2016 Reading List

This has been a great reading year for me, which is my way of saying, I am feeling GOOD. I found a sci-fi series I love, several teen reads I can actually recommend to my daughter, and even some of the best non-fiction I’ve ever come across. (I know. I’m growing up.)

All this reading, and even more writing in other places, has made my posting here less frequent. Not to mention a series of real-world stresses. In truth, having a good book to fall into helped carry me through a fairly stressful winter and spring. The world can never look completely bleak when you still have a good story to turn to.

The end result for all of you is that this reading list update, which I prefer to do every few months, had grown into a mega-monster reading list. In an attempt to make this more readable, I’m not listing them in the order I read them. Instead, I led with the ones I actually recommend. If I gave it a label, consider it a recommendation. The rest are all jumbled together but still in more less descending order of quality. Though, to be clear, I started many, many more books this year that I never finished. These are the ones that I found worth finishing. So they’re better than some!

Without further ado: the books that have made my life better this year. I hope they can do the same for you.

  • The Expanse Series (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate, Cibola Burn, and Nemesis Games, plus a few novellas) by James S.A. Corey

“There aren’t any new starts,” Bobbie said. “All the new ones pack the old ones along with them. If we ever really started fresh, it’s mean not having a history any more. I don’t know how to do that.”

I first checked out the books because of the Syfy Channel show that was based on them. We started watching and were pretty into it (It’s quality TV.), but it wasn’t until I got about halfway through the first book that I was totally hooked.  I devoured all five huge books in about two months and can’t wait for the sixth one which is supposed to come out in November. This is space opera at its best, spanning the galaxy but still focused in on the very human characters, and the writing is strong. It’s just the right amount of mystery, a nice mix of drama and humor, and takes place in a well-thought-through universe. All of the characters are real people, very flawed and with complex motivations, but there are several you can legitimately root for. In fact, after a while, the series takes on a sort of Firefly feel, with a team of independent personalities weaving in and out of massive system-wide events. (Comparing something to Firefly is the highest compliment I can give.) It’s a fun read. Plus, I love the basic philosophy of the series, which is that however far we travel and however advanced we get, we still just have all the same old human problems. This is epic sci-fi on a scale that feels personal. I highly recommend it.

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 P.M . that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

I had heard from others that this was an incredible book. They didn’t oversell it. I had to really struggle to choose just one quote to share with you. While I was reading it, I jotted down a dozen at least. Coates uses the most powerful and poetic language to describe his own life experiences as he attempts to make sense of life as black man in America. The book is addressed to his son, and it reads with that kind of intimacy. It felt like tip-toeing into someone else’s head and peering out at the world through his eyes. He offers no solutions. He has none. He has no God. He has no answers. But if you want to get outside of your own little view of life, this is a great place to start.

  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and was heavily in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father. Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages.

This book was written in 1959, and I feel like an idiot for never having read it before. It’s short. It’s fascinating. It’s an African story told in a very African voice. And it packs a visceral punch at the end. If you’ve never read it, you really have to do it. It will only take you a couple of hours, and you won’t regret it.

  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Fascinating sci-fi from a powerful African point of view. It’s simmering with rage and also full of beauty. It is graphic in places and pulls no punches, but it moves at a pace that keeps the dense nature of what’s happening from getting too overwhelming. I’ve read a lot of dystopian fiction, but this is the one that most forcefully made me think about the question behind it: if it all really did burn down, what would actually rise from the ashes?

  • You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day –

This was my first read of the new year, and it was a good one to start with. If you don’t know who Felicia Day is, you are only half a geek, and that’s okay. You’d probably enjoy her book anyway. She tells her story in a way that will make you laugh out loud and also think you’d better get off your butt and do something with your life. It’s a winning combination and makes for a quick and uplifting read.

  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

• Don’t make the same mistakes that everyone else makes. Make wonderful mistakes. Make the kind of mistakes that make people so shocked that they have no other choice but to be a little impressed. • Sometimes stunned silence is better than applause.

If you know who Jenny Lawson (aka The Blogess) is, you’ll already know that this book is funny and weird (like bordering on bizarre). In between making you laugh so hard you can’t breathe, she gives you a peek into life with mental illness. Also, this book features taxidermy in the best possible way. Yes, there’s a good way to talk about taxidermy. I swear.

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.

Beautiful, dark, magical fiction. This is dark like nighttime is dark, not like evil is dark. It winds around through time and through its characters in a twisting path that brings you to a very satisfying end. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to like this much, but I ended up absorbed and delighted.

  • Reading right now: American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Chicago happened slowly, like a migraine. First they were driving through countryside, then, imperceptibly, the occasional town became a low suburban sprawl, and the sprawl became the city.

I woudn’t normally recommend a book before I’ve finished it, but this is a great book. Reminds me forcefully in style (though not storyline) of King’s The Stand. The writing is amazing, as you would expect, and the main idea as I see it so far is fascinating. Can’t wait to see how it ends.

  • Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

Glory is sacrifice, glory is exhaustion, glory is having nothing left to give. Almost. It is death by living.

