FTWM’s 2018 Book List

Hello, 2018!

I’ll have to start by saying that I’m slightly disappointed in myself; I did not finish reading all of my books on my 2017 book list. As of last week, I was holding onto the faint hope that I might be reading the last book on my list at the turn of the new year, but alas, I am reading the second to last. Still, I did read every single new book on my list, at least.

So what novels did I read in 2017? Here follows the list in the order in which I read them (and if you want to see my original list, click here—you’ll see I read eight titles not on the original list, so I really can’t feel too bad):

  1. Children of the Mind (Ender’s Saga #4) by Orson Scott Card
  2. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  3. First Meetings in Ender’s Universe (Ender’s Saga #0.5) by Orson Scott Card
  4. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
  5. Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
  6. A War of Gifts: An Ender Story (Ender’s Saga #1.1) by Orson Scott Card
  7. Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan
  8. Red Queen (Red Queen #1) by Victoria Aveyard
  9. Dog Days (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #4) by Jeff Kinney
  10. Ender in Exile (Ender’s Saga #1.2) by Orson Scott Card
  11. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  12. Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard
  13. An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
  14. A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir
  15. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  16. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
  17. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Rats of NIMH #1) by Robert C. O’Brien
  18. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
  19. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
  20. Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
  21. I Survived the Joplin Tornado, 2011 (I Survived #12) by Lauren Tarshis
  22. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  23. The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan
  24. The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book II) by Rick Riordan
  25. The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
  26. You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
  27. Starflight (Starflight #1) by Melissa Landers
  28. D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire
  29. The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan
  30. Starfall (Starflight #2) by Melissa Landers
  31. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  32. This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by Victoria Schwab
  33. The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1) by Evelyn Skye
  34. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  35. Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan
  36. The Dog Who Thought He Was Santa by Bill Wallace
  37. The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book I) by Jonathan Stroud
  38. The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
  39. Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle
  40. Red Rising by Pierce Brown

You may notice that many of the books I read are from series. Some are new series that I stumbled upon, and I just couldn’t help but buy the next book, which may be why I was set back a little at end of the year. Some of the books, to be honest, are already in my pile of books to pass on to someone else. I suppose it would be too good to be true to hope that every book I read is a winner. There are also quite a few titles that I would not have read if it weren’t for my 10-year-old wanting me to read with him. And as long as he wants me to, I will be glad to oblige.

Christmas Books 2017

Christmas Books!

Excepting the second and third books of the Red Rising series, this year’s list contains all new books for a change. One is not a novel (and yes, I do read non-fiction, although I don’t list it here unless it’s writing-related). Some books are parts of series that I started in 2017, so I can’t promise I won’t re-read those earlier books, but here’s hoping I can mostly stay on track. Included in this list is my latest pile of borrowed books from my media specialist cousin-in-law (pictured here from a post last summer). My Christmas books were also plentiful this year, as well. I received every one I wanted, plus a couple surprises.

So here is my 2018 book list (alpha by author):

  1. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  2. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  4. Passenger (Passenger #1) by Alexandra Bracken
  5. Golden Son (Red Rising Saga #2) by Pierce Brown
  6. Morning Star (Red Rising Saga #3) by Pierce Brown
  7. Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown
  8. Ender’s Shadow (The Shadow Series #1) by Orson Scott Card
  9. Shadow of the Hegemon (The Shadow Series #2) by Orson Scott Card
  10. Shadow Puppets (The Shadow Series #3) by Orson Scott Card
  11. Shadow of the Giant (The Shadow Series #4) by Orson Scott Card
  12. Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series #5) by Orson Scott Card
  13. The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
  14. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  15. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  16. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  17. Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton
  18. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  19. The Ugly Truth (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5) by Jeff Kinney
  20. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz
  21. Nil (Nil #1) by Lynne Matson
  22. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  23. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  24. The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan
  25. The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book III) by Rick Riordan
  26. Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark #1) by Victoria Roth
  27. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  28. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
  29. Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab
  30. The Crown’s Fate (The Crown’s Game #2) by Evelyn Skye
  31. A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir

This is a shorter list than those of the past couple years because working full-time, year-round has decimated my free time, but I hope I’ll be able to stick to it and maybe have some room to intersperse some unplanned surprise titles.

