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Listening to audiobooks has become my cure for insomnia and two of my favorite genres for night time listening are historical romances and mysteries. The HEA (happily ever after) makes the romance novels an obvious choice, but certain mysteries work well, too. Nothing too gory or suspenseful. I can’t lump them all into one mystery sub-genre, but most tend to be amateur or historical. One of my favorites is Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. Whenever I read or listen to one of these books, I wonder why this series hasn’t been picked up by Masterpiece Mystery. That got me thinking about what other series might be potential candidates for Masterpiece. So here are a few that I’d like to see.
Maisie starts out as a servant for a wealthy family, but her curiosity and desire to learn catches the eye of her employer who decides to help her with her education. When World War I starts, Maisie becomes a nurse at the battlefront in France. When she returns, she becomes a private investigator under the tutelage of a friend of her former employer. Most of the books in this series relate back to World War I. Maisie is such a compelling character. She is strong and brave, but most often it is her empathy and thoughtfulness that help her solve the mystery.
Maggie Hope is an American living in London during World War II. She would prefer to work for British Intelligence but instead lands a job as Winston Churchill’s secretary. While she may be “just a secretary,” her unique position provides her with more than enough adventure and intrigue and her stellar mind doesn’t go unnoticed. The good news for this series is that Daisy Ridley owns the television rights and has made a deal to turn it into a show. Daisy Coulam from “Grantchester” will be writing the pilot episode.
Move over Nancy Drew, Flavia De Luce is on the case. Unfortunately for Flavia, she doesn’t have any sidekicks and she is forced to go it alone in many ways. Flavia is too smart and bold for the sleepy 1950s rural English village she finds herself in. Her mother died when she was still a baby and she is being raised by her father. He can’t get over the loss of his wife so Flavia is left to be raised by her two older sisters (teenagers who find Flavia’s pranks very annoying) as well as the housekeeper. Flavia is mostly left to her own devices and finds inspiration from the writings of her great-uncle Tarquin who was a chemist. She loves studying poisons and being a thorn in the side of the local police inspector (think Sherlock Holmes and Detective Lestrade). She’s always one step ahead of him. Flavia struggles with being smarter than most of the adults around her while desperately seeking the love of a parent and this is what makes her character more than just a precocious kid.
The first book in this series just came out in January. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it’s on the top of my list. It takes place in Bombay in the twenties. Perveen Mistry is one of the first woman lawyers in India and she is handling the will of a wealthy man who left three widows behind after he died. All three have signed over their inheritance to the same charity. Fearing that someone has taken advantage them, Mistry decides to investigate.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second in command Jean-Guy Beauvois are sent to a small town south of Montreal that doesn’t appear on the map. Three Pines is an idyllic little village. Lifelong residents share their community with a handful of transplants who have given up their fast-paced city lives for the slowness of rural life. Artists, a poet, a psychologist bookstore owner, an antique’s dealer and a bistro owner all make up the regular cast of characters. One member of the Three Pines community has died in a hunting accident, but Inspector Gamache senses that maybe it was actually a murder. The setting and the characters make this series top of the line. As a reader, you wish there was a real place called Three Pines and you wish every inspector was as smart and compassionate as Armand Gamache. Each book in the series has a unique mystery, but there is also another mystery that spans the arc of the series. The books get better as this larger plot slowly unfolds. There was a Canadian television show based on this series, but I never got a chance to see it.
Salvage the Bones has been on my radar since it came out, but I put to the top of my list when I heard people raving about Jesmyn Ward’s new book, Sing, Unburied, Sing. Since many people said that it was even better than Salvage the Bones, I moved Salvage the Bones up on my TBR list. I didn’t want to have that feeling that one book wasn’t as good as the other, so I decided to read the older book first.
I’m glad I did. This is one of those books where the writing is beautiful and the writer so skilled that the book is great, but you feel a little uncomfortable saying that you enjoyed reading it because the subject matter is so sad and the characters do things that you wish they wouldn’t. One reviewer on Amazon said that she didn’t like the book because she just couldn’t relate to any of the characters. While that was somewhat true for me because my life is very different from the characters, I read books to learn about other people’s life experiences and to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Why would I want to only read books about people who are just like me?
