10 Best Books for Fall

Today is the first day of fall. And let me tell you… I’m ready for it.

Fall is my favorite season. After the unrelenting heat of summer, it’s nice to go outside and not instantly be sweaty and overheated. (I’d rather be cold than hot.)

Fall is such a pretty time of year too, with the leaves turning colors and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Plus, fall has Halloween, which is the best holiday ever.

I used to look forward to the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks, but since I’ve started eating healthier, all I taste is chemicals. 😦 I’ve tried a few recipes at home, and some other coffee shops, but I haven’t found anything I like as much as I remember. (If you have an awesome recipe for PSL, please let me know… I will be forever in your debt.)

I always hear about summer beach reads. I think autumn hammock reads and autumn forest reads should be a thing. My list is largely horror, but I did throw in a couple that aren’t. Think camping, falling leaves, colder days, ghosts, vampires, and monsters.

  1. And the Trees Crept In, by Dawn Kurtagich This is a wonderfully creepy YA book. Silla and Nori flee an abusive situation and go live with their aunt. But the house their aunt lives in is haunted. And the trees get closer every day. This would be a fantastic one to sit and read in the woods. And then wonder if that whispering through the tree branches is actually them getting… a… little… closer.
  2. Dracula, by Bram Stoker Count Dracula is evil; no sparkles here. If you’ve never read it, there’s no time like the present.
  3. ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King This is an underrated book of King’s, not one that gets talked about often. It’s the story of what happens when bad vampires take over a town.
  4. Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein This is a 5 book series. Of course, Mary Shelley’s original is wonderful, and everyone should read it. But this series is interesting, starting in modern day. Detectives Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison begin investigating a series of strange murders. In the course of their investigation, they find that Victor Frankenstein didn’t learn anything the first time around, and that his monster has become more human than the man. Like most Dean Koontz books, they’ve got it all: fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, exploration of the nature of what it means to be human.
  5. The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern When I think of fall, I think of camping, haunted hayrides, music festivals– basically anything involving woodsmoke, apples, marshmallows, and that special crisp scent in the air. The Night Circus evokes those feelings. Bonus points if you actually read it while sitting outside by the campfire.
  6. Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake Cas Lowood kills the dead. For him, it’s not that big of a deal. But when he comes against Anna, it all gets more complicated. Because Anna’s ghost is not ready to stop killing. This is a two book YA series, with Girl of Nightmares following the first.
  7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black Vampires are real and confined to Coldtowns so they don’t infect humans. Still, humans don’t go out at night, because vampires don’t always follow rules. When Tana wakes up one morning after a party, she finds that all her friends have been slaughtered, and her ex-boyfriend has been bitten. A delirious vampire is chained up next to him. The vampires who did it are in the basement, asleep. For reasons even Tana doesn’t understand, she takes them both out of the house, intending to drive them both to the closest Coldtown.
  8. House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski This book is long and complicated, and so worth it. It puts a spin on the idea of a haunted house. Johnny works in a tattoo parlor, and finds a book in the apartment of a dead man. It’s called “The Navidson Record,” and it details the story of a family who bought a house that grows and shrinks, with hallways going places they shouldn’t, and creatures living in the dark. Though it’s presented as fact, Johnny can’t find any evidence that the Navidson Record is real. His obsession with the record drives him crazy. The book is told in an experimental fashion, with pages you have to turn sideways (or upside down) to read, notes scrawled in the margins, sketches, different colored text, and different languages.
  9. A Long Fatal Love Chase, by Louisa May Alcott Rosamond lives with her bitter old grandfather and wants more from life. She declares, “I often feel that I’d sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.” Not long after, a mysterious man (Phillip Tempest) arrives and romances her. She agrees to go away with him, if he marries her. He does, and they have a year of happiness. But when she finds out they were never really married, she flees, and Phillip pursues her, vowing never to let her go.
  10. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed Following a divorce and the death of her mother, with no real camping or hiking experience, Cheryl Strayed impulsively decided to hike 1000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail alone. She traveled from California, through Oregon, into Washington, meeting new people and learning about herself. I have no idea if the movie did it justice, but this was a fantastic memoir about one woman’s journey to self-discovery.

Are there any on my list you agree or disagree with? Any fall reads you’d add?

