“Miller’s Valley”

Journalist and author Anna Quindlen explores life in the 1960s in a small Pennsylvania town in her newest novel “Miller’s Valley.”  Miller’s Valley is indeed a valley and the Miller homestead is at the very bottom which means that it is prone to flooding.  The residents of the area are being pressured by the government to sell out so that the nearby streams and reservoir can be channeled to permanently flood the area to be used as a recreational lake.

The Miller family has deep roots in the valley.  The family has been there for more than one hundred years.  No one is in favor of selling to the government least of all Mary Margaret Miller, who is ten when the story begins.  In addition to Mary Margaret, known as Mimi, the family consists of Bud, her dad, Miriam, her mom, her two brothers Tommy and Ed and her aunt Ruth.

Mimi, the narrator of the story, is an intelligent, keen observer of life in Miller’s Valley.   Quindlen has endowed her character with a strong voice that brings to the reader the joy, pain and sorrows of the Miller family.  As readers we experience the sorrow Mimi feels when her brother Tommy returns from Vietnam and can’t find his way.  We recognize the loyalty she feels toward her reclusive Aunt Ruth9780812996081_p0_v5_s118x184.jpgand her love for her mother and father.

We follow Mimi through her life as she struggles with enormous decisions.  What seem to be events that will not allow her to grow beyond Miller’s Valley are turned around.  Secrets are discovered and kept.  As a reader, I kept rooting for her hoping that she would not be defeated by life’s unfairness.

Anna Quindlen has written  a poignant story of family life.  She  captures her readers’ attention from the first to the last page with characters and prose that make this a powerful novel.



UK’s Crime Novel of the Year

Clare Mackintosh.

Brit Clare Mackintosh has won the crime novel of the year award in the UK beating J.K. Rowling’s “Career of Evil”  to win the Theakston Old Peculiar crime novel of the year award.  Mackintosh is a former police officer whose novel “I Let You Go” centers around a woman who moves to Wales after her child dies in a hit-and-run accident.   Now in its 12th year, the Theakston award is considered the most prestigious award for crime fiction and thrillers in the UK. Former winners include Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter and P.D. James. Rowling was short-listed to win.


New books for toddlers

Emily Gravett, author and illustrator is back with a new adventure for Bear and Hare.  “Bear and Hare Share!” focuses on the concept of sharing and love.  Bear and Hare are out for a walk.  Each time Hare finds something, a flower, a balloon, an ice cream cone, Bear asks whether Hare will share.  Each time Hare say,  “Mine.”  But Bear didn’t care for he loved Hare.  However, when Hare finds a honeycomb and suffers the consequences of being stunk, Bear is there for him.  Ultimately, Hare asks Bear if he wants to share the honey.

This sweet story is illustrated with drawings that concentrate on Bear and Hare without too much in the background for a child’s attention to be diverted from the message of the story.  Additionally, the book is printed on thicker paper just right for toddlers’ fingers.9781481462174_p0_v1_s192x300.jpg

Lola and Adam Schaefer and illustrator Frann Preston-Gannon have tackled the concepts of ecosystems, food chains, and the importance of forests and produced a simple book for toddlers “Because Of An Acorn.”


The beautiful paint and ink illustrations are filled with rich details about life in the forest and the co-dependence of plants and animals.  The text is simple using three or four words at most.  The reader follows the story from how an acorn begins the circle of life resulting in the growth of forests.

This is a book that children will come back to to learn about the layers of an ecosystem.

“School’s First Day of School”

Although most children don’t want to think about school in the middle of the summer, a new book by author Adam Rex and illustrator Christian Robinson titled “School’s First Day of School” might appeal to children just entering kindergarten or first grade.9781596439641_p0_v1_s118x184.jpg

What is so different about this book about school is that it is  told from the perspective of the school building itself.  Frederick Douglass Elementary is a new school building.  At first the school’s only occupant was the janitor who was getting the school ready for the first day.  The janitor explained to the school that soon the building will be filled with teachers and students.  The school was apprehensive about the children who would be coming.  The janitor tried to assure the school that school would like the children.  School was not so sure.

And so they came.  Opening the doors, drinking at the fountains, playing on the jungle gyms.  All through that first day, school experiences what the children do.  Some children didn’t want to be there; some played mean jokes on one another, some squirted milk during lunch.  But as the day progressed, school listened to the teachers and began to learn about shapes and colors and all sorts of things.  As the day ends, the janitor and school find themselves together again.  School has learned a lot, especially how lucky school is to be a school.

Christian Robinson’s illustrations reflex the school’s students. They are from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds.   The drawings done using acrylic paint and collage techniques are simple, using basic shapes. These child-like drawings help draw the reader into this story about new beginnings.



Highly Illogical Behavoir

index.aspxThis teen read focuses on agoraphobia, the fear of being in open or public places. Solomon Reed is sixteen and has not left his house for three years, ever since his panic attacks at school reached their worst. Enter Lisa,a classmate, who is determined to win a full scholarship to Woodlawn University, the school with the second best psychology program in the country, because she just KNOWS she can get into the program. In order to do so, Lisa needs to write an essay about her experience with mental illness, and she decides that she will cure Solomon of his agoraphobia and document it to win the scholarship. Lisa befriends Sol through a letter, convincing him to let her visit him, and the story unfolds. John Corey Whaley utilizes themes of friendship, homosexuality, and betrayal to draw the reader in, and I found this to be an enjoyable read.