My Agatha Christie Obsession

Agatha Christie books March 2022

The first Agatha Christie book I ever read was And Then There Was None. I was 10 or 11 and my mom picked it out for me because I had read all the Nancy Drew books, all the Trixie Belden books, and I wasn’t into the Hardy Boys. Mom was a mystery book lover and Agatha Christie fan. After And Then There Was None, so was I. 

Over the years, my Agatha Christie book collection has grown, depleted as I’ve worn out copies, and then grown more as I discovered how much I love the cover art on some of the older versions. My husband and I enjoy poking around antique and vintage shops on weekends and it’s become my habit to keep an eye out for old books that may fit into my collection, in particular, any Christie books. 

I’ll admit, I’m picky. I won’t pick up any copy. It has to have cover art that catches my eye, be one of my favorite titles, and I try to rescue those fabulous older pocket novels because they have so much character. 

Recently, we were exploring the amazing stores in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City. If you’re into vintage, antiques, and historic buildings, most definitely plan a visit when in the K.C. area. We began our exploration of the multi-story shops early, enjoying the wide array of displays. There really is something for everyone here, and so much to see, that it can almost be an overload. But it’s worth it. 

At our second stop, Martin’s Memories, I was browsing through a display of furniture and spied a bookcase. Of course, I had to take a look and see what was on the shelves. A quick glance and I saw “Agatha Christie” on a spine. Well, that got my attention. I looked closer. There was another one. And another, and another, and another. 

The little bookcase held all Agatha Christie books, and one Martha Grimes. 

50 Agatha Christie books.

 Box of books

Now I had already bought two others at our first stop, but that most certainly wasn’t going to stop me from picking through this batch. As I started pulling the books off the shelf, I was struck by their good condition. A little dusty, but definitely in good condition for their age. The majority of the books were from the 1960s and 1970s. And the covers!

Oh my. I was in love. 

We offered to buy the entire lot, and they were happy to sell us the lot. I was thrilled! My Agatha Christie collection consisted mostly of my favorite titles of her work, largely Poirot mysteries. This lot has many that I never had purchased plus some that I’ve never read. I’m looking forward to indulging in some reading time, but I wanted to share a few pictures of some of the fantastic covers.

If you’d like to see a full list of Agatha Christie titles, please visit AgathaChristie.com.

Middle-Grade Reading: The Eye of Ra Series

I love stories with time travel, so when I saw a middle grade book featuring time-traveling siblings and their first adventure was to ancient Egypt, I was all in. 

In November 2020 I read the first book of the The Eye of Ra series (book one is the same title as the series) by Ben Gartner. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was an action-packed, historical romp in time. Book two in the series is Sol Invictus and I had the opportunity to read an ARC in January 2021. It’s equally action-packed with even higher stakes. I loved the book, reading it in less than two days!

When Ben offered to send me an ARC of the third book in the series, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I have reviews of the first two books up on Goodreads if you want to check them out. Below are my thoughts on the third book: People of the Sun.

People of the Sun by Ben Gartner whisked me away on a time-traveling adventure filled with humor, heart, and history. This story is book three in the “The Eye of Ra” series featuring a sister and brother duo who find themselves traveling back in time to help save the future.

Sarah and John have traveled back to the ancient Egyptian town of Saqqara via a cave portal in Colorado and to the ancient Roman town Aventicum via a portal at a museum in Washington D.C. People of the Sun opens with the siblings hiking in California with their aunt when an earthquake hits.

I love that author Gartner immediately hits the reader with action—the earthquake, the arrival of two mysterious older individuals, and a quick trip into the future. The roller coaster of time travel action kicks into high-gear for John and Sarah from here, as they’re assigned a mission to go back to the ancient Aztec civilization.

People of the Sun effectively wraps up the time travel saga that began in “The Eye of Ra” giving readers the final reveal about why and how the kids have been selected for these missions.

It’s a fun story!

Gartner balances heart-thumping action sequences with smart dialogue, vivid descriptions, and history lessons that never feel like actual lessons. I highly recommend People of the Sun and the full “The Eye of Ra” series for any middle grade reader and for the adults who enjoy well-crafted stories.

