10 Gift Ideas for Book Lovers

With the holidays approaching, I’ve been thinking about what kinds of things most book lovers would enjoy. Here’s a list of ideas I’ve brainstormed. (Note to friends and family: any/ all of these would be welcome!)

  1. Bookmarks. Honestly, we can never have enough bookmarks. It’s an inexpensive and thoughtful gift. Bookmarks are often one-sided, so bonus points if you write a personal message on the blank side.
  2. Books. This one seems obvious, but very few people gift me books. I guess they figure I’ve already read everything in existence? (I haven’t.) Sometimes gifted books are repeats, but one of my favorite things to ask for is a book that was meaningful to the giver in some way. It’s a great way to get to know friends and family better and makes a thoughtful gift. Because, honestly, who needs more stuff?* Bonus points if you write a note in the book (or on a post-it note in the book for those who abhor writing in books.)
  3. Alternate versions of the book lover’s favorite book. I already have multiple copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, and Watchers. If someone found a unique or interesting copy of any of these books, a graphic novel, or an attractive cover, I’d think it was a wonderful gift. All book lovers have their favorite books. Knowing what they are opens up endless gift possibilities.
  4. Art prints inspired by favorite books. I love these prints from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Etsy.com is my favorite place to shop for handmade and unique items, and they have tons of book related artwork.
  5. Journals. Not all book lovers journal, but many of us do. Personally, I have a weakness for all paper products: notebooks, journals, scrapbooks. I’ve started to try getting better about writing reflections on things I’ve read. I think it’s a good way to deepen my relationship with books and get a better understanding of things I’ve read.
  6. Upcycled journals. I would say I’m the only one who loves these, because I don’t know anyone else who’s into them, but they’re all over Etsy.com, so I can’t be alone. People find old scrap paper, paper bags, old books, ephemera, and turn it into a hand bound journal. I would own 3,465 of them if I didn’t already have problems with books spilling onto every surface in my home. If you know someone with a weakness for secondhand shops and journals, this might be a unique and fun gift.
  7. A Book of the Month subscription. My sister in law got me this last year for my birthday, and it was great. I got to experience new books that I wouldn’t have gone looking for on my own. A few of the books were meh, but one of them is a new favorite (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things). I’m always looking for the next magical experience in books, and thanks to the BOTM club, I found it. (There are many other book subscription boxes out there; that one just happens to be the one I have experience with.)
  8. Bookish clothing. I’ve been lusting over a pair of tights with text from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (from Etsy.com). There’s a site with great scarves with text from all sort of books. Here’s a site with T-shirts, socks, and accessories.
  9. An autographed book. Back when my husband and I were first dating, he got me a copy of a signed, first edition of Watchers, by Dean Koontz. That was one of the (many) ways I knew he was a keeper.
  10. A Zen Pencils book/ print. This one’s a bit of a stretch, but most readers I know also have a thing for quotes. Though Gavin Aung Than, the artist behind Zen Pencils, doesn’t usually illustrate book quotes, he often does poetry and quotes from authors. Right now he’s got 15% off going on. (This post is in no way sponsored… I just love Zen Pencils.)

*Books aren’t stuff. They’re a magical transportive experience.

What kinds of bookish gifts do you like to give or receive?

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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.

Our Dark Duet- A Review

Our Dark Duet is the sequel to This Savage Song. The first part of the review will be spoiler-free. I’ll warn you before you get to the spoilers.

I read This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, last November, and I fell in love. I may have screamed in frustration when I found out there was going to be a sequel that wasn’t due out for 11 months! It had a fresh premise, interesting and flawed characters. And monsters. (I like monsters.) It also had moral dilemmas and was a thoroughly discussable book. I partially reviewed it here.

Our Dark Duet came out on June 13th, and I bought a Kindle copy immediately. The story picks up six months later, letting us know what August and Kate have been doing since This Savage Song ended. Kate’s been fighting monsters in another town, and August has been trying to save South City.

For me, Our Dark Duet is a solidly good book, though I didn’t love it as much as the first one. But apparently I’m in the minority there. Folks on Goodreads and Amazon have rated the second higher than the first.

The Spoiler Free Good

Our Dark Duet has all the things I loved about the first one, plus a new and fascinating monster. We get to see more from insight the Flynn compound, and wrap up with all the characters who were in the first book.

The Spoiler Free Bad

Part of what I loved in the first book was the relationship between August and Kate. It wasn’t just about chemistry and shipping them (though that was an element for me). It was also about how they grew to depend on one another. They’re separated for most of the second book.

*Spoiler alert below the picture, including discussion of the ending. You’ve been warned.*

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The Good, With Spoilers

I love that they finally try to kiss, and that it brings Kate’s soul to the surface. I loved that they explore moral complexity more. Kate’s soul is “stained” because she shot someone in self-defense. She admits that maybe she could have done something different, but she didn’t because she assumed the person was a monster. Previously, when August has been reaping a soul, the confession clearly shows that the person is a bad guy. But they reveal that other people have done bad things with good intentions, or that they did bad things previously, changed. I appreciated that acknowledgement, because ignoring that always bothered me in the first one.

