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Novellas In November & 20 Books For Christmas Review #4: A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry

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My Interest

Aside from my participation in 20 Books For Christmas (albeit for a goal of 10) and Novellas in November, I have been a fan of Anne Perry’s William Monk series for a long time. I admit that one book (I won’t say which) was “too much” for me in terms of grisliness, but I love Monk and Hester and the others. I do not normally review series books due to spoilers. This is a Christmas book–another “between the numbers” and does not feature any of the major characters, so it is a safe one to review. It works well as a stand-alone, too.

Anglesey is right by the map’s legend.

The Story

“Runcorn was second fiddle, never first, but he had played the more beautiful tune.”

Americans who have actually heard of the island of Anglsey today, know it as where Prince William was a helicopter search/rescue pilot in the RAF early in his marriage to Catherine, before Prince George was born. Until listening to this story, I had no idea that William flew over part of his “destiny” i.e Carnarvon Castle where his father and his great-great uncle David were both invested as Prince of Wales.

But that’s not part of the story…..

Back in the time of the previous longest-reigning Queen (Victoria, David’s Gan-Gan, and Williams Gr-Gr-Gr-Grandmother, Victoria) Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Runcorn, well know to Monk fans, is having Christmas mas on the island. While out for a walk he finds the recently dead body of a young woman, the sister of the vicar. The local police can go no further than to call it the work of a “madman.” Runcorn, with his training, knows better. The victim was a young woman with a penchant for turning down suitors and for living her own life. So who did kill Olivia?

My Thoughts

Keeping in mind that I listened to part of this on my way in to clean out my office after my job, and those of 7% of my division, were cut, I thought this one “draggy” places in it–strange for a novella. Anne Perry’s books rarely drag. It picked up speed, or Perry found her pacing, (I’m not sure which) at about the middle of the story. From there I was hooked. And, OH THAT ENDING! [No spoilers].

My Verdict

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German Lit Month Review: All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski, translated by Anthea Bell

My Interest

World War II, aristocracy, a large estate–what wouldn’t interest me about this book? It was a natural pick for me.

The Story

The von Globig family is part of the East Prussian aristocracy and their home and estate, the Georgenhof, dominates the local area. Eberhard von Globig, now a Wehrmacht officer stationed in Italy, and his wife, Katharina, do not have much of a marriage. Their young son, Peter, at about 12 is still too young for the Hitler Youth and has been sheltered from the Nazi younger children’s group. He is tutored at home. His sister, Elfriede, died. Katharina is a loner, keeping to herself behind the locked door of her marital bedroom suite.

“No one had ever stuck stamps into a social security booklet for her [Auntie]: life insurance nor burial fund.” (p. 293)

The household is run by a relative, Auntie, who is making due with two young Ukrainian women as maids and a Polish man doing much of the outdoor work. It is the start of 1945 and their part of East Prussia, later to be part of Poland, is the wrong place to be. Not only have other aristocrats nearly succeeded in killing Hitler, but the Soviets are poised to pounce. The pressure is building.

Katharina is bored, a bit too self-centered and bored. Bored by her husband, bored by her life, and wanting some excitement. Along the way we learn what she has done in the past when bored. [No spoilers]. The local pastor has a plan that will cure that. Meanwhile, just as that plan gets going, Eberhard telephones very briefly from Italy to tell her to leave it all behind and go–go West to safety.

All around Katharina’s bored existence of smoking the cigarettes, flipping though fashion magazines, reading her books, cutting out paper silhouettes, and drinking the wine Eberhard sends from Italy, refugees join the household for a night or for several days or a week. post-World-War-II-East-Prussia-boundary-changes

East Prussia is today mostly in Poland

Katharina’s ennui carries over into motherhood, “‘Lovely, dear lovely,’ his mother had said hardly looking up from her book”(p. 76). The local party flunky, living in the subdivision built opposite the great manor house, billets people there, and is constantly lurking, and watching the life of the von Globigs and their uninvited guests. The ranks are swollen by the visits of young Peter’s tutor who lives nearby as well as by the visits of the local doctor. All are listening and watching and waiting–waiting form the the barbarians from the East to come.

As the story reaches its conclusion we begin to understand the enigmatic title.[No Spoilers]. Nothing ends the way I predicted–that, to me, is the mark of an excellent story. There is nothing that would need a trigger warning except the death of a horse and it was only rated PG.

