2017 End of Year Book Survey

Thanks to Jamie over at The Perpetual Page Turner for hosting another end of year book survey! Here’s a recap of the best books I read in 2017:

Number Of Books You Read: 52
Number of Re-Reads: 7
Genre You Read The Most From: I read a little of everything this year, but more memoir than usual.

 

best-YA-books-2014

1. Best Book You Read In 2017?

Adult: Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

I have never read anything like Fever Dream. It’s hypnotic and haunting, disorienting and thrilling and absolutely brilliant. Samanta Schweblin’s debut novel, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize, is told in dialogue and has no chapter breaks. You’ll probably end up reading it in one sitting, because it’s nearly impossible to put down. The less you know going in, the better, but the plot revolves around a woman dying in a hospital who cannot see and is trying to piece together how she got there by recreating the recent past, which she does by following prompts from David, the boy who’s in the room with her. Schweblin creates a visceral sense of dread from page one and somehow sustains it throughout the entire book (which is 194 pages). It’s incredible.

YA: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas’s debut novel about police brutality, systemic racism, social justice, and the strength of family completely lived up to the hype; I still cannot believe this is her first book. The story follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who watches as her unarmed friend is gunned down by the police and then struggles between coming forth as a witness and protecting her family. Not a word is wasted, the pacing is flawless, and the characters are complex and compelling. Longlisted for the National Book Award for young people’s literature.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Definitely a page-turner, but I disliked every single character (with the exception of the little brother).

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

Endurance by Scott Kelly

In a GOOD way. This was a highly anticipated read for me; I’d followed Scott Kelly on Twitter for the latter half of his year-long mission in space and was awed by his stunning photos and charmed by his humor and humility. So I expected to enjoy his memoir, which chronicles his year in space as well as his journey to becoming an astronaut, but I wasn’t expecting it to be one of my favorite books of the year.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Fever Dream

5. Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017?

I didn’t start any new series, but I did reread The Fellowship of the Ring, so that’s my pick for series starter. Best sequel was Scott Keen’s Rise of the Branded. I don’t think I read a series ender in 2017.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?

I’ll go with Sara Zarr, who writes compulsively readable young adult fiction. I discovered many amazing authors this year, but mostly debut authors; one of the best things about discovering Sara Zarr is that she has a backlist I can dive into. That’s how reading Gem & Dixie led to reading Story of a Girl (which was made into a movie in 2017, directed by Kyra Sedgwick), which will lead to many more, I’m sure.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Chocolate Kisses by River Ford

Romance books aren’t typically my first choice, but fellow WiDo author Charity Bradford published this one under the pen name River Ford, and I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did–Chocolate Kisses was short, sweet, and an absolute pleasure to read.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

I first read Maile (pronounced Miley) Meloy’s work in The New Yorker, where her short story “The Proxy Marriage” appeared in 2012. I loved the story so much I promptly bought her short story collection Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, and then I bought another collection called Half in Love. As you can tell, I really love her work! She went on to write children’s literature (The Apothecary Series), and now this gripping suspense about three families on a Central America cruise whose children disappear on an excursion. Really, is there anything she can’t write?

 9. Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

If you know me at all, you know that Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite books of all time. Beagle’s writing is always beautiful and enchanting, and his new novel Summerlong is no exception. Plot-wise though, this one fizzled out for me about halfway through. Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for this particular novel at that particular time. Whatever the case, I feel like this was one of those “It’s not you, it’s me” situations. I’ll be giving Summerlong another try in 2018.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?

Sure, I could pick Summerlong (see above). I mean, look at that cover! Honestly there was an abundance of gorgeous covers in 2017, but I’m going with Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore because it’s just so cool. The moment I saw it I knew I wanted to read this book. Oh by the way, the book? It’s fantastic–yet another debut I read this year that totally blew me away.

11. Most memorable character of 2017?

Although I met plenty of fascinating fictional characters in 2017, the most memorable personalities on the pages I read were real–notably Maya Angelou, Bruce Dickinson, and Scott Kelly.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017?

There were just so many. Sara Pennypacker’s Pax, Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow, Heather Young’s The Lost Girls, Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho, and Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night are all standouts. If I had to choose ONE to recommend, though, it would be Haruf’s. His was the only ending that worked for me.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I tried something new in 2017; I listened to a few audiobooks. I don’t think I’ll make a habit of it–it just takes too long, but WOW was it incredible to hear Maya Angelou narrating her own story in that wonderfully deep, rich, commanding, emotionally resonant voice of hers. At times I laughed until I cried, and other times I just cried. Truly unforgettable.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read? 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2017?

