Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Top 100 Books of 2011 According to USA TODAY

The top 100 titles of 2011, compiled from USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list.

1 The Help Kathryn Stockett - A young white woman tells the story of black maids in 1960s Mississippi (F)

2 The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins - Youth: Girl takes sister's place in a real world survivor game in a post-apocalyptic U.S. (F)

3 Heaven is for Real Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent Subtitle: "A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" (NF)

4 Water for Elephants Sara Gruen - Love, drama in a circus in the 1930s (F)

5 Catching Fire Suzanne Collins -  Youth: Katniss and Peeta are targeted as rebels after winning the Hunger Games; second in series (F)

6 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever Jeff Kinney - Youth: Greg is trapped with his family during a blizzard after he is accused of damaging school property (F)

7 Mockingjay Suzanne Collins -  Youth: Katniss must give herself completely to the rebellion for it to succeed; final in series (F)

8 Steve Jobs: A Biography Walter Isaacson -  Biography recounts the life of the late founder of Apple (NF)

9 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson -  Journalist is hired to investigate the disappearance of an heir to a wealthy family (F)

10 Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand Subtitle: "A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" (NF)

11 The Girl Who Played With Fire Stieg Larsson - An Eastern European sex-trafficking ring propels this sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (F)

12 Inheritance Christopher Paolini - Youth: Eragon and his dragon must topple an evil king to restore justice to their land; fourth in series (F)

13 The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest Stieg Larsson - Lisbeth Salander is accused of murder and turns to journalist Mikael Blomkvist for help; last in series (F)

14 The Son of Neptune: The Heroes of Olympus, Book Two Rick Riordan - Youth: Demigods Jason, Piper and Leo continue quest; second in series (F)

15 Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Bill O'Reilly, Martin Dugard - The Fox News host writes an account of President Lincoln's death at the hand of John Wilkes Booth (NF)

16 The Litigators John Grisham - Partners in a two-bit law firm land a big case that could make them rich (F)

17 A Stolen Life Jaycee Dugard - Memoir: Kidnapping victim recounts 18 years of captivity and abuse (NF)

18 A Game of Thrones George R.R. Martin - Trouble and coldness descend on a kingdom where the seasons are out of balance; book one in series (F)

19 The Confession John Grisham -  The wrong man awaits execution in the rape and murder of a high school cheerleader (F)

20 The Best of Me Nicholas Sparks-  Lovers torn apart by unforeseen events reunite 25 years later (F)

21 Smokin' Seventeen Janet Evanovich - Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum investigates a series of killings; 17th in series (F)

22 Bossypants Tina Fey - The comedy writer and star of 30 Rock riffs on her life and career (NF)

23 11/22/63 Stephen King - A teacher travels back in time to try to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (F)

24 Cutting for Stone Abraham Verghese - A 50-year epic that begins with the birth of conjoined twins to an Indian nun in 1950s Ethiopia (F)

25 The Throne of Fire Rick Riordan - Youth: Carter Kane and his sister Sadie continue their quest to save the world; second in series (F)

26 A Dance With Dragons George R.R. Martin - The fate of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again; fifth book in series (F)

27 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth Jeff Kinney - Youth: Greg learns to deal with boy-girl parties; fifth in series (F)

28 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot - The story of a Virginia tobacco farmer whose tissue cells became essential in creating the polio vaccine (NF)

29 Room Emma Donoghue - Story of a 5-year-old boy held captive with his mother in a single room, the only world he knows (F)

30 The 17 Day Diet Mike Moreno - Subtitle: "A Doctor's Plan Designed for Rapid Results" (NF)

31 Something Borrowed Emily Giffin - Young attorney falls for her best friend's fiance (F)

32 The Lincoln Lawyer Michael Connelly - Defense attorney gets his first high-paying client, trouble starts (F)

33 Sarah's Key Tatiana de Rosnay - A French journalist finds herself related to a young girl who was part of the 1942 Vel' d'Hiv' roundup (F)

34 Kill Alex Cross James Patterson - Alex Cross must stop an attack on Washington, D.C., while investigating the abduction of the President's children (F)

35 In the Garden of Beasts Erik Larson Subtitle: "Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin" (NF)

36 Now You See Her James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge - A lawyer who began a new life in New York must return to Florida to confront her secret past in order to help a man framed for murder (F)

37 A Clash of Kings George R.R. Martin - Factions struggle to gain control of a divided land; book two in A Song of Ice and Fire series (F)

