Genre: Children’s General
I have yet to read a book by Mo Willems that I haven’t absolutely adored. His Elephant and Piggie Series was created for early readers, with lots of short, repeated words, no contractions, life lessons appropriate for the age group – and it still manages to be fun. The stories are cute, the characters are likeable, and the drawings are simple but powerful. My two favorites in the series (so far, at least!) are We Are in a Book! and Today I Will Fly! I especially love the We Are in a Book! because it reminds me a little of The Monster At the End of the Book, which was one of my husband’s favorite books growing up. I like both of these because they draw attention to the idea of the book itself and the interaction between the child (or adult) and the physical book. A sort of meta reading experience if you will.
I think the age range is about right, though you can obviously read these books to your younger children as well. There isn’t anything remotely scary about them (at least not any of the ones I’ve read). I can easily see a four year old reading the book by his or herself, especially after a little coaching.
Side note: The elephant is name Gerald after the author’s favorite singer. Elephant Gerald. Say it out loud quickly a couple of times. The piggie’s name is Piggie. I can respect that.
For the love of all that is good in the world, it is “y’all” not “ya’ll”!
Y’all is the contraction of “you” and “all”‘ where the apostrophe takes the place of the “ou” in “you” and also replaces the space between the words. Thus, “you all” becomes “y’all”. It makes no sense to put the apostrophe in the middle of the word “all”.
Also, this is a perfectly acceptable word to use when addressing more than one person. Don’t let the haters try to tell you otherwise.
Get it together, y’all!
Bottom line: A great example of the hard boiled genre, featuring a strong female P.I.
Blurb for First Book: A is for Alibi (1982)
A IS FOR AVENGER
A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.
A IS FOR ACCUSED
That’s why she draws desperate clients like Nikki Fife. Eight years ago, she was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer. But after all this time, clearing Nikki’s bad name won’t be easy.
A IS FOR ALIBI
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey Millhone feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer–and sharper–than she imagined.
It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries, so I got A is for Alibi from the library and started over at the beginning (not all of them – I’m dedicated to you, my loyal readers, but not THAT dedicated). I’ve read up through T, though Grafton has published up through V (W is for Wasted comes out this fall). For a series that has 22 published books, plus some short stories (none of which I’ve read), the level of quality is surprisingly consistent – and high. The mysteries and characters are interesting and varied enough so that you don’t feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again. There are, obviously, some books that are better than others, but for the most part they’re very good reads.
One thing to note is that just because this series features a female detective, do not mistake these for cozies. They are definitely hard boiled: gritty and full of the realities of life – sex and bad language and all the rest of it. Kinsey is a tough, prickly, character, one that you come to respect before you necessarily start to like her. In the first book, you get enough details about her earlier life to keep you interested, without there being an info dump of backstory. I find it annoying when within a few strategic conversations in the first chapter you learn everything you need to know about a character. Real life doesn’t work that way. You do learn more about her as the series progresses, in a very natural way.
I’d recommend this series for anyone who likes the hard boiled mystery genre, or even mystery fans in general. Be warned that there is quite a bit of detail involved in tracking down various aspects of the cases; facts don’t seamlessly fall into place on the first try, which I quite like. Another great thing about these books is that any library is almost guaranteed to stock them. So, pick one up and give it a try – if you like it, you’ll eventually have 25 more great books to keep you entertained. Even for someone who reads as fast as I do, that’s at least a hundred hours of happiness.
TV Show: Avatar: The Last Airbender (this has nothing to do with the James Cameron Avatar movie)
Genre: Children’s Fantasy/Anime
Ages: 8-10 on up, depending on the child
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Only the Avatar was the master of all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless Fire Nation from conquering the world. But when the world needed him most, he disappeared. Until now… On the South Pole, a lone Water Tribe village struggles to survive. It’s here that a young Waterbender named Katara and her warrior brother Sokka rescue a strange boy named Aang from a cavernous iceberg. Not only is Aang an Airbender–a race of people no one has seen in a century–but they soon discover that Aang is also the long lost Avatar. Now it’s up to Katara and Sokka to make sure Aang faces his destiny to save the tribe–and himself. Did we mention he’s only 12?
My husband and I have watched all three seasons of this more than once. It’s a fun show that has great world building, some beautiful art, and interesting characters. I’m going to call the style “anime-lite.” I am not an anime lover (though I am an animal lover) – I’ve tried a couple of different shows and could just never get into any of them. This show has some of the overly stylized elements of anime, some episodes more than others, but they didn’t annoy me as they often do.