I hope you’re inspired to read something you’ll fall in love with this year. Happy reading in 2018!


From Resolution to Habit

Social Media IllustrationsIt was almost one year ago when I posted about my (pre)New Year’s resolution. And since it has almost been a year, I figured I would give an update, just in case anyone remembers or cares. (Read the original post here.)

I have, in fact, kept my resolution to be less dependent on social media/my iPhone. In fact, within a couple months of making this resolution, a friend told me she had decided to give up Facebook for Lent. At the time, I felt somewhat smug: I didn’t need to give it up because I had already majorly dialed back my social media usage. After the 40 days were up, I asked her if she missed Facebook, and she said that she didn’t; she had deleted the app from her phone and felt no urge to download it again. After breaking the habit, she wasn’t eager to start it again.

It reminded me of my relationship with food. By cutting out most carbs and sugars over the past year, not only have I lost weight that I thought I would have to carry around forever, but I’ve lost the urge to eat carbs and sugars. No more crazy cravings, no more roaring hunger. Even though I could “afford” to cheat a little, I don’t want to.

These aren’t just “I wish I could” resolutions that look good from the perspective of December 31st. While it feels too grandiose to say that they are paradigm shifts, they definitely take resolve (hello). What we consume—both physically and mentally—contributes to our lifestyles, and if you want to be more than one of the huge percentage of people whose resolutions are laughable, you have to be willing to make a shift—and not shift back.

When my teaching position transitioned into a year-round, full-time job late in the spring, I realized that I needed to tighten down on what free time I had left. While I didn’t feel the need to cut out social media altogether, leaving my phone in a different room overnight and in my purse when out with my family wasn’t enough. So I made a new, mid-year resolution: only check Facebook once a day. What this looks like is that I now check my notifications once (usually in the morning), and if I have a couple spare minutes, I scroll through a couple new posts. I even moved Facebook out of my iPhone’s home row, so it’s not a one-click option anymore. While it bothered me at first that I wouldn’t be as “in touch” anymore, I find that I really don’t miss it. If ever I’m curious about whether a friend finally had her baby, for example, I’ll search for that friend. I am no longer a social media tool; it is a tool that I can use when I choose.

Call me a bad Millennial—it won’t hurt my feelings—I’ve always known I was more of an old-fashioned girl. With my kids getting older and closer to that age when they’ll want smartphones of their own, I resolve to be the example of a person who uses technology responsibly, and I hope they will follow suit.

It Feels Like a Good Day to Write 50,000 Words

NaNoWriMo 2017 Badge

Okay, first off, I didn’t write 50,000 words today. As of this moment, I’ve written 2650 words today, but right around word 2550, I had 50,000 in my word bank, which means that I won NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2017!

If you read my last post (click here), you know that I was really taking a giant leap this year, working with little more than an idea I’d gotten from a dream. (And my husband can attest that some of my dreams are really strange and don’t necessarily lend themselves to coherent narratives.)

NaNoWriMo 2017 graph

NaNoWriMo 2017 Word Count Graph

Add to that the challenge of this November’s brutal lack of free time, and I was lucky to keep up with the requisite 1667 words per day. In fact, I only kept up through day 15, as you can see in the 2017 graph. That nice diagonal line that’s going up? The bar for every day needs to reach that diagonal line in order to keep up with the word count. As you can see, I took a little dip for a few days. There was even one day when I only typed 201 words. Yikes.

And this was uncharted territory for me. Never before have I fallen behind. Usually I’m just ahead (see my 2016 graph below—and I thought that novel was hard to write), but sometimes I’m way ahead. (See 2013—doesn’t that make you sick? I don’t know how I managed that except to say that I had inspiration strike just about every day.)

NaNoWriMo 2016 graph

NaNoWriMo 2016 Word Count Graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 Word Count Graph

On Thanksgiving evening, my dad asked me what my word count was, and at the time, it was only about 33,500 (which I admitted with a cringe). Already, I had a plan to write 2500 that night and the following three nights, which would put me at 43,500 before I had to go back to work and reality on Monday. That would allow me to breathe a little, and I would only have to write a little over 2000 words for the next three days, thus giving me a tiny bit of cushion, and I would validate on the 29th.

