Book Challenges- September 2018

I didn’t read as much this month as I have in previous months, mostly because I’m working very hard on editing my book. But I did get a few good ones read…

Popsugar Challenge

Unknown

A book set in a bookstore or library: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan (mystery): This was not what I expected, but it was still enjoyable. The story starts with an odd man who commits suicide in the bookstore and leaves all his possessions to Lydia, who works in the store. He’s left her clues that connect his history to a traumatic event from her past. It was a lot of fun.

Unknown-1

A book with two authors: The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (MG fantasy): This is the first in a series of five books, and I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing or not. There were a lot of things in it that reminded me of Harry Potter, so if you’re searching for something like it, maybe that’s a good thing…

Unknown-2

A microhistory: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach (nonfiction): This book was disgusting and fascinating, chock full of information I never knew I wanted to know (but I kind of did). It’s got a trigger warning for everyone and is not for the squeamish. I struggled with the experimentation done on dogs, and had to remind myself that they would have been long dead anyway.

While I Was Reading Challenge

No progress this month. 😦

The Unread Shelf

Unknown-3

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (genre: contemporary, mental health): Eleanor Oliphant is completely unlikable… at first. She’s also fascinating and vulnerable. By the middle of the book, I wanted to gather her in my arms and comfort her. I couldn’t stop reading. The “surprise” ending has been done many times, but it worked for me.

Running Total: 29

5 Classic Books

No progress this month.

Miscellaneous Reading

Unknown-4

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints, by Nancy Kress (genre: nonfiction, writing): My writing group has told me a million times that my characters are too gray and need more agency. I’ve understood the words, but that hadn’t helped me change. I got so frustrated by trial and error that I was ready to quit. And then this book was like a revelation. The information is presented in a concrete, straightforward fashion with lots of examples. It’s finally making sense!

41p9KlJlRoL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The Girl Who Fell, by SM Parker (YA contemporary romance): This is a dark romance about a teenager with goals who gets enmeshed in a psychologically abusive relationship. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying.

Unknown-5

Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard (YA contemporary): It was suspenseful and interesting, about the disappearance of a girl, and her friends who are all a little relieved, because the disappeared girl knew a secret about each one of them that she’d never want revealed. The first book doesn’t tie up any loose ends, and there are 16 books in the series, so be warned that if you try the first one, you’ll probably want to commit to the series. I’m not continuing.

Unknown-6

Where She Went, by Gayle Forman (YA contemporary): This is the sequel to If I Stay, and while I loved the first book, I adore the second one. Adam loved Mia and stayed by her side while she recovered from the car accident that killed her entire family. Then, she stopped returning his phone calls. After a chance meeting, they have one evening to figure out what went wrong.

Unknown-7

Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken to Brilliant, by Larry Brooks (nonfiction, writing): I will read pretty much any writing book Larry Brooks writes. He presents concrete “rules,” which maybe wouldn’t work for some people, but I like structure. He presents information in a concrete manner with lots of examples. His books can get a bit repetitive at times, but I can live with that.

Unknown-8

Leverage In Death, by JD Robb (mystery, romance): We know whodunit, but not why or who was pulling the strings. Another fantastic mystery in the series.

Abandoned

None this month.

2018 Running Total: 113

Have you made any progress on your TBR or book challenges?

Baldwin’s Book Barn

I was recently visiting friends in Pennsylvania. I’m originally from PA, but I had never heard of Baldwin’s Book Barn until a friend of mine moved near West Chester. When I went to visit, she put a tour of this amazing bookstore on her list.

The smells of book glue and dust hit me the moment I walked in the door. The friendly staff greeted me, but I barely heard them. I was entranced by the sea of books in front of me.

Most of the books are old or rare, and a lot of them are in surprisingly good condition. Right off the bat, I found a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl. I’ve never read the book, but I’m a fan of LMA, mostly because I love her horror stories, so I snatched it up. Because I was flying (and therefore limited by luggage weight), I exercised some self-control, only leaving with five carefully chosen books.

The floors creaked, and the stairways were narrow and steep. As I walked upstairs, I hoped I wouldn’t fall to my death (this is more due to my clumsiness than any safety hazards). Each floor had a different theme, and I spent time exploring the titles and sections. Honestly, it was like a treasure hunt. I had no idea what I was going to find, but that was the fun of it.

There were some wooden bookshelves, and in other places, they used old fruit crates to hold the books. The fourth floor had a bunch of chairs for people to rest and enjoy the atmosphere.

No one tried to rush me as I browsed the shelves. There was no “helpful” staff hovering and interfering with my enjoyment. It was just me listening to the books whispering secrets.

I love my local bookstores in Austin, but they’re modern, clean, and efficient. Baldwin’s Book Barn has secrets, and I wish I could spend more time exploring them.