My Thoughts

I have read a more recent novel with a similar setting but it was vapid compared to this. A master storyteller crafted this lean work. Fewer words can often convey more meaning–that is certainly the case in this book. I could feel the emotions in Katharina–the fever pitch of nerves on stay or go, the lack of a husband at home, the lost of their money, the loss of her daughter, the needs of the hangers-on and staff, the worry that soon her son would be swept up into it all if the Hitler Youth, in which he would finally have to serve, were called up to actually fight as boy soldiers. Her husband was no use, her past at times haunts her, and her nerves cannot be soothed by alcohol or nicotine now.

The ending, as I said, was full of surprises. I won’t spoil them. We go to the very end of the story mostly through Peter’s eyes. We parents never truly want to know how their children really see them, do we? Don’t worry–Peter doesn’t turn her in or anything like that! That much I’ll spoil. The book just does a great job of showing the experience through everyone’s eyes, not just through the eyes of a narrator or one main characters.All in all this was a superb book.

My Verdict

4.5

About German Literature Month

Read all about German Literature Month XI here.

My Past German Lit Month Posts

2020 Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, translated by Jane Billinghurst

For More Fiction and Nonfiction on Germany at this time:

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A Castle in Wartime (aka The Lost Boys) by Catherine Bailey

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A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae (my review was lost on my old blog)

Fiction

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The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

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20 Books For Christmas Review #3: A Cherry Cola Christmas by Ashton Lee

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My Interest

I read the earlier books in this series and enjoyed them. Author Ashton Lee used to sell to libraries and actually knows what librarians do!

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Map showing Mississipi

The Story

In Book 4 of The Cherry Cola Book Club series we learn that our beloved Cherico, Mississippi is hitting the skids. Crime is up! The construction on the longed-for new library is slow, and businesses are fixin to leave! Is Councilman Durden Sparks having a change of heart? Can Maura Beth believe him? What does a Country Western Star eating at the Twinkle have to do with it all? Best of all, will Cherico get the Christmas miracle it needs to survive?

My Thoughts

My one negative thought is that Christmas was an afterthought. There is very little that is really Christmas-y here, except the idea of the rebirth and salvation of the town (thought his is not a Christian book series).

It is very hard to review a series without spoiling it for newcomers. You can read this as a stand-alone, but it would be best to read at least the first book to really get to know the characters. Thankfully, the author does not overburden readers with reminders of all that has gone on in previous books.

I enjoy this series because I am a librarian and because I live in a small town. The wiley (aka crooked) councilman and his henchmen are intentionally “over-the-top” to proivde a little giggle here and there, but Maura Beth faces the real world strugge of keeping the library open and making people see that libaries are not an anachronism. She uses the library to build Community while helping the community. The members of the Cherry Cola Book Club who meet at the library and have the literay food extravaganzas are a wonderful crew. The books they read in each installment of the series may be ones that are very familiar, but the fun they have with them adds to the enjoyment of reading this seires

A Cherry Cola Christmas by Ashton Lee

 

My Reviews of the Previous Cherry Cola Book Club Books

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The Wedding Circle (Cherry Cola Book Club book 3)

The Reading Circle (Cherry Cola Book Club book 2) by Ashton Lee.

The Cherry Cola Book Club (Cherry Cola Book Club book 1) by Ashton Lee

If You’d Like Another Cozy Series….

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If you like The Cherry Cola Book Club, check out Waltzing at the Piggly-Wiggly by Robert Dalby

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Nonfiction November: Nonfiction–Fiction Pairings

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I couldn’t decide if these pairs had to have at least one book read this year or not! I’ve done a lot of this sort of post so I’m always eyeing potential pairings. This week’s host for Nonfiction November is Doing Dewey. Won’t you be nice and click and go see their post?

My Pairings

The nonfiction runs right along with the fictional story. A match made, not in heaven, but in the Wilderness of Southeastern Ohio.

The Pioneers  by David McCullough In addition to my linked review, you can get another take on this book from Girls in White Dresses.

The Awakening Land Trilogy by Conrad Richter. Here are my reviews:

The Trees and, here too is the review from my friend at Girls in White Dresses.

I reviewed the final two books, The Fields and The Town together. Girls in White Dresses hasn’t read those two yet!

Chanel books have recently become an industry (like Kennedy or Royal books)–especially novels. There are many more. The nonfiction book is Channel’s Riviera by Anne de Courcy (a must-read author for me). The novel of Chanel I read is Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner.

A somewhat awkward pairing since the fictional Passing occurs a few decades before the nonfiction Life on the Color Line and Passing is about a woman while Color Line is about a young boy living in my hometown a decade or two earlier than when I grew up-a boy who had always lived as white. Edna Ferber’s novel, Showboat, also discusses what it means to be “black” in America at that time (and still today, I suppose).

