My Favorite Books from January

I finished 14 books in January, putting me on track for the 150 I want to read this year. Of those 14 books, here were my favorites.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue/ The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzi Lee (YA Historical fiction, LGBTQ+)

If history had been as interesting as these books, I would have liked it a lot better. Mackenzi Lee explains that she did take a few liberties with history, but overall, she tried to make them as historically accurate as possible. They’re fast-paced adventure stories with great characters.

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Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff (YA mystery)

Usually when people say a book is “atmospheric,” that’s a clue for me to stay away because it’s more about setting than plot.

Not true in this case. It is creepy and atmospheric with a mystery I only partly had figured out by the end. I couldn’t stop turning pages, and I loved the relationship between the main character, and her best friend (who’s a ghost and still haunting her). The best friend died from her anorexia, and it’s discussed in a realistic, moving way, but it doesn’t take the focus from the plot.

I look forward to reading other books by this author.

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Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds (YA contemporary, poetry)

This book is hard to describe. I kept putting it down and picking it back up, so I ended up reading through it in one day.

It’s a contemporary novel about a teenage boy whose brother was shot due to gang violence, and he’s “supposed to” get revenge. In the elevator, on his way to shoot the guy who did it, he’s visited by various ghosts who tell their own stories. It never gets preachy or heavy-handed.

Oh yeah, and it’s written in poetry. Which sometimes slows reading down for me, but not in this case. It did take me a few pages to get used to the style and voice, but once I did, I was all in.

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Red, by Erica Spindler (Romance)

This is an old favorite of mine, written in 1995. To describe it as “romance” doesn’t do it justice. It’s not the same old boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, boy marries girl story that we’ve all seen.

It starts off with teenage Becky Lynn, an ugly duck living with an abusive family in a small town. When some teenage boys rape her and no one believes her (or cares), she takes off on her own and makes a life for herself. It follows her through finding her dreams (and then losing them). No matter what terrible things, Becky Lynn continues to remake herself until she gets the happy ending she deserves.

Seriously, if you like romance but aren’t into same old/ same old, this one is fantastic.

 

What’s the best book (or books) you read in January?

 

12 Reasons Why Spoilers Are the Worst

Some people don’t care about spoilers, but those people are wrong. Spoilers are the worst! (For the record, I’m mostly going to mention books, but this applies to movies and TV shows too.)

Spoilers Are the Worst

  1. I can only read something for the first time once. That feeling of discovery, that I can’t consume pages (or watch it) fast enough is a magical feeling, like falling in love.
  2. Trying to figure it out is half the fun. I love reading a mystery or thriller and looking at clues to try to figure out whodunnit or what’s going to happen in the end. I’m more engaged in the reading experience than I would be if I already knew what happened.
  3. I want to experience it as it happens. If I didn’t care about the experience of reading, I’d just go to Wikipedia and read the summary. (I’ve actually done this occasionally on sequels where I was curious enough to want to know what happened, but not so curious that I wanted to invest time in the next book.) For me, it’s like the difference between enjoying a gourmet meal and being fed glucose intravenously.
  4. Writing an enjoyable story is hard, and spoiling it for someone else makes it so they can’t experience it as the author intended. Writing anything: a book, a movie, a TV show, is an art. Most published authors wrote the story deliberately, in a certain order. Spoiling that is disrespectful. If the author wanted to write just a summary, they’d write a summary.
  5. Spoiling a story ruins the secondhand discovery. I love discussing stories with people when I know what happens and they don’t. Or when they know what happens and I don’t. It’s so much fun to watch someone enjoy something that I love as it unfolds.
  6. We can all use more good surprises. I like opening Christmas (or birthday) gifts and having no idea what I was given ahead of time. I love when someone texts or calls me out of the blue (someone I like, anyway). And I love when a story brings me something I didn’t see coming, yet was inevitable.
  7. If I wanted to know what happened in a book, it’s not that hard. It would take me less than 30 seconds on the Internet. Therefore, when people don’t warn spoilers and they’re RIGHT THERE in my face, it makes me crazy. Spoiler alert is twelve letters. Just type it.
  8. Most of the spoiler alerts that snipe me seem to be for no good reason. I’m talking about online, now. When you post “OMG, Harry Potter appeared and saved Rick and Michonne!” you’re just posting a fact. (This is a made up fact, BTW. No spoilers here.) You’re not adding to the conversation. Couldn’t you just as easily post, “OMG, can you believe that ending of The Walking Boy Who Lived??” Spoilers that are buried in text or articles can usually be avoided.
  9. I’m always behind the times, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in 1996, and I just started watching it in 2018. In general, I don’t watch TV alone because I’m an addict. Once I get hooked on a story, I can’t stop. A friend insisted I had to watch the show, and I’m now in season 3, loving every moment of it. I’ve actually had a certain plotline spoiled for me because people still love and talk about this show 22 years later. It’s changed how I watch the show, and I’m not happy about it.
  10. Anticipation increases enjoyment, and unpredictability increases anticipation, according to a 2015 study reported in Psychology Today. What does that mean? It means that most people enjoy looking forward to things, especially when they don’t know exactly what they’re looking forward to.
  11. They make it harder to suspend disbelief. We don’t know what’s going to happen in real life, but when we know what’s going to happen in a story, it makes it harder to get immersed. If I know that a particular storyline is coming up, rather than concentrating on what’s happening now, I’m wondering how the writer is going to get us there, whether I want to or not.
  12. It’s the journey, not the destination. Cliche, but it has a lot of truth in it. Why do sports fans watch a game instead of just tuning in afterward for the score? Why don’t booksellers include the ending of the book on the back cover? Why do movie trailers not tell the ending? Because we want to experience it “live,” as it’s happening in that moment for whoever is reading/ watching.

