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It’s Pumpkin Time!

Very soon (if you haven’t already done so), you will be dressing up in your costume for the night! Before you’re ambushed by trick-or-treaters, take a walk down memory lane with us as we go through some of the very best pumpkin books for Halloween!

charlie brownIt’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz

A truly timeless classic based on the TV short, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown came after the show’s 1966 release. The book follows the Peanuts gang on Halloween as Linus dreams about seeing the “Great Pumpkin”. The book follows in typical Peanuts form, with Charlie Brown getting the short end of the stick as usual—getting rocks instead of candy while trick-or-treating. This sweet tale is sure to get you in the mood for this spooky night!

pumpkin timeIt’s Pumpkin Time by Zoe Hall

The cute puppy on the cover is definitely a reason why this book looks so wonderful! First published in 1999, the book tells the story of a brother and sister who plant their own pumpkin patch so that they can have jack-o-lanterns in time for Halloween. Wonderfully illustrated by Shari Halpern, this children’s book will remind you of some “schemes” you undoubtedly had when you were their age!

pumpkin soupPumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

Helen Cooper’s notable illustrations are exhibited in this amusing story about Cat, Squirrel, and Goose. Every year the friends prepare pumpkin soup, but when Goose gets into an argument with his two friends a heartwarming lesson about friendship is learned. Bonus: there’s a recipe for pumpkin soup! Yum.


pumpkin seedsHow Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara

Remember pumpkin seed counting contests? Perhaps you still have them! Follow Mr. Tiffin’s class as they guess how many seeds are in their classroom pumpkins—and learn that the actual counting can be a slimy process! An adorable read for all.



mouseIt’s Pumpkin Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff

We’ve seen what happens when you give a mouse a cookie, when you give a moose a muffin, and when you give a pig a pancake. Now—let’s see how Mouse decorates pumpkins! We’re guessing he’ll need a lot of supplies.



biscuit visits the pumpkin patchBiscuit Visits the Pumpkin Patch by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Are we the only ones who think this puppy is too cute?! Follow Biscuit and his friends through a day in the pumpkin patch in search of the best pumpkin. From pie making to decorating, Biscuit wants to make sure it’s perfect.



too many pumpkinsToo Many Pumpkins by Linda White

Is there such a thing? For Rebecca Estelle, there certainly is. After a pumpkin falls off a truck, she buries it in her backyard and much to her surprise—she now has too many pumpkins! Be sure to check out this silly children’s book and find out how she deals with such a thing.


61jqUX6nR3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis

What happens with siblings Buck, Billy, and Lil try to show off the huge pumpkin they found? As they are trying to roll it down the hill—it begins to run away from them! Will they catch the pumpkin? I guess you’ll just have to read and find out!

pumpkin bigThe Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Steve Kroll

Do you remember this one? First published in 1984, this story follows Desmond and Clayton—two mice who accidently grow the same pumpkin for different purposes. Desmond wants to carve the biggest jack-o-lantern, while Clayton wants to win the Biggest Pumpkin contest. What to do besides work together to make it a great Halloween!


pumpkin-book-gail-gibbons-hardcover-cover-artThe Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons

The Pumpkin Book is a handbook that describes how different pumpkins grow and where they come from. This resourceful little book also contains information for carving pumpkins and drying pumpkin seeds!

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John Searles’ Book Clubs 50 States Book Tour – Blog Post #2

Since I last wrote here, I’ve had lots of fun visiting a slew of clubs, either in person or via Skype. Here goes the list in order of my visits: UTAH, MISSISSIPPI, RHODE ISLAND, KANSAS, PENNSYLVANIA, MASSACHUSETTS, MICHIGAN, MISSOURI, VIRGINIA, and tonight, I’m taking the train to meet with a NEW YORK book club at a library in Valley Stream. Oh, and I also had some fun with a FLORIDA club in Key West. (This gang was not technically part of the challenge but they wrote me way back asking if I’d join them, so of course, I did!). There were many highlights from these events, but here are some I wanted to share:


At the very end of this Skype chat, the voice of a woman off screen said, “I grew up in the same town as you, and I don’t know why you didn’t put the Melon Heads in your book.”

Melon Heads?!?! Now, only someone truly from my kooky New England hometown could talk that secret language! I nearly screamed, “Wait a minute! Who said that?”

“I did,” came the voice as the woman leaned into the screen and gave a little wave.

“You’re from my hometown?” I said, excited as ever. “You buried the lede! You should have said at the start of the chat, not the end!”

Before I go on, let me explain: The “Melon Heads” were this supposedly monstrous family who lived in the woods somewhere off a spooky dirt road in my hometown. Legend had it that if you were dumb enough to venture down that road late at night, the MHs would find you and drag your sorry butt back to their cabin and eat you alive. Needless to say, most people were too terrified to drive down that dirt road, so it was avoided at all costs. Me? I rather liked the idea of being attacking by a Melon Head. After all, it sounded a lot more fun than anything else I was doing in that tiny town, like working my after school job as a telemarketer, where I kept people on the phone for hours, asking fascinating questions like, “You mentioned you like Kentucky Fried Chicken. In what way do you like Kentucky Fried Chicken?” And so, not only did I frequently drive my enormous old honker of a station wagon back and forth down that dirt road, (going waaayyyy under the speed limit in case a giant-headed-human-eating monster was a little slow in catching up with me), I also began loading up my car some Friday nights with no fewer than 9 friends and heading down that dirt road too.

Anyway, I had to explain to this nice reader that while I always draw lots of inspiration from that town and sprinkle it into my books, they are not meant to be a historical guide, particularly to the Melon Heads. And besides, the damn MH’s never did find me and chase me and eat me. Plus, their street is now paved and lined with nice new homes. Who knows? Maybe they relocated to another town and are vegetarians these days.