38 Breaking Dawn Stephenie Meyer-  Youth: Fourth installment in Twilight vampire series; movie (F)

39 Explosive Eighteen Janet Evanovich - Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum inadvertently becomes involved in an international murder mystery (F)

40 Dead Reckoning Charlaine Harris - Sookie Stackhouse witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte's but family drama keeps her from investigating; 11th in series (F)

41 StrengthsFinder 2.0 Tom Rath - Lifetime strategies for using your talents (NF)

42 The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition Carol V. Aebersold, Chanda B. Bell - Children: Santa relies on elves to find out who has been naughty and who has been nice (F)

43 The Lost Hero: The Heroes of Olympus, Book One Rick Riordan - Youth: After saving Olympus, Percy Jackson and friends have rebuilt Camp Half-Blood for the next generation of demigods (F)

44 Awakened Kristin Cast, P.C. Cast - Youth: As high priestess, Neferet swears vengeance on vampire-in-training Zoey; eighth in series (F)

45 Tick Tock James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge-  NYPD detective Michael Bennett and a former FBI colleague investigate a series of murders (F)

46 10th Anniversary James Patterson, Maxine Paetro - Members of the Women's Murder Club juggle criminal investigation, murder prosecution and family drama (F)

47 The Paris Wife: A Novel Paula McLain - Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, tells her story (F)

48 Cross Fire James Patterson - Detective Alex Cross' deadliest adversary, Kyle Craig, is back and plotting revenge on Cross and his fiance, Bree (F)

49 Sing You Home Jodi Picoult - Zoe, a music therapist, faces prejudice when she finds love with another woman (F)

50 The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein - A novel that reflects on what it is to be human, told from the family dog's point of view (F)

51 The Next Always Nora Roberts - An architect woos his childhood crush while he and his family renovate a historic hotel (F)

52 George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones George R.R. Martin - Boxed set of the first four volumes in the Game of Thrones series (F)

53 The Sixth Man David Baldacci - Private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell must prove whether an alleged serial killer is guilty (F)

54 One Day David Nicholls - A yearly snapshot of a single day in a couple's 20-year on-again, off-again relationship (F)

55 Safe Haven Nicholas Sparks - Newcomer to small town deals with new love and dark past (F)

56 The Mill River Recluse Darcie Chan - A town’s fascination with a reclusive widow and her secrets could spell trouble (F)

57 A Storm of Swords George R.R. Martin - Tensions build as the Seven Kingdoms remain at war; third in series (F)

58 The Affair Lee Child - Military cop Jack Reacher exposes a cover-up involving a fellow soldier (F)

59 The Search Nora Roberts - The past comes back to haunt dog trainer Fiona Bristow, the lone survivor of a serial killer (F)

60 Guinness World Records 2012 Guinness World Records - Record-holding figures and feats from around the world (NF)

61 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules Jeff Kinney - Youth: Greg Heffley’s older brother knows secret; sequel (F)

62 What the Night Knows Dean Koontz - A homicide detective is on the trail of either a copycat serial killer or the ghost of one past (F)

63 The 5 Love Languages Gary Chapman - Subtitle: "The Secret to Love That Lasts" (NF)

64 A Feast for Crows George R.R. Martin - Power struggle continues in the Seven Kingdoms; fourth in series (F)

65 The Land of Painted Caves Jean M. Auel - The Ice Age-era story of Ayla as she struggles to balance motherhood and her training to become a spiritual leader; final in series (F)

66 Zero Day David Baldacci - John Puller, an Army Special Agent, investigates the murder of a family in rural West Virginia (F)

67 Diary of a Wimpy Kid Jeff Kinney - Youth: Diary from a middle-schooler, Greg Heffley (F)

68 The Shack William P. Young - Man reconnects with God after death of child (F)

69 The Kane Chronicles, Book 1: The Red Pyramid Rick Riordan - Youth: Modern-day siblings discover that the gods of ancient Egypt are back and not happy; first in series (F)

70 Go the ---- To Sleep Adam Mansbach, illustrations by Ricardo Cortes - An adult-only version of a traditional children's bedtime book (F)

71 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw Jeff Kinney - Youth: Greg tries to toughen up to avoid military school; third in series (F)

72 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Jeff Kinney - Youth: Greg's summer plans include video games and no responsibility; fourth in series (F)

73 Toys James Patterson, Neil McMahon - Agent Hays Baker, who possesses super-human strength and intelligence, uses his powers to benefit mankind (F)

74 The Fifth Witness Michael Connelly - Defense attorney Mickey Haller represents a woman in foreclosure accused of killing her banker (F)