You can find more information about “The Eye of Ra” series on author Ben Gartner’s website. Go check it out and make sure to get your copies of these fantastic middle grade books.

January & 2022: Time for Book Stuff

It’s 2022. We’re midway through January and things have been hectic. Hectic for me isn’t always a negative. After a wonderful holiday season, it was time to get back to work on January 4. Since that day, my freelance work days (and sometimes nights) have been full. Again, not a negative thing. But I do find that in order to keep a balance, it’s essential for me to take a step back every now and then. That’s what this week is for—a hiatus of sorts. 

So what’s on the calendar for me this week if not tip-tapping the keyboard with client words?

Book stuff!

  • Reading. Lots of reading!
  • Outlining a new middle grade mystery.
  • Writing! Working on zero-draft of the MG mystery.
  • Fine-tuning my query letter.
  • Tweaks to my MG book SEEN, based on beta reader feedback. 

Because I have a lot I want to share about the books I’ve already read this year and the ones that I’m planning to read in the next few weeks, that will be a separate post. Keep an eye for it, because you don’t want to miss it. 

New middle grade mystery? Yes, indeed! I’m super excited about this book, but I’m also not ready to share too much about it. I can tell you that my critique partners have read the opening chapter and the response was positive! 

And onto querying. Again. Last year at this time I had a tiny spark of an idea for a story, a fairytale retelling of sorts inspired by one of my favorite Disney movies: Tangled. By the end of January 2021 I had started outlining the book and once February hit, I had pages to share with my critique partners. I’m about ready to send it out into the world, off to agents with the hope that there is one agent out there that will fall in love with this story and want to sign me. 

This is not my first time in the query trenches and I’ve been thinking about sharing some of my journey here on the blog. Who knows? It may help someone and honestly, querying is hard and I do think it helps not to go it alone. I’m fortunate and have an amazing writing network and support group. But not everyone does. So if I can help even a tiny bit, I’d like to do that. 

What I’ll likely do is a weekly post about my querying journey with SEEN, including some helpful tips I’ve learned about querying. As I said, this is not my first time in the query trenches. I queried my 2019 Pitch Wars book for about a year, but was unable to find representation. I came close, but it didn’t happen. That’s part of this business—rejection. A lot of it. But you keep writing and telling stories. It’s worth it, at least I think it is or I wouldn’t do it.

I have several posts lined up for the next few weeks, including some book recommendations you do not want to miss plus the first posts about my querying journey. 

See you soon! And if you want to connect, I’m active on Twitter and Instagram.

2021 Books Read

I had an exceptional year of books read. According to my Goodreads challenge, I read 90 and this doesn’t include the beta reading I did for author friends. I typically read across three genres: Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA), and adult.

By the Numbers

Pages read: 28,001

Average pages per book: 311

Longest book read: HUNGER by Michael Grant (590 pages)

MG books read: 26

YA books read: 44

Full series read: 7

For me, I find that when writing MG (which I was for most of this year), I gravitate more toward YA books for my leisure reads. However, 2021 was a FANTASTIC year for Middle Grade books! So many good ones! A few of my favorites include:

  • Fright Watch (The Collectors & The Stitchers) by Lorien Lawrence
  • Amari & the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston
  • Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley
  • Sol Invictus by Ben Gartner
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T Kingfisher
  • Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko
  • Much Ado About Baseball by Rajani LaRocca
  • What Lives in the Woods by Lindsey Currie
  • The Verdigris Pawn by Alysa Wishingrad

If you’d like to see the full list of the books I read this year, it’s HERE.

I’m a Mentor-In-Residence at WTMP!

So what does this mean?

First, if you’re not familiar with the Write Team Mentorship Program, they are:

“As a sister program to The Write Cohort, the WTMP focuses on community and support. We strive to provide writers with a support system as they move forward in their writing journey. We dedicate ourselves to diversity, inclusion, and opening doors for others.”

In January, 2022, you can find me at the WTMP’s Open Inbox as a Mentor-in Residence or MIR. If you’re a writer, at any stage in your journey, we’re here for you. Come to the Open Inbox with your questions and quandaries about all things writing-related. We have a roster full of authors and industry professionals ready to answer your writing questions.

There is no application to fill out, no lottery system — just a form for you to ask your question and virtually drop it in the Open Inbox.