I was lucky enough to meet these two clubs in person, since I was in both states for speaking events and was able to stay an extra night. I met the Rhode Island club (small, just like the state!) at a restaurant. They told me they had read all of my books, and so, it was the first club where we talked, not just about Help For The Haunted, but about Strange But True and Boy Still Missing as well. What a great experience for a writer…I felt very lucky that night!

The Michigan club was from the tiny town of Milan (pronounced M-Eye-Lon, not like the Italian city as I’d been pronouncing it!). This was a big club, and we met at a great coffee shop. They were all such careful readers…one even found a mistake that I’d made in the book. (Yes, it’s true: I’m human and I make errors, despite all my research and endless revising.) Thankfully, they forgave me and we had a blast together.


The last couple years I’ve been lucky to go to St. Louis and give a talk in April for a few hundred women as part of a fundraiser. Over time, I’ve kept up with so many of those women and now even go to town early to have dinner with a group of them because they are a riot and we all love to laugh. Well, some of the ladies in this club have come to those events before, so I felt instantly relaxed. I even started a little game of Show & Tell with items in my apartment. Since they were asking about foreign covers and if I have a say in how they look, I ended up showing them an advanced reading edition of the UK cover of Help For The Haunted, where there was a hilarious mistake. My UK publisher (WHO I LOVE!) accidentally left out a word from the quote on the front. It was from Marie Claire and was supposed to read, “You won’t be able to put it down.” Instead it reads, “You won’t be able put it down.” Without that “to” it sends a very different message! Well, I told the group how that cover made it all the way to me without anyone noticing the mistake… Thankfully, I’m a careful reader… and I also have a great sense of humor. My editor in the UK and I laughed over that one!


RoyalsI loved these readers. They were all getting ready for The Royals game the night we met. And so, they were all wearing their matching blue jerseys. “What’s The Royals and what are they playing?” I asked them, picturing the Queen of England and Kate Middletown in some sort of fencing dual. I don’t follow sports at all, so they had a laugh at how clueless I was.


I once visited a book club that had a sign: “We are a drinking club with a reading problem!” It cracked me up, since so many of these clubs toss back a fair share of wine during our chats (myself included)! However, these fun and smart women are Mormon, which means they do not drink even a single drop of alcohol ever. Here’s the funny part: they laughed and told me that they make up for it with extreme sugar consumption! The night we met, they had baked a delicious-looking HELP FOR THE HAUNTED cake! If only I could have reached through my computer screen and taken a bite. These girls and I had a lively chat and talked in great length about the sister dynamic between Sylvie and Rose, and also, the way their perceptions of the characters did a complete 180 from the start of the book to the end.


Oregon was my very first book club for the challenge, and somehow, I neglected to mention them in my first post. (By the way, did you know it is pronounced OR-U-GUN not OR-A-GAN as I had been saying it? Sounds easy but I kept getting it wrong. This took up the first five minutes of our chat, before we moved onto discussing Sylvie.) It’s funny, because Oregon and Mississippi both posed the same question: “How did you come to write a book from the point of view of a teenaged girl?” And I gave the same answer I did on the Today Show when the host asked me that exact question: “Isn’t it obvious? Deep down I am a teenage girl!” (My mother told me she turned off the TV at that point of the interview, by the way.) Thankfully, though, my Oregon and Mississippi girls did NOT turn off the Skype. We laughed, and then I gave them all the real answer, which is far more serious: My youngest sister, Keri, was the same age as Sylvie when our family faced an unfortunate, personal tragedy. She was a big inspiration for the voice since, like the character, Keri showed a great deal of strength and wisdom that was beyond her years during a terrible time.


This was the first evening that I scheduled two book clubs back to back. They were both great, though each had wildly different vibes. The PA Club was first up, and we engaged in a detailed discussion of the book and chatted about each reader’s take. I fielded all sorts of questions. While I don’t think of Help For The Haunted as a mystery in the Agatha Christie sense, there is very much a mysterious element since the parents are murdered in the first chapter and the reader does not know who did it until the last moments of the book. We had fun discussing the ways their views on the characters shifted throughout the narrative and also their suspicions.

spiderAfter we said goodbye, I worked my Skype magic and headed down to Key West where the readers were tossing back plenty of cocktails and having a grand old time. There is a character in the book with the nickname “Seven” because he only has seven fingers. Well, the gang in Key West literally served finger foods at their book bash and offered hors d’oeuvres shaped like fingers! As if that was not fun enough, they also had pies with jack-o-lantern faces in the top and drinks with fake spiders floating in them. My only regret is that I wasn’t there in person to enjoy with them all. However, I’m going to an artist studio this winter in Key West and we all made plans to see each other then.

And that’s been the nicest part of these discussions in all these states so far: getting to know so many readers across the country, to hear about what they’re reading, to chat about books we love and authors who wow us, to listen to stories from their lives and to share funny and serious moments from my life too. The warm welcome from all of these clubs reminds me how fortunate I am to get to do what I’ve dreamed of doing ever since I was a little kid and I used to write books and try to sell them to my family for 50 cents. (Yes, I was both a writer and a publisher from an early age!) Writing is such a solitary act, but meeting with these clubs as part of the 50/50 Challenge is quite the opposite, and I’m loving every moment.

Next up…NEW YORK tonight…then WEST VIRGINIA and ALABAMA later in the week…NEW MEXICO and VERMONT the week after! Oh, and I’ve been posting the pictures on Facebook if you want to check them out!

Oh, and we are still on the hunt for book clubs in ALASKA, HAWAII, DELAWARE AND LOUISIANA! Sign your club up here.

John Searles, 10.28.14

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10 Terrifying Tales for Halloween

Feeling SPOOKY for Halloween? Just in time, we have ten terrifying tales that are sure to keep you up all night. From truly frightening ghost stories like The Haunting of Hill House to psychological thrillers like American Psycho, the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, and other great writers will make you want to leave all the lights on! Add these books to your shelf here.