Do you have a favorite or unique bookstore?

10 Sequels That Were As Good As The Original

So, earlier this week, I talked about why I’m not into sequels. But that doesn’t mean all sequels are bad! Here are ten I love.

  1. UnknownIn Death, by JD Robb (mystery/ romance): The series follows Eve Dallas, a homicide detective, as she solves murders and continues to figure out how marriage works. Each book is an individual mystery, but Dallas’s character arc continues as she makes friends, pisses people off, and tries to balance being totally invested in her job and being totally invested in her marriage. This series has over 40 books in it, and I rush to get a copy every time it’s released. While I like some of them better than others, they never disappoint.
  2. Unknown-1Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King, the sequel to The Shining (horror): “It’s going to suck,” I thought. “There’s nothing else that I can possibly want to see in this story,” I thought. Danny has become an alcoholic to deal with all the things he knows. I was prepared to quit this story. Instead, I was drawn into the plot, and I loved Danny as much as an adult as I did when he was a cute kid. It’s not quite what the back cover copy promises, but it’s still good. If you loved The Shining, it’s worth giving it a shot.
  3. Unknown-2The Wedding, by Nicholas Sparks, the sequel to The Notebook (romance): I thought nothing could ever be as moving as Allie and Noah’s relationship in The Notebook, but I was wrong. Even though (SPOILER ALERT) Allie dies at the end of The Notebook, Noah’s love for her is still as vital as he helps his son-in-law rekindle his romance.
  4. Unknown-3After You, Still Me, by Jojo Moyes, the sequels to Me Before You (romance): I didn’t think there could possibly be any more to say after Me Before You, but I was wrong. Luisa has so much more life to live, and though she’ll never forget Will, she has to find a way to make life go on. Luisa is one of those characters that jump off the page. Both books had fresh plots that meant I couldn’t put them down.
  5. Unknown-4Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, by Thomas Harris, technically sequels to Red Dragon (horror/ thriller): Hannibal Lecter doesn’t play a huge role in Red Dragon, but he is there and they’re all set in the same universe. There are a lot of people out there who didn’t like Hannibal, but I love everything about it. I was devastated that the movie changed the ending. (If you hated the book, let’s discuss.) Both Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling are complex and fascinating characters who I can’t get enough of. I realize Hannibal Rising is part of this series, but it just wasn’t for me.
  6. UnknownHarry Potter and All The Sequels (YA fantasy), by JK Rowling, sequel to Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone: I loved every single one of these books in different ways and for different reasons. There was never a time when I was ready to be done with this universe. If there were continuity errors or anything like that, I don’t care.
  7. Unknown-1The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larsson, sequels to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (mystery): Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salandar are fascinating characters and the plots of the sequels drew me in as much as the original. They’re flawed but vibrant characters set inside interesting mysteries.
  8. Unknown-2The Dream Thieves; Lily Blue, Blue Lily; The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater, the sequels to The Raven Boys (YA paranormal): I read the first book on a trip. I had it on audiobook, and for some reason, I wasn’t into it. I tried to switch to another book, but I didn’t have enough reception to download a different book. My choices were to keep going or listen to silence. I’M SO GLAD I KEPT GOING. While the books (especially the last one) had their flaws, overall, the series was totally worth it and paid off most of the promises the first book made.
  9. Unknown-3Where She Went, Gayle Forman, the sequel to If I Stay (YA romance): This is one of those rare sequels I liked better than the first. To be clear, I loved the first book, but I loved the second one even more. I can start anywhere in Where She Went and just start reading. Both books spoke to me and tugged on all my heartstrings.
    Unknown-410. Girl of Nightmares, by Kendare Blake, the sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood (YA horror): Anna was such a fresh, interesting ghost in the first book that I was happy to see what happened to her and her beloved ghost hunter.

What are your favorite sequels?

7 Reasons I’m (Mostly) Over Sequels

DSCN1819

I used to be a dedicated sequel reader. If I liked the first book, I HAD TO read the rest of the series. In my mind, the story wasn’t finished until I read the whole thing. There was even a time I wouldn’t start the first book until the whole series was out, assuming I knew ahead of time.

