Category: Book Lists

How to Start a Book Club

These are some great book club picks!

A Man Called Ove The Handmaid’s Tale The Great Gatsby Cocoa Beach The Last Days of Night

As a bookish person, it’s surprising to me that I have never been in a book club. The closest I’ve ever come was the way my childhood best friend and I shared our love of books. We talked about books (a lot of Baby-Sitter’s Club, Louise Rennison, and classics such as Bridge to Terebithia), suggested books for each other (I still refuse to read Old Yeller), and viewed each other’s bookshelves as our own personal libraries. Every play date and sleepover ended with trading books, and we still send each other books every once in awhile. (And after her urging me to read it for at least 20 years, I’m finally going to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this year.)

All that to say: I decided to start a book club in my neighborhood because we didn’t have one, and I missed talking about books in person! I posted about it and our first book choice, A Man Called Ove, on Instagram and received so many positive comments and questions that I wanted to write about a few things I’ve learned so far about starting a book club from scratch. Hopefully some of this will be helpful to you, and if you have any suggestions for me PLEASE send me a message or leave a comment!

(Read my 5-star review of A Man Called Ove HERE.)

Who Do You Want in Your Book Club?

By this question, I don’t mean for anyone to be ultra-exclusive about their book club membership. But it is helpful if you have people in mind: friends, neighbors, strangers? Decide who you want to ask first! (And if it’s strangers, this could be as simple as posting a flier in your local library with your book pick and meeting there!) I chose my neighborhood because I knew there was a lot of interest in starting a book club.

What Kind of Book Club Do You Want?

What do you want out of your book club? Do you want a serious book discussion with pre-planned questions and no chitchat? Do you prefer a more relaxed discussion, with time for book talk and neighborhood gossip? This decision will probably help determine the answer to the next question.

Where Do You Want to Meet?

If you want to stick to a more serious book discussion, I would suggest meeting with your group at a library-the setting is quiet, you won’t be too distracted, and most libraries have conference rooms available to use for things like this. If you want a relaxed book club, you can get away with a few different locations. Having different people host in their homes each month seems to be the most popular choice, and that’s what our book club is doing. We all bring food and drinks, hang out for a bit, then talk about the book. No planned discussion, unless there’s something specific someone wants to talk about. If you want something even easier, you could meet at a restaurant each month, a coffee shop, a dessert bar, really anywhere with enough seating for your group. (Can you tell that food is a must for me at these events?) You should also decide how often you want to meet, and try to pre-plan meeting dates a couple of months in advance.

How to Pick the Books

This can be tricky. We all want everyone to like the book, but that just doesn’t always happen. My favorite way to choose a book each month is to have whoever is hosting that month pick. (If you’re meeting in a public place, just have people volunteer to choose a book each month.) I like this because it’s a great way to be introduced to books you might not usually go for. In our group, several people were afraid that they wouldn’t like Ove, but they ended up loving the book! (Who wouldn’t?!) You could also theme your book club, or change the theme each year. Best sellers, classics, Modern Mrs. Darcy book club or summer reading picks. The sky is really the limit here.

*A few people in my neighborhood book club wanted to host but didn’t want to pick a book, so they asked for suggestions. I made a list of books (some best sellers, some classics, some lesser-known books) and added it to our Facebook group. If someone doesn’t want to choose a book on their own, they can just pick one from the list! And anyone can add books to the list if they see something interesting, so the list of suggestions is always growing.

Serious or Relaxed, Keep It Organized!

I know, I know, organization. So tedious. But it’s really not! I use a simple spreadsheet in Excel to keep track of members, addresses, who’s hosting each month, which books we’ve picked, our list of book suggestions, and who RSVPs each month. Once you get it set up, it’s so quick and easy to update. Would you all be interested in a free download of this? Let me know!

I also created a private Facebook group for our book club, and I keep it updated with book selections, meeting dates, book suggestions, and a thread for extra discussion for each book. It’s a simple way to keep connected in between meetings.

