Reading Past, Present, and Future

Fountains of Silence

I’m in a holding pattern with my own writing at the moment while I await editorial feedback on my book in progress (more later) so I’m able to tackle the books on my bedside table. Here’s what’s happening now:


I just finished This Tender Land  by William Kent Krueger  Set in 1932, the book follows four runaways from the Lincoln School, where Native American children are forcibly sent, as they launch a canoe and head for the Mississippi River. They encounter tragedy, heartbreak, kindness, and hope. Some lovely passages, exciting incidents, and interesting characters. Think Homer’s Odyssey.  I greatly enjoyed the book and will search out another by William Kent Krueger.

I’m now reading (gobbling up is more like it) Fountains of Silence by the brilliant Ruta Sepetys. Madrid, 1957. Silence, secrets, danger, fear.  Such writing, such research! I’m gobsmacked.

Next up is an indie titled The Serpent, The Puma, and the Condor, written by Gayle Marie. It’s a tale of Machu Pichu. Incas, conquistadors, and the tragic conflict of cultures. I can’t wait.

FAQ #9: Inspired

Book of Boy

What do you read for inspiration?

I tend to read novels set in whatever time period I am writing about. I like to see how other authors tackle the tricky problems involved in writing historical fiction: authenticity vs. info dumps, history vs. imagination, how they invent the past.  

During the years I worked on the medieval books, I read a heap of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books. Fabulous books. 

I also read a lot of middle grade novels since that’s what I write.

At the moment I’m reading the delightful Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead about Livy and her friend, Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, and Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s The Book of Boy, in which a Medieval child named Boy discovers his courage, his skills, and his wings—literally. I’m loving it.

Brother Cadfael, Bob, The Book of Boy

FAQ #1: Childhood Books

This month, I’m answering frequently asked questions.

Here’s the first:

What’s the one book that pops into your mind first when you think of books you read when you were young? What do you remember most about that book?

One book? No way. It has to be a three-way tie: Blue Willow, by Doris Gates, the story of a migrant girl who longs for a permanent home;  Cotton in My Sack, Lois Lenski, about migrant pickers in the cotton fields; and Strawberry Girl, also by Lois Lenski, wherein a family moves to Florida to start a strawberry farm

Blue Willow, Cotton in My Sack, Strawberry Girl

I remember these books to this day. They opened my eyes to another world: other times, other places, and other lives. I could see beyond the boundaries of my own experiences and relate to characters much different from me. Apparently my family, my neighborhood, my problems, were not the only way of life. At ten, that blew me away! And each book is a coming of age story concerned with the search for home, topics that I seem to write about over and over myself.

A list of fantasy books, part three

The Goblin EmperorHere’s the next title in my list of favorite fantasy novels: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. After a tragedy strikes, the half-goblin youngest son of an emperor has to learn whom to trust, how to rule, and how to survive, in a hurry. I loved the world building and Maia, the goblin emperor, who is much smarter and more lovable than he thinks he is.

A list of fantasy books, part two

SeraphinaAs part of my list of favorite fantasy novels, I offer Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. A gifted musician, Seraphina is also part dragon. Intriguing story with great characters and the wonderful image of her silver scales. Beautifully written.

Here’s Rachel Hartman’s website, where you can learn more about this book and her newest, Shadow Scale.

My favorite books of 2014

It’s award season and best of 2014 season, and so I am weighing in. Here are my favorite books of the past year. No money, no gold statue, just my sincere thanks for hours of reading joy.

five books

Nest. Middle-grade fiction by Esther Ehrlich. Set on Cape Cod in 1972, Chirp survives a difficult year through the healing power of family, the natural world, and her growing friendship with the irresistible Joey. Nest is real, touching, true, and wise.

All the Bright Places. YA fiction by Jennifer Niven. This beautifully written book allows us into the worlds of the smart, dark Violet and the boy who teaches her to live while he plans to die. A gorgeous book with fascinating characters.

Tiger Queens. Historical fiction by Stephanie Thornton. Lengthy, detailed saga of the women who supported Genghis Khan and strengthened his kingdom.  I was immersed in his world for days and loved it.

The Goblin Emperor. Fantasy by Katherine Addison. After a tragedy strikes, the half-goblin youngest son of an emperor has to learn whom to trust, how to rule, and how to survive, in a hurry. I loved the world building and Maia, the goblin emperor, who is much smarter and more lovable than he thinks he is.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. Fiction by Christopher Scotton. A boy grows in courage, understanding, and forgiveness during a summer he spends in a small Kentucky coal town with his grieving mother and beloved grandfather. The end is riveting and life affirming but I hated to see the book end.


Is this historical fiction?

The Meaning of MaggieIs a novel set in 1988 a historical novel? I’m sure every ten-year-old would say yes although I think of 1988 as just yesterday. Megan Jean Sovern’sThe Meaning of Maggie is set in 1988. I didn’t even think of it as historical until days later. I just thought it a terrific book, charming and touching. Smart, funny, stubborn Maggie deals with her father’s incurable illness as well as all the other vicissitudes of being eleven. The characters are appealing, the situations believable, and the ending realistic but filled with hope. I recommend it to you and all the eleven-year-olds in your life.

Busy Weekend

Zane and the Hurricane and The Shadow ThroneIn the past three days I have battled hurricane and pirates, floods and evil kings, false friends and kind strangers. I was angry, frightened, discouraged, and determined. All this while I rode a train from here to Portland and back. Yup, I was reading—two amazingly good books.

Rodman Philbrick, author of the entirely splendid Freak the Mighty, took me to New Orleans in Zane and the Hurricane, just in time to to be trapped by Hurricane Katrina. Zane and his dog, Bandy, also encounter a feisty young girl and an elderly musician, dangerous drug lords, uncaring officials, and generous strangers. I could feel the wet and the cold and the hunger. Great book. 

Entirely different but equally compelling is The Shadow Throne, the third book in the Ascendance trilogy that started with The False Prince. Jennifer Nielsen has done it again, given us a rip-roaring adventure about good and evil, courage, loyalty, and love. I read this one much too late into the night. Great book.

I recommend you get these titles from your local independent bookstore. What would we do without them?

My Bedside Table

Bedside TableI thought you might like to see what I’ve been reading (when I should be writing): 

Mrs. Hemingway (Naomi Wood, Penguin): Insightful fictional look at Ernest Hemingway’s four wives. There’s a lot to admire in the women but I still don’t get Hemingway’s appeal. 

The Bear (Claire Cameron, Little, Brown): Two children must find their way out of the wilderness after their parents are eaten (really!) by a bear. I can’t say I enjoyed it—so violent and tragic—but I can’t forget it either. Not for children or the faint of heart. 

Under the Wide and Starry Sky (Nancy Horan, Ballantine): Fanny Osborne meets and marries Robert Louis Stevenson. The novel follows the couple as they travel the world, Louis writing and Fanny nursing him. I found it engaging. 

The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd, Viking): 19th century abolitionist Sarah Grimke struggles against her upbringing, her family, and other abolitionists as she insists also on rights for women. It’s a lovely, moving book and I enjoyed it wholeheartedly. 

I lucked out—all four were excellent and worth reading. Watch for them. Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for advance reading copies.

The Story Sleuths

Alchemy and Meggy SwannAllyson Valentine Schrier, Meg Lippert, and Heather Hedin Singh, the women behind The Story Sleuths, did a seven-part series on Alchemy and Meggy Swann, culminating in an interview with me. They look at things such as character transformation, inner dialogue, and details. It’s a good thing an author doesn’t have to plan all of this while writing a story. Much better to have the readers mull it all over and find meaning.