick us up after the long flight. We barely had time to get our internal clocks reset when we left six days later for a very pleasant week visiting with relatives in Minnesota. It would have been better, however, if I weren’t still coughing and blowing. Traveling is an awful lot of fun, but so much better when you’re well. C’mon health!! Next post will have an interview with Chris Crutcher, author extraordinaire, so watch for that in a few days. And please, if you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. And please leave a comment. I love to hear from you.