I know there are plenty of people out there who either like or don’t mind spoilers, and I say, to each his own. If you want to know the ending, I’ll tell you. But PLEASE be respectful of my wishes and don’t tell me.

But Doree, don’t you love re-reading and re-watching things? Doesn’t that contradict everything you just said?

Indeed, I do. But no, it doesn’t. Stay tuned. Next week, I’ll explain why not.

My 10 Favorite Posts of 2018

It’s always interesting to see which of my posts were the most popular over a given year. Of my 10 most popular posts, only two were actually published in 2018.

For whatever reason, my most popular posts are often from previous years. Here are 10 posts that I think should have gotten more love last year.

10 Reasons I Love Happy Endings: Some people think happy endings signal a book that isn’t as important or good. I disagree.

The 10 Worst Couples in Fiction: There are just some couples who irritate me or who are just terrible for one another. These are the worst.

How Querying is Like Online Dating: It really, really is.

Do Happy Endings Exist? Maybe?

#sorrynotsorry 5 Books I Love That Others (Claim To) Hate: I don’t think anyone should apologize for their choices in entertainment.

Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Writing Critique Group: Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without them. I’ve learned way more than just ten things.

Please Stop- Tropes I Hate: Enough is enough. (These mostly apply to YA)

Shut Up And Take My Money! Tropes I Love: I’ll never stop loving these. (Again, mostly YA)

7 Reasons I’m (Mostly) Over Sequels: With few exceptions, sequels tend to be meh.

10 Ways To Waste Time Instead of Writing: Why do writers dream of writing, but when they sit at their computers, waste time? (No, seriously… why?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 10 Most Popular Posts of 2018

It’s always fun for me to see my most popular posts. There were a few posts on this list that surprised me, and a few I’m just happy to see other people seemed to like as much as I did. The content varies so much that I still have no idea what I should write more of and less of… I guess I’ll keep using the spaghetti method, throw things on the wall and see what sticks.

11 Best Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness

This was one of my most popular posts for 2017, and I’m glad to see it made #1 this year.

Don’t Ban Eleanor & Park

I passionately love this book. I’m always against censorship, but this is a book I wish had been around when I was growing up.

Old Things and Abandoned Places

Apparently, I’m not alone in my love of these things.

10 Best Novels from Over 100 Years Ago

This has been one of my most popular posts ever since I wrote it back in 2011.

Our Dark Duet- A Review

This is the sequel to This Savage Song, and I have strong feelings about them both.

“Master Yoda, Is The Dark Side Stronger?”

My philosophical musings on good vs. evil.

12 Responses to Excuses About Why You’re Not Reading

I’ve seen a lot of posts about “how to read more,” but for me, what it boils down to is, we do what we prioritize.

I Highlight in Books, But Only Monsters Dog-Ear Pages

Seriously though.

