Reading Is Healing: My 2021 Book List

If you read my post from just after ringing in the new year, you know that my 2021 started with a melancholy tone. A dear friend was battling COVID-19, and I awoke to learn that his body had finally succumbed. He was the director of the community chorale of which I’ve been a member since the late 1990s. With coronavirus shutting down almost all things choral (because singers are considered super spreaders), all of our rehearsals and plans for performances stopped last March. Singing is one of my outlets, and I’ve been fortunate to be one of the few singers at my church most Sundays.

Fortunately, while singing is incredibly healing, it’s not my only outlet. I also love to read. Maybe that’s an understatement. I have to have something to read at all times—a healthy addiction?—and I also love to share what I read. (Which is why I started making this annual post however-many years ago.)

While 2020 took so much from everyone, it was a great year for me as far as reading goes. I read all the books from my 2020 book list, plus some. In fact, I re-read two different trilogies immediately after finishing them—sometimes it’s just hard to let books go. (Those trilogies are Lady Helen and His Fair Assassin. I read the first book of Lady Helen in 2019 but all the rest in 2020.)

Many of the other books on my list were ones that I read with my children. We finished A Series of Unfortunate Events, as planned. I also read The Hunger Games to them because they enjoy the movies, and Suzanne Collins recently published a prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. We finished all of those about a week ago.

If you’re one of my regular readers, you know that my elder son is dyslexic. Even before his diagnosis, it was my habit to read my favorite children’s books to him. (Maybe it was crazy, but I read the Harry Potter books to both kids in utero.) We often read his school novels together, and the format of virtual school last spring was particularly challenging for him. His entire grade level broke into a handful of book clubs, and the book he chose (okay, that I encouraged him to choose because I wanted to read it to him anyway) was Lois Lowry’s The Giver. A dystopian novel before that was even a genre, The Giver was new when I was a kid. Since then, Lowry has published three sequels. We finished reading the quartet after the book club was finished, and Peter really enjoyed them.

Two or three years ago, I discovered Usborne’s graphic novel classics (including titles such as HamletThe Hound of the BaskervillesJason and the ArgonautsAlice in Wonderland, and many others). Graphic novels are a great way for people with reading difficulties to access literature because the drawings provide so many contextual clues. Each time I got one for Peter, he devoured it. It became his habit to read one every night before bed. I can’t tell you the joy I feel from my son finding enthusiasm for books. Plus, he’s being introduced to classic stories without the barrier of archaic language (which can prove onerous even for the most fluent of readers).

Still, there are plenty of great books that aren’t graphic novels. Peter loves historical fiction, especially of the World War II era, so that’s why Salt to the Sea and The Book Thief are on the 2020 list. (Salt to the Sea is centered around the greatest maritime disaster in history, regarding loss of life. And no, it wasn’t the Titanic or Lusitania—check it out!) After we finished these, since Usborne hadn’t released a new graphic novel in a while, my husband let Peter borrow Maus and Maus II, graphic novels about some of the events of World War II. When he finished those, something different and wonderful happened: Peter asked if we could recommend any other good books.

We decided that a good first on-his-own novel was Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything. This book has a unique style, including short chapters and drawings throughout. These would help break up the text, making it less daunting. Plus, the language isn’t that difficult, except for humuhumunukunukuapua’a—I have yet to make it from one end of that word to other without needing a nap in the middle. We gave it to Peter, and he devoured it. Every time he finished a chapter, he would tell us about it. A common trait of dyslexics is poor working memory. He’s had to learn study skills particular to his learning style, which allow him to suss out the main idea and decide which details are important. Summarizing what he’s read—and sometimes having in-depth discussions about it—is Peter’s strategy to aid his reading comprehension. After Everything, Everything, he asked for a book Thomas had told him about, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. It was a much more challenging read, but Peter made it through and now considers it his favorite book. (There’s a recently published sequel—hope it lives up to the first one!) He’s currently reading Stephen King’s The Green Mile. For his birthday and Christmas, we gave him more novels—Ender’s Game and Jurassic Park. Peter is excited to have his own growing collection, and on more than one occasion, he’s said, “Now I see why you and Dad read all the time.” After catching him staying up late to read more times than I can count (my favorite form of rebellion), he’s learned to look ahead and see how long a chapter is before getting started because he has to complete a chapter in order to fully process and remember it. I don’t care what it takes—this kid is making reading a priority and enjoying it.

Okay, Sarah, what does this have to do with books you read in 2020? Nothing at all. These are books I didn’t read—because Peter read them himself! And more books I didn’t read: Harry Potter. When we finished A Series of Unfortunate Events, that’s what Ian wanted to read, but when I noticed one of his classmates reading the series, I told Ian it was time to read them on his own. So that’s what he’s doing now, and I’m proud of him, too. It’s a real joy to see my boys reading on their own and loving it.

So without further ado, here is the complete list of novels I read in 2020, ordered chronologically. Titles in red are the books that I either read a second time or were not on the original list.

