Holiday Reads for the Not-So-Holiday Minded

Every Christmas, there are certain books that my family pulls off the bookshelf. They are absolute must-reads for Christmastime, like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol or Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. However, occasionally between stealing the last can of Who Hash and God blessing everyone, I need to read something that will take me out of the holiday while still capturing the holiday spirit, if only for a moment. Here is a list of classic novels that includes the holidays, but are about so much more.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
This classic novel begins with a heartwarming Christmas scene, but it takes you through several seasons in the March girls’ lives as they face each blessing and trial together. The love and support the March girls give each other through the years illustrates the importance of family.
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How Novel: A Writer’s Approach to November

November is one of my favorite months of the year for two very important reasons (and neither of them has anything to do with eating turkey). I love November because there is no better month than one that kicks off with a day celebrating authors and then challenges authors to write a novel all month long. That’s right November, 1 is National Author’s Day, a day set aside to “show appreciation to the men and women who have made American literature possible,” and then the entire month of November is National Novel Writing Month, the world’s largest writing challenge, where participants pledge to write 50,000 words in one month.

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The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to write a novel from start to finish in one month, which is  assumed to be about 50,000 words. Unfortunately, the last novel I finished writing was more than 100,000 words, but I still won the challenge of National Novel Writing Month by reaching the 50,000-word goal. In my opinion, what National Novel Writing Month does for writers is give us a goal to shoot for, and once we’ve reached that goal, we’ve invested so much time and energy in the project that we’re driven to finish.

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I had never heard of NaNoWriMo until about six years ago, and this year will only be my third time to participate. Of course, one of those years, I was struggling to complete a novel I had already started so I decided to use NaNoWriMo as my incentive to finish, which means I didn’t count my words or use the NaNoWriMo website to track my progress, but I did use the time and set my goal. The important thing was writing.

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If you are an aspiring novelist… if you believe you have a story in you… if you just don’t know where to start… I challenge you to write 50,000 words in November. The story you have to tell just may be the one someone else is dying to read.

And don’t forget about the most important part of writing:

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Find all your writing materials for NaNoWriMo, not to mention inspiring novels by great American writers, at your local Half Price Books. And good luck this November.

Julie is Traffic Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.

Mystery Solved: A Book Nerd’s Look at Mystery Series Week

Some people would kill to fall in love. Some people are thrilled to be scared out of their socks. Some people are dying to escape to a totally different world. Me? I like to solve mysteries. Of course, I don’t mind if those mysteries include a little love, scare me out of my socks or take me to a different world. Fortunately, no matter what your poison, there is a mystery series out there for you. So, if you’re dying to find a new mystery series to read this Mystery Series Week (October 1-7), here are some that just might crack the case.

The Mystery Lover’s Must-Reads– Classic Mystery Series:
With overly observant detectives, a meddling old lady and a bunch of curious teens, this list may seem elementary to some, but you’ll have to look elsewhere if you think the butler did it.

  1. Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Miss Marple Mysteries, by Agatha Christie
  3. The Hardy Boys Mysteries, by Franklin Dixon
  4. Nancy Drew Mysteries, by Carolyn Keene
  5. Hercule Poirot Mysteries, by Agatha Christie

Just Doing Their Job– Crime Detective Mystery Series:
Looking for those hard-boiled detectives and rebel cops? These guys will have you on the edge of your seat.

    1. Inspector Rebus, by Ian Rankin
    2. Alex Cross, by James Patterson
    3. Harry Bosch, by Michael Connelly
    4. Harry Hole, by Jo Nesbo
    5. Virgil Flowers, by John Sandford

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So Glad We Had This Time Together: 50 Years of The Carol Burnett Show

Though I was a little too young to have seen the episodes when they first aired (September 11, 1967-March 29, 1978), The Carol Burnett Show was an integral part of my childhood. I remember running home from school, throwing my bag down and turning on the television because The Carol Burnett Show came on at 4p.m., and I didn’t want to miss it. Carol Burnett broke new ground when the show first aired, as the first woman television variety show host without the aid of a man counterpart. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons, earned a handful of Emmys and even spawned a successful spin-off in the first-run syndication comedy sitcom Mama’s Family.  Now, as The Carol Burnett Show turns 50-years-old, what better way to celebrate than to share some interesting facts and hilarious clips from what I consider to be one of the best television shows of all time.

The Cast: When the show first aired, the cast consisted of Carol, Vicki Lawrence (an 18-year-old unknown), Harvey Korman (who had been a regular on the Danny Kaye Show) and Lyle Waggoner (who was the first centerfold in Playgirl magazine). When Lyle left, a frequent and popular guest star, Tim Conway joined the show. Tim’s constant ad-libbing may have annoyed some cast members, but it made him a favorite among audiences. Finally Harvey left the show in its 10th season and Dick Van Dyke was brought in for a few months. Unfortunately, Dick couldn’t replicate the chemistry that Harvey had with the audience, so his stint as a cast member was short lived. However, he is in my favorite blooper from The Carol Burnett Show, a family sketch that shows Tim at his ad-libbing best. You can see Dick Van Dyke on the arm of the couch by Mama.

The Look: All of the costumes on The Carol Burnett Show were created by designer Bob Mackie, who had to design 60 or more costumes a week for the sketch comedy show. His designs helped the actors create their characters. For example, Mrs. Wiggins was supposed to be an elderly woman but Mackie had something else in mind when he created her curvy outfit. When Carol tried it on, it was tight around the knees and baggy in the behind. She asked him to take it up, but he said no. She needed to stick her behind into it. So Carol did, creating Mrs. Wiggins characteristic walk. However Mackie’s most iconic design for Carol was the Scarlett O’Hara curtain dress for their parody sketch of Gone with the Wind. This dress can be found in the Smithsonian, and you can even buy a Barbie doll with the dress on.