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Remembering What I Read

img_7738One of the people in one of my book clubs commented that she usually doesn’t remember many details from what she reads. It surprised me, because I assumed that everyone was like me and remembered details from the stories. I remember names, places, plots, etc. if I like the book. If I don’t like it, I don’t remember it as well.

Getting perspectives on how other people read is always interesting for me. To me, part of the fun of reading is going back and thinking over parts I loved, thinking about the characters as if they were real people I met for coffee, and maybe flipping through to find sections I loved.

It’s not unusual for me to think about a book, and read an “abridged” version of it, skimming and flipping through to only revisit my favorite parts.

For people who don’t remember details, it seems to be more about the experience of reading. They enjoy going on that journey, and whether they remember every bit of it is irrelevant. They had fun, and that’s all that matters.

For me, it’s not like that. If I can’t remember details from a book I liked, it will frustrate me, and I’ll have to go back and reread. I’ve actually done that when I know someone else is reading a book I like. I’ll reread the book in hopes that we can have a detailed and interesting discussion about it.

Do you remember details of books (or movies) you liked, or do you just remember generalities?

10 Reasons Books Are Better Than People

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    This is an actual T-shirt I own (and love!)

    If a book is boring or irritating, I can just close it. If it were bad enough, I could burn it. Not that I’d ever do that (I’d just give it to Goodwill or Half-Price Books), but I could.

  2. A book will never let their annoying children run in front of my cart at Costco, as I try to navigate the overcrowded aisles with 150 pounds of cat litter in my cart. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Books don’t take it personally if I don’t like them or don’t feel like answering their calls that day. Seriously, it’s not you; it’s me.
  4. Books make me smarter. Some people make me feel dumber after spending 10 minutes with them.
  5. Books are quiet. The world is filled with noise. It’s nice when I don’t have to worry about it.
  6. Books don’t get insulted about my opinions of them. Authors might. But I can say whatever I want to a book, and it won’t get all huffy. If I trash a book to other people, I don’t get accused of gossiping.
  7. If I want to know what a book’s going to be like, I can read the cover copy, read reviews, or even read the first page before committing. There’s no way to tell, when I first meet a person, if they’re going to be someone I can really talk to, or if time talking to them would make me dumber. (See #4) Some people disguise it well, at first.
  8. I can reread my favorite parts. I can’t rewind my favorite moments with people. Sometimes when I’m hanging out with my favorite people, I forget to pause and enjoy the moment. But with a book, that moment will always be there.
  9. I never have to figure out social cues. When is it time to leave? Where’s a good point to stop the conversation? Am I boring that person? Do they know they’re boring me? Should I tell them about the food stuck in their teeth? None of that. I close the book, and the characters will wait until I return.
  10. I can read about anything I want, and no one gets their feelings hurt. In real life, some people are offended when talking about controversial topics. It can be difficult to have discussions with some people without them becoming heated. But not with books. Nope. I can read opinions I agree with, ones I disagree with, or even balanced information on a topic to develop an opinion, and no one gets all huffy about it.

Do you agree with my list? Is there anything you’d add to this list? Anything you disagree with?

How To Read Childhood Favorites the “Right” Way

IMG_9546I love rereading books that I used to love. Nostalgia books, I suppose you could call them.

It used to never be a problem for me, but as I’ve gotten more serious about writing, and as I’m critiquing other writer’s works on a weekly basis, it’s gotten more difficult not to read things with a critical eye.

Two years ago, I made the mistake of gifting my all time favorite book to my critique partner. As I reread it after I gifted it, I started seeing areas I knew he would criticize. And he did criticize those areas, and many more I hadn’t anticipated.

Suddenly, I didn’t love the book as much as I used to. It wasn’t the perfect example of a novel that I’d thought it was. I was disappointed, and for a long time, didn’t want to read any of my old favorites, worried that I wouldn’t love them as much as I used to.

Recently, I got the urge to reread The Forbidden Game trilogy, by LJ Smith. Without overthinking it, I started the first one.

I ended up reading it in two minds. My critical reader found all the flaws. (And there are flaws.) But my nostalgic reader found all the reasons I’d always loved it. And my nostalgic reader was louder.

It’s easy to find the flaws in something, to pick it apart, to criticize. That’s why anyone can do it.

And as a writer, it’s important that I can be constructively critical to my work and to the work of other writers who want to improve. Sometimes, as a reader, it’s important to do too. It’s good practice, and helps judge what works and what doesn’t.