Now it’s time to admit to why I had fallen so far behind, something that’s a huge NaNoWriMo no-no. About 25,000 words in, I realized I had a major flaw in my (half-written) novel and decided that, instead of tackling it in the editing stage, I would go ahead and fix it. Yep. That’s the OCD at work. Of course, I used the opportunity, while going back, to add scenes and fluff when- and wherever I could, but a lot of it was just reading, looking for the flaw, and fixing it.

Thanksgiving night, I decided I couldn’t afford to edit anymore, fast-forwarded to the end of my story, and just started typing thousands of words of info-dump back story. Yes, much of it will be woven into the larger story, so it won’t seem as dump-y in the end (I hope), but for now, I just need the words. (I even left in an entire scene that really needs to go, but I’m being a good girl and ignoring it for now.)

By Friday, I felt like I had enough words down that I went back and finished the edit, then started moving forward again. Yesterday, the epiphanies started to hit—finally! it only took 40,000 word to get there—and I wrote over 7000 words in one day. Whew. I can’t tell you the relief I feel. Meeting today’s word count was a breeze, and now the rest of my writing won’t feel as much “have to” as “want to.”

So if you’re stuck, if you can’t see the light at the end of your tunnel, stick with it! I promise you’ll be glad you ventured into the scary, dark unknown of your novel-in-progress. It’s Rainbow-Unicornland on the other side.

It’s Almost November! (This Happens Every Year)


I’ve come to the critical time of October when the anticipation of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo, aka November) is putting me in an almost constant state of anxiety/excitement. Part of me wonders why I do this to myself—after all, couldn’t I pick any 30 days during the calendar year to start a novel from scratch and complete 50,000 words? Now that I’m working a full-time job for the first time in almost 10 years, the pressure is more acute than ever. It certainly would be easier to do this over the summer, when my kids have fewer events that require my attention.

But the greater part of me can’t wait for it to happen. There’s something about November that’s magical. It’s always been this way for me. There’s the possibility of cooler weather (yes, it’s only a possibility in northeast Florida) and the certainty of my favorite holidays ahead. I can bake pumpkin things without feeling weird about it, and I have my kids’ birthdays to look forward to. Even though I’m always crazy-busy and feel like I have zero spare minutes for me, adding this event that is only for me is a challenge to which I eagerly look forward.

Maybe other introverts will understand. Although NaNoWriMo is a community event, what with writers from all over the world participating, introverts are free to sign up and write behind the scenes. Yes, I update my word count online and post about my progress upon occasion, but otherwise, it’s a solitary event. The fact that I’m operating within my little bubble yet still accountable makes me push myself more than I would if I just decided to start a book tomorrow and finish 30 days later.

It presents a different set of challenges. If you’ve read my previous posts about NaNoWriMo over the years, you know that I don’t do a lot of prep. I’m not one for elaborate outlines, plotting every little twist and turn and then filling in the prose on day one. When I first participated in 2013, I had a book-size idea just days before November first and signed up on a whim. The following two years, I wrote books two and three of that trilogy—challenging, but at least I was dealing with characters with whom I was familiar. Last year, I wrote a book about which I’d been thinking for over a year, and I was bursting with ideas. Although every year after the first has been a challenge, I’ve always won.

This year’s novel… well, it’s going to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants composition. The premise is based on a dream I had several months ago. (Other writers, do you do this? Turn your dreams into stories?) I woke up and wrote down some elements and decided that another idea I’d had for a character quirk would work well with that scenario… and that’s it. It’s basically a scene. And a scene from the end, best I can tell. How do I start this thing? How do I build the characters and get them where they need to be and make it readable?

In the end, I don’t have to. That’s a challenge for the editing stage, which is months away. I have to hold all my thoughts together for a few more days and then let them flow from my brain to my fingertips and into Word starting on November first. If all I do is string together 50,000 words of scenes, I will win. Maybe I’ll surprise myself. Maybe golden prose will flow forth, and… who am I kidding? The manuscript is sure to be disjointed and chaotic, and this OCD girl is ready to embrace the messiness of it (with rubber gloves on, of course). Stay tuned.


“Wow, You Really Like Books, Don’t You?”


New Stack of Books 2017

Books I can’t wait to read!