I’m so glad I discovered this book. Each chapter is its own little window into this idea of life lived as sacrifice, making your life into the ultimate story. The chapters about Wilson’s grandparents are powerful. Also this, which I just couldn’t not copy out for you:

Adam, living his story rightly, would have done the same. Adam would not have been the well-behaved Mormon teenager, abstaining from the fruit. He would have looked at Eve, seen her curse, seen her enemy, and gone after that serpent with pure and righteous wrath. He would have then turned to face the pure and righteous God Himself (that Adam had just imaged), and he would have said something quite simple, something that would be said by another, thousands of years later.
“Take me instead.”
Adam could have been conquerer rather than conquered. Regardless, fallen or unfallen, he was born to die.
So are you. So am I.

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This book was really fun. Set in a fantasy world, but at its heart, this is just a heist story with a group of odd misfits. Yes, please, and when does the sequel come out? (Disclaimer: this is definitely on the older end of YA.)

  • Shadow and Bone, Seige and Storm, Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.

A good YA fantasy series, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Six of Crows. It’s set in the same world as SoC but lacked the band of misfits feel I love so much, falling more into the typical YA category of girl with special powers has to choose between two men she loves. But it was pretty solid for all that, and the third book has one of my favorite all time titles, so there’s that.

  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Also fairly typical fantasy YA story. I found the world to be pretty creative, if the plot wasn’t so much. Also, it’s appropriate for the younger end of YA.  I wish I could find more to say about it. I did enjoy it while I was reading it, but in retrospect, it was just…decent.

  • Scarlet, Cress, Winter (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer.

I had already read Cinder last year and somehow never was into the story enough to keep reading. Then my nephew told me I really should, and I’m not sorry I did. I enjoyed the sequels so much more than the first book. And bonus, they fall within the range of things I’m comfortable with my daughter reading. That’s always nice in a YA book.

  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Pretty fun new sci-if book that came out this year. I thought the characters were real and interesting and the plot moved along. I’ll definitely read the sequels when they come out.

  • Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Complete change of gears here to some modern YA. Audrey is dealing with her intense anxiety issues as she tries to find her way in the world again after a traumatic event. Not my usual genre, but this was well-written and humorous in that British way that deals with serious issues honestly while also sort of refusing to take them too seriously. It’s one I’ll pass on to my kid, if not something I’d rave about overmuch.

  • Poldark: Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham

This is the third of the Poldark books, which were written in the 70s. I had read Ross Poldark and Demelza last year. This is historical fiction done right. A pretty realistic look at life in the era, including the behavior of the characters which is incredibly real. I like these characters a lot, so even though I have to strike the right mood to get into the genre, I’m sure I’ll eventually read the rest of the series.

  • MWF seeking BFF by Rachel Bertche

Another non-fiction book! What got into me this year? I actually really enjoyed this book, which outlines the authors yearlong search for close friends in her new city. She weaves her own experiences in with some research she did on the topic of making friends. It’s well-written and not overly long, and I enjoyed it. It’s not profound, but it’s an interesting look at a modern woman tackling an age-0ld problem.

  • Calamity by Brandon Sanderson (Book 3 of the Reckoners Series)

This was the conclusion of Sanderson’s YA series, The Reckoners. I really enjoyed all these books. If you have boys looking for good books to read, these should be on your list. David, the main character, is really fun.

  • The Dragon’s Path, The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham

Abraham is one of the two authors who cowrote the Expanse series, so I thought I’d check out his fantasy orI. These books were decent. The shift back in forth between the point of view of several of the characters, and some are way more interesting than others. There are at least two more books in this series, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it. It bogged down for me on some of hate less interesting characters. But if you’re super into fantasy and need a new series, you should check it out. The writing is better than most.

  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Essentially a spoof of YA fantasy fiction, about the kids who just live in and around the “special” kids who have exciting stories happening to them. It was mildly entertaining.

  • Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

Historical fiction on the lit fic side of things, which made it a bit of a stretch for me. It had some really amazing parts. The main character is born over and over again and dies different ways each time, which is a fascinating idea for a plot. Some of her lives are terribly interesting. Some aren’t. It’s really well done, but in the end I found that I was forcing myself to finish it. That’s probably my problem, not the book’s. If you like history, you should read it.

  • Disrupted by Dan Lyons

I’ll be honest: I read this book because my husband really wanted me to.  Lyons was a successful tech journalist who got laid off from Newsweek, and this details his foray into the world of tech startups. His bitingly sarcastic look at it all alternates between being hilarious and being obnoxious. But it’s a pretty real look at the insane way that whole world works and I’m not sorry I read it. It’s good to have a view into a world I don’t walk in, especially because people I know do.

  • First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

This is one of those “If you love Jane Austen, you should read this charming little mystery/romance about other people who love her” kinds of books. There are so many of them. It’s better than most.