I highlighted countless passages from dozens and dozens of books on my Kindle … and then returned those books to their virtual library. Seriously, I need a better system for this.

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017?

Shortest: Let Me Fly Free by Mary Fan

Longest: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow is considered middle grade (ages 8-12), but the “bullying” that goes on in these pages is beyond disturbing. It’s the work of a sadist, not a bully. The book is gorgeous–a very impressive debut–but I can’t imagine my 10-year-old reading it. There are images from Wolf Hollow that will haunt me forever.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Jake Epping and Sadie Dunhill from 11/22/63

And for the record, I’ll go down dancing.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Starr and Seven from The Hate U Give. I could have paired Starr with any member of her amazing family, but I’m a sucker for close sister/brother relationships.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

11/22/63

No one writes characters like Stephen King, and I never, ever get tired of reading his work. This was one of those books that took me awhile to get to, but it was so worth the wait. I still need to tackle Under the Dome (maybe this year?).

21. Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

A lovely coming-of-age story told in a series of vignettes, recommended by my friend Heidi.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

Sorry, can’t get past my nonfictional crush.

23. Best 2017 debut you read?

Both of my picks for Best Book of the Year were debuts, so this category has the same winners: Fever Dream and The Hate U Give.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Rise of the Branded by Scott Keen

My fellow WiDo author Scott Keen never fails to impress with his worldbuilding. Here’s one of his blog posts discussing some of the rules involved.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

What Does This Button Do? by Bruce Dickinson

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017?

Fever Dream

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

There were several books this year that left me feeling cheated at the end, but this was by far the biggest letdown.

 

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1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2017 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2018?

The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2018 (non-debut)?

A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

I adore Nova Ren Suma’s work. I reread my favorite book of hers last year, 17 & Gone, and I’ll probably read it again this year. But I’ll also be reading A Room Away from the Wolves as soon as it’s released in September, and I seriously cannot wait.

3. 2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018?

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Is this coming out in 2018? I don’t know. I need it yesterday though.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2018?

I’d like to reread the Harry Potter series this year. Pure fun.

My Memory Book

For nearly a decade, my memories were kept on Facebook. I bet yours are there too—on Facebook, on Instagram, somewhere online, or on a screen anyway. Or maybe you’re better organized than I am and you’ve had your pictures printed and put into photo albums over the years, actual photo albums that you can hold in your hands and page through. Those are important; growing up, I never tired of looking through our family photo albums.

I left Facebook a year and a half ago, but I never deleted my account. It was like a safe in a dark closet, hidden and storing many of my favorite moments from 2009 to 2016—my wedding day, my daughter’s first piano recital, my son’s first day of kindergarten, the day I became a published author. Sometimes I’d think, I have to log back on and download my history, but it didn’t seem too urgent, or maybe I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to log back off.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time.  I reactivated my account and within minutes had my entire history in a zip file. I copied the file to a flash drive and to my daughter’s laptop, just in case, and then settled in to revisit the past.

But it was all in pieces. The photos were in one folder, status updates in another, and no comments to be found. Even if I knew how to piece it all back together so it resembled my old Timeline, it would still be on a screen, and I wanted it in print. Surely there was a company out there who did that?

There is. The company is called My Social Book, and the book they put together for me is everything I’d hoped for. Not only does it include photographs with dates and captions, but all of my status updates with everyone’s comments, and even my comments to their comments (and emojis!).

I was a pretty conservative user, so my entire seven years of activity on Facebook amounted to only 344 pages and $88. When you connect My Social Book to your account, you’ll know almost instantly how many status updates and photos you’ve posted since joining, and how many pages that generates. You can choose what goes into your book, or you can just include everything. There wasn’t anything I regretted posting or that I wouldn’t want my children to see, so I opted for the latter. But if there are moments you’d rather not revisit, they’d be easy to filter out; the site is very user-friendly.

