“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.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Wrap Up

nanowrimo-winner-2016-badge

I had a hard enough time believing it was already November—and that was over a month ago. It’s always one of the busiest months of my year, thanks in part to NaNoWriMo. Now that we’re several days into December, I have to remind myself daily that I can relax—I no longer need to achieve a certain word count every day.

Still, even though I “won” a minute before midnight on November 23rd, that’s just a step on the path to finishing my novel. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012 (the year before I started participating), I wrote a post entitled “What Happens After NaNoWriMo?” I wanted to know if people called it quits after reaching 50,000 words or if they kept with their novels until the end (assuming their novels didn’t end at exactly 50,000 words).

As for me, I keep plugging away after 50,000 words (however long it takes). Otherwise, I would have quit after day 14 my first year. Winning to me isn’t just writing 50,000 words—it’s continuing until the story is finished telling itself. Last year, which was the most challenging so far, it took until day 27 to “win,” but it took months to finish the first draft. The experience made me tackle this year’s NaNoWriMo with more purpose.

I’ve slowed down since December first, though. Part of it is the pure craziness that is December. (Perhaps this is why no one was foolish enough to put it in December—who would have the time?) The first day of the month, when I was already up an hour later than usual, I sat down and typed 100 words, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my novel hanging for a day.

Without November looming over me anymore, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate—even though I’m one story-day away from the scene I’ve been imagining for over a year. I’m getting hung up on things like voice. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using four first person narrators this time. It’s what this story needs, but the problem is differentiating the narrators from one another. While this is really an issue for the editing stage, I can’t help but let the worry creep in that I should be doing a better job up front.

The other day, when writing the youngest of these characters, she said something that seemed particularly her, and I thought, This is it! But now, how to make “this” happen in every section she narrates? In a book I read over the summer, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, there are two narrators, twins (brother and sister). These characters are unique and a little peculiar, but their individual peculiarities shine through in such a way that it’s easy to pick out who is narrating without being told whose section it is.

I love how discovery happens through reading someone else’s story. I dream of inspiring someone with one of my own stories someday—but it’s not going to happen if I don’t go ahead and write—no matter how ragged the first draft is.

A Bookworm Without Any Books?

Borrowed Books 2016

A few of the books I’ve read

For the first time since I’ve started publishing a list of fiction titles that I hope to read in a year, I’ve actually managed to read them all—and in under 10 months! I didn’t assign any less books this year than previously, and some were even of the long or slower-paced variety. I’ve even gone astray and read extra books that weren’t on my list. If you’re interested, check out my activity on Goodreads, or read the 2016 list by clicking here.

Although I feel oh-so accomplished, there is a problem: What’s a girl to read when she can choose any book in the world? I just so happened to buy several not-on-the-list books this year that I have yet to read, and they’ll tide me over for a while. But even so, I’m three months ahead of schedule, so what will I read in 2017?

The problem is always in the choosing. There are many books I would like to read or even re-read, but guidance is always welcome. So if you’ve read something that really moved you or that you think fits my profile (again, see Goodreads), please recommend away. The bookworm grows restless!

Fundraiser Books

More books to read and re-read

Read. These. Books.

It’s already July – that time of year when I look at the book list that I created on January first to assess how well I’m keeping up. This year, I am pleased to say that, of the 27 novels I hoped to read, I’ve already read 22. I hope I’m not speaking too soon when I say that 2016 may be the year I’ll finally read every book.

Of the books I’ve finished, I would like to highlight the multitude of teen fiction titles that I’ve recently read.

Florida Teen Reads books

Read these books!

I mentioned in my book list post that my cousin’s wife is on the Florida Teen Reads committee. Last fall, she gave me a pile of the books she’d read for the committee, assuring me that there was a little bit of everything: sci-fi, romance, mental illness – you name it. I was excited to add them to this year’s list.