The title of this post is what my cousin said to me recently when I was at his house, returning a pile of books that his wife had lent me. And then because she has some sort of wicked sixth sense about her, she guessed that I might appreciate even more books, so she blessed me with another pile of loaner teen fiction. This is third such pile of books she’s let me borrow in the past couple years, and my cousin knows this, but I think this was the first time he was actually in the room while I eagerly accepted the books, all but bursting with delight to have my hands on more stuff to read.

If you know me, you know that I always have a book on hand. Nothing will stop me from reading. In fact, I finished one book and started another when I was in the delivery room, hours away from giving birth to my first baby. It’s a serious thing to me. (Some might call it a problem.) But I guess it’s different to witness me grabbing all the books I can get my hands on, a manic gleam in my eye, as if I’m on an episode of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

Now before anyone gets onto me for starting on a new pile of books before finishing what I set out to read at the beginning of the year, I will say that even though it’s killing me, I will read (or try my best to read) everything on my 2017 list before I get started on this latest stack of potential goodness. That’s not to say that I’ve been good and haven’t detoured at all. I have. The problem is that so many of the books from this year’s list are the first book of a series, and if I like a series, well… let’s just say that my bookshelf real estate is dwindling.

This could be a problem, having enough time to read everything I own. I was really worried when my position at work changed from teacher to admin support, which puts me in the office year-round. But I am not to be deterred. Maybe I’m not blogging as often, but I am reading and writing with as much gusto as ever.

It’s well past the halfway point of the year, so of the 34 books on my list, I should have read more than 17, correct? And I am happy to report that, despite getting sidetracked a few times, I’ve still crossed 23 off the list. (Check out the link to my Goodreads page in the sidebar for all the details.) If anything is going to sidetrack me from my list, it’s other books, not a lack of time to read them.

So bring them on! I need to have something to read in 2018, anyway. And please excuse me for cutting this post short; my current book is just getting to the good part.

Do Something Inconvenient

convenience definition

If you’ve ever been the victim of an infomercial, you know that seemingly too-good-to-be-true items are marketed toward consumers, all for the sake of convenience. Does that heavy-duty blender you already own walk the dog? Because if not, it’s completely worthless. But with three easy payments of $19.99 (plus shipping and processing), you can sit back and do nothing while this miracle kitchen implement does everything for you. Just for giggles, check out how incompetent the infomercial marketing people think we are without their products:

How dare we use regular shampoo or soap dispensers! That’s how those backward Neanderthals of the 20th century lived, poor fools. There’s a new commandment in the 21st century:

stone tablet

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy conveniences as much as the next millennial—maybe not a one-pot wonder that can transform raw food into a gourmet meal in 10 minutes flat, but I have been known to pay a convenience fee to pre-purchase movie tickets online. And GPS apps! I use one every day to plot the fastest course through rush hour traffic to work. Last summer when my family took a road trip to the mountains, we plugged our hotel’s address in and hit the road without a second thought.

Everything was fine until we arrived at an open field in the middle of nowhere that the GPS assured us was our destination. So deep into the mountains that we didn’t have a signal anymore, there was nothing we could do except drive around until we found an amused road construction worker, who gave us directions. Apparently, when I told my GPS that the address was on Sugarloaf Road, it didn’t believe me, taking us to Sugarloaf Mountain Road instead. I just figured the GPS was smarter than me (big mistake)—it’s updated by satellite, after all. If we’d had one of those outdated paper thingies—oh, yeah, a map!—I would have spotted the problem and avoided the scenic detour.

Convenience is convenient until it isn’t anymore. We’re so conditioned into the rut of convenience that we scoff at previous, “inconvenient” ways. People will say they don’t know what they did before cell phones. Maybe they worried when they couldn’t get in touch with each other, but no more than they do now when there’s not an immediate answer. Could it be that inconvenience cultivates patience? That it’s all right to have delayed gratification? For crying out loud, two-day shipping isn’t fast enough anymore!

I love the Disney Pixar movie Wall•E. Here’s a clip that demonstrates an (exaggerated) example of the convenience snowball:

No, I don’t think we’re all going to turn into blobs, floating around in recliners, unable to walk or even open a book. But I do know that we can become so absorbed in our modern conveniences that we don’t spend the time developing relationships like we did when we were more dependent on people than technology, when we were—just wait a minute for me to answer this text or email or follow this Twitter feed, and then I’ll give you my attention.