This is a classic “good vs. evil” saga, and there are some darker episodes (this is, after all, about a world war), but if your child is used to watching superhero cartoons, this is pretty tame by those standards. It takes the traditional four elements, adds a touch of magic, and then makes them into martial art forms. There are some really great themes explored that go beyond the usual friendship, love, loyalty, etc. For example, Aang, the main character, really struggles with how to bring peace to the world but still remain true to his nonviolent beliefs. Also there is a flying bison.
It is aimed at the younger generation, but if you are a fantasy fan, it’s definitely worth checking out at any age. It’s available on Netflix as well as all the usual suspects online.
Side Note: There was a movie adaptation, which looked terrible, so I haven’t seen it. Reviewers have not been kind to it. There is also a continuation of the series called “The Legend of Korra” which takes place a couple of generations later than the original series. This is much darker and has a steampunk edge to it. I found it to be too much stress for very little emotional payoff. I’m told that it got better a couple of episodes in, but life is too short to watch shows you don’t like.
I’m going to be posting some summer reading lists throughout the, well, summer. These won’t be in-depth reviews, just a list of “hey, these are great and you should drop everything and read them now!” books. I’m going to be doing it by genre, and for my first genre I’m picked Golden Age Mysteries. These are the mysteries that many people think of as the “classic” mysteries, typically written in the 1920’s or 1930’s. I love this era – so much so that they comprise the vast majority of the mysteries on my personal bookshelves that survive my frequent purges. So, here’s your summer reading list for Golden Age Mysteries:
- Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers. Normally I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one (just because it’s not the first and I’m a bit obsessive that way), but I think it really is her best and if you want to give Sayers a try, this is the one to do it with.
- Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie. Probably my favorite Christie, and a great introduction to her work.
- Opening Night / Night at the Vulcan (alternate title) (1951) by Ngaio Marsh. I’ve only read a handful of Marsh’s works, but I’ve enjoyed all the ones that I have read. I’d rate her a bit below Agatha Christie, but still very fun to read if you like this genre. She was from New Zealand and worked in the theatre, so several of her works are set in the theatre as this one is (and also features a heroine fresh off the boat from NZ).
- Death of a Ghost (1934) by Margery Allingham. This is my favorite Allingham. Her work is a bit darker than any of the others I’ve mentioned, but this one especially is extremely well crafted. Some of her books I found the characters to be flat, but in this one they are more fleshed out.
The four authors above are considered the four original “Queens of Crime”, and reading one of each of their works would certainly constitute a good introduction into the golden age of detective fiction. Another author that I hear frequently recommended along with the four above is Josephine Tey, but I have yet to read any of her works. So, as a bonus, I’m including:
5. Anything by Josephine Tey. This is going on my reading list for the summer.
I hope you enjoy your first reading assignment from me – look for more to come!
I’m introducing another new feature here at Lector’s Books: Writing Wednesdays. I just can’t help myself – I’ve always adored alliteration. My plan is for this to be a once or twice a month feature, but we’ll see how it goes. If you have any requests for subjects you’d like to see featured, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’m going to use this to share tips and tricks for writers, or help on how to avoid some common pitfalls that annoy readers.
Today’s feature is going to extol the wonders of CTRL F, or the “find” function in MS Word and, I assume, every other text-containing program you can think of. As I’ve said before, I think most typos and small writing mistakes happen because authors are too familiar with their own work to really see them. It’s kind of the opposite of not being able to see the forest for the trees – you can’t see the individual words for the sentences/story. This is where knowing your strengths and weaknesses can be very helpful. If you know that you struggle with certain issues (especially homophones) using the find feature will help you isolate these words and truly see them, despite your familiarity with the work. For example, suppose you have the following in a manuscript: “She was so excited to see him, standing over their by his family, as if he’d never left.” (I said I wasn’t a writer.) If you’ve read this several times, you may not notice that you’ve used “their” instead of “there”. This is where using “find” comes into play. Make a list of words that you either know you struggle with personally, or just words that are often misused. Then go through and do a find for each one. This really doesn’t take nearly as much time as you think it will, and will isolate the instances of the words so that you see them out of context of the narrative. So when you do a word search for “their”, this sentence will pop up, with the word “their” highlighted and you can see that you need to change it to “there”.
As a side note, you can do this on your Kindle as well. I’ve used it when reading books for reviewing, if I notice that, say, “it’s” and “its” are commonly confused, I might do a search for those words so I can check whether there were, in fact, several mistakes, or if it just seemed that way to me.
Here are some words that I’d recommend doing a find for: it’s, its, there, their, they’re, there’s, theirs, the symbol ‘ (apostrophe – this can take the place of it’s, there’s, and so on), peak, pique, peek, loose, lose, and most importantly, any particular word that you know you tend to misuse.
Anyone use this feature as a quick self-check? Did it work for you? What other words would you recommend CTRL F-ing?