Finding Books with Shepherd

Shepherd is a new online platform for finding books to read. You can look up a book you liked to find others like it, you can search for your favorite author (like me!) and find books they recommend, and you can browse topics that interested you.

It’s a new website, still officially in “beta” mode, but I think it’s a great idea. Check it out!

2022 Newbery Winners

I live-streamed today’s award ceremony. I’m that kind of nerd!

Congratulations to author Donna Barba Higuera for winning this year’s Newbery Medal for her novel The Last Cuentista.

And congratulations to the Newbery Honor authors:

Rajani LaRocca for Red, White and Whole

Darcie Little Badger for A Snake Falls to Earth

Kyle Lukoff for Too Bright to See

Andrea Wang for Watercress, which also won illustrator Jason Chin this year’s Caldecott Award.

I’ve spent the last few months reading what I thought were Newbery contenders, but I haven’t read any of these. I’m excited to do so now!

The Best Books of 2021

Here are my favorite reads of the past year, in the order I read them. First are the books for adults and then the list of books for children.

Novels for Grown Ups:

History of the Rain by Niall Williams

A bed-ridden Irish teenage girl recounts her family’s past and her town’s present, while the rain falls and the river Shannon rises. The narrator’s voice is brilliant, and the varying importance of water in her stories will keep your thoughts returning to this book.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

A childless couple living in the Alaskan wilderness build a snow child, and the next day a real little girl shows up. Where has she come from and is she real? Year after year, she comes in the winter and leaves in the spring, until love tries to bind her to a civilized life. A beautiful, fairy-tale-like story.

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

An epic story set in a fantasy world very similar to the middle ages in Iberia. Competing tribes and religions try to maintain and/or conquer the land each believes should be theirs. This is the El Cid story, although that character has a different name and isn’t immediately recognizable. An amazing story. I plan to read much more by Kay.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

A murder mystery / fantasy? in rural Poland. The narrator is a middle aged / elderly woman who believes that the murders are being committed by deer and other animals to avenge the hunting deaths of their kin. This is a bizarre story, and perhaps not for everyone. I, however, was mesmerized by the narrator’s voice and her way of seeing the world.

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Need a light, romantic-comedy-type novel? I discovered Kate Clayborn this year (thanks, Rikki!), and this is my favorite of her books that I’ve read so far. Although light and romantic, this book is also quite clever, using art and signs and numbers and letters. The characters are well developed and (as an English teacher married to a math professor) reminded me of my own romance.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Two best friends are ripped apart by an event that happened many years ago, and you don’t find out what that event is until near the end. When this happens in novels, I am often upset that the event wasn’t really that kind of event, but it is in this story. Young-sook and Mi-ja grow up on the Korean island of Jeju where they learn to dive great depths for food. The story spans WWII with the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, up to current times. A fascinating story with incredible historical detail.

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

I like The Parable of the Talents better, but I think you should read them both and The Parable of the Sower comes first. Butler’s vision of America in the future is terrifying, yet similar to other places in the world when governments collapse. I found the main character’s “discovery” of the Earthseed religion, God-as-change, intriguing.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Another romantic comedy. When Tiffy must move out of her boyfriend’s flat, she can’t afford any place in London except this strange, flat-share arrangement. She gets the flat (and bed) in the evenings, nights, and weekends, and Leon, a nurse who works nights and spends the weekend away, gets it the rest of the time. The two don’t meet for a long time, but get to know each other through the notes they leave for each other. Alternate chapters are narrated by Tiffy and Leon and O’Leary does a great job with their very different first-person styles. A fun read which also handles the serious topic of gaslighting/emotional abuse.

Novels for Kids:

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs

I was lucky to get a copy of this to review for the Historical Novels Society.

A story of the Mexican revolution told through the eyes of a 12-year-old, parent-less girl trying to care for her elderly grandmother and two young siblings. Fleeing the Federales, Petra and her family travel through villages, the desert, meet up with some courageous rebels, then continue on, hoping they will be allowed entry into the United States.

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

11-year-old Bell has grown up in the US colony on Mars, where they live underground and have no contact with the other Mars colonies. He’s a normal kid with friends and school and chores and lots of curiosity. When a virus causes all the adults to get sick, what can the kids to do keep the colony alive? This book takes a turn and handles questions that you don’t see coming. A great read.

Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz

Rhaskos (clay) is a young slave boy in Thessaly who is fascinated by paintings and art. Melisto is a young aristocratic girl (amber) living in Athens whose nurse just happens to be Rhasko’s mother. The story is told in various formats: illustrations of artifacts with guesses to use and identity; verse from the gods about what will happen; prose of the characters’ stories. As usual, Schlitz has created a masterpiece. Will it win the Newbery? It has some stiff competition.