936full-scary-stories-to-tell-in-the-dark-coverScary Stories to Tell in The Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Who remembers these frightening tales? A collection of stories published in a series of three books between 1981 and 1991, these were seriously terrifying. They are so scary that they were listed as the most challenged series of books from 1990-1991 and the seventh most challenged from 2000-2009 by the American Library Association for violence. Needless to say, you do not want to read one of these alone—especially if you are under the age of 13…or maybe even as an adult.


tell tale heartThe Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe

While there are many Edgar Allen Poe short stories and poems to choose from for this list, The Tell Tale Heart stands out as one of his most terrifying. The unnamed narrator who suffers from “nervousness” is distressed by the “vulture-like” eye the old man who lives with him has, and decides to kill him. After doing so, he dismembers the body and hides it under the floorboards in the old man’s room. Due to a neighbor hearing screams, the police arrive and—because there is no visible evidence—the narrator invites them to sit in the old man’s room. He then hears a “thump”, which gets louder and louder until he is finally driven crazy and confesses to the crime. Although this story does not sound “terrifying”, the anxiety felt by the narrator is almost too much for the reader at times—projecting this stress upon them.

the woodsThe Woods (Comic) by James Tynion IV

A rather new pick that all comic book lovers should check out is The Woods. James Tynion VI is known for his work on DC’s Batman comics and has created his own world about a Midwestern high school that is transported to an alien planet. The story follows the 513 people that are forced to explore a strange land. The comic is able to capture teenage issues and alien horror all in one place, which definitely gets it put on our Sci-Fi/Horror shelf.


ShiningnovelThe Shining by Stephen King

REDRUM. The iconic book that was made even more famous by Jack Nicholson’s frightening performance in the movie is one of the most horrifying novels of all time. The story follows a family as they move into a haunted resort to be its winter caretaker. The son, Danny, is telepathic and has premonitions. He begins to see ghosts and frightening things in the house. When the house tries to possess him, but cannot, it then moves to his father, Jack. The house is able to possess Jack and the story turns into a crazy hunt to kill his wife and son. Stephen King’s novels are always scary, but this is definitely one of his most hair-raising works.

grimm-grimms-fairy-tales-bookcoverGrimms’ Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

The household name has been terrifying children since being published in Germany in 1812. Made even more popular in America by Disney’s never-ending adaptations, the Grimm brothers certainly were not fans of “happily ever after”. There are many versions of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, so it is hard to tell which are truly horrid. But, for example, in one version of Rapunzel the prince falls out of the window and is blinded by thorns, in Snow White the evil Queen is forced to dance in burning shoes until she drops dead, and in Cinderella her evil stepsister’s eyes are plucked out by doves. We can’t imagine why Disney did not include these aspects in their final cuts.

dracula-cover-2Dracula by Bram Stoker

Published in 1897, Dracula introduced Count Dracula and Van Helsing—two characters who will forever be popular figures in culture. The story follows Dracula as he infects a beautiful woman, causing her to die and turn into a vampire. Vampire-hunter Van Helsing kills her by stabbing her in the heart, beheading her, and filling her mouth with garlic. The book is was especially frightening in the late 1800s, as one of the first mentions of vampires in gothic fiction. Needless to say, no one wants to be near Count Dracula.

2011-09-24-exorcist40The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

A young girl becomes possessed after moving to Georgetown. After unsuccessful medical treatments, her mother seeks help from a priest, Karras, who realizes she is demonically possessed and appoints a priest, Merrin, who recently returned from finding a statue of a demon in Iraq, to exorcise her. Merrin dies in the process and Karras is forced to finish the exorcism by forcing the demon out of the girl and in to himself, causing him to jump out the window and die. The book is disturbing on many levels, and even more so since exorcisms and demons have become so popular in horror culture.

HauntingOfHillHouseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

A true ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House surrounds four characters in their attempt to discover evidence of supernatural existence. Many unusual events happen and one of the four, Eleanor, ends up becoming possessed by the house. When she is forced to leave, she ends up being killed in a car crash on the property. Master of horror, Stephen King, has praised The Haunting of Hill House as one of the best horror novels of the late 20th century. Reading it is a terrifying experience.


I am Legend - Richard Matheson - 1954I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

This novel was extremely influential in developing the zombie genre. Most recently adapted into a film starring Will Smith, the novel was originally published in 1954 and follows the journey of Robert Neville as the only survivor of a pandemic. Neville is trying to understand and cure the disease which he is immune to. Symptoms of the disease resemble vampirism, an affliction which caused Neville to kill his wife. Unlike the movie adaptation, the infected evolve and are able to start their new society—killing Neville. While it’s less “terrifying” than some others, it’s a very interesting piece of literature that reflects on human nature in a time of survival.

american psychoAmerican Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho is perfectly described in its title. The reader never truly knows what is actually happening, and what is a hallucination. The main character, Patrick Bateman, is an investment banker in Manhattan during the financial boom of the late 1980s. However, by night, he is a murder whose crimes escalate throughout the book until he commits a shooting spree of random people in the street. This leads to him confessing his murders on his lawyer’s message machine—but only to be received with much disbelief since he recently had dinner with one of Bateman’s “victims”. This psychological thriller is quite disturbing—and even more so because it is difficult to separate reality from dream-sequences.

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Great Literary Villains

Who is ready for Halloween? Get in the spirit with these literary villains. From children’s books to intense adult fiction, TheReadingRoom has you covered! Who are some of your favorite villains? Comment below and tell us who you wouldn’t want to go up against!

PrintNapoleon from Animal Farm

“When they had finished their confession, the dogs promptly tore their throats out, and in a terrible voice Napoleon demanded whether any other animal had anything to confess.”