10 Best Fiction Books About Mental Illness

I’m glad that people are so interested in books on mental illness.

The Dinner List- A List & A Review

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did.

Book Challenges 2019

I’ve done book challenges in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The first two years, I just sort of winged it. In 2018, I planned all my challenges based on books I already owned.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I started off the year reading a lot of books I didn’t like. There were whole stretches of time where reading felt more like a chore than something fun. And since reading is my escape/ primary coping skill, that was pretty miserable.

Midway through the year, I gave up on trying to force myself to read books I already owned. I did searches for YA books that fit the categories and got them from the library. It ended up being a lot more fun, and I discovered books I ended up loving.

A large number of books I own were bought by me in the past, and my reading tastes have changed drastically over time. The books I wanted to read 10 years ago aren’t necessarily what I want to read now. And forcing myself to read them for arbitrary reasons isn’t good for anyone.

I do think that planning the books in advance was helpful, but this year, I’m going to be very picky about it. If I can find books on my shelves that I want to read, I’ll use those. (I did read some great books I already owned for my challenge categories.) But if I can’t, then I’ll search online for other books to fit the categories. I think it’s all about balance, and reading challenges are supposed to be fun.

For this year, I’m going to do the Popsugar Challenge and the While I Was Reading Challenge again. I finished them both last year, finishing the last book for the challenge on December 31… I like to cut things close!

I’ve already made out my list, filling in some suggestions for categories. Starred books are ones I already own. I’ve tried to give myself more flexibility this year. Even though I might have multiple books in multiple categories, my intention is to count each one only once. There are still a few categories left blank, so if you have any suggestions, feel free.

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Are you doing any reading challenges this year? Which one?

 

 

The 16 Best Books I Read In 2018

In 2017, four of my favorite books were non-fiction. This year, while I read some non-fiction, none of them made my “best of” list. Here’s the 2017 list, if you’re interested.

I read more excellent YA fiction this year than last, though my list is still pretty eclectic. Here’s my list on Goodreads, if you’re interested. The count is a little different from my personal tally; Goodreads had a glitch midway through the year, and I’m guessing they missed recording a few. Of the 143 number of books I read last year, these are my favorites.

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Voyager, by Diana Gabaldon (Historical fiction): These books just keep getting better. I love books that aren’t any one thing, and these books cross lines of historical fiction, romance, science fiction, and fantasy. Jamie and Claire are fantastic main characters, and their chemistry is wonderful.

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A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara (Literary fiction): A friend of mine really wanted to read this book, but had heard that it was horribly depressing. The back cover copy seemed interesting, so I said I’d read it along with her. And it happened to match a Popsugar category (a book with an ugly cover), so I killed two birds with one stone.

I read this book almost a year ago now, and I’m still thinking about it. When I first finished it, I couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it. It’s horribly sad, but also says some wonderful things about relationships. As time has gone on, and I’ve gotten some distance from it, I like it better. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone.

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I Remember You, by Cathleen Davitt Bell (YA Romance/ Fantasy): This book was an unexpected favorite for me. It had intriguing back cover copy that made the book sound a bit sinister. It’s not really; it’s a lovely romance with some twists I never saw coming. I read it several times this year, and it was just as good on audiobook as it was in print.

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Uncanny, by Sarah Fine (YA thriller): Uncanny is a wild ride. Every time I thought I understood what was going on, there was a twist. Cora can’t remember what happened the night her sister died, and she turned off her brain-computer interface. As she tries to piece together what happened along with an android therapist, things get more and more sinister.

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The Woman in the Window, by AJ Finn (Mystery/ Thriller): I really dislike the “main character is a drunk unreliable narrator and no one believes her” genre. I’ve read several books like that, and I’m over it. Because of that, I didn’t really enjoy the first half of this book because it seemed like more of the same. But a friend insisted I’d like this book, so I went with it.

Midway through the book there was a twist I didn’t see coming, and once it happened, I couldn’t put the book down. It was totally worth reading.

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The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco (YA horror/ paranormal): I got this book from a search I did for “best YA horror.” It was recommended on several sites, so I gave it a try.

It’s very different horror, borrowing Japanese lore to create a ghost story that’s just fantastic. Okiku is a ghost who kills child murderers, but is otherwise not really interested in the living. Tark is a teenager with weird tattoos and a strange past. When Okiku notices him, the fun begins.