  • Fishbowl by Bradley Somer

Sometimes he curses his fumbling English. Sometimes he curses other people who can’t understand the beauty of his Spanish when he speaks it, how eloquent and romantic his mind can be. Instead, he has to settle for this stumbling grammar and these inadequate words. Even though Jimenez speaks it well, he feels his ideas become trapped in a cage of English. He finds the language very practical, but it’s not made for the same beauty as his mother tongue.

This book is self-important lit fic and I can’t really recommend it, but that’s one awesome quote, so the book wasn’t a total waste.

  • Paper Towns by John Green

If you like John Green books, you’ll like this. It’s a John Green book. It was fine, but it was no Fault in our Stars. I have a bit of a hard time swallowing the teenagers-with-profound-insights-into-life thing, if there isn’t any reason why they should have gained them. I know that’s how it feels to be a teenager, which if why they would love this book, but for me it felt a little forced. My daughter asked me recently if I would buy her this book and I said, “Eh, let’s get it from the library.”

  • And Again by Jessica Chiarella

This book was short and had a really interesting concept: what if we found a way to clone people and then put the important parts of their brain into a new body so they got to live on? That sounds like a sci-if book and an interesting one. In reality, it was just about how people are super crappy and getting more life wouldn’t change that. But not in an interesting way. Luckily, it was short, so I read the whole thing.

  • Fire by Kristin Cashore

This is the second book in the world of Graceling, which I’ve written about before. I enjoy them. She has a creative mind and writes much better than average heroines. Her sense of morality is oddly disturbing to me, though. I can’t explain it totally, as I usually have a pretty broad tolerance in books, but I don’t pass these on to my kids. It’s just a weird feeling.

  • The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Pretty typical modern YA. The main character has been through a trauma and doesn’t speak but meets boy and eventually gets strength to face her issues. That makes it sound a little worse than it is, but mainly it’s Finding Audrey without the humor. The only reason it makes this list is that it gives a little look into the mind of someone who is amazingly gifted and then has that gift taken away. It’s not terribly profound about it, but that part felt very real, and I read on because of it.

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Touted as an adult Harry Potter and recently made into a TV show, this book was utter waste. I don’t even want to take the time to explain why, but let’s just say that people who are given more and more and more gifts and then use them to be worse and worse people are BORING.

And that it! Congratulations if you made it this far! Your reward (hopefully) is a couple of good books to try out!

Happy reading, everyone.

The Poisoned Cure, A Taste

What? Is The Poisoned Cure all I can talk about these days? YES.  Yes, it is. 

This is the book I was dying to write while I wrote all the other books in this series.  True story.

I’m determined not to give too much away, but I do want to give you a few of my favorite lines.  Because I’m excited to let everyone into this private little world I’ve been living in, and I can’t do the whole thing quite, quite yet.  So let’s just open the door a crack.

Adam grinned. “You asked about the stupid way to do it.  Don’t worry. There’s a way that’s only half stupid.”

“Great!” said Eve. “Half stupid is our specialty.”


“Humans are the most dangerous creatures I have yet encountered. But unlike my sisters and I, you were made for battle. You were made to defend. So it is that those who are near you have never been in more danger nor have they have been safer.”


“How do we get down there?” Alex asked.

“We climb,” Adam said.

“You mean like exactly what that sign says not to do?” Eve asked, pointing at a sign that said: DANGER: ROCK MAY CRUMBLE. CLIMBING PROHIBITED.

“You have a better idea?” Adam retorted.

“Me? No. You know I love ignoring danger signs.”


None of that meant that the creatures were real. It was easy to look at a certain arrangment of leaves and bark and imagine a face. It was easy to spend so much time with a made-up world that it started to seem real to you.  He should know.

Still, here he was.

September 8, people.

Just 18 more days and I can show you the whole thing!

I think I can hold out that long without slipping up and just telling you what happens, but no promises.  

At least I have one final proof to keep me occupied.  (Yes, that’s the actual book in my actual hand!)


2015 Reading List (Second Quarterly Update)

I know, we passed the second quarter mark over a month ago.  But it was summer, which is a time for breaking rules, so we’re going with it.

The important thing here is the books!


  • The Shadow Prince by Bree Despain

Very fluffy sort of YA fantasy fiction. This makes use of Greek mythology to weave together a love story around a boy from the underworld and a girl who has mythical powers and doesn’t know it. Sound pretty formulaic? It is. But the writing isn’t terrible, which means if you’re a fan of the genre, you’d probably enjoy this one. Not much more to be said about it. I read the whole thing and didn’t feel regretful, so that’s something. I also didn’t bother to read the sequels, so that’s something else.


  • We are Called to Rise by Laura McBride

This is not my usual sort of book, and after the first two short chapters, I almost put it down, but something wouldn’t quite let me. I’m so glad. It was lovely. Just really, really, warm and compassionate and lovely. In the beginning it seems like a book about random people with depressing lives (my LEAST favorite kind of book), and it is. And yet. It’s not depressing. It deals with each one from his or her own perspective and drops you down into their lives in a very deft way. It is real and honest and yet hopeful, a combination you just don’t find much. A view of life that is optimistic with out being naive is exactly my cup of tea, though I know others might disagree.


  • Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I just had to check out what all the fuss was about. And I enjoyed it. I didn’t love it or agree with all of it, but I definitely enjoyed it. Her voice is just wonderful.


  • I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore  (Also The Power of Six and The Rise of Nine)

Remember the movie from a few years ago?  I think maybe I watched it on DVD or something.  That kind of vagueness?  That’s a pretty good description.  Basically, this is a really fun sci-fi premise for a YA audience.  It’s not very well executed.  As you can see, I read three whole books of it, which shows you where I stand on the importance of interesting ideas/plots.  Also how much I really was in the mood for this genre.  The writing is fairly iffy, but the worst part is that the characters are weak.  That’s what eventually made me give up on the series.  They start off flat, but you can kind of ignore that for a while…until they take being a teenager and therefore doing stupid things to a level that become unbearable.  Eventually this completely undermines the plot and the whole premise, so…blech.  


  • Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Modern YA and it involves cancer, but I swear it’s not a ripoff of The Fault in Our Stars. It’s actually pretty wonderful. Great voice, great geeky boy stuff, and great family dynamics. Tear-jerker in places, but that’s not it’s essence, really. I enjoyed this one enough to read the sequel and look up other books by the author. He’s got some talent.


  • After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

The sequel to Dangerous Pie but stands alone because it has a different main character. Quick and enjoyable read.


  • Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I should have hated this book. I wanted to. It’s Lit Fic. It’s about a woman dealing with her husband’s affair. Ugh and ugh. But the style is so original. And it’s got such great lines thrown in here and there. It has these little moments where you suddenly think, “Yes. I recognize that right there.” And it doesn’t do exactly what you expect. And it falls just short of being too full of itself. And it’s short. And in the end, completely unexpectedly, I found that I liked it, that I was thinking about it later, that I felt like it was worth my time. So there you go.


  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

Another “not what I typically read” but in this case it’s because it’s higher and better than my usual plebian taste. This book is truly wonderful. Full of deep thoughts and reflections on love and God and death and eternity. It has altered the way I think. This is not fiction, but it IS a story, a true story of a true love and of what happened when that true love came into contact with a Truer love. If you haven’t read it, you should. And take your time with it. It’s short, but not a quick read. It’s meant to be sipped, not gulped, but you won’t be wasting your time on it, I promise.


  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

What I read in between sips of A Severe Mercy. It couldn’t be more different. This book is hard to explain. It’s basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the digital age, and if you are fan of pop culture from the ’80s or if you grew up playing Nintendo, you’d find a lot of enjoyment in it.  I’ll be honest, it’s not very well-written.  It’s got a lot of clunky parts and a couple of unnecessary rants about how God isn’t real and people suck and how we need to accept everyone.  These subjects are sometimes interesting in books, but they are so poorly done here that they stand out like a sore thumb.  Setting all that aside, though, the contest itself (which is the main portion of the book) is so intricately plotted and excellently detailed that it’s entertaining to read.  In other words, this is the book version of an ’80s video game: low quality graphics on a solid game concept that is just plain fun.

I’m looking over this list, and it looks small and bizarrely eclectic.  To be honest, I went through a serious reading slump there for a month or two.  Let’s just say that lots of early episodes of Downton Abbey were watched (and also the first two seasons of Falling Skies because even when I’m watching TV I like to mix up my genres). 

But!  There are a couple of great books on this list, so the time wasn’t totally wasted.  (Plus, let’s face it, those are really good shows.)

Also, my To Read pile is plump and enticing right now, so I should have some more nice additions in another couple of months.  I’m reading Cinder at the moment, on the recommendation of my nephew. Next up: Go Set a Watchman and then The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, followed by about eight more. And frankly, the longer the list is, the better. I have a horrible fear of running out of good things to read.  

So.  What are you reading?  What should I add to my list?  

Off the Shelf

It’s summer, and we’re barely breathing.  Swimming, picnicking, playing with friends.  And then there are the trips to the library.

Oh yeah.  It’s summer reading time, and hello, selection.

So many books!  So many colors…so many words…so many silly pictures.  (Quick side note: how insanely amazing is it that in our country we have access to this kind of awesomeness for free? Talk about wealth! When I count my blessings, this is in the top ten, easy.)  

How do you even choose? 

If you’re anything like me, you walk in, herd the kids through the fun of admiring the fish in the tank and playing for a few minutes on the computers and then you grab some books randomly off the shelf and get yourself home.

Please tell me you’re something like me.

My older kids are getting pretty good at browsing for themselves now, but this is stil my go-to move with the six-year-old. And believe me, we have brought home some seriously weird books with this method.

Can I be honest and say that I’d rather not have any books that are trying to teach my kids things?  I mean, I want my kids to be brave, but could we at least be a little subtle about it?

Also, I’d like to confess that I avoid ones that remind me of old Coke commercials.

But! Now that I don’t have to spend every second of library time worrying about where my kids have gotten off to, I have time to browse the shelves more thoroughly.  So I thought in the next few weeks I would bring you a few true gems that I found by just randomly pulling things off the shelf.  This week I have two great ones for you.