75 City of Fallen Angels Cassandra Clare - Paranormal: Shadowhunter-in-training Clary Fray sets in motion a chain of events that could lead to war (F)

76 The 4-Hour Body Timothy Ferriss - Subtitle: "An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman" (NF)

77 Destined P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast - Youth: Forces collide at the House of Night when Zoey and her friends return for classes (F)

78 Something Blue Emily Giffin - Darcy's perfect world turns upside down (F)

79 Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Jamie Ford - Henry Lee searches for Keiko, his long-lost love during World War II (F)

80 Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1: The Lightning Thief Rick Riordan - Youth: Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon; movie (F)

81 The Abbey Chris Culver - A homicide detective ready to retire has one last case, investigating his niece's murder (F)

82 Kill Me If You Can James Patterson, Marshall Karp - A poor art student lands in hot water after stumbling upon a duffel bag filled with diamonds (F)

83 The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition The College Board - Instruction manual featuring official SAT practice tests (NF)

84 Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Ransom Riggs - Jacob, 16, discovers the crumbling ruins of an old home that may still be inhabited (F)

85 What to Expect When You're Expecting Heidi Murkoff, Sharon Mazel -  Cover-to-cover revision of the popular pregnancy book (NF)

86 V is for Vengeance Sue Grafton - Kinsey Millhone investigates a professional shoplifting ring that is connected with the Mob (F)

87 Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5: The Last Olympian Rick Riordan - Youth: Percy Jackson attempts to stop the Lord of Time (F)

88 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee - Coming-of-age classic about racism; Pulitzer winner (F)

89 1105 Yakima Street Debbie Macomber - Bruce Peyton has his hands full with winning back a pregnant wife and raising a difficult teen (F)

90 The Drop Michael Connelly - LAPD Harry Bosch investigates a murder and a political conspiracy (F)

91 State of Wonder Ann Patchett - An American scientist stumbles onto a search for a miracle fertility drug (F)

92 Decision Points George W. Bush - The former president describes key decisions, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy (NF)

93 The Dukan Diet Pierre Dukan - Subtitle: "2 Steps to Lose the Weight, 2 Steps to Keep It Off Forever" (NF)

94 The Glass Castle: A Memoir Jeannette Walls - Memoir: Walls, a regular contributor to, tells about her feckless parents and fending for herself (NF)

95 I Am Number Four Pittacus Lore - Youth: After aliens kill the first three Loric children of nine, the fourth, John Smith, must save himself (F)

96 Port Mortuary Patricia Cornwell - In her 18th Kay Scarpetta novel, Cornwell takes us back to the beginning of the medical examiner's career (F)

97 Hell's Corner David Baldacci - Former assassin goes on a high-risk, covert mission at the personal request of the president (F)

98 Treachery in Death J.D. Robb  - Detective Eve Dallas investigates the murder of an elderly grocery owner (F)

99 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPré - Youth: An English boy named Harry goes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; first in series (F)

100 Goodnight Moon Board Book Margaret Wise Brown, art by Clement Hurd - The old lady is still whispering hush in 1947 children's book (F)

Showing 1 to 100 of 100 entriesSearch: Source: USA TODAY Best-Selling Books

Writing Tip - writers are often required to describe their book or novel in one sentence ... many beginners think it can't be done. Take another look at this list!
Note: Nearly 25% of the books on this list are for children and the YA group.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why Do We Like The Books We Like?

What makes me pick up a book and not put it down? I’m not sure….
I like many of the old classics and reread some every year, I also enjoy a number of new classics or moderns and a whole lot of books in between. But to describe the perfect book is impossible and dependent on the season of my life.

I read Gone With The Wind, Huckleberry Finn, All Over But The Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg and To Kill A Mockingbird again and again. I’ve read Dickens but not for a very long time. I enjoy dog books, The Art of Racing in the Rain (narrated by a dog) and the memoir Marley and Me come to mind.

If you have a couple of minutes I’ll try and convince you to read Animals in Translation, Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior (©2005). Awhile back I was captivated by a book told through the p.o.v of a wolf although I can’t remember the title.

In 2009 I was blown away by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In 2010 I puzzled over Lord of Misrule, the National book Award Winner.

Last year I read Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress, reread a couple of books by one of my favorite authors Susan Isaacs and discovered Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. And Story Engineering, Larry Brooks has written the best writing book … ever. Oh, and Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me.