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Third) by Lemony Snicket
  3. The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman
  4. The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth) by Lemony Snicket
  5. The Dark Days Deceit (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman
  6. The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fifth) by Lemony Snicket
  7. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  8. The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman
  9. The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Sixth) by Lemony Snicket
  10. The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman
  11. The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Seventh) by Lemony Snicket
  12. The Dark Days Deceit (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman
  13. The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eighth) by Lemony Snicket
  14. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  15. The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Ninth) by Lemony Snicket
  16. Earth Unaware (The First Formic War #1) by Orson Scott Card
  17. The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Tenth) by Lemony Snicket
  18. The Giver (The Giver #1) by Lois Lowry
  19. The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eleventh) by Lemony Snicket
  20. Earth Afire (The First Formic War #2) by Orson Scott Card
  21. Earth Awakens (The First Formic War #3) by Orson Scott Card
  22. The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Twelfth) by Lemony Snicket
  23. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  24. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  25. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  26. The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
  27. The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith
  28. Stormbreaker (Alex Rider #1) by Anthony Horowitz
  29. The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith
  30. Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith
  31. Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4) by Robert Galbraith
  32. Gathering Blue (The Giver #2) by Lois Lowry
  33. Graceling (Graceling Realm #1) by Kristin Cashore
  34. Messenger (The Giver #3) by Lois Lowry
  35. Fire (Graceling Realm #2) by Kristin Cashore
  36. Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3) by Kristin Cashore
  37. Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers
  38. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers
  39. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers
  40. Son (The Giver #4) by Lois Lowry
  41. Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers
  42. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins
  43. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers
  44. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins
  45. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers
  46. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins
  47. The Tower of Nero (The Trials of Apollo #5) by Rick Riordan
  48. An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
  49. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games #0) by Suzanne Collins
  50. A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir

As you can see, 22 of the 50 books I read were unplanned. While I was worried that some of them might derail me from reaching my goal, I don’t regret reading them. (Okay, one exception—Stormbreaker, a school book for Peter that neither of us enjoyed.) When I saw that Erin Morgenstern had a new book, I had to get it, and The Starless Sea might be the best book I’ve ever read. Unless it’s The Night Circus. Yikes, she needs to get busy and write a bunch more.

Woo-Hoo! New Books for 2021

Now for 2021. I’m excited that some of my favorite authors have penned new books, some adding to ongoing series. That’s why I’m re-reading An Ember in the Ashes, the fourth book of which was recently published and is on this year’s list. There’s also a fifth novel in the Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) Cormoran Strike series. Since I just re-read the first three books over the summer in order for the story to be fresh for the new-to-me fourth book, I don’t need to re-read those. J.K Rowling also wrote a new book, The Ickabog, for families during the COVID lockdown. It was originally an online publication, and she held an illustration competition. The whole thing was published with beautiful color illustrations from the winners, and I just started reading it with my family today. A few chapters in, I’m reminded why Rowling is one of my favorite authors.

Other titles of interest: Christopher Paolini (author of the Eragon books) released a new book, unrelated to The Inheritance Cycle. I read S.J. Kincaid’s The Diabolic in 2019 and am finally collecting the other books in that trilogy. Years ago, my dad lent us the books from the Ender’s Game series, including spin-offs. I plan to finish those (one of which I just got for him for Christmas, so I’m going to have to borrow that when he’s done with it). I also plan to re-read Dune because—hello! Have you seen that they’re re-doing the movie? And of course, I need to have it fresh so I can get peeved every time the movie takes creative license. Actually, I have high hopes. Please don’t screw it up, new movie! (So when my dad reads this, please let me borrow Dune again, too.) There are other books I’ll re-read, since the list would be sparse, otherwise. (Hoping Diana Gabaldon publishes Outlander #9 in 2021 or early enough in 2022 that I won’t forget everything from the first eight books.) As always, I expect there will be a lot of red on here when I post what I read a year from now.

Until then, here’s my jumping off place (alpha by author):

  1. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  2. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  3. Children of the Fleet (Fleet School #1) by Orson Scott Card
  4. The Swarm (The Second Formic War #1) by Orson Scott Card
  5. The Hive (The Second Formic War #2) by Orson Scott Card
  6. Ready Player One (Ready Player One #1) by Ernest Cline
  7. Ready Player Two (Ready Player One #2) by Ernest Cline
  8. Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon
  9. Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon
  10. Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon
  11. Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon
  12. The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon
  13. A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) by Diana Gabaldon
  14. An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7) by Diana Gabaldon
  15. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander #8) by Diana Gabaldon
  16. Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike #5) by Robert Galbraith
  17. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  18. Dune (Dune Chronicles #1) by Frank Herbert
  19. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  20. The Empress (The Diabolic #2) by S.J. Kincaid
  21. The Nemesis (The Diabolic #3) by S.J. Kincaid
  22. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
  23. The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling
  24. A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir
  25. A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4) by Sabaa Tahir

If you know of a book that I should add, please let me know in the comments—I’m always looking for recommendations! Good reading in 2021.

It’s Okay to Leave Something in Your Inbox

Just so you know where my head is while I write this, I’m waiting for news that a very dear friend has passed from this world to the next. From COVID, of course. While I still plan to post my usual New Year’s book list, right now I’m feeling pretty somber. I certainly have a great deal of empathy for people who have already traveled this tough journey—or have yet to travel it.

Where to start? This time last year, we were celebrating the New Year with my husband’s parents and getting ready to embark on a three-day trip to Disney World with my parents. Other than some murmurs of a few cases of COVID from across the country, everything was status quo in Florida. Singing with the community chorale (the director of which is the good friend mentioned above). Church in the sanctuary with a full choir and no masks. In person piano lessons and a judged festival for my kids. Baseball practices—and my husband’s first opportunity ever to actually coach on one of the kids’ teams. School with all the kids in the classroom. Fill in the blank. At the chaperone meeting for my son’s school trip to Washington, D.C., someone asked if there was a contingency plan for a COVID outbreak (this was getting toward the end of February). We laughed it off. Within a few weeks, COVID had touched everyone in the country—whether it was because you or someone you knew had it, you found yourself suddenly having to open your own one-room schoolhouse in your kitchen, you lost your job or were furloughed, or you were busier than you’d ever been in your life because of your line of work. Most likely, you experienced a combination of the above with a few other morsels sprinkled in, like being cut off from loved ones in long-term care or having to drastically change wedding plans.