You also choose your cover. I picked a simple design, displaying the background and profile picture I’d used for years, so that looking at my cover is just like looking at my old Timeline, which is sweetly nostalgic. The entire process is incredibly easy; it took fifteen minutes, and within 2 weeks I had my book, and with it, the sense of relief at owning a print copy of these photos and memories being stored on a website that I have no control over. I really recommend doing this (it works for Instagram as well).

Here are some pictures of my social book. I am thrilled with the results–paging through it makes me inordinately happy, and I love that my family has these snapshots of our life at their fingertips. The only thing I noticed missing were status updates with links, but the more personal moments were good enough for me.

Each section begins with the most popular post for that time period.

How status updates with comments (and comments on comments) look.

How photo albums look.

Note: I wanted to get my Social Book ordered right away, so I didn’t play around much on the site or bother looking for discounts. I think you could definitely find a promo and save a few bucks on your order. And I’m sure there are lots of great features to customize your book. If you decide to order one, let me know how it turns out!

New Season, New Stories

Yesterday was officially the last day of summer, although for me summer ended six weeks ago when my kids returned to school. I miss having them home, and I miss long sleepy mornings and indulgent late nights filled with movie marathons, sprints to the 24-hour donut shop, and endless reading.

Now mornings begin with an alarm clock and evenings end with math homework and ten-minutes-till-lights-out warnings. But there are definite advantages to the school year: it’s easier to meet my writing goals, stick with a healthy diet, and schedule time to work out. I love walking my son to school every morning. And, of course, the weather eventually turns, like it did earlier this week.

Fall is here—jeans and sweaters, autumn-spiced candles, fresh-baked pies. Halloween displays in the grocery store and the return of cool evenings that melted away in June. Soon they will turn cold, and that’s fine too. There will be more movie marathons—first scary ones, and then Christmas ones. There will be more books. And there will be more writing.

Although I’ve been quiet on here, I have kept busy this year, drafting new short stories and essays and making pretty good progress on a maybe-novel (I’m calling it that until it reaches the 50,000-word mark—too often my novel ideas end up long short stories).

One of my new pieces, called “From Autumn to June,” was accepted at YARN magazine for publication next year. And one of my short essays, or maybe it’s more of a poem, was published this week in Mothers Always Write.

That piece, called “Sometime After Thirteen,” is a tribute to my now 15-year-old daughter; I read it aloud at a Mother’s Day reading in May with my daughter in attendance, and I was honored to have it appear in such a lovely magazine so that I could share it with you, too. I hope you read it, and I hope you all had a wonderful summer and are looking forward to fall as much as I am!

A Year Without Facebook

Image from Flickr by benstein

Last May, with a deep sense of relief, I quietly deactivated my Facebook account. Since that day one year ago, I have not logged back on. This is not a self-congratulatory post; I’m writing it because I know many people are overwhelmed with Facebook and have considered quitting it for good too, and if you’re one of them, I want to help if I can.

If you absolutely love Facebook or have never considered walking away because it’s a great way to stay connected to distant family and old friends or you need it for your job or you are too involved with groups that only operate there etc., it’s fine. You don’t need to justify that to anyone. This post isn’t for you.

If, however, you often find yourself weighing the pros and cons of the site and wondering if you could do without it because most of the time you actually hate it or you hate the way you feel about yourself and/or people you like/love when spending time on it, this post is for you.

Here’s what to expect when you break up with Facebook:

At first it will be surprisingly easy, the way quitting most addictions is easier in the first few days when your resolve is strong. And then it will get harder, because the new quiet that was such a luxury begins to feel a little lonely. You wonder what you’re missing. You wonder if you’ve made a mistake. This feeling comes and goes, but—I promise—eventually it stays gone.

At first you’ll find you have so much more time to do the things you love—reading, crafting, taking long walks in the evening—and then something else will start to creep into those moments, like another social media site or television or just the Internet itself. You’ll have to work to stay mindful and protect that time, but it will never be as hard as it was before.

At first you might believe that all your “true” friendships will continue on a regular basis once you ditch Facebook. They won’t. Not all of them. People are busy and you’re going to lose touch with some of them, and this doesn’t mean they’re not real friends. They’d probably be there for you if you really needed them, but not everyone is the kind of friend you’ll go to lunch with once a week to make up for the fact that you’re no longer interacting daily on Facebook. This is fine.

Eventually you’ll feel immense relief at all the things you did miss out on, because you’ll realize they’re not the important things. You’ll learn to like people again because you no longer know everything about them, nor do you feel obligated to know. You’ll feel so much better about yourself because of the fact you feel better about others.