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly

Marisol Rainey’s backyard contains the most perfect climbing tree ever. But Marisol Rainey is afraid to climb it. Marisol is eight years old and suffers from anxiety. This is a book for the time—I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins the Newbery. In an entertaining book for young readers, Kelly handles the problem of anxiety in a patient, supportive way.

Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

Paulsen’s autobiography details the brief (but wonderful) time Paulsen spent with relatives in a cabin in northern Minnesota, to his years living in poverty with alcoholic parents, both in the Philippines and in Chicago. This might be Paulsen’s best book of all. The courage of young Gary, the drive that kept him safe and sane, and the importance of books and the wilderness, make for a powerful story. Another possible Newbery winner.

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

Gabrielle grew up poor in Haiti but gets the opportunity to move to New York City when she is ten to live with her uncle and his family. Her family is counting on her to be successful in America, so she can eventually send home money and possibly help to bring her family to the US. But, living in the United States, where she doesn’t speak the language and is constantly bullied, is difficult. So, Gabrielle turns to a witch to help her fit in—but is she ready to pay the cost of the witch’s spells? Arnold’s story is magical, exciting, and thought-provoking. Another potential Newbery Award winner?

Let me know what your favorite books of the year were in the comments below. Happy 2022!

Newbery Award 2022: the Contenders

One of my book clubs reads Newbery Award contenders in December and January, so we can be well informed when the American Library Association announces the award winner in late January. There are so many great children’s books being published every year. This picture includes the ones I’m reading.

I didn’t get Joseph Bruchac’s Rez Dogs in the first picture, but I’m starting that one today.

I’ll let you know which I think should win before the announcement is made.

Do you have a favorite children’s book published in 2021?

July Sales Event

During July, the e-book of Syncopation is 99 cents at Smashwords and Amazon.

This sale is a part of Smashwords’ July sales celebration.

Smashwords is where I first published Syncopation as an e-book. I love Smashwords! They make self-publishing easy and affordable and work with international book sellers such as Apple books, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. When you buy from one of those retailers, you are purchasing my Smashwords edition. (All sites feature the $0.99 discount in July.)

Syncopation is also available at amazon, and per contract the price has been dropped to $0.99, so that I’m not selling cheaper anywhere else.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Syncopation and let me know what you think.

Happy July!

Cover Reveal / Book Available

Thanks to Jenny Q of Historical Fiction Book Covers for this lovely cover:

Book Cover for Wilde Wagers

Wilde Wagers is now available in print or as an ebook at your favorite book seller. You can ask local bookstores and libraries to order copies if it isn’t on the shelf. A list of popular online shops is on this page.

Here’s the story:

Wagering is all the rage in late Victorian England. Oscar Wilde bets that actress Olivia Snow can fool a group of country bumpkins into believing she is Genevieve Lamb, the wealthy beauty of the recent Season. The weekend will prove a challenge for the old-fashioned actress and Genevieve’s handsome and old-fashioned brother, Philip, because the manor is filled with all sorts of ridiculous and eccentric characters, as well as one slightly murderous criminal. While Olivia pretends to be Genevieve, Genevieve wagers on her own performance–as Olivia Snow. She and Oscar Wilde go out on the town, a decision that will have both wishing they’d stayed at home and played cribbage. These two charades take unexpected turns during a wild weekend of kidnapping, cucumber sandwiches, bee stings, and love. This Oscar Wilde-esque romance-mystery-comedy will keep you guessing–and craving teacake.

Enchanted Conversation

I’m a big fan of fairy tales, so I was happy to discover the online fairy tale publication, Enchanted Conversation. Many of the stories and art are free to view, although if you become a patreon, you have access to more material. It’s a fun site, so I thought I’d pass it on to my readers. If you are an artist or writer, the publication requests submissions on a strict time frame and pays those it chooses to publish.

Happy Reading!

Best Books of 2020

During the strange and tragic year that was 2020, I was lucky to stumble across many excellent books. Here are a few, in the order that I read them. I’ve included codes for intended audience: MG=books for children; YA=books for teenagers; A=books for grown-ups.

Where possible, the links send you to the authors’ pages, so you can buy their books as they recommend.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (A)

I read this at the beginning of the year and barely remember it, but the feeling remains: a sparkly, romantic adventure in a druidic, magical world. Best click the link above to read what it is about.