There have been times over the past year when I’ve felt like my life isn’t my own anymore, that I’m somehow living in limbo. “When all this is over” is the theme of the day. The problem is that when it is over (if it is), we’ll be so changed that we might not recognize our old lives. Will we ever be able to go places like the zoo on a whim, or will we forever be required to get a reservation in advance? And it’s not as if we get these months back, reclaim missed graduations and the births of grandbabies. It’s not as if loved ones will return to us. The hopelessness of this situation is enough to suck the life out of you if you’re not careful. And knowing that we’re all going through it in some capacity doesn’t really help much when you’re living it.

I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture of the whole year. 2020 was also a really productive—and often a good—year for me. Even though I haven’t posted many blogs, I’ve written more this year than I have since I went back to work full-time five years ago. I’ve read a lot of great books, too. I’ve seen both of my kids blossom in ways that they might not have in normal times because they’ve been forced to deal with situations beyond what we ever expected. And since we’re pretty much homebodies anyway, we’ve enjoyed much of our time at home together.

But there’s also that reminder—sometimes so far in the background that I almost miss it, sometimes so much in my face that I can hardly see anything else—that life is precious and fragile, and any one of us could go at any time. My family has faced sudden, tragic death on more occasions than I would wish on my worst enemy—and recently enough that my kids have experienced it, too. So why does it feel so different this year? I guess, in part, because many, many people have had COVID and survived. My husband even had a pretty bad exposure—and he didn’t get it. When you dodge a metaphorical bullet, you begin to feel bulletproof.

Since my friend’s downward spiral with COVID began, I have prayed harder for him and his family than I’ve ever prayed in my life. It truly has been a fight for his body, even now when he’s sedated. Every morning, the first thing I do is check my phone for an update, praying for a miracle. I’ve begged and pleaded with God, knowing that many other people have also begged and pleaded for the lives of their loved ones… to no avail. My prayer has been that he still has so much good he can do here, if only given the chance to live. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that when someone dies, God simultaneously welcomes a son or daughter home with joy, while also comforting those left to mourn. I just cannot believe (as ancient Greeks did, with their Fates) that our lives simply end when our Earthly work is done, whether that’s at birth or age 30 or age 90.

When I started my current job in my school’s business office several years ago, a co-worker gave me some words of encouragement when I commented that my workload was so different than when I was in the classroom. In the classroom, there were projects that each child needed to finish at a particular time. If not, they would never happen. When you’re done with the letter A, you move on to the letter B. Period. She reassured me that it’s normal to have something left to do in your inbox. You come back the next day and continue where you left off. While that may sound daunting to some—like the work never stops (it doesn’t)—it sounds like job security to me. There’s always something left to do.

In the same way, isn’t there always life left to live? Turn it around the other way and think of how bleak life would be if we didn’t have something left to do. (In fact, I think many people do feel this—as have I before my thyroid disease was diagnosed—but depression is a whole different post.) So while I might not understand why good people with so much life ahead of them die, it is somewhat of a comfort to know that those who leave full inboxes are in good company. But those inboxes—unfinished projects, unchecked lists, trips not taken, words not said—aren’t the only things left behind. There are also wonderful memories, incredible legacies, and small kindnesses that make life worth living to begin with. May 2021 be filled with such moments for you.

You Can’t Take NaNoWriMo from Me, 2020!

With all the crazy changes that 2020 has brought, I was determined to have one normal thing: National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. This year marked my eighth foray into the crazy undertaking of writing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. It was also my eighth win—yay!

With everything else that’s gone awry so far this year, I was worried that NaNoWriMo would be added to the list, especially since it’s been a struggle the last few years. NaNoWriMo 2019 was the ultimate low for me. I did have a good excuse, at least: last fall, I started grad school, and I wondered if I would be able to cobble together 50,000 words. But while grad school made finding time to write a challenge, it was my enthusiasm for the story itself that was the real reason for my struggle. I really had reservations when, 22 days in, I had only written 17,000 words. But I’m not one to quit when I say I’m going to do something, so I knuckled down and validated by the 29th of the month. It was a pretty miserable experience, honestly. I labored on after November, attempting to finish the book, and then—boom—COVID. When you’re writing a book set in 2020, and then a pandemic happens, it tends to kill an already-floundering storyline. I don’t know. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to go back and fix it.

Unfortunately, I was already on a downward spiral, with 2017 and 2018 being little better. Those two years, I actually wrote the same story. After 2017 lost its mojo, I decided to set it aside and start fresh for NaNoWriMo 2018. But even though I have two novels’ worth of material, I still have never been able to put it all together into one cohesive book.

I’ve had to face the reality that nothing will be like my first NaNoWriMo in 2013. That was the year I embraced what I thought was a completely insane experiment and started with a sprint—over 4700 typed on day one. And I hit 50,000 words just 14 days in. I’m realistic enough to know that that is not the standard to which I should hold myself, but still. I don’t want 2013 to be the one hit wonder of my NaNo experience.