You’ll realize you’re setting a good example for your kids by cutting your screen time and reclaiming some of your privacy, and you’ll be doing them a favor by giving them back some of their privacy too. You’ll concentrate better. You’ll learn again to treasure some memories just for yourself.

I still miss Facebook sometimes. I miss sharing funny and sweet moments from my life with others not in my immediate family. I miss looking back through years of memories the way I’d page through an old photo album. I miss those few dozen or so friends whose posts always made me smile, or laugh, or think about something in a different way. Some of them are people who I connect with in real life, some are on Twitter.

And for those I lost a connection with, I have to weigh that admittedly sad loss against the memories of the constant flood of memes and outrage and racism and politics and fake news and conspiracy theories and oversharing and bickering and clickbait and ugliness and the flat-out sadness of it all. Is it worth it? For me, it was not. I hope, if you’re struggling with the decision, I’ve made it a little easier one way or the other for you to decide whether it’s worth it to you.

Here and Gone

Image from Flickr by Mrs eNil

Sunday was the end of a too-short spring break that left us on the verge of summer. When I woke my son on Monday morning light was already streaming through the window. On our walk to school, the sun was hot on the back of my neck. I wore a T-shirt and left my jacket at home.

I joke about having no tolerance for the cold, but around this time of year I’m always a little sad about the fading winter. I like dark cold mornings and long cool evenings. I love wearing sweaters and boots. I love burning candles, the kind that smell like autumn.

We started the break with a Lord of the Rings marathon, spent a day at our favorite outdoor mall, spent another day at an arcade, tested out my son’s homemade grill (which meant choking down a lukewarm hot dog), went out for pancakes, and spent lazy afternoons on the porch reading.

One of my favorite moments from spring break

Yep, that’s a chocolate-covered Twinkie

Swinging into spring (or summer?) at the ice cream shop

We ended the break with a trip to the Renaissance Festival, where it’s always hot and dusty and exhausting—like summer, but in a good way. Sitting around the jousting arena, drinking lemonade and fanning ourselves with festival maps while knights duel with lances on horseback against the backdrop of the Superstition Mountains has become something of a spring tradition.

Anything goes at the Renaissance Festival

I finished a new story, submitted a few old ones, and received two gorgeous contributor copies of Hunger Mountain’s spring issue, where my short story “Windows” was published. I even managed to squeeze in over 20 hours of work, dashing in and out of the bedroom to clock in hours on the computer while my son roller-bladed around the neighborhood and my daughter sketched manga.

Hunger Mountain’s spring 2017 issue

It was a wonderful week, and now the kids are in their final quarter of the school year and I’m going to try and not flinch at the Easter supplies crowding the shelves at the grocery store. Because what comes next are those big Styrofoam pool noodles and water guns and bubble blowers. And although summer brings with it one good thing—my kids are home with me—I’d still rather see Halloween displays and wake up to the dark quiet mornings of fall.

Some January/February Highlights

Image from Flickr by Jorge Jaramillo

It’s the last day of February in what was just a brand-new year—how did that happen? The past several weeks have been incredibly busy at the nursing facility where I work as we’re implementing an electronic health and medical records system. But I’ve managed to squeeze in plenty of writing, including a few blog posts that you’ll never read because I simply ran out of time to post them and now they’re outdated!

Anyway, I’m happy to say I have a new CP (critique partner), and we’ve been exchanging chapters for a few months. She’s made it all the way through my middle grade WIP and offered tons of great feedback, which I’ve been working through intensely. When you’re knee-deep in edits on a project, you often end up hating that project, and that pretty much sums up my feelings at this point. But with my CP’s encouragement and reassurance, I also feel like it’s close to being a good book and stands a chance. No matter what happens, I’m proud of writing it.

One of my goals for 2017 was to keep better track of my writing and submissions. I was genuinely shocked at how little I wrote toward new fiction last year, and how little I submitted. It’s very easy to deceive yourself about how much you’re writing when you’re constantly thinking about writing and surrounded by writers talking about writing. Now that I have a system in place, I can see the actual numbers. So far this year I’ve sent out 14 submissions, received 4 rejections and, most importantly, 1 acceptance! That piece, about siblings outgrowing each other, was published mid-month in a wonderful parenting magazine called Motherwell: You can read it here.