In recent years, I’ve become less committed to reading sequels. Here’s why:

  1. The first book is usually the best. Especially in the case of trilogies, the second book often seems like filler, and then the third finishes the story, but not always in a way I wanted.
  2. The first book tells a complete story. Most first books don’t have huge cliffhangers. Knowing what I now know about the publishing industry, they wait to see if there’s going to be an audience before they commit to the others in the series. If I liked the ride in the first one, why keep going?
  3. If there’s a romance in book one, there’s a break-up (or at least lots of conflict) in book 2. I like happily ever afters (or happy for nows). Usually, the romantic conflict in book 1 makes sense. In book 2, it often feels like the author said, “Okay, I need to add conflict in this relationship so here’s this random thing to arbitrarily break the characters up, only for them to make up by the end of book 2 then split up again in 3.” It causes me anxiety I don’t need. I’m an unrepentent shipper.
  4. There are often plot holes or continuity errors. It’s really hard to anticipate every single thing you need to put in a book. So if the entire series wasn’t plotted out before book 1 was written, sometimes things get lost.
  5. Resolved conflicts often get rehashed. At the end of book 1, everything seemed great. The antagonist was vanquished, the character arc was completed, birds sang and flowers bloomed. But in book 2, forget all that. The character is backsliding and the villain wasn’t really dead. I know in real life, change doesn’t always stick, but if I wanted real life, I wouldn’t be reading, would I?
  6. Often I like the ending I pictured for a character better than what happens. Where a book ends changes it’s meaning. In real life, couples break up, good plans go bad, and happily ever after isn’t simple. But a book, depending on where it ends, can freeze a wonderful moment in time. The sequel has to introduce conflict and sometimes ends up going in a direction I don’t want to see happen for a character I love (or hate).
  7. A character changes… too much. There are some series I loved. I loved the character and their arc that crossed several sequels. But then the character started to change in ways I didn’t like. They went in directions I never wanted to see. So at some point, I just stopped reading. I kind of wish I’d stopped before things went so wrong.

I don’t hate every sequel, of course. I loved all the Harry Potter books (because I’m not dead inside) and I will follow Jojo Moyes anywhere. It’s just that… there are too many books out there for me to live with the disappointment that sums up most sequels.

What’s your take on sequels?

Book Challenges- August 2018

Popsugar Challenge

A book from a celebrity book club: An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones (Oprah book club) (contemporary): This was a fantastic book! I enjoyed the exploration of marriage, fidelity, and how love can change over time. There are so many moral shades of gray in this book that I wasn’t sure who or what to root for. As with life, there were no right answers.

(23/50)

While I Was Reading Challenge

Unknown-1

A self-published book: All The Little Lights, by Jamie McGuire (YA romance): If I need a romance with characters who speak to me, I know that I should pick up a Jamie McGuire book. I loved all the little moments in this book and the “big secret” the main character was hiding made it even better.

(6/12)

The Unread Shelf

Unknown

Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell (romance): Like Jamie McGuire, Rainbow Rowell is on my list of authors who I know won’t let me down. Attachments is a sweet (but improbable) love story about a guy who falls in love with a girl while monitoring her work email. (It’s his job, though he takes it too far.) Honestly, I love improbable romances. If I wanted real life, I’d do… reality things. Instead, I read books and watch movies. Don’t judge me!

Unknown-1

Hush, Hush; Cresendo; Silence; Finale, by Becca Fitzpatrick (YA paranormal romance): I’m not entirely sure what to say about this series. I had the first one, Hush, Hush, on my shelf forever. Then a friend told me I had to read it, especially with Becca Fitzpatrick announcing that they’re making a movie based on the book! And then my friend said she only made it partway through the second book.

I read all of them and I don’t regret it, but the others, while being rated increasingly higher on Goodreads, were not as good as the first. I’m not entirely sure why, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the writing. I think I just got the ride I wanted to out of the first book and that I should have stopped there. Just to be clear, the others weren’t bad, but it’s the difference between like and love.

Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler (contemporary): I bought this for the pretty cover and the cool illustrations. This book was okay. It’s a YA book about a breakup, and I suspect I would have liked it more if I were still a teenager. Some YA books are wonderful for all ages, and some aren’t. This one, with it’s teen angst over a first love, just didn’t speak to me.

The Dinner List, by Rebecca Serle (magical realism): This was a fun book from the Book of the Month Club. I was intrigued by the premise, because we probably all have made a list of the 5 people (living or dead) we’d like to have dinner with. For my list and a full review, you can go to the blog I wrote about this one.

Running Total: 28

5 Classic Books

Unknown

(2/5) The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Maybe I’m just not a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I liked this one better than better than Tender is the Night, but I still didn’t think there was anything great about it. It’s a somewhat typical love story told from an unusual perspective. And then everyone lives sadly ever after.

I guess I’m glad I read it from a cultural reference standpoint, but I don’t understand how it became this ensconced in culture to begin with. It’s got some good lines, but other than that, I’m glad I borrowed it from the library.

Miscellaneous Reading

Unknown

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke (science fiction/ romance): A friend just got married, and I was making conversation with her sister (who was visiting). We got to talking about books (I know you’re shocked) and she mentioned that this book is her favorite. Of course I had to run right out and get it from the library.