The Bad, With Spoilers

I don’t love it that Kate and Ilsa die. I’ve been thinking about it (which is why this review is written almost 2 weeks after I finished the book), and it’s probably the right ending. But it feels so hopeless. Kate and Ilsa helped August keep himself sane and in check. They remind him of the best parts of himself. Having them die and then it just end makes me worry about what August will do going forward. Not that he’ll go dark or lose his way again. But just that we all need to connect with someone, or what’s the point? And I know August loves his parents (even though Henry is dying too… ugh), but it’s not the same. Ilsa and Kate were the people August connected to the most.

I guess the implication was that August and Soro are going to form more of a connection, but… I neither liked nor disliked Soro, so that’s not comforting to me.

It almost feels like a loose end to me, and I want to know what happens to August next. Even though, honestly, I probably wouldn’t like if the author tried to stretch the premise into another book. It’s over… but it doesn’t feel that way.

I don’t mind that Kate and Ilsa died; it kind of feels right to me. And it’s life, isn’t it, that sometimes we don’t get what we want, and endings hurt? I just… I guess I wanted more for Kate and August; a chance for them to see who they could be together when they were a team.

What did you think of this book or this series? Have there ever been books where you both loved and hated the ending?

Outgrowing Favorites

img_7812-2When I was a kid, I loved to make lists of my “favorites.” Favorite music, books, movies colors. Best friends, ranked.

Recently, my dad asked me if the Beatles were still my favorite music group. I hesitated before saying, “Well… one of my favorites.”

The truth is that I don’t really have favorites anymore. I can give you a list of maybe the 10 things I listen to most, or the 10 books I love best, but I don’t have one singular thing at the top of any list anymore.

Is it part of growing older? Is it part of my tastes becoming more discerning? Or is it part of that whole decision making process? You know how when you’re a kid, you’re so sure you have all the answers? And then you grow up and you’re like, “Why am I no longer sure of anything?”

I no longer have a single favorite author, but a list of authors I love. Even if I love a particular book, I don’t go out of my way to read everything that author’s written. I have playlists instead of listening to albums. Maybe that’s a good thing, the sign of a mind with broad interests.

Still, I kind of miss the simplicity of being able to declare: “This is my favorite.”

How about you? Has your ability to pick favorites changed as you’ve grown up?

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?

What I Read in 2013, and Other Stuff About Books

San Tan Regional Park; Photo Credit Doree Weller

San Tan Regional Park; Photo Credit Doree Weller

I made a few resolutions in 2013, one of which was that I was not going to keep compulsively purchasing books.  I made good use of my library, and managed to practice self-control, for the most part.  Some of the reason I buy books is that I find them in used book stores, and I want to read it, but I know that if I put it on a list of stuff to be read, I’ll probably never get around to getting it from the library or buying from Amazon.  But if I bring it home, I’ll read it eventually.  It sort of works.

One of the things I did to stop myself from buying books was to keep a list of everything I read in 2013.  It was fun, and if I ever wonder, “Did I read that book?” I can go back and look at my list and see the book, along with my thoughts.

I read 76 books in 2013, less than I’ve read in other years, though I don’t actually have the numbers on that.  I just know that in previous years, I’ve read one book after another, reading up to three or four books in a week.  While that’s great and all, I decided I had to stop.  I needed to do more writing, cooking, walking… things you can’t do if you’re just inexhaustibly consuming one book after another.  I’m trying to read more mindfully.

Of the 76 books on my list, 44 were new, 27 were re-reads, and 5 I didn’t finish.  Of the 5 I didn’t finish, 3 were because life is too short to read boring books, and the other two, I just haven’t finished yet.

I’ve included the complete list, along with some notes I made for my own benefit.  Because of my book club, I found 2 new favorite books and took some risks with books I wouldn’t normally read.  Some of them were great, and I’m so happy I tried them.  Others were not books I enjoyed at all, and actually 2 of them were ones I didn’t finish.  I highly recommend reading stuff others recommend.  After all, it doesn’t hurt anything to put a boring book down.  But discovering a new and wonderful book is like an adventure.  I would never have read Beautiful Disaster or The Fault In Our Stars on my own, but I love both books so much now that they’ll be going on my special bookshelf for favorites.

*This is a book I’ve read before.

+This is a book I didn’t finish.

X Book suggested by my book club.

1.  Words Get In The Way by Nan Rossiter  About a boy with autism, pretty good

2.  *Pollyanna by Eleanor M. Porter

3.  *Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

4. X 600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster (1/12/13-1/13/13)  A man with Asperger’s… good

5.  Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul (competed 1/15/13)  🙂

6.  The good dream, Donna VanLiere (completed 1/24/13). Women’s fiction, pretty good.

7.  +Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk- just didn’t hold my interest… I tried!