Thank goodness it wasn’t. Although no subsequent year has been as easy as 2013, I finished writing each of my novels for 2014, ’15, and ’16 a few months after NaNoWriMo. And this year, I am determined to do the same. I can’t lie—it helps that I’ve taken a semester off from grad school this fall. Next year, I won’t be able to say the same. But for now, I am determined to enjoy my present success. I’ve already typed 57,000 words, and I haven’t grown weary of this story, as in the past several years. I’m excited to see where it takes me. (Hopefully not as unpredictable and outright nuts as this year, but I’m not counting anything out right now.) Right when I was beginning to fear that NaNoWriMo was just a chore, something from 2020 has finally given me hope.

If you’re a writer, I hope 2020 has provided some interesting fodder for your projects. Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? I’d love to know how you did!

Happy writing, friends.

Where Were You? Where Are You Now?

It was a Tuesday morning. I was eighteen, a college sophomore. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were in my crappy minivan, which only had a radio for entertainment. We’d tuned into a talk show, and we thought we were hearing some kind of sick joke. As I parked, we realized with complete disbelief—as one talk show host said a second plane had flown into the Twin Towers—that it was absolutely real. 

We were dumbfounded, numb. And since we were already at school, we headed toward our first class, hoping for some sort of clarity from our professor. Unfortunately, she had not been listening to the radio, and since she was running late, she rushed straight into class, never seeing another person before plowing right into the day’s lesson. Maybe she was a little miffed that her class of freshman and sophomores was a bit more subdued than usual, that we stared at her with incomprehension. That we dared to hope that, because the adult with the most authority in the room was proceeding like all was normal, maybe it actually was. The next time our class met, she apologized profusely and said that if she had known, she would have sent us all home.

Instead, we endured that class in a kind of limbo while the rest of the country sat glued to TVs, gathered in small groups, trying to process what was happening. When Thomas and I split up and headed to our next classes, we re-entered the flow of reality. In my class, all the TVs were on the news. Although I don’t remember any other students from that class, I remember the young military wife, tears streaming down her face as she looked at images of the Pentagon under attack, likely terrified for what this meant for her husband. The professor stood to the side, allowing us access to the TVs, explaining that classes were cancelled, but we were welcome to stay if we needed.

The rest of that week passed in a haze. I felt helpless as I watched people in New York searching fruitlessly for loved ones days after the last survivor was found. The one that stands out and still haunts me was a man with a picture of his wife. She was pregnant. That baby would have been an adult now. All that hope stolen from him and his family in a moment.

It’s not every year that I feel moved to share my thoughts and feelings about September 11, 2001, but this year is different. Not a particularly important anniversary year—nineteen—not like next year will be. But still, this is a year in which so much has changed for so many, and not just in our country. Around the world, people’s lives are drastically different than they were a mere six months ago. This is the year when, if something negative happens, you blame it on 2020.

So how does September 11th look this year? Bleaker because we’re already more somber? Or can we eek some glimmer of hope from the day? I am fortunate to know a girl who was born on this date, and while I’ve always felt a bit bad for her, my mindset is starting to shift. What a miracle, to welcome new life on the anniversary of such tragedy!

Recently, my pastor spoke of the human condition, specifically that propensity for humans to never be satisfied with what we have, even (and sometimes especially) when we have more than enough—and he’s right. On the anniversary of a day when so much was taken from us, what do we have left? And particularly on that anniversary in a year when many of us have lost [fill in the blank]—jobs, loved ones, milestones, time with family, normalcy—are we still supposed to be satisfied with what’s left? In my opinion, yes.

I am blessed to have my family, and so far, our health. My husband and I have our jobs, and our children are fortunate to be in schools that are looking after their well-being and their education. We have friends that care about us, even if we can’t see them. We have time together—more time this year than we’ve ever had. There are times when I’ve been bitter, dwelling on those other things that we don’t have, but I am choosing not to focus on those disappointments and lost opportunities.

I also have the capacity to remember, to spend a few moments honoring those who lost so much, to vow again to live with intent and purpose because I am blessed with life. It’s 2020. Anything can happen. Truly, anything can happen no matter what year it is. But this year—today—when I’m so much more cognizant of my mortality, I choose to celebrate being alive one more day in tribute of those who were not given that choice.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel…

Annoyed, to be honest. I admit, part of my annoyance is selfish because next week is our spring break. Thank goodness we’re not big spring break travelers, but I did have quite a few activities planned for our stay-cation, and I don’t know how many of them we’ll actually get to do because people have lost their heads, and everything is closing. My younger son was looking forward to seeing the dinosaur exhibit at our zoo, but now that’s not going to happen. Even some Florida beaches are closed, and although I’m about the last person you’ll ever see on a beach, restricting people from the outdoors, from fresh air and sun, seems like one of the worst ideas to me. (Read about sun therapy here, and thanks to Heather for sharing it to begin with.)

As a planner, I’m always the first to sign up for things, but that one got me hard this week when a race my elder son participates in every year (and placed second in last year) was cancelled. No make-up date, no refunds. I’m grateful I didn’t pre-purchase anything for the upcoming week (mainly because I wasn’t sure when my husband would be able to take off work and join us). Now, if we’re able to do anything, I’ll pay on-site.