I’m no longer counting the hours and words I put into edits (that was last year’s mistake); in addition to those efforts it’s important to me to draft new material. Much of January was spent working on a new creative nonfiction piece called “Transient,” which was excruciating to write. It’s about something that happened in my childhood that’s memorable, not because it left a scar, but because it didn’t. While considering whether to commit this memory to paper, I did some research into those involved, and discovered something that both devastated me and inspired me to tell the story. The essay’s out on submission now, and I hope to share it with you someday soon.

Finally, I was recently invited by Superstition Review to create a podcast for their Authors Talk series, discussing the inspiration and creative process behind my short story “The Woman in Room 248.” I am so excited for this because it’s something I’ve never done before, and I have a few ideas for how to make it interesting/fun. My podcast is slated for March 28, so stay tuned!

2016 End of Year Book Survey

 

 

Thanks to Jamie over at The Perpetual Page Turner for hosting another end of year book survey! Here’s a recap of the best books I read this year:

 

Number Of Books You Read: 57
Number of Re-Reads: 3
Genre You Read The Most From: I read a pretty wide variety, but more crime fiction than usual.

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1. Best Book You Read In 2016?

Adult: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

A stunning reflection on a life lost to blind devotion, unquestioning loyalty, and dedication to one’s work. I wanted to weep for the main character, Mr.
Stevens, who is so emotionally restrained he hardly allows himself to feel anything at all. This is a first-person novel, and the fact that the reader has complete insight into Stevens while he himself has practically none is an astonishing achievement. As a writer, I’m in awe of Ishiguro.

MG: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill’s prose is so fluid and dream-like it’s like being under a spell, which perfectly reflects the subject matter of this middle grade fairy tale. Featuring a kind witch, a magical little girl, a fiesty but miniature dragon, and an unlikely hero (to battle the evil presence lurking in the forest, of course!), this is a delightful book, beautifully written.

YA: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

I wrote about this exceptional young adult novel in July. It’s the story of a young girl named June grieving over the loss of her beloved uncle, who died from AIDS. The novel is set in the 80s, and her uncle’s sexuality and the manner of his death are forbidden subjects. June feels alone in her grief, until the one person who loved her uncle as much as she did reaches out to her.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

There were a few, but the biggest disappointment was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. This book seems so revered–I’ve heard it compared to Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, but it didn’t come close to doing justice to its heavy subject matter. There was just too much that was implausible, and I couldn’t get past the 9-year-old protagonist who sounded and acted like he was 5.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

Malus Domestica by S. A. Hunt–in a good way! I know this author from Twitter; he has self published several books. While I wasn’t surprised to find Hunt was a good writer, I was surprised, after reading this gripping and bloody horror novel last winter, that he didn’t have an agent yet. I say yet because he has one now–yay! This book is awesome.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, the first in the Cormoran Strike crime fiction series. Actually, I pushed people to read the whole series, and a few of them did (and also loved it!) The Cuckoo’s Calling is the best in the trilogy though.

5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

The Cormoran Strike series for all three: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil. Although I did love Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, the second in his Bill Hodges trilogy.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

There were so many! Neil Shusterman, Carol Rifka Brunt, Samantha Mabry, Kelly Barnhill. I guess I’ll pick Kate DiCamillo, even though I didn’t technically read a book by her. My son, who is 9, read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to me this fall, which was lovely.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

I don’t usually read self-help books or inspirational guides, but Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear was quirky, fun and, yes, totally inspiring.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Carrie Ann Lahain’s Dead Town, which I could not stop reading once I started. It’s no surprise to me, and shouldn’t be to you if you’ve followed my blog for long. Carrie’s a fantastic writer who I’m lucky to call friend (and blessed to call a critique partner). She’s published novels in many genres, including historical fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, and now horror. Make this your next (or first) zombie apocalypse read–I promise you’ll be glad you did.

9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn. I doubt any year will go by without me re-reading one of Woodson’s novels.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I’m a sucker for middle grade; they get the best covers, don’t they?

11. Most memorable character of 2016?

Mr. Stevens from The Remains of the Day. Frustrating. Hilarious. Endearing. Tragic.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn. Her voice doesn’t just speak to me, it sings. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is definitely a runner-up though, and I intend to read more from Kelly Barnhill this year (I’ve already read pretty much everything by Jackie Woodson).