During both World Wars the British government took over (requisitioned) many of the great houses of the land for government use. They were staging areas, training grounds, hospitals, office space, and who-knows-what-else. The owners had littler or no say in the matter. Two fairly recent nonfiction books look at this practice. One, Requisitioned,  looks at damage done to the amazing houses was–often it was horrendous. The other, Our Uninvited Guests looks at the people who invaded. The two novels I’ve paired them with are Brideshead Revisited, which begins with Charles Ryder, now an Army officer, landing at Brideshead, which has been recquisitioned. He and his men are camped in the grounds. The other novel is a new one, The Last Garden in England, which includes the war years and what occured at that house as well.  Except for the last book, I own them but have not reviewed them. (I have read Brideshead but it was back in the 1970s in high school. I swooned over the Great, first, version PBS aired with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. My love of Jeremy dates to that show).

 

I did not read either of these this year. Both deal with the “idyl” before World War I. The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson (my review was lost on my old blog) and The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (scroll down in the post to read the review).

The Warmth of Other Suns has been on my TBR too long–I must make time for it. It is the story of the great migration of Black Americans from the South to the industrial centers of the north. The Salt Fields, an excellent novella, is about one man’s journey north during the migration.

 

Maiden Voyages is the nonfiction account of the women who worked on the great liners. I enjoyed this new book very much, though it has flaws. The Ocean Liner is the novel I chose not only takes us aboard a great liner, but gives us a fictitious story of the “forgotten” Kennedy daughter, Rosemary, who was given a labotomy and then hidden from view.

 

For More of My Fiction/NonFiction Pairings see these posts:

Fiction and Nonfiction About Classical Musicians

2020’s Nonfiction November Book Pairings post

2019’s Nonfiction November Book Pairings post

I enjoy pairing up books in this manner! Do you? Leave me a comment or a link to your own pairing(s) post(s).

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Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Random Unread Books on my Kindle

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This week’s topic was supposed to be: Memorable Things Characters Have Said. But, my Commonplace Book rarely has quotes of things characters have said. Except for the world not realizing that Magaret Mitchell wrote Rhett Butler’s famous line as “My dear, I don’t give a damn” and not “Frankly my dear….” and except for Auntie Mame proclaiming “Life’s a banquet and most poor bastards are starving to death,” I can’t think of anything too memorable right now. So, once again, I’m going rouge! 10 Random Books on my Kindle–all acquired between 2011 and 2014 and still not read (and probably never will be, except maybe …).

Have you read any of these titles? Leave me a comment or a link to your review. Have you done a post like this? Leave me a link to the post–or just leave me a comment listing some of the books languishing on your Kindle.

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

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20 Books for Christmas Review #2: A Vicarage Christmas by Kate Hewitt

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My Interest

I’m trying to holly-jolly myself into the Christmas spirit, so I decided I’d read some nice Christmas stories. Plus, a “vicarage” sounds so classy, so “Escape to the Country.” An Aga-saga! (There is an Aga–of course there is? Where would Charlie’s basket go. The has to be an Aga). And Charlie? He has to a Lab.

Map showing Cumbria. Aga photo from Aga twitter

The Story

The Holley sisters (don’t go there, just don’t–it’s a Christmas novel, ignore it) all have Biblical names (well, of course they do! Their father is a Vicar! Ignore it). The four sisters are all done with school and in their early to late twenties. Anna is a “legal librarian” (in all my years as a real life law librarian in real life law firms, I was never called a “legal librarian” since it connotes there being an “illegal librarian,” but what do I know?) back home in Manchester. Now she is home to the village of Thornthwait for Christmas for the first time in about a decade. Her parents promise “big announcements.” 

While escaping most of the parishgathered in her parents living room busy Hoovering up the minced pies (which I’ve never tasted) and the mulled wine (so wildly different than so many American churches –especially those who gave us Prohibition back in the 1920s) she meats a decent guy when she seeks refuge in a local pub (ditto–very different from some of the American clergy families who’d be run out of town for that). He “gets” her and her whole social anxiety thing. He gets it. In fact, he likes her. You couldn’t say “love at first sight,” but maybe, just maybe there’s a chance??? [No spoliers]. Even more remarkable, she likes him, too. His lopsided smile. (But, why does she keep biting her lip? I picture a blood bath, but I think it’s supposedly endearing?)

