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#WritersRead: Winter Reads to Warm Your Heart

February 27, 2018



Note From Rochelle


Dear Readers,


I’m thrilled to be a speaker in the Inspired Life Summit hosted by Krysti Turznik, Mindset and Spiritual Coach.  It takes place on March 5-March 21. You’ll be able to hear 13 extraordinary experts and influencers share their best insider secrets for creating an inspired life that speaks to your soul with meaning and value!


You can access everything from your computer or phone—and if you register in advance, you can receive a link to the recordings. And here’s a fun bonus: all of the speakers are offering complimentary gifts to participants. Reserve your spot for the Inspired Life Summit here.


For today’s tip, I’m delighted to welcome some of my favorite librarians and book reviewers to talk about their favorite books!







Winter Reads to Warm Your Heart


Last month, I wrote about How to Become a Reading Writer.

#WritersRead: How to Become a Reading Writer

In that post, I wrote about what to read to learn how to plot, develop rich characters, and explore new ideas. I even recommended a few of my favorite books. But I didn’t address a common problem many of us have: how do you find good books?


Read book reviews. They’re everywhere—on bookish blogs (like Book Riot), bookstore sites, newspapers, magazines, journals, and even on the shelves of physical bookstores.


Browse. On Fridays, after most of my work is done, I head to the library or the bookstore and browse. I grab anything that appeals to me and read the book jacket and the first few pages.


Ask for book recommendations. Talk to your friends, family members, fellow writers, book group colleagues, librarians, and booksellers.


For today’s post, I asked some of my favorite book reviewers and librarians to recommend one of their favorite reads. Enjoy their recommendations, hunt down the books that excite you, and recommend your own favorites in the comments!



Mike Fischer, Book Reviewer, recommends:

Autumn by Ali Smith. I’m on record in a past review stating that wildly inventive British novelist Ali Smith should win a Nobel someday; Smith’s Autumn, the best new novel I read last year, is illustrative of the reasons why.

Opening a planned quartet of novels tracking the seasons – Winter, the second and also excellent, has now also been published – Autumn is the first serious post-Brexit novel. It explores a world grown mean and hard, but it’s nevertheless ultimately a story of hope, involving the improbable but wonderful platonic relationship between a 101-year-old man (Daniel) and a 32-year old woman (Elisabeth), friends since Elisabeth was eight.

What this odd couple shares is a gift for telling stories and celebrating the imagination; we see both revealed through leisurely, time-shifting snapshots featuring their friendship, from their first encounter as neighbors to time spent at Daniel’s bedside in an assisted care facility. Their conversations – involving art, literature and history – will remind you of that best of times when we used to have such conversations, reflecting all we can be even in these worst of times (yes, A Tale of Two Cities makes a cameo in Autumn). Smith – joyful, playful, passionately engaged and smart – regularly reminds me of why I fell in love with reading. I – you, we – have never needed her more.


Beth Gabriel, Library Reference Assistant, recommends:

My Favorite Thing is Monsters: Volume 1 by Emil Ferris. Fashioned as the sketchbook diary of young girl growing up in the 1960s who is obsessed with pulp horror magazines and creature movies, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is an investigation of monsters imaginary and real. Karen, drawing herself as a wolfman-type character, uses her diary as a casebook for the mysterious and shocking death of her upstairs neighbor Anka. On top of Karen’s amateur investigation the diary is a glimpse into Karen’s difficult and private struggles with bullies, her mother’s terminal cancer, her beloved brother’s secrets, and her struggles with identity.

The meticulous and exquisite pages drawn entirely with colored BIC pens and the non-linear plot structure make My Favorite Thing is Monsters the most captivating book I read all year.

If you’d like an even more compelling reason to tackle the hefty tome, know that author/illustrator Emil Ferris overcame partial paralysis and re-trained her drawing hand after a life-threatening fight with the West Nile Virus before she began the many year journey of creating this outstanding work.


Jim Higgins, Author and Book Reviewer, recommends:

The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat is a like a writer’s craft talk, only the craft is living itself. The Haitian-American novelist moves back and forth between her life and literary texts, using one to understand the other and vice versa. “Wanting to Die,” her chapter on suicide, travels from Camus’ famous words in The Myth of Sisyphus through Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, to scenes Danticat wrote for her own books Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!, to grappling with the suicides of real-life friends, through Langston Hughes’ haiku-like poem “Suicide’s Note,” to a memoir of the late Anne Sexton by her daughter.