The novel that was described by Orwell to be a satirical story against Stalin follows a farm of pigs as they overthrow the humans and reign for themselves. Among the pig leaders is Napoleon, who represents Stalin. Napoleon instates a dictatorship in which the pigs are promised a “better life” after working harder and harder. Like most villains, Napoleon never acts upon these promises—instead killing those who consorted with his foe and creating a society focused on his praise.

bambiHe from Bambi, A Life in the Woods

Arguably one of the most devastating moments of childhood was when “He”—the nameless hunter—killed Bambi’s mother. While most would reference the Disney adaptation, the original tale: Bambi, A Life in the Woods was written by Austrian novelist Felix Salten in 1923. Not only does the hunter kill Bambi’s mother, but he teaches children about how awful loss is. A lesson that perhaps we (along with Bambi and friends) were not quite ready to learn.


seriesofunfortunateeventsCount Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events

“There are two kinds of fears: rational and irrational- or, in simpler terms, fears that make sense and fears that don’t. For instance, the Baudelaire orphans have a fear of Count Olaf, which makes perfect sense, because he is an evil man who wants to destroy them. But if they were afraid of lemon meringue pie, this would be an irrational fear, because lemon meringue pie is delicious and would never hurt a soul.”

The beloved Children’s series A Series of Unfortunate Events contains thirteen novels, all in which Count Olaf is a villain. After the Baudelaire sibling’s parents’ are killed in a fire, they are placed in the custody of their evil distant cousin Count Olaf—whose main goal is to steal their inheritance. After he is deemed unfit he is taken away from the children but proceeds to find them by dressing in disguise throughout the rest of the books. Count Olaf is essentially an evil “mastermind” who murders many people to try and get his hands on money.

lord voldemortLord Voldemort from the Harry Potter Series

“If he could only have understood the precise and terrible power of that sacrifice, he would not, perhaps, have dared to touch your blood… But then, if he had been able to understand, he could not be Lord Voldemort, and might never have murdered at all.”

I would confidently suppose that most people, children and adults alike, know of the infamous Lord Voldemort. Villain-extraordinaire of all seven Harry Potter books, the main plot throughout the series is to try and kill him. After killing Harry’s parents and cursing him as a baby, Lord Voldemort’s single goal (besides, of course, ruling the world and killing non-purebloods) is to destroy Harry Potter—whom he believes to be a major threat. While Voldemort is not wrong about this, he basically kills everyone Harry loves throughout the book and can be seen as the ultimate villain.

psychoNorman Bates from Psycho

“Cold-blooded murder is one thing, but sickness is another. You aren’t really a murderer when you’re sick in the head. Anybody knows that” [Norman—on his mother]

When one first starts to read Psycho, it may appear that Norma Bates (Norman’s mother) is the real villain. However, she is nothing compared to the crazy that is Norman Bates. He eventually kills his mother and keeps her corpse their house. His mother taught him that women are evil—besides her of course, and the co-dependent relationship they have alone would almost qualify as something “psychotic”. Regardless Norman Bates is a serial killer who stabs people to death while wearing his mother’s clothes…Psycho indeed.

Complete Sherlock HolmesDr. Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes

“He [Moriarty] is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city.  He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker.  He has a brain of the first order.”

While not featured in all Sherlock Holmes stories, during his appearances Moriarty is a “criminal mastermind” and seeks payback from Sherlock for trying to expose his criminal ring. He is a crime lord who protects many English criminals in exchange money and loyalty—obviously posing a problem for protagonist Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty is a murderer who is one of the major villains in the series.

lord-of-the-fliesJack from Lord of the Flies

“[Jack] tried to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.

‘I went on. I thought, by myself—‘

The madness came into his eyes again.

‘I thought I might kill.’”

This novel was a real eye-opener, both for readers and the boys forming this civilization. After being stranded on an island, a group of British boys are forced to govern themselves. Jack, the leader of a boys choir group, does not get along with the chosen leader—Ralph, and schemes to overthrow him. Throughout the novel, Jack turns from civilized to violent—leading to the death of another boy. He represents the worst parts of human nature, eventually leading an attack to kill Ralph.

othelloIago from Othello

“If I can fasten but one cup upon him,
With that which he hath drunk to-night already,
He’ll be as full of quarrel and offence
As my young mistress’ dog.”

Shakespeare’s plays always contain a villain—sometimes many! Iago from Othello is one of the worst. After being overlooked for a promotion, Iago hates Othello and conspires to turn everyone against him. Iago manipulates all of the characters, while they continue to refer to him as “honest Iago”. The quote above explains Iago’s plan to get Cassio (the man promoted) drunk so he would make a fool of himself and be punished. He is constantly scheming and even convinces Othello to kill his wife—who he believes to be sleeping with Cassio. In Shakespearian terms, that’s a villain.

hannibalHannibal Lecter from the Hannibal Lecter Series

Hannibal Lecter is featured in four novels by Thomas Harris, and is a serial killer. An obvious choice for a villain. Although Hannibal had what seemed like a rough childhood, he is still a murderer and cannibal. Described as a sociopath, he does not fit into any standard psychological profile. Hannibal Lecter is definitely one of the worst villains in modern-day literature.




The-Lord-Of-The-Rings-9780007149247Saruman from The Lord of the Rings Series

The villain of the very popular Lord of the Rings series, Saruman was originally the chief of the wizards and of the White Council that opposed Sauron. However, being a villain, his experience with dark magic ignited his desire for the One Ring. He was eventually defeated in the War of the Ring when he allied himself with Sauron. As Lord of the Rings fans know, desiring the One Ring for yourself is never a positive trait.