At the center of Salvage the Bones is Esch, a teenage girl who lives with her father and three brothers in rural Mississippi. There is a double tension in the story. Each of these characters has their hopes set on something and the book follows those stories, but there is the undercurrent of the threat of Hurricane Katrina. There is a also a gaping hole left by the loss of Esch’s mother several years prior. You get the feeling that everyone’s problems would be diminished if only Esch’s mother was still taking care of them.
Esch’s family lives in the Pit, which is a junkyard and a gathering place for her brother’s friends. While her family is tight knit, Esch has to carry the weight of being a young adolescent girl surrounded by boys. We follow the daily pursuits and grievances of the siblings who are basically raising themselves with very little money. One of Esch’s brothers is trying to get into a special basketball camp and another is raising a pit bull who just had puppies. Both of these pursuits are attempts to create a life beyond the Pit. Meanwhile, Esch is in love with a friend of her brothers even though he never looks her in the face. When she finds out that she is pregnant, she has no women around to help guide her. She keeps her secret, while their father is trying to prepare them for the Hurricane. He is the only one who is worried by the weather forecast. This adds the second level of tension as the family seems so ill prepared and you as the reader have the hindsight of what actually happened during Hurricane Katrina.
You can see why this book won the National Book Award. The characters are authentic and fully realized; you can feel their joys and their sorrows. Above all, the writing is beautiful. I had to mark some of the passages that were particularly well written. I couldn’t put it down. While it is gut wrenching at times, there is also hope.
Watch an interview with Jesmyn Ward:
One Book Leads to Another
Read more books by Jesmyn Ward:
Books about Hurricane Katrina
When I set out to put this section of the post together, I didn’t realize how many books have been written about Hurricane Katrina. There have been so many books mostly nonfiction and children’s and young adult fiction. I’ve listed a few below with links to more lists if you are interested in exploring more.
Children’s and Young Adult
More books on Hurricane Katrina:
Books set in rural Mississippi
About a month ago, I decided I needed to catch up on my reading for the Youth Media Awards. I checked a bunch of Mock Newbery lists, went to my library and came home with a pile of books. The awards are on Monday, and I’m happy to say that I made it through most of the books in my stack. Here are the books that I brought home.
Of course, the Newbery committee may choose something I’ve never even heard of, but I’m hoping it will be one of the books that I read. I didn’t get to read Circus Mirandus and my son is reading Book Scavenger so I didn’t get a chance at that one either. I really loved Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, but I felt that this might too close to YA for the Newbery. While I was reading Fish in a Tree, I thought that it would definitely be the Newbery pick. It was so compelling and I tore through it. I changed my mind when I started reading Echo. I still haven’t finished it, but it is such a magical story I’m hoping it will win. Fingers crossed. I’ll be posting reviews of each of these soon.
Have you ever wanted to be an explorer? Or wondered what it would be like to tour the world and bring back treasures from far away lands? Archer Helmsley thinks about this everyday. His house is like the Natural History Museum full of stuffed animals and artifacts all from his adventurer grandparents. Archer longs to follow in their footsteps. He, too, has that yearning to travel and explore. Unfortunately for him, his mother tries to squash that desire every chance she can get. Ever since his grandparents have gone missing on a glacier in Antarctica, Archer has been confined to his house when not at school. But Archer is determined to rescue his grandparents. He enlists the help of his new found friends and neighbors, Oliver and Adelaide. The friends meet up on the roofs of their houses to hatch a plot to save the elder Helmsleys.
This book was such fun. It was clever and fantastical. If you love quirky, oddball characters this book is definitely for you. If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller maybe this wouldn’t be your cup of tea. In fact, this reminds me of all the time I spent daydreaming when I was a kid. This is a book for big-hearted, gentle souls who wish they were Ernest Shackleton. Unplug your technology and get lost in this world.
Gannon’s lovely artwork gives the book a historical feel and I couldn’t wait to reach an illustrated page. He has an enchanting website that mirrors the newspaper featured his book.
Five Favorite Things About The Doldrums:
- Oliver runs with his eyes shut when he is in a hurry.
- The friends communicate via paper airplane.
