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This may be for the reader or the writer in you, but if you’re in driving distance of either of these events, I suspect you may be interested in both!

BooksToBeRead-2First, what’s happening the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd? The event that I have no business going to but will be heading to anyway – the Hunterdon County Library’s Annual Book Sale! It will be held again at the South County Park Fairgrounds in Lambertville, just off Rt. 179, (for you locals), and as always, Saturday features hardbound books at $2, paperback, $1 and Sunday, they’re half that. Something new – Monday, May 4th from 9 to 12, they’re having a $5 bag sale! Last year I believe they had something like 60,000 books, so collect your totes and mark your calendars. For complete information, go to the Library Sale website.

BoyReadingIf you’re a children’s book writer and/or illustrator, published or aspiring, think about attending the New Jersey SCBWI big June Conference Saturday and Sunday, June 13th and 14th, in Princeton, NJ. The conference is two days packed with workshops taught by great names in the children’s book field, critiques from editors, agents, authors, illustrators or your peers, special intensives, socializing with agents and editors over meals, great camaraderie among all those who love children’s books, and more. This, however, requires registration and a conference fee, plus there’s a deadline to register – early bird by April 19th, otherwise by May 15th. You also receive a discount as an SCBWI member. Find more details here, and click on the link to register for more in-depth information. (You are not automatically committed to registering by going to the registration site.) You’ll enjoy wonderful food all weekend long, (I’m looking forward to it already), and you can stay overnight at the Crowne Plaza/Holiday Inn Express Conference Center.

I’ll be going to both events – hope to see you there – I’ll be the one with that book-ish glow!

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Armed with nothing more than a mere paper list and 2 canvas bags, I prepared to do battle in the County Fairgrounds Grange Building, to find hidden treasure at the Annual Library Book Sale.

BookSale2014-AllBooks2

And find treasure I did!!

On my list were several broad categories … first I was looking for a particular chapter book series for my friend’s son, then books on model trains for another friend and particular cookbooks for another friend and myself. But then … I had a list of MG and YA novels and adult fiction strictly for my own reading pleasure. Some of these were Newbery winners or honor books that I’d been trying to find for awhile, others were books gathered from the 100 book bucket lists from an earlier post, some recommended by friends. What would I find?

Book Sale Books3 hours and a terribly aching neck later, I did quite well. Let’s take a closer look.

At left we have the known writers up top and books on my list below. The top 3 are among my favorite authors – Patricia Briggs, fabulous writer of urban fantasy and the Mercy Thompson series with Raven’s Strike, Alice Hoffman with  Incantation which in theme seems to be along the line of recently enjoyed The Dovekeepers, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams which I’ve been wanting to read for some time, and found quite unexpectedly.

Another Jerry Spinelli MG classic, Milkweed, and Almost Home another MG by Joan Bauer of Hope Was Here, plus a healthy kitchen book by another fave of mine, Dr. Andrew Weil, and the only book of Nicholas Evans, of The Horse Whisperer fame, that I haven’t read, The Divide. Below them, books I’ve had on a list for awhile –  YA Schooled by Anisha Lakmani, and MG The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and Crispin, the Cross of Lead by Avi.

I also found the next book after The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ Half Broke Horses about her grandmother Smith whom we met in her memoir. I am so impressed by Walls’ writing that I was hoping to find this book and The Silver Star but am real happy about at least getting one of them. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr is another much-praised memoir, and Water for Elephants also has gotten rave reviews if I can get through what I hear is a fair amount of brutality to the elephants. They could lose me there; we shall see.

BookSale2014-Stack1-2And on to the lucky finds … I was looking for The Giver by Lois Lowry, but found instead Gathering Blue, perhaps dark, but intriguing, as may be the collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors. The Te of Piglet is a companion to the Tao of Pooh which I already own and love – a can’t miss for me.  Shanghai Girls by Lisa See seems to have the flavor of Memoir of A Geisha which was outstanding, and The Red Leather Diary is a book I remember reading about being excellent some time ago. A surprise and hopefully another treasure.

I was first introduced to The Whale Rider as a movie about the New Zealand Maori tribe, specifically Kahu, a girl who should receive this sacred honor by lineage but which is only bestowed upon boys and men. It was excellent and I was thrilled to stumble upon the book by Witi Ihimaera. I am trying a sci-fi book by C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet. I am not generally a sci-fi fan, but this sounded great. I also found The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss, The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle and Horses and the Mystical Path by three McCormicks, because what would my (reading) life be if not inclusive of animals? (And yes, 2 cookbooks are in that pile, too!)

Today I feel rich, very rich. I didn’t find a bunch of the books on my list, but am more than happy with what will keep me engrossed for quite some time. The ones I couldn’t find? They’re on a new list under a magnet on my fridge, and whenever I am so inspired, I can toddle on over and pick them up from my local library, where I’ll also sit and soak up picture books to feed the writer and illustrator within.