Are you in a book club? Do you want your book club to be different? Let us know how your book club works and what suggestions you have for making book club even more fun!

Extra Note!

If an in-person book club just isn’t an option because of time, location, or any other reason, consider joining the Instagram bookstagram community. (Bookstagram is just a fun name for all the wonderfully bookish accounts there. Mine is @texasgirlreads.) There are so many online book clubs that choose a book each month and discuss on Instagram in the comments. So easy!! (My favorite is @saltwaterreads! We’re reading Cocoa Beach for July’s selection.)

Reluctant Readers: Do I HAVE to read?

The last thing any lifetime reader wants to hear a kid say is, “Do I HAVE to read?” Because no, unless it’s for school, kids don’t technically HAVE to read. But we hope that they all WANT to read. Big difference.

As a reader and a mom, this frustrates me to no end! My kids love books, but even they have moments of reading reluctance. (There are weeks that my 8-year-old refuses to read anything except his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Over and over. My 6-year-old is currently uninterested that anything that isn’t Star Wars-based.) So I went on a book-hunting expedition to try and find interesting, weird, funny, great books that my kids would love and maybe wouldn’t have chosen on their own. I also thought about why some kids love to read and why some just don’t seem interested.

Why are they reluctant? Is reading difficult or have they just not found books of interest? And why is reading for pleasure so important anyway? Why not just let kids do the bare minimum for school and accept that some of them just don’t like to read?

(Sidenote: I am that stubborn person who will never accept that people don’t like to read. They just haven’t found the right books yet!)

As adults, we get to choose what we want to read. Comedy, mystery, suspense, literature with a capital L. We might ask friends for suggestions or read book reviews to get ideas, but ultimately the decision is up to us. Why should it be different for kids? I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I am an offender of trying to push my own literary wants onto my kids. “What do you mean The Boxcar Children isn’t interesting?! Yes it is, try it again.” Now, if it’s an age thing, and happens to be a book that would be better when they’re older, maybe giving it another try would be ok. But the more we push what we think our kids SHOULD read onto them, the less they will WANT to read. Why not give them some options and then let them choose? Or, better yet, let them roam free in the children’s section of the library and pick anything? This one is hard for me, but at the library I usually just sit at a kid’s table with my own book and let them discover books on their own. (I sneak in a few here and there, though. Hey, no one’s perfect.)

We all have reasons for reading. Sometimes it’s for work, sometimes it’s to learn, and sometimes yes, it’s because the teacher says we have to. But reading for fun, in my opinion, is the best reason of all. I think it’s especially important for kids for a variety of reasons. They inevitably end up learning something, even if it’s just how to tell a funny joke. (Thanks, Captain Underpants.) Through books, kids can travel the world, become a guest in another time period, or visit imaginary lands, which will expand their own imaginations. Books also offer a type of friend that can’t always be found in real life, a friend on the pages who a child can relate to, or aspire to be like. And when you find the right book, reading is just fun! It is important to gently encourage kids to take a break from the busy-ness of life and snuggle up with a book.

Here are a few of the many books that might be perfect for your reluctant reader. Leave them lying around, or just start reading aloud from them when your kid is nearby. They might still be a tough sell, but I think at least one of these will capture your little reader’s attention.

Let me know in the comments what books your kids have fallen in love with! I would love to add more to my list!

**I have focused on elementary school-age books here, but I’m planning a future post about middle school and high school reluctant readers as well.



Mr. Ball Makes a To-Do List
The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Darth Vader and Son
Goodnight Darth Vader
Vader’s Little Princess
Darth Vader and Friends
Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates
Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery
Magic Tree House
Star Wars: Jedi Academy
Squish 1: Super Amoeba
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Ada Twist, Scientist
Rosie Revere, Engineer
Iggy Peck, Architect
The Great Pet Escape (Pets on the Loose!)
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
The Day the Crayons Quit
The Day the Crayons Came Home
Dragons Love Tacos

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Summer Reading

 

Images from Goodreads

Summer is a great time to get a little extra reading done (although it doesn’t help my to be read pile AT ALL), and this year there are several books that I can’t wait to get my hands on! Here are a few releases that I’m excited about, and a few that I’ve been able to read already!