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10 Timeless Children’s Fantasy Books

Children’s fantasy is not just for children. People of all ages will enjoy these books, and adults will be transported back to their childhood. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and The Chronicles of Narnia are all series that have influenced children’s book culture. Classic tales like The Little Prince and Matilda will make adults feel reminiscent, while novels like The Giver have a different meaning for adolescents and adult.

o-LITTLE-PRINCE-ANNIVERSARY-EDITION-facebookThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved novel tells the story of the “little prince” who befriends a pilot stranded in the Sahara desert. Over the course of eight days, while the pilot rebuilds his plane, the prince recounts the story of his life. From his run-ins with other inhabitants on the six other asteroids he’s visited to his adventures so far on Earth, the little prince is a speck of hope in a universe of darkness.


harry potter (2)

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

The wizard loved by children and adults alike has had seven novels where fans followed him through his quest to defeat dark-wizard Voldemort. J.K. Rowling’s character represents a timeless part of many people’s childhood–one which is visited over and over again. What makes this a “must-read” is that not only are the books magical, but you actually want to be a part of this world full of wizards, witches, and amazing creatures. The Harry Potter series follows Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they progress through adolescence in a fantasy world full of danger.

thelightningthiefPercyJacksonPercy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson & the Olympians follows the adventures of the titular demi-god as he battles his way through a series of challenges revolving around mythical figures, including his father Poseidon. Percy Jackson and his friends Grover, a satyr, and Annabelle, fellow demi-god and daughter of Athena, will remind you why you were so intrigued by your middle school mythology unit.


the bfg

The BFG by Roald Dahl

The BFG is an angelic tale told by the beloved Roald Dahl. It depicts the friendship that forms between the only “friendly” giant, the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), and Sophie, an unsuspecting young girl who helps save the world from man-eating giants. Although man-eating giants seem like an odd topic for a children’s book, it’s definitely a must-read and one that you won’t soon forget!


Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Over the years many books have been written that explore the quest for immortality. For the Tuck’s, immortality is not all it’s made out to be. Natalie Babbit’s classic tale follows ten-year old Winnie Foster who, while contemplating running away from home, meets Jesse Tuck–who is drinking from a stream on her property. Little does Winnie know, she is about to discover life, love, and loss.


howls moving castle

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

British author Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel follows Sophie’s mission to turn back into a young girl after being transformed into an old woman by an evil witch. Sophie meets Howl, a wizard who is rumored to eat young girl’s hearts, and makes a deal with his fire demon to be set free from her curse. Sophie’s adventures with Howl and friends make for an exciting novel, which was beautifully depicted in the Miyazaki animated adaptation.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

This classic children’s story is the ultimate fantasy novel. Adapted countless times, Lewis Carroll writes of Alice, a young girl who falls into a rabbit hole and is met with a slew of challenges and talking creatures. From The Caterpillar to The Cheshire Cat, there is never ending adventure in which Alice confronts fantasy and reality.


chronicles of narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis

This children’s series follows the journey of four siblings after they find a magical world through a wardrobe. The series features seven books that are not written in chronological order. The first published book, ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ is the most popular of the series. Fantasy aspects in this book include an alternate universe and many talking animals.

Matilda1Matilda by Roald Dahl

Another Roald Dahl selection deserves this spot because unlike the BFG, Matilda’s powers are almost fathomable. The book follows Matilda, a girl with extraordinary gifts who loves to read. Matilda uses her powers mostly for good, and is able to get back at her unloving parents and evil Principal. While this book does not take place in a ‘fantasy world,’ Matilda’s special powers put her on our list.


giverThe Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver explored the popular theme of dystopian societies before it was popular. It centers on a young boy Jonas, who at the age of eleven receives his job in society—Receiver of Memories. This job causes him to be isolated from his friends and family while he trains with the current Receiver. He learns about good and bad things of the past, and realizes that although there is no war or starvation currently, there is also no color, music, or love. From there the older Receiver—now known as ‘The Giver’ and Jonas decide it’s time to return memories back to the people. The rest is a journey that you’ll have to read to fully appreciate.

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A Conversation with Zane













With the film adaptation of her novel Addicted now in theaters, TheReadingRoom sat down with bestselling author Zane, to discuss the key ingredient to writing her addictive erotic fiction.

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Where did your love of storytelling come from?

My childhood sparked my imagination and the need to spin tales of varying degrees. As a child, I was like a sponge when it came to practically inhaling the pages of books. By sixth grade, I was literally reading a book a day. I can now read up to four novels in a day and remember every character, every experience, and appreciate it.

Between the success of your bestselling novels and the phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey, erotica has become less taboo in recent years. Why do you think this is?

I believe that it has and timing is everything but so is knowing the right people to give you the outreach and media attention you need in order to be successful—regardless of the genre. Women want to feel sexually empowered and liberated and they find their resources in places where it works. The written word/fantasies are a good starting place. Women let fear hold them back from being bold and brazen and reading about fictional women without boundaries always helps.

Were you always aware that you were writing erotic fiction, or were you only ever focused on telling a story, and it was your readers who categorized it as such?

Definitely the readers placed me in that category. I consider myself to be a very detailed writer and that is not toned down when it comes to sexuality. But I do not set off on any writing venture consumed by the sexual aspects of it. The sex scenes are fun to create but you could take them out and still read a complete story.

What do you think is they key ingredient of great erotica?

Character development without question. People want to know who people truly are and why they should care about their intimate moments. They also want to have the story described in such vivid detail that they feel like they are in the room—bedroom or otherwise. Readers want to feel some kind of emotional connection to characters so that when something happens to them—good or bad—they have a vested interest in the outcome.

Do you still feel the same buzz of excitement now as you did when you first started writing and publishing your work?

Absolutely. I am passionate about what I do and I believe that I am walking in my gift. Writing gives me an escape from reality and it relaxes me, much like working out at the gym may relax someone else. We all have our ways to rejuvenate and reflect at the same time. Writing it mine.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a particular routine – things that you prefer to have in place – or is it more of a free-for-all? And has it changed over the years?

I have tried to establish different writing routines but wearing so many hats makes that hard to accomplish. So it is definitely more of a free-for-all in my case. However, I do work very well under pressure so setting deadlines for myself tends to pay off in the end. I prefer writing at night so that I have no interruptions. Over the years, I did start writing more during the day for a time period but that does not work as well for me as the night so I have gone back to that. It is almost like working the third shift at a factory except the only gears turning are in my head. I have insomnia so it helps.

Who are your greatest writing influences?