Ready? Here we go.  


Have you seen these Pig in a Wig books?  This is my first, though apparently it’s a series? It’s an early reader, and I’m super excited to have Lucy read it.  Because it really is simple, but it’s also fun.  If you haven’t taught anyone to read lately, you can’t know how rare that is.

Check it out:  

See? Simple.  But with each, page, more silly rhyming things get in the boat.


And it keeps going, getting more silly and wonderful with each page.  This one is a winner.

Next up:  

I mean, the title.  The warning at the bottom.  I’m already hooked.  But then you open the cover.


It’s like Wes Anderson made a book for kids.  The trees in the dome! The stowaways in the water tank!  And any book that uses the word “larder” is  book for me.


A nice Star Trekish adventure done in this psuedo comic book style makes for a book that entertains my older kids as well as the youngest.  I hesitate to admit it, but the story itself barely matters at this point.  Though a story about searching for mystic space nuts is bound to be pretty good.

Go online and reserve these ones now, and they’ll be waiting on a shelf with your name on them the next time you herd your littles through the library.  Because technology rocks. 

And we’ll be back next week with a few more gems.  And the week after that.  And the week after that.  

And then the kids will go back to school. And we’ll all take a deep breath.  

A Better Kind of Princess

Obviously, the best kind of princess is the gun-toting, plain-speaking Princess Leia kind of princess, with her hair tucked out of her way in buns that are practical and eye-catching. If she turns out to have Jedi powers, so much the better. 

This isn’t quite that, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The Princess in Black (by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale) falls short of its amazing potential, but it at least pokes a bit of fun at the foofy pink princess and gives her a rather more exciting purpose than pouring tea, and for my six-year-old, who isn’t quite ready to take on Ghanima of Dune, a monster-whipping royal with daring fashion choices is a good first step. Plus it’s at the perfect level for her emerging reading skills, and the illustrations by LeUyen Pham are cute as a button. 

I’ll take it. 

And if I wasn’t quite sold on the overemphasis on black as an inappropriate color for princesses or the oddly dense goat herder, It was all made up for when they named the unicorn Frimplepants.

A fun and simple chapter book AND a new nickname for my daughter? Yes, please.

What Kind of Reader Are You?

I’m a huge fan of personality profiles.  You could call me a Myers-Briggs nerd, even. Chances are, from the moment I meet you, I’m trying to guess your type.  Sorry about that.  I find it endlessly fascinating to understand the ins and outs of how people think and how they process the world.  And since I’m not terribly empathetic (ENTP here!), it really helps me to intellectually think through what other people feel and why they act the way they do.  So I can be more understanding!  So I can remember all the reasons I love them, even when they drive me crazy.

All this to say, it was really easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole the other day when I started researching “Types of Readers.”  So many quizzes!  So many categories!  And all about books!

A lot of what I found, though fun, was fairly useless.  But this one was my favorite, so I thought I ‘d share it with you all.  It was created by Laura E. Kelly, and it’s so detailed that I got lost in it for a while.  Check it out:


I’m without a doubt a book-lover of the compulsive variety.  I probably fall under the Genus of Book Abuser.  I have sad tendencies to be a Book Buster, with lots of leanings towards Re-reader.

How about you?  What kind of reader are you?

And while we’re on the subject…what’s your personality profile?  Just curious…

Get Your Hands on a Book


Let’s talk books, and the reasons why we aren’t reading enough of them.  Of course, you’re reading to your kids, but when was the last time you dove into a book just for you? You’re busy.  I know you are.  I am, too.  And we can probably squeeze in some reading time while we’re waiting in line at the BMV or after the kids have gone to bed, but who has time to actually FIND books to read?  You do.  Really.  You do.

It’s the internet age, which may mean we’re distracted by millions of soundbites and tweets and youtube videos, but it also means we don’t ever, ever have to be without good books to read.  I mean it.  Used properly, the internet will keep us in books forever.   I’m always looking for new ones, and since I don’t have tons of time for browsing (or for wasting on books I hate) , I’ve developed a go-to strategy.  Ready?

It starts with finding the recommendations.  I follow a few blogs that review books or that give recommendations, though I keep this to only a handful to eliminate clutter.  Here are ones that I”ve found the most useful.

  1. Great New Books – Only posts once a week, but I’ve found some I would NEVER have tried but was really glad I did.
  2. Green Bean Teen Queen – She’s a librarian, so not all the posts are book recommendations, but she’s a librarian, so she knows about a lot of books you haven’t heard of.
  3. Epbot – This is girly geek blog, and only very occasionally has book recommendations, but when she does, we have very similar taste.  Search her book posts.  Even the comments have good stuff.

Also, have you guys seen this website?  You just type in a book you loved and it pulls up several you might want to try.  Pretty fun.

I also use Amazon for this.  Go to Amazon, type in a book you love and see what else people who bought that book are buying.  I’ve found tons of books this way, though I always check them out pretty carefully before diving in, since, you know, they are trying to sell you something.