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. This was a re-read for me; I was compelled to revisit it after that gut-wrenching second week of November. It’s every bit as heartbreaking and profound as the first time I read it, and helped me to find renewed hope and inspiration.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?

The Remains of the Day. Inexcusable.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?

“Children’s fiction is the most important fiction of all.” –Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?

Shortest: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Longest: The EU and Neighbors: A Geography of Europe in the Modern World by Brian W. Blouet (you bet I counted my school books!)

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. A brutal depiction of addiction, poverty, survival, courage, and loyalty. The violence in this novel turned my stomach more effectively than most horror novels I’ve read.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

The Princess Bride’s Westley and Buttercup. OBVIOUSLY.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Adult: Ree and Teardrop, Winter’s Bone

YA: June and Toby, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

MG: Luna and Xan, The Girl Who Drank the Moon

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

The Cuckoo’s Calling (although technically I’ve never read Robert Galbraith before, I’ve read plenty of J.K. Rowling. Also, have I convinced you to read this series yet?!)

21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

Split by Swati Avasthi, an engrossing tale of domestic violence/child abuse, highly recommended by my friend Heidi.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

Cormoran Strike. *sigh*

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

Fiction: If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson (read my Phoenix New Times’ review here!)

Nonfiction: My Heart Can’t Even Believe It by Amy Silverman. I’ve known Amy for years, and she is such a lovely person–a generous friend and amazing mother. She’s also a brilliant writer, of course–well-known for her award-winning journalism. Here Amy writes the story of her journey raising a daughter with Down syndrome, and she does so with wit, honesty, and heart.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman. This 2015 National Book Award winner is about a 16-year-old boy in the throes of schizophrenia, and it is gorgeous–wholly immersive and unique.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

As You Wish by Cary Elwes. Every fan of the The Princess Bride should read this–it’s sweet and funny and not at all a celebrity tell-all (or else I would not have read it). Pure delight.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Part of what made this an emotional experience was my son reading it aloud, and not because it was assigned but because he’d heard the story last year and wanted to share it with me. Still, there’s no doubt the tale itself is incredibly moving, and the writing exquisite.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Malus Domestica

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

The Remains of the Day

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

Challenger Deep

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2016 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?

Scythe by Neil Shusterman

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?

Bruce Dickinson’s memoir. You thought I was going to say the new Cormoran Strike book, but Cormoran’s just a fictional crush, after all.

3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  A timely book that addresses systemic racism and police brutality–inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. I have heard nothing but the highest praise for this debut, which is already being made into a major motion picture.

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?

Okay, now I can plug the new Cormoran Strike book. DUE IN FALL.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2017?

Keep a journal of favorite quotes from books, short stories and poems. I started one in 2016 and was partially successful, but my goal is one quote from each piece of writing I read this year.

6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

I don’t write enough book reviews to get advanced reader copies, but I’m looking forward to reading a lot of books in 2017, and I’ll recommend as I go!

Okay, your turn. What were some of your favorite reads this year? Are there any books you’re really looking forward to in 2017?

A Good Way to End 2016

Honestly? This has not been a good year for me when it comes to publishing. Part of that is the majority of writing I did in 2015 is tied up in 2 unpublished books. One of the books is a collection of short stories, and I hadn’t been submitting the stories individually because for so long I only imagined them as a collection. That could still happen, but there’s no reason for me not to submit them to literary journals in the meantime, which I started doing this fall.

Numbers-wise, I only had three new publications this year, and I collected more rejections than I care to admit. Still, I believe in quality over quantity, and I’m proud of the pieces I did publish. One of them came out this month in Superstition Review, and you can read it here. “The Woman in Room 248” is the story of a young nursing student trying to reconcile her idealized vision of a dream career with the harsh reality of the job. Superstition Review is a tough journal to get into (this wasn’t my first time trying!) so I was thrilled to join their list of contributors. And I’m relieved that I could end 2016 on a positive note.

Hopefully 2017 will be a more fruitful year; I think it will be, now that I’m not stubbornly hoarding all my newer fiction in the hopes it will be released in the neat little package I’d envisioned. Sometimes dreams need to be let go, but more often they simply need to be re-imagined. I’m a dreamer at heart, so that’s no problem for me.