I cannot say that anyone actually influenced my writing because I do believe my writing style is unique and I have never tried to capture the vision of anyone else. However, I will say that I have an overall love of writing and am often impressed with the writing of others.

Are you still able to immerse yourself in books despite being so engaged in writing your own?

Yes, I am. In fact, I feel out of sorts if I do not read every day. My passion began with reading and that will never change. I have a book laying beside my laptop right now that I am halfway through with as I respond to these questions.

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John Searles’ Book Clubs 50 States Book Tour – Blog Post #1

John Searles

Author John Searles loves book clubs and has set himself the challenge of meeting with one book club in every state in the nation to discuss Help for the Haunted. If he makes it to all 50 states by 7/31/15, the first book club to talk to him in each state will win a tote bag full of books for every member. Interested? You can sign up your book club here.

For the next few months, John will be updating us on his progress, and filling us in on his experiences as he meets book lovers from across the nation.

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When I was a kid, my dad worked as a cross-country trucker. I used to go on trips with him, and we’d roll through dozens of states in a matter of days. In some ways, my 50 Book Clubs 50 States Challenge feels a little like those trips…well, minus the truck stops and state troopers and voices of other truckers’ crackling on the CB. Okay, maybe it’s not the same except that I’ll be “visiting” lots of states in what feels like a short amount of time!

So far, I’ve Skyped with book clubs in D.C., South Carolina and Maine. The D.C. Club was super small: only two women, both of whom met as residents in med school. They were careful readers with plenty of questions and observations about the book. They loved the voice of Sylvie, which made me so happy. And, as is often with the case with Help for the Haunted, the discussion turned to the topics of faith and whether or not we believe in the supernatural. Except for a few technical glitches with Skype going kaput, we had a great time.

Next up was a club in Lancaster, South Carolina. This newly formed group of about 15 people told me they are searching for a name. (I suggested the “We Love John Searles Book Club,” but for some strange reason they did not take me up on the idea.) Okay, now for the interesting thing about this discussion: Not everyone had read the book! I’m told this is often the case with clubs: that members intend to read the book but life gets in the way and they show up just to socialize. If you’re in a club, are you guilty of doing the same?

As for the discussion, it began with a very nice woman asking me what happened to the character of Perry, who drove my main character, Sylvie, around town for 50 cents a ride. She accused me, again quite nicely, of introducing this guy in the opening chapters only to drop him for the rest of the book. Now, I’m happy to answer any and all questions, but the problem with this particular one: I did not recall any such character! And trust me, by the time my books are published, I’ve read countless drafts, so it would be difficult to forget a comma, never mind an entire character! Still, when I told her this, she insisted, saying she’d find the pages about Perry then send me an e-mail pointing them out. Well, days later, I did receive an email from her, except she wrote to say how sorry she was, because she had been reading a different book at the same time and confused the characters. She begged my forgiveness and, of course, I forgave her…just like I forgave those people in the club who hadn’t read my book…yet!

Finally, last night I met with a fun book club in Maine via Skype. Because there are details that center around birds in Help for the Haunted (as well as my previous book, Strange But True), they were curios where the inspiration came from. One woman, Joan, who was sitting front and center, told me she was a psychotherapist and liked to analyze the writer while reading! In other words she was analyzing me! Well, I confessed to Joan and the rest of the gang that I have a terrible bird phobia, which I guess is what compels me to put them in my books. My fear started when I was a kid and my mom’s friend gave her two parakeets. One of the birds used to bend the bars of the cage with its beak and get out, flying at us and trying to peck us. My mother would scream, “EVERYBODY RUN!!!!!” Then she’d send me out of hiding to catch it. Well, we all had a laugh at that, before Joan told me she has a pet cockatiel (that’s a bird, not a fancy dog) and she keeps it on her shoulder all day long when she’s at home. I had to break it to Joan that I wouldn’t be coming to dinner anytime soon, otherwise I might need to her to be my psychotherapist and not just a reader.

In the coming weeks, I have both in-person and Skype visits with book clubs in Rhode Island, Mississippi, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and more…. Come to think of it, with all those states in such a short amount of time, maybe it is a little like those tucking trips after all.

John Searles, 10-1-2014

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A Conversation with Laird Hunt

Conversation with Laird HuntLaird Hunt’s dazzling new novel Neverhome throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind during the Civil War.

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How important is the first line of a novel? Because your first line in Neverhome is superb, immediately drawing the reader in, and setting the tone: “I was strong and he was not so it was me who went to war to defend the Republic.”  Was that always the first line, or did that come later in the writing process?

In many ways the entire novel comes out of that first line.  It arrived, fully formed, and was never changed.  Once I had it, I could see the way forward, indeed see much of the journey Ash was going to undertake.  Maybe “hear” the way forward is better.  So much about writing Neverhome was about being able to listen to, and to a great extent not interrupt, the voice that had set up residence in my head.  This was at the very beginning of the writing process, which is fortunate because I didn’t have to grope around too much to find my (her) way.

The narrator of Neverhome is Ash Thompson: a young woman who passes herself off as a man in order to go to war to defend the Republic. What was the inspiration for Ash, and her journey?

Hundreds of actual women did this during the American Civil War.  I first learned about them when my wife gave me a copy of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman’s war letters.  Wakeman disguised herself as a man and went to fight for the Union using the first name Lyons.  That gift from my wife came 18 years ago, meaning it took me some 14 or 15 years to find my way to the first line of the novel and the story that poured out of it.  There were so many reasons these women went to war and as I wrote (I do a good portion of my research as I am writing) I learned more and more about them.  They went for adventure, patriotism, opportunity, love and other reasons.  In many cases, we don’t know why they went, only that they were there.  The character that came to me has her own very personal and complex reasons for going to war.  A large part of the impetus for telling the story has to do with exploring those reasons and perhaps, simultaneously, shedding light on the multi-faceted humanity both of Ash and the women who inspired her.

NeverhomeThe book has garnered plaudits for its spare writing style. You’re evidently a true literary stylist – but does this come naturally, or is it something you have to work on and refine throughout the writing process and various drafts?