And I just found this post, which takes books you loved as a kid and tells you what you should read now as an adult.  It is rocking my world.  I want to try so many of these books.

Then comes (very quick) research. Once I have an interesting title, I turn back to Amazon.  I use them as a reference tool even more than I buy from them, which is really saying something.  On Amazon you can get a good description of the book plus a rating and a whole bunch of short reviews.  It’s helpful to me in figuring out if this is really going to fit my taste.  Pro tip: If you look down at the “customers also bought” strip, and you see other books you like, you should probably check that out.

Then go crazy on the library’s online reservation page.  Of course, at this point, you can just click “Buy with one click” on Amazon, and the book will be at your doorstep in two days.  That’s a good option, if you can afford the habit.  I, on the other hand, am cheap, and I only like to buy books that I love, which means I have to read them first.  So, once I’ve found the books I want to read on Amazon, I head over to the library page and reserve myself a copy (in Indianapolis, that’s here).  I go for ebooks if I can get them and hard copies if not.  If the ebook is in, I’ve just gone from no idea what to read to a book I’ll probably enjoy in under ten minutes.  If I have to wait on a hold, then…well, I’m waiting, but I usually have a whole list of books on hold at any given time, so they keep coming in a steady stream.  If you don’t have a library card, GET ONE.  When my biggest kids were little, I thought the library couldn’t help me because who has time to browse with little ones hanging on your knees? But the whole online reservation thing has changed the game.  When I’ve reserved a book, all I have to do is stop by and grab it when they send me the email that it’s in.  Five minutes, in and out, no browsing necessary.  As my five-year-old is constantly saying, easy-peasy lemon squeezy.

So there you go.  In ten of your Facebook browsing or medical symptom researching minutes, you could have a couple of great books at your fingertips.  No excuses!

It’s a heady time to be alive.  Let’s get living (and by living, of course, I mean reading).

2015 Reading List (The First Quarterly Update)

“People disappear when they die.  Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath.  Their flesh. Eventually their bones.  All living memory of them ceases.  This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist.  We can rediscover them. Their humor their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink and paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.”

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

We’re one quarter of the way through 2015, can you even believe it? My book list stands with 17 titles so far, which means it’s more than time for an update.  The list is in the order I read them.  I refuse to rank things, partially on principal but mostly because I can’t.  I recommend almost all of them because, let’s face it, I’m wimpy and I don’t finish books I don’t like.  These are the ones I actually finished.

1. Percy Jackson and the Olypians: The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan 

percyI started reading these because my daughter and her friends are completely into them, and I wanted to check them out.  I’m an adult, but that hasn’t stopped me from liking a lot on this genre.  These books are a great pick for kids, but I found that I didn’t get into them myself.  Still, my 9-year-old daughter is racing through the millions of books by Rick Riordan and loving every one of them, and I can see the appeal. Lots of action. Lots of quips. And a bonus, you learn about Greek and Roman mythology. Not quite meaty enough for the adult audience.  Sigh. Too bad.

2. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

3. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

candles I honestly don’t go in much for essay collections, but this came highly recommended and I loved it. It mostly deals with aging, so if you’re over 35, it’s relevant.  Some chapters didn’t resonate with me as much as others, but her chapter on motherhood shone, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

4. Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg – This barely counts, as it’s mostly like reading a really long internet page, but it makes for a fun quick hour of laughing.  If you aren’t familiar with characters from famous classic novels, this won’t make any sense to you.

5. Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder – So cool. This is the adult version of her life story, which Wilder wrote first before adapting it for children.  It’s a really interesting historical read.  My husband bought me the annotated version, which has so many fascinating historical notes, but like a first grader, I skipped them all at first and just raced through the story.  Lots of similarities to the books you know and love, but the differences are interesting.

6. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt – Can you believe I had never read this?  It’s a classic, and it’s pretty wonderful.  I’d recommend it for adults or children, though kids might find it a little slow.  If you read it yourself, it will only take you a couple of hours and you won’t regret it at all.

7. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman – A collection of poems with modern takes on fairy tales.  This is written for teens and focuses a lot on body image and the pressure to be beautiful.  The opening poem was lovely, but the rest honestly left me kind of flat.  This is an important topic, but these poems added nothing to the conversation.

8. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith – Very offbeat coming of age kind of tale about a California boy.  Is that a vague summary?  Yes.  But anything else I say about it would  misrepresent. This is a pretty raw look at a teenage boy’s brain, which means I don’t even want to think about my kids reading it (just because I can’t even go there on them being real hormonal teenagers) but it was honestly beautiful even in its vulgarity.  His writing is tight and clean and has just a hint of magic to it.  I really enjoyed the book.

9. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – This is the sequel to Steelheart, which I read last year.  You can read more about the series on the book recommendation list. It was solid, entertaining, clever without being brilliant, and I think early teens would get into it.