8.  Anna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake (1/28/13)  Loved it!

9.  Girl of Nightmares, Kendare Blake (sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood)… great!

10.  Unforgettable Lady, Jessica Bird

11.  Fantasy Lover, Sherrilyn Kenyon (2/10/13)- Very good, get more by her.

12. X Zoo, James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge (2/10/13-2/12/13)  Good.

13.  Tempting the Beast, Lora Leigh (2/14/13)  Meh… don’t bother

14.  Sweep, Cate Tiernan (2/16/13)  Young adult series, great fun.

15. Cinder, Marissa Meyer (2/16- 2/17)  Great!

16. *Guilty Pleasures, Laurell K Hamilton (2/18-2/23)

17. *The Laughing Corpse, Laurell K. Hamilton (2/23)

18. *Circus of the Damned, Laurell K. Hamilton (2/23-2/24)

19.  *The Lunatic Cafe, Laurell K. Hamilton (2/25)

20.  *Bloody Bones, Laurell K. Hamilton (2/26-2/28)

21.  *The Killing Dance, Laurell K. Hamilton (2/28-3/1)

22.  *Burnt Offerings, Laurell K Hamilton (3/1-3/5)

23.  X Beautiful Disaster, Jamie McGuire (3/6- 3/9)  New for the favorites list.

24. *Beautiful Disaster, Jamie McGuire (3/9-3/11)

25.  X+Swamplandia, Karen Russell (3/11-3/14)  It read too much like literary fiction… boring!

26.  The Charming Man, Marian Keyes (3/15- 3/26)

27.  Calculated in Death (#45), JD Robb (3/27-3/31)

28.  Walking Disaster, Jamie McGuire (4/2)

29.  +Johnny Cash (4/3-

30. X The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh (4/13-4/14)

31.  Sweet Rains, Nora Roberts (4/22- 4/23)

32.  Scarlet, Marissa Meyer (4/23-4/27)

33.  Blithe Images, Nora Roberts (4/28)

34.  Lover at Last, JR Ward (5/1- 5/4)  Great, of course.

35.  Law of Love, Nora Roberts (5/5-5/8)

36.  *High Noon, Nora Roberts (5/9- 5/11)

37.  Empty Chairs, Stacey Dansen (5/15- 5/18)

38.  *The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (5/18- 5/20)

39.  *Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (5/20)

40.  *Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (5/21)

41.  Shards & Ashes, Melissa Marr & Kelley Armstrong (5/21-6/4)  Anthology,paranormal  🙂

42.  *50 Shades Darker, EL James (5/30- 6/2)

43. *50 Shades Freed, EL James (6/4- 6/6)

44.  X The Good House, Ann Leary  Not great, worth reading once.

45.  *Someone to Watch Over Me, Judith McNaught (6/22- 6/24)

46.  X The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon (7/8)

47.  This Book is Full of Spiders, David Wong (7/10-7/14), sequel to John Dies at The End

48.  *Blue Smoke, Nora Roberts (7/16- 7/17)

49.  Deeply Odd, Dean Koontz (7/23-7/26)

50.  Whiskey Beach, Nora Roberts (7/27-7/29)

51.  *Northern Lights, Nora Roberts

52.  Blue is for Nightmares, Laurie Faria Stolarz

53.  White is for Magic, Laurie Faria Stolarz

54.  *Walking Disaster, Jamie McGuire

55.  *Ice Castles, Leonore Fleisher

56.  *Remember Me, Christopher Pike (9/1-9/4)

57.  Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog, Cesar Millan (9/5-9/7)

58.  *Love Story, Erich Segal (9/10)

59.  *Where The Heart Is, Billie Letts

60.  *The Silver Link, The Silken Tie, Mildred Ames (9/16)

61.  The First Prophet, Kay Hooper (9/24- 9/27)

62. X The Lion is In, Delia Ephron (9/30)

63.  A Street Cat Named Bob: And how he changed my life, James Bowen (10/7)  Nice story

64.  X The Fault in our Stars, John Green (10/8- 10/10)  New for the Favorites List.

65.  Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan

66.  Emma, Jane Austen (10/20- 10/28)

67.  Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,Elizabeth Dunn&Michael Norton (10/26)

68. X My Name is Memory, Ann Brashares (10/30-11/2)

69. X Wild, Cheryl Strayed (11/4-11/11)  Unexpectedly good, memoir

70.  Allegiant, Veronica Roth (11/12- 11/19)

71.  Mirror, Mirror, JD Robb

72.  Thankless in Death, JD Robb (12/10- 12/11)

73.  Innocence, Dean Koontz (12/12- 12/13)

74.  A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog, Dean Koontz (12/14- 12/16)

75. X +In The Woods, Tana French (12/17-12/22)- Nothing happened, so I gave up.

76.  1984, George Orwell (12/23- present)