Book Review, Fiction, Random

2015: Favorite Reads

2015 - Favorite Reads graphicOne of the things that I love about this time of year (other than copious amounts of sugar cookies) is that this is when news outlets start assembling their “best of” lists. The best movies of 2015, the best songs from 2015, best books, best memes, etc. Since I’m firmly behind the eight ball when it comes to trends, I’m usually reading a book that was a smash hit five years ago and has already been adapted for the big screen (looking at you Gone Girl. Haven’t watched the movie though …). So I went through my Goodreads list for 2015 and picked out the books that impacted me during the year. This year’s goal was to read 30 books. It was something of a laughable goal, because if I really put my mind to it – I can slam a book down in a day. But I work full time. I’m a mom. And on the side, I – you know – like to write. So 30 was doable. I’ve already exceeded that goal by one. 🙂

Here’s what has stuck with me, long after I’ve turned the final chapter:

Shivaree – JD Horn Amazing – the first couple books on this list were actually published in 2015. This makes me feel relevant! But back to the book … I read Shivaree in one evening. Started in the afternoon, could not put it down, and went to bed shortly after midnight. And then proceeded to have some pretty haunting dreams. Shivaree is set in the south after the Korean War and is a paranormal, Southern Gothic horror. I almost didn’t make it past the first chapter but was glad that I stayed the course. Mr. Horn uses rich characterization of the setting, the historical context, and the people he’s created to drive a gripping narrative. Seriously – I need to read more of this man’s work.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert In my Goodreads review of Ms. Gilbert’s non-fiction on nurturing your creative life, I wrote that I felt like Ms. Gilbert had wrote this book for me. There were so many spots where I wished I was reading a physical copy of the book (checked out the book from my library for Kindle), so I could take a highlighter and mark pages to go back to and re-read again and again. I will be purchasing this book when it’s out in paperback. (Don’t get me wrong – I love hardcovers, but I’m a paperback kinda girl.)

Winter Garden –Kristen Hannah Oh man, this book got me in the feels. I liked the historical nature of Ms. Hannah’s book, but even though I was reading about fictional people, there were parts of this book that had me sobbing. That’s how invested I was in the characters. (Yes, books make me cry – don’t get me started about “Harry Potter” or “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” My nose is turning red just thinking about it.)

Crazy Old Coot / Old Coots Never Forget – Jerry Johnson If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I talk a lot about Jerry, my mentor from college. I talk about him a lot, but I probably don’t talk about him enough, because Jerry’s one of the first people who really made me believe in my ability to write and he’s been a good friend and one of my best and fiercest critics.  If you’re a fan of creative nonfiction, you need to read Jerry’s books.  (Here’s the link to his Amazon page.)  His essays run the gamut between capturing the atmosphere of curmudgeonly men in their hunting camps to elegies Jerry has written for lost friends.  There’s something for everyone in Jerry’s work – reading his blog is time well spent.

What the Night Knows – Dean Koontz There is a fabulous indie used and new bookstore in Red Wing, Minnesota called Fair Trade Books. They have a nifty policy that if you are a newcomer to the store, the owner or one of the employees will try to find a book from their used selection that they’ve specifically chosen for you based on what you’re interested in reading.  What the Night Knows was the book that was chosen for me and it was a good read.  Koontz is an author I had never read before, but Koontz wrote a convincing thriller that had a heavy supernatural tone throughout.  And I loved it.  He built a world that I was not able to shake for awhile after finishing his novel.

~*~*~*~*~

As for next year, I think I’m going to be bold and try for 35 books. (Sorry … sarcasm.)  J.T. Ellison, one of my favorite authors, has a standalone novel coming out, as well as a prequel that features her Taylor Jackson character.  I’m looking forward to reading both of those.  I’m also going to start diving into some of the classics of my chosen genre – Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler.  I also have a goal to read every Sackett novel that Louis L’Amour ever wrote.  (When I was in college, I once spent a Christmas break reading a box of L’Amour books my dad had bought at an auction. I think I averaged two a day, figured out that L’Amour liked to plagiarize from himself and had one hell of a good time reading Westerns.  Then I passed them onto my grandpa.  Books can build bridges between generations … that was time well spent.)

What are you going to be reading in 2016?

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Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Random, Uncategorized

Friday Fare: Excuses, regeneration, and shenanigans

Friday FareFriday Fare is where I post links to the random articles that have resonated with me during the week. Sometimes they make me smarter, sometimes they make me hungry … sometimes they have to do with writing and sometimes they are just plain random.