It’s set in a future where we have the technology to make androids, but we don’t treat them as sentient beings or recognize they have rights. The mad scientist’s daughter grows up with one such android and falls in love with him. There’s lots of interesting exploration of the morality of the situation, both what it means to consider a sentient being human, and what it means not to.

Unknown

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, by Laura Vanderkam (non-fiction/ self-help): I’m looking for a magical solution to make me more organized and efficient. I haven’t found it yet, but this is a good book. It gave me some new perspectives on how to consider time and to use it better. So much so that I borrowed it from the library, then went ahead and bought it.

Unknown

Not if I Save You First, by Ally Carter (YA romance): I picked this book up at the library based on the back cover copy.

Seriously, how can you not be hooked by murderers and a bejeweled hatchet?

I loved that the main character is a girly girl who saves the day using mostly her brains. I love a girl who kicks some ass too, but it seems like the ones who paint their nails aren’t supposed to be heroes. This was fun and delivered on all the promises it made.

Unknown-1

The Summer of Broken Things, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (YA contemporary): This is a sweet and sad coming of age novel about two girls with nothing in common but the secret their parents share.

Unknown

The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, by Jason Fung, MD: I’ve watched Dr. Fung’s videos online, so when I saw he had a book, I had to get it. It’s interesting stuff backed by science. Dr. Fung makes the science (mostly) accessible and explains things in a way that makes them seem like common sense. He also talks about the studies he cites, along with their limitations.

Unknown

Lie, Lay, Lain, by Bryn Greenwood (contemporary): First off, there may never be another book I love as much as All The Ugly and Wonderful Things. So when I say this one wasn’t as good, that’s to be expected. I did like this book though. It had an interesting premise and great characters. The dual point of views worked for me, and I looked forward to following both Jennifer and Olivia. Plus, this has what I think may be the most gorgeous cover I’ve ever seen!

Abandoned

None this month.

2018 Running Total: 101

Have you made any progress on your TBR or book challenges?

The Dinner List- A List & A Review

I found The Dinner List, by Rebecca Serle, on the Book of the Month Club. It was one of the picks for August, so I thought, “Why not?”

It’s something we’ve all done; picked 5 people (living or dead) we’d like to have dinner with. I expected a light, fluffy, read, especially when I saw that one of the dinner guests was Audrey Hepburn.

What I got was a book that was an easy read, but had some surprising depth, exploring how complex relationships can be. The diners were Sabrina (the birthday girl), her estranged father, her best friend (who’s been growing away from her), her estranged boyfriend, and a college professor. Oh, and Audrey Hepburn.

This book doesn’t offer up solutions to thorny relationship issues, but it is an exploration of the way we sometimes sabotage the very thing we want, and how two people can feel wronged in a relationship and both be right. It also explored the grief we feel over the loss of loved ones, and the loss we sometimes feel even when they’re technically still there.

Despite all that, it’s charming and funny at times. I finished it knowing I’d recommend it to others.

I haven’t done this in ages, so I thought now would be a great time to make a new list. I’m not including anyone from my day to day life on this list because… well… I can go to dinner with them whenever I want!

The five real people I’d love to have dinner with:

  1. My grandma (gone since 1993)
  2. My grandpa (gone since 2006)
  3. Bryn Greenwood (an amazing author)
  4. Drew Barrymore (I’m a fan!)
  5. Paul McCartney (only the best musician ever)

Who’d be on your list of 5 people?

Engaging a Non-Reader

IMG_2182My husband and I will be together 18 years this fall. I read 132 books last year. My husband has read perhaps half a dozen books in all the years we’ve been together.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up with a husband who doesn’t read. I must have fallen in love with his other good qualities.

For years, this frustrated me. There are books I want him to read, that I just know he’ll love, but when I recommend them, he says, “maybe.” (Which means no.)

Earlier this year, when I was editing my novel, Not Dead Enough, I wanted to discuss it with him, but he hadn’t read it.

At the same time, I got advice that when editing a book, you should read it out loud.

The light went on. I could combine the oral read-aloud with having my husband read the book, by reading it to him.

He loved the idea. So, over the course of a few weeks, that’s what we did. Sometimes it was only one or two chapters in a night, and sometimes we read several.

I did catch mistakes I hadn’t caught the first eleventy-billion times I read it silently to myself, and my husband did have good input.

This has become our thing. If I’m reading a non-fiction book I think he might like, I mark passages (either with a highlighter or post-it flag, depending on if I own the book or not) to read out loud to him later. This method has generated some interesting discussions.

Before I started reading audiobooks, this method never would have occurred to me. But reading is reading, and I do enjoy discussing books.

Do you have any tricks for engaging a non-reader?