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If You Liked Wonder, You Might Also Like…

If you’re part of the HPB Book Club, you are currently reading (or perhaps just finished) Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a touching middle-grade novel about Auggie Pullman, a young boy with a rare medical facial deformity as he struggles through his first year at a mainstream school. The kids that are kind enough to look past Auggie’s strange appearance discover a smart, funny kid who  is so much more than what he looks like. Palacio explores Auggie’s story from different points of view so that you learn not just how Auggie feels about a situation, but also his family and his friends. Through Wonder, Palacio weaves a tale of courage and kindness that sparked the Choose Kind Movement, where classrooms fight against bullying by signing a pledge to Choose Kind.

If you liked, Wonder, here are a few other books you might like.

Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine • Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli • Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper • Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan • Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff • Firegirl, by Tony Abbott • Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt • Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, by Jack Gantos • Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff • A Dog Called Homeless, by Sarah Lean • Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea

Since one of my favorite things about Wonder was how the story was told through different perspectives, I think I’ll head to my local HPB to pick up a copy of Because of Mr. Terupt, as its story is also told through varying points-of-view. What will be your next read?

What to get in on the conversation? Join the HPB Book Club at hpb.com/bookclub.

All the Single Ladies: 10 Spunky Working Women from Books, TV and Film

August 4 is Single Working Women’s Day, and as a single working woman I want to celebrate by sharing some of the wisdom I have gleaned from my favorite single working women from books, movies and television

1. Bridget Jones, from Bridget Jones’s Diary—It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces. After you read it, check out the movie too.
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2. Jane Eyre, from Jane Eyre—Beware surly employers who keep their crazy wives locked up in their houses. (Movie)

3. Stephanie Plum, from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series—Sometimes being lucky is better than being good. (Movie)

4. Liz Lemon, from 30 Rock—Say yes to love, yes to life, yes to staying in more…and working on your night cheese.
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A Book Nerd’s Look at the Modern Mass Market Paperback

To call me a book nerd would be like calling the Hulk green, so obvious that the statement is completely unnecessary. So, when I found out that July 30 was the day the modern paperback book was introduced, I wanted to know more.

First, let’s get some facts straight. July 30, 1935 was not the day the first paperback book was published. In France and Germany, paperback books were published in the 17th century, and James Fenimore Cooper wrote paperback book-like frontier stories back in 1823. Probably the first true mass-market paperback was Malaeska, by Ann S. Stephens, published in June 1860 by the pioneers of the Dime Novel or “penny dreadful.”

However, July 30, 1935 was the day Sir Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Publishing, published the first “respectable” paperback book, Ariel, by André Maurois. Ariel is a biography of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The story behind the first Penguin paperback is that Mr. Lane, after a weekend in the country with Agatha Christie, was at the train station looking for something to read on his trip back to London, but couldn’t find anything except slick magazines and pulp fiction. His idea was to make quality fiction and nonfiction available in places like train stations for discerning readers who were traveling, and to make them just as affordable as a pack of cigarettes. Voila, the modern paperback was born.

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At first, booksellers were reluctant to buy Lane’s paperbacks, but when Woolworths placed a large order, the books sold so well that booksellers began to stock Lane’s books, making the name “Penguin” synonymous with paperbacks. Continue reading

If You Liked The Girls, You Might Also Like…

If you are part of the HPB Book Club, you are currently reading or perhaps just finished The Girls by Emma Cline, a clever, yet disturbing coming-of-age novel inspired by the murders committed by Charles Manson’s followers in 1969. In the novel, a strange encounter with an ex-boyfriend’s son leaves Evie Boyd looking back to the summer of 1969, the summer she met “the girls.” Told though multiple flashbacks, Cline describes how Evie obsession with one of “the girls” draws her into a cult and ultimately to one night of unthinkable violence. Cline’s spellbinding prose and psychological insight make this book hard to put down. If you also liked The Girls, here are a few other books you might like.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson • Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman • How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda • Modern Lovers by Emma Straub • Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

So, what’s your next read? Join the HPB Book Club at hpb.com/bookclub.

Julie is Traffic Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.

Who Am I? 12 Literary Character Riddles

Challenge yourself to correctly guess these riddles without looking below at the answers. Can you name them all?

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1. I am clever and engaging, but also rather shallow. To insure my inheritance, I pretend to court one girl while I’m secretly engaged to another. Who am I?

2.  I don’t get out much, but I watch everything, especially the two children that live down the street. I left gifts for them in an old tree and kill a man to save their lives. Who am I?

3. I will never back down from a fight, unless forced to in the home of my uncle. I killed a man in a street brawl. Later, I was killed by his best friend, who also happened to be my cousin’s secret husband. Who am I? Continue reading

Do You Know Where Your Towel Is? May 25 is Towel Day.

If you know the answer to life, the universe and everything, if you learned to fly by aiming for the ground and missing and if you ever speculated why a bowl of petunias would think, “Oh no, not again…” while hurtling toward a planet, then you should celebrate Towel Day. Towel Day is an annual tribute to Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On Towel Day, Adams’ fans are encouraged to carry a towel with them for the day. The more conspicuous the towel, the better.

If you have never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you might ask, “Why a towel?”  Well, Adams explains the importance of towels in chapter 3 of the aforementioned book.

HitchikersGuide“A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. Continue reading