The next day Anna learns this great guy, Simon is his name, is the new Curate (aka Assistant Pastor) in her father’s parish (aka Church). What should she do?

My Thoughts

I loved this little book! Not only was religion treated with decency and belief not scoffed at, but becoming an Anglican Priest (minister who can be married–not a Catholic Priest) was treated as the respectful, decent, helping profession the clergy truly is. Not one red state-ish joke or GOP-reference (of course the book IS set in Cumbria in the UK (“England” to Americans) but still. I’ve grown so used to Christianity being seen as evil and phobic that it was a joy to read this.

I liked Anna’s very real-world personality, too. In her late 20’s she does not have double-digit “intimate” partners or 5 former live-in boyfriends, but nor is she a prude, a Judger, or anything else. Not a falunted purity ring to be found. She’s a wonderfully normal woman with a career and, of course, some secrets. Simon, too, has not spent his 20’s hopping in and out of bed with strangers or near-strangers. He even owns his privilidge appologizes for going to a public school (i.e. private prep school) reassuring Anna it was a day school. He, too, has secrets beyond just being her Dad’s new youth group wrangler (or whatever curates are stuck doing in the UK).

I loved that her Mom loved what she did all those years as a clergy wife. I loved the sister’s confession, I loved Charlies lazy woofs and thumping tale! I’d love to know this family. Thank goodness it is a series! I will be tuning in for more.

My Verdict

My other #20BooksForChristmas reviews:

Book # 1 A Mackenzie Yuletide by Jennifer Ashley

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Six Degrees of Separation: What You Are Going Through by Sigrid Nunez

Welcome to 6 Degrees of Separation for November 2021

Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman began the 6 Degrees of Separation meme in 2014 (and Books Are My Favourite and Best took over in 2016). So, to the meme. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

How the meme works

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. This month’s first book is What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez. Read all about 6 Degrees here on the blog Books Are My Favorite and Best.

The Blurb From Amazon:

In each of the people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own.

I got the book on audio from the library but the first two people were too obnoxious for me so I DNF.

My Chain

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The first book that came to me was Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris–the title included “talk” which is what the obnoxious people in What You Are Going Through did.

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David Sedaris spends time in France in Me Talk Pretty One Day. That brought to mind Every Frenchman Has One.

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Another book set in Paris that deals with a lot of French manners is The Red Notebook.

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Another fun novel that centers around a notebook is The Authenticity Project.

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The Authenticity Project features a septuagenarian who makes new friends. Heading Over the Hill is about a couple of septuagenarians who make new friends and ride a Harley.

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A book with an older guy, who has a notebook, encounters strangers, talks about what he is going through and would probablyh love a motorcycle, is The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/2 Years Old. That pretty much brings us full circle.

Why not join in next month? You can read all the rules here. It a lot of fun! In December 2021 we will start with Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

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Too see past posts of 6 Degree Chains use the search feature or the word cloud in the right sidebar (if you are on a pc).

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Nonfiction November Review: Nazi Wives: The Women at the Top of Hitler’s Germany by James Wyllie

My Interest

I am an avid reader on all things World War II. Hitler aside, I’ve focused my reading on the victims more than on the perpetrators. About all I knew of the wives was that Magda and Joseph Goering felt a world without Hitler was no place for them, their children, or even their dog. All were killed or committed suicide at the end with Hitler. I also knew just a bit about Mrs. Adolph Hitler–Eva Braun who “enjoyed” her status as wife only in death. So, this book caught my attention. It might seem an odd choice for a fun road trip book, but I listened to it on my recent trip. So, technically, this is a book I read BEFORE November. With the first week of Nonfiction November looming, and the “What I Read This Year” topic starting us off, I saved this review for the starting week.

The Story

Gerda Borman, Magda Goebbels, both Mrs Goerings–Carin and Emmy, Ilse Hess, Lina Heyrdich, and Margaret Himmler have helped earn this book the flippant subtitle “Real Housewives of the Third Reich.” The author, though, is right–there is a gap in knowledge about these women. Partly it is the time they lived in. Most women lost their identity in those years and became “Mrs. His Name.” Then there is the reason their husbands are so well known. When you are married to men who brought about the “Final Solution,” that is the Holocaust, it is hard to know how to process the idea that women like these loved their husbands “in spite of” killing millions.

Told in an often annoying back-and-forth both in time and in woman’s life manner, I found I was often a little confused over who and what was going on. In spite of this I did manage to learn some interesting tidbits about the women and their men that I had not known before. Who knew, for example, that herbal remedies and alternative medicine was in some ways part of the Nazi movement? I did not. I knew of the mythology and the taking over of religion to form a “secular-nazism” with its own quasi-religious rituals and all, but I had no idea who believed it and who stayed in the co-opted churches.