I’ve had a wonderful week that hasn’t left much room for reading, outside of books I’m trying to get through and the regular news / gossip that I consume on a daily basis.  Last weekend, my mom and I took a girls weekend and went shopping.  Which was ridiculous – I’m not fond of shopping, but I adore my mother, so the opportunity to just hang out with her (something that doesn’t happen a lot now that *I’m* a mom) was wonderful.

On Tuesday, I had dinner with a dear friend of mine who’s a watercolor artist.  We respect each others’ creative processes and we’re kindred spirits, so hanging out with Cathy is just a treat.

This weekend, I have a phone date with my former college roommate / soul sister.  She’s a ridiculously awesome and busy corporate attorney, so our phone dates are infrequent, but necessary.  And then the Urban Family is coming over for dinner on Sunday, so that’s another event that I need to prepare for.  But hey – the holiday cards are stamped and addressed, my Christmas presents are basically purchased and are just waiting to be wrapped, so I’m (tentatively) ahead of the eight-ball.

Unfortunately, this busy period (and my regular work deadlines) are hell on my writing regimen.  But other than figuring out how to clone myself or inventing one of J.K. Rowling’s “time-turners,” I gotta figure out where I can carve out more writing time and how I can better guard that time.  Because yes – I’m very busy, but I also spend way too much time on social media.  So the time is there – just gotta work on the discipline part.  But having said all these things, I’ve so enjoyed the time I’ve been spending with friends and family lately, I think it’s recharging my mind in different ways.

***

Listening to: Prince did a killer cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.”  Check it out here.

Reading: Just finished Alexandra Sokoloff’s “Huntress Moon,” the first of her FBI Thriller series.  Sokoloff is known in the fiction world for taking the lessons she learned from screenwriting in Hollywood and utilizing them in fiction.  I’m not sure if that background knowledge that was in my head when I was reading “Huntress Moon” or if this is just the reality of my life, but I really read books anymore as a writer.  I’m intrigued to see how a writer described a character or unraveled a plot line.  Very fascinating.

Fiction Update: I was feeling antsy the other day and I realized that too much time had passed since I had worked on edits for “Dragonfly.”  (And “too much time” is only a matter of days, but that’s how I feel about writing on a daily basis.  [Sidenote: Wish I felt this way about exercise. Sigh!])  So I tackled a chapter and it didn’t go great.  But … I’m going to back the truck up and take another run at it.

Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Random, Uncategorized

Friday Fare: I’m Baa-aack!

Friday FareFriday Fare is where I post links to the random articles that have resonated with me during the week. Sometimes they make me smarter, sometimes they make me hungry … sometimes they have to do with writing and sometimes they are just plain random.

Can I tell you that I’ve missed this? I’ve been mentally processing a blog post that recaps the “lessons learned” from my 30-Day Writing Challenge, but at this moment – the only “lesson” is that I’d rather share random article links than tell you about the mommy guilt that I feel when I realize that my kids prefer chicken nuggets to quinoa.

Whoa. Wait. Not sure where that came from.

Anyway … without further ado – my “best of” of this week’s Internet reading!

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.  Chocolate and peanut butter.  Beer and … well, almost anything.  New York Times had a piece this week that profiled the comediennes and their friendship.

Another comedian that I admire greatly.  Bill Murray … I am so glad that he’s in this world.

The NYT also printed their 100 Notable Books of 2015.

This article made me remember that there is still good in this world.

***

Listening to: YouTube still remains the place for me to discover new-to-me music.  I found a recent Old Crow Medicine Show concert from this year’s Live Aid and then followed that up with Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds.  Both of these finds made me exceedingly happy.

Reading: I had a revelation the other day, shortly after finishing Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” and returning a couple of mysteries that I *should* have read and enjoyed. I’ve been enjoying non-fiction. To-wit, I just finished Andie Mitchell’s “It Was Me All Along.” Non-fiction and memoir has captured my attention like fiction hasn’t lately and instead of wondering what the hell that means, I’m just going to enjoy it. But I haven’t turned my back on my favorite mistress/genre – I’ve been having a wonderful affair with the Killer Nashville anthology of short stories. Reading these have been good for developing craft and introducing me to some new authors.

Fiction Update: I have a couple things going on with my fictional world. “Dragonfly” keeps plodding along – the holidays and work deadlines have not been kind to me, but I’ve enjoyed digging in and the work that I’m getting done. And I’ve joined a writing/critique group that’s going to meet monthly. This is my first foray into such a thing, so I’m full of a lot of conflicting feelings and angst, but I recognize that this type of feeling typically precedes a period of creative growth. So – I’m excited, but wary. I think this will help bring me to a “next level” but I also realize that I’m carving out a lot of writing and family time to make these meetings. So … good things are afoot. I love this creative life.