10 Books To Read Instead of Watching the Super Bowl

Not gonna lie… I’m not a sports fan. I used to enjoy playing dodgeball, and I love losing at miniature golf. My dogs have no criticism of my tennis ball throwing skills (mostly because I use the Chuck-it… shhh!). But that’s about it. I married a man who wasn’t into sports so that I’d never have to be tortured like that. Though I do see tons of tasty looking Super Bowl food coming through my newsfeed… but even that’s not enough to tempt me. If you’re like me, here’s some suggestions on what to read instead.

  1. If you want to read something involving football: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis. This book is strongly character driven. It has some football in it, but not so much that someone like me got bored by it. It was a fast read.
  2. If you want something with that competitive spirit, that’s way better than football: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Even if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t read this, it’s time. I loved all the characters, especially Katniss, of course. Even though she wasn’t always likable, she was interesting, and she had times where she was downright lovable. Reading about this life or death match is way more interesting than watching a ball go back and forth across the screen.
  3. If you want something about warring factions, that’s no game: This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab. This is YA, and was one of my favorite books last year. In a city overrun by monsters, the children of two opposing factions meet and start to question what they’ve been told. The creatures were new and interesting, and every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, I turned out to be wrong. But be warned… there’s a sequel that’s not coming out until later this year. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or anything, but there’s definitely more to the story.
  4. If you want a book that will counter all the testosterone in the air: The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon. It’s a love story about two teenagers meeting on a pivotal day in their lives. There are multiple points of view in this book  from people who aren’t main characters, and it’s interesting to see how chance interactions might affect the people around us. You might need tissues. (Really, anything by Nicola Yoon will work here.)
  5. If you want a book that’s best consumed with junk food: Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. Parts of this were laugh out loud funny. I listened to the audiobook version, which probably made it better. But if you have a sense of humor, maybe reading it would work just as well for you.
  6. If you want a book that will make you cheer out loud: Ready, Player One, by Ernest Cline. In a futuristic society, people can compete within a virtual reality world to win control of a fortune, and the virtual world. The main characters are all underdogs, and I love underdogs. Even if you don’t like science fiction, you might still enjoy this one. It’s not heavy at all, and it’s a fast, thrilling read.
  7. If you want a book that will make your adrenaline pump: You, by Caroline Kepnes. It’s the story about a stalker, and the woman he hunts through her social media accounts. It’s scary because it could happen to anyone. In fact, it could be happening to you right now.
  8. If you want a book that’s all about not doing what everyone else is: Fight Club, by Chuck Palahaniuk. I saw the movie first, and ran right out and got the book. There’s action! Philosophy! Crazy people! Seriously, if you’ve only seen the movie, read the book.
  9. If you want something short that you can probably finish by the time the game is over: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu. This is another YA book, about a girl who was at a party, and the subsequent rumors that follow her. It’s told from multiple points of view, people saying what they’ve been told and assume about Alice. It reminded me that whenever I hear a story, it’s only part of the truth. And it’s loosely football themed, since one of the characters is a high school football player.
  10. If you want something scarier than grown men chasing one another around a field: Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King. This is the sequel to The Shining. I had no idea this was even a thing, but it’s a few years old. I was skeptical that it would be any good, but it really is. You won’t finish it by the end of the game, but who cares?

These are my suggestions. Are there any you’d add?

Be Useful, or Shut Up!

img_7580Recently, my husband and I watched a movie called Monsters, an interesting horror movie about a photographer and his boss’s daughter trying to get back home. They need to travel through an “infected” area, where they could be attacked by aliens.

There were many things I liked about this movie. Overall, if you’re into horror movies, and you’re looking for something different, I recommend it.

When I was watching this movie, I realized that there are certain characters I loathe in books in movies. Those are the characters, usually female, who are deadweight but presented as a legitimate main character.

In this particular movie, the boss’s daughter makes demands while others are engaged in battle. Not out of any malice, but just things like, “What’s going on?” and “Hurry up because if you don’t, we’ll die.”

I hate stuff like that. It makes me want to punch those characters. Seriously. “I knew this was a crisis, but now that you’ve said to go faster, I understand that I was dawdling. Thanks!”

I always talk during movies at home (not at the theater… I’m not a jerk!), and when a character like this comes on, I give them helpful hints on how not to be a useless, annoying blockhead. In this case, it was something like, “Be useful, or shut up.”

Of course, I can’t stand that kind of person in real life either. So I guess it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise…

What characters do you hate?

Just Stop With the Harry Potter Stuff Already, Okay? Just… Stop.

img_7684My husband and I recently hung out with his family, and my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t believe that not only had I not seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I really, really didn’t want to. They asked if I’d read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I had to explain that it wasn’t even a real book.