As always seems to happen, I read a few books from my list, and then I deviated some – that’s life, right? By May, I’d only read one of teen books I’d borrowed, but a message from my cousin-in-law gave me the little kick I needed to keep going. She would need to get two of the books back by the fall because they’re Florida Teen Reads finalists. I read both titles back-to-back – Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. It was apparent why these books were finalists, and since I was on a roll, I continued reading the other FTR books, too.

Some of these books shine brighter than others. Knowing his taste, I had my husband read some of them and not others. One I had to twist his arm to finish, and he was glad he did. Another was the first book of a series, and Thomas liked it so much that he bought the whole trilogy – we both read them all.

Girl in PiecesIn the middle of reading all this teen fiction, I received an interesting opportunity: to read and review a teen fiction novel that hasn’t been published yet. While I’ve read books prior to publication before, it’s usually because I’m editing them, and that’s a completely different experience than being able to read a book to enjoy it. In this case, “enjoy” is a little too tame a description – I devoured Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces in two days. (Read my review on Goodreads, and purchase it this fall.)

Before you say, “I’m not a teenager – why would I read any of these?”, let me assure you that teen fiction is not just for those in the 13 to 19 demographic. When I was in college, I took a class on young adult lit, and it was a rather recent genre classification at the time (in fact, much of what we read had previously been grouped with children’s lit). Books that fall into the YA genre star characters who live the issues that real young adults face. Okay, yes, sometimes the teens in these books are being chased by dragons, but they’re still coming of age and having all the issues that that entails.

Parents may find some YA issues uncomfortable, such as substance abuse, suicide, sexuality, and mental illness. Guess what? These are tough issues, but we can’t just put our heads in the sand and pretend they’re not there. When I read about a girl who hung with the cool crowd at school while keeping her OCD hidden from her best friends, I was glad that such a book was out there. It’s normal to read about the underdog succeeding – and I love those books, too – but to read about a cool girl with issues? Well, isn’t that life?

Today’s teenagers can only be sheltered so much. As a parent, I understand being protective, but I also would rather supervise my child’s exposure to these issues by handing him a book and then talking about it than praying that that kind of thing never happens. Who knows? My kids may have friends who face these issues one day – and many of these books list resources that provide support and help. Even within a fictional (and sometimes fantastical) setting, teens are capable of applying what they read to real life.

Read these books! Then share them with a teenager you care about.

Wake Up Call

Last week, I bought a pile of used books at a school fundraiser and planned to blog/brag about them. After all, I love books, as do many of my followers.

But our weekend was busy, and blogging wasn’t on my mind at all. We were ending our night at Disney World on Sunday (Valentine’s Day) when I got a text from my dad that floored me. A young woman from my church – 20 years old, a senior in college – had died in a head-on collision that morning.

I was filled with the immediate guilt that I tend to feel when I’m happy and well, yet someone else has is facing a life-altering tragedy. This girl and her family’s grief have stuck with me all week. It seems that about half the people I work with are somehow connected to her, so I was constantly reminded of the terrible loss. I did not know her, but I know both of her parents and can only imagine the dread with which they face every day now without their younger daughter.

And, of course, this dredged up all the other tragedies that have touched me: my own grandmother, killed in a car accident when I was a child; my husband’s uncle, killed in a motorcycle accident that same year; a cousin who fell from the rooftop dog park of his apartment.

This tragedy has affected me more profoundly than those I see on the news every day, probably because I know the family. Not to mention that the victim was 20, had her whole life before her, and was innocent. Yet I think many of us have become desensitized to the number of innocents who die all the time; it’s a defense mechanism that allows us to continue to live, not bogged down under the weight of sadness and despair. Otherwise, we might spend all of our time worrying; after all, tragedies don’t care how old you are, how much you’re loved, or if your life holds infinite promise. An accident could take any of us at any time.

It’s when something like this happens that I always resolve to do better about enjoying each moment because it could be my last, to tell my loved ones how much they mean to me because I don’t know when the last time will be. But it goes even beyond that: life is too short to go through it like a zombie, taking the little things for granted.