10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

potatopeelpie You guys.  Read this book, please. I heard of it a couple of years ago and was intrigued.  A year back a friend recommended it, and I took note of that. But for some reason (the title, maybe?) I just never hunted it down. Then I found a copy at Goodwill for a quarter.  And then I read the whole thing in two days.  It’s so beautiful.  It’s a really heart-breaking piece of history, but this book is not sad.  I mean, it is in places, but it’s so warm and full of sunlight.  Just trust me.  Read it.

11. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – Sequel to The Paper Magician, which I read last year.  This was  free borrow from Amazon, and since most of those are awful and I actually read all of this and enjoyed it, I would recommend it. It’s an interesting little world the author has created, and though there isn’t anything compelling here, it’s a fun read.

12. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

13thtale I got lost in this one, like the way you get lost in the fog.  If you love Jane Eyre you have to read this book. It has that sort of gothic feel to it, but it isn’t maudlin.  It is old-fashioned though set in a more modern age. It’s beautiful in a very specific way (a mist on the moors way, a roomful of dusty books way).  And it’s about stories, so I’m keeping a copy of it on my shelf for always.

13. Enchantment by Orson Scott Card – I found this used at a little bookstore we love. I didn’t even know it existed. We’re big fans of the Ender series, and this is Card’s foray into fantasy, taking the tale of sleeping beauty and drawing it into a modern context, so of course I had to buy it.  I read it in one weekend.  As a tale it is only moderately interesting, but Card is the master of showing the interactions of cultures and people’s reactions to encountering foreign cultures, and this book is no exception.  That’s a topic near to my heart, so this one is a keeper for me.

14. The Young Elites by Marie Lu – We absolutely loved the Legend series, so I was excited to find Lu’s newest work.  Unfortunately, it didn’t do it for me.  The characters weren’t nearly as resonant and the whole thing had a darkness to it that I could never get comfortable with.  This is a book of antiheroes, and though I salute her bravery in that, I just can’t get behind it as a reader.

15. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

stationelevenSeveral people recommended this book as the best book they had read in 2014.  I can see why.  This is a book about the end of the world and the post-apocalyptic world that follows, but it isn’t about that at all.  It’s about a group of people whose lives touched only on the fringes on both sides of the catastrophe, but it’s not about that at all either.  It’s about home.  I’m pretty sure it’s really about home.  This book is excellently well written.  It jumps back and forth through time, weaving the story masterfully, without worrying too much about the story itself.  Am I confusing you?  Just read it.  Really.  It’s wonderful.

16. The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

fifthwaveA friend put me onto these, and I couldn’t put them down.  For pure page-turning dystopian teen lit, this is the clear winner of the year. It’s not quite as profound as it pretends to be, but it’s a really fun read.  Hunger Games fans, this is the next one you should pick up.

17. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey – The sequel.  One more comes out soon.  Kind of can’t wait.

So there it is.  Sometimes I think about all the good books out there to be read and I just feel so happy…

So far, this year’s list is pretty wide-ranging.  If you’re looking for a new read, there ought to be something in there to your taste.  Unless you want non-fiction.  I really can’t help you there.

“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield



Be Inspired (Stephen King On Writing)

It’s a new year!

New is wonderful.  New is fresh.  New is inspiring.  In this case, new is also cold.  Very, very cold.  But that’s the way it goes.  New is unpredictable.  It’s uncontrollable.  That’s the whole point.  It’s new.  Equal parts scary and exciting, uncomfortable and inspiring.

Let’s talk about inspiration.  Inspiration is what we need.

I’ve never understood why we take a look at a fresh new calendar and make RESOLUTIONS.  (They always seem grim and all-caps to me, just like that.)  I am DETERMINED to do better.  I am RESOLVED to grit my teeth and do all the things.  No wonder they don’t last.  Gritting your teeth is terrible for the jaw and in time will lead to headaches.

Why make RESOLUTIONS when we can make aspirations?  Aspirations (always written just so, of course, with emphasis because we are serious about this and leaning just a little bit forward because we are yearning for it, stretching out to take hold of it) are those things we pull out of the wish bin, dust off, and decide to make a reality.  We are setting our sails in this direction, and what we need right now is the wind of inspiration to spur us on, not a list of rules to beat us about the head.  I’m not saying it won’t be hard work.  I’m not saying there won’t be times of calm where we have to choice to but row until our hands blister.  But the more inspiration we have, the quicker we find ourselves where we want to be.

What inspires you?  Who inspires you?  Let’s take some time this winter and fill ourselves up with inspiration.

Some of my aspirations may not be the same as yours, so some of my inspirations may impact you less than they do me. Others I think we’ll find are universal to us all. In both cases, I hope you are spurred on to find your own inspirations, to tilt your sails into the wind.

Today I’m starting small.  I’m starting practical. With this little book.

I’ll tell you straight, I’m not a fan of horror, and I would never have thought to look to Stephen King for inspiration. I grant you that The Stand is a classic worth reading, but most of his other stuff (including all but a few portions of The Dark Tower has left me flat.