I had a teacher early on at what was then called The Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in Boulder, Colorado, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, who stressed how much of not just the work but also the pleasure of writing was to be had in the revision process.  Naturally I didn’t at first believe this and wanted simply to go from initial rush to initial rush with little attention paid to all those drafts that she had evoked.  Time plus the circumstance of not being published straight away eroded this notion as I discovered that not only did the work get tighter as I tinkered with it over the months and years, but that I was also coming to relish this process of peering deeper into the language and deeper into the story.  In the case ofNeverhome a great portion of Ash’s voice really was there in the first draft, but it got sharper and fiercer as I went through the 6 or 7 drafts that followed.  Working with a smart editor helped get it over the finish line.  I have been very lucky over the years in my editors.  The first several novels with Chris Fischbach at Coffee House Press and now Josh Kendall at Little, Brown. 

What sort of research did you undertake for Neverhome?

I read very deeply in the letters, diaries and memoirs of common soldiers who fought in the war.  I also read the extant literature about women Civil War soldiers and the few compendiums of their own writings (Wakeman and also the memoirs of Loretta Velasquez and Sarah Emma Edmonds).  I of course read some of the canonical overviews of the war but I was very careful, after realizing where the emphasis of the story was going to be, not to spend too much time — on the page and off — ferreting out the exact movements of Grant or Lee or Pickett et al.  We have many great novels that provide primers on the great trajectories of the war and I value them and read and reread a number during the writing process, but this was not going to be that kind of book.  I wanted to avoid the lure of too many glittering war tidbits (what kind of spurs Nathan Forrest wore and how many men died under his command and so on) and part of refining Ash’s voice was scraping away some of those kinds of observations.

You’ve published multiple novels now – does the excitement preceding each new release ever dim? Does it morph into something else?

My hope over the course of writing the novels has been that with each one the reception/awareness would build, not by leaps and bounds but incrementally.  I have always had a sense of being in it for the long haul and have hoped to build in such a way that a long haul would be possible and that books that would not wear themselves out at the first reading and maybe not even after the second could keep being written.  Having just switched publishers there was a different sense of possibility around the publication of Neverhome, and it has certainly been exciting, but the goal hasn’t changed: continuing to write and to write books that, hopefully, will last.

Laird was speaking with Simon McDonald

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10 Must-Read Books About High School Romance

10 Must-Read Books About High School Romance

Our teenage romances were a milestone in our emotional development. Reflect on those simpler times (were they, though, really?!) with these 10 books.

Dream Factory

When the Disney World character actors go on strike, teens are hired as replacements. Ella is assigned the role of Cinderella simply because the shoes fit. And every afternoon at three o’clock she gets married to Prince Charming. A perfect dream come true; except Ella does not believe in dreams anymore. Meanwhile, Luke is one of the fur characters, and his girlfriend, Cassie, plays his counterpart, Chip. Cassie is perfect in every way, so why does Luke want to be with Cinderella?

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Story of a Girl

I was thirteen when my dad caught me with Tommy Webber in the back of Tommy’s old Buick, parked next to the old Chart House down in Montana at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday night. Tommy was seventeen and the supposed friend of my brother, Darren. I didn’t love him.I’m not sure I even liked him.

In a moment Deanna Lambert’s teenage life is changed forever. Struggling to overcome its lasting repercussions and the stifling role of “school slut,” she longs to escape a life defined by her past.
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More than Friends

hen Grace Stanley’s older brother, Matt, died in a car accident, she wanted to die, too. But she’s slowly finding her way again, with the help of her mysterious new friend, Philomena – who always seems to show up when Grace needs her most. If only Jackson, Matt’s best friend, had a Philomena of his own. He’s fallen into some very bad habits – at the same time that Grace is falling for him.The second book in the “Saving Grace” series explores the themes of faith, hope, and learning to live (maybe even love) in the wake of a tragedy.
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There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast.a Julie knows from bitter experience: her best friend, Ashleigh, is an Enthusiast. Ashleigh’s current fancy is also Julies own passion, Pride and Prejudice, and the heroine’s quest for True Love. And so Julie finds herself swept along with Ashleigh, dressed in vintage frocks and sneaking into a dance at the local all-boys prep school. There they discover several likely candidates for True Love, including the handsome and sensitive Parr. And Julie begins to wonder if maybe this obsession of Ashleigh’s isn’t so bad after all. . . Read more >

The Market

High school senior Kate Winthrop is about to find out just how much she’s worth. After stumbling across the Millbank Social Stock Market, Kate is horrified to discover that out of the 140 girls in her class, she’s ranked a bleak 71. Sure, she’s not drop-dead gorgeous, and her “fashion” choices leave a bit to be desired…but 71?! Determined not to accept her fate as a “junk bond,” she and her best friends quickly set out to make her the fastest rising stock on the Market. But what begins as a fun social experiment quickly turns into an obsession…
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Good Enough

Patti’s parents expect nothing less than the best from their Korean-American daughter. Everything she does affects her chances of getting into an Ivy League school. So winning “assistant” concertmaster in her All-State violin competition and earning less than 2300 on her SATs is simply “not good enough.” But Patti’s discovering that there’s more to life than the Ivy League. To start with, there’s Cute Trumpet Guy. He’s funny, he’s talented, and he looks exactly like the lead singer of Patti’s favorite band. Then, of course, there’s her love of the violin. Not to mention cool rock concerts. And anyway, what if Patti doesn’t want to go to “HarvardYalePrinceton” after all? Read more >

If I Stay

‘Just listen,’ Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel. I open my eyes wide now. I sit up as much as I can. And I listen. ‘Stay,’ he says.