At the moment I’m reading Grace for the Good Girls, Father James Martin’s My Life with the Saints, and a manuscript of an unpublished writer whom I suspect you will be reading this time next year.

My final 2011 book was Craig Shirley’s December 1941, 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World. The Homefront holds a fascination for me … I’m interested in what life was like for my grandparents, John and Anastasia as they watched their sons and son-in-laws leave home and not return for four years. I’m not interested in military analysis of the war, but the details of daily life here in the U.S during that time. Mr. Shirley provided those in abundance. There are hundreds of notes cited which I appreciated.

Despite a whole bunch of spelling errors (which I did not hold against the author, and trust will be corrected before the next printing) I liked this book a lot and I said so in my reviews. I knew that other readers didn’t agree with me. I knew that before I posted my review yesterday on A few hours later, “History Buff” addressed me personally. I’m pretty sure Buff thinks I am dumber than an eight grader … I was also accused me of gleefully keeping company with a bunch of shills. No Name Texan also took exception to my five stars, but was nicer. The thing is a lot of books come to me as ARC's (Advanced Reader Copies) and many are purchased by me. I do not give a good review to please a publishing house. ARCs are free and so are my reviews. If I like a book I say so, and the opposite is also true. I receive many more books than I have time to review.

For sure not every book will appeal to every reader. I know that. Some days I simply want to be entertained, other days I intrigued by people like John F. Timoney who willingly takes me inside the world of police work in three big cities: New York, Philadelphia, and Miami.

I’m told that when acquisitions editors are asked what they are looking for in a book, their answer is short, to the point and irritating to the would-be author. “Something I haven’t seen before.” Or as Editor Richard Marek suggested in his essay, How Books Are Chosen: “important factors are “the fiction writer’s unique voice or vision, pacing, plotting, verisimilitude, gift for characterization, style and dialogue. For the nonfiction writer, the way to tempt an editor is to display skills in the organization and presentation of original, relevant, interesting material in an entertaining accessible way.” While at St. Martin’s he acquired The Silence of the Lambs.

Why do we stay with the books we begin reading? I guess they speak to us in a way that we can appreciate at that moment.

Perhaps you have a better answer….

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

December 1941, 30 Days That Changed America and Saved The World by Craig Shirley. A Book Review

"Sunday in America was a day for relaxing whether you followed the fourth commandment or not. It was a day for church, for family meals, for reading the newspapers, listening to the radio, going for long walks, for afternoon naps, for working in the yard and visiting with neighbors.
     "Sunday, December 7 was different."  (page 148 / Nook edition)

This is a big book that details the feelings and responses of the American people as they hurriedly responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor. My father and three of his brothers and several of my uncles were among the thousands of soldiers who joined the fight to keep our country safe. This book helps me to understand the daily events of the Homefront.  

    "On December 7th, "Americans across the country attending Sunday movie matinees were surprised to see the film stopped, the managers walk out on the stage, and news reports read to them of the bombing of Pearl Harbor."  (page 167 / Nook Edition)

"A newlywed couple, Wallace Holman and Rosalie Shimek, had been married the day before in Baltimore and spent their honeymoon in New York City at the Roosevelt Hotel where that evening they listened to Guy Lombardo perform at the hotel. The next day they were strolling along a street in New York, startled as furious shopkeepers began throwing out anything that bore the brand  "Made in Japan." No one knew where Pearl Harbor was, including the couple, and one merchant told them it was "off New Jersey." " (page 164 / Nook edition).

As Washington began the task of entering the war, citizens tried to make sense of the news as "the military ordered all personnel into uniform, immediately." News of the attack "went out over the airwaves, repeatedly....  News spread by word of mouth, from neighbor to neighbor, parents to kids...."

     "In the living rooms of America, people huddled around Philco or General Electric radios, listening to war news that for the first time directly involved the American people. On the sidewalks, people huddled around car radios, listening to the flash bulletins."" (page 160 / Nook Edition).