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Because You’ll Never Meet Me/ Nowhere Near You, by Leah Thomas (YA science fiction): I seriously had no idea the first one was science fiction until midway through the book. Two boys write letters to one another on the advice of their doctor. Ollie is allergic to electricity.  Moritz has a pacemaker. They know going into the friendship that they’ll never meet. They’re such opposites that they don’t expect to find common ground, but they do. Their voices are so different, yet complement one another so well that I enjoyed every minute of these strange books.

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I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson (YA contemporary): Once upon a time, Noah and Jude are inseparable. They’re twins, and no one understands them like the other. But  then, something terrible happens, and they’re suddenly strangers. This is a moving book about grief and love, and how when we’re in pain, we sometimes alienate the person we care about most.

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The Weight of Zero, by Karen Fortunati (YA contemporary/ mental health): In my opinion, there aren’t a ton of YA books that get mental health “right.” This one is a poignant portrayal of bipolar disorder, grief, and suicidal ideation. It covers some pretty heavy material and probably isn’t for everyone. Yet, it’s not unrelentingly depressing and ends up with a happy ending that feels realistic, rather than trite. Excellent book.

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An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones (contemporary): You know how when everyone is talking about a book, you start to feel like it can’t live up to the hype? I was seriously concerned that this book would be a disappointment. It wasn’t. It comments our flawed justice system and relationships. What would you do if your spouse was convicted for a crime you knew they didn’t commit? It’s an interesting question without easy answers, and I honestly had no idea how this book would end.

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The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke (YA science fiction): This may be the strangest book I read this year. It’s a love story between a woman and an android. It’s somewhat disturbing at times, but poses the fascinating question of what it means to be human. Should a sentient being have the same rights as a human?

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Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell (Romance): In my eyes, Rainbow Rowell can do no wrong. This was a cute romance novel about a guy who ends up reading email exchanges between two women in his office, and falls in love with one of them. He knows it’s creepy, but he can’t stop. I knew it was going to end with HEA (because duh), but couldn’t figure out how it would get there. Great fun.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (Contemporary): Eleanor Oliphant is completely unlikeable. She’s rigid and annoying… and completely compelling. Even in the beginning, when I didn’t like her, I couldn’t put the book down. By the time I got to the end, I wanted to give her a huge hug and make her some tea.

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli (YA contemporary): Reading this book was like a mini-vacation. Simon has such a weird and wonderful voice. I couldn’t stop reading, and I eagerly tried to figure out the mystery of who “Blue” was. This is one of those books best read in one big gulp.

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The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd (Historical fiction): I have to thank the Popsugar reading challenge for this one. I probably never would have read this book if I didn’t need something for the category “a book (fiction or non) about a real person.”

This was a fascinating take on Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and “her” slave, Handful. While the real Ms. Grimke was gifted a slave as a child, there isn’t much known about her. The story is told in alternating voices between Sarah and Handful, and hearing the two women tell their stories was riveting in an unexpected way. If this is what history class was like growing up, I would have paid closer attention.

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The Boy At the Door, by Alex Dahl (Mystery/ thriller): Another book I owe to Popsugar, for the category “Nordic noir.” This was a thrill ride. There were some parts I figured out long before they were revealed, and other things that kept me guessing until the last minute. There are times when I kind of want the “bad guy” to escape the consequences of their actions, and this was one of them.

What were the best books you read this year?

Rooting for a Terrible Character

I recently read The Boy at The Door, by Alex Dahl, to fill a “Nordic noir” category for a reading challenge.

As I was trying to pick out a book, I read some Goodreads reviews, hoping to get a sense if I’d like the book or not. And what was interesting to me was how many people said they hated the main character, Cecilia.

A quick, spoiler-free summary is that Cecilia is asked to take a boy home from swim practice one night, only when she gets to his house, it’s obviously abandoned. So she brings him home, and from there, a series of events happen that threaten the “perfect life” she’s created for herself, because that life is based on lies.

I can see why people didn’t like Cecilia. She’s selfish, manipulative, unapologetic, a complainer, and a perfectionist.

But she’s also pretty open and honest with the reader. There are reasons that she is the way she is. She’s also kind of vulnerable, wanting to keep the life she’s so carefully crafted.