Sometime in the next few weeks I’ll post my 2016 end of year book survey. I read so much this year (57 books and counting!), and I can’t wait to share some of my favorites with you. Until then, Happy New Year, everyone!

The Other Side of the Magic

Image from Flickr by Brian Adams


Every December we travel north to Williams, Arizona, and ride the Polar Express. Grand Canyon Railway’s mystic “midnight” train ride is based on the classic children’s book made even more popular by the 2004 animated film starring Tom Hanks. Both of my children grew up watching the film; for more than ten years the whistle of that magic steam train beckoned from the television screen throughout winter break.

Until last year, when neither Abbey, 14, nor Gabriel, 9, wanted to watch it.

In the movie, a young boy who’s beginning to doubt whether Santa is real catches a ride to the North Pole, where he meets Father Christmas in person and learns once more to believe. And for those of us who still believe, the enchanted train in Williams speeds through a time-warp and arrives within an hour at that very same North Pole, where elves dance in the snow and wave from Santa’s sleigh.

On that night in December we wait at the icy depot, stamping our feet, cheeks stinging and breath clouding the air. We climb aboard and sing carols, sip hot cocoa and wait for Santa to arrive. When he boards, he’ll walk slowly down the aisle, presenting each wide-eyed child with the gift of a silver bell.

I have a collection of these silver bells, each strung with a loop of crimson ribbon, each ringing chime a ghost from Christmas past. I have a snow globe from the Polar Express gift shop that sits unshaken on a closet shelf, its wintry Christmas scene preserved within the glass bubble, like a memory.

The year she turned eleven, my daughter said, “I know about Santa, Mom. I’ve known for a while.”

But that was okay, because Gabriel was then only six. Abbey was simply on the other side of the magic now, watching with affection as her little brother pressed his nose against the glass, peering silently out the window as the moonlit trees rushed by, waiting to see the amber glow of a frosted Christmas village.

There are family traditions that for us will never fade. Timeless things, like stringing lights on the Christmas tree, stirring fudge on Christmas Eve, and opening presents on Christmas morning in pajamas and robes, wrapped in the warm candied scent of gingerbread drifting from candles.

Then there are traditions bound to fade. Childhood things, like tracking Santa’s sleigh in the flash of stars, throwing glittery oats like confetti across the lawn to light a path for the reindeer, and setting out a plate of milk and cookies on the cold brick hearth.

It’s nearly winter, and tomorrow we’ll drive to Williams and ride the Polar Express. When night falls we’ll hand our tickets to a conductor who will solemnly punch holes in the shape of a letter and hand them back. We’ll open our songbooks and sing carols on the way to the North Pole and drink hot chocolate delivered by sprightly chefs. One of us will still peer out the window, nose pressed against the glass. Waiting, but perhaps also wondering.

When Santa comes we’ll ring our silver bells and cheer at the tinny echoes. Then the children will tuck their bells into the pockets of their winter robes, knowing there will always be another.

I will hold onto mine a little longer.

What I Still Believe

Image from Flickr by Aftab Uzzaman

Image from Flickr by Aftab Uzzaman

I’ve written and deleted more than one blog post since November 9. They were too angry, too hopeless, too cynical, too sad, too bloated, too simplistic, too something. And who am I kidding anyway? I have no answers for anyone, least of all my children; that morning I woke my nine-year-old son for school and, while searching for words to break the staggering news, broke into tears instead.

Since then we’ve had several discussions on the importance of staying true to our personal morals and integrity, and how kindness and empathy matter now more than ever. I still get to be the role model for my children, and that is powerful.

And it’s what I need to focus on. A few weeks before the election a woman I respected posted on Twitter her intention to vote third party, and she encouraged others to do the same, in protest of both candidates. After the election I wondered what if I’d engaged her instead of glaring at my phone and childishly clicking “unfollow”? I’m not saying I’m faultless. I could have done more.

But at least I can face my kids each day for the next four years knowing I voted on the right side of history. At least I can take comfort knowing that the majority of voters were on the right side of history too, even though we lost.

I don’t think I’ll ever look at the world the same way, but it’s time to move forward. It’s time to believe again that vulgarity, hatred, and scorn will ultimately lose to hope, compassion, and grace. I won’t be naïve, but I refuse to be cynical. I still believe that love trumps hate, and I always will.