Her mother’s life and death ground her book. Anticipating her mother’s death, Danticat started reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, about his own grief after his wife died. She found herself crying uncontrollably “over the deaths of people I barely knew … I realized that I was rehearsing, so it wouldn’t hurt so much when it was my turn.” The final prayer she wrote in her mother’s voice may bring both tears and laughter to anyone who has lost a mother.


Erica Ruth Neubauer, Book Reviewer, recommends:

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka. This is one of the best debut novels I’ve read recently, and it hits a sweet spot for me with a kick-ass female protagonist who is a private investigator. PI Roxane Weary is barely keeping it together. Since her father’s death, her drinking has spiraled a bit out of control, and she would love nothing better than to hide in her bed and let it continue. Her relationship with her father, an alcoholic cop killed on the job, was rocky at best, and now haunts her. Roxanne is sleeping with her father’s former partner Tom, while also pining after her last girlfriend. Her life is….messy, to say the least. But her brother sends her a new client with a grim story. The client’s brother is about to be executed for murdering his girlfriend’s parents 15 years ago, and the girlfriend was never seen again.

Until now.

The local cops are doing everything in their power to keep Roxane out, which only tweaks her curiosity. And she knows her instincts are right when another teenage girl goes missing. It’s a fascinating case that leads to a lot of unexpected places, for Roxane as well as her client. Lepionka brings a fresh perspective to the PI novel, with complicated but empathetic characters and the messy, complicated relationships that make us human. And the good news is that the second novel in the series–What You Want To See–will hit stores this May. I can already tell you that Lepionka has the goods and delivers.


Emily Stueven, Youth Services Librarian, recommends:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. I love this book. This is the book I am telling everyone to read.

Fifteen-year-old Julia is grieving the sudden death of her older sister Olga, who was the dutiful elder daughter of Mexican-American immigrants. Julia, on the other hand, is the not-so-perfect child, the rebel, the perpetual disappointment. After graduation, she plans to leave home to attend college—a plan that feels like a betrayal to her family. Weighed down by a deepening depression and familial pressure, Julia struggles to carve out a life for herself that includes falling in love for the first time and exploring her dreams of becoming a writer.

This YA novel reads at once like a mystery, as Julia begins to unravel the truth behind her sister’s death, and a coming-of-age tale. It also absolutely drips authenticity, with its brutal depictions of the slow, all-encompassing creep of depression; the painful rigidity of gender roles; and the mix of guilt and frustration some children of immigrants feel when they cannot meet their parents’ differing cultural expectations.

Funny and poignant in equal measure, IANYPMD features a bristly yet sympathetic young female voice I haven’t really encountered in other teen lit. And while Julia isn’t always easy to like, I never once stopped rooting for her.


About the Authors

Mike Fischer is the theater critic as well as a regular book reviewer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for which he has written since 2003 and for which he sees more than 200 shows each year, covering theater throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois. His book reviews are published there as well as in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada.





Beth Gabriel. Avowed bibliophile since reading Emily’s Runaway Imagination in the 1st grade and now a voracious reader of all genres. Currently masquerading as an Adult Services Reference Assistant at a large branch of an urban public library system. Job perks include tending the book collection, planning programs, providing reader’s advisory, and running a Book to Art Club. All of this answers the question, “What do you do with a Master of the Arts in History?” Find me on Goodreads! Follow me on Twitter! @bethygabriel


Jim Higgins is the author of Wisconsin Literary Luminaries: From Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ayad Akhtar. He writes and edits stories about books, performing arts and other subjects for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Website: Twitter: @jhiggy







Erica Ruth Neubauer is a reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly, Mystery Scene Magazine, Crimespree Magazine, and others. She spent 11 years in the military, 2 years as a cop, one year as a high school English teacher, but now spends her days happily buried under books.






Emily Stueven is originally from Montana. She has been a sandwich maker, a motel housekeeper, and a laundress. Now she is a Youth Services Librarian in Milwaukee. She reads picture books, graphic novels, and memoirs for fun . . . and young adult novels for work; however, occasionally she reads a YA book so beautiful she must tell everyone about it. She has two spoiled cats and can often be spotted wearing a pair of cat shoes.





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