Everybody has to make choices. Some might break you. For seventeen-year-old Mia, surrounded by a wonderful family, friends and a gorgeous boyfriend decisions might seem tough, but they’re all about a future full of music and love, a future that’s brimming with hope. But life can change in an instant. A cold February morning …a snowy road …and suddenly all of Mia’s choices are gone. Except one. Read more >

Anatomy of a Misfit

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair, one of the most popular kids in school. Inside, she’s a freak. A mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if the rumors are to be believed, vampire DNA. But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauser, first most popular girl in school, will make her life a living hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd… right? Read more >

The Duff

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley. Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone. Read more >

Second Kiss

Gemma Mitchell is a normal girl who somehow gets herself into abnormally embarrassing circumstances. And while she thinks she’s the biggest loser in school because of them, there are a few people in her life who would disagree. One of those people is her best friend, Jess Tyler, who is opposite to her in every way. He’s popular, good looking, athletic, and intelligent, and he can’t get enough of Gemma. But while Gemma is dealing with problems like wrong locker combinations and Valentine’s Day dances, Jess is living in a world of serious issues that are foreign to Gemma, until she realizes that he’s holding on to her for dear life.  Read more >

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10 Must-Read Books about Africa from Best-Selling Author Tony Park

10 Must-Read Books about AfricaTony Park recently stopped by to talk about his novel The Deltabut we couldn’t let him leave without asking about his reading recommendations for books on Africa. Check out his suggestions below.

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Elephant Elephant

From the jungles of Borneo, to the civil strife of Assam, to the black markets of Vietnam, Dr Tammie Matson continues her quest to help reduce the human-elephant conflict around the world.

In this follow-up to her bestselling memoir Elephant Dance, Tammie takes on the black markets of Asia determined to make a difference and break the chains of rhino-horn poaching and the illegal ivory trade.

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Resident Alien

Crisscrossing South Africa – and further afield – in a quest to understand the land and continent of his birth – Malan does time with an extraordinary cast of characters: from vigilantes and outlaws to beauty queens and truckers; from Sol Kerzner to Jackie Selebi; from JM Coetzee to the last Afrikaner in Tanzania. Malan’s honesty, his unwavering support for the underdog, and the unique power of his prose, make him one of South Africa’s most important writers.

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The Land God Made in Anger

The Land God Made In Anger – South West Africa-Namibia – has been governed by South Africa for decades, ever since German rule ended after the First World War. But German influence has remained strong. So when, a month after the Second World War ends, two German officers erupt from the sea along the infamous Skeleton Coast, escaping from a crippled U-boat, they are arriving on friendly territory. But who are they? Why have they come? Why do only two men escape from the submarine? And why does one of them immediately murder the other one on the shore? Read more >


Deneys Reitz was 17 when the Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899. Reitz describes that he had no hatred of the British people, but “as a South African, one had to fight for one’s country.” Reitz had learned to ride, shoot and swim almost as soon as he could walk, and the skills and endurance he had acquired during those years were to be made full use of during the war. He fought with different Boer Commandos, where each Commando consisted mainly of farmers on horseback, using their own horses and guns. Commando describes the tumult through the eyes of a warrior in the saddle. Read more >

The Dark of the Sun

Bruce Curry is the leader of a mercenary band with the dubious support of three officers. His mission: To relieve a diamond-mining town cut off by the fighting and retrieve a priceless consignment of diamonds. Along the way, he meets a beautiful Belgian woman. Shermaine is a dream come true. But the rest of Curry’s journey is about to become a living nightmare. Ranged against his ill-disciplined unit are bandits, guerillas, and hostile tribes that infest the land. In a sinister atmosphere of omnipotent evil, Curry fights to stay alive—and protect Shermaine, his one true love. But to do so, he must face another, even deadlier enemy: one of his own men… Read more >

Daddy's Girl

A little girl waits alone to be picked up after ballet class—until an unmarked car approaches, and she is gone. But this little girl is the daughter of Police Captain Riedwaan Faizal. But suspended from the squad, he finds himself powerless. With nobody on his side, the captain turns to investigative journalist and criminal profiler Dr. Clare Hart. Clare knows that the odds of a child’s survival dwindle with each passing minute. She knows that hiding her investigation from the police has its own dangers. But she will do anything to help a heartbroken father … even if it puts all their lives at risk. Read more >

Thirteen Hours

Detective Benny Griessel he has trodden on too many toes over the years ever to reach the top of the promotion ladder, and now he concentrates on staying sober and mentoring the new generation of crime fighters — mixed race, Xhosa and Zulu. But when an American backpacker disappears in Capetown, panicked politicians know who to call: Benny has just thirteen hours to save the girl, save his career — and crack open a conspiracy which threatens the whole country. A potent, suspenseful thriller, and a brilliant portrait of life in the country that will host the 2010 World Cup. Read more >


The Fear

In mid-2008, after thirty years of increasingly tyrannical rule, Robert Mugabe, the eighty-four-year-old ruler of Zimbabwe, met his politburo. He had just lost an election. But instead of conceding power, he was persuaded to launch a brutal campaign of terror to cower his citizens. Journalist and author Peter Godwin was one of the few observers to slip into the country and bear witness to the terrifying period that Zimbabweans call, simply, the Fear.

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White Dog

In apartheid South Africa in 1976, medical student Isaac Muthethe is forced to flee his country after witnessing a friend murdered by white members of the South African Defense Force. He is smuggled into Botswana, where he is hired as a gardener by a young American woman, Alice Mendelssohn, who has abandoned her Ph.D. studies to follow her husband to Africa. When Isaac goes missing and Alice goes searching for him, what she finds will change her life and inextricably bind her to this sunburned, beautiful land.
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Hold My Hand I'm Dying

The great heart of Africa is dying. Joseph Mahoney, the last colonial commissioner in the spectacular Kariba Gorge, is there to witness the death throes. Somehow, he must also ease the birth pangs of the new Africa that will take its place. His companions are Samson, his Matabele servant, and Suzie, the girl he loves. But Mahoney and Suzie are drifting apart, and now Samson has been accused of murder. And all too quickly, it seems, the country is heading towrds a bloodbath of revenge.

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