I understand closing Disney World for 14 days. That should be enough time to ensure that any possible lingering virus in the air is gone, and when it re-opens, I am sure there will be all kinds of measures in place to ensure guests are virus-free. Likewise, I get postponing events that attract a lot of people and suspending activities like my kids’ baseball practices and games until early April. Sometimes you have to use precautions like these to save people from themselves. But cancelling the rest of the NBA’s season? Couldn’t they just come back in early April like everyone else (after ensuring all players are well) and extend it a couple weeks? May I remind you that the NBA didn’t let Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis stop them.

TP-meme1And then there’s the absolute absurdity of the toilet paper shortage. Even though I think over-publicity has to do with much of the pandemonium we’re experiencing, this one even baffled the news anchors on the local new station I watch every morning. “We didn’t say it was that kind of a virus,” one of them said the other day. What idiot decided that this was the hot commodity everyone had to have, and why did the rest of the country buy into it? Hand sanitizer I get—even bleach—but TP? I’m scratching my head over that one and just grateful that I had a coupon a few weeks ago and bought in bulk. If you need toilet paper, skip the crazy, and come to my house; I will be glad to give you some.

I went grocery shopping today, and at my first stop, there was plenty of everything (even a pretty good selection of toilet paper still on the shelves). At the entrance to the store, though, the station with sanitary wipes for grocery cart handles was missing. I waited with a couple other customers while a store employee replaced them. The worker explained that they have to replace the wipes every couple hours because people are pulling out wipe after wipe, storing them in bags, and taking them home. She also said that one woman was in the bathroom, filling a bottle with soap from the store’s soap dispenser, and another was taking toilet paper from the stalls—when there was plenty of toilet paper on the shelves! And this was the best of the four stores I visited. As a writer, I have a kind of morbid fascination with people watching, but the insanity I witnessed today is the precursor to people self-destructing. If something like an actual zombie apocalypse were to ever happen, I fear the level of hysteria would be even worse than what our most far-fetched movies depict.

Which brings me to what really bothers me about this Coronavirus debacle—the impact on our economy. People have made it obvious that they’re willing to steal items that are both cheap and available, but aside from this abhorrent behavior, what about those sole proprietors and small businesses that are losing business because people are now too scared to go about their daily lives (albeit a little more cautiously)? Even with measures put in place to ensure workers are paid when businesses close (like at Disney), some businesses are so small that they can’t afford this. How can a private music teacher, for instance, pay herself when her students have been scared into staying at home?

Our world has suffered worse pandemics. Yes, people traveling and not knowing they had Coronavirus helped it spread globally, but people seem to be forgetting about the regular diseases that are always around and are more contagious and have a higher mortality rate. No one is flipping out about them. The flu has killed—and will continue to kill—people for years, and we’re just like, Stay home. Drink plenty of fluids. For that matter, I’m more worried about leaving my house and getting hit by a drunk driver than being sneezed on by someone who might be sick—and I have an autoimmune disease, people.

You may think I’m not taking this seriously, but I do care. I count the seconds now when I wash my hands—and send my kids back to the bathroom to make sure they do the same. We’re gearing up for at least two weeks at home (after spring break, they’ll be engaged in distance learning because life has to go on), and what that looks like is a little self-discipline to make sure they get their work done, time to play outside because they’ll get tired of being cooped up, more time to actually cook because I won’t be commuting, and six cases of toilet paper because… oh, wait. Never do we ever need six cases of toilet paper at once. You won’t find us locked in a bunker, chewing our fingernails until someone swoops in and tells us it’s safe to come out. As a friend pointed out recently, there are many people who are immunocompromised, and they’ve learned how to live in a world that’s not exactly immuno-friendly. I think we can all take a lesson from them. Wash your hands, folks, and have a little common sense.

TP-meme2

What to Read in 2020…

I am pleased to say (and this doesn’t happen often), that I finished all the books from my 2019 book list. (Just finished the last two yesterday, but finished is finished!) I started grad school in August, and it really derailed my pleasure reading, but I anticipated this when I created my book list; I’d already finished most of my list before then. (I’m also happy to report that, out of all the books I read, only two disappointed, The Circle and The Girl In the Spider’s Web.)

Of the two books that I finished at the last minute, I didn’t even receive Rick Riordan’s The Trials of Apollo Book 4: The Tyrant’s Tomb until Christmas. And by “receive,” I mean that my husband and I each wanted the same books, so rather than each of us buying the same thing for the other, I bought them both, wrapped them, and stuck them under the tree for us. I didn’t even succumb to temptation and start reading before I wrapped them.

The other book that I finished yesterday was the last of the Artemis Fowl series, The Last Guardian. I read this series years ago and thought my pre-teen son would enjoy them. It’s taken a while to get through all eight books, but we enjoyed reading them together. He’s dyslexic and comprehends texts best when they’re read to him. Although he has an app that reads to him, I will continue reading with him as long as he lets me. He’s into World War II right now, so a couple novels on this year’s list are re-reads for me that I’m looking forward to introducing to Peter.

Another series I re-read this year was Harry Potter (the first four books of which I’ve now read 13 times). I read it to Peter when he was in the second grade, so now that Ian is in the second grade, it was his turn. We read the first three books in the Jim Kay illustrated format—they’re gorgeous. I knew that the boys would receive the fourth illustrated one for Christmas and asked Ian if he would like to wait to get it before we read on, but he couldn’t wait that long. Instead, we plowed through books four through seven, finishing before Christmas. His imagination is vivid enough that he had no trouble making it through them. (But we have the illustrated version of The Goblet of Fire now, and it’s spectacular.)

