Reading Re-Cap

I’d love to tell you that my absence of posts from this blog has been because I’ve been off on exotic travels, but nope. There’s been adventure—domestic, not exotic. But thrilling (and time-consuming) nonetheless. This adventure has brought many changes to our schedules and has reminded me how important it is to be able to bend and adapt.

That said, I have been reading. It has been and always will be my number one choice of escape. I’ve been trying to get caught up with books off my TBR list, both print books from my home library and those that I’ve been collecting on my ereader. 

I do keep track of the books I read during the calendar year through Goodreads and I participate in the annual reading challenge. This year I am aiming for 65 books read in 2022. Currently, I’ve read 48, so I’m ahead of schedule and that’s okay by me. If you’re interested in seeing my full Goodreads 2022 Book Challenge the link is below. 

https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/31397664

But, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts about some of the books I’ve read recently. Maybe you’ll find something in my list that will spark interest or a new-to-you author that you can get to know. 

Middle Grade Books

Wretched Waterpark by Kiersten White

Perfect for summer! Spooky but not too creepy, and I absolutely liked the 12 yr old twins, Alexander and Theo and their big sister Wil. Likeable characters, an interesting mystery, and a few chills made this book very enjoyable and I’m definitely going to pick up the next book when it’s available.

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This book was a serious delight for me and kid-Barb would have savored every word and then quickly reread it, but it’s exactly the kind of mystery I loved at that age. I also enjoyed immensely as an adult. Premeditated Myrtle is smart, funny, and is written to keep you guessing. Another series that I will continue reading. 

Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega

If you’re looking for a magical middle grade fantasy adventure with smart, fun, relatable characters who capture your heart, then Witchlings is a book you don’t want to miss. 

Claribel A. Ortega has created an immersive and imaginative world. It’s not without its problems, but her trio of witchlings have the moxie to set some very disturbing things right. I loved the world-building and was completely enchanted, but it’s the characters and how their friendships develop that won my heart. Unlikely friendships, strong family ties, and plenty of twists and turns are just a few of the elements that made this book a winner for me.

Drew Leclair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury

Katryn Bury has created a more than likable character who is smart, relatable, flawed, loyal, and funny. If I were a kid, I’d want to be friends with Drew. I thought the mystery was solid with clues for the reader to follow, plus it touched on issues many kid readers can relate to: bullying, body shaming, chronic illness, and divorce. While some of the issues/themes are most definitely heavy, the story never sags and it’s infused with humor and hope in just the right places.

Young Adult

Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater

Bravely continues the story of Merida as originated in the Disney film “Brave”.  The book is a whimsical yet poignant fairy tale steeped with historical tidbits (be sure to read the author’s notes at the end) and filled with what I like to think of as Merida-moments. It’s YA but there is no language or sex, and really no romance plot. While it’s about growth and change and stagnation, the book is filled with heart, hope, and family—both blood and found.

Hail, Hail Camp Timberwood by Ellen Conford

Hail, Hail Camp Timberwood was one of those books from my childhood/preteen years that I read multiple times. So many times, actually, that I wore my copy out. A couple of weeks ago, I found a copy in decent shape in an antique shop and it had to come home with me.

It’s a quick read, a fun summertime story about a young girl at camp for the first time. You get to experience her fears, first love, and even how she learns to stand up for herself against a bully cabinmate. It was fun to reread it after all these years and I’m really happy to have a copy for my bookshelf, purely for nostalgia-sake.

Killing November by Adriana Mather

It’s an action-packed read filled with intrigue, suspense, and humor at just the right moments. I went into the book expecting a school-for-assassins/spies type story and was thrilled to find so much more.

November, for me, was a likable character. Her cluelessness of her true situation gave me just the right level of anxiety and it was fun watching her develop and learn her place while figuring out what the hell was going on. November has a lot to unpack—not only the “why” of her dad sending her away to this remote/hidden boarding school, but his connection to the school, her family history, and how everything she thought were games were actually training for who she’d one day have to become.

Hunting November by Adriana Mather

Hunting November was the perfect sequel to Killing November. If you’re looking for a spy-style adventure with deceptions, action, and a bit of romance, this is the book to pick up. Definitely read Killing November first. The books should be read in order. 