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
From the publisher:
“Kevin Kwan, bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, is back with an uproarious new novel of a family driven by fortune, an ex-wife driven psychotic with jealousy, a battle royal fought through couture gown sabotage, and the heir to one of Asia’s greatest fortunes locked out of his inheritance.”

I have wanted to read all of Kwan’s novels for awhile, and my plan is to pick a weekend this summer and read all three back to back. These are fun, gossipy books, perfect for summer! Crazy Rich Asians is being made into a movie, and I want to make sure to have them all read in plenty of time.
May 23

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
From the publisher:
“Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.”

This is going to be a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, but I can’t wait to read it anyway. It is based on a true story that sounds like it couldn’t possibly be true, which is makes it all the more horrifying. I’ve heard great things about this one, and a box of Kleenex will be nearby when I read it.
June 6

Camino Island by John Grisham
From the publisher:
“A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.”

What’s more perfect for summer than a new John Grisham novel? A new John Grisham novel about a library, a bookstore, and a novelist with writer’s block. This sounds perfect for book lovers, with a great mystery, and just right for the beach.
June 6

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
From the publisher:
“In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around each other, as though they have just met.”

This is Roy’s first novel since The God of Small Things was published in 1997, so there is most definitely an excited buzz around this book. I love character-driven books, so I can’t wait to delve into the lives that Roy has shared with her readers. This is not going to be a fluffy summer read, but perfect to curl up with on a humid, rainy day indoors.
June 6

Love Story: A Novel (The Baxter Family) by Karen Kingsbury
From the publisher:
“When John Baxter is asked to relive his long-ago love story with Elizabeth for his grandson Cole’s heritage project, he’s not sure he can do it. The sadness might simply be too great. But he agrees and allows his heart and soul to go places they haven’t gone in decades. Back to the breathless first moments, but also to the secret heartbreak that brought John and Elizabeth together. At the same time, Baxter family friend Cody Coleman is working through the breakup of his complicated relationship with Andi Ellison. He is determined to move on when a chance sighting changes his plans—and heart. Can Cody convince Andi to give their love another try, or is it time for them to say goodbye for good?”

I haven’t read any of Kingsbury’s Baxter series, but this one sounds so good! Family sagas are great for any season, but if you have time to binge read a series during the summer, this one might be the one for it!
June 6

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
From the publisher:
“Just because twins look exactly the same doesn’t mean they’re anything alike–and Tabitha and Harper Frost have spent their whole lives trying to prove this point. When a family crisis forces them to band together–or at least appear to–the twins come to realize that the special bond that they share is more important than the resentments that have driven them apart.”

Hilderbrand is the queen of summer reads, and this year’s publication looks to be just as juicy and fun as her other books. This is high on my summer reading list, and I can’t wait to devour it by a pool!
June 13

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
From the publisher:
“Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.”

So far, this is my favorite book of the summer. I absolutely loved it (Read my review of the novel HERE.), and I’ve added all of Reid’s books to my to be read list. This is a perfect summer read, but it’s not as fluffy as you might think. Be prepared to read this one from cover to cover in a couple of days, and to have the characters stick around in your head for awhile.
June 13

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall: A Collection of Outlander Fiction by Diana Gabaldon
From the publisher:
“A collection of seven short stories set in the Outlander universe, never before published together, including two original stories. This riveting, romantic collection includes: “Besieged” (original novella), “Survival” (original novella), “Virgins,” “The Space Between,” “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies,” “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” and “The Custom of the Army.””