Oh, and not to mention I am waiting for my inter-library loan of Deborah Harkness’ second book The Shadow of Night. Sometimes it seems crazy that something so simple can bring such happiness, but such a good crazy!

 

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There’s something very exciting about discovering an author we’ve never read before. Sometimes we are drawn to this author by personal recommendation, subject matter or from our simply having heard of him or her along the way and wanting to check them out. It’s also often exciting to return to an author we do know and read something fresh. Clearly, we can be surprised in either instance.

HouseRules-JodiPicoult2I picked up House Rules by Jodi Picoult at a friend’s book swap, a chance to try a new-to-me but very well-published author. House Rules is about a family which includes a single mom, a teenage son, Jacob, who has Asperger’s syndrome and his younger teenage brother, Theo. The father had walked out when Jacob was a toddler. He was unable to cope with the demands of a child whose symptoms were on the higher spectrum of autism, and who required enormous amounts of time and attention to continue to grow and function. Theo, who by necessity must often take back seat to Jacob, is longing for a more “normal” home and has begun to engage in dangerous behavior – breaking into people’s homes just to see what “normal” feels like. Jacob is obsessed with forensics and sometimes crashes local crime scenes, instructing the detectives on what they’re missing at the scene. When Jacob’s like-skills tutor turns up dead, he sets up the perfect crime scene to challenge the detectives, but then becomes the focus as her possible murderer.

This was really a very good read. At first, I was bothered by a little too much educating on the subject of Asperger’s, but as I read on, I realized the necessity of this baseline to truly understand Jacob’s behavior. I have some small knowledge of the subject, but Picoult’s extensive research brought a character to life who was worth a little schooling at the beginning of the book. So in House Rules, we have a family wrestling with the numerous complications of a child with Asperger’s, a murder mystery, a burgeoning love story and some great character development. I think anyone who has an Aspie child of any age in their family or works with one will appreciate this book best, but I wouldn’t limit the audience to that. It’s an engaging story on its own merit by an author with a good, clean style, a perpetually twisting plot, and an excellent grasp of her characters.

Bleachers-JGrisham2The I picked up Bleachers by John Grisham. I read a number of his legally-oriented novels quite some time ago, but the book by Grisham that really impressed me was A Painted House. It’s a story about a family in the Arkansas Delta who owns a cotton farm and hosts migrant workers in the summer for cotton picking. This particular summer, two dangerous men were among them, and life became deeply complicated for all, especially Luke, the seven year old farrner’s son. I found A Painted House to be a very powerful book that was exceptionally written and also refreshingly outside the legal genre in which Grisham usually writes. I wish I could say I was as excited about Bleachers. It was a fast read and centered around football players returning to the town of Messina because their coach was dying. The man’s brutality was experienced by the players in every year ‘s teams but because football was the life blood of the town, it was often overlooked or justified. Coach Rake was a hero to many, as were the high school Spartans, but his methods affected those around him in many ways. The premise of Bleachers is good. Maybe if I loved football, I would have liked it more, but I don’t think so. It just lacked something that A Painted House really had – a depth, conflict, that real make-you-want-to-see- what-happens-next quality. Not there for me in this book.

TheSmokeJumper-NEvans2So I’ve picked up The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans. He is the author of two books that I recommend highly, the acclaimed The Horse Whisperer and The Loop. about the return of a pack of wolves to a ranching community in Montana and the ensuing conflicts between a biologist who wants to save the nearly extinguished species and the ranchers who hate them. Evans is an outstanding writer, and I think he could write about football and mesmerize me. I don’t know anything about smoke jumping – those who descend into forest fires to put them out – but he already has me sucked in in the first chapter. In Evans’ case, I suspect he could use almost anything as the backdrop and still draw in the reader. I’m ready.

 

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Cheers to reading! And cheers to children’s books of all genres!

And here we come – a whole bunch of us aspiring writers and illustrators flocking to the annual NJ SCBWI (New Jersey Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), June Conference for one 3-day weekend where we eat, breathe, drink children’s books. Today, Friday, is the day of the intensives. These are in illustration, picture books, novels, and many more. The next two days are packed with workshops, one-on-ones with agents and editors, first page sessions, meals with the editors and agents, and outstanding keynote speakers – Kate DiCamillo and Dan Yaccarino. There’s a Book Fair, book signings, scholarship raffle, mix and mingle, and more. It’s simply an amazing event. (Take a peek at what the schedule looks like.) All to inform and guide us to being the best children’s book writers and illustrators we can be.

So cheers to everyone attending – faculty and attendees alike, and to all the wonderful people in NJ SCBWI that organize and work the event.

Whether lost in a traditional book or engrossed in an e-book, children are still reading and loving it. And all of us in SCBWI are inspired to be a part of it.

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