What kind of questions can you ask? All things writing-related. It’s that easy.

The WTMP also has a mentorship program for writers seeking more in-depth help with their current work. This program does require an entry into a weighted lottery where you’ll pitch the WTMP’s selected mentors your manuscript. If selected as a mentee, you’ll work with your mentor in an open-ended, 4-month mentorship.

To learn more about the Open Inbox and the Mentorship Program, click here to go to the WTMP site.

Book Review: “Falling & Uprising” by Natalie Cammaratta

Plus insight into book two: SCATTERED & BREAKING

I love a good YA dystopian book, and FALLING & UPRISING, the debut novel from Natalie Cammaratta did not disappoint! Told in alternating POV, the story  follows socialite Serenity and marshal Bram as they navigate a society built on lies and the revolution that has been brewing for many years. 

Everyone in Kaycie knows that their city is the last dry haven for humans. Kaycians enjoy a life of prosperity, safety, and glamour. Serenity thinks she has it all, until she learns the truth. The Establishment has lied to its citizens.

Other islands exist, their main purpose being to provide goods and labor to the glittering city of Kaycie. There is a major imbalance and people from the islands are suffering. Young people taken from their families, their memories erased, and forced into zombie-like service as marshals in Kaycie. 

When Serenity learns the truth and is offered a chance to make a difference, she takes it—much to Bram’s surprise. He’s known the truth for a long time, having been born on one of the other islands and rescued by Sophos, Serenity’s mentor and one of the revolution’s key leaders.

FALLING & UPRISING has a nice balance of dystopia, sci-fi tech, and YA glamour. I found myself immersed in Cammaratta’s vivid details—I would love some of the fabulous clothing worn by Serenity and her best friend Vogue. The story moved well, and I never felt bogged down with techno-babble.

The connection between Serenity and Bram worked for me. I liked their prickly beginnings and enjoyed watching the two very different personalities find common ground and respect for each other. Serenity’s attraction and relationship with Jase, another member of their revolutionary team, had a few sizzling moments and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with those two in the next book. 

The reader is left hanging a bit at the end as there is another book coming. However, many threads are tied up nicely, but I found myself saying—WAIT! MORE! I wanted to continue reading and will be anxiously awaiting the next book!

And guess what? I got to read book two!

Scattered & Breaking by Natalie Cammaratta

I was thrilled when Natalie offered to send me an ARC of SCATTERED & BREAKING! Yes, I actually squealed and there may have been some bouncing/dancing about.

Here are some of my thoughts:

It sucked me in from page one! Seriously. I didn’t want to stop reading.

Being back with Bram, Serenity, Vogue, and friends was so much fun, but boy are they dealing with a LOT.

Book two picks up after the uprising and deals with the fallout, lies, and corruption that entangles each of the characters as well as their friends and family. The islands are splintered, the sea water has receded, and there is another enemy at the gates.

SCATTERED & BREAKING is a deep dive into this dystopian’s world’s political intrigue, twisted family dynamics, and the determined group fighting to make things right.

The book kept me turning pages, the action fast, but Natalie also gives the reader deliciously tender moments where we suck in a breath and just go “oh.”

It’s about relationships, the good, bad, and the very bad. But there also is hope. However, hold on when you’re reading SCATTERED & BREAKING because it’s a ride! And not everyone makes it out.

I’m am so ready for this story to continue!

Where To Find These Books:

To get a copy of FALLING & UPRISING and to preorder a copy of SCATTERED & BREAKING, please go visit author Natalie Cammaratta at her site: nataliecammarattabooks.com/books.

You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

SCATTERED & BREAKING releases on December 29, 2021.

You’ve got plenty of time to read FALLING & UPRISING first & then dive right into the SCATTERED & BREAKING. I highly recommend BOTH.

It’s Children’s Book Week

https://everychildareader.net/cbw/

What is Children’s Book Week? Directly from the Every Child A Reader site, Children’s Book Week is:

“Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, young people across the country participate by attending events at schools, libraries, bookstores, celebrating at home, and engaging with book creators both online and in person.” 

https://everychildareader.net/cbw/about/

Maybe your kids will come home talking about it and the wonderful new books they’ve had the chance to read or look at. If you visit your local library this week, it’s likely there will be something fun going in honor of Children’s Book Week as well.