It’s Outlander. What more do you need?! For all of us who are anxiously waiting for Gabaldon’s next Outlander novel, this is the perfect in-between book, full of short stories.
June 27

Final Girls by Riley Sager
From the publisher:
“Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. “

This is the debut novel from Riley Sager . . . but not really, since it’s a pseudonym for a previously published author. There’s another mystery to be solved there. 10 years after the Sack Man went on a killing rampage, it appears that he is targeting the Final Girls. Will they be able to escape a second time? I’ll be reading this one with ALL the lights on!
July 11

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
From the publisher:
“It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. No body—only a hiking boot—has ever been found. But then Olive starts having waking dreams—or are they hallucinations?—that her mother is still alive. Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, their family, and the stories we tell ourselves about the people we love.”

I’m in the middle of reading this one, and it is quite the page-turner! Brown slowly draws you into the story so that you are fully invested in finding out what happened to Billie, and why Olive is seeing her mother’s . . . ghost? Or something else?
July 11

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
From the publisher:
“Something terrible has been found on the beach. Something which will force Isa to confront her past, together with the three best friends she hasn’t seen for years, but has never forgotten. Theirs is no cozy reunion: Salten isn’t a safe place for them, after what they did. At school the girls used to play the Lying Game. They competed to convince people of the most outrageous stories. But for some, did the boundary between fact and fantasy become too blurred?”

The flap copy for this one is sparse, and I think it is so for a reason. Sometimes it’s better to go into a book not knowing much about the plot, and Ware’s books are definitely in that category. After In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, I can’t wait to see what she’s come up with now!
July 25

Glass Houses: A Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) by Louise Penny
From the publisher:
“When a mysterious figure appears on the village green on a cold November day in Three Pines, Armand Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, knows something is seriously wrong. Yet he does nothing. Legally, what can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized.”

If you are a Louise Penny fan, you’ve probably already pre-ordered her thirteenth novel in the Inspector Gamache series. I’ve been putting off reading her first, Still Life, because I know I’m going to love them and want to read them all at once. This series will most likely be my binge-read this summer. Will I be able to read all 12 before this one comes out??
August 29

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Texas Bluebonnet Award 2017-2018

The Texas Bluebonnet Award nominees for 2017-2018 are here! (They were actually here in November, but I’m just now getting around to them . . .) The Texas Bluebonnet Award (click HERE for the official website) is one of my favorites because kids vote for the winner. Each year, a selection committee chooses 20 books based on suggestions from librarians, kids, parents, and teachers, and the official list is announced at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. Throughout the year, eligible students in grades 3-6 must read (if they want to vote) at least 5 books, and then they vote for their favorite! Last year’s winner was Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.

If you want to check out the Bluebonnet Award website, it is HERE. Even if you’re not in Texas, you might get some good ideas for your or your kid’s next book. If you go HERE, you can see book trailers for each nominee, or go to the Texas Bluebonnet Award YouTube channel.

I love this award for two reasons. One, anything that encourages and rewards authors, especially authors of quality children’s books, is worth supporting. Two, this award encourages reading for kids. I volunteer at my kids’ school library, and every year I’ve managed to be there when the wonderful librarian announces the books to a few classes and shows them the book trailers. The kids are incredibly enthusiastic, many of them vowing to read all 20 books, and more than a few jumping up and down with excitement. If you didn’t know what was going on, you might think the librarian had announced that summer had come early this year and class was cancelled. All kids should be that excited about reading!

My goal is to fit in the 20 books by the end of the summer. Some of the books are shorter picture books, some are longer chapter novels, and all of them look interesting. I’ll post mini reviews here of each book as I read them. If you want to keep up with my reviews of these books, just select the Texas Bluebonnet Award category from the dropdown menu over on the right!

 

2016 WinnerRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

2017-2018 Nominees

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson

The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier

Little Cat’s Luck by Marion Dane Bauer

Lola Levine: Drama Queen by Monica Brown

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee

The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh

Soar by Joan Bauer

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart

The Storyteller by Evan Turk

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Unidentified Suburban Objects by Mike Jung

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

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2016 Top Five

Hello! 2016 was a pretty good reading year for me. I read new releases, old classics, and a few that had been on my to be read list forever. (The never ending to be read list!) In general, my least favorite question is, “What is your favorite book?” Picking favorite books is like picking a favorite movie: I just can’t do it! Unless I truly hate a book or cannot bear to finish it, I like them all for different reasons.