I recently attended the memorial service of my friends’ grandmother. One granddaughter spoke about the care her grandmother took when it came to letter writing, the importance of which she passed down to her daughters and granddaughters. In a time when learning to write in cursive takes a backseat to learning how to take a test, these women are keeping alive an art form and a courtesy that’s on the ebb. While many might consider it a waste of time, these aren’t throwaway texts. These are nuggets of character and history that are saved and cherished, surviving longer that the person who created them. A handwritten letter can’t be deleted, won’t ever need a software upgrade, and can be read and re-read time and again by the recipient and the generations that follow.

Yes, it’s much more convenient to communicate electronically—you don’t even have to leave your chair. Who wants to go to the post office and buy stamps, after all? A simple verbal “thank you” or “I’m thinking about you” gets the point across, right? While I’m in favor of gratitude and thoughtfulness in any incarnation, there’s something extraordinary about the person who takes the time to swim away from the current of convenience and wade into the calm waters of courtesy, kindness, and thoughtfulness. And sadly, before we had the ability to communicate instantly, tapping on a screen, it seems like our communications were more meaningful, if not instantaneous. Would it be cliché to say worth the wait?

I’m not just talking about writing letters, about buying expensive stationery and never sending an email again. What I mean is that there are some things worth taking the time to do—and to demonstrate for the next generation. Spend a Saturday morning making breakfast with your kids instead of hitting the closest drive-thru. Visit a family member or friend in the hospital—even if the drive is out of your way, and you can only stay ten minutes. Any time you use the rationalization of doing (or not doing) something because of the convenience factor, ask yourself if the alternative is really all that inconvenient after all. It could make a positive difference in your life—or the life of someone else.

The Little Story That Could

Never Give Up

It’s actually not a “little” story at all. In fact, according to an article I read years ago, at over 153,000 words, my novel would be considered by some to be a super novel.

I’m talking about my yet-to-be-titled NaNoWriMo 2016 novel, which I just finished minutes ago.

I’ve been waiting to make the “I finished!” announcement for a while. I thought that I would finish on my spring break, which was over two weeks ago. And I did spend two days in a row typing over 10,000 words, which got me a lot closer to finishing, but as I’ve learned with my novels, they never cooperate. They’re like children, each of them different, each with its own set of challenges. Good lord was this one unruly. It’s the longest of my NaNoWriMo books, and it’s taken the longest to write. I thought, at the outset, that it might be more of a novella, that I might not have enough story to fill out NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word minimum. Ha!

I’ve adopted a motto from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!” I know that NaNoWriMo considers WriMos winners if they successfully write 50,000 words from scratch during the month of November, but when I first undertook the challenge in 2013, I decided that I was done with leaving manuscripts incomplete. Even if the book will never see the light of day, I have to at least finish it, give it the chance to someday be edited into shape.

So that’s what I’ve done four times now. It’s a personal goal, but one in which I take pride. Years ago, when I was enrolled in a fiction workshop in college, one of our assignments was to write a piece of short fiction and have it critiqued by our classmates. The second part of this assignment, upon which our final grades were dependent, was to then take the critiques of our classmates and edit our stories. Some critiques were worthless, some priceless. But the assumption was that none of us walked in with perfectly crafted pieces; there’s always room for improvement. One day, nearing the end of the semester, I overheard one of these classmates pouring out his woes to our professor, how he “just wasn’t feeling it.” Yeah, I’ve had manuscripts like that. There’re lots of them, sitting in files that I haven’t touched in years. But when someone assigns me a task—especially for a college class!—I do my best to complete it. I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy, saying that he couldn’t do what was required, yet he still expected a pass.

Whenever I feel like giving up on a story, I think of him and what a lousy excuse he made, and I realize that I’m not going to do something lame like that, even if I’m only myself letting down. I didn’t spend months on this to just give up. I haven’t put off editing other pieces that desperately need attention for nothing. I fought writer’s block and wrote… maybe not like a boss, but like someone who takes writing seriously. It’s not about producing something perfect. It’s not even about following an outline to fruition (conflict introduced—check! love interest refuted—check!). It’s about giving the story the chance to have its say—especially if it ends nothing like what I expected at the start.

I finished, and now I have the satisfaction of another novel under my belt. I haven’t let myself down. Breathe, edit, repeat.