Jim Kay Diagon Alley illustration

Diagon Alley, as illustrated by Jim Kay

 

Following are the novels I read in 2019 (in the order I read them—the ones in red text are the extras that weren’t on the original list):

  1. Shadow Puppets (The Shadow Series #3) by Orson Scott Card
  2. The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo #3) by Rick Riordan
  3. Shadow of the Giant (The Shadow Series #4) by Orson Scott Card
  4. Dog Man and Cat Kid (Dog Man #4) by Dav Pilkey
  5. Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series #5) by Orson Scott Card
  6. Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
  7. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  8. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  9. The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
  10. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer
  11. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  12. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  13. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  14. Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton
  15. Nil (Nil #1) by Lynne Matson
  16. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  17. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  18. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) by Stieg Larsson
  19. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium #2) by Stieg Larsson
  20. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
  21. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Millennium #3) by Stieg Larsson
  22. Refugee by Alan Gratz
  23. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz
  24. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
  25. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  26. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  27. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
  28. Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown
  29. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  30. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  31. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer
  32. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  33. Dark Age (Red Rising Saga #5) by Pierce Brown
  34. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  35. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  36. The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman
  37. The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First) by Lemony Snicket
  38. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  39. The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Second) by Lemony Snicket
  40. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer
  41. The Tyrant’s Tomb (The Trials of Apollo #4) by Rick Riordan

And now for the 2020 list. It may seem long, but all the Unfortunate Events books are ones I’m reading with Ian (after Harry Potter, he’s stuck on series). Otherwise, my list is modest because I know my time will be limited. I’m looking forward to continuing several series and reading some books that are new to me. I also hope I can carve out some time to re-read some favorites.

On the left is the book I just started (it’s really good!)… and another one that I’ll be starting soon. (Yep, more testing awaits. But when I’m done with adding to my certification, I hope to be done with testing centers for a while.) IMG_5745

Without further ado, here’s what I hope to read this year (alpha by author):

  1. Earth Unaware (The First Formic War #1) by Orson Scott Card
  2. Earth Afire (The First Formic War #2) by Orson Scott Card
  3. Earth Awakens (The First Formic War #3) by Orson Scott Card
  4. Graceling (Graceling Realm #1) by Kristin Cashore
  5. Fire (Graceling Realm #2) by Kristin Cashore
  6. Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3) by Kristin Cashore
  7. Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4) by Robert Galbraith
  8. The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman
  9. The Dark Days Deceit (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman
  10. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  11. Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers
  12. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers
  13. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers
  14. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  15. The Tower of Nero (The Trials of Apollo #5) by Rick Riordan
  16. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  17. The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Third) by Lemony Snicket
  18. The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth) by Lemony Snicket
  19. The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fifth) by Lemony Snicket
  20. The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Sixth) by Lemony Snicket
  21. The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Seventh) by Lemony Snicket
  22. The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eighth) by Lemony Snicket
  23. The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Ninth) by Lemony Snicket
  24. The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Tenth) by Lemony Snicket
  25. The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eleventh) by Lemony Snicket
  26. The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Twelfth) by Lemony Snicket
  27. The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
  28. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

What titles are on your list this year? Happy reading!

NaNoWriMo 2019 Recap (Finally)

NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner Banner

I figured that I should probably address what happened during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year before it rolls around again next year—so three-plus week late is better than never, right? My tardiness is an indication of how busy I was in November. And nothing’s going to change for as long as I’m in grad school (so forever, maybe).

My first year, NaNoWriMo 2013, was ridiculously easy; I validated on the 14th of the month. I wrote NaNoWriMo 2014 at more of a normal pace—not really a struggle, although not as easy as the first. The real difficulty was two years ago. I struggled just to validate and then lost my enthusiasm shortly afterward. With my previous four books, I finished each manuscript, even if it took several months. But in 2017, I gave up and decided to start the same novel over again in 2018. I validated on November 29th, but the results were little better than the previous year. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish that book.

Last spring, a scene with characters I’d never before imagined popped into my head. After jotting it down and giving it some thought, I realized it has novel-scope potential. I decided to save it for NaNoWriMo 2019. For the first three days, I kept up with my word count, and all was well. But starting day four… well, let’s just say that there were some days in November when I wrote less than 100 words. All along, I had prepared to catch up Thanksgiving week, when I would be off work and finally have some “free” time.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving was late this year. If I didn’t finish by that Saturday,  I would fail at NaNoWriMo for the first time in my personal history. And since I am generally only competitive with myself, this was not an option I liked to consider.

Look at how much I had to write in the last week of November by checking out this handy graph from the NaNoWriMo.org website:

NaNoWriMo 2019 Graph Every time I updated my word count, I had a visual that showed me exactly how far behind I was—and how much behinder I’d gotten since the previous day. By the time I got to that last week of November, I knew I had to write almost 5000 words per day in order to win. I really wanted to finished by the 29th, just to make sure, so it was a lot of pressure.

Let’s just say that I didn’t do much homework that week. Which left me extremely behind and staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning the following weekend, when my final project was due. But I did validate my novel and finish my project on time. I’m also glad to say that I’m still plugging away at this year’s book. I might actually finish it before NaNoWriMo 2020.

The Scariest Halloween Ever

NaNoWriMo 2019 Writer

Okay, it’s not actually scary because it’s Halloween. It’s scary because tomorrow is November 1st, and I am NOT prepared for NaNoWriMo 2019. Do I know what I’m going to write? Yes. A scene popped into my head in the spring, and I realized that this would be a great story to pursue for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I even managed to abstain from writing furiously, which is my normal behavior when a brainwave happens. Then again, I’m not sure when I would have had the time.