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (MG / YA)

Stuck at home while all her friends leave for spring break, 12-year-old Amelia makes friends with Casey–the first time she’s ever had a boy friend (boyfriend?). They are both artists and have some adventures. The story is real-life pain and joy, told in lovely prose.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (MG / YA)

I was super-lucky to get a copy of this to review for the Historical Novels Society. Lauren Wolk is one of my favorite new authors. Echo Mountain is an incredibly emotional and engaging story, with complicated, real characters and a plot that is difficult to summarize. Read my review or visit the author’s page (links above.)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (A)

A Japanese teenager decides to kill herself–right after she documents the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. An American novelist living off the coast of Washington state finds some debris washed up on the coast and believes it might have been swept to her by the 2011 tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people. A journal that she finds and reads might have been written by the Japanese teenager…. This story moves between stories and time and space and dream in a marvelous, magical way.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali (A)

In 1950s Tehran, a young man and woman meet in a stationery shop and fall in love. On the eve of their wedding, they are separated and will not meet again for sixty years. The story moves between past and present, slowly uncovering what happened that night and why, visiting their memories, their loves, and the lives they lived apart. It is a beautiful love story, and I enjoyed learning about Iranian history and culture.

Strangers and Pilgrims / The Hedgeway / Mechant Loup all by Vivienne Tuffnell (A)

Strangers and Pilgrims is about a small group of people who are feeling lost and meet in a retreat where things don’t go as they thought they would. The Hedgeway is about a couple who inherit an old house that is haunted, sort of. Mechant Loup is a collection of “modern fables for sensible grown-ups.” I’m incredibly fortunate to have discovered Tuffnell in 2020. Her prose or … story telling style or … something makes me feel more solid, more comfortable, more like everything will be OK. It’s hard to explain and so far I’ve been unsuccessful in figuring out how she does it. Read her and see what you think.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier (A)

This story haunted me– I couldn’t get it out of my head. An alcoholic woman and a quiet, apple-obsessed man raise apples and children in a swamp in Ohio in the 1830s. Their story is depressing, violent and enthralling. The book follows two of their children who manage to get away. Chevalier is another of my favorite authors.

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams (A)

I got lucky again and was sent this book to review for the Historical Novels Society. Williams took the Amelia Earhart story, mixed it up with a bunch of fiction, and produced the story of aviatrix Irene Foster who disappears while flying around the world. A young journalist searches for the truth about Foster and Foster’s mentor, pilot Sam Mallory. Great characters and an exciting story.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (A)

Harold Fry sets off one morning to mail a letter at the post box on the corner and just keeps walking. He recently learned that a friend he knew decades ago is dying. If he walks to her, perhaps she’ll live until he gets there. The story of Harold is uncovered as he makes his way across England. This is not a fast-paced thriller but the solid, character-driven story of a man trying to understand himself and make peace with life. Wow, that summary is awful, but I’m getting tired of writing this blog post. Trust me, it’s a spectacular book.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (MG / YA)

Mary Lambert lives on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 1800s. She is deaf, and so are many of the other residents; everyone uses sign language, and Mary doesn’t see deafness as “different.” But an ambitious young scientist does, and when he arrives in their community, trying to understand why so many of the residents are deaf, the story takes a turn I never saw coming. A nail-biting story with a great heroine and fascinating historical detail. Probably in the running for the 2021 Newbery Award.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews (A)

In a small, South American, Mennonite community, a series of horrible crimes were committed. Afterward, eight women of the community gather in secret to decide what to do. If I tell you what happened, it will misrepresent the story. As the title indicates, this is the story of women talking. Women of faith in danger of losing their faith. Illiterate women with no knowledge of the world. They are funny, philosophical, ignorant, in pain and lost, angry and hurt, kind and loving. It is a staggering fictional conversation, based on a real-life event.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (MG / YA)

This is my vote for the 2021 Newbery Award. (Note: I have no vote.) The narrator of this story is Della, a tough, ten-year-old girl entering foster care with her older sister. She unveils their story little by little, carefully, warning us that “some parts are hard, so I’ll leave them for later.” The hard parts are sexual abuse and suicide. Many will flinch at a book for ten-year-olds about this topic. But, there are ten-year-olds who experience sexual abuse and need this book. The story is handled appropriately: not vague and not graphic. Della is the most magnificent of characters. Fighting Words is true to life: sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always engaging. I’m getting goosebumps just remembering everything. I hope it wins.

Well, that’s my list. I hope you give a few of these books a try and let me know what you think.

Things I Learned By Reading Jane Austen

I love Jane Austen’s work. Recently, I’ve been thinking about some of the more unusual “lessons” from her novels that apply to life today. Here is a short list. Feel free to add more ideas in the comments.

  1. Women don’t have a lot of power, and when we use the little bit of power we have, many people will be shocked, horrified, and offended.
  2. The young and healthy don’t want to hear about your health problems. If you talk about poor health too often, they will find you boring and mock you.
  3. The rich only think to compare themselves to the more rich and believe themselves poor.

What have you learned from Jane Austen?