Emmy and Magda and Eva Braun are likely the best known of this group. As in army units, law firms, or even factory floors, there are friend groups among the workers that include the spouses. They meet for big events or for small parties in one home or the other. There are also rivalries, jealousies, and dislike among the spouses for each other. This was true in the upper echelons of the Third Reich as well. There were the beloved spouses, the horrible, mean, unfaithful spouses, and those in between. There was the couple who struggled to have children and the couple who popped them out effortlessly. There were even the wives who were utterly devoted to the Boss almost to the exclusion of their own husbands.

My Thoughts

I have read a few very negative reviews of this book online. I am not so well-versed in the subject that I spotted more than a couple of very minor errors, but I’m certain the people whose published reviews point to more errors have done their homework.

Mostly I was very interested in these women and their marriages. I was surprised by how well-educated most of the women were. I was not the least surprised though when a few fought for and won, state widow’s pensions after de-Nazification. The lives of these women came to be defined by excess–money, power, treachery. Their own treachery in abusing their power over Jewish inmates doing work for them and their husband’s treachery to the world. One or two tried a little to limit the damage done, but mostly they obeyed and kept the opinions with which their husbands supplied them. I’m not sure any of these women deserve more notoriety.

I gave this one a 3.

Are you participating in Nonfiction November this year? Here is a link to my first Nonfiction November post for 2021

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Novellas in November 2021

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For the second year in a row, Rebecca of Bookish Beck and Cathy of 746 Books are co-hosting Novellas in November as a month-long challenge with four weekly prompts.

New this year: each week they will take it in turns to host a “buddy read” of a featured book they hope you will join in reading.

(They suggest 150–200 pages as the upper limit for a novella, and post-1980 as a definition of “contemporary.”)

First, The Novellas I’ve Read so Far Since Last November

Most recently read novella

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A Mackenzie Yuletide by Jennifer Ashley (link is to my review)

Some of these may be a little longer than the suggested limit, but they were “quick” reads.  I included December of 2020’s books, too since that completes a reading year since the last challenge. You can find my reviews by using the search feature–sorry I was pressed for time!

 

The Buddy Reads

New this year are 4 weekly Buddy Reads [see photos below]. I have to say, this put me off.  I hate to say that since the bloggers who host this fun event have gone to a lot of trouble to make it new and exciting and, maybe, just maybe, even lure new readers to join.  But, I’ve already read two of them (no interest in a re-read) and am not very taken with the other two. I’ll likely skip those and keep to the traditional schedule [below these photos]:

 

The Traditional Schedule

2–8 November: Contemporary fiction (Cathy*)

9–15 November: Nonfiction novellas (Rebecca*)

16–22 November: Literature in translation (Cathy)

23–29 November: Short classics (Rebecca)

*The name indicates which blogger is hosting that week.

 

Here are some of the books I’m considering:

 

Hopefully one of my German Lit Month choice will “do” for the translation week–I need to look at the page count. If not, I have Vivian (written in Danish) on my Kindle. And, the short nonfiction will also count for Nonfiction November! Win-Win-Win! Plus a Christmas Novella for the Christmasy reading thingy and at least one of my Australian Literature Month selections is novella length, too! Hoot!

 

 

Do you like Novellas? Are you participating in Novellas in November? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Would Hand to Someone Who Claims to Not Like Reading

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My reading dislinking little girl LOVED these books, but they did not make her into a reader.

Junie B Jones books

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My “I don’t read” twenty-something little girl devoured this book, but it did not make her into a reader.

Bond Girl: A Novel by Erin Duffy

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My too active for reading little boy, who wanted a skateboard more than he wanted almost anything else, read this one more than once. Tony Hawk: The Autobiography.   (Note: This is a middle grades book.)

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That same restless little boy brought this home from school and insisted that his Junie B Jones-obsessed sister read it. Findle by Andrew Clements

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When my little boy became an angry teen this book as a Christmas presnent met with his full approval. Pages from it adorned his room for years. He read every word–too much for my liking aloud. The Way I Am by Eminem.

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I do not like Sci-Fi, but I loved this book when I read it as an adult. Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

“I only read comics.”

“Libraries are boring–and I don’t read.”

“Fantasy? No way!”

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“I only read Harry Potter.”

“Romances are ridiculous–they never have people like me.”

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!