I started grad school in August. Only one class, folks, and it’s kicking my butt. Not that it’s so difficult, really, just that it’s online, and I never know if what I’m doing is what the professor expects. And then there’s just no time. I haven’t done homework in a week, and I have a really huge project looming. When’s it due? You guessed it: November.

But, I can’t not participate. When I told my husband I’d signed up a few weeks ago, he thought I was crazy. I am. Totally a nutcase. But I do get a whole week off at Thanksgiving, so you’d better believe I’ll use it. You may not hear much (if anything) from me until after then because, between work, two kids, basketball play-offs, piano lessons, play and choir practices, teaching Sunday school, meetings, and trying to find socks that match, for goodness’ sake, I won’t have two spare seconds to rub together.

Good luck to all my writers-in-arms. Next time you see me, I’ll likely have half the normal amount of hair and twice the normal amount of baggage under my eyes.

Sincerely,

The Crazy Person

What’s My Twitter Handle Again?

Twitter for Teachers

I’m doing something I said I would never do: I’m going back to school. Grad school, that is. I can’t make a judgment call yet because I’m at the beginning of this long journey. It’s possible that my second grader will get his Masters degree before I do. But. I started.

I’m taking a course called Literacy and Technology, which I find both fascinating and helpful because tech intimidates me. I am certainly no pioneer, eager to try every new thing put out by Apple or Samsung or Microsoft. Once I get comfortable with a particular technology, platform, or device, I’ll stick with it until it dies or I do.

I understand that I’m admitting to be a paradoxical, Millennial dinosaur. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may remember that I love physical books—you know, made of this archaic material called paper. But I happen to have a son who is dyslexic, and paper books are a trial for him. This does not mean, however, that he has to hate books. He’s almost 12, but I still read aloud to him, sharing some of my favorite stories that I don’t want him to miss out on. Fortunately, current technology has progressed so that he doesn’t have to put me in his backpack and take me everywhere when he needs to read. As the saying goes, there’s an app for that, and he has a handy one called Learning Ally that can read texts for him, both fiction and non-fiction. And that’s just one example of many that can help people like Peter.

How appropriate that my first class is introducing me to all kinds of tech and new ideas about how to best utilize it in the classroom. This week’s focus: creating educational content via blogs, microblogs, and video. In a time when schools either have some sort of computer device in most classrooms or actually require students to bring their own, this is a hot and often controversial topic. Cyber ethics and safety and online research are normal parts of children’s curriculum now. It’s not just Solitaire and Oregon Trail anymore, which were the main reasons I used computers when I was a tween.

The advantages of creating and using online content are many. If you’re curious about an educational topic, someone else has probably already posted something about it. All you have to do is search. And then comment. Or retweet. Or subscribe and share. Then give it your own personal twist; use it; post the results. The information accumulates, is shared again, and this is the beauty of live content, versus a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica that cost a pile of money in the 1970s and hasn’t been updated since then because of said pile of money.

Instead of debating whether this kind of technology would be allowed at my school, let’s go by the assumption that it would, and I have a classroom of students who are old enough to use blogs, microblogs, and videos. In this scenario, which medium would I prefer, and why? After studying all three methods, my answer today is a little different than it was this time last week.

Going in to this topic, I was very familiar with blogs. I mean, here I am, writing one. And despite being less active this year than I’ve been since starting Full-Time Writer Mom in 2012, I am still most comfortable with this medium. I pride myself on thinking carefully about each topic; that’s why I no longer write weekly. For a while, coming up with a topic felt forced. I decided to only write something when I felt moved to do so. The problem, of course, was that when I got out of the habit, it was easy to make excuses, to continue to not post.

But what if I were able to use this platform in the classroom? I discovered a couple new blogs this week that spoke to the book lover in me, A Mighty Girl and School Library Journal. I am seriously considering going back and re-certifying so I can teach 4th, 5th, or 6th grade language arts (I’m currently only certified through 3rd grade). Not only would these blogs and ones like them be a great resource for me in the classroom, but what if I could expand this blog to help other teachers? This is very appealing to me, something I feel I could do well and with relative ease.

Next: Twitter and microblogging. As the name suggests, microblogging is blogging, but on a tiny scale. And I’ll admit that, although I do have a Twitter account, I never use it. Why? I guess because I’m unfamiliar with it, intimidated. Please refer to when I said that I get comfortable with something and like to stick with it. I’m comfortable with Facebook. Not Instagram, not LinkedIn, not Twitter. I have accounts with them all, but I’m sadly MIA in most. My fault. I know they’re all good resources, so I need to make myself become more familiar, push myself out of my comfort zone. But Twitter specifically really gets me because I’m verbose. If the rule were to keep tweets down to 140 words, I’d still have a problem. But 140 characters?

This is a challenge I need to tackle, and I became convinced of this when I read about English teacher and author Kate Messner and how she got her class involved with Twitter. By creating an account for her class, she was able to have them join in on a conversation about one of the books they were reading with the book’s author and editor. While an argument can be made that social media isolates people, when used correctly, Twitter can connect people who, otherwise, might never meet. While I think it’s cool for the occasional author to comment on one of my reviews on Goodreads, that’s nothing to having a real-time conversation like Messner’s class had. This would have been a dream come true when I was a kid. (Okay, it still is. I really need to get busy on Twitter.)