But there are sometimes when I don’t want to pick things apart or find ways to improve something. Sometimes I just want to enjoy it, recapture that uncomplicated pleasure that came with reading it in the past.

The meaning of a particular book and how it resonates with the reader can change over time. There have been books I’ve connected with more or less over time, depending on where I was in my life.

But I don’t ever want to get to the point where I look at a beloved book, and only see the flaws. That serves no purpose. And I certainly don’t want to avoid rereading a favorite book out of fear.

All books have magic, and magic is a personal thing. But the key is that we, as readers, have to be complicit in creating that magic. It doesn’t exist without a reader who’s willing to be immersed in the book.

A book that resonates with me, at any point in my life, doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s an unrealistic standard. If it made me feel something deeply at any point, then it was “perfect” for me at that moment.

So, from now on, when I’m rereading a book, I’m going to keep in mind that it’s okay for it to have flaws, and those flaws don’t diminish its value one bit.

After all, at one point, I didn’t even see the flaws. They were always there, but I was so immersed in magic that I missed them. And I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me… not even myself.

5 Reasons I Read Only 1 Book At a Time

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I know some people who read multiple books at the same time, but I’m usually a monogamous reader. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess.

Why I read one book at a time

  1.  If I like the book, I don’t want to put it down. I certainly would not be able to give two books the same attention… my head might explode.
  2. If I want to read a different book, it’s a sign I’m probably not interested in the first one. If I put it down to “take a break,” I probably won’t pick it back up. So if I want to finish it, I’ll be more motivated if I know I have a book I’m excited to read waiting for me.
  3. I have enough trouble adulting when I’m reading without doubling it. If I like a book, I have trouble putting it down to complete tasks I’m supposed to. (Honestly, I could just read all day, pretty much every day.) If I read two books at the same time, that would probably make it worse.
  4. I lose things. It’s a joke in our house that I normally have no idea where I put my phone even though I literally just had it. My books stay in the last place I was reading them (or my purse, if I was out). But I can just imagine that if I was reading two books at the same time, I’d forget where I put one and drive myself crazy.
  5. I’m a moody reader. If I’m reading two books at the same time, they’d have to be similar in some ways. Why would I want to have two horror novels, or two romance novels going at the same time?

Exceptions

  1.  If I’m reading a regular book and an audiobook. Then, of course, they occupy different spaces in my life. I only listen to audiobooks when my eyes or hands are engaged doing something else, and reading the old-fashioned way would be impractical (or dangerous).
  2. The first book is one I want to read (like a classic), but it’s not engaging my attention. There’s a reason I’m reading it, so I know I’m going to finish, but it’s hard work, and I need a break.

Do you read multiple books at a time, or are you a monogamous reader, like me?

20 Books of Summer- Successes and Failures

I loved the idea of setting a goal to read 20 books from my shelves in a set period of time. I’ve been wanting strategies to cull books that I don’t really want, and my “well, I’ll get around to seeing if I want to read that eventually” doesn’t work.

What I Read

  1. The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, by Phillip Pullman I really enjoyed these, though I thought they got better as the series progressed.
  2. Roseblood, by AG Howard I didn’t really like this one. I kept hoping it would get better, but it wasn’t my taste.
  3. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett This one was sent to my by a friend, and I kept meaning to get to it, but just never did. I loved it.
  4. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena It was a mystery/ thriller that just fell flat for me.
  5. The Mouse and The Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary This was chosen by a friend for our Popsugar challenge, for a “book set in a hotel.” It was a delightful kids’ book, and a nice break from so much meh.
  6. The Unseen (Books 1-4) by Richie Tankersley Cusick I blogged about this series here, and ranted about it on Goodreads, but suffice it to say, I was not a fan.
  7. Tweak: Growing up on methamphetamine, by Nic Sheff I ended up listening to it on audiobook, and it was a good memoir about addiction and recovery.
  8. Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin I actually bought this book because I met the author at the local SCBWI conference. It was a sweet story and an easy read.
  9. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton I’m about halfway through this one, and enjoying it. A friend sent it to me after I reread The Secret Garden and talked about how much I’d loved it.

The Good

  1. I read 14 books from my list (and am working on 15), and got rid of more than that. I tried (and abandoned) Wicked. I’ve completed one other Gregory Maguire book and hated it. That meant that all of his books went into the donate box, guilt free. (And I had quite a few of them… I don’t remember where I got them.)
  2. I felt a sense of accomplishment, getting through so many books. It’s always nice to set a goal and work toward it, even if I didn’t quite meet it.