As Cecilia’s secrets were revealed, none of them surprised me. Yet I felt increasingly sorry for her as this life she’d crafted fell apart.

It got me to thinking about how a lot of people probably would feel that the “bad guy” got what she deserved, and on one level, that’s probably right. Actions have consequences, and everything that happened to her was a result of the terrible choices she made.

On the other hand, she never meant to hurt anyone. She was only thinking of herself when she did things, which is not an enviable trait. And yet, it’s clear that she didn’t think through the consequences of her actions. She was just so terrified to lose what she’d built that she was in constant reaction mode.

I’ve always found the saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” to be an interesting one. While that’s undoubtedly true, it’s also paved with bad intentions. Why don’t we get any credit for our intentions? Why do others tend to judge us based on the worst thing we ever did? We all make mistakes, so why can’t we be more forgiving of the mistakes of others?

I didn’t like Cecilia. I wouldn’t want her as a friend or as a relative. But reading this story, I absolutely felt sorry for her and hoped that things would work out for her in the end.

Have you ever disliked a character but hoped they’d have a happy ending?

(And incidentally, if you want to try Nordic noir, I absolutely recommend this book.)

What I’ve Been Doing With My Time

Camera 4 024So… some of you may be wondering what I’ve been doing with my time, because it obviously hasn’t been blogging.

I kept meaning to write a post about it, but it kept getting away from me. I was deep in revisions on my novel, Not Dead Enough.

As a result of the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest (where I was a finalist), I ended up getting some amazing feedback. There was basic feedback, such as that my main character needed more agency, and big picture feedback, like I needed to make changes to my ending.

The feedback energized me, and I set out to learn more about how to create a character with agency. (More on this in a future blog, but honestly, I had a mental block on this until very recently.)

I’ve been so deep into revisions and learning that every time I thought, “I should write a blog post,” it sort of went in one ear and out the other.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ll be getting back to a weekly blogging schedule as of right now.

See you all next week!

How I Rate Books on Goodreads

img_3542I was looking at the books I’ve read on Goodreads the other day, and I realized that my feed is a sea of 3, 4, and 5 star ratings. It gave me pause as I wondered if I’m too easily entertained.

Goodreads suggests the following ratings:

5 stars: It was amazing.

4 stars: I really liked it.

3 stars: I liked it.

2 stars: It was okay.

1 stars: Did not like it.

And then it hit me… if I’ve finished a book, I at least liked it enough to give it 2.5 stars, which rounds up to 3. Anything below that, I don’t finish. In rare cases, I may hold out hope that the book will improve, or if I really like the author, I may give them way more of a chance than I would a relatively unknown.

That being said, I most often read two and one star reviews on Goodreads to see if I think I’ll like the book. Often, the negative reviews are more helpful for me in choosing a book than the positive ones.

If the flaws are something I can live with, I go for it. If I think those flaws will irritate me as much as the rater, I’m out.

Do you follow a rating system for books? Is it different than the one Goodread’s suggests?

5 Books That Remind​ Me to Be Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In honor of the holiday, I was thinking about books that remind me to be thankful. Here are the few I picked out.

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Pollyanna, by Eleanor M. Porter

This book is a classic! It might be silly, but I think it teaches us an important lesson… there’s always a reason to be glad (and grateful).

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Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

This is such an important book that I absolutely think every person should read. It’s about Viktor Frankl’s time in a concentration camp, and also how he survived. It’s bleak at times, but it’s also inspiring, encouraging, and reminds me to be grateful for all the wonderful possibilities in my life.

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The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

This was my first time reading this book, and it was moving. Anne was in a horrible situation, but she tried to keep her spirits up and constantly reminded herself to be grateful for what she had. If she can do it, any of us can.

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Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

The idea of living in a world without books terrifies me. Zombies and ghosts and the bird flu make me shrug. But no books? Shudder. We live in a world where we can get just about any book we might want and that’s a beautiful thing. I’m so grateful.

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The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

We live in a world of lots of freedoms. Sure, freedom is always a moving target, and there’s always going to be some inequality and some injustice, but overall, it could be far worse. For some women, in some parts of the world, The Handmaid’s Tale has more fact than fiction. I’m grateful for the freedoms I’m privileged to enjoy.

My friend Ramona over at While I Was Reading did a similar post, about books to inspire your gratitude practice. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, it’s worth a read.