Every week is a good week to read to a child, but Children’s Book Week is definitely one not to miss. Enjoy!

Happy reading!

No NaNo? No Problem.

Old typewriter with blank sheet of paper and pink textured frame

It’s that time of year again. November 1 is not only the day to eat KitKats for breakfast, it’s the official start to what’s known in the writing community as: NaNoWriMo.

NaNo – what mo?

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth.

NaNoWriMo is the month-long event where writers of all genres write all the words. Okay, maybe not all the words, but on average, about 1,700 daily as a way to reach a goal of 50,000 words. For many, it’s a way to fast-draft a novel in just one month.

Write a book in a month? Yes!

It may sound daunting, but as a writer who has participated in NaNo, I’ll go on record saying, “It is absolutely daunting.” But it’s also challenging and a fun way to connect with the writing community, if you choose to dive in and become a WriMo.

The NaNoWriMo hashtag can be seen across social media, and if you’re on the fence about participating, go for it. It can be an amazing experience. However, if the thought of trying to meet a certain word count every day for an entire month feels overwhelming — skip it. It’s okay not to NaNo.

I’ll say it again. It’s okay not to NaNo.

Seriously. No one’s judging you.

Write at your own pace. Slow, fast, it’s all good.

It took me a long time to realize that I’m not the type of writer who enjoys the fast draft. It brings me a certain level of anxiety to draft without doing some level of editing. So for me, it’s no NaNo and that’s just fine. I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks editing my middle grade fairy tale-inspired fantasy getting it ready for beta readers, while I’m researching and plotting my new book, a middle grade mystery.

If you’re NaNo-ing this month, go you! I hope your month is filled with words, fun, and writing mojo. Maybe, like me, you’re editing. We’ve got this! We will cut those filler words and smooth out any plot holes. Or maybe, you’re thinking about dipping a toe into the wonderful world of book writing. That’s awesome too. Dive it. Do it. We need your story.

Happy writing!

Back on the Bookshelf

Last Act by Christopher Pike

Several years ago I downsized my book collection, and then regretted that action. Not right away. At first, it was like, “Oh hey look at all this lovely bookshelf space” and I took the opportunity to add new books to the shelves.

Fast forward to about three years ago when I found “Until the End” the trilogy that is Christopher Pike’s three books “The Party”, “The Dance”, and “The Graduation.”

“Until the End” by Christopher Pike

Once I reread it, I wanted the other Christopher Pike books that I had let go, but I wanted them with the original covers that I had as a kid. I’ve been on the hunt ever since. Antique shops are a great place to find books like this, and I’ve added “Chain Letter” and “Remember Me” to my collection.

But the one I really wanted was LAST ACT. And now I finally have it. It arrived today — I ordered it online from a bookseller, because I could not find it in any of the used bookstores or antique shops that I’ve explored.

It’s been a couple of decades since I read LAST ACT and I’m looking forward to the reread. Will it be nostalgic? Probably. Will it be as good as preteen Barb remembers? Maybe not, but you never know. I’m still looking forward to it.

Do You Read Every Day?

Recently, someone asked me if I read every day, and I said, yes.

They seemed surprised. So I asked them if they watched TV or a movie every day.

They said yes, and seemed surprised that I’d ask that.

I said I don’t see any difference between picking up a book and reading for 30 minutes or sitting down and watching a sitcom for the same amount of time. I like to read. I also like to watch TV shows, movies, and other programming. But I usually feel like I relax more when I read.

I don’t think reading every day is strange, just as I don’t think watching TV daily is strange. Or listening to music.

My copy (with original cover) First book in the GONE series.

Reading makes me happy (most of the time). So yes, I do read every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

What am I reading right now? The GONE series by Michael Grant. It’s a reread for me, and I’m currently on book three: LIES. It’s a YA series that can be quite disturbing in parts, but it’s one of my favorites because of its complexities.

I have a few other books that I will be starting soon, in particular an ARC that I’m excited to read (keep an eye out for a post about that) and a beta read of an MG book written by one of my critique partners.

If you need me, I’ll be over here writing and always reading.