books + reading

Early chapter books we love

Have I written yet about my obsession with early reader chapter books? (I have – and I will again. Because I am obsessed.)

I love reading to my kids, always. But this spring, when Edgar and I started to regularly read beginner chapter books together, was oh-so-awesome. We had tried a few chapter books before – books like the Magic Treehouse books and the Mercy Watson series – and Edgar enjoyed them. However, when my friend Emma heard that we liked the movie How To Train Your Dragon and recommended the Dragon Masters series – that was when Chapter Book Life really took off for us.

The Dragon Masters books have been great for us because:

  1. They have a great storyline and plot – lots of action, but not so much that it’s hard for a four- or five-year-old to follow.
  2. There are illustrations on every page. (Edgar liked the Magic Treehouse books, but he kept trying to turn to a page with an illustration – in that series, I believe there’s a picture every two or three pages.)
  3. There are DRAGONS. We love dragons!

We definitely still read picture books regularly, but we’ve tried out a bunch of different chapter books since entering this new phase. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Dragon Masters series by Tracey West.
  • Princess In Black series by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale.
  • Once Upon A Fairy Tale series by Anna Staniszewski.
  • Kingdom Of Wrenly series by Jordan Quinn. (Full disclosure, Edgar is not as into these ones; I’m not really sure why. It could just be the timing of when they were presented, as we were in the middle of the Dragon Masters series at the time; I’m going to try again at some point!)
  • Olive and Beatrix series by Amy Marie Stadelmann.
  • Pixie Tricks series by Tracey West.
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

Happy reading!

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books + reading

My favorite mystery novels

One of my favorite things is when an author I love publishes a new book.

Whenever I hear about it, I immediately attempt to put the book on hold at the library. It’s a game of timing; the books only are available to put on hold a couple of months before they’re published – or, in the case of ebooks, sometimes only a few days ahead of time or the day of publication. Sometimes, I dominate and I’m #1 or 2 on the library hold list, meaning I get a copy the day of publication or a few days after. Sometimes, I am #156 on a library hold list of 275 people.

The most recent book I had this experience with is the latest from Anthony Horowitz, who is one of my favorite mystery writers. His book A Line To Kill was published on October 19, 2021. I got access to an ebook version of it a few days after publication, and an audiobook version a couple of days after that. I am currently in the middle of it and loving it. (I do wish I had a hard copy of it! I think I’ll fly through it once I can curl up with an actual book.)

I love mysteries. I also enjoy thrillers occasionally, if they are not too gory or terrifying. (I’m a big fan of the psychological thriller, a la Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient. See a few more of my favorites listed in this post!) I love a book that is a suspenseful, well-written page-turner, and often a mystery novel fits those requirements.

Currently my favorite mystery writers are Louise Penny and Anthony Horowitz. I started reading Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series in the fall of 2017; by January of 2018, I had read all 13 of the novels in the series at that time. She has published four more since then, with the latest (The Madness Of Crowds) published in August 2021. Her books are beautifully written, with wonderful characters and an extremely cozy setting.

Horowitz has a few different novels that I’ve enjoyed. The first book I read by him was The Word Is Murder; that book was followed in series by The Sentence Is Death and A Line To Kill. This series focuses on a not-always-likable but always-interesting detective who is partnered with a writer that is going to write about his crime-solving experiences. Horowitz also wrote several Sherlock Holmes novels (so good) and two mysteries (Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders) that are part of a series. (I am really hoping the Magpie series continues, but I have no idea if it will!)

There are so many mystery novels and series that I haven’t yet tried. There are also so many books that are mysterious and suspenseful that I wouldn’t exactly call mysteries. So, this list was tricky to complete – by here you go.

My favorite mysteries that I wouldn’t call “thrillers”:

  • All of Agatha Christie’s novels – classic, favorite, amazing.
  • Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels.
  • Anthony Horowitz – Sherlock Holmes novels, Magpie Murders series, The Word Is Murder series.
  • The Cormoran Strike novels by J.K. Rowling – published under her pen name, Robert Galbraith. These are wonderful and I always read immediately after they’re published.
  • Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman. (So many good books by Lippman! Some of them may be thrillers, I’m not sure.)
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. 
  • One Of Us Is Lying, Two Can Keep A Secret, and The Cousins, by Karen McManus.
  • Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson.

I am always looking for recs in this genre, so please share if you have any!

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books + reading

In search of a “light read”

There are times when I want to read a book that’s a “light read.” A book that isn’t going to make me cry or have me peeking around corners for psychopath serial killers. An easy read – a beach read, perhaps.