- Archer has a few spectacular falls.
- There are fireflies.
- The belief in impossible plans.
Release Date: 3/14/2006
Author Info: Website | Facebook | Twitter
Series: Septimus Heap Series , #1
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Age Range: 9-12
As a fairly new school librarian, I feel that I need to do some catch up when it comes to middle grade fiction. There is so much out there. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about the Septimus Heap series, so I thought I’d pick up the first book Magyk.
Silas Heap is on his way home from the healer with some herbs for his wife who has just given birth to their seventh son, Septimus. Along the way, he finds a baby girl abandoned in the snow. He picks her up and carries her home only to find that his own son has died. Silas is asked by a fellow wizard to care for the little girl as his own. He finds out later that the Queen has been assassinated and a Supreme Custodian has taken over the castle.The Heaps take in the little girl, Jenna, and she grows up in their run down but cozy home filled with books and brothers. On her tenth birthday, the Supreme Custodian sends an assassin to kidnap Jenna so he can deliver her to the evil necromancer DomDaniel. The Heap family is on the run with the help of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, to protect their youngest daughter.
Angie Page creates a wonderful, fantastical world. She develops a great atmosphere both in the castle and at a witches cottage hidden in the marshes. You can almost feel the damp and fog. At 565 pages, the book is substantial, but moves along at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and while there are a fair amount of them, they all have unique personalities. She makes even some of the evil characters appear sympathetic. Sometimes. The Heaps are a wonderful family as lovable as the Weasleys. Aunt Zelda is a wonderfully eccentric character. Of course, my favorite was Boy 214 who while not having a real name and barely talking at all throughout the book somehow managed to burrow his way into my heart. I look forward to following their further adventures.
Five Favorite Things About Magyk:
- I love that Silas’s father has turned into a tree and that Silas wanders the woods trying to find him.
- The quote describing where the Heaps live, “If you were foolish enough to cast your eye around the Heaps’ room hoping to find a space in which to sit, the chances were a book would have found it first.”
- Ghosts can move around only in places where they had visited when they were alive.
- Shield bugs.
- Marcia Overstrand’s purple python-skin boots.
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Author Info: Website | Facebook
Series: Spy School
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Age Range: 8-12
Imagine surviving another dreary day in middle school only to find a James Bond look alike in your living room ready to whisk you off to become a teenage spy. For Ben Ripley, it sounds to good to be true and yet how can he pass up an opportunity to do something cool for once in his life. Unfortunately for Ben, he has to tell all of his friends that he’s going to a science school thus solidifying his nerd status. Not-to-fear, dodging would-be assassins keeps Ben pretty preoccupied.
This book was such great fun. Sure, Ben Ripley is not Alex Rider or young James Bond, but odds are more readers will identify with Ben than with the other two young men. Spy School is action-packed and funny. I found myself cheering for accidental spy student, Ben, the whole way through. Gibbs certainly knows how to create interesting characters. Ben’s relationship with the beautiful, invincible Erica Hale a.k.a “ice queen” and descendent of the first American spy Nathan Hale makes his growth as a spy more believable. It also makes Erica a more sympathetic character.
The pace moves quickly with one impossible scene after another and some great plot twists. The ending took me by surprise for sure. I was in the middle of a reading slump and Spy School helped me to get out of it. I immediately picked up the sequel, Spy Camp.
Five favorite things about Spy School:
- Ben is a math genius and he uses algebra as a tactic to combat an enemy
- Ben always knows what time it is
- Erica knows where everyone is at all times
- The underground tunnels all under the school
- Alexander Hale, the James Bond of spy school, drinks Gatorade not martinis
I think it’s time for a blog overhaul. I’m hoping to get new content up soon! I will be focusing more on children’s and YA lit with a few adult books thrown in. I know work with children and teens in grades pre-K through 8. I feel like I’m constantly trying to catch up with each age group, but having a lot fun doing it.
In the meantime here are a few books I’m looking forward to reading:
|The Pigeon Needs a Bath ~ Mo Willems||The Riverman ~Aaron Starmer||Under the Never Sky ~ Veronica Rossi|
The kids at my school whether they are three year olds or third graders LOVE Mo Willems!