I was slow to board the Harry Potter train (see what I did there… c’mon, that was funny!). People told me how great the books were, but because I’m contrary, I didn’t read them. But by the time the third book was out, I decided that I should read the first one so I could tell everyone that they were WRONG for loving them.

Yeah, it didn’t work out that way. I loved the first book. And the second. And the third. So I was crazy with anticipation as I waited for the fourth book to come out. I went to the bookstore at midnight. I told everyone who’d listen how great the books were. And I think I lost four copies of the first book after I loaned them out and they were never returned. That’s okay though… at least I introduced people to the magic of the world.

I love the books. If I got my letter to Hogwarts tomorrow (a few years later than most people), I’d be on Expedia buying a ticket London, heading to King’s Cross station before you could say “Accio Adulthood.”

The books aren’t perfect, of course. But they were good, and fun, and I enjoy re-reading them.

In my mind, there are seven books. The series is over. I don’t want to read the screenplay or see the spin-offs. I was happy with the ending, and anything else is likely to ruin it for me. It’s like when I have the perfect dinner, and eat one bite too many of dessert. Then I feel sick and start to regret the whole meal. Or when I go to paint night, and I like my painting, but because I’m done with it before everyone else, I fiddle with it, adding strokes or details, and eventually add too much and then I hate it.

Enough is enough. Seriously.

The Harry Potter series is seven books. As far as I’m concerned, the others don’t exist. Leave me be in my happy world of denial.

Don’t Judge a Gas Station By Its Murdery Exterior

A few times a year, I drive from Texas to Arizona, and back again. It’s a 14 hour drive total, and I generally do it in two days. Why? you ask. Great question. It’s because my parents live in Arizona, and I go to visit them. Why not fly? you ask. Also a fantastic question. It’s because I have a 14 year old lab mix who is not happy when I leave her behind with my husband. Version 2She likes him well enough… until I go away. So I make the drive with two dogs in tow. Which makes it even more fun.

 

So anyway, I was driving home from Arizona when I realized that the cup of coffee I’d had wasn’t a spectacular idea. I was in the middle of nowhere, praying for a gas station. I was listening to the audiobook of Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. While the book is great, I was at the part where he was describing poutine. And, I don’t know… for some reason, I had to turn it off. It just added to my torture. When I saw the sign telling me that salvation was in a half mile, I almost cried.

When I got off the exit, I didn’t see the gas station at first. The road bent left, and the first thing I saw was this:

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By this point, even if that had been the gas station, I probably would have gone in. It was like that.

The one I was looking for was right after it, and while it looked better than the abandoned, busted down one, it still looked a little… murdery. There were signs all over about “fresh jerky.” (This is an Arizona thing. Roadside stands are always advertising fresh jerky.) I texted my husband with my location, just in case the jerky was made from the flesh of desperate travelers.

I did my business, and then, wanting a drink, I wandered inside. I know, I know… I never learn, right? The inside had nuts and jerky on shelves along the walls, with handcrafted items in the center. It actually was quite homey. I ended up buying a wind chime (because I love wind chimes). While I was paying, the cashier offered me a sample of jerky. When I declined, she then said, “We have sugar free jerky, in case that’s your concern.” I wasn’t sure what to say to that, except to murmur, “No thanks.”

Do I look like I’m worried about the sugar content of jerky? Was she trying to get me to eat it because it actually contains a sedative, and that’s how they get a fresh supply?

I really liked the place, so the next time I’m traveling that way, I’ll probably stop in. Maybe I’m pushing my luck, but it’s hard to find really nice wind chimes.

Why I’ve Started Giving Books As Gifts

I’ve always been a lousy gift giver. I want to give great gifts, but my brain mostly doesn’t work that way. My sister-in-law is one of those talented people who always seems to know the perfect gift. Over the years, she’s gotten me a subscription to Writer’s Digest, a subscription to the Book of the Month Club, and Alice In Wonderland pajamas. And this clock:

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Every once in awhile, I’ll be out somewhere and spot the perfect thing. But mostly… not.

A few years ago, I had an inspiration to start requesting other people’s favorite books as gifts. It seemed like a fun idea, and I liked seeing what other people picked. Then I realized that one thing I know pretty well is books. People come to me for recommendations, and since I read across many genres, I’m usually pretty good at figuring out what others will like.

As adults, most of us no longer want to receive more stuff. Sticking to consumables just makes sense to me, but does anyone really want to receive more food at Christmas?

Enter books. They’re personal gifts that never expire. They’re decorative. They’re fun. And best of all, they’re thoughtful gifts that I can actually give. It’s fun to think about what each person on my shopping list might like.

What’s the best gift you’ve given or received?

12 Books I Read (Almost) Every Year

Version 2I love a lot of books, and as I said a few days ago, I re-read when I’m stressed out or just in the mood, but there are a handful I tend to read almost every year. (I wanted to do a nice even 10… but this was as far as I could pare down my list).