The last medium, video, is the one with which I am least comfortable, although I certainly appreciate its uses. My children have a few people they follow on YouTube, mainly adult gamers who play Minecraft or Roblox (MC Naveed and Pat and Jen are the biggies). My seven-year-old has learned how to create some amazing structures on Minecraft just from watching their videos. Are they entertaining? Undoubtedly. Do they also happen to be instructional? Actually, yes. I think a downside is, however, there’s so much inappropriate video content out there. Sometimes Ian will be in the middle of watching someone build something (not from the two mentioned above), and then a swear word comes out. And Mom Police immediately shuts it down.

Still, could I preview content and share what I deem appropriate in the classroom? I could, as well as use it for professional development. But could I create my own YouTube channel, my own content? Well… that’s where I’m unsure. I can do live videos on Facebook within a closed group, where my audience is small, familiar. Do I want to put myself out there, have my face on everything I produce? Because that’s what I see whenever I view someone else’s YouTube channel: faces. It seems kind of narcissistic. I know this bias shouldn’t make me leery of this medium, but it does. For now, let’s just say that I am more willing to be a consumer than a producer. But do I dare say “never”? Well, look at what happened when I said I wouldn’t ever go back to school…

Hunkerin’

hurricane-dorian-1.jpg

Dorian, where are you?

I got married in what I call the Year of the Hurricane (2004). Within a few weeks that fall, four hurricanes hit Florida, devastating mainly the central corridor of our state. Where I live, we were lucky to be tucked away in a spot that rarely receives a direct hit. Still, we received wind and rains from the outer bands of those storms, resulting in loss of power for days on end. How did we fare? Pretty well. In our early 20s, Thomas and I weren’t concerned about water bottles or extra batteries. We had everything we needed in our tiny apartment: doughnuts, pizza, sodas, candles, and Scrabble. We played endless games of the latter until we decided it might be nice to have A/C and a warm shower and relocated to his parents’ house, where they never lost power.

Fast forward to the last few years. My kids think that hurricane days are an adventure, but talks of school closing put me on edge. As someone who works at said school, I know that days off don’t come for free. And then there was the time that the kids and I actually evacuated. The way Hurricane Matthew’s track looked, we thought we would get a direct hit. We pulled all our pictures off the walls and put valuables on top of our beds in case the house flooded. The boys and I headed to central Florida, where it was sunny and hot, while Thomas had to stay put, due to his job. He had everything staged for if he had to abandon the house and head for a shelter, but the worst thing that happened was that A/C unit outside flooded, so he went without air for a couple days.

Thank goodness for modern technology that (usually) lets us know when major weather events will happen. But that still doesn’t remove nature’s unpredictability factor. A few months after Hurricane Matthew, a microburst struck our side of town out of nowhere. Listening to wind and hail beat all four sides of the house, I thought it was a tornado. Thomas was just down the street at the time, and a tree fell right in front of his car. When I left for work the next morning, our neighborhood looked like a war zone. Every house had lost at least a portion of fence, not to mention trees and large limbs.

Hurricane Dorian 2For Dorian, we never considered evacuating, but we did prepare for our neighborhood to flood and for an extended power outage. A hard rain can back up our storm drains, and our power has been known to go out when it’s not even raining. But it hasn’t flickered once, and today there was hardly any wind and just light, drizzly rain. We cancelled our Labor Day weekend vacation and stayed in town, and… nothing happened. At least not here. I feel for the people of the Bahamas, and I’ve since heard that cruise ship lines are responding with aid to those devastated by this slow-moving storm.

I started grad school (online) last week, and with that added activity, I now have at least one obligation every weeknight (and sometimes I’m double-booked). But since last Friday, my schedule has been clear. So what have we done? Thomas and I taught the boys how to play Scrabble. Our back patio got a top-to-bottom cleaning. And we’ve read. A lot. When I realized that we would have so many days at home—and there’s no guarantee I’ll get such dedicated reading time again for a while—I decided that the boys and I would finish the books we’re reading together, and I would try to finish my own novel, as well.

One of the greatest joys of being a mom is sharing my favorite books with my kids. Over a year ago, I started on the Artemis Fowl series with Peter. We’ve had to take breaks to fit in required reading for school, but we’re now just a few pages away from finishing The Time Paradox, the sixth of this eight-book series. I was determined that we’d finish the series before the end of the year when I wrote this year’s book list (read that post here). After that, I want to pull out some of my favorite historical fiction; Peter’s begun to take an interest in World War II.

Ian and I started reading Harry Potter just before the school year started. He’s in the Harry Pottersecond grade, and that’s when I read them to Peter. These are the first longer chapter books Ian’s read, and I worried that they might bore him; after all, he’s my ADHD kid who could never sit still for me to read to him when he was a baby. It does help that we have the beautifully illustrated Jim Kay versions (for the first three books), but even on the pages without illustrations, Ian is rapt. Many times, he’s asked me to read just a few more pages, or he’s carried the giant book to me, singing the Harry Potter movie theme. I feel like I’ve done something right because he told me a few days ago that he thinks the books are better than the movies because they made more effort with the books.

I feel guilty for getting so much time off when there was absolutely no reason for it. But how can you know? Not to mention that there are many people in my area who live in flood zones and aren’t as lucky. So the whole community has to abide by this schedule (and pray we don’t succumb to cabin fever). So I’m off now to read another chapter or two. Four books to go until I finish my 2019 book list!

Hurricane Dorian 3