The Bad

  1. I hated reading from a pre-set list. I picked 20 books plus 5 alternates, and I struggled with them. I ended up reading 5 books in a row that I didn’t like, but I wasn’t ready to abandon. I wanted to pick something for my next book that I was a little more sure I’d like, but it wasn’t anything on the pre-picked list.
  2. When I started this, I didn’t know it was going to be a stressful summer for me. That meant that it was especially important for me to read things I enjoyed. Reading 5 books in a row I didn’t like was discouraging and made me want to stop reading off the list.

The Verdict

I’m going to set a quarterly goal of books to read off my shelf, but I’m not going to pre-pick them. That way, I can read whatever I’m in the mood for, but still cull my shelves, making room for new books.

Did you participate in 20 Books of Summer (or a different reading goal)? How’d you do? What do you think of reading challenges in general?

Death Note, Not Really A Horror Movie

imagesLast night, the husband and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix, and we came across this interesting looking “horror movie: called Death Note. The premise is that a teenage boy, Light (yes, that’s his name), comes across a leather journal labeled “Death Note.” In the book, there are a list of rules, but what it all boils down to is that if he writes down the name of the person while holding their face his his mind, they die. He can even pick the method.

He starts with the school bully. (That’s not a spoiler. If you couldn’t see that a million miles away, then this is probably the first movie you’ve ever watched.) Ryuk, presumably the creature who orchestrates the killings, appears to him and goads him into killing more people.

Sounds pretty cool, right? It’s apparently based on manga of the same name, and people who reviewed this vs. the manga on imdb.com said that the creators got most everything wrong.

I haven’t read the manga, but the story felt off to me. The whole time I was watching it, I wanted to like it. But it was too much like bad TV movie instead of the quality I’ve come to expect from Netflix originals. Even worse, the premise was fantastic, and I saw how it could have been great.

What I didn’t like (SPOILERS below):

  1. It turned into a bad cop show. Now, I love cop shows. But this was supposed to be a horror movie. It was like a caricature, with the nameless “secret” detective not only believing that a single person could be responsible for the deaths of 400 people, but then figuring it out that it’s a teenage boy. Yes, Light has people leave his “signature” at their death scenes, but the police never heard of copycat crime?
  2. No real exploration of human nature. The kid starts killing bad people, starting with the bully and then the guy who was responsible for his mother’s death. Which is totally understandable. Light starts dating this girl who’s obsessed with death. At first they’re just killing bad people: rapists and murderers. But when detectives start getting too close to them, Mia wants to kill the detectives and Light doesn’t. This could have been such an interesting storyline, but they just left it flat. Light was the good guy, Mia was the bad guy. Black and white.
  3. The book falls from the sky. The first scene of the movie is that a storm rolls in, and the Death Note literally falls from the sky. Literally falls from the sky. Light picks it up and becomes the “keeper.” This is the dumbest way it could have happened to get the book. Off the top of my head, I can think of many better ways for this to happen. It’s too deus ex machina for me. But at least the opening scene set the stage for how the rest of the movie would go.
  4. Light never wonders what happened to the last keeper(s) of the book. Ryuk alludes several times the previous keepers, but Light doesn’t seem to pick up on it. Ryuk says only the keeper can hold the book for more than 7 days. And that Light can either give the book away, or Ryuk can find a new keeper. But the way he said it made me wonder if the last one died, and how.
  5.  I love when music blends seamlessly into the background, enhancing the mood. This didn’t do that. It led to that caricature-like atmosphere I mentioned before.
  6. The ending was ambiguous. I like ambiguous endings, when appropriate. The ending of Inception was cool because it wasn’t lazy storytelling; it was part of the story. In this case, how it ended would change the message of the entire movie. I understand why the writers did it; to leave it open to the audience to determine, like a commentary on human nature. But the rest of the story didn’t do a good enough job of this to have it end this way.

One thing I really liked:

Other than the premise, the one thing I really liked about this show was the fact that people started worshipping “Kira,” the entity who took credit for the killings. Criminals started turning themselves in to police, instead of waiting for Kira to kill them where they were. I found those two things believable and interesting.

In conclusion:

Overall, it was interesting to watch once. I wouldn’t have been as disappointed by it as I was if it didn’t have such great potential. It’s just that I like when horror explores human nature, and this was a let-down.