I read On Writing when I was first daring to write for real, and it made this whole ridiculous aspiration seem just a little more doable. I read it again recently, and it inspired me to stay on the long hard path. And whenever aspiring writers ask me about writing, this is the book I send them to. It has impacted my own writing process more than any other, including lovely, quotable books by authors I love, like Madeleine L-Engles (whose book Walking on Water is like music to read).

Stephen King taught me about writing the first draft all the way through without stopping to edit and then letting it rest several weeks before picking it up to do the hard work of cutting and rearranging. This bit of advice has made it possible for me to actually finish books instead of just starting them.

Stephen King taught me about the importance of cutting out all my beloved and unnecessary adverbs. He taught me to keep it simple. Other people had told me these things, but he mocked them so mercilessly, that I finally saw the light. My writing is so much better for it. (The stuff I edit, at least. This old blog doesn’t get such tender brutal treatment.)

Stephen King gave me permission to use my talented friends as an editing team, which is why my books have made it to publication instead of staying locked up in my computer files.

And this. This blurb from the back cover is the real reason I love this book.


“For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room…. In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study in the rear of the house. For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind….
A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been…. In the early nineties, before they moved on to their own lives, my kids sometimes came up in the evening to watch a basketball game or a movie and eat pizza…. I got another desk – it’s handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave…. I’m sitting under it now, a fifty-three-year-old man with bad eyes, a gimp leg, and no hangover. I’m doing what I know how to do, and as well as I know how to do it. I came through all the stuff I told you about…and now I’m going to tell you as much as I can about the job….
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

That inspires me, people. That’s real and it’s true and it’s absolutely what I aspire to be about this year and in my life moving forward. And you don’t have to be a writer for the truth of that last line to ring through your day to day life.

Sail on, friends, and may even the cold, cold winds be ones of inspiration.



All the Best Books are Old Books

We have two huge boxes of Christmas books for kids, collected over the years.  As it should be, at least a half dozen of them are different retellings of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and another dozen are solemn versions of the first Christmas.  We have the obligatory Bad Kitty’s  Christmas and Snowmen at Christmas thanks to the kids’ more recent requests.

Still, my favorite books are the really old ones I’ve found. I’ve picked them up at garage sales and thrift stores.  A few are from my own childhood.  Their pages are worn and some are stained.  Most have inscriptions with unknown names on the inside covers.  They are nostalgic and well-loved and quirky.

Especially quirky.  There is nothing like them when you need a good laugh.

A few of my favorites:


An Irish Night Before Christmas by Sarah Kirwan Blazek (Illustrated by James Rice) – This book is the youngest in my old book collection. Published in 1996, it’s still nearly 20 years old (which isn’t possible, and yet it appears to be true). It features Irish Santa and his seven wee lads delivering gifts while downing a fair portion of whiskey. It’s really great stuff (the story, I mean, not the whiskey, though I’m sure that was excellent, too). The poem is written in dialect, so I get to flaunt my awesome Irish accent to the kids when I read it. And I do read it to them. Every single year. They love it, too.

The best page? The one where the donkey is eating the roof. No contest.

So much for the cultural diversity of the ’90s. If you want to really revel in the unintentionally bizarre, you have to travel back to the ”70s.


Clem, the Clumsy Camel by Virginia Mueller (illustrated by Betty Wind) – This is one of those Arch Books. You know, the ones labeled “quality religious books for children” and full of Bible stories set to rhymes which warped our understanding of the real events for decades? Perhaps you had a few when you were a child. This was always my favorite Christmas one. I mean, for starters, the title. Right? The whole story is just the right kind of ridiculous. Clem is too clumsy to properly kneel to let his riders get on his back. Still, somehow he is chosen to accompany the wise men on their journey to see the new baby Jesus. He does his job a little awkwardly, but of course he has a cheerful attitude (unlike the other grumpier camels).

The best page? Easily the last one. Because, listen up, kids, the magical healing powers of baby Jesus can make even a clumsy schmuck graceful.  (Also, “regal camel grace’? Really? That is SO not a thing.)



Santa’s Beard is Soft and Warm by Bob Ottum and Jo Anne Wood (Illustrated by Rod Ruth)First of all, pause a moment to acknowledge the brilliance of highlighting for children the strokability of facial hair. Now savor the fact that it took TWO people to write this book…AND IT DOESN’T EVEN RHYME. Clearly people were very excited about the possibilities of touch and feel books in the ’70s, so I grant you that a Christmas version was inevitable, but it is amusing to note that more than one page has you just touching a piece of felt.  Like kids in the ’70s weren’t already familiar with the feel of felt.

The best page? It’s a real toss up on this one. After all, there is a page with a scratch and sniff pine tree, but since mine has lost its smell in the ensuing 40 years, I’m going with awesome page where the authors encourage kids to snap Santa’s suspenders. Genius.


So there’s my top three, and believe you me, the collection is only going to keep growing. And! Thanks to the power of the internet, you too can own any of these fine gems just by clicking the images above and ordering one brought to your door. If they had known about this in the ’70s, they would have thought they were tripping.

Happy Christmas, everyone. May the laughter outweigh the chaos, even if only a little.