With this particular genre of books, it’s difficult for me to find a title I like. In a recent post (Books I Couldn’t Put Down), I wrote about my reading life as a parent – how I really need books to be compelling page-turners to maintain my interest. That works really well with genres like murder mysteries or psychological thrillers. But with books that we’d call a “light read”? It’s trickier for me to find one that keeps me turning the pages. I’m not a big fan of romance, and if the plot of the book doesn’t contain a little bit of mystery or suspense, then I lose interest quickly and end up abandoning the book.

When I find a light read that’s enjoyable for me and keeps me turning the pages, it’s a happy surprise. Which is why I wanted to share a few of those favorites for others who might share in my quest.

If you’re looking for a light read that’s still a great book, I recommend:

  • Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. (This is my number one recommendation anytime someone is looking for a light read.)
  • Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin.
  • Boomsday by Christopher Buckley.
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. 
  • Anxious People by Fredrik Bakman.
  • The Readers Of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. 
  • No Way To Treat A First Lady, by Christopher Buckley.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. 
  • Confessions Of A Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella.
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. (I often gift this book to people who say they aren’t readers – such a funny, enjoyable read.)
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.
  • About A Boy by Nick Hornby. (I think other Hornby books would probably fit in this category; I remember also liking Juliet Naked, How To Be Good, and A Long Way Down.)

Feel free to share your favorite easy, light reads. Happy reading!

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books + reading

YA/middle grade novels adults will love

Recently, I read two amazing middle grade novels that I loved, both by the author Rebecca Stead – When You Reach Me, which was first published in 2009, and The List Of Things That Will Not Change, which was published in April 2020. The books were beautiful.

I sometimes forget that it can be wonderful to read a well-written middle grade or young adult novel. If this isn’t a habit you’re in, I’ll share that if the book is well-written, you do not feel like you’re reading a “kids book” – you simply get lost in the story and enjoy the writing. Oftentimes, the novels I read that are aimed at younger readers have simpler, clearer language and fewer lengthy descriptions of settings – and, TBH, I’ve been a skimmer of lengthy descriptions of settings ever since my days of reading Anne of Green Gables for the first time. (Don’t get me wrong – I love the AOGG series. But sometimes, Anne would describe a beautiful tree for three pages and those parts were not my jam.)

I’ve been sorting through my Goodreads list and sharing recommendations in various genres. Here are a few of my favorite YA/middle grade novels:

  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – one of my favorite books of all time in any category. 
  • The List Of Things That Will Not Change and When You Reach Me, both by Rebecca Stead.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio.
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry.
  • The Truly Devious novels by Maureen Johnson. 
  • How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. (These are all great books about a heavy topic; all three stories are about the aftermath of the shooting of a young Black boy.)
  • The Higher Power Of Lucky by Susan Patron.
  • Feed by M.T. Anderson.
  • The Gospel According To Larry by Janet Tashjian.
  • Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr. 
  • Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block.
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

These books are all great choices for either an adult to read solo or for an adult and older child (appropriate age depending on topic) to read together. (Read aloud! Even as kids get to be 8, 9, 10, and older, reading to them out loud can be wonderufl family time.) Happy reading!

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books + reading

Books I couldn’t put down

I have always loved to read, but my reading life has changed since becoming a parent.

I’ve always loved reading the kind of book you can’t put down – a page-turner, a book that’s so good I want to keep it on the passenger seat of the car so that I can read a paragraph during red lights. (True story.) However, since becoming a mom, I’ve found that “can’t put down” is practically a requirement.

For me, I typically don’t have an endless amount of time to read. I read in little pockets of time – ten minutes while the boys play cooperatively in the backyard, and then I pause to help the boys navigate a sibling squabble. Twenty minutes at bedtime, and then I remember I need to pack lunch for the next day. It’s rare for me to be able to sit and read for an hour or longer.

And so – I need these books to pull me in with an element of can’t-put-it down suspense. If there’s no dead body, no compelling mystery that I am dying to find the answer to, the book simply doesn’t grab my attention strongly enough. I lose interest, and I end up abandoning it in favor of a new title.

A thriller can be a great read for someone like me; they can be incredibly suspenseful and compelling, and I do often enjoy this category of books. But I also don’t want to only read books that are thrillers. That said, I am often in search of books that are can’t-put-down page-turners that are NOT thrillers.

If you’re like me and occasionally want a can’t-put-down book that I wouldn’t label as a murder mystery or thriller, here are a few of my favorites:

  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
  • The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz.
  • Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano.
  • Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid.
  • Before The Fall by Noah Hawley.
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
  • Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

If you DO love a thriller – and believe me, I do! – here are a few of my favorite thrillers:

  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.
  • Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel.
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.
  • Falling by T.J. Newman.
  • The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian. 

I have many other recs for thrillers I’ve enjoyed, so feel free to reach out if you want more! If you have recommendations, please share. Parenting is hard – we need good books to give our brains a break.

Happy reading!

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