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.

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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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Editing, Fiction, Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Process, Random

Friday Fare: Links from the around the ‘Net

FridayFare On Fridays, I post a round up of the various posts and articles that have been of interest to me during the week:

Kristi Belcamino, a fellow Minnesota author, gave a shout out to this website for creating graphics.  I’m looking forward to trying this out and integrating into my social media efforts.

Fidgeting = productivity?  The Wall Street Journal had this article regarding how “creative playtime” may spark new ideas.  The note that I made to myself after reading this was that while I didn’t necessarily agree with this idea (I don’t think that I can play with a Slinky and still type at the same time –  not that coordinated), I have found that music is important for sparking creativity.  If I feel like I’m in a slump, changing a playlist can make my mind skip in a productive direction.

And because I’ve re-discovered that my other creative outlet is cooking and because my sons and I are all getting over colds, I riffed on this chicken noodle soup recipe this week.  It was pretty damn good.

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Listening to: As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a playlist of Alison Krauss from YouTube, starting with her duet with Robert Plant (“Killing the Blues”), wanting to listen to this song on constant repeat, and then getting some gratification that I’m not the only one who appreciates Gordon Lightfoot.

Reading:  Truthfully?  I’m reading some Highlander/time-traveling smut right now, so I’m not going to be proud about announcing my reading choice right now.  I’m working on a Dean Koontz novel, still need to finish “Skellig” (heading to Chicago and spending an unexpected extra night has thrown a lot of my life off).  Stay tuned … on Tuesday, I’m going to share a shot of my TBR (to be read) pile.

Fiction update:  My work life is ramping up again and it’s causing me a little bit of anxiety.  I have five proposals due before April 13th.  How do I balance this with my own internal deadline (pages in the hands of beta readers by April 1st?).  What I did was print out a fresh copy of my manuscript and I’m taking another run at reading and making edits as I go.  Mentally, I liken this process to my winter driving adventures during my 16th year of life, when I would have to back my Pontiac Sunbird into the field approach across the road from my parents’ farm and take the driveway at a run if I hoped to get up to the top of the drive.  I usually had about a 50% success rate.  Let’s hope that I’m more adept at driving / editing some 20 years later.