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson

As a life-long fan of Agatha Christie, I had looked forward to The Agathas and was excited to start reading. The authors didn’t disappoint with the Christie references and I particularly enjoyed the quotes from Christie’s books at the beginning of the chapters.

It’s whodunit, complete with murder, lies, red herrings, and clues the reader can pick up if they’re looking. The contemporary mystery is set amid the haves and have-nots of a California high school and it’s told in dual POV, which I enjoyed. We get multiple subplots, teen angst, and maybe a bit too much about the adults who do play an integral role in the story and the overall mystery.

Adult

Nightwork by Nora Roberts

Nightwork is a suspenseful thriller-mystery told from the perspective of a very talented thief. If you’re a fan of Nora Roberts’ suspense novels, this one won’t disappoint. 

Hide by Kiersten White

Definitely horror. Definitely dark. The book is set in an extremely creepy, abandoned amusement park where contestants on a reality/game show have been brought to compete. Except, nothing is as it seems. It was a page-turner and I really liked it. 

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

I picked up Nine Lives because it was recommended to me by another mystery book lover. It’s a well-woven mystery with multiple threads, a solid plot, and the right amount of well-placed clues but balanced with twists to keep you guessing.

As an avid mystery reader, in particular Agatha Christie, I immensely enjoyed the references and because of my Christie knowledge I had a fair idea of the “who” and even a general idea of the “why”—but I wasn’t sure at all on the “how”. This made it a fun read for me.

Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain

It’s rare for me to read non-fiction and I’m so glad I picked up Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain. First, I absolutely loved her on GBBO and I have watched and re-watched her show on Netflix because I find her not only smart and funny, but calming. And in the chaos of this world, it’s been exactly what I needed.

This book was a fast read for me because it felt like I was sitting down and chatting with Nadiya Hussain over a cup of tea (or coffee for me). It’s charming, heartbreaking, eye-opening, and a book I’m just happy that I read.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Halloween Week: Spooky MG Books for Kids

Some of the spooky MG books currently living on my bookshelves.

It’s Halloween week, but I enjoy a good spooky story any time of the year!

I’ve read several fantastic middle grade spooky stories this year, both in print and on my ereader, which include Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko, The Stitchers and The Collectors both by Lorien Lawrence. I totally recommend each and every one.

Here’s my Spooky MG list based on what I currently own and have read this year (it’s in no particular order.) Click on the author’s name to go to their website or book links. Add to your TBR and get ready to enjoy some creeps, chills, and thrills.

The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts

Ollie Oxley and The Ghost by Lisa Schmid

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Magic Can Be Murder by Vivian Vande Velde

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley

Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega

Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts by Dianne Salerni

The In-Between by Rebecca KS Ansari

The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca KS Ansari

Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery

Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

The Stitchers by Lorien Lawrence

The Collectors by Lorien Lawrence

The last three in the list are not in the above pic because my copies are digital, but I’m thinking I’d like to add the print versions to my shelves. They’ve all got great covers!

This is just one small list of MG spooky books — there are so many great ones out there! Go visit these authors on their sites, check out their books, give them a read. It’s worth it. Looking for other titles? Head to your local library and ask a librarian for recommendations. Your librarians can help you find the perfect book to fit your mood any day of the year.

I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as I did! And if you have any recommendations you want to share, let me know. Tweet me your favorites. Find me talking books, writing, and more on Twitter at: BarbH2014.

Loving My Library

Library with bookcases and books

I have always loved libraries. If you follow me on any of my social media, you’ve seen countless posts about the absolute awesomeness of libraries. Today is one of my favorite days of the year and it’s totally library-related. It’s my local library’s FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY BOOK SALE! 

Books! Tons of wonderful used books, all for sale! And the best part?

The money goes back to the library to buy MORE BOOKS!

That is truly pure awesomeness. I love the anticipation of going to the annual book sale. You never know what’s going to be there. I may find dozens of books to add to my collection or it might just be one. It doesn’t matter. It’s more than just acquiring new books. For me, it’s the joy of walking into this massive space filled with tables and tables of books just waiting to find a new home, new hands to hold them, and new imaginations to entertain.

And as I go on and on about libraries, I’m happy to report I FINALLY set up the free app on my ereader and TV to be able to check out ebooks, audiobooks, and digital programs/movies.

Why or why did I wait this long??? Don’t be like me. Take advantage of all these amazing and free services your local library has. You won’t regret it!