While I can’t stop the frustrating, busy, bad days from happening, I can choose to pay better attention to the good things that fill in the gaps. Instead of dwelling on the traffic, which I can’t change, I can enjoy listening to my playlist. Instead of dreading the nights and weekends when my husband has to work, I’ll enjoy the time with my kids, remembering than one day they’ll be out of the house. I need to glean as much of the good as I can from every day, instead of allowing stress and worries to turn everything into a chore.

Earlier this week, I found myself somehow running 10 minutes late, only to discover that I hadn’t prepped my son’s lunch the night before – something that would cost me another 10 minutes. That’s something I would usually stress out over, which spirals to snapping at my children to hurry. But it wasn’t their fault that I was running late, and although it seemed farfetched, if our drive into school that morning happened to be our last, I didn’t want to spend it tense and angry. I made the choice to relax about it, and guess what? We somehow got out of the house early.

I know I’ve written before about balance being key and living for the current day, not some potential, future day that may or may not even happen – and I keep doing so because it’s a work in progress. Stated baldly, I know that one day, I will become a statistic. When and what kind of statistic I don’t know. But until then, I need to live like each day is special – even the weekdays when I have to get up at 4:15. Instead of looking forward to a different day, I need to recognize that, even though it may not be memorable beyond the present moment, it’s that moment I’m living that matters.

Fundraiser Books

Pile of Books

Circling back to those books – I will enjoy them, God willing, as well as all the little things and the big vacations and milestones, too. But if I were to die today, books unfinished, milestones unachieved, I don’t want anyone to mourn my unfinished to-do list. Rather, I want to leave people with no doubt that I enjoyed the small moments of my life; I want to leave my family and friends with memories of good times, fulfilling relationships, and no regrets.

 

What to Read in 2016?

It’s that time again – a new year and a new list of books to read. But first, a look back at 2015:

I created a list of 27 books to read in 2015 (read that list here), and I’m proud to say that I read 24 of them (and I’m halfway through the 25th). Four of those titles include Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle – finally! That series was well worth my investment of time.

I also started reading the Harry Potter series to my elder son last summer. I only planned to read The Philosopher’s Stone, unsure of what Peter would think of the British versions of the books (which I prefer over the American versions). The problem is that he’d never read anything without illustrations, and the British books don’t even have the little sketches at the beginning of every chapter, like the American ones. To my surprise, Peter fell in love with the series after he got over his initial indignation that he had to create all the pictures in his head. In fact, we just finished The Order of the Phoenix. (Also, for Christmas, my cousin bought Peter a copy of the gorgeous, fully illustrated Sorcerer’s Stone. “Now I know what Peeves looks like!” he told me while flipping through it.)

I made few detours from my anticipated list of books in 2015, but when I did, I was glad to do so. When someone hands me a book and says, “You have to read this,” or when my job requires me to pick a book for summer reading, or when my child gets enthusiastic about a new series, I’m happy to deviate. Still, I bought several new books during the year, understanding that I likely wouldn’t read them until 2016 – but they’ll show up on this year’s list.

One new venture I’m undertaking this spring is a book club for 4th through 6th graders at my school. We’re going to read The Lightning Thief, the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and if it’s popular enough to continue, we’ll tackle The Sea of Monsters. Either way, I’ll likely go ahead and read the rest of the books on my own. I’ve also bought a beautiful, illustrated companion book called Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods.

Borrowed Books 2016

Pile of Borrowed Books

Aside from re-reading these series and adding the few new books I’d bought earlier in the year, I was beginning to wonder what else I would read in 2016. I was considering putting a plea on Facebook until one afternoon a few weeks ago when I visited a different cousin. It turns out that his wife, a high school media specialist, is on a committee that’s reading all kinds of new young adult fiction. She has piles of books all over their condo that she’s received for being on this committee. And before I left, she hand-picked a number of books that she thought I would enjoy borrowing. She also gave me a recommendation for a book that she couldn’t relinquish (signed by the author) and which I received from Amazon this week.

Christmas Books 2015

Christmas Books!