  1. Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls- I read this book for the first time in elementary school. My copy is pretty much falling apart. This book never fails to make me cry, but I love it. It’s a book I go for if I’m feeling a little nostalgic and a little sad. Having a good cry cheers me up, and then I’m ready to get back to my normal cheerful self.
  2. These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder- I read the whole series as a kid (and then re-read it maybe 2 years ago), but this is the one that appealed to me. I grew up with Laura on TV and in books, and this book reminds me of sitting at home as a kid on a cold winter’s night.
  3. Watership Down, by Richard Adams- This book, told from the point of view of rabbits, never fails to delight me. I was obsessed with this book from the first time I read it, looking up every word I didn’t know (mostly flower references). I quoted it, and when I wrote stories, named my characters after the ones in this book. It’s an epic adventure, and I loved the fact that it developed from a father telling his kids a story.
  4. Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter- I strive to live my life like Pollyanna, always finding a reason to be glad and count my blessings. Reading this book every year reminds me of the person I want to be.
  5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen- I love Elizabeth Bennett, and she and I share a love of laughing at the follies of ourselves and others. Like Elizabeth, I can sometimes jump to conclusions. Though I’ve never said anything quite as regrettable as Elizabeth said to Darcy, I have said and thought things I wish I hadn’t.
  6. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes- This book caused a lot of controversy, but I loved it. I love books about controversial topics because I love books that generate discussion. Spoiler alert** This book may ultimately be about dying, but it’s also very much about life.
  7. Where The Heart Is, by Billie Letts- Novalee Nation is an unlikely heroine. In the beginning of the book, she’s so inept that she ends up living in a Wal-mart, and ultimately having her baby there. As time goes on, she makes connections with people and finds an unlikely family. She stops letting her past define her, and makes herself into a strong woman.
  8. Francesca, Baby, by Joan Oppenheimer- I found this book at a used book sale when I was a kid. Without knowing anything about it, I brought it home. It’s about a young girl struggling with an alcoholic mother. First published in 1976, it’s definitely somewhat dated. But I love the characters, and I love the way the book handles the topic of mom’s alcoholism. Mom is, at times, a pathetic character. But she’s not a caricature. It’s an easy read, and one I tend to go for when I need something on the lighter side.
  9. The Silver Link, The Silken Tie, by Mildred Ames- This was another used book sale find. It’s about two misfits, and how they find one another. It was also my introduction to a character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (Though it’s never specifically named, that’s what it is.) Being a misfit myself, I love main characters who feel out of place, but ultimately find their tribe. Oh, and there’s a subplot about mind control and a speculative fiction element involving shared dreaming.
  10. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte- What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? I know some people find the relationship between Mr. Rochester and Jane to be problematic, but I love it. Yes, he makes mistakes, but he pays for them. And ultimately, they may not be right for anyone other than each other.
  11. Remember Me, by Christopher Pike- In typical Christopher Pike fashion, the plot is a bit convoluted, but ultimately, it’s fun. I love the idea of a girl sticking around long enough to figure out who murdered her. I reach for this one if I need a quick read, but don’t want something I’ll get so into that I can’t put it down. (Since I’ve read it a billion times, I can put it down anytime.)
  12. The Forbidden Game series, by LJ Smith- I love the settings and format of these books. The first one is set inside a board game, in an old house where people have to face off against their nightmares. That pretty much hits all my “shut up and take my money!” points. Nightmares? Check. Creepy houses? Check. Board games? Check. The last one is set in a defunct amusement park, which is also a big ol’ check mark. This is a series I read when I’m not feeling well and want to spend some time resting on the couch. The books aren’t long, and I can make it through all of them in a day.

Do you have any go-to books that you read every year, or you reach for if you’re stressed or having a bad day?

Why I Love To Re-read

In December, I read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood. I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. reading it, and then I went to bed. In the morning, I started reading it again. I later posted a picture of me re-reading it, which then started a conversation about re-reading books.

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Some people never re-read a book. Others, like me, love to re-read. I have a few books I read almost every year. When I love a book, I might read it twice, back to back. I own several books that have post it notes stuck in my favorite parts. That way, if I’m having a bad day, I just go back and read the super-abridged version, and it never fails to cheer me up.

Re-reading a book I love never gets boring to me. It’s like visiting old friends. Sometimes I find details I missed during the first reading. Or I may make connections I missed. As a writer, a second reading can allow me to appreciate the structure of the book, or character development. Some books may have a particularly great ending that I enjoy going back to read over.

In particularly stressful times in my life, I read books I know I love; I call them “comfort books.” When life is hard, the last thing I want to deal with is a mediocre book. Plus, since I’m a moody reader, if I’ve already read a book, I know exactly what’s wonderful about it, and exactly which mood it will suit.

Are you a re-reader? Or do you read once and only once?