For the purposes of this list (I do love book lists), I narrowed my favorites for 2016 down to 5! They are not listed in any order, because I don’t want the books to feel bad about themselves. They’re all number 1 on my bookcase.

 


The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

This is a departure from Hoffman’s regular magical realism genre, and she appears to have made a seamless transition into historical fiction. (Although she does manage to weave a bit of magic in with her excellent writing.) This book tells the story of the painter Camille Pissarro, beginning with his parents. I didn’t know anything about Pissarro before reading this, and after I wanted to know more. His story begins on the island of St. Thomas, with how his parents got there, met, and fell in love, and winds its way through Paris. It’s a journey full of passion, unrealized dreams, and the struggle of doing right vs. doing what we want vs. doing for our families. The unusual way his parents meet and fall in love, and the very unusual stories of the island itself, make this a magical book rooted in reality.

 


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“Homegoing” is the extraordinary debut novel by young author Yaa Gyasi. This certainly doesn’t feel like a debut novel, and given the years of research Gyasi did for this novel, I’m sure that by the end it didn’t feel like the first for her either. The story spans 300 years in both American and Ghana. The chapters alternate between two sisters: one who gets sold into slavery and one who is married off to an American stationed in Ghana and lives a more comfortable life, if only physically. 300 years in 320 pages sounds impossible, but it’s not. The history of the sisters, and how they intertwine and pull apart over the centuries, is perfectly told, and the end of every chapter left me saying, “I can stay up a little longer to read just one more.” This book has stayed with me ever since I finished reading it almost a year ago, and I already want to re-read it.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

While I do enjoy dystopian YA literature, I don’t gravitate toward end of the world, Walking Dead type novels. (There aren’t any zombies in this novel, but I think the landscape is very similar to that show.) Emily St. John Mandel is a master at writing a popular fiction book with a great hook, which is a page-turner, and is also literary fiction. This story is about Kirsten Raymonde, a member of a traveling group of actors and musicians who tour what is left of America 20 years after a flu pandemic. The novel moves back and forth between Kirsten’s childhood and adult life, and covers the twists and turns that can only result from a lawless land in a post-apocalyptic world. I loved seeing what was important to people, even after an end of the world situation (such as Kirsten’s group trying to keep the arts alive), and what people had to let go of in order to survive.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Can we all agree that we love Liane Moriarty? Her books are well written, her characters are more than interesting, and we can probably look forward to TV or film adaptations of all her books. This one is my hands-down favorite. The premise of this book is, I think, as Modern Mrs. Darcy puts it, one that you shouldn’t pay attention to. Just start reading the book. Since this is a brief review, and I can’t just order you to read it, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Young wife, pregnant with her first child, wakes up on the floor of her gym and discovers that it is 10 years in the future, she has 3 kids, and is getting divorced. As Alice travels through this new-to-her life, she realizes that she is not the person she thought she would, or ever intended to, be, and must decide if she can live with herself or if change is possible. Ignore that this sounds like a Lifetime movie. It’s not. I promise. It made me examine my own life, and think about decisions I’ve made in the past and how my life might have been, or could be, completely different. This book will make an impact on your life, and you won’t be able to stop reading it.

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This is historical fiction at its best. Kristin Hannah, author of women’s lit books such as “Firefly Lane” (another of my all-time favorite books) and “Winter Garden,” completely switched up her usual writing genre, and she did it perfectly. The book is about two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, during WWII. One is responsible to a fault, the other is passionate and reckless. The narrator of the novel tells the story from present day . . . but you don’t find out who is narrating until the end. The war is, of course, a major player in this novel, but what’s really at the heart of it is family and how sisters respond differently when under pressure. Hannah was inspired by the real-life nightingale, a Belgian woman named Andree de Jongh, who put her own life at risk to rescue downed Allied pilots from Nazi territory. It is truly an unputdownable book, and if I had to pick one favorite for 2016, this would be it.

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