In addition, Christmas is always a magical time for books at my house – I give, receive, and then buy them afterward. This year, I gave the first Sword of Summer book (Rick Riordan’s latest series on Norse gods) to my husband, and he gave me the second book of the Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) Cormoran Strike series. (Not pictured: the third book of that series, which I just ordered, and The 5th Wave, which I bought after taking the photo.) Lastly, two people gave me blank books this year – I love blank books! It’s taking me longer to fill them these days, but I will fill them.

Without further ado, following are the novels (plus one fun non-fiction title) that I read in 2015 (in chronological order):

  • The House of Hades (The Heroes of Olympus Book Four) by Rick Riordan
  • The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus Book Five) by Rick Riordan
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Eragon (Inheritance Cycle Book I) by Christopher Paolini
  • Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
  • Eldest (Inheritance Cycle Book II) by Christopher Paolini
  • Brisingr (Inheritance Cycle Book III) by Christopher Paolini
  • Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle Book IV) by Christopher Paolini
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth
  • Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth
  • Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
  • Messenger by Lois Lowry
  • Son by Lois Lowry
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Lisey’s Story by Stephen King
  • Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

And now for the 2016 list – coincidentally, 27 books again (including the two that I’m currently reading):

  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • And Another Thing… Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Part Six of Three by Eoin Colfer
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
  • Raven Queen by Pauline Francis
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  • Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  • Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
  • NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  • The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book I) by Rick Riordan
  • The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book II) by Rick Riordan
  • The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book III) by Rick Riordan
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book IV) by Rick Riordan
  • The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book V) by Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (The Sword of Summer Book One) by Rick Riordan
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  • Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Summer 2015 Reading

Magical books

Magical books (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last blog was all about the writing I’ve done this summer (and since then, I’ve achieved my Camp NaNoWriMo goal – yay!), but as any worthwhile author will tell you, you can’t write if you’re not reading. So I’ve been doing what a good writer should do, naturally.

The reading list that I set for myself this year is an ambitious one. (Read it here.) On it are 27 books, including several series. Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle has been on my to-read list for three years now, and I finally finished it. But those books are dense and ate up a lot of my reading time. As I approached the halfway point through the year, I wondered how I was doing.

I’m happy to report that as of mid-July, I’ve finished 13 of the 27 books. Maybe Inheritance didn’t set me back too far, after all. Of course, I read a lot during our two-week vacation. I worried I was being overly ambitious when I packed the entire Divergent series, as well as a book that a friend lent to me a few months ago. But I read the whole borrowed book on the plane trip from east coast to west coast (Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss – I highly recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of British humor), and I plowed through all but a couple hundred pages of the Divergent series over the two weeks.

Ahead of me, I still have at least one doozy (Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Heart’s Own Blood – all of the books in her Outlander series are formidable), plus Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series. I know I re-read it last year, but I want it to be fresh when the final movie comes out this fall. Also, I’ll start reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my seven-year-old in the next week. I’m excited that he’s finally old enough to comprehend the story – we may have another Potter geek in the making.

Other than my non-fiction books (which I rarely list here, unless it’s what I consider entertaining non-fiction, such as Talk to the Hand), I’ve stuck to my book list pretty well. Early on, I decided to read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone because I’d seen the movie and was interested in seeing what kind of extra character developments happened in the book. I’m glad I did. Woodrell’s use of language is unique, and as a writer, it’s always helpful to mix it up with a different style from time to time.

The only other detour I’ve made was Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (also a book-turned-movie). This was a book I had to read. I’m going back to teach full-time in the fall, and the faculty at my school has a summer reading list. Still Alice was the only novel on our list of choices. I’ve jotted down the titles of several non-fiction books that interest me, but I wanted a good story – and I got it. But frequent criers, keep your tissues handy.

I’m sticking to my list and loving it. I hope to finish Lois Lowry’s The Giver series by the time the kids go back to school (I’m halfway through the second book, Gathering Blue), and then I’ll keep plowing ahead.

And never fear – if I actually make it through this whole list, I already have several new books waiting. (She rubs her hands together and cackles with glee.)