     "Time stopped in America at 12:30 eastern standard time on December 8 as everyone tuned in to listen to the president of the United States address a joint session of Congress with an elegantly simple five-hundred-word avowal.
     "Street commerce stopped; traffic stopped. Many schools had already closed, some fearing Japanese attacks ... FDR's remarks would be broadcast live on NBC, CBS, and Mutual Radio.
    "Promptly at noon the big glass doors at the White House swung open, six limousines drew up, and President Roosevelt came out. He was walking, using the painful leg braces, but did not speak. The car bearing the White House insignia, started at once for the Capitol. In other cars were Mrs. Roosevelt ...
    "FDR was attired in the familiar dark blue cape.
     "Silent crowds encircled the White House, watching the procession, with little doubt as to what their president was going to ask of their Congress. Telegrams of support and shock had already flooded the White House. The messages came from Governors, Mayors, religious leaders, heads of civic movements, newspaper editors and radio broadcasters, many offering personal services....
    "The running boards on Roosevelt's car were draped with Secret Service agents, three on each side, and four inside the car. The men in the limousine held sawed-off riot guns. Those outside carried 38-caliber service revolvers....
    "As many as five-hundred District cops and the Secret Service were crawling everywhere. Seated next to Eleanor Roosevelt in the gallery, who was in a black dress that gathered at the neck and wearing her favorite silver fox furs, was Edith Wilson, the widow of Woodrow Wilson, in a maroon dress, matching hat, and white gloves..."  (Chapter 8)

I was captivated by this book. News from magazines and newspapers are included. The arrangement (each day of December is another chapter) builds the excitement and shows the Homefront activities as they unfold. This is an excellent book for those interested in this time period, and for those who want to write a novel set in the U.S. during the war years (as do I). Author Craig Shirley has done the heavy lifting here and I highly recomend this book.

Special Note: This book satisfied a long held interest I have for this time period. Again, I thank both author Craig Shirley and Thomas Nelson for making this book available for readers ... and to me a reviewer for free. I was surprised to find that some readers did not agree with my 5-Star review (although the majority do!). I can only assume those reviewers misunderstood December 1941. Disclosure - I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their program. The publisher asks only that I read the book and offer my own opinion. In accordance with Federal Trade Commission requirements.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A New Beginning

2012 has arrived! and with a hopeful heart I am looking forward to this new year of possibilities. Although I'll probably forget to write the correct date on my checks and other documents well into February, I am glad for this chance to open a new calendar book and think about this new beginning.

I'm working on several great projects and enjoying all three. Their presence gives me a renewed sense of energy ... and when you are about to turn 64 any positive boost is welcomed. These writing projects bring purpose and schedules and deadlines ... a better place for me dwell.

My life is very different than I imagined years and years ago, it is also, right here, today very full. Most of the happenings were not of my choosing ... who chooses to watch their beloved husband die at age 44? He was gone before our 25th Anniversary, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't share a thought or prayer with him. His picture is the last one I see at night and the first one in the morning. Most people I've met since that late June day in 1992 do not know this part of my life story. Nor do I write about it. After all what was there to say.

It isn't just Larry's death that defines me ... but my fearful response to loss, failed expectations, unrealized goals and my own poor choices. This needs to change. Oh, I'm not talking about writing long posts about the grueling days of uncertainty, the many trips to Johns Hopkins Hospital, the parade of doctors who did their best, the final goodbye.

Instead, it is time for me to consider new beginnings and next steps.

Words and the stories they create have always been important to me so it is logical (at least to me) that I think in terms of my own words and stories, and of favorite books by authors who gave me a welcomed escape ... or taught me to fry chicken, raise a baby the Dr Spock way, or delighted me with the symmetry of their sentences and inspired me to be a better writer, a better writing teacher.

Lately, I have been thinking about this blog ... and how my original vision was never realized. Back in 2008 I saw "Dialogue" as yet another gathering spot for my many writing students. An online community where we could stay connected, ask and answer questions, share news, markets, and more. It didn't happen. I wasn't able to mimic the bonding or the enthusiasm that occurred in the classroom. I wonder did I step back too quickly. Perhaps.

Three years have passed since that first posting and now it is time for Plan B*. I still want to write about writing (fiction, nonfiction, and the memoir which encompasses both). What I know about putting words down on paper and what my students taught me; about books that have been successfully published and their authors; short lessons on mechanics and longer posts on where to find inspiration in life. I'm not ready to abandon "Dialogue" or change its name ... just its intention.

Aging does not guarantee wisdom or a cure for overcoming the fearful life. It just doesn't. But finding the right words to tell our stories, both past and present, might be the change we need for our future. Or at least the beginning.

* Plan B by Pete Wilson has been an important book in my recent life. Published by Thomas Nelson in 2009 it is a fairly new book ... my copy however, dog-eared, well-read and treasured. It is a book about God and what to do with shattered dreams and disappointments. What do you do when your life isn't turning out the way you thought? What do you do when you have to turn to Plan Be? I have learned a lot from this book, thank your Pastor Pete Wilson and Thomas Nelson.

Note